The Fan Performance: Mr Shakespeare Reads

Mr Shakespeare Reads offers a playful investment in the human face behind the texts – or at least a simulacrum of the author drawn from popular culture representations. By adding the visual gimmick of Shakespearean disguise and hairstyle, the videos develop the established YouTube genre of the vernacular Shakespeare performance. What we here is a curious animation of an authorial and textual corpus in the form of an embodied performance of the Droeshout image from the First Folio. Through the paratexts that accompanying the videos, such as the channel description (‘William Shakespeare reads “The Complete Works of Me”. Sonnets, speeches, and prose, in full Elizabethan regalia’) and the description below each video (‘William Shakespeare reading from…’), we are encouraged to view the performances as the Bard taking up YouTube’s invitation to ‘Broadcast Yourself’. Holding his book, with a copy of the Folio image on the front, ‘Shakespeare’ reads a sonnet, occasionally looking to the camera. It is no accident that thus far the series has focused on the Sonnets, for it is these texts that have proved most accommodating to the idea of the singular author as literary genius. Mr Shakespeare Reads may signify little beyond the obvious visual gag. In part, the undertaking may be about acquiring the username ‘Mr Shakespeare Reads’ on YouTube and being the first to do so. Yet, as visual registers of the mythic author, the videos posit a Stratfordian Shakespeare. As such, they indirectly engage with the authorship controversy, itself a space where the primacy of individual genius finds ongoing expression in the popular imagination. The videos are continuous with a theme-park Shakespeare, or those street-performers that don Shakespeare disguises for the entertainment of visitors to Stratford-upon-Avon, and other locations of the Shakespeare industry. As in those instances, the simulacrum of ‘the man himself’ in Mr Shakespeare Reads reflects a desire for a grounding authenticity, which permits the illusion of unmediated access to the texts. Read more about fan performance and amateur Shakespeare in Shakespeare and YouTube (http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/shakespeare-and-youtube-9781472500281/).

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