Questioning Shakespeare’s Authorship
Issue # 18 of Critical Stages/Scènes critiques is now available online and on time, as usual, with a special “gift” to our readers from all over the world. For the first time we have taken the risk of carrying two big special topics in one edition of our journal.
Although seemingly dissimilar, these topics share one thing; namely, a question mark, an aporia. The first asks “what is the state of contemporary Chinese theatre and performing arts?” and the other “who is Shakespeare?” We may know many things about the current Chinese economy, about Mao and his Cultural Revolution, and about Peking Opera, but what do we really know about the current state of theatre affairs in this huge country where communism and capitalism come together in a way that is found nowhere else in the world? We may also know many things about Hamlet and King Lear, but are we very sure about the person who brought these masterpieces to life?
According to an official report quoted by Raymond Zhou, a Beijing-based writer and critic, (American Theatre, May/June 2017), “Beijing alone saw 24,440 live performances for the year 2016, registering 1.7 billion yuan (247.7 million US dollars) in box-office receipts and 10.7 million total viewers.” In the largest country in the world, its theatre core still lies mainly in Beijing and, to a lesser degree, in the more cosmopolitan Shanghai. The rest of the country enjoys a good number of large scale, mostly state-sponsored variety shows. However, there is not much exposure to international theatre, particularly where the more demanding spoken dramas are concerned.
As for traditional Chinese opera and its numerous variants, its presence and relevance is very much felt but also debated among local artists; as can be seen in the papers in this special issue, put together by Professor Peng Tao, the blending of classicism and contemporary aesthetics is a burning issue.
In the last two decades the private sector has grown rapidly in Chinese theatre, although the state-funded companies still enjoy the lion’s share. Audiences have also grown substantially, with young people standing out as the fastest growing (and, significantly, the most influential) section of the theatre-going public. The young audience is better informed, more extrovert and readier to welcome the new, the fresh and the challenging. They exert pressure on local theatre producers and creators to be inventive and to take risks.
As for the second special topic, on the Shakespeare authorship question, Prof. Don Rubin gives us a very succinct and accurate umbrella title for our series of essays on this hotly debated subject: “Did the Man from Stratford Really Write the Plays?” If not, he asks, who did, and what are the implications? Does “authorship” still matter? Should it matter? These are questions that have been raised over many years, and they will not go away. They still haunt scholars from all over the world. Professor Rubin makes the point very nicely: “The authorship issue in Shakespeare studies is one that is literally leading thousands of scholars, critics and theatre artists, and hundreds of other researchers in fields such as history, law and medicine to question the traditional attribution of the name ‘Shakespeare’ to a man who had no proven education, whose family was illiterate and who never actually claimed that he was the author. Really? Really. So shouldn’t we be at least curious enough to look into it?” Prof. Rubin’s question is an apposite one, and, in addition to publishing this special edition on the Shakespeare authorship question, Critical Stages/Scènes critiques is ready to accommodate a follow-up discussion, should there be an appetite for further debate on this fascinating subject.
Due to the large number of essays included in these two special topics we have decided to publish them in two separate installments. The first consists of the Chinese special topic, the Interview section, the Performance and Book sections and a special section devoted to the latest of Thalia Prize winners, the renowned Prof. Hans-Thies Lehmann.
The second installment, which will be published four weeks later, carries the special issue on Shakespeare’s authorship, plus the Essay section and the National Reports section.
Edition #18 of our journal will carry a total of 43 articles, written by 40 authors, plus nine interviews conducted by nine people and three laudation speeches delivered by Peng Tao, Emmanuel Dandaura and Deepa Punjani on the occasion of Prof. Lehmann’s Thalia Prize award and Mr Lehmann’s acceptance speech. This is a rich concentration of contributions (57 altogether) from all over the world: West-East, North-South, from India, Nigeria, Australia, China, Greece, Germany, South Africa, Martinique, Turkey, Romania, Sweden, Canada, England, Hong Kong, Bulgaria, Russia, Israel, Scotland and many others. The three editors of the journal (executive director Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, managing director Don Rubin and myself, as editor-in-chief) have good reason to be proud of what we are able to offer our worldwide readership in this latest edition. I am sure you will find many things of interest.
Professors Peng Tao and Don Rubin did an exceptionally good job selecting and editing the two special topics. I cannot thank them enough. Matti Linnavuori and Don Rubin have, once again, generously contributed their valuable time selecting and editing the performance and book review sections. I owe them many thanks. I also owe much to Yun Cheol Kim and Deepa Punjani for their support. My special thanks also go to Michel Vaïs, Mark Brown and Lissa Tyler Renaud for their meticulous reading of all articles. I should also like to acknowledge my gratitude to all the authors of this issue whose contributions open Critical Stages/Scènes critiques to new perspectives and new theatre worlds.
SPECIAL THANK-YOU NOTE: For the completion of this issue, all members of the Editorial Board of Critical Stages/Scènes critiques and all members of IATC’s Executive Committee owe special thanks to Ms Jin Xing and her Dance School for their most valuable financial support. We are most grateful.
We also owe thanks to Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, Executive Editor of Critical Stages/Scènes Critiques and ExCom member, and the Theatre Department of the University of Illinois at Urbana, who have generously supported the publication of issues #8 through to #16 (June 2013 to January 2018) and to the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, which hosts our journal and provides the technical support free of charge. All these people and organizations make the publication of our journal possible.
*Savas Patsalidis is Professor of theatre and performance history and theory in the School of English (Aristotle University, Thessaloniki), the Hellenic Open University and the Drama Academy of the National Theatre of Northern Greece. He is also a regular lecturer on the Graduate Programme of the Theatre Department at Aristotle University. He is the author of thirteen books on theatre and performance criticism/theory and co-editor of another thirteen. His two-volume study, Theatre, Society, Nation (2010), was awarded first prize for best theatre study of the year. In addition to his academic activities, he works as a theatre reviewer for the ejournals lavart, parallaxi, and the greekplay project. He is currently the president of the Hellenic Association of Theatre and Performing Arts Critics, member of the curators’ team of Dimitria Festival and the editor-in-chief of Critical Stages/Scènes critiques, the journal of the International Association of Theatre Critics.