Charles Marowitz and Recycling Shakespeare

I've been corresponding lately with director/critic/playwright Charles Marowitz, who was kind enough to provide a blurb for The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet. Marowitz is perhaps best known for his work with Peter Brook at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and for his radical "collage" adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, collected in The Marowitz Shakespeare and discussed in his book, Recycling Shakespeare, which was enormously helpful to me when working on my critical thesis for my Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Marowitz expressed surprise to learn that I had found his book so helpful. As he put it: "In my eyes, it is a book directed to actors and directors who have a Shakespearean bent and, I would have thought, useless to imaginative novelists." But, as I explained, by the time I went to London to study with Andrew Motion, I had already completed an early draft of The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet. My work in graduate school--and the program's usefulness to me in general, I now believe, was primarily in allowing me to put what I was writing into a theoretical and literary perspective. In that, Recycling Shakespeare was crucial, "giving permission" to me to do the sort of work I'd already been doing, by showing a context and precedent for taking these sort of liberties with Shakespeare's text.

In Recycling Shakespeare, Charles Marowitz characterizes Shakespearean audiences/productions in four categories. "Conservatives" wish to "preserve the integrity" of Shakespeare--which usually means faithfully duplicating their original experience of the play and reinforcing their own assumptions/expectations about Shakespeare. "Moderates," Marowitz says, "are prepared to accept a change in period or a shift in emphasis, so long as the basic structure and spirit remains intact." Radicals "eagerly applaud the innovations--the startling reinterpretations which enable Shakespeare's work to deliver new sensations..." Finally, there is the "Lunatic Fringe," for whom "there are no limits to the transformations that can be made to the Collected Works. Restructuring, juxtaposing, interlarding, collating one work with another; modern vernacular mixed with classical idiom...commingling Star Wars and the Wars of the Roses..." (Recycling Shakespeare, 16).

By this definition, even plays such as Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Lee Blessing's Fortinbras can be considered as "Lunatic Fringe" productions of Hamlet. And, taking this idea even further, even a novel such as mine can be considered as a non-theatrical "production" of the play. After all, no one goes to Hamlet to find out what happens--a production of the play is all about what subtext and backstory the actor and directors are bringing to the text, and that is what The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet provides.

I am under no illusion that I have discovered "Hamlet's secret" or the "one true meaning" of the play--any more than any given production of Hamlet invalidates or contradicts any other--but my interpretation is as valid as any other director's, and my reading of Hamlet's bisexual tendencies doesn't involve as much "reading against the text" as you might think. I'll explain in further detail in another entry.

Also: RIP Claude Lévi-Strauss, age 100, anthropologist and grandfather to the Post-Structuralist movement. Many of Derrida's most famous (or infamous) essays were essentially extended prose-poem jazz-riff reinterpretations of Lévi-Strauss's ideas.