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Hamlet at Ground Zero: The Wooster Group and the Archive of Performance


Drama lives for us today on computer, television, telephone, and movie screens; on the stages of theaters large and small; and between the pages of books. Yet approaching dramatic performance depends on recognizing the crucial impact of the rise of print on our understanding of plays and playing in the West, the ways the assimilation of dramatic writing to the canons of print culture create a set of expectations, attitudes, and practices for regarding drama on both sides of the frontier between text and performance. This article traces the ways a specific performance—the 2007 Wooster Group Hamlet—focuses our attention on the question of the drama’s dual identity. Reenacting the John Gielgud-Richard Burton film Hamlet, the production marks out a genealogy of Hamlet’s remediation; much as the Wooster Group production blends live and digitally reproduced performance, Burton’s 1964 “Theatrofilm with Electronovision” asserted a cognate technological transformation in the status of stage performance in the enthusiastic rhetoric of cold war futurism. But rather than locating its present work as dependent on this apparently authorizing text, the Wooster Group Hamlet urges an alternative perspective, in which new technologies of enactment necessarily reshape the archive of performance.

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