English productions of 'Measure for Measure' on stage and screen:the play's indeterminacy and the authority of performance

Nusen, Rachod (2016) English productions of 'Measure for Measure' on stage and screen:the play's indeterminacy and the authority of performance. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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This thesis offers the first full study of English productions of Measure for Measure on stage and screen from the Jacobean period to the early twenty-first century, based on archival research examining primary sources such as prompt books, video recordings and photographs. Because of its ambiguity and open silences, Measure for Measure is an ideal text to demonstrate W. B. Worthen’s thesis that, in performance, meanings are produced through various theatrical factors which necessarily go beyond the text. In this thesis, I argue that the ambiguity of Measure for Measure maximises its potential in production to reflect social and political climates of the time, anticipate changes and shape spectators’ perceptions of difficult issues such as authority, morality and gender politics. This argument is supported through my investigation into archival research which reveals how social context influenced productions and how those productions, in turn, shaped future productions and society. The Introduction argues that Measure for Measure is an ideal text to demonstrate Worthen’s concepts that the ‘work’ is always absent, and that ‘Shakespeare’ and the words in the text are not the most important sources of meaning. There are many crucial gaps in the text that performances need to fill. The Introduction analyses space, audience, actor and scenography as important factors which shape meaning and effect. In the first chapter, I argue that, because of its indeterminacy, in the early modern period, Measure for Measure helped not only to reaffirm the absolute authority of the monarchy but also to cultivate scepticism towards it, and how spectators at Whitehall and the Globe read performances would have depended on the conditions of the playing venues, spectators’ social statuses, gender and religious beliefs. Chapter Two argues that, in adapting the text of Measure for Measure or transcoding it into a different, two-dimensional media of the screen, the adaptor sets himself up as a rival authority to that of Shakespeare and, in consequence, changes our perception of the ‘work’. The adaptations of Measure for Measure from the Restoration to the modern period, both on stage and on screen, are covered in this chapter. Chapter Three argues that performance spaces have a strong impact on playgoers’ reactions towards performances and the spectators’ attitudes towards the genre and issues of authority and morality. This chapter focuses on the ‘Elizabethan’ revival productions of William Poel, arguing that it contributed to the view of Measure for Measure as a ‘problem play’; the production by John Dove, which revived its reputation as a comedy, and modern touring productions. Chapter Four argues that productions of Measure for Measure from the Georgian period to the 1960s tried to solve the play’s ambiguous treatment of morality, authority, gender politics and ‘vulgarity’ and, in so doing, such productions reflected, anticipated and shaped not only ‘Shakespeare’ but also society. The final chapter argues that, as publicly-funded theatres, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre have a commitment to speak to the nation and, due to their agendas and policies, the productions of Measure for Measure after 1970 at the National successfully engaged with contemporary issues of gender politics, racial equality and state power while the Royal Shakespeare Company largely failed to engage with these difficult issues.

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Thesis (PhD)
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06 May 2016 11:20
Last Modified:
12 Sep 2023 00:18