Shakespearean Rhizomatics: Adaptation, Ethics, Value

  • Douglas Lanier
Part of the Reproducing Shakespeare: New Studies in Adaptation and Appropriation book series (RESH)


These days there is a growing sense among Shakespeareans that our field has arrived at a crossroads. Throughout much of the twentieth century, the dominant preoccupation of academic Shakespeareans was to establish and preserve an “authentic” Shakespeare text. The reigning assumption has been that the source of Shakespeare’s greatness is to be identified with the verbal particularities of his scripts, which we as scholars are obliged to cherish, explicate and place in historical context. The appeal to Shakespeare’s original language, an appeal conducted from a variety of perspectives, has provided Shakespearean scholarship of the last century its distinctive cultural authority. It is no accident that professional Shakespearean scholarship—a peculiarly twentieth-century invention, we should acknowledge—can be traced to the professionalization of Shakespearean editing in the late nineteenth century and the concomitant demotion of biographical criticism’s prestige.1 The critical descent of Shakespeare the man enabled the ascent of Shakespeare the text.


Close Reading Cultural Materialist Textual Criticism Residual Power Critical Practice 
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  1. 1.
    The place of biographical criticism in twentieth-century criticism, of course, is far more complex than this broad-brush formulation allows. Until relatively recently, much of the energy of connecting life to work had shifted to non-academic scholarship, particularly anti-Stratfordianism. Even so, biographical criticism remains a powerful, though largely unacknowledged, residual element in professional scholarship. Recently, Shakespeare biographicalism has undergone something of a renaissance among academic critics: see, for example, Park Honan’s Shakespeare: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)Google Scholar
  2. David Bevington’s Shakespeare: The Seven Ages of Human Experience (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002)Google Scholar
  3. Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World (New York: Norton, 2004)Google Scholar
  4. Richard Wilson’s Secret Shakespeare (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004)Google Scholar
  5. James Shapiro’s 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (New York: HarperCollins, 2005)Google Scholar
  6. Jonathan Bate’s Soul of the Age (London: Penguin, 2008)Google Scholar
  7. Lois Potter’s The Life of William Shakespeare (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Katharine Duncan-Jones’s Shakespeare: An Ungentle Life (London: Bloomsbury-Arden, 2010)Google Scholar
  9. and Graham Holderness’s Nine Lives of William Shakespeare (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011).Google Scholar
  10. To this list might be added works by popular historians—for example, Michael Wood’s In Search of Shakespeare (New York: Basic Books, 2003), companion volume to his TV series of the same name; Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare: The Biography (New York: Nan A. Talese, 2005)Google Scholar
  11. and Charles Nicholl’s The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street (London: Allen Lane, 2007)—as well as Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare: The World as Stage (New York: HarperCollins, 2007). Many of the works in this list—Wilson’s and Holderness’s are exceptions—target a cross-over readership, itself an indication of the residual power of biographicalism for nonacademic audiences. Also noteworthy in this connection is the reignition of the debate about Shakespeare’s authorship, fueled by James Shapiro’s Contested Will, the film Anonymous (dir. Roland Emmerich, 2011), and Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells’s collection Shakespeare Beyond Doubt (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013), along with an ever-active raft of anti-Stratfordian screeds. Notable, too, is the power of films like Shakespeare in Love (dir. John Madden, 1998) and Miguel y William (dir. Inés Paris, 2007), which, by playfully engaging and romanticizing Shakespeare’s life, reignited popular interest in the topic and suggested both the market potential of Shakespeare biographies and the need for scholars to reclaim their authority over the issue. 2. The impulse to problematize fidelity (most recently the keyword has been “authenticity”) and the concomitant struggle to conceptualize critical practice in its absence has been an enduring theoretical impasse in Shakespeare performance studies. Note James C. Bulman’s discussion of the question in his introduction to Shakespeare, Theory and Performance, ed. James C. Bulman (New York: Routledge, 1995), 1–12, as well as William Worthen’s extended engagement with the problem in Shakespeare and the Authority of Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) and Shakespeare and the Force of Modern Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). However, not all would agree that fidelity has become an untenable or undesirable idealGoogle Scholar
