Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare & Performance Director Paul Menzer introduced Tiffany Stern of Oxford University to speak of her work on Tate’s Restoration Version of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” In her brief introduction to the Hidden Room Theatre’s performance on the Blackfriars Playhouse stage, Professor Stern explained to the audience that her work includes both scholarly study as well as that of study in performance.
Nahum Tate undertook his adaptation of “King Lear” in 1681, Professor Stern informed her listeners, because he found Shakespeare’s tragedy “too tragic and upsetting” for his audience. He removed the character of the Fool from the play for being “vulgar.” He sanitized motivations and actions in Shakespeare’s play and “cleaned up” the verse, to make it “beautiful” in accordance with his aesthetic and puritanical values. His version held sway on the stage over Shakespeare’s original “Lear” for one hundred and fifty years. This bowdlerized version is the one that made America take to Shakespeare in the first place, Professor Stern informed her audience. She added jovially, “So, remember that!”
Restoration movement has a very different feel from Early Modern Theater, Professor Stern continued. It sought for an “elegant, beautiful” performance style in an effort to edify the audience. She relied upon illustrations of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century gestures, paintings and drawings for her research. The audience would get to see these gestures in practice momentarily. Nahum Tate’s practices and his “improved” version raise a number of questions concerning adaptation, both of “Lear” and other Early Modern dramatic works as well as those of other periods and styles.
Professor Stern then introduced the Hidden Room Theatre Company in a dress rehearsal performance of Tate’s version of “Lear.” She qualified what her audience would witness presently with a kind of apologia: “This is a skeleton crew,” of the full company production, she explained, shortly before the troupe of Restoration period-costumed actors took the stage. Each costume was elaborate and meticulous in detail, creating spectacle which, along with the Hidden Theatre Company’s recreation of mannered performances including detailed hand gestures, faithfully represented a late Seventeenth Century theatrical experience for today’s audience.
The Hidden Room Theatre Company’s performance lasted approximately forty-five minutes and included selected scenes from Tate’s “King Lear.” Professor Stern introduced each scene, telling her audience briefly what had transpired between scenes, helping to set the stage for the next one. After the performance concluded, there followed a ‘Meet the Actors’ session upstairs in the Cutaia Lounge.