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14 - Beyond the muse: the Spanish actress as collaborator

from Part III - Genre, form and tradition

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2008

John Stokes
Affiliation:
King's College London
Maggie B. Gale
Affiliation:
University of Manchester
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Summary

When examining the modes in which the working relationships between actresses and playwrights have been documented, what becomes immediately apparent is the dominance of the term muse as the filter through which these collaborations are read. The association of Harriet Bose with Strindberg, Olga Knipper with Chekhov, Eleonora Duse with D'Annunzio, and more recently Billie Whitelaw with Beckett, invariably prioritises the playwright. The problem stems from the model that has been used to analyse and document achievement in theatre: it is derived from literary studies and consequently seeks to locate creativity in the figure of the author. Although twentieth-century theatre historians have moved from the exclusive study of playwrights to take account of other aspects of the performance event, the authorial model has not been easily replaced. Directors, designers, architects, etc. have come to be treated as auteurs in their own right, with the result that their work is now subject to as much scrutiny as that of playwrights. The prioritising of authorship as a singular (habitually male) entity, however, has too often reduced collaborative relationships between writers and actresses to the all too familiar packaging of the mentor-muse paradigm. The construction of a theatrical hierarchy that places individual authorship at its pinnacle is problematic. It negates the concerted creative work that underpins theatre-making and in so doing provides a historiographical focus where craft, endeavour and labour occupy a secondary position to the celebration of the literary and the connotations of genius that often accompany it.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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