Zombie Shakespeare

Curator's Note

Hamlet: Whither wilt thou lead me? Speak. I’ll go no farther.

Ghost: Mark me.

Hamlet: I will.

Ghost: My hour is almost come, 

When I to sulph’rous and tormenting flames

Must render up myself.

The exchange between Hamlet and his father’s ghost in act one, scene five, of Hamlet might as well mark the fate of Shakespeare’s undeadness and of the zombie’s eternal return. Hamlet Sr.’s ghost returns again in act three, scene four, this time to remind Hamlet of the promise he has made to the father and on which he must deliver even at the cost of his own death. The “sulph’rous and tormenting flames” that would have consumed anyone else have left the ghost unscathed, it would seem: “My father, in his habit as he lived! / Look where he goes even now out at the portal,” Hamlet declares to his mother (3.4.135-36). The “portal” or access to the world of the zombie, while inaccessible to Gertrude, who sees nothing and no one, is a shifting space that the undead can locate, invade, relocate, and spread: it moves from the castle’s frontiers to its inner bedchamber. 

Shakespeare’s undeadness is a similarly mobile (motile) legacy. His (Its) eternal return, which is marked repeatedly by the last and the next adaptation of a Shakespeare play, just as it is by the discovery of the last and the next re-mediation — across the stage, the screen, the archive, and Web 2.0 — zombifies and entrances us in performances of the wholeness of an organizing network that simultaneously invests the zombie-bard with periodicity and transcendence. William Shatner argues that it is the human “liveness” of Shakespeare that ensnares us as viewers; yet, the mobility of so many re-mediations is more undead than alive. Indeed, more objectified than human. Shakespeare is the experience of mediated meaning itself: the dead and lifeless made undead through media. Yet, an undead Shakespeare also opens up portals (possibilities) of disorganization. It is these portals that we discover in our mash up of Shakes-media/objects: commodities, experiments, and productions that might dissect the Shakespearean body and open it up to reveal what Deleuze and Guattari might refer to as a “Body without Organs” (BwO). 

*This post was co-authored by Jen Boyle and Tripthi Pillai

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Daniel Cross Turner's picture

Habit <--> Render

Zombie Shakespeare” has me fired up (much like Hamlet, Sr.: “My hour is almost come, / When I to sulph’rous and tormenting flames / Must render up myself”…but in a good way!) with ideas about writing and teaching piebald shadings of undeadness, especially through the lens of D&G’s BwO, which, as Boyle/Pillai suggest(s), exposes the ghostlier demarcations between the quick and the dead and promises resurrection (if not redemption) via serial afterlives…re- re- re-mediations that form and re-form prosthetic memories and relived experiences of what counts as “Shakespeare-ness”—from the ever-widening gyre of performances of his plays (sheer discontinuous overload of exponential emanations of actors/characters, scenes, speeches, lines, quotable catch-phrases, words…even down to the oscillations of a single actor’s pronunciation of a single syllable [e.g., an “O” pronounced woodenly!]…ad infinitum…), to all manner of tourist trappings (reconstructed Stratford, reconstructed Globe; fridge magnets; bobbleheads; etc.), “the man himself.” That last one certainly “opens up portals (possibilities) of disorganization”: not just documentaries, biographies, portraits, et al., but the very real potential now of ciphering the genetic afterlife of Shakespeare by unburying his DNA…digging the dust enclosed in his grave and cloning the Bard’s bones, creating a walking, talking, breathing Shakespeare zombie (“Curs’t be he that moves these bones”). Clearly, Will was already thinking that way (e.g., the emphasis on “immortality” via the relatively new and changing medium of print reiterated throughout the sonnets, plus said pitch-perfect epithet hovering above his bones).

I love the silence (once Shatner stops yappin’) that fills Boyle/Pillai’s montage of Shakespeares etre dans le gaz. The silence eerie and more enlivening than setting the sequence to words or music (like the staticy silence of Peter Brook’s LEAR with Paul Scofield)—full of emptiness, a deadness that lives.

The silence got me thinking back to the quotes lines that propelled Boyle/Pillai’s expansive ruminations… A question of remediation by attention to the medium of poetry, and especially in this case, of performed/spoken poetry. The lines were of course bound to the print medium, imprinted and bound together in the multitudinous print copies/variants of these lines through the past four centuries. But also unbound from the printed page via aural + visual medium of dramatic performance (stage, film, etc.) but also via poetry medium? That is, should we consider the medium-specificity of “poetry” (or, more particularly in this case, “blank verse”) as a further form of re-mediating Shakespeare. That is, a working definition of “poetry” as a genre typically more attentive to heightened combinations and collisions of sound and sense. We move from what seems very prosaic dialogue between Hamlet and Hamlet, Sr.’s ghost into seamless blank verse. But even the prose-y back-and-forth between undead father and son scans neatly, though each requires the other to complete the circuit of meter. Poetic rhythm in the lines, the play, Shakespeare’s corpus as a “whole” enacting a further call-and-response to the reader/viewer/auditor, performing and re-performing time and again and again the Orphic task of beckoning the other out of the darkness. Poetic rhythm understood here as inarticulate, somatic impulse, evoking parallel movements and affective performance in the “body” (construed as amalgam of physiological pulsings, shiftings, fluidities, overlaps—a form of D&G’s “BwO”) of the reader/auditor/viewer as well as in that of performer speaking (repeating by rote) and enacting (re-enacting) the rhythmic thrall of the written lines. Rhythm as a deadness (inarticulate, ineffable, “sublime” in a verymuchpostKantian sensibility—that is, “sublime” as overwhelming affect that disintegrates borders between subject and outer other, “sublime” as nontranscendent excess) that’s alive (enlivening through its insistent reiterations, its lively impulses). Rhythmic sound undoing, unthinking—viscerally, if momentarily—conscious, “made” sense. Rhythm as “an architecture of absence” (poet Charles Wright), as the music beneath and beyond the words and their meanings: a principle of organization (unrhymed pentameter base), but one that unveils the void of arationality undergirding strict sense, that yields “portals (possibilities) of disorganization.” The pentameter thrum of the blank verse structuring said dialogue comes humming along at a somatic level—approximating “HABIT” in Elaine Scarry’s understanding. The inarticulate power of the rhythm deeply felt, bodily imprinted, but realized only after the fact. The unconscious force of rhythm-in-the-words, the meter’s call to performative affect and interchange between speaker-receiver, is allegorized by the words’ content/contexts/meanings, as we work WILLfully, consciously to MARK and RENDER their meanings. What you will.

Even if/as my tangential musings misprisioned the point of the post, Boyle’s/Pillai’s prompt should not suffer. Really fine stuff. Well done!

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