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Future Work on Australian Shakespeare

We see a major function of this volume as the encouragement of further interest, and research, in the field of Shakespeare in Australia, which is such an important, if under-funded, part of the history of the development of national identity in its cultural manifestations. Because the history of Shakespeare in Australia remains largely-uncharted territory, a good deal of primary research still needs to be done. Collections of materials relating to actor-managers, companies and touring organisations are scattered all over the country, though source materials tend inevitably to be in the state capitals where theatre has been in operation for the longest time and where the population growth has been greatest. Continuous theatre dates from 1832 in Sydney, 1834 in Hobart, 1840 in Adelaide, 1842 in Melbourne, 1864 in Brisbane and 1879 in Perth. There is clear evidence that Shakespeare was among the first dramatists to secure a place in the repertory of every capital city: apart from the well-known playbill evidence of Henry IV at Robert Sidaway's theatre in Sydney in April 1800, Richard III, Othello, The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew figured from the outset on playbills in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart and Brisbane respectively. Thus there are significant collections in state and university libraries and theatre company archives in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane, as well as in the National Library in Canberra. And then, as several contributors to this volume have discovered to their delight, untold treasures lie in private hands.

An important area for research is Shakespeare since the 1970s, a subject which certainly warrants a book to itself. And, going back to the dawn of the last century, the remarkable number of visiting stars and companies during Australia's first years of federation is a phenomenon inviting further scholarly attention. Some of these are discussed in this volume, others merely mentioned: Janet Achurch, Kyrle Bellew, Wilson Barrett and Maude Jeffries, Nance O'Neil and McKee Rankin, Janet Waldorf, Tittel Brune, Margaret Anglin, Oscar Asche and Lily Brayton, H.B. Irving and Dorothea Baird. There is also the new breed of permanently resident stars, who worked extensively in Shakespeare along with a commitment to Australian theatre. These include Bland Holt, George Rignold, George Titheradge, Alfred Dampier, George Darrell -- all of whom deserve more space than this volume permits.

Another clearly identifiable area in which further research would prove rewarding is Shakespeare's place in the cultural life of the goldfields. Gustavus Brooke toured regularly to Ballarat and Bendigo in the early 1860s, and in 1864 Charles and Ellen Kean were surprised to find Ballarat audiences partial to the 'high brow' 'legitimate' drama and remarkably intelligent in their responses. Within a couple of years of the discovery of gold at Gulgong, New South Wales, in 1870 three theatres had been built, and the Jamaican Morton Tavares, 'Gentleman George' Darrell and his wife Fanny Heir all performed Shakespeare there (interestingly, all three played Hamlet in Australia, Fanny Heir being one of the five mid-nineteenth-century female Hamlets). At the end of the century Hamlet had a burst of popularity at Coolgardie on the Western Australian goldfields. Alfred Dampier's company presented it in 1897, the following June the Royal Comic Opera Company toured it, and in November 1898 Virgie Vivienne played both Hamlet and Ophelia on the same evening in a program of excerpts at Coolgardie's Cremorne Theatre.

Whilst imported productions dominate the boards in the nineteenth century, local conditions, attitudes and feelings (even when sub-controversial) must to some extent have affected personnel, repertory and style of performance. Whether the incidence of cross-dressed actresses in major parts was higher than elsewhere is an interesting issue which may tell us something about popular expectations: aside from the female Hamlets already mentioned, a six-year-old American infant prodigy, Anna Maria Quinn, played the part in Sydney in 1854 and perhaps in Hobart, and in the same era on her own benefit night in Hobart Mrs Mereton played Richard III. As in Europe and America, actresses often held the stage, too, in the cross-dressed (and age-crossing) burlesques, travesties, burlettas and farces usually associated with local Shakespearean productions and seen here from the 1830s onwards (see Elizabeth Webby's chapter).

Patterns of popularity of individual plays are, we believe, worth investigating. [Note 19] The challenge to imported stars of a showy leading role (often limelighted in an altered or truncated -- or both -- version of the play) certainly has much to do with the early production popularity of the tragedies already mentioned and of Henry IV Part I, the more surprising early appearance of plays like Henry VIII, King John, Cymbeline and Coriolanus and the preference for (versions of) comedies like The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice and The Merry Wives of Windsor over latter-day favourites like A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night. Australian patterns of popularity will make for interesting comparison with contemporary British and American ones. But popularity cannot simply be equated with incidence of performance, and an investigation of local 'high culture' activities (opera, public readings, amateur performances, lectures, Australian publication of Shakespeare texts, the work of local Shakespeare societies) [Note 20] will help document Australians' interest in plays that were not seen by theatrical entrepreneurs as commercially viable.

It would appear that changes in the popularity of individual plays reflect more broadly the changing cultural values that herald post-colonial attitudes. In Sydney in 1876, George Rignold drew huge crowds with his spectacular Henry V , and his version of that enactment of English national pride was revived many times. One such revival was the setting for a yarn that Prime Minister Billy Hughes supposedly told the troops when he visited the Western Front in 1917: Hughes was appearing as a soldier at Harfleur, and the weighty Rignold (in full armour) accidentally trod on him. [Note 21] This theatrical story may have at least token symbolic value in terms of the relationship between performance of Shakespeare in Australia and awakening Australian nationalism. But there is more: that other colourful member of the first federal parliament, Minister for Home Affairs, King O'Malley, who chose the site for the national capital, proposed calling it 'Shakespeare'. [Note 22] Had he gained more support, we might now be hearing a different class of rhetoric on Parliament Hill.

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