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Not Hamlet: Meditations on the Frail Position of Women in Drama (Oberon Masters) Hardcover – 1 Jun 2012
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Anyone who is considering directing or playing any one of these roles would do well to learn from this deeply considered short book written by someone who is clearly as well qualified as anybody to provide guidance.… impassioned… insightful… --British Theatre Guide
A thoughtful and considered kick up the a*se to conspiracy theorists and to Patriarchy. --Michael Boyd, Artistic Director of the RSC
An absolute gem of a book. Clever, witty, original, backed up research and analysis, a stunning voyage around some of the greatest stage characters from Saint Joan to Cleopatra. --Kate Mosse (Author of Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel)
The book is a wonder. I raced through each provocative and insightful chapter, nodding agreement throughout. It should be in all the best-seller lists, and...in many a Christmas stocking. --Sir Ian McKellen
About the Author
Janet Suzman is a well known actress and director. Born in Johannesburg, Suzman trained at LAMDA, and joined the RSC for its inaugural quarter centenary season. She stayed on and off in Stratford and London for a decade playing many of the heroines and culminating in a memorable Cleopatra in 1973. She has since pursued a richly varied career in all manner of performance disciplines; among them, The Singing Detective on TV and The Draughtsman's Contract on film, and her favourite, Fellini's And The Boat Sails On. She has twice won The Evening Standard Best Actress Award, had Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations (Nicholas and Alexandra), twice won The Liverpool Echo Best Production Award (Miller's Death of a Salesman and Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra), and also the TMA Best Production for her production of The Cherry Orchard at Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1997. The Johannesburg Othello - so named by Channel Four TV and aired in 1987 was her directorial debut for The Market Theatre, of which she is a founding Patron. She re-wrote and directed Brecht's Good Woman of Setzuan, renamed The Good Person of Sharkville changing it to a Johannesburg slum setting. Suzman was appointed DBE for services to drama in 2011.
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She misrepresents the SAQ as being the domain of 'snobs'. It isn't. No-one is saying that a man from humble origins could not have written these works - there is just a lack of solid unambiguous evidence (something that Suzman finds unremarkable) that he did.
Of course writers can create imaginary worlds but with Shakespeare it's in the telling little details incidental to character and plot (accurate details of Italian geography, metaphors created from past-times of the rich) that suggest a well-travelled aristocratic background. Whatever cuts or rewrites the plays are sure to have undergone in production, as Suzman argues, these details are still there. Evidence is at the root of the authorship debate, not snobbery.
One more thing. Imagination is a human quality but does not exist in a void. It needs knowledge and experience to flourish and grow. She rightly cites science-fiction writers as being imaginative - but Frank Herbert's 'Dune' (a colossal work of imagination) still needed six years of research and one and a half years of writing to come to fruition. Shakespeare's plays, everyone agrees, took a similar titanic effort to achieve - something that the Stratford man, from his personal paper trail, clearly did not have time for. Consult Diana Price or Richard Paul Roe's books for a more balanced account of this question.
It's a shame, really, as the rest of the book is packed with warmth and insight gained from a life in theatre including some logical and imaginative ideas on the development of Elizabethan boy actors and their relationship with the Bard's many female roles. There is an interesting look at 'Hedda Gabbler, one of most complex female roles in drama. Suzman visibly enjoys herself as she delves into the play and the character's mind. All of this is rounded off with a despairing, but still hopeful epilogue about the future of women in drama. It's a good book despite the first chapter - entertaining, provocative and insightful.
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Everything in the book is seen from the viewpoint of a working actor, and this gives insights that academic viewpoints don't have.
There's a surprising error that an editor should have picked up. Suzman talks about the film of Cleopatra that starred Elizabeth Taylor, and says it was directed by Cecil B de Mille. De Mille was dead by the time the Taylor version was made. It was actually directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. De Mille directed an earlier version back in 1934 which starred Claudette Colbert.