Martin-Lehnert Preisträgerin 2013

2013 wurde der Martin-Lehnert Preis an Frau Emma Lesley Depledge (Genf) vergeben, die eine hervorragende Dissertation zum Thema “Shakespeare Alterations of the Exclusion Crisis, 1678-1682: Politics, Rape, and Authorship” verfaßt hat.

Im folgenden finden Sie die Laudatio, die Prof. Dr. Sabine Schülting (Berlin) anläßlich der Preisverleihung am 28. April 2013 während der Münchener Frühjahrstagung gehalten hat:

The jury has decided to award this year’s Martin Lehnert Preis to Emma Lesley Depledge for her outstanding dissertation Shakespeare Alterations of the Exclusion Crisis, 1678-1682: Politics, Rape, and Authorship. The thesiswas supervised by Professor Lukas Erne and was submitted to the University of Geneva in 2011 and defended in March 2012. Dr Lepledge received the highest distinction: “avec mention très honorable”, which is equivalent to “summa cum laude” in the German context.

Shakespeare Alterations of the Exclusion Crisis focuses on a group of ten plays written and performed between 1678 and 1682 in London. Authored by John Dryden, Nahum Tate, Edward Ravenscroft, Thomas Otway, Thomas Shadwell, Thomas Durfey and John Crowne, these plays are all ‘Shakespeare alterations’ or, as we would nowadays call them, adaptations of Shakespeare plays. Lepledge analyses them in their very specific political context, namely the Popish Plot and the Exclusion Crisis, when rumours of an alleged plot against King Charles II and the controversies around potential successors to the throne occupied the public debate. Depledge claims that the theatre intervened into this political crisis between Whigs and Tories, and that it was particularly via adapting Shakespeare’s plays that this intervention could take place. She writes, “Shakespeare’s low status and the parallels that could be construed between his characters and plots and the figures and events of the Crisis made his plays ideal candidates for topical alteration.” So whereas Shakespeare had at best been a marginal figure before the late 1670s, the situation changed completely in the years around 1680, when versions – or as contemporaries would have said: alterations – of Shakespeare’s plays made up almost a fifth of the repertory of newly staged plays.

Depledge is thus less interested in questions of fidelity and a comparison between adaptations and the Shakespearean original. She compellingly argues in her introduction: “Comparative readings between alterations and source-texts may offer insights into the altering playwrights’ adaptorial intentions, but readings which consider the altered plays independently of their source-texts, as plays in their own right, instead offer a clearer idea of the political rhetoric presented to audiences. In other words, I am interested not in the politics of alteration but in the politics of the alterations.”

The different facets of this research question are persuasively presented in the five well-structured and cogently written chapters of her thesis. Depledge offers a concise historical overview of these developments, before she sets out to closely analyze the plays’ allusions and comments to the political ideologies of the day. Her corpus of texts includes Crowne’s Henry VI, The First Part, and The Misery of Civil War (based on Henry VI parts 2 and 3); Tate’s Richard II, Otway’s Caius Marius (based on Romeo and Juliet); Dryden’s Troilus and Cressida and Ravenscroft’s Titus Andronicus. A particularly fascinating discussion is developed in chapter 4 that explores the “politics of rape plots”, in Tate’s The History of King Lear and Ingratitude of a Common-Wealth (a version of Coriolanus) and Durfey’s The Injured Princess (based on Cymbeline). Sexuality in these plays functions as political propaganda, and rape is employed as a trope for illicit political power, for rebellion and tyranny, thus demonizing political opponents and reconceptualizing the relationship between sovereign and the country as a sexual one.

The thesis concludes with a chapter that very convincingly shows how late 17th-century constructions of and responses to Shakespeare differed considerably according to the media in which they were presented. Whereas on stage Shakespeare’s authorship was explicitly highlighted as a means of circumventing censorship, his name receded to the background when the ‘alterations’ appeared in print and the title pages and introductions rather promoted the names of the altering playwrights as original authors.

The thesis’s fascinating case study thus provides an important contribution to the more general interest in the afterlife of Shakespeare’s plays. Depledge has shed new light on the contribution of Restoration playwrights to promoting Shakespeare to his dominant position in the history of English drama, and she has meticulously traced the respective historical, political and cultural contexts and repercussions of Shakespeare adaptations in the late 17th century. Throughout the study, historical insight into the interrelations between theatre and history is combined with the analytical skills of the literary scholar. And, last but not least, the thesis is particularly well-written and offers not only extremely insightful but also very pleasurable reading.