When I wrote my MA dissertation on adaptation and The Winter’s Tale, I thought that I was leaving that particular branch of theatre studies behind for a while. Not so! The Changeling and adaptation is one of my more recent obsessions. So here, ladies and gents, is the germ of a possible article/chapter/section of my dissertation (maybe all of the above!) on what ‘adaptation’ means with relation to The Changeling and other relatively well-known non-Shakespearean early modern plays. What’s here is sort of just the extension of a question I’ve been dealing with for a couple of months but haven’t had a lot of time to dig into. I welcome any thoughts or ideas for improvement, even if you tell me “this is total crap!” or “someone’s already done this!”. All information is useful information.
The 2012 production and revival at the Young Vic is perhaps the most mainstream production to substantially alter the text of the play, and choices such as cutting the character of Franciscus, making major textual changes but cutting, rearranging, and conflating scenes, and re-writing jokes to make them relevant to a modern audience all attest to the adaptive spirit of this production. This is also the only production I have studied in-depth which does not explicitly set the play in Spain or a Spanish colony. Although lines referring to Alicante remain in the script, the physical space of the production is more ambiguous. These techniques are all familiar in productions of Shakespeare’s plays, but usually within the context of productions specifically marketed as ‘adaptations’. Certainly this production can be seen as one of the most adaptive stage productions of The Changeling, but there is no mention of ‘adaptation’ in any of the publicity or press about the show, including the reviews. Reimagined as a production of Hamlet, King Lear, or Othello, the strategies employed by Hill-Gibbins, Svendsen, and the rest of the creative team would undoubtedly be read as adaptive, particularly because such substantial changes were made to the textual structure of the play. As Margaret Jane Kidnie notes in Shakespeare and the Problem of Adaptation, Warchus’ (1997) production of Hamlet at the RSC generated bitter criticism for his decision to cut the opening lines. Aebischer and Prince note this problem in their introduction to Performing Early Modern Drama Today, suggesting that ‘While the performance history of some early modern plays is now growing, their still-sparse performance record overall leads to considerable latitude in the ways that the notion of “a performance” is applied to what would, in the case of Shakespeare, be classified as an adaptation’ (3)
A common theme running through most modern theories of adaptation is the idea that a production must be recognised as an adaptation by its audience. Kidnie notes Ruby Cohn’s, Linda Hutcheon’s, and others’ assumptions that an adaptation is, at least in part, an ‘acknowledged transposition of a recognizable work or works’, an assumption which honours the ‘critical ability to discriminate between Shakespeare and Shakespearean adaptations, whether these judgements are made by academics, students, theatregoers, theatre practitioners, or interested general readers’ (3, 5). It seems plausible, then, that Middleton and Rowley’s “otherness”—the inescapable fact that their plays lack the widespread notoriety that Shakespeare’s plays enjoy—materially affects an audience’s ability to read any production of The Changeling as an adaptation. Aebischer and Prince interrogate the idea that The Changeling and other plays that it tends to be associated with, such as Tis Pity She’s a Whore, The Duchess of Malfi, and Volpone are not canonical, worrying whether these plays’ ability ‘to stand in a binary, dialectical relation to the “mainstream”, implicitly conservative, institutionalised Shakespearean canon’ is jeopardised by the very recognition that would grant the Young Vic Changeling status as an “adaptation” as opposed to a “performance” (2-3).
Beyond the criterion of recognisability, the Young Vic production(s) are undeniably adaptive in their approach to the text. Other requirements for a production to be considered an adaptation include Hutcheon’s criterion of an ‘extended intertextual engagement with the adapted work’ and Cohn’s need for ‘the addition of new material alongside substantial cutting and rearrangement’ (Kidnie 3). It is my belief that the textual treatment of the play, as well as the staging and practical treatment of it, reads as primarily adaptive in its approach, whether or not the theories of adaptation support such a reading.
Aebischer, Pascale, and Prince, Kathryn. Introduction. Performing Early Modern Drama Today. Ed. Aebischer and Prince. Cambridge: CUP, 2012. 1-16. Print.
Kidnie, Margaret Jane. Shakespeare and the Problem of Adaptation. London: Routledge, 2009. Print.
The Changeling. By Thomas Middleton and William Rowley. Dir. Joe Hill-Gibbins. Perf. Jessica Raine and Daniel Cerquiera. The Young Vic. Maria Studio, London. 26 January 2012. Performance.
The Changeling. By Thomas Middleton and William Rowley. Dir. Joe Hill-Gibbins. Perf. Sinead Matthews and Zubin Varla. The Young Vic. Main House, London. 20 November 2012. Performance.