Book Reviews

Talking Books Update

Michael P. Jensen

[For years, Michael P. Jensen has interviewed leading scholars and educators in his regular Shakespeare Newsletter column, “Talking Books.” In the latest issue, 65.2, Jensen interviews Russ McDonald. Below is an update on his interview with Peter Holland, which appeared in 53.1, Spring 2003.]

This Peter Holland update considers the last two volumes of Shakespeare Survey and three volumes edited by others that have chapters written by Holland. All these books were published by Cambridge University Press.

Shakespeare Survey 67, edited by Holland with the assistance of Ton Hoenselaars, has the theme of Shakespeare and collaboration. It is a mix of articles in content and, in my opinion, quality. Perhaps most intriguing is former “Talking Books” guest (52:2, #253, Summer 2002) Sir Brian Vickers’s “The Two Authors of Edward III,” which uses a battery of stylometric tests to suggest that the non-Shakespearean portions of that play were written by Thomas Kyd. The nadir, though my feelings may be because I am treated as a dupe on p. 165, is Breen Hammond’s “Double Falsehood: The Forgery Hypotheses, the ‘Charles Dickson’ Enigma and a ‘Stern’ Rejoinder,” in which Prof. Hammond writes a rather intemperate response to Tiffany Stern’s article, “The Forgery of some modern Author”?: Theobald’s Shakespeare and Cardenio’s Double Falsehood” in Shakespeare Quarterly 62:4, Winter 2011, pp. 55-93. Stern shows the practical impossibility of Lewis Theobald having even one, let alone the multiple manuscript copies of the lost play Cardenio, that he claimed to have. Hammond, who has a vested interest as editor Double Falsehood for Arden, attempts to prove that Theobald could not have faked the play using a rather contrived and too-clever-by-half parallel argument that is hard to summarize, so you may read yourself if you are interested. Hammond, in fact, fails to compellingly address Sterns most telling points, such as why Theobald did not produce the manuscripts when he was accused of being a fraud. This would have made many of his problems go away and restored Theobald’s character in the eyes of the public. Most of the other articles in the volume were worth reading, even when I did not find some of them persuasive. Volume 68 takes the theme “Shakespeare, Origins and Originality.” I have not been able to read it yet, but with contributors such as Margreta De Grazia, Catherine Belsey, Stanley Wells, Ruth Morse, and Holland himself, I am looking forward to it.

Shakespeare and the Digital World: Redefining Scholarship and Practice was edited by Christie Carson and Peter Kirwan in 2014. Sections study research, pedagogy, publishing, and the online presence of Shakespeare and Shakespeare organizations. The very impressive list of contributors includes Kirwan himself, Sharon O’Dair, Katherine Rowe, Sylvia Morris, Sheila T. Cananagh writing with Kevin A. Quarmby, and Paul Edmondson writing with  A. J. Leon. Holland’s chapter, “Shakespeare in Virtual Communities,” pp. 160-75, is on the advantages and disadvantages he found in virtual communities of scholars such as the SHAKSPER listserv. As usual, Holland’s observations and temperate and wise.

Shakespeare on the University Stage, edited by Andrew James Hartley, is about one of the few corners of performance study we have all missed. There is a very little historical perspective, the work of George Rylands at Cambridge is given a chapter, while most of the book looks at contemporary theatre at schools such as Wellesley and Notre Dame, in regions such as the American South and Mid-West, and overseas in places such as India, China, and Germany. Many of the contributors are not especially well-know, at least not yet, though Paul Menzer writes about what it means to produce Shakespeare on the campus of an American college with the economic forces that determine, or at least limit, creative choices (“The laws of Athens: Shakespeare and the campus economy,” pp. 201-15). W. B. Worthen’s chapter is really an afterward, though not so identified. It sums up several of the ideas presented earlier in the book in the context of the tension between English and Theatre departments and their attempted ownership of Shakespeare (“The Shakespeare performance campus,” pp. 264-87). Holland’s chapter, the first, (“Campus Shakespeare: fragments of a history, fragments of a concept,” pp. 10-26) is similarly not identified as a preface, but it accomplishes much of what a preface might. In seven succinct sections that flow into one another, Holland describes the types of performance typically found on campuses historically, such as the imaginary student production Polonius refers to in Hamlet and the Parnassus plays (1589-9), going up to the nineteenth century. With that as context, Holland looks at campus Shakespeare today. Not surprisingly, he finds that current practices have some things illuminatingly in common with the practices of the past.

Finally, we come to the volume on Othello in the Shakespeare on Screen series edited by Sarah Hatchuel and Natalie Vienne-Guerrin in 2015. A number of Othello films receive chapters, such as those directed by Orson Welles, Geoffrey Sax, Tim Blake Nelson, and Vishal Bhardwaj, while a few chapters studying multiple films. Other chapters take a more topical consideration of film Othellos. Holland’s chapter identifies a concern on the first page (43), writing that the marketing line for the DVD of Stuart Burge’s Othello is “striking” and “troubling,” and that we must “engage with it.” The line is, “The greatest Othello ever by the greatest actor of our time.”[1] Holland unpacks this, finding the second clause debatable but true enough. As for the first clause, the problems with this film are well known. Olivier in blackface, filming a stage production rather than rethinking the play as a film, and other problems are summarized. Holland then settles in to generous appraisal of what he calls the “sheer bravura, the unquestionable over-the-top-ness of so much of [Olivier’s] performance” (46). Holland refers to Olivier’s turn as Shylock (46-7) and to Oliver Parker’s Othello (1995, p. 51) to sort this out, concluding with brief visits to F. R. Leavis and Pauline Kael (pp. 54-6). This is a fascinating, generous, and thoroughly balanced appraisal of Olivier’s problems and achievement in this film. Look for it.

[1] The blurb is older than this. The DVD cover reproduces the one sheet poster used in the United States to advertise the film in cinemas.

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Categories: Book Reviews, Interviews

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