It's widely agreed that the intersection of page and stage is the magical point where Shakespeare's works come to life. The breath of actors, directors, and other theatre professionals is what gives the plays their meaning and relevance to today's audiences. But where does the page end and the stage begin? Shakespeare and the Power of Performance, a cooperative effort by Robert Weimann and Douglas Bruster, hopes to answer that and much more.
Taking a select number of the plays, the authors delve into intricate analyses of Shakespeare's brilliant bridging of words to action. In Richard III, there are examples cited of how the title character "moralizes" two meanings in a single word, showing how his duplicity invites complicity. It's an idea that's not necessarily new, but the bringing together of the text, the character, the actor in the context of Shakespeare's time, and the social backdrop in this fashion is a fascinating treatise on the genealogy of early modern theatre.
Clowning is examined for a large part of the book, as is its role in society, both in virtue and vice, as well as the roles of specific players in Shakespeare's troupe. While we don't have actual records of how actors performed jesterly roles, the authors examine their styles, delivery of humor, and key anachronistic elements like the gravedigger's lines in Hamlet. This gives the play the shock value of philosophical concepts such as "presentist energy" and "undeniable immediacy," causing the audience to release awareness of both the past and future to become presently complicit in the performance, itself.
Overall, Shakespeare and the Power of Performance is not a unique approach to many of the elements discussed, but it ties together disparate ideas with a dose of remarkable insight that makes this work engaging. At times, the writing style gets in the way of making clear and simple points and tends to over-intellectualize an actor's process, but this text is a cogent approach to defining and setting the stage for scholars and Shakespearean thinkers. While not a guidebook for actors, there's no doubt that this is a deep and thought-provoking tome for scholars everywhere.