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Modern Shakespeare Offshoots

Modern Shakespeare Offshoots

Ruby Cohn
Copyright Date: 1976
Pages: 440
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  • Book Info
    Modern Shakespeare Offshoots
    Book Description:

    Shakespeare's plays have never had a larger audience than they do in our time. This wide viewing is complemented by modern scholarship, which has verified and elucidated the plays' texts. Nevertheless, Shakespeare's plays continue to be revised. In order to find out how and why he has been rewritten, Ruby Cohn examines modern dramatic offshoots in English, French, and German.

    Surveying drama intended for the serious theater, the author discusses modern versions of Shakespeare's plays, especiallyMacbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, andThe Tempest. Although the focus is always on drama, contrast is supplied by fiction stemming fromHamletand essays inspired byKing Lear. The book concludes with an assessment of the influence of Shakespeare on the creative work of Shaw, Brecht, and Beckett.

    Originally published in 1976.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6782-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)

    It is easy to predict a conclusion to this book: Shakespeare offshoots are not Shakespeare. Or, a little less tersely, no modern Shakespeare offshoot has improved upon the original. Maybe so, but more interesting—and even enthralling—to me has been the investigation of which moderns rewrote Shakespeare. Why and how?

    After five years of research, I have still not answered the first question with any claim to completeness. Starting with the modern offshoots I knew, I reached out in hit-or-miss ways. I combed the “Shakespeare” entries of bibliographies and library catalogues, even traveling to the Birmingham Shakespeare Library when...

  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Chapter 1 A Mishmash of Adaptations and Transformations
    (pp. 3-59)

    Rewriting of Shakespeare is known by an array of names—abridgments, adaptations, additions, alterations, ameliorations, amplifications, augmentations, conversions, distortions, emendations, interpolations, metamorphoses, modifications, mutilations, revisions, transformations, versions. In contrast, I use a looser and more neutral word, “offshoot,” but I should like to indicate how far the shoots grow from the Shakespearean stem. (And that stem itself is problematical, since eighteen Shakespeare plays exist in Quarto versions of varying quality, as well as in the more carefully edited First Folio of 1623.)

    Almost every professional production modifies a Shakespeare text, usually by cutting lines and/or emending words. So widespread is...

  5. Chapter 2 Macbeth: Poor Players That Strut and Fret
    (pp. 60-105)

    In contrast to the Shakespeare hopscotch of the last chapter, each of the next four chapters focuses on offshoots of a single play. ThisMacbethsection examines the offshoots chronologically because they accumulate into a discontinuous history of modern theater styles, with the notable exception of the dominant style, realism.

    Macbethhas long been susceptible of adaptation. Even John Milton thought of writing aMacbeth,but the first actual adaptation was published in 1674 and played over a decade earlier. Its author is William Davenant, who, according to John Aubrey, “seemed contented enough to be thought [Shakespeare’s] son.”¹ Theatrically, however,...

  6. Chapter 3 Whole Hamlets of Tragical Speeches
    (pp. 106-231)

    MacbethandHamlethave often been contrasted, and their offshoots, too, form different patterns. More words—tragical, mock-tragical, or merely serious—have been written about Hamlet than about any other character of stage or literature. More than any other play,Hamlethas provoked closet criticism, though actors have consistently relished some form of the drama as a performance vehicle. More than any other work,Hamlethas infiltrated imaginative writing—fiction, drama, and an occasional poem. More than any other character, and in sharp contrast to Macbeth, Hamlet has inspired self-identification, as the following quotations attest: We feel not only the...

  7. Chapter 4 Lear Come Lately
    (pp. 232-266)

    HamletandMacbethare often contrasted, butKing Learlooms as a lone pinnacle of Shakespearean tragedy. Staged less often than the other major tragedies, criticized more severely,King Learwas rarely regarded as Shakespeare’s masterpiece—before the twentieth century. But especially since World War II, its agonies and cruel humor have hit home. For this reason the tragedy itself, rather than offshoots, has spoken directly to contemporary audiences. No important fiction has embracedLearas it hasHamlet,and very few dramatists have usedLearas a springboard for their own plays. However, a number of writers have been...

