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The Performativity of Female Subjectivities in Othello in Noh Style and Lady Macbeth

Roweena Yip

Résumés

Cet article s’intéresse aux performances de la subjectivité féminine dans deux représentations théâtrales de Shakespeare : Othello in Noh Style par la Compagnie théâtrale Ku Na’uka (dirigée par Miyagi Satoshi, 2002) et Lady Macbeth par le Théâtre Moollee (dirigé par Han Tae-Sook, 2010) récrivent et représentent l’Othello et le Macbeth de Shakespeare d’une manière qui rend plus aisée la réévaluation des personnages féminins de Shakespeare une fois qu’elles sont représentées dans des contextes non-anglophones et non-naturalistes. Ces mises en scènes recontextualisent les intrigues shakespeariennes dans le passé et mettent ainsi en évidence les expériences et souvenirs de Desdémone et Lady Macbeth. Dans Othello in Noh Style, Desdémone revient sous forme de spectre après la fin d’Othello. Lady Macbeth dramatise le paysage psychologique intérieur du rôle titre féminin à travers la représentation de sa mémoire, qui a lieu via ses interactions physiques avec le Médecin Royal, trois servantes, ainsi que par une utilisation spécifique des objets. Je conclus cet article en réfléchissant aux manières dont ces représentations proposent de conceptualiser la subjectivité féminine comme issue de la récupération incarnée d’un trauma interagissant avec d’autres éléments de la représentation théâtrale.

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Introduction

  • 1 East Asian naming conventions follow the sequence of family name followed by given name(s), a pract (...)
  • 2 An extended examination of the material presented in this paper can be found in the first chapter o (...)
  • 3 A|S|I|A is part of three successive research projects supported by the Singapore Ministry of Educat (...)
  • 4 Production data on Othello in Noh Style, 2005, A|S|I|A.
  • 5 Production data on Lady Macbeth, 2010, A|S|I|A.
  • 6 For more on Mugen Noh Othello (2018), see the entry “Mugen Noh Othello” in the Japan Digital Theatr (...)
  • 7 For more on the Changgeuk version of Lady Macbeth, see Zoe RYU, “Lady Macbeth Sings Traditional Kor (...)

1How do performances of Shakespeare in East Asian contexts transform current strands of feminist theory? In my paper, I consider the ways in which femininity is enacted in two East Asian productions of Shakespeare in order to examine how gender performativity in non-Anglophone contexts offers new terms for thinking about feminist theory and praxis in contemporary Shakespeare studies. The two performances I shall focus on are Othello in Noh Style, a Japanese production directed by Miyagi Satoshi1 and performed by Ku Na’uka Theatre Company in 2005 and Lady Macbeth, a Korean production directed by Han Tae-Sook and performed by Theatre Moollee in 2010.2 Full video recordings of both performances are forthcoming on the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A).3 The archive is a multilingual repository of video recordings, original and translated performance scripts, data and production materials with a parallel interface in four languages: English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Othello in Noh Style and Lady Macbeth have been performed within their own local contexts and have toured extensively internationally, demonstrating their appeal to audiences of diverse cultural backgrounds and positionalities. Othello in Noh Style was first staged in the Japanese garden in the Tokyo National Museum, Japan, and subsequently toured to New Delhi, India, in 2006.4 Lady Macbeth has been continuously re-staged in South Korea and abroad since its first performance in 1998, including at the Kontakt Festival in Poland (2002), the Seoul Theatre Festival (2002) and the Singapore Arts Festival (2010).5 Miyagi and Han have directed many subsequent iterations of their respective productions: for instance Miyagi restaged the production, titled Mugen Noh Othello, with Shizuoka Performing Arts Centre (2018), where he is General Artistic Director.6 Similarly, Han has directed other versions of Lady Macbeth, including one in the form of Changgeuk (traditional Korean opera).7 While both performances have rich and enduring afterlives, I shall focus on the 2005 and 2010 productions of Othello in Noh Style and Lady Macbeth respectively. Both these productions displace Shakespeare’s titular male characters and recontextualise plot events in Shakespeare’s plays in order to foreground the experiences and memories of Desdemona and Lady Macbeth, offering new ways of accessing their subjectivities through intercultural performance. In this paper, I consider the ways in which these productions reinscribe Desdemona and Lady Macbeth, as primary female characters, within the global history of Shakespeare adaptation and performance. Moreover, discussing these productions comparatively offers new ways of thinking about gender performativity and representation in adaptations of Shakespeare that take place in non-Anglophone, East Asian contexts, even if these performances cannot be said to be fully representative of their respective contexts (as no single production ever could). As examples of Shakespeare in East Asia, these productions modify current streams of Anglophone feminist discourse that dominate analyses of gender in Shakespeare by offering new ways of conceptualising the performance of femininity on stage.

