Austen and Shakespeare: Improvised Drama
Why are there so many improvised performances based on Austen and Shakespeare? ‘Austentatious, an Improvised Austen Novel’ are a theatrical troupe who regularly stage Austen-inspired stories prompted by the audience—with titles such as Man-Filled Park and Brute and Brutality. Similarly, ‘Impromptu Shakespeare’ invites spectators to throw balls with Shakespearean topoi onto the stage. Those that get caught in one of the actor’s breeches become the building blocks of that night’s performance. And ‘Sh!t-faced Shakespeare’ semi-improvise a Shakespeare play with an inebriated cast member.
This chapter explores this type of spontaneous performance through shows from the Edinburgh Fringe arts festival 2017. It argues that the performative force behind Austen’s and Shakespeare’s texts is one reason behind the success and proliferation of the shows. What is more, in their hyperbolic tendencies, playfulness and collaborative spirit, improv Austen and improv Shakespeare reveal the artificial and constructed nature of what we have culturally come to call Jane Austen and William Shakespeare. On the improvisatory stage, more than anywhere else, the two founding stones of the canon of English literature are exposed as mere fictions.
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