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Shakespeare/Adaptation/Modern Drama

Shakespeare/Adaptation/Modern Drama: Essays in Honour of Jill Levenson

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 288
  • Book Info
    Shakespeare/Adaptation/Modern Drama
    Book Description:

    Shakespeare/Adaptation/Modern Dramais the first book-length international study to examine the critical and theatrical connections among these fields, including the motivations, methods, and limits of adaptation in modern performance media.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8991-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    RM and KS
  4. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-22)

    Separated by more than three centuries, Shakespeare and modern drama may seem odd bedfellows – an early modern English dramatist who wrote popular entertainment for an all-male company and mixed London audiences, and post-romantic playwrights from various national performance traditions experimenting with modernism, existentialism, and other varieties of self-consciously intellectual Western theatre. Jill Levenson is among a small group of scholars whose work has contributed substantially to our understanding of both fields, and in a forthcoming study she brings their encounters into new critical dialogue. For while artistic and cultural relationships between Shakespeare and modern drama have been intense and fruitful...

  6. PART I. Shakespeare and Modern Drama

    • 1 Unwinding Coriolanus: Osborne, Grass, and Brecht
      (pp. 25-47)

      In simple terms my concern would be with unwinding the history of a sequence of four interlocked plays: from Shakespeare’sCoriolanusto Brecht’sCoriolan(begun in 1950) to Günter Grass’sThe Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising(1966) to John Osborne’sA Place Calling Itself Rome(published in 1973). But the terms can never really be simple. The materials do not stay sitting comfortingly adjacent on a shelf, asking no more than to be taken down and read. What we choose to read and observe alongside these play texts, responding to our demand for contexts, including demanding the three other plays as...

    • 2 Three Men in a Boat: Stoppard, Beckett, and the Ghost of Arnold Geulincx
      (pp. 48-55)

      In the opening scene of Tom Stoppard’sThe Invention of Love, the poet and classical scholar A.E. Housman, ‘aged seventy-seven and getting no older,wearing a buttoned-up dark suit and neat black boots,stands on the bank of the Styx watching the approach of the ferryman,Charon.’ ‘I’m dead, then,’¹ he concludes; but he is not quite dead, only dying. As his body breathes its last gasps at the Evelyn Nursing Home, his entire life (and imminent death) flashes before him. Significantly, his first flash of memory is of the great, and unrequited, love of his life, Moses Jackson, whom...

    • 3 West Side Story and the Vestiges of Theatrical Liberalism
      (pp. 56-75)

      WhenWest Side Storyopened on Broadway in 1957, it caused a sensation in the world of musical theatre. Americans had seen Shakespeare adapted for the Broadway stage before. Cole Porter’sKiss Me, Kate(based onThe Taming of the Shrew) and Rodgers and Hart’sThe Boys from Syracuse(based onThe Comedy of Errors) were both enormously popular musical adaptations of the Bard’s work. But these were both comedies.West Side Storywas something different – a musical based on one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Drawing on the conventions both of musical comedy and of Shakespearean tragedy,West Side Storytests...

    • 4 Staging Shakespeare for ‘Live’ Performance in The Eyre Affair and Stage Beauty
      (pp. 76-92)

      In an important essay published inThe Drama Reviewin 1990, Roger Copeland takes issue with the idea that what is ‘unique about the theatre,’ setting it apart from other arts such as the movies, literature, or sculpture, is ‘the fact that it’s live and unmediated, that it can put us in thepresenceof other living, breathing human beings.’¹ His argument against this ‘traditional (if middlebrow)’ position is twofold (32). First he reminds us that presence has not always been regarded as an exclusively theatrical trait, or even an effect best achieved through performance. He recounts how formalist painters...