  • 8 Ku Na’uka Theatre Company website, http://www.kunauka.or.jp/en/index01.htm, last accessed 3 Decembe (...)
  • 9 For more on the history of Noh, see Shinko Kagaya and Miura Hiroko, “Noh and Muromachi Culture,” A (...)
  • 10 See performance data on Othello in Noh Style on A|S|I|A.
  • 11 For more on the relationship between the dramatic roles of Desdemona and Pilgrim and the structural (...)
  • 12 Maeba, Othello in Noh Style, 2005, A|S|I|A. The English translation of the original Japanese script (...)

2Ku Na’uka Theatre Company was founded by Miyagi in 1990. The name of the company is taken from a Russian phrase meaning “towards science” and the company’s distinctive performance style is to have “two actors play one role.”8 One actor (“the narrator”) tells the story while the other (“the mover”) moves on the stage along with the story. The synergy between both roles creates a multisensory, collective experience of characters and often adds a mythic effect to the performance – the implications of which will be considered in the context of performing Desdemona in Othello in Noh Style. A classical Japanese performance form, Noh is one of the oldest extant theatrical forms in the world, with roots in fourteenth century ritual practice.9 With an original script by Hirakawa Sukehiro, who also incorporated Odashima Yushi’s Japanese translation of Shakespeare in certain sections, Othello in Noh Style is a reimagination of Shakespeare’s Othello performed according to the structural conventions of Mugen Noh.10 Mugen Noh is a form of Noh in which the Shite (principal character) is a ghost or spirit who recounts events in their life to the Waki (secondary character), who serves as the interlocutor and intermediary between the audience and the Shite. The performance presents events in Shakespeare’s Othello from the perspective of Desdemona, who emerges as a spirit and performs the structural role of Shite. The structural role of Waki is played by a traveling Venetian Pilgrim who encounters Desdemona upon arriving in Cyprus.11 In the Maeba (first half of a Noh play), the spirit of Desdemona emerges from a group of four Venetian women who have been abandoned on the island of Cyprus. These women play the structural role of Tsure (performers who accompany the Shite). Desdemona removes the black cloth covering her face and declares “I am the soul of the noble Moor / Othello’s spouse, she that was once called Desdemona.”12 Conventionally, Noh performances involve the use of masks, especially for the Shite. These masks are designed to indicate particular role types and carry spiritual significance. In Othello in Noh Style, however, Desdemona remains unmasked for the rest of the performance, although she often assumes mask-like, inscrutable expressions. Her white make-up and vivid eyeshadow highlight the feminine features of her face and foreground the genderedness of the performer’s female body.

Figure 1. Miyagi Satoshi, Othello in Noh Style, 2005, screenshot (video recording). The Pilgrim / Waki encounters Desdemona / Shite for the first time.

Figure 1. Miyagi Satoshi, Othello in Noh Style, 2005, screenshot (video recording). The Pilgrim / Waki encounters Desdemona / Shite for the first time.

Courtesy of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A).

  • 13 Kyogen Interlude 1 dramatises Act 1 Scene 3 from Shakespeare’s Othello, in which Brabantio confront (...)

3In effect, the plot structure of Mugen Noh recontextualises the performance of Shakespeare’s Othello as a series of anterior events that have already taken place in Desdemona’s past. These events are restaged in ways that are structurally analogous to Ai-Kyogen (Kyogen Interludes) in order that Desdemona might belatedly work through her trauma after her death in Othello. Kyogen is a classical comic performance form that developed alongside Noh. Conventionally, Ai-Kyogen are performed between two Noh acts, as these scenes help explain and advance the main narrative of the Noh play and provide comic relief. While Ai-Kyogen is usually performed by Kyogen actors, in Othello in Noh Style the Kyogen Interludes are performed by members of the Jiutai (Noh chorus), with certain members taking on key roles in Shakespeare’s Othello.13 The play culminates in Desdemona’s performance of Buyoh (a form of traditional Japanese dance), in which she physically re-enacts her trauma. In the first section of this paper, I examine the ways in which the casting of female performers in this production has the dual effect of modifying both the presentation of Shakespeare’s Othello plot as well as the performance aesthetics and conventions of Noh. However, rather than producing a reading that asserts the individual subjectivity of the lead female character as played by the female performer, the performance instead facilitates a type of female subjectivity that is profoundly embodied yet articulated through multi-modal means that extend beyond the body and voice of the individual female performer.

4Theatre Moollee, a leading experimental theatre company in South Korea, was founded by Han in 1997. The company is known for incorporating Korean performance aesthetics into the staging of contemporary performances. Lady Macbeth enacts the psychological world of the titular female character by staging re-enactments of her memory, which encompasses key scenes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, especially Act 5 Scene 1, in which the Doctor and Gentlewoman discuss Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking and excessive handwashing. Much like in Othello in Noh Style, Shakespeare’s plots and male protagonists are adapted and recast as emerging from the memories of female characters in this performance. In particular, the performance of Lady Macbeth’s memory takes place through her interactions with the Royal Doctor (who also performs the role of Macbeth), three Servants (who are analogous to the three Weird Sisters in Shakespeare), as well as the use of props as performing objects on stage. In the second section of this paper, I analyse specific scenes in which props such as dough, the clay sculpture and water are used to allusively recreate and symbolise Lady Macbeth’s interiority and consciousness in the performance.

