There are two general types of Shakespearean stage history. The first deals with the original theatrical situation of the plays in Shakespeare's time: from when he started working in the London theater in the late 1580s until the Puritans closed down all the theaters, including the one that still housed Shakespeare's company, in 1642, twenty six years after his death. This first sort of stage history concerns itself with understanding as much as possible how the plays looked and sounded on their original stages as well as how Shakespeare came to write the plays in the different contexts of his biography, his position as a sharer in a repertory company, and early modern London.

The second kind of stage history, the kind that I am interested in here, has a longer historical reach: it begins with the Restoration in 1660, when Charles II returned a much changed theater to England, and continues on until today. Post-1660 stage history includes everything from Dryden and Davenant's early Restoration Tempest (where a Neoclassical aesthetic standard required both Caliban and Miranda to have sister-confidants) to the most recent offering of a local summer Shakespeare festival.

The great length of time involved in post-1660 stage history complicates the entire endeavor. How can you limit the parameters of your research when you have 400 years to cover? Where do you start and stop? And, a question more urgent than either of these, why bother? To show what can be at stake in post-1660 Shakespearean stage history I present one brief, but spectacular, example: "In Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1845, soldiers of the Fourth Infantry Regiment broke the monotony of waiting for the Mexican War to begin by staging plays, including a performance of Othello starring young Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant as Desdemona." It is clear from the surrounding history that this production of Othello was neither an unusual occurrence in the nineteenth century military nor a campy exercise in which Grant, the future general and president, delighted his companions by cross-dressing à la Milton Berle, Nipsey Russell, Ru-Paul or J. Edgar Hoover. Whatever the quality of his performance, Grant's decision to play Desdemona was earnest, rather than ironic. In contrast, it is almost impossible to imagine younger versions of, for example, Colin Powell or Bill Clinton playing any female character in Shakespeare without a great deal of self-protective irony. But the Corpus Christi Othello of 150 years ago is as distant from Shakespeare's theater as from our own: Grant was 23 in 1845, and significantly older than any of the cross-dressing boys who played women on the Shakespearean stage. In 1995, we carry different cultural baggage than in Shakespeare's time or in Grant's. This one, obscure, amateur production helps us to understand our own versions of Shakespeare as the necessarily biased and contingent things that they are.

If Shakespeare's plays were never performed today and had never been performed after 1642, this sort of methodological self-consciousness would be less necessary. But we have abundant Shakespeares in the study, on stage and screen, and on different stages in the past. Moreover, our Shakespeare is not only different than but also refracted through the intermediate past; the most obvious example of this is that we cannot today understand The Merchant of Venice as it was understood before the Holocaust.

This "beginner's guide" is an introduction to specifically Shakespearean stage history, one small section of the larger and more organized discipline of theater history. In the bibliography I confine myself, for the most part, to accounts of theatrical, cinematic and televised versions or appropriations of the plays. I am not much concerned, here, with poetic or novelistic revisions and reinterpretations of the plays as they have been much discussed elsewhere (e.g. in Hugh Grady's recent The Modernist Shakespeare or Marianne Novy's Women's Re-Visions of Shakespeare). In spite of its length, this bibliography is truly just a starting point. For every book I put into this list there were many that I chose to exclude, simply because it seemed to widen the scope of the project beyond reason. Section IV.B of the bibliography contains citations for a few individual plays and productions because they are either particularly useful or particularly unusual. Section I.A deals with Restoration Shakespeare, which I feel to be a coherent enough phenomenon to warrant its own brief section. At the end of the bibliography there are some suggestions for further research.
return to table of contents