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Part-believed Shakespeare.

WHAT IS SHAKESPEAREAN DRAMA UP TO THESE DAYS? What has it been doing in the theater since the advent of performance studies and that discipline's critique of drama's authority over performance? We should begin with the comments of W. B. Worthen, who offers the decisive rearticulation of drama's participation in performance, dissolving fantasies of Shakespearean authority that have for generations, if not for centuries, thrilled and, more recently, dismayed critics. For Worthen, drama is working:
   To the extent that [social and theatrical] technologies change, we
   have only two choices: either to find new affordances in the text
   that enable us to use it to do new work, or to consign the drama to
   a forlorn heap of plays echoing in the dustbin. (1)

It is being put to work through the behaviors of performers, directors, ensembles, productions. With any luck, drama is being put to new, interesting, and engaging work. Far from dominating performance, drama is set in motion by repertoires of performance practice.

Thinking dramatic writing as "writing for use" by these repertoires, as Worthen does, undoes ideologies of dramatic authority and affirms the value of theatrical practice. (2) Our question, then, might be this: What happens after hours? What happens if our metaphors for drama's theatrical participation take us out of the office, out of the factory, and to the party or the protest? In putting drama to work do we risk filtering out dramatic energies that chafe against the work set down for them, that clown around during necessary questions, and that dream uselessly of other, unnecessary inquiries (cf. Hamlet 3.2.38-43)? (3)

Shakespeare's Hamlet, much against its protagonist's neoclassicizing will, presents a protracted encounter with such clowning dramatic agencies, an encounter that discloses more playful possi bilities for the interaction between drama and performance. In doing so, it conducts us into a zone of the performance event that is to us scholars and critics as the rooster's cry is to Horatio: something that we (as theatregoers and practitioners) have heard and seen, but (as scholars and theorists) only in part believed (cf. 1.1.170).

For our purposes here today, I will focus on the sequence by which Hamlet ushers its clowning dramatic agencies into this part-believed zone. This happens in the movement between two of the play's most famous dramatic agencies: between Hamlet's "globe" and his "machine."

Both of these terms chafe against the work set down for them, but the manner of their chafing marks an epochal transformation of drama's theatrical role. The globe chafes famously, even brazenly. It ripples out concentrically from Hamlet's initial enunciation--"Remember thee? / Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat / In this distracted globe" (1.5.95-97)--to implicate not only the Globe Theatre in which the audience hold their seats, but also the "great globe itself" beyond the theatre. The "machine," by contrast, clowns so discreetly that it has become disproportionately more famous for its modern, industrialized shenanigans than for its early modern ones.

But ... Hamlet's attempt to use this term to indicate his body and, in turn, to use his body as collateral for constancy--"Thine evermore, most dear lady, whilst this machine is to him" (2.2.122-23; emphasis added)--is hobbled by the fact that this sense of machine-as-body is not so consolidated that it can hold at bay the term's earlier meanings. In fact, Hamlet's use of "machine" is the OED's first citation in this sense, (4) and the earlier senses go to work stitching Hamlet's letter--which emerges as part of Polonius's misguided fantasy of Hamlet's love madness--together with the play's revenge plot.

To bullet-point things:

* The "machine" as a "material or immaterial structure, esp. the fabric of the world or of the universe" (OED la; from 1545) lands on nearby employment in the text of the letter itself which suggests that Ophelia should "Doubt that the stars are fire / Doubt that the sun doth move / Doubt truth to be a liar / But never doubt I love" (2.2.115-18). It also evokes the play's texture of cosmic anxieties, as when we learn that Hamlet's eyes might "start from their spheres" (1.5.17).

* The machine as "scheme or plot" (OED lb; from 1595] finds ample employment with the various scheme-engines of murder, revenge, spying, and detection that have, by this point in the play, come to light.

* The machine as "military engine or siege tower" (OED 3; from 1583) tele-commutes to the nervous battlements where we heard of the hectic "mart for implements of war" (1.1.77) and met the Ghost who, in his armor-machine, laid siege to the night watch.

Both terms clown their initial enunciation. But the relationship between each clowning term and the necessary questions of its scene is starkly different. The "globe" clowns in a cooperative spirit--yoking the inhabitants, first, of the theatre and, then, of the whole world as co-signatories to the moment's necessary question: Hamlet's promise of remembrance. The "machine," by contrast, achieves escape velocity from the apparently necessary questions of its scene--Polonius's oral-interpretation of Hamlet's missive to Ophelia--in order to hook up with the even more necessary questions of the play: Ghosts, schemes, cosmic dislocation.

What shall we make of this? At first glance, we are given little guidance as to how we should understand the relationship between the machine's "necessary" efforts and its "unnecessary"--or, rather, even more necessary--ones. We have, we might say, heard its puns, but we are only partly sure--or really not at all--how we should believe them. The "machine" puns gratuitously, as if to remind us that what had seemed like a promising revenge tragedy has since been derailed by Reynaldo, Voltemand, and Polonius's predilection for a tale of bawdry between Hamlet and Ophelia.