  • 14 Julie Holledge and Joanne Tompkins, “Introduction,” Women’s Intercultural Performance, ed. Julie Ho (...)

5I situate the ideas in this paper within the intersections between intercultural theatre and feminist criticism in the context of performances of Shakespeare in Asia. The term “intercultural theatre” initially emerged in the late twentieth century to refer to the aesthetic and ideological strategies of western theatre directors who often employed Asian performance forms and elements of representation such as costume, movement, music and mise-en-scene in order to develop new experimental artistic styles, such as Peter Brooks’ Mahabharata (1985). Julie Holledge and Joanne Tompkins regard intercultural theatre as “the meeting in the moment of performance of two or more cultural traditions, a temporary fusing of styles and/or techniques and/or cultures.”14 In Othello in Noh Style and Lady Macbeth, these cultural traditions could broadly be conceptualised as the culture – and cultural capital – represented by Shakespeare as a canonical western playwright whose works have been translated, performed and taught for about a century in Japan and Korea, as well as the performance cultures that the respective directors work within.

  • 15 Yong Li Lan, op. cit., p. 137.
  • 16 Ibid.

6The ways in which these productions construct presentations of gender on stage are foundational to the directors’ relationships to Shakespeare and their own theatre cultures. Naturalism was the dominant mode for performing Shakespeare in both Japan and Korea until the late twentieth century. In Japan, for example, early practitioners of Shingeki (“New Drama”) adapted western conventions of naturalism as a modern response to the classical forms of Kabuki and Noh. Naturalism emerged as a dramatic movement and performance style in western theatre in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Naturalist performances aim to conceal the constructed nature of theatrical performance and instead create illusions of verisimilitude that are legible as corresponding closely with the audience’s social world. In both Japanese and Korean contexts, naturalist conventions presuppose linear and chronological plot development. In performances of Shakespeare in Asia, however, as Yong Li Lan notes, “the chronotope […] of the performance, combined with alternative ways of organising time, re-plot[s] the play to produce intercultural, plural temporalities”.15 The recent performance histories of Shakespeare in both countries constitute what Yong considers “a project to disrupt a realism modelled on western naturalism” on the part of directors and practitioners in East Asia.16 Miyagi and Han continue this project of disruption and innovation by reorganising the temporality of the play in order to displace the primacy of Shakespeare’s linear plots and titular male character and foreground female characters from Shakespeare’s plays that emerge as new subjects who nevertheless exist only within the specific frameworks of these performances.

  • 17 Juliet Dusinberre, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women, London, Macmillan, 1975.
  • 18 Marianne Novy, Transforming Shakespeare: Contemporary Women’s Re-Visions in Literature and Performa (...)
  • 19 Sarah Werner, Shakespeare and Feminist Performance: Ideology on Stage, London, Routledge, 2001.

7To extend Holledge and Tompkins’ definition, intercultural theatre also involves encounters between communities of audiences and practitioners from different contexts, who inhabit different positionalities in relation to the performances. From my own positionality as an English-educated Malaysian researcher based in Singapore whose primary point of entry into these productions is Shakespeare’s plays (rather than, say, the conventions of Noh or contemporary Korean performance), both Othello in Noh Style and Lady Macbeth recapitulate the performance of these plays from the perspectives of their primary female characters. However, I recognise that these perspectives are only made possible by the performance idioms of theatre cultures distinct both from those in which Shakespeare’s plays were originally written, and from the dominant Anglophone modes of naturalist performance in which they continue to be performed and theorised. Early scholarship on gender and feminism in Shakespeare studies has primarily focused on theatre practices in western Europe and North America: for instance, while Juliet Dusinberre provides an illuminating feminist critical perspective on Shakespeare’s plays, her analysis is primarily based on Shakespeare’s language, privileging the English language as well as textual and literary approaches over performance.17 Similarly, contributions by Marianne Novy18 and Sarah Werner19 focus exclusively on performances of Shakespeare that take place in Anglo-American contexts. My contribution is to bring non-Anglophone Asian performances into focus in order to examine how these performances enable different conceptualisations of gender to take place. Concurrently, I seek to advance gender as a specific mode through which intercultural performance practices of Shakespeare in Asia can be theorised.

Physical and Multi-modal Expressions of Trauma in Othello in Noh Style

8Historically, Noh is an all-male performance form in which male actors perform female role-types. Therefore, the theatrical performance of femininity in Noh may be understood as presentational rather than representational, enacted through kata (a set of stylised conventions and movements). This presentational mode for performing gender is distinct from primarily representational modes that constitute the dominant form of naturalism in Anglophone performances of Shakespeare. As a result, gender itself may be understood as an abstraction of performance rather than a social and sexed identity or condition. In Othello in Noh Style, however, the presence and performative expressions of the primary performer Mikari’s female body allows for the articulation of specifically female memory and experience, which in turn intervenes in the gender politics in both Shakespeare’s play and the performance history of Noh theatre.

