Kissing and Drowning the Book

Shakespearean theatre in the Antipodes

Authored by: Rob Conkie , Nicola Hyland

The Shakespearean World

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415732529
eBook ISBN: 9781315778341
Adobe ISBN: 9781317696193


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It has been argued that Shakespeare arrived in the Antipodes, in Aotearoa/New Zealand and in Australia, on the same boat as Jesus Christ. A copy of the Complete Works was included on Captain James Cook’s first voyage to the South Pacific in the “crammed” library of the Endeavour (Neill 1998: 171), accompanying the Bible concealed on the captain’s person at all times. Perhaps this Tempest -like origin-story partially accounts for the Shakespearean production history of these neighbouring countries, both old and new worlds, which might be characterized as either kissing the canonical book (obeisant, reverential, even worshipful) or attempting to drown it (mocking, oppositional, even hostile). This chapter will chart theatrical productions on both sides of the Tasman Sea which range across this kissing/drowning spectrum. For much of the chapter examples will be juxtaposed from either side of the Tasman as a reflection of the several shared features of these production histories; but attention will also be given, especially later in the chapter, to those aspects that might be regarded as more specific to either Australia or New Zealand. The general, but by no means absolute, trajectory of the production histories the chapter follows is kissing to drowning: early colonial Shakespearean theatre, as will be detailed below, was regularly recruited into the imperial project; early-to mid-twentieth-century productions begin to reveal a modern examination of such pieties, both colonial and bard-olatrous; and more contemporary Antipodean productions of Shakespeare, while by no means totally eschewing a kissing of the book, much more regularly attempt drowning it (if, almost inevitably, simultaneously offering a kiss of life).

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