Shakespeare and the Stage

John Kerrigan

  • Elizabethan Popular Theatre: Plays in Performance by Michael Hattaway
    Routledge, 234 pp, £14.95, January 1983, ISBN 0 7100 9052 8
  • Shakespeare the Director by Ann Pasternak Slater
    Harvester, 244 pp, £18.95, December 1982, ISBN 0 7108 0446 6

Plans have been laid, the land is bought and later this year contractors will start to build, at Southwark, on or near the original site, a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe. It’s an exciting scheme, and everyone interested in drama must be grateful to Sam Wanamaker and his academic accomplices for advancing it – especially since the space will apparently be used not only for More Shakespeare but for neglected works by his contemporaries. But whatever the merits of the Globe Theatre Project, it’s a scheme attended with insidious dangers. For the temptation to assume that, with careful research, Shakespeare’s theatre can be reconstituted in lath and plaster is almost irresistible, when everything essential to that theatre actually lies beyond archaeology. As Michael Hattaway reminds us in his eloquent new study of Elizabethan Popular Theatre, the Rose, the Curtain, the Globe and the rest did not define the drama that they housed. Far more important than the ‘wooden O’ and ‘cockpit’ were those shared attitudes to language and illusion, spectacle and narrative that generations of actors and audiences worked out in Tudor halls, inn yards and bear gardens. In other words, when the last piece of marbled timber is slotted into place at Southwark, the real work must begin, with the elaboration of a mode of performance which, open to Elizabethan influence (appropriate, indeed, to a replica playhouse), can nevertheless be read without anxiety by modern audiences.

At which point, the company could do worse than turn to Dr Hattaway’s book, which concentrates uncompromisingly on the theatrical dimension of late Elizabethan drama. Wide-ranging but informed, critically alert and consistently responsive to the possibilities of performance, Elizabethan Popular Theatre is, I think, the best introductory account of a subject far too often handled in a spirit of dull antiquarianism. Cambises, Sir Clyomon, Platter’s Travels and Henslowe’s Diary are not the most immediately engaging of works, and they usually induce a self-indulgent dullness in the scholars who discuss them: but such texts come to life in Hattaway’s hands. He has formidable gifts as an expositor. Particularly impressive is the long first section of the book, devoted to stages, audiences, gestures and rhetoric. It might have been predictable, with Heywood’s Apology and Hamlet’s advice to the players following hard upon the Fortune contract and Jonson’s Induction to Bartholomew Fair: but Hattaway, with all the assurance of a man in complete command of the sources, adds less obvious texts (like Gayton’s Notes Upon Don Quixote and Rhenanus’s adaptation of Tom-kis’s Lingua) and illustrations (the elder Peter Breughel’s Mascarade D’Ourson et de Valentin as well as the younger’s Village Fair), so that the old points emerge with new emphasis. The second half of the book gives critical readings of The Spanish Tragedy, Mucedorus, Edward II, Dr Faustus and Titus Andronicus, and it is, on the whole, less satisfactory. There’s a skimpiness and loss of subtlety suggesting haste and a looming word limit. But Hattaway is never less than stimulating.

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