Category Archives: Performance

Bringing the racial politics of Shakespeare’s Venice to the modern stage

Jacob Cohen in Habima’s The Merchant of Venice. Photograph: Tristram Kenton, The Guardian.

Since the 1800s, Israel and Palestine have been embroiled in a bitter war over land, water, religion, and the fight for their own national and personal identity to be recognised. In 2012, these two countries had an additional conflict on their minds: the performance of a Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice, and the problematic representation of Shylock, the displaced Jew.

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Prospero from an Actor’s Eyes

philip voss

Philip Voss. Perhaps you recognize him from “Four Weddings and a Funeral” or “About Time”?

When readers’ eyes confront the homogenous sheets of a Shakespeare manuscript, any actor would insist that the sheer words flatten the fullest potential of the plays. At best in a perceptive reading, shadows of tones emerge as rhetorical implications.. The critical eye, as a holistic overarching consciousness often prefers to gravitate to rhetoric, images, and themes. The characters aren’t as much individuals as tropes, or fragments subsumed into a whole. But an actor/actress, whose entire vocation depends on a single character, can afford no such flexibility. Any indecision will shout mediocrity to the keenly peering audience. Absorbing this more demanding interpretation can be rewarding to literary readers who never plans to must the gall to step on stage. To this end, actor Phillip Voss’ award-winning essay on his role as Prospero in The Tempest is a particularly fine example for this exercise. Continue reading

Shakespeare in the Park’s The Tempest

The last theater production I saw was in fact, the Shakespeare in the Park’s version of The Tempest. It was a boiling hot, incredibly humid June evening when we stumbled into the Delacorte theater in the middle of the park, ready for some culture. For a first viewing of Shakespeare’s debatably last play, it was a dramatic setting. The air, heavy with moisture made the audience feel as if they were truly sitting on a desert island. It was the best and worst part of the production.

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No Patriarchy, Please

Film Comment calls it Julie Taymor’s “own yonic paradise” – yonic, if you didn’t know, being the female version of the word ‘phallic’. Powerful and feminised, Taymor’s The Tempest is revolutionary if only for its female version of Prospero—or rather, Prospera, played by none other than Dame Helen Mirren.  Continue reading

Isabella’s Persuasion

Why does Isabella fail to persuade Angelo to spare Claudio’s life? Bernice Kliman, in her article, Isabella in Measure for Measure, states that it is because she fails to use the formulaic rhetoric established by ad Herennium, one of Shakespeare’s sources for Measure for Measure. But is Kliman’s characterization of Isabella true to the text or colored by the literary comparisons she chose to make? 

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How Is This A Comedy Exactly?

Ah, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure — it’s no wonder Shakespearean scholars consider it a “problem play” (JStor – Measure for Measure and Elizabethan Comedy). Both the Duke and Isabella have some obvious moral issues that raise questions that need to be answered when deciding how the play is to be performed.

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Introducing a Forgotten Play

Troilus and Cressida 1968 Royal Shakespeare Company- Some productions deliver the prologue with an imposing, anonymous warrior

Troilus and Cressida 1968
Royal Shakespeare Company- Some productions deliver the prologue with an imposing, anonymous warrior

The most noteworthy aspect of Troilus and Cressida’s early performance history is that it was barely performed, if at all. Even when introduced in the second edition of the first quarto, the preface vaunts the play as entertainment unsoiled by “the palms of the vulgar”, a production only existing as “a birth of your brain”. From its very inception, the play’s distinction seemed to be its resistance to staging, even its popular obscurity. As though to honor this prefatory omen, the play vanished from the stage afterwards for three hundred years. Between 1609 and 1907, no documented evidence of an English performance survives. So when the neo-Shakespeare upsurge of the 20th century plumbed the Shakespearean canon for material, Shakespeare’s untested Troilus and Cressida appeared, with plenty of directorial ruts and little precedent. The variety of approaches to the prologue alone attests to the uncertain challenge of stage performance without precedent– particularly this dodgy, gritty marvel of tale.

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A Modern Performance of Troilus and Cressida


The Hudson Valley Company’s rendition of The Tragedy of Troilus and Cressida seems to embrace its modern overtones as well as emphasizes its nuances on the outdoor stage. Troilus and Cressida, much like their more famous and tragic counterparts Romeo and Juliet, pine for each other, yet are unable to unite due to their wartime circumstances. Critics note how modern Troilus and Cressida seem to be, a play speaking of infidelity and dripping with satire, painting classical heroes like Hector and Achilles in a very mortal and human way. Director Terrence O’Brien staged The Tragedy of Troilus and Cressida with the intention of appealing to today’s modern audience.

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