Shakespeare's Staging
General Studies (Modern Performances: 1837-1998)
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Monday, 28 March 2005 07:25

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Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent, 1889. Tate Gallery, London, courtesy of the Yorck Project. (see Gallery 3 for other studies of Terry.)

PREFACE TO MODERN PERFORMANCES: 1837 TO 1998

In the nineteenth century by the time of Charles Kean the progress towards recovery of Shakespeare's scripts had led to serious attempts to stage Shakespeare's plays more nearly as printed, though later this increased sense of historicity in actor-managers like Beerbohm Tree and Henry Irving also led to an excessive concern to establish scenery, costumes, and behavior on stage consistent with original settings of the plays' contents. Such elaborate staging proved counterproductive to full presentation of scripts because of the time needed for scene changes. In many ways these elaborate costume dramas led the way for twentieth-century cinematic epics: Tree even filmed his extravagantly produced version of Henry VIII, leading the way for subsequent Tudor films and television series. Paradoxically the interest in recovering historical settings also fostered interest in the historical character of the Elizabethan theatre in experimental producers such as William Poel, whose attempts to recreate Elizabethan-style productions culminated in the rebuilding of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre by Sam Wanamaker in 1997. However, towards the end of the twentieth century the complexity and ambiguity of postmodern aesthetics invited the broadest range of reinterpretations of Shakespeare, a process further encouraged by the globalization of culture, so that there are no longer clear norms of production and interpretation, though study of performance has now equalled literary criticism as an academic means of interpreting Shakespeare.

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