9The subjectivity of Desdemona emerges as victim, perpetrator and spectator of her own trauma, guiding the Waki and the audience towards a re-construction of her traumatic death in Shakespeare’s Othello and subsequent afterlife as Shite in the performance of Othello in Noh Style. Desdemona’s liminal yet profoundly embodied presence is made manifest in the Buyoh sequence she performs in the final scene. The dance gradually re-enacts Othello’s stifling of Desdemona in Shakespeare, which eventually takes the form of self-strangulation in this performance. Desdemona fastens an armoured gauntlet on her right hand to signify the hand of Othello, and she places this hand firmly around her neck. Her action is accompanied by the chanting of the Jiutai, which reaches a crescendo. Consequently, the female subject enacts the simultaneous process of her own corporeal destruction and spiritual creation as the spectral female Shite that is at once embodied and yet disembodied through the performance of Buyoh.

Figure 2. Miyagi Satoshi, Othello in Noh Style, 2005, screenshot (video recording). Desdemona performing self-strangulation as part of the Buyoh sequence.

Figure 2. Miyagi Satoshi, Othello in Noh Style, 2005, screenshot (video recording). Desdemona performing self-strangulation as part of the Buyoh sequence.

Courtesy of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A).

10Eventually, Desdemona clasps her hands in a gesture of prayer and reconciliation; however, she does not maintain this position, proceeding to move her fingers as though wringing her hands. The movements of her hands in this final scene are symbolic gestures that oscillate between peace and disquiet, reconciliation and unrest. From my perspective, the performance does not offer the possibility of cathartic resolution, in accordance with Aristotelian conventions for tragedy. Instead, the traumatic haunting continues on – and beyond – the Noh stage, as Desdemona silently moves along the hashigakari (the bridge of the Noh stage) towards the back of the stage in the closing scene while beseeching the Waki – and by extension, the audience – to pray for her spiritual release into the world beyond. At a symbolic level, this final scene signifies the extent to which female trauma in Shakespeare’s Othello narrative is left unresolved and open to further re-iterations through intercultural performance, where audiences are situated not as passive spectators but instead share in the enactment of Desdemona’s trauma and participate as witnesses to whom Desdemona addresses her performance.

11This physicalised series of expressions underscores the possibility and precarity of Desdemona’s attempts towards reconciliation and contrasts with the primarily vocal presentation of Desdemona’s subjectivity in Act 4 Scene 3 of Shakespeare’s Othello where she sings Barbary’s song. As Eamon Grennan notes, Desdemona’s singing in Shakespeare’s play locates her within a particular genealogy of female abandonment, oppression and grief:

  • 20 Eamon Grennan, “The Women’s Voices in Othello: Speech, Song, Silence,” Shakespeare Quarterly 38.3, (...)

Singing, she ascends to a plane of pure performance, and becomes in our minds the last in a line of abandoned women, stretching back through Barbary and the countless women who have sung the song before Desdemona to the girl herself in the song, that anonymous “poor soul” responsible for this extensive sisterhood of grief.20

  • 21 Ibid.

12For Grennan, whose interest is in the use of speech and the voice in Shakespeare’s Othello, Desdemona’s vocal performance of the song produces an affective form of reception on the part of the audience, as it “transport[s] us to a zone of feeling where analysis becomes futile […] [and] we are bound with Emilia to Desdemona in sympathy.”21 In Othello in Noh Style, however, our sympathy with the spirit of Desdemona emerges as an effect not of her vocal delivery, but rather through her physical re-enactment of Buyoh, which expresses her grief and cyclical search for reconciliation.

13Even as the performance foregrounds the body of the female performer, however, it also offers possibilities for thinking about female subjectivity as residing not wholly or exclusively in embodied practices. Instead, the performer’s female body is placed alongside other aspects of performance, including music, stage space, multimedia and the presence of other performing bodies. For instance, in the Nochiba (second half of a Noh play), Desdemona offers to tell the Pilgrim her story. However, rather than Desdemona narrating her account in her own words and voice, captions in the form of writing appear on a screen along the side of the stage. Below is the English translation of the captions on the screen:

  • 22 The Shite in Nochiba is known as Nochishite.

CAPTION. Othello, the dark Moor,
Who, rugged as a general, just a man of battle,
Rude is he in speech,
And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace,
Still outmanoeuvred the whites.
From his thick lips,
From his thick lips
Overflow his truth and his embrace.

CHORUS. An old black ram is tupping a white ewe.

NOCHISHITE (DESDEMONA).22 Othello and my love
Consummated that spring night.
                                                        (Nochiba)

Figure 3. Miyagi Satoshi, Othello in Noh Style, 2005, screenshot (video recording). Captions appear on a screen beside the still figure of Desdemona.

Figure 3. Miyagi Satoshi, Othello in Noh Style, 2005, screenshot (video recording). Captions appear on a screen beside the still figure of Desdemona.

