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Cornel West describes his experience with Chekhov; emphasizes Chekhov’s philosophical and artistic significance as a tragicomic thinker whose understanding of the catastrophic bears affinities with the American Blues tradition while also being foreign (though necessary) to mainstream American culture.
By attending to a common theatrical convention – the representation of both dead and apparently dead bodies by actors – Chapter 1 offers a new history of early modern English tragicomedy. In all theatrical performance, the actor’s body is semiotically volatile, for its liveliness can never be entirely circumscribed by the onstage fiction. This chapter demonstrates that the early modern theater frequently exacerbated that necessary instability by requiring its actors to feign death. Tracking instances of apparent death from the late 1580s through the opening of the seventeenth century, the chapter shows that theater practitioners increasingly invited their spectators to apprehend the ambiguity of the lively stage corpse, entwining them in uncertainty by offering them less and less interpretive guidance about the actor’s inevitable signs of life. Audiences gradually came to expect that they could not know the fictional status of apparent corpses. The conventions that eventually coalesced around stage corpses enabled the rise of English tragicomedy, the hybrid genre that allowed for seemingly dead bodies to resurrect themselves without warning.
In this article Gretchen Minton and Mikey Gray discuss an adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragicomedy Cymbeline that toured Montana and surrounding states in the summer of 2021. Minton’s sections describe the eco-feminist aims of this production, which was part of an international project called ‘Cymbeline in the Anthropocene’, showing how the costumes, set design, and especially the emphasis upon the female characters created generative ways of thinking about the relationship between the human and the more-than-human worlds. Gray’s first-person narrative at the end of each section reflects upon her role of Imogen as she participated in an extensive summer tour across the Intermountain West and engaged with audience members about their own relationship to both theatre and the natural world. This is a story of transformation through environmentally inflected Shakespeare performance during the time of a global pandemic.
Gretchen E. Minton is Professor of English at Montana State University, Bozeman, and editor of several early modern plays, including Timon of Athens, Troilus and Cressida, Twelfth Night, and The Revenger’s Tragedy. She is the dramaturg and script adaptor for Montana Shakespeare in the Parks and the co-founder of Montana InSite Theatre. Her directorial projects include A Doll’s House, Timon of Anaconda (see NTQ 145, February 2021), Shakespeare’s Walking Story, and Shakespeare for the Birds. Mikey Gray received her BA in Theatre and Performance from Bard College, New York, with a conservatory semester at NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) in Sydney. She has performed in four productions with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, while other actor engagements include Chicago Shakespeare Theater, American Conservatory Theater, Strawdog Theater Company, The Passage Theatre, and McCarter Theatre Center.
“Sheer Playfulness and Deadly Seriousness are my closest friends,” Philip Roth once said. This wry comment perfectly encapsulates the characteristic use of comedy and irony in his work; though his writing can be situated within a larger history of comic authors, his tragicomic style is immediately identifiable as his own, and has become part of his literary legacy. This chapter discusses Roth’s unique brand of humor, defining its iterations and tracing the different ways it is employed in some of his most notable works.