The Player's Eye: Shakespeare on Television


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

For the past several years I have looked forward to autumn with mixed feelings, knowing that I will be committed to another season of the BBC-TV Shakespeare Plays, an anxiety compounded this past year by the addition of the Mobil Showcase King Lear. I'm not being entirely facetious. The series has been, with some striking exceptions, competently directed, well acted, and lavishly produced, but in general I have found my evenings of television Shakespeare to be tame at best, to offer a rather remote and at times frustrating experience of the plays. The entire project, of course, raises intriguing questions about the sociology of performance and of Shakespeare in contemporary life. But the series also brings a narrower, specifically histrionic question into focus: how does television alter our response to the means of dramatic performance-acting? A dramatic production designs a performance for both actors and audiences. It directs the actor to undertake a series of activities onstage; it also invites us to see those activities in a particular way, situates us as spectators of the actor's and of his character's performance. Although both stage and television are acting arenas, they confront the spectator through different means, make different demands, and mark out different experiences of drama, in part by constituting a different relationship between actor and spectator in the play they share. The transfer of Shakespeare's plays to television provides an occasion to clarify the role that acting plays in our response to drama, in our play as theater spectators and as television viewers.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.