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Shakespeare in Space: Recent Shakespeare Productions on Screen. By H. R. Coursen. New York: Peter Lang, 2002. Pp. 191.
In Shakespeare in Space, Herbert R. Coursen focuses again on how archetypes, primal images encoded in the scripts, influence audience response to postmodern productions of Shakespeare's plays and on how the ever-evolving Zeitgeist impacts upon those scripts. These are ideas Coursen introduced in Shakespeare in Production: Whose History? (Athens: Ohio UP, 1996) and then revisited in Shakespeare: The Two Traditions (London: Associated University Presses, 1999). In the present work, he shows how they interact within the template of performance space, and in so doing brings them to bear upon the considerable body of Shakespeare fills produced darting the last decade of the twentieth century, many now available on VHS and DVD. Coursen draws here, as in previous works, upon his years of experience as a scholar-teacher in the field of performance. He has a phenomenal memory for detail and a remarkable facility for synthesizing and compressing. His prose is informal, devoid of jargon, completely engaging. But his book is not an "easy" read. for Coursen lures us irresistibly into a discourse that is always provocative, often enlightening, occasionally infuriating, and inevitably exciting.
The author begins by asserting the primacy of space in any performance and then defines its parameters: "one cannot evaluate production until one accounts for the 'space,' actual and conceptual, within which the production appears" (2). Thus space includes the "inherited script (or scripts)," which "outlines the options for productions available to actors and directors" (1). The script always moves "forward in time," so that each production is "a mode of interrogation," with the potential to "show us our own zeitgeist or episteme, linking what is construed as the "meaning" in the script to meanings we perceive in our culture" (1). A successful interrogation, moreover. "give[s] us a glimpse of archetype beneath the action" (5). What is new here, of course, and essential to the argument, is the author's thesis that performance space is far more inclusive than ever before acknowledged, that it embraces, in fact, every element related to a production, whether physical or temporal, "actual" or "conceptual," including even genre (5-6) and the "domesticated" space of television …