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Text and performance

(page 1 of 2)

(Part of an online exhibition created by OU Associate Lecturer Brendan Jackson in 2014)

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Clip 1: AA306 Versions of Shakespeare
Duration: 00:00:57
Date: 2000

It is to the great credit of the Open University that since its inception it has avoided the pitfall of teaching dramatic texts as if they are of the same kind as other literary texts. The most advanced OU module devoted solely to the study of Shakespeare is entitled ‘Shakespeare: Text & Performance‘, and the implications of the fact that the play-texts are designed for performance are explored intensively.

When I was an undergraduate reading English at another university (just before the foundation of the Open University in the 1970s) Shakespeare’s plays, and indeed all dramas, were treated as texts to be studied on the page, in much the same way as the novels of Dickens, say, or Wordsworth’s poetry. I was given little or no encouragement to visit the theatre, and no mention was made of filmed Shakespeare, although Laurence Olivier’s Henry V and Hamlet had already found success in the cinema, as had Orson Welles’s Macbeth.

The scholar Kiernan Ryan recalls in an Open University video (Clip 1) that Charles Lamb 200 years ago cogently argued that no performance of Shakespeare can ever be as rich as a private reading of the written text.

View Clip 1

Of course, much is to be gained from detailed study of the written texts of Shakespeare’s plays, and the academic industry has in no way fallen into recession. It seems that limitless books of Shakespeare scholarship and criticism are still published each year, some of them by the Open University.

A private reading of the written texts can be immensely enjoyable and rewarding, but they were written by Shakespeare to be performed, and surely our ideal approach should include both textual study and exposure to a variety of different performances?

Text and performance (page 1 of 2)