    • 5 Macbeth and Modern Politics
      (pp. 93-109)

      In later 2008, Canadian politics – rarely the focus of worldwide attention, or even of the attention of Canada’s continental neighbour to the south – were somewhat enlivened by a contest for the leadership of the Liberal Party and potential inheritance of the throne, successively, of Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chrétien, and Paul Martin. The incumbent Liberal leader at the time, Stéphane Dion, had been much mocked for his apparently ineffectual style, not least by the Great White Shark of early twenty-first-century Canadian politics, Stephen Harper, who defeated him in a general election. The competition for Dion’s replacement was chiefly between...

    • 6 Shakespeare as Memoir
      (pp. 110-124)

      Shakespeare has a long history of adaptation for public and personal commemoration. In addition to the many civic memorials, individual memorials are abundant as well. Countless teenagers have marked their adolescence through study ofRomeo and Julietin high school.¹ For actors, mastering a Shakespeare role often corresponds to various life stages – too young or too old to play Hamlet, not old enough for Lear.² Likewise, scholars often measure their achievements in terms of Shakespeare, writing the consummate ‘Shakespeare book’ as the pinnacle of a career.³

      Given the variety of ways Shakespeare has been used to represent various stages of...

    • 7 ‘Bold, but Seemingly Marketable’: The 2007 Stratford Ontario Merchant
      (pp. 125-142)

      As Jill Levenson remarks, since ‘the mid-nineteenth century,The Merchant of Venicehas attracted more creative adaptations than Shakespeare’s other comedies.’¹ She makes this observation with reference to James Bulman’s stage history ofMerchant, in which he argues that directors at least since Henry Irving have conceived productions that reflect their own liberal humanist values, ‘intervene[ing] to save “their” Shakespeare from the embarrassing stigma of anti-Semitism.’² The postwar era has seen many such productions, along with others of a more radical nature, which have eschewed liberal humanist interventions that ostensibly respected the authority of ‘gentle’ Shakespeare as the source for...

  7. PART II. Shakespeare

    • 8 ‘To gain the language, ’tis needful that the most immodest word be looked upon and learnt’: Editing the Bawdy in Henry IV, Part Two
      (pp. 145-165)

      Henry IV, Part Twois Shakespeare’s most daringly alternative history. In it, he draws minimally from the chronicle sources that govern the plots of his other history plays: the inclusion of so much chronicle history inPart Oneresulted in very little royal narrative left to be dramatized inPart Two– only the defeat of the Archbishop’s rebellion, the death of the King, and the accession of Prince Henry, all of which occur in the last two acts. What makesPart Tworadically different from the other histories in the second tetralogy, however, is not so much its relegation of...

    • 9 Extremes of Passion
      (pp. 166-182)

      I take my title from the passage towards the end ofKing Learin which the Earl of Gloucester’s elder son, Edgar, tells how his father, blinded and outcast, died. ‘List a brief tale,’ he says, and continues

      The bloody proclamation to escape

      That followed me so near – O, our lives’ sweetness,

      That we the pain of death would hourly die

      Rather than die at once! – taught me to shift

      Into a madman’s rags, t’assume a semblance

      That very dogs disdained; and in this habit

      Met I my father with his bleeding rings,

      Their precious stones new-lost; became his guide,...

    • 10 Shakespeare and the Indifference of Nature
      (pp. 183-197)

      The opening lines of Robert Henryson’sThe Testament of Cresseiddeclare a simple, familiar principle: ‘Ane doolie sessoun to ane cairfull dyte / Shuld correspond, and be equivalent.’¹ A doleful season suits a woeful tale: the winter setting the poem goes on to establish fits the tragic story of Cresseid. But nature and human feeling do not always correspond. InParadise Lost, when Adam eats the fruit,

      Sky low’r’d, and muttering Thunder, some sad drops

      Wept at completing of the mortal Sin

      Original. (9.1002–4)²

      This is what we expect. But on the morning of their expulsion from Eden Eve...