Courtesy of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A).

14Transposing these lines from speech into text extends the racial description of Othello beyond his own self-identification in Shakespeare towards a more concretised and universal depiction of race through the process of writing. In other words, as a textual form, the captions document and make concrete Othello’s racial status in this performance. While Desdemona remains still and silent on stage, the captions articulate the racialisation of Othello as presented in Shakespeare’s text as essential context to her story in this production, but as what Desdemona herself does not or cannot explicitly acknowledge. Hence, the captions articulate the context within which the production treats the question of Othello’s race. In effect, the captions re-situate race, a major theme of Shakespeare’s play, as part of Desdemona’s personal experience in her relationship with Othello, while also presenting the implications of race as transcending beyond the material figure of Desdemona through the form of writing and textuality. By extension, the production’s treatment of race transcends the black-and-white polarity that often defines western scholarly discourse on race in the dramatic text and performances of Shakespeare’s Othello. Instead, Othello in Noh Style introduces a third racial category: that of being Japanese. An intercultural audience is therefore made to consider possibilities of extending considerations of race beyond a dyadic interaction between blackness as represented by Othello and whiteness as represented by Desdemona and the Venetians.

  • 23 Production data on Othello in Noh Style, 2005, A|S|I|A.

15In this production, black and white characters – and identities – are performed as abstractions by the bodies of actors who are racially marked as Japanese. This abstraction is signified by the fact that in Kyogen Interlude 1, Abe Kazunori (the actor in the role of Othello) wears a black mask while Otaka Koichi (the actor in the role of Iago) wears a white mask, all while speaking Japanese.23

Figure 4. Miyagi Satoshi, Othello in Noh Style, 2005, screenshot (video recording). Othello (centre) in black mask, surrounded by Venetians in white masks.

Figure 4. Miyagi Satoshi, Othello in Noh Style, 2005, screenshot (video recording). Othello (centre) in black mask, surrounded by Venetians in white masks.

Courtesy of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A).

  • 24 “Othello in Noh Style,” Shakespeare and Spirit Worlds in Asian Performance, A|S|I|A Multimedia Scho (...)
  • 25 Ibid.
  • 26 Ibid.
  • 27 Ibid.
  • 28 Ibid.

16According to the editors of the multimedia scholarly edition Shakespeare and Spirit Worlds in Asian Performance, the masks in the production bear little resemblance to those conventionally used in Noh and Kyogen performances; instead, the performers “seem to echo the dramaturgy and character types of traditional Japanese mask dances such as the now-extinct Gigaku.”24 Gigaku masks included “a set for Kojin (foreigners) that visually marked out their difference from the local contexts of the performance.”25 Another point of reference for the use of masks is Sanbaso (a celebratory dance adapted from prayers for prosperity and abundance) “performed by a Kyogen performer after the Shiki Sanban (or Okina), a Shinto ritual and performance” in Noh.26 Rituals for this performance include the use of two masks of contrasting colours: “the white mask of Okina and the black mask of Sanbaso.”27 This contrast is hence mapped onto the visual contrast between Othello and Iago as well as the rest of the Venetians in this performance. While the use of a black mask visually situates Othello and marks out his difference from the rest of the Venetians who wear white masks, the visual presentation of Othello’s ethnicity via the mask also “displaces his skin colour […] thereby abstracting race as a role” in the performance rather than a social identity.28 Rather than treating Othello’s blackness in performance as “representing racial tension in western societies,” the use of the black mask introduces elements of ritual and spirituality in the performance: racial politics in the earthly world is therefore transposed to the realm of the spiritual, foregrounding instead the politics of memory and the reconstruction of a past which is predominantly male (via the Kyogen Interludes) and the present moment of the performance which is primarily female (framed by the memory of Desdemona as Shite in the main Noh performance).

Object Theatre in Lady Macbeth

17Key scenes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth are performed as part of the re-construction of Lady Macbeth’s memory in Lady Macbeth, enacting the interior psychological landscape of the titular female character. In contrast to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which Lady Macbeth’s actions on stage in Act 5 Scene 1 are framed by the Doctor and Gentlewoman’s commentary, in Han’s production, much of the stage actions appears to proceed from Lady Macbeth’s psyche, including the retroactive re-enactment of scenes in Shakespeare. Lady Macbeth’s performance of memory takes place on stage through her physical interactions with the Royal Doctor and three Servants, as well as in the use of props, part of Han’s distinctive practice of object theatre. Moreover, the slippages between the roles that the Royal Doctor plays – he takes on the role of Macbeth in certain scenes – enact the precarity and constructedness of memory itself. Memory is shown to be performative and recursive, as scenes from Macbeth are re-enacted as a series of negotiations between the past that is represented by Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the present moment of Han’s Lady Macbeth adaptation.

