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Author's Pen and Actor's Voice: Playing and Writing in Shakespeare's Theatre.

Robert Weimann. Author's Pen and Actor's Voice: Playing and Writing in Shakespeare's Theatre.

Eds. Helen Higbee and William West. (Cambridge Studies in Literature and Culture.) Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xii + 298 pp. index. bibl. $64.95 (cl), $22.95 (pbk). ISBN: 0-521-78130-2 (cl), 0-521-78735-1 (pbk).

Robert Weimann is one of the great contextualizers of Renaissance literature and the Shakespearean theater. This book not only explores a variety of contexts--social, political, aesthetic, theatrical--to great effect but also takes part in the "exhilarating rapprochement among textual scholarship, theatre history, and performance studies" (xi).

The book is contextually generous and capacious, then, but it also fits significantly into the context of Weimann's own previous work. Author's Pen takes a central dualism of Weimann's earlier dramatic criticism--the tension between "types of space on the platform stage" (169) that are vestiges of medieval drama and that Weimann has famously described as locus and platea--and writes these concepts large. He overtly revisits locus and platea in chapter seven, but they swirl throughout the book in several important ways. For Weimann, the Shakespearean stage saw a mutual interpenetration of these sites, which are both physical and conceptual. Because the locus was often the site of the throne in medieval drama, Weimann develops the locus as a place of stability, authority, and decorum; the platea--closer to the audience both materially and symbolically--becomes a site of flux, impertinence, "topsy-turvydom": the place where the medieval Vice, and later Iago, Thersites, and Edmund, reigned. Whereas the loc us gets connected to verisimilitude and representation, the platea is linked to disguise, clowning, a disruption of strict mimesis--the place of "antic disposition" where the "stage-as-stage and the cultural occasion itself are made to assist or resist the socially and verbally elevated, spatially and temporally remote representation" (181). Finally, the locus is the space of writing ("Author's Pen"), and the platea the place of acting or performance ('Actor's Voice").

But Weimann's work never settles for rigid binary relationships, and his title and subtitle underscore this point in their deliberate "criss-crossing": "in Shakespeare's theatre, 'author's pen' is in actors voice' just as players' voices and bodies, with all their contrariety, resonate in the writings of the pen" (xi). Just as Weimann seeks a rapprochement among multiple critical methods and interests, he sees the "doubleness" at the heart of the Shakespearean theater as "a source of strength"; it is a paradoxical cultural site of both "differentiation and inclusion" (3).

Hamlet plays a central role in this book because the play--in its various editions--stages the doubleness that Weimann finds so interesting in the drama of this period. Chapter one uses the First Quarto as a paradigm for the book's argument, focusing on Hamlet's advice to the Players. In this speech, Hamlet famously admonished the actors not to let the "Clowne speak / More then is set down...." Privileging writing, Hamlet goes on in this same speech, however, to clown and improvise himself: "the First Quarto was marked," Weimann argues, "by a hybrid source of authority, one that was as 'divided against itself' as the double-dealing poetics that, simultaneously, informed Hamlet's antic clowning and his own advice against it" (28). Weimann has an extra interest in the First Quarto since it--more than its canonical relatives, Q2 and F1--evinces textual authority's "unsettled and dispersed locations between the writing and production of the play" (18).

Weimann returns to Hamlet in chapter six, reminding us that it is Q2 and F 1 that add the phrases "the purpose of playing" and "the mirror up to nature" to Hamlet's theatrical advice. For Weimann, Shakespeare--unlike Hamlet--constantly emphasizes purposes of playing: "The 'mirror' of Renaissance representation and the 'antic disposition' constitute the two most prominent purposes of playing in Hamlet.... Hamlet is cast into this doubleness, with a capacity for both rupturing and forging the link between his high role and his low craft" (169). This chapter, then, builds not only on the earlier Hamlet chapter but also on the chapters in between.

These middle chapters contain brilliant discussions of eighteenth-century editorial practices that favored text over performance; of the way that "the staging of Henry V is actually made to thrive on the use (and 'abuse') of the threshold between the imaginary, represented product...and the material process of bringing it about" (70); and of the role of disguise in staging the problem of "bifold authority" (65), especially in Shakespearean comedies and problem plays. This analysis of disguise focuses Weimann's argument acutely, for he shows us how fixity and flux, representation and protean play can co-exist and even be mutually empowering: "the representation of socially and sexually fixed roles is subjugated to a bewildering volatility....Still, this supreme play with gendered difference does not quite surrender the representational design of character" (97). And it goes the other way, too, in these plays: just as representation and character do not surrender to playing and volatile shape-shifting, "text-or iented acting" never quite engulfs "body-oriented playing" (133). Locus and platea continue to intersect and intermingle.

Weimann closes, appropriately, with a chapter on endings and epilogues, where he finds doubleness extending beyond the frame of the play. Negotiating with Dennis Kay's work on the Shakespearean ending as well as with cultural anthropologists' work on liminality, Weimann reveals how endings that do not quite end are part of the "two-way traffic" (245) that his book has explored: "a spell of liminaliry, as I have suggested, thrived in the play's opening but also in transitions between different uses of theatrical space and, last not least, in divergent projections of temporality, when the move from time represented to the time of and for representation was at least by implication a liminal act" (244).

In a powerful and moving epilogue of his own, Weimann opens up the book to issues involving contemporary literary and performance theory: he clearly wants to "revitalize a legacy" of doubleness that is not hopelessly divided between text and performance in a "traditional" sense or between signifier and the world in a "deconstrucrionist" sense: "The rupture cannot be denied; and yet there is a linkage behind the dislinkage allowing for separate and sometimes incompatible practices to convolve and communicate" (248). Uncovering linkage behind dislinkage and compatibility in incompatibility, Weimann has written a difficult but utterly engaging and important book that finds "conjoining" (250) and hope in "contrariety" where others have found merely contestation and despair.
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Author:Platt, Peter G.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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