THE SHAKESPEARE EXPERIENCE, AN INTRODUCTION
BOUCHARD, JOHN RICHARD
Doctor of Philosophy
Shakespearean drama is communally performed to celebrate and re-create the life of its attendant culture. This celebration and re-creation is the action by which a transcendent Shakespearean threatre convokes of its many audiences a greater audience extending through time. But this transcendent theatre's face is perennially transformed by history: for the Shakespearean theatre's scenic and gestic acts change in kind from performance to performance, in nature from culture to culture. The experiences of Shakespearean theatre are shaped by the complex and ambiguous relationship of any performance, or reading, with a generative culture, and with the many cultures Shakespearean theatre circumscribes and expresses. Neither our literary nor performance-oriented commentaries on the plays have accounted for the variability of Shakespeare experiences. The former have located authentic "Shakespeare experience" in supposedly objective meanings infolded in the scripts; the latter in projected "original-authentic" experiences of the Renaissance theatre: yet history demonstrates both that "objective" meanings are necessarily read into as they are read out of the scripts, and that every Shakespearean production is a substantially new creation to whose particular historical context authentic meanings and experiences are bound. A transparency before the endless creations of cultures characterizes Shakespearean drama, and reflects, I believe, the identifying feature of authentic Shakespeare experiences: the emotional/intellectual transformation of on-stage and off-stage participants. Transformative Shakespeare experiences are invoked initially by the scripts' unique presentational sketch--which survives history's changing intentions to encourage persistently a heightened self-consciousness in our theatrical playing. The sketch, influencing patterns of performance and response much as a pencil sketch influences probable patterns of eye movements, induces both extreme fascination and extreme self-consciousness in an audience by: verbal eloquence, presentational speech conventions, gestic language and gestic eloquence, and a playfulness accommodating "multiconscious" participation in theatrical creation. The extremes of response called for by Shakespearean presentationalism lead us, more consistently than responses to any other literature or drama, to experience the emotions of the moment within the frame of the concrete details of our own lives, and to allow our apprehension of theatrical images to transform the emotional/intellectual structure of our perceptions.