18In Lady Macbeth, objects serve as material images that evoke the interior landscape of Lady Macbeth’s psyche. However, rather than fixing meaning through their materiality, the use of objects produces sensorial modes of encountering Lady Macbeth’s interiority. In the opening scene, Lady Macbeth is seated alone on a platform on stage. She is soon joined by the Royal Doctor and three Servants, who create dough from flour, which they manipulate into a macabre image reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream.

Figure 5. Han Tae-Sook, Lady Macbeth (2010), screenshot (video recording). Scene 1, in which the Servants create a grotesque image from flour.

Figure 5. Han Tae-Sook, Lady Macbeth (2010), screenshot (video recording). Scene 1, in which the Servants create a grotesque image from flour.

Courtesy of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A).

  • 29 Lady Macbeth, 2010, A|S|I|A. The English translation of the original Korean script was donated to A (...)

19The image is then pulled away on a large cloth, which recedes under the platform on which Lady Macbeth sits. The stage directions indicate that Lady Macbeth is having a “dream” in which she watches the Servants “with growing pleasure” – this is substantiated by the widening of Lady Macbeth’s smile as she observes the Servants, evident when the camera closes up on her facial expression in the video recording.29 Hence, the stage directions contextualise the performance of the production as taking place within Lady Macbeth’s interiority. Although audiences watching the performance live may not have access to the stage directions, the opening scene foregrounds the solitary figure of Lady Macbeth as the central character from whom the rest of the performance proceeds. In effect, the scene dramatises Lady Macbeth’s centrality in the performance and symbolically enacts the cognitive mechanisms of her subconscious, a psychological landscape in which distorted images emerge and disappear. As a material substance, flour is used for its transformative potential, as well as to evoke ephemeral traces and residues of events that have happened in the past.

20In another example of the distinctive use of objects, after Duncan is killed, a large round lump of clay is suspended on a chain at the rear of the stage in Scene 4. The clay is swiftly sculpted into a face by Servant 2, played by the object artist Lee Young-ran. This sequence is accompanied by the plucking of a stringed instrument that rises to a crescendo, which heightens the intensity of the object artist’s movements.

Figure 6. Han Tae-sook, Lady Macbeth (2010), screenshot (video recording). The object artist (Lee Young-ran) in the role of Servant 2, creating the sculpture on stage.

Figure 6. Han Tae-sook, Lady Macbeth (2010), screenshot (video recording). The object artist (Lee Young-ran) in the role of Servant 2, creating the sculpture on stage.

Courtesy of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A).

  • 30 William Shakespeare, Macbeth, The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt, 2nd edition, New York (...)

21The presence of this double-faced sculpture looms over events in the performance: one face is always visible to the audience, even when the head revolves. The effect of the sculpture is to concretise the image in Lady Macbeth’s admission in Scene 5 of the performance: “Had the sleeping Duncan not resembled my father, hell would not have seized me. Why does his face resemble my father’s?” This line echoes Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Had he not resembled / My father as he slept, I had done’t” (2.2.11-12).30 Han concretises the implications of Lady Macbeth’s rhetorical question, staging a visceral image that makes present the overarching, ominous presence of both Duncan and Lady Macbeth’s father over the second half of the performance. In the final scene, Servant 2, the same servant who had sculpted the face, proceeds to smash the sculpture with her fist to the clashing of cymbals.

  • 31 Lady Macbeth, 2010, A|S|I|A.

22Indeterminacy and ambiguity characterise the ending of Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth desperately attempts to cleanse herself of her guilt for the murder of Duncan. All is unravelled at this point: the Royal Doctor and Servants lie on the floor, and Servant 2 has destroyed the sculpture, an action which – in a violent recapitulation of the first scene of the performance – causes the flour within the sculpture to spray all over the stage. On the one hand, this scene enacts the recursive and cyclical nature of memory. On the other hand, however, the flour serves as metonymy not only for Lady Macbeth’s consciousness, but for events in the performance itself. Lady Macbeth crawls around the stage seeking water. Finding a shallow pool at the platform upon which she had lain in the opening scene, she attempts to cleanse herself, saying: “Running water purifies all. Water, flow over me and wash these hands! Don’t bring back my memory!”31 Immediately, however, she rubs her hands all over her face, which is contorted: the temporary relief brought by the water proves insufficient in providing complete absolution. Instead, Lady Macbeth appears trapped in a cycle of recursive guilt and culpability. The performance of the scene culminates in the Royal Doctor and Servants rising to the sound of loud drumbeats. Circling back to her passive submission on the platform at the beginning of the performance, Lady Macbeth attempts to resist their presence. By presenting the production from Lady Macbeth’s point of view, Han offers audiences the possibility of encountering Lady Macbeth’s female subjectivity through intense sensorial engagement with the visceral performance enacted on stage. Rather than blaming or absolving Lady Macbeth of her moral culpability, the production stages the ways in which the reconstruction of memory enables the performance of female subjectivity to emerge. Finally, Lady Macbeth is symbolically strangled by Servant 2 using a long, thick piece of dough resembling a snake. The gesture may be read as the manifestation of her conscience finally overwhelming her. The single strike of a bell at the end of the scene accompanied by a solo female voice marks the closing of the scene. Lady Macbeth then slowly stands and walks away, as the stage turns pitch black. On the one hand, the bell could signify Lady Macbeth’s passage into death, as is her end in Shakespeare. However, the sound could also aurally signal another cycle of hypnosis and trance, paving the way for the performance of another night of madness. Like Othello in Noh Style, therefore, physical destruction and creation are reciprocal forces that constitute the cyclical performance of the female subject.