What has happened is a redistribution of dramatic agency: a Copernican shift in drama's clowning dynamics. While the "globe," in its concentric puns, evokes a geocentric cosmology with Hamlet's globe, the Globe Theatre, and the great globe itself as the heavenly spheres, the machine, by contrast, draws our attention to the fact that the son--and here we are talking about the s-o-n son, the one who has identified himself with the "globe," the earth--doth move.

This Copernican shift is given an elaborate staging that confirms its dynamics. From the moment of its first enunciation, after the interview with his father, Hamlet admits that his "globe" is "distracted" (1.5.97), perhaps threatening to start from its station. This distraction is realized onstage as the Prince--calling furiously for his tables, excoriating the asymmetry between outward smiles and inward villainy--reels a bit in his stance, paces, looks ... just like a celestial object about to come unstuck from its long-standing pride of place. Then, when his companions hesitate to swear a second time, they are surprised to hear the command of the Ghost issuing up through the floor: "Swear" (1.5.157). Hamlet decides that it is time to "shift our ground" (1.5.164). His globe is now on the move, he and his companions forming a little, scurrying planetary system wheeling across the stage.

The son, as we have said, doth move.

So. What is drama up to here? Where the globe's supplemental senses collaborated neatly with its primary project, the machine's connotations not only jailbreak from the necessary questions of its scene but seem to inflict themselves on the body that the "machine" was supposed to evoke. I mean this quite literally. In the "Swear" sequence, the cosmic machinery of the distracted, dissolving "globe" and the furiously burrowing siege-machine of the father lead Hamlet on a merry chase. By the time he is able to calm this "old mole" (1.5.170) and to say "[r]est, rest, perturbed spirit" (1.5.190), Hamlet is in need of a rest himself. His arms and legs are shaking, his breath heaving. (All the more reason for a break with Reynaldo and Voltemand!) Contrary to his enunciated tastes, things are not "well digested in the scenes" (2.2.435-36): they are indigested in the scenes. 'It"--theatrical performance, that is--has not been given "smoothness," as Hamlet suggests in his Advice to the Players (3.2.8); instead, through this in(di)gestion of dramatic agency, it has been given unsmoothness.

The "machine" is not so much "put to work by" the repertoire as it "goes to work on" the repertoire. In doing so, it clowns Hamlet's Advice. It also, I have wanted to suggest, charts a course through a zone of dramatic performance that our interpretive protocols have only partly believed. If we were once confident that drama authorized performance, more recent critics have tended either to abandon this relationship--giving rise to a "widening gap between literary and performance studies" (5)--or to negotiate between these terms under the sign of technical competence and theatrical "work." The "machine," by contrast, brings text crashing back into performance, using the energy from the collision to kick off a party (or a protest) in the supposedly widening gap between them.

The stakes of attending this party are not only epistemological--what we can see or hear or say about performance--but also ethical--what and who we can care about in performance. If the work of the last generation was to relocate the competence of performance from the author to the performer, the "machine" summons our attention to the (always potentially) incompetent encounter of player and text.

If the "machine" diagrams this moment on a cosmic scale, the play concludes on a more quotidian one. Refusing Hamlet's injunction to "report ... [his] cause aright," Horatio replies that he will drink the poison after all because he is "more an antique Roman than a Dane" (5.2.344, 346). Or that is what he says in our modern editions. The word is printed "anticke" in the Second Quarto and "Antike" in the Folio and First Quarto, clowning Horatio's efforts at classical allusion. It is not until Q5 in 1637 that some bold printer "fortifies our ears" (cf. 1.1.34-35) against this clowning term.

Until then, Horatio highlights the unsmooth struggle between actor and text. He also highlights the potentiality, the creativity of this moment, refusing to refer this rough-hewn encounter to the divinity of textual meaning or theatrical competence. At the moment that Hamlet puts Horatio to work on the imaginary forces of the future and of Fortinbras's regime, the eternal grad student hesitates. In doing so, he opens up a space where we might let part-belief take hold of us, even if the blank verse halts for it.


(1.) W. B. Worthen, Drama: Between Poetry and Performance (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 34; emphasis added. This and subsequent citations were presented as Powerpoint slides at the conference.

(2.) Worthen, Drama, XV.

(3.) William Shakespeare, Hamlet. Ed. Harold Jenkins (London: Methuen, 1982). All citations refer to this edition.

(4.) "A living body, esp. the human body considered in general or individually" COED 2; from 1604).

(5.) Joseph Roach, "Performance: The Blunders of Orpheus," PMLA 125.4 (2010): 1080.
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Author:Keegan, Daniel L.
Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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