William B. Worthen

William B. Worthen

W. B. Worthen is Alice Brady Pels Professor in the Arts, and Chair of the Department of Theatre at Barnard College, Columbia University. He took his Ph.D. in English Literature at Princeton University in 1981. Before coming to Barnard, he taught at the University of Texas at Austin, Northwestern University, the University of California at Davis, the University of California at Berkeley, and at the University of Michigan, as well as being a founding faculty member of the International Centre for Advanced Theatre Studies sponsored by the University of Helsinki, Finland. William B. Worthen teaches a wide range of courses in dramatic literature and performance theory, and is affiliated with the Theatre Division of the Columbia School of the Arts, and the Columbia Department of English and Comparative Literature. He is the author of several books, among them Shakespeare and the Authority of Performance (Cambridge, 1997), Shakespeare and the Force of Modern Performance (Cambridge, 2003), and Print and the Poetics of Modern Drama (Cambridge, 2006).

Research Project

The Textures of Performance Culture

Although performances worldwide hardly depend on texts, many use texts, writing, and many use writing as a means of transmitting elements of performance culture. How does writing function in different modes of contemporary performance culture, and how does performance culture understand, interpret, engage writing itself? In the Western tradition, writing has been identified with the ideological mapping of print authorship, perhaps nowhere more contentiously than in the case of Shakespeare’s plays; at the same time, Shakespearean dramatic writing provides one of the most visible elements (and perhaps instigations) of the contemporary interweaving of performance cultures. Can we use this interweaving as a means to refigure the theoretical terms of ‘dramatic’ and ‘postdramatic’ performance? How might we regard the culturally contested field of ‘Shakespeare performance’ not along the lines of ‘traditional’ and ‘experimental’ performance, but as a more productive encounter, in which the rethinking of the various agencies of performance enables us to re-conceptualize ‘dramatic performance’ on the wider, global horizon of performance today? In the course of my residency in the Interweaving Performance Cultures project in the Summer 2009, I plan to make an initial intervention in this issue via two lines of research. First, I want to engage the recent promotion of ‘Shakespeare, the Literary Dramatist.’ So, the first phase of my work this summer will interrogate the ways in which authorship, print, and drama as ideologies are being refigured in contemporary scholarship. In a second phase, I will focus on the ways the notions of authorship, writing, and performance are institutionally related in different kinds and locations of performance culture. In one sense, this inquiry depends on a sense of the privileges accorded to ‘poetry’ in specific performance cultures. It also involves developing a more suggestive and consequential means of conceiving the various functions writing might perform in different performance practices. That is, the overarching theme of the work I hope to pursue has to do with how different theatrical cultures ‘interweave’ different senses of authority and practice, specifically how they deploy different understandings of the affordance of writing in performance. As a result of this interrogation of the ‘interweaving’ practices of different theatrical cultures, I hope to arrive at a broader, and more culturally-sensitive understanding of the different ways in which writing is engaged by, and interwoven into, performance.