Conclusion

23In both Othello in Noh Style and Lady Macbeth, the non-chronological presentations of events in Shakespeare’s plays displace the linear temporality privileged by naturalism in order to foreground the experiences and memories of female subjects. As a result, both productions enable new afterlives for Desdemona and Lady Macbeth to emerge, as their female subjectivities are shown to be performatively constituted through multiple modes and states of being. The ambiguous endings of both productions suggest that the process of working through trauma – the attempt at retrieving a past, prior to the death of Desdemona in Othello in Noh Style and the murder of Duncan in Lady Macbeth – has uncertain outcomes and may perhaps never be complete. Nevertheless, the effect of these transformations of Shakespeare’s plays through the performance of female subjectivities is to introduce new ways of re-encountering, re-reading and remembering Othello and Lady Macbeth through re-enactments of the female characters’ memories and perspectives.

  • 32 Linda Fisher, “Feminist Phenomenological Voices”, Continental Philosophy Review 43, 2010, 83-95, p. (...)
  • 33 Ibid.

24One example of how the theatre cultures represented by Othello in Noh Style and Lady Macbeth transform dominant Anglophone conceptualisations of gender performativity is in the emphasis on female embodiment and the physicalised attempts to work through traumatic memories on the part of the female subjects, Desdemona and Lady Macbeth. In her work on feminism and voice, Linda Fisher posits that “voice has always been a vital motif for the feminist imaginary and praxis” in western critical discourse.32 The voice is taken to denote “representation, agency, selfhood and discursive power” while, conversely, “the lack of voice is the emptying of such possibilities in … silence and silencing”.33 However, in both these East Asian performances, female subjectivities are constituted not primarily through verbal expression but rather through physical performances of female embodiment in primarily non-naturalistic performance contexts. These physical performances are shown to be situated within a multi-sensory, multi-modal nexus of performance elements including stage space, music, multimedia, props and other performing bodies on stage. In both productions, therefore, the journey for an intercultural audience member like involves epistemological, cultural and ideological shifts away from the conventions of western naturalism in the history of Anglophone Shakespeare performance, towards the conventions of non-naturalistic performance contexts, while simultaneously acknowledging the textual and contextual processes through which Shakespeare’s plays continue to inflect the process of encountering both productions interculturally.

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Notes

1 East Asian naming conventions follow the sequence of family name followed by given name(s), a practice which is also followed in some Southeast Asian contexts.

2 An extended examination of the material presented in this paper can be found in the first chapter of my doctoral thesis: see Roweena YIP, The Performativity of Gender in Asian Shakespeares: Towards Intercultural Feminism(s), 2021, National University of Singapore. Material on an abridged version of Ku Na’uka’s Othello in Noh Style has previously been published in a peer-reviewed journal: see Roweena Yip, “Feminist Interventions and Intercultural Mobilities in Satoshi Miyagi’s Othello in Noh Style, Gender Forum 64, Special Issue: Early Career Researchers V, 2017, 56-69.

3 A|S|I|A is part of three successive research projects supported by the Singapore Ministry of Education, the most recent of which is Digital Performance Scholarship: Multimedia Critical Editions on Asian Theatres, MOE2018-T2-2-092. See YONG Li Lan, LIM Eng Hui Alvin, TAKIGUCHI Ken, HWANG Ha Young, SUEMATSU Michiko, LEE Hyon-u, Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A), 2.1 edition, 2019, 11 January 2021, www.a-s-i-a-web.org, last accessed 9 December 2022.

4 Production data on Othello in Noh Style, 2005, A|S|I|A.

5 Production data on Lady Macbeth, 2010, A|S|I|A.

6 For more on Mugen Noh Othello (2018), see the entry “Mugen Noh Othello” in the Japan Digital Theatre Archives, accessible online at: https://www.enpaku-jdta.jp/en/detail/02633-08-2018-01, last accessed 5 December 2022.

7 For more on the Changgeuk version of Lady Macbeth, see Zoe RYU, “Lady Macbeth Sings Traditional Korean Ballad: An Interview with Tae-Sook Han,” The Theatre Times, 2 May 2017, accessible online at: https://thetheatretimes.com/lady-macbeth-sings-traditional-korean-ballad-interview-tae-sook-han/, last accessed 5 December 2022.

8 Ku Na’uka Theatre Company website, http://www.kunauka.or.jp/en/index01.htm, last accessed 3 December 2022.

9 For more on the history of Noh, see Shinko Kagaya and Miura Hiroko, “Noh and Muromachi Culture,” A History of Japanese Theatre, ed. Jonah Salz, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2016, 24-61.