  12. see, for example, Michael D. Friedman, “In Defense of Authenticity,” Studies in Philology 99.1 (2002): 33–56. Friedman’s opening footnote provides a judicious sampling of scholarship on the issue.Google Scholar
  13. 3.
    See, for example, Leah S. Marcus, Unediting the Renaissance: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Milton (New York: Routledge, 1998) and “Editing Shakespeare in the Postmodern Age,” in A Concise Companion to Shakespeare and the Text, ed. Andrew R. Murphy (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 128–44Google Scholar
  14. Stephen Orgel, “The Authentic Shakespeare,” in The Authentic Shakespeare and Other Problems of the Early Modern Stage (New York: Routledge, 2002), 231–56Google Scholar
  15. and William Worthen, “Authority and Performance,” in Shakespeare and the Authority of Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 1–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Useful discussions of the postmodern turn in editing can be found in Jerome McGann, A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983); Crisis in Editing: Texts of the English Renaissance, ed. Randall McLeod (New York: AMS Press, 1988); and Palimpsest: Editorial Theory in the Humanities, ed. George Bornstein and Ralph Williams (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  17. 4.
    For an attempt to rethink the concept of disciplinary field within the context of Shakespearean adaptation, see Sonia Massai, “Defining Local Shakespeares,” in World-Wide Shakespeares: Local Appropriations in Film and Performance, ed. Sonia Massai (New York: Routledge, 2006), 3–11.Google Scholar
  18. 6.
    See Denise Albanese, Extramural Shakespeare (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 20–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 7.
    Richard Burt’s Unspeakable ShaXXXspeares, Revised Edition: Queer Theory and American Kiddie Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998) is a notable exception.Google Scholar
  20. 8.
    Terence Hawkes, Meaning by Shakespeare (New York: Routledge, 1992), 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 9.
    Gary Taylor, Reinventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History, from the Restoration to the Present (New York: Grove Press, 1989).Google Scholar
  22. 10.
    Diana Henderson, Collaborations with the Past: Reshaping Shakespeare across Time and Media (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006).Google Scholar
  23. 11.
    Bryan Reynolds and Don Hedrick, “Shakespeare and Transversal Power,” in Shakespeare without Class: Misappropriations of Cultural Capital, ed. Bryan Reynolds and Don Hedrick (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), 19. Reynolds develops this argument further in Performing Transversally: Reimagining Shakespeare and the Critical Future (New York: Palgrave, 2003).Google Scholar
  24. 12.
    Margaret Jane Kidnie, Shakespeare and the Problem of Adaptation (London: Routledge, 2009), 31.Google Scholar
  25. 14.
    There are signs that this kind of reconceptualization is emerging. The cultural afterlife of Shakespeare has been the topic of a number of recent studies: in addition to pioneering works like Gary Taylor’s Reinventing Shakespeare and Jonathan Bate’s The Genius of Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), see Stanley Wells, Shakespeare: For All Time (Oxford University Press, 2002)Google Scholar
  26. Jack Lynch, Becoming Shakespeare (New York: Walker, 2007)Google Scholar
  27. David Bevington, This Wide and Universal Theater: Shakespeare in Performance, Then and Now (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009)Google Scholar
  28. and Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare and Modern Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009). In different ways, each of these works reveals the tensions in Shakespearean studies between fidelity to the Shakespearean text and engagement with “Shakespeare” as a network of adaptations.Google Scholar
  29. 18.
    For a congruent argument with roots in Deleuze and Guattari’s theories, see Mark Fortier, “Wild Adaptation,” Borrowers and Lenders 3 (Fall–Winter 2007). See also Fortier, “Shakespeare as ‘Minor Theater’: Deleuze and Guattari and the Aims of Adaptation,” Mosaic 29.1 (March 1996): 1–18.Google Scholar
  30. 19.
    Gary Bartolotti and Linda Hutcheon, “On the Origin of Adaptations: Rethinking Fidelity Discourse and ‘Success’—Biologically,” New Literary History 38 (2007): 446.Google Scholar

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© Alexa Huang and Elizabeth Rivlin 2014

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  • Douglas Lanier

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