  8. Chapter 5 Peopling the Isle with Calibans
    (pp. 267-309)

    The Tempestwas created by Shakespeare to harm no one. His last comedy reflects his tragic themes but strips them of peril: brother plots against brother, as inKing Lear;usurper conspires against the rightful ruler, as inMacbeth; a young prince is tested, as inHamlet;young lovers meet obstacles, as inRomeo and Juliet.Any or all of the four plots ofThe Tempestmight have ended tragically: two conspiracies involving two realms (Naples and Setebos), the love story of Miranda and Ferdinand, the separate servitudes of airy Ariel and earthy Caliban. But magic prevents tragedy. Magician Prospero...

  9. Chapter 6 Triple Action Theatre
    (pp. 310-320)

    Verticalmight describe the organization of the last few chapters, i.e., climbing the chronological rungs of offshoots of a specific Shakespeare play. The next few chapters will be horizontal—striding through several Shakespeare offshoots by a single author, and in this particular chapter that author is director Steve Rumbelow, founder of the Triple Action Theatre of Britain.

    Rumbelow (b. 1949) was trained in the visual arts, and when he turned to theater, he conceived of it as moving sculpture in space. Though he had not at that time—1966—read Artaud, his ideas resemble those of other Alternative Theater groups...

  10. Chapter 7 Shaw versus Shakes
    (pp. 321-339)

    By describing the Shakespeare offshoots of Rumbelow, Shaw, Brecht, and Beckett in that order, I deliberately flout chronology, for several reasons. As in the chapters on the separate plays, there is no building through the years; one playwright’s way with Shakespeare is not necessarily the heritage of the next generation. The last playwright/director chronologically, Steve Rumbelow, is not the climax of a progression through Shaw, Brecht, and Beckett, though these playwrights have influenced him. Moreover, by upset ting chronology, I can juxtapose chapters of marked contrast. Thus, Rumbelow’s highly physicalized offshoots (whose scripts nevertheless limit themselves very largely to Shakespeare’s...

  11. Chapter 8 Brecht Changes Shakespeare
    (pp. 340-374)

    Bert Brecht, an admirer of Shaw, succinctly expressed a sentiment resembling the Shaw quotation that closed the last chapter. Both authors imply that a playwright has to be a giant to tread on Shakespeare’s stage. Though Shaw’s witty Shakespeareana still delights, his creative offshoots are pygmy ventures. There is a comparable disparity between Brecht’s criticism of Shakespeare and his creative offshoots.

    Brecht (1898-1956) wrote this chapter’s opening quotation in 1955, a year before his death, while analyzing the opening scene of Shakespeare’sCoriolanus.The words occur in a dialogue between four people, and their speaker is B, who often sounds...

  12. Chapter 9 Shakespearean Embers in Beckett
    (pp. 375-388)

    Differently from Shaw or Brecht, Beckett can be traced to Shakespeare. Shaw’s Shakespeare offshoots are ephemeral or subliminal. Brecht’s are pondered and partisan. But Beckett echoes Shakespearean phrases which come to serve as a tuning-fork for his own plays.

    Beckett’s early criticism and fiction often draw humor from learned Shakespeare references:

    We say farewell to M. de Charlus . . . now a humble and convulsive Lear, crowned by the silver torrent of his hair. (Proust)

    This meal that he was at such pains to make ready, he would devour it with a sense of rapture and victory, it would...

  13. Afterword
    (pp. 389-394)

    In mid-twentieth-century Eric Bentley wrote: “All roads lead to Shakespeare, or perhaps it might be more correct to say that Shakespeare leads to all roads.”¹ I have tried to chart some of the roads.

    I began by simply piling up modern Shakespeare offshoots, but when patterns manifested themselves, I followed their form. It would have been tidier to separate English offshoots from French and German, not to mention American. The resulting book would have been neater, imposing order on what is largely a chance conglomeration. Unlike Shakespeare offshoots of the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, those of the twentieth century rarely...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 395-410)
  15. Appendix A: Published Offshoots in Dramatic Form
    (pp. 411-412)
  16. Appendix B: Offshoots Discussed in the Book
    (pp. 413-416)
  17. Index
    (pp. 417-426)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 427-427)