    • 11 Pauline Cartography, Missionary Nationalism, and The Tempest
      (pp. 198-217)

      In what may be a defining exchange at the end ofThe Tempest, Caliban agrees to follow Prospero’s orders to ‘trim’ his cell. ‘Ill be wise hereafter / And seek for grace,’ Caliban adds, responding with unwonted cooperation to Prospero’s equally unwonted gestures of forgiveness (5.1.295–6).¹ ‘Grace’ could signify a range of possible desires – mercy, kindness, material benefits. But the word’s religious overtones in contemporary plays such asPericlesandThe Winter’s Talepoint to ‘divine grace’ as the most obvious sense. In which case, Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Theatre audience would have understood Caliban’s pledge as a desire to be...

    • 12 Lear’s Conversation with the Philosopher
      (pp. 218-232)

      Lear is arguably the least intellectual of Shakespeare’s protagonists. He is often perceived as the diametrical opposite of the intellectual Hamlet. But in the storm scene at the climax of the play, when he has reached the moment of truth and is about to lose his wits, Lear seeks the company of a philosopher. In the grand gallery of Shakespearean protagonists, Lear is the only one who actively seeks philosophical counselling at the moment of crisis.¹

      A number of scholars have already pursued the textual clues and ascertained the identity of the philosopher whose aid Lear is seeking.² But even...

  8. PART III. Modern Drama

    • 13 An Experiment in Teaching: Pygmalion, My Fair Lady, and the Pursuit of Happiness
      (pp. 235-256)

      The history of Bernard Shaw’sPygmalion, it is often observed, has come down to a struggle over endings.¹ And no wonder. The legend of the work come to life has proved endlessly adaptable, from Ovid to W.S. Gilbert to Lerner and Loewe. It has been an opera (Rameau), a melodrama orscène lyrique(Rousseau), a series of oil paintings (Burne-Jones), a ballet, a film, and a Broadway musical, among other things. Its subject is both the creative life of art – independent of an ‘original’ creator – and the ability, or failure, of the artist to accommodate to change.² Shaw provokingly subtitled...

    • 14 ‘The Going to Pieces of T. Lawrence Shannon’: Notes on Tennessee Williams’s Drafts of The Night of the Iguana (1961)
      (pp. 257-275)

      Although Tennessee Williams continued to produce important work for another twenty years,The Night of the Iguanawas his last great popular and critical success and, arguably, also the most profound of all his writings, raising basic philosophic and religious questions. The day it opened on Broadway, Williams’s brother Dakin, himself a convert to Roman Catholicism, introduced the playwright to a young priest to whom Williams tried to explain that, though he believed in a power in the universe that he could call ‘God’ and in the value, indeed necessity, of prayer in times of stress, he could not accept...

    • 15 ‘How do you play this game?’: Nonsensical Language Games in Shaw, Coward, and Pinter
      (pp. 276-293)

      Three modern British plays – Bernard Shaw’sPygmalion(1914), Noel Coward’sHay Fever(1925), and Harold Pinter’sThe Birthday Party(1958) – include episodes in which (to use the words of a character inHay Fever) language becomes ‘artificial to the point of lunacy’ (58) as the action shifts to a new social setting in which the linguistic rules and conventions are not fully understood by all the characters. The nonsensical verbal exchanges that result from Eliza’s first foray into ‘polite’ middle-class society inPygmalion, the chaotic game of adverbs inHay Fever, and the bizarre interrogation and brainwashing scenes inThe...

  9. Afterword: A Tapestry of Thanks: Reflections on the Work of Jill L. Levenson
    (pp. 294-304)

    How does one measure the impact of a great teacher and scholar? Professor Jill Levenson has had such a long, prolific, and remarkable career that it is difficult to describe without hyperbole. Let’s begin with numbers. She has been a professor of English at Trinity College in the University of Toronto for four decades. During that time, she has served on more than 100 committees, given more than thirty distinguished public lectures, delivered more than forty conference papers, and published more than sixty peer-reviewed documents ranging in length from two-page book reviews to her magnificent 450-page Oxford edition ofRomeo...

  10. Jill L. Levenson’s Publications
    (pp. 305-310)
  11. Index
    (pp. 311-329)