What constitutes a Shakespeare play? Is it the text in print or the performance on stage? And how does a stage performance differ from the printed text?
The earliest texts—the quartos and folios—represent multiple versions of many of Shakespeare’s works and result in unstable textual variants that offer significant alternatives. The plays in performance are further interpreted and filtered through production. These interpretations are influenced by shifts in cultural sensibilities, the personal interests and talents of individual artists, and the physical and technological conditions of the theater. In order to make Shakespeare’s plays accessible and appealing to audiences over several centuries, theater practitioners have shaped both the text and style of production to fit the fashion, preferences, and understanding of their times. In essence, the multiple versions of Shakespeare’s works are reconstituted and recreated each time actors, directors, and designers prepare and mount a new production.
Here Is a Play Fitted highlights the broad shifts in the theatrical productions of four plays by Shakespeare: Othello, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Designs for sets, lights, and costumes, production images, props, models, playbills, letters, reviews, and promptbooks shed light on the motivations behind the sometimes surprising changes made to the texts for performance.
Next: The Earliest Text & The Unstable Script