Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 287. Monday, 4 Nov 1991.
Date: Sun, 3 Nov 1991 10:50:01 -0500
Subject: Re: 2.0274: Staging Shakespeare's Unstaged Scenes
Staging unstaged scenes may be good or bad: it depends on the production. I
think this is part of a larger issue: the sometimes wholesale transfer of a
play from ancient Rome to, say, Central America for the sake of a
production "concept." (I saw a production of "Julius Caesar" in
Philadelphia a couple of years ago that did just that.) After bouncing
back and forth on this issue for years, I finally settled on two questions
to help determine the goodness or badness of such a move:
(1) Does it amplify the text or does it produce jarring inconsistencies?
(In the case of JC, the inconsistencies were immense: when Caesar was
described as a Colossus striding the known world -- as he stood there for
all the world looking like Che Guevara -- the discrepancy became almost
comic. Better to cut the text than leave this obvious error of metaphor.)
(2) Does the switch give the actors a boost in their search for emotional
credibility? Of the two questions, I think the second is the most
important and the most often overlooked. This may seem hopelessly "method"
in its orientation, but I think the audience will "believe" the switch if
the actors "believe" what's happening. Given the specific group of actors,
they may find it easier to "believe" they're in the Prussian court in 1870
than in Kronborg Castle in 1586. Anything that supports the actor in
creating a more credible performance, at that time and in that place, will
help the play.
Both questions can be applied to the issue of staging unstaged scenes. It
depends. It has to. Otherwise we could develop standardized prompt books
and do the same thing over and over again.
There is, of course, the general question of fidelity to the text. How
many productions of "Hamlet" have you seen where the ghost is described as
having his "beaver up" and yet wears no armor and carries no truncheon? I
don't think this is a question of betraying Shakespeare's intentions; it's
a simple question of attention to detail. What's seen must reinforce
rather than contradict what's heard.