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Talking Shakespeare

Notes from a Journey


Louis Fantasia

Talking Shakespeare is a collection of essays on Shakespeare’s plays and politics and their impact in the world today. Originally given as provocative talks on Shakespeare at some of the most prestigious universities, conferences, and theatres around the world, they reflect on the author’s more than thirty-year career as a producer, director and educator. The essays provide a unique and personal look into multiple aspects of Shakespeare’s world—and ours.


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Chapter 2. “Can Curses Pierce the Clouds?”—Shakespeare and the New Millennium


· 2 · “CAN CURSES PIERCE THE CLOUDS?”— SHAKESPEARE AND THE NEW MILLENNIUM (Given at Brasenose College, Oxford, January 2000; Keynote, Texas Educational Theatre Association, Houston, February 2000; Renaissance 2000 Conference, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, June 2000) I believe it was the American painter Robert Rauschenberg who reportedly once said that “the shape of the canvas determines the painting.” The same is true of theatres. The shape of the theatre, let alone the stage, determines the play. All sorts of well- known sociological conclusions have been drawn about this, from the hierarchy of the proscenium- arch to the implied egalitarian- ism of theatre- in- the- round. We know the arguments for and against “Royal,” “heritage,” “post- modern,” and “multi- cultural” Shakespeare. They depend to a greater or lesser extent on whether the plays are produced, for example, at Stratford- on- Avon, the London Globe, the Royal National Theatre, an East London warehouse, a Brixton school auditorium, or at an open air theatre in Regent’s Park. Entire theories of performance have been built, to cite only one instance, on the assumption that Shakespeare’s stage had a so- called “inner above” or curtained- off inner chamber, where Othello could strangle Desdemona, or Hamlet could stand, knife in hand, over the praying Claudius. Moreover, an- yone who has ever seen a play transfer from a workshop- size space to a West End or Broadway theatre can testify to how much is lost in the move. Staging that might have been dynamic and intense flattens...

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