G.R. Wilson Knight
- Coriolanus in Europe by David Daniell
Athlone, 168 pp, £9.95, October 1980, ISBN 0 485 11192 6
This is a valuable account, written by a first-hand reporter, of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s tour with Coriolanus, directed by Terry Hands, to Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin, Munich and Zurich. The company were known to Europe from previous visits, but it was a bold adventure, the bolder for the play chosen. It is far from easy in style, and only too likely to baffle a foreign audience, but if fully understood it is instead likely to channel fierce political passions. It had already had a recent showing, in adaptations by Brecht and Hollmann, the latter more in the nature of a parody, and the dangers, one way or another, were evident. I say ‘one way or another’ because Coriolanus might be seen as either Fascist or Communist propaganda, according to how one responds to the Shakespearian balance.
Vol. 3 No. 6 · 2 April 1981
SIR: With the greatest respect to G.R. Wilson Knight, his review (LRB, 19 February) of David Daniell’s account of RSC’s Coriolanus in Europe does justice neither to the production nor to the book. It might be supposed that one could not discuss a production adequately without having seen it – as Professor Wilson Knight candidly admits that he did not, in this case. But that is just the supposition which Dr Daniell’s book corrects; and that in order to bring study and stage into a more fruitful conjunction, to encourage the reader of Shakespeare to put himself among an audience, to endeavour to explain some of the dynamics of dramatic performance. To state that ‘there appears to have been comparatively little difficulty’ on the score of interpretation for the French and German-speaking audiences of the tour is to ignore the wealth of evidence in Chapters 3-9 that too often political preconceptions and various adaptations of Shakespeare obscured the play itself for many of those who saw it, with what Dr Daniell calls ‘the loss of possibility’. When Professor Wilson Knight notes, in this context, that some saw Alan Howard’s manner as classical, others as romantic, the contradiction does not alert him to the fact that pleasingly understated critical comments are passing him by. His impression that ‘no exciting visual effects, as far as I can see, were aimed at’ is simply wrong. His surmise that the costumes were perhaps ‘designed to fit the play’s atmosphere’ virtually ignores the entire aspect of stage design whose importance in production the book stresses. Nor do the conversations with the principal actors on their interpretations fare much better; and the author’s casting of himself as ingénu is taken literally, and with a vengeance.