Theatre Survey


“What Country, Friends, Is This?”: Touring Shakespeares, Agency, and Efficacy in Theatre Historiography

Alexander C. Y. Huang 

The curtain rose at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh, on 14 August 2011 to reveal a richly textured production of The Tempest on a bare stage with minimal props. As the lights came up, a group of white-robed sailors were caught in a meticulously choreographed storm, dancing to the mesmerizing beats of the master drummer upstage. The performers’ costumes echoed traditional Korean hanbok attire and their acting style incorporated t'alch'um mask-dance drama techniques. Their long white sleeves flapped and swayed in sync with their movements. Engulfed in stagewide sapphire and then crimson lighting, their sleeves were transformed from symbols of violent wind and waves to raging fire on board a ship approaching a world where, as Gonzalo aptly summarized, “no man was his own” (5.1.211). With Prospero (King Zilzi) as the drummer upstage and Ariel dancing in the midst of the unfortunate sailors, the storm scene—one of the longest renditions of the “direful spectacle” (1.2.26) in the performance history of The Tempest—served as an anchor to the tragicomic narrative about the self and the other. For a fleeting moment, Prospero gave the impression of being a drillmaster at the helm.


Alexander C. Y. Huang is a general editor of The Shakespearean International Yearbook and director of the Dean's Scholars in Shakespeare program and Associate Professor of English, Theatre, East Asian Languages and Literatures, and International Affairs at George Washington University, where he is affiliated with the Sigur Center for Asian Studies and the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute. He served as vice-president of the Association for Asian Performance. As Research Affiliate in Literature at MIT, he cofounded His Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange (Columbia University Press) received the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize of the MLA, honorable mention by the Joe A. Callaway Prize of NYU, and the International Convention of Asian Scholars Colleagues’ Choice Award. His new book, Weltliteratur und Welttheater: Ästhetischer Humanismus in der kulturellen Globalisierung (2012), explores the role of aesthetic humanism in the recent historical record of globalization and examines the works of intercultural directors, writers, and Nobel laureates Gao Xingjian and Mo Yan.


  I gratefully acknowledge fellowship support from the Folger Shakespeare Library in 2012, the invaluable feedback of Esther Kim Lee and the anonymous reviewers, and research assistance from Haylie Swenson at George Washington University.