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“My hand is ready, may it do him ease”: Shakespeare and the theatre of display “My hand is ready, may it do him ease”: Shakespeare and the theatre of display

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Author(s): Michael Mangan

Journal: Ilha do Desterro
ISSN 0101-4846

Issue: 49;
Start page: 195;
Date: 2008;
Original page

ABSTRACT
In his introduction to Shakespeare in the Present, Terence Hawkes reclaims, in the face of historicist strust, “presentism” as a critical strategy in Shakespeare Studies. It must be, he argues, a theorized strategy, not a simple assumption or assertion that Shakespeare is our contemporary. It must be a strategy which “will not yearn to speak with the dead [but will aim] to talk to the living” (4).1 I find Hawkes’ words heartening, since in performance theatre is always and necessarily presentist. Hawkes recognizes this, and goes on to stipulate that “placing emphasis on the present can’t help but connect fruitfully with the current realignment of critical responses that stresses the performance of a play as much as its ‘reference’… Presentism thus highlights what has been termed drama’s ‘performative’ function” (5). Hawkes’ broader thesis—that presentism makes it possible to reverse the chronology of causality, to ask questions about the influence of the present upon the past—resonates with the re-creative act of making theatre, which has always needed to negotiate the influence of the present upon the past as well as vice versa, in its search for what Milhouse and Hume call “producible interpretations”.2 In his introduction to Shakespeare in the Present, Terence Hawkes reclaims, in the face of historicist strust, “presentism” as a critical strategy in Shakespeare Studies. It must be, he argues, a theorized strategy, not a simple assumption or assertion that Shakespeare is our contemporary. It must be a strategy which “will not yearn to speak with the dead [but will aim] to talk to the living” (4).1 I find Hawkes’ words heartening, since in performance theatre is always and necessarily presentist. Hawkes recognizes this, and goes on to stipulate that “placing emphasis on the present can’t help but connect fruitfully with the current realignment of critical responses that stresses the performance of a play as much as its ‘reference’… Presentism thus highlights what has been termed drama’s ‘performative’ function” (5). Hawkes’ broader thesis—that presentism makes it possible to reverse the chronology of causality, to ask questions about the influence of the present upon the past—resonates with the re-creative act of making theatre, which has always needed to negotiate the influence of the present upon the past as well as vice versa, in its search for what Milhouse and Hume call “producible interpretations”.2
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