10 See performance data on Othello in Noh Style on A|S|I|A.

11 For more on the relationship between the dramatic roles of Desdemona and Pilgrim and the structural roles of Shite and Waki in Noh, see Yong Li Lan, “Interacting with Naturalism: East Asian Shakespeare Performance,” The Shakespearean World, ed. Jill L. Levenson and Robert Ormsby, London, Routledge, 2017, 135-153.

12 Maeba, Othello in Noh Style, 2005, A|S|I|A. The English translation of the original Japanese script was provided by Ku Na’uka Theatre Company, with supplementary translation by Rosie Fielding commissioned by A|S|I|A. The original Japanese script and English translation were edited by Suematsu Michiko and Jessica Chiba for A|S|I|A.

13 Kyogen Interlude 1 dramatises Act 1 Scene 3 from Shakespeare’s Othello, in which Brabantio confronts Othello about his elopement with Desdemona; Interlude 2 dramatises Act 2 Scene 1, in which Iago incites Roderigo to fight with Cassio; Interlude 3 dramatises Act 3 Scene 3, in which Iago persuades Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful – the performance of this scene continues in Interlude 4, which is inserted into the Nochiba (the second half of a Noh play).

14 Julie Holledge and Joanne Tompkins, “Introduction,” Women’s Intercultural Performance, ed. Julie Hollege and Joanne Tompkins, Oxford, Routledge, 2000, 1-17, p. 9.

15 Yong Li Lan, op. cit., p. 137.

16 Ibid.

17 Juliet Dusinberre, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women, London, Macmillan, 1975.

18 Marianne Novy, Transforming Shakespeare: Contemporary Women’s Re-Visions in Literature and Performance, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1999.

19 Sarah Werner, Shakespeare and Feminist Performance: Ideology on Stage, London, Routledge, 2001.

20 Eamon Grennan, “The Women’s Voices in Othello: Speech, Song, Silence,” Shakespeare Quarterly 38.3, 1987, 275-292, p. 279.

21 Ibid.

22 The Shite in Nochiba is known as Nochishite.

23 Production data on Othello in Noh Style, 2005, A|S|I|A.

24 “Othello in Noh Style,” Shakespeare and Spirit Worlds in Asian Performance, A|S|I|A Multimedia Scholarly Edition Series, ed. Michael Dobson, LIM Eng Hui Alvin and Yong Li Lan, forthcoming, 2023.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Lady Macbeth, 2010, A|S|I|A. The English translation of the original Korean script was donated to A|S|I|A by Theatre Moollee. Supplementary audio translation, commissioned by A|S|I|A, was provided by Zoe Ryu. The Korean script and English translation were edited by Choi Boram and Yong Li Lan for A|S|I|A.

30 William Shakespeare, Macbeth, The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt, 2nd edition, New York, W. W. Norton and Company, 2008, 2569-2632.

31 Lady Macbeth, 2010, A|S|I|A.

32 Linda Fisher, “Feminist Phenomenological Voices”, Continental Philosophy Review 43, 2010, 83-95, p. 84.

33 Ibid.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Miyagi Satoshi, Othello in Noh Style, 2005, screenshot (video recording). The Pilgrim / Waki encounters Desdemona / Shite for the first time.
Crédits Courtesy of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A).
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/shakespeare/docannexe/image/8013/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 160k
Titre Figure 2. Miyagi Satoshi, Othello in Noh Style, 2005, screenshot (video recording). Desdemona performing self-strangulation as part of the Buyoh sequence.
Crédits Courtesy of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A).
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/shakespeare/docannexe/image/8013/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 128k
Titre Figure 3. Miyagi Satoshi, Othello in Noh Style, 2005, screenshot (video recording). Captions appear on a screen beside the still figure of Desdemona.
Crédits Courtesy of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A).
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/shakespeare/docannexe/image/8013/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 120k
Titre Figure 4. Miyagi Satoshi, Othello in Noh Style, 2005, screenshot (video recording). Othello (centre) in black mask, surrounded by Venetians in white masks.
Crédits Courtesy of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A).
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/shakespeare/docannexe/image/8013/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 144k
Titre Figure 5. Han Tae-Sook, Lady Macbeth (2010), screenshot (video recording). Scene 1, in which the Servants create a grotesque image from flour.
Crédits Courtesy of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A).
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/shakespeare/docannexe/image/8013/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 156k
Titre Figure 6. Han Tae-sook, Lady Macbeth (2010), screenshot (video recording). The object artist (Lee Young-ran) in the role of Servant 2, creating the sculpture on stage.
Crédits Courtesy of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A).
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/shakespeare/docannexe/image/8013/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 110k
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Roweena Yip, « The Performativity of Female Subjectivities in Othello in Noh Style and Lady Macbeth »Actes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare [En ligne], 41 | 2023, mis en ligne le 19 décembre 2023, consulté le 20 juillet 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/shakespeare/8013 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/shakespeare.8013

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