The Play’s the Thing

I recently finished editing a volume on Herman Melville’s aesthetics (who knew there was MORE to find in his fabulous writing?), and then edited a book on early Greek thought in light of modern philosophy (a book that left me untouched, and slightly bewildered as to the why of its existence), and now I am editing a book on Shakespeare’s King Lear.

This is the fun part of my job. As I edit, I am constantly Googling, looking up references from the books, for my own edification. The chapter on productions of King Lear throughout the centuries led me to read about David Garrick and the early theater productions of Shakespeare, and then on to read about Ian McKellen and Laurence Olivier and Michael Gambon, and on and on. Sure this takes more time than just reading the book and editing it, but I’m learning so much as I do this extraneous research. Learning for my own knowledge, but also to benefit me in the long run as I continue to edit. The more I know about a broad swath of subjects, the better I’ll be at my job.

In addition to doing research on many of the actors named, I did research on staging of productions, both British and American, which led me to a staging in Taiwan’s Contemporary Legend Theatre, with a one-man production called “Lear Is Here,” starring Wu Hsing-Luo. From there, it was an easy leap to a Russian production, and then back again to television productions. But it was the understanding of stage sets and lighting that fascinated me, as they enhanced the written work of Shakespeare’s script with lighting and imagery that prompted different emotions from the viewers than would ever have been prompted by the text alone.

The text is the beginning, but beyond the text, there is so much that can be added, through the actors, the music and sound effects, the set, the lighting, and the costumes. I can’t help but wonder what Shakespeare would have thought about the productions since his time. I’m certain he would have been as enchanted as I, if not more so. Imagine if he were writing today, with the music, the visuals, the sounds available. But would his text have been a solidly foundational now as it was then? I wonder. Nevertheless (shaking my head to clear my mind)…we have his texts, and the play’s the thing!

2 thoughts on “The Play’s the Thing

  1. Fabulous job, I say! You get to spend all day with Melville. And it’s someone writing about Melville, so it’s a win-win.

    I remember having to slog through that book in college. I say slog, because I lumbered along until it got way interesting when the character talks about sticking his hand into the giant jar of spermaceti, squeezing and squeezing, and it was like angels or some opulent ecstasy. Book is pretty kick-ass 🙂

    • Thanks, Elisa. I fell in love with the book from the very beginning, when I looked up the names of the characters, sensing that Melville didn’t just choose names randomly. From there, I was hooked. “Call me Ishmael.” Still fills me with anticipation!

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