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Collaborations with the Past: Reshaping Shakespeare across Time and Media.

Collaborations with the Past: Reshaping Shakespeare across Time and Media. By Diane E. Henderson. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 2006. xi + 289 pp. 24.95 [pounds sterling]. isbn: 978-0-8014-4419-7.

'Books descend from books as families from families' (p. 104). This quotation from Virginia Woolf 's The Leaning Tower at the beginning of Diana E. Henderson's second chapter provides a premise with which to introduce her book Collaborations with the Past. For each literary, theatrical and filmic production, there exists a 'prologue'- an influential source, often multiple, that has come before--be it a play, a past production, or history itself. For Henderson's purpose, the reoccurring past collaborator for all artistic forms discussed is Shakespeare.

In Part 1, 'Novel Transformations', Henderson discusses Walter Scott and Virginia Woolf in two consecutive chapters. Henderson suggests that both Scott and Woolf 's collaboration with Shakespeare do not involve direct replication of the Shakespearean 'urtext', but deal in a series of echoes, allowing for a greater impact when the novelists' 'Shake-shifting' inverts the natural trajectory of Shakespeare's classics. For example, whilst Othello's Desdemona is led to the outskirts of civilization to meet her demise, Scott's Kenilworth heroine Amy is led from the marginal to the court: the threat is found 'at the very core of "civilization"' (p. 53). For Henderson, this shadow upon the English court ties to Scott's position as a Scot, writing as an Englishman. Scott's own 'borderline' politics infiltrates his novel, linking with his early modern predecessor. Othello's racial aspects are replaced with the emergence of the 'Celtic other', reflecting collaboration not only with the text but with personal political policies.

Both chapters proceed to discuss the afterlife of Kenilworth and Mrs Dalloway. Further collaborations, on the part of those involved with the stage/screen production of these texts, are evident in the creation of an 'Anglophilic' stage version of Kenilworth and in the significance of the actors' professional past in the process of a new production of Mrs Dalloway. These issues are taken further in the second part of Henderson's text, 'Media Crossings', in her discussion of The Taming of the Shrew and Henry V.

Whilst highlighting the nature of The Taming of the Shrew's relationship with Shakespeare, history, and past productions, Henderson's third chapter also directs the reader towards a consideration of Shakespeare's collaboration with a modern language. This is achieved through the discussion of Shakespearean 'spin offs' such as Kiss Me, Petrucio and 10 Things I Hate About You, in which similar inversions, apparent in Scott and Woolf, are demonstrated through the play's collaboration with the present.

The significance of modern 'reshaping' of the Shakespearean play is particularly demonstrated in Henderson's final chapter. Henry V's Welsh connection in Kenneth Branagh's production is thoroughly examined, looking in particular at silent historical narratives within the modern film. This emphasis is also shown to speak to the present. Henderson points to Tony Blair's limited relationship with the Welsh assembly, asserting that the 'Celtic Fringe' is once again 'a matter of the moment', and therefore 'gives more weight to these choices of representing Henry V' (p. 250).

Collaborations with the Past highlights the use of Shakespeare as an 'urtext', but, as Henderson's argument unfolds, this collaborative relationship with Shakespeare does not lie in the linking of text with text alone, but also with Shakespeare's own collaborative history, along with the impingement of the present. The text is extremely informative and engaging, with enough information to guide the reader effectively through Henderson's arguments. In the introduction Henderson reiterates the claim that 'Every age creates its own Shakespeare' (p. 3, citing Marjorie Garber). Henderson's work not only supports this claim, but demonstrates the truth of her title, that this 'Shakes-shifting' is not limited to time, but that every 'media crossing' also creates its own version of Shakespeare, based on collaborations with the past--and the present.

Ruth Abraham

Queen's University Belfast
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Author:Abraham, Ruth
Publication:Yearbook of English Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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