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Home :: Archive :: 1992 :: December ::
Rs: Mel Gibson as Hamlet
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 388. Wednesday, 16 December 1992.
 
(1)     From:   Gus Sponberg <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Dec 1992 12:00:18 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   RE: SHK 3.0383  Mel Gibson as Hamlet
 
(2)     From:   Jon Enriquez <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Dec 1992 15:34 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 3.0383  Mel Gibson as Hamlet
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gus Sponberg <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Dec 1992 12:00:18 -0600 (CST)
Subject: 3.0383  Mel Gibson as Hamlet
Comment:        RE: SHK 3.0383  Mel Gibson as Hamlet
 
Tom Laughlin's lament over Mel Gibson expresses the fears that all lovers
of Shakespeare in the theater have whenever some re-imaging of one of the
plays becomes a media event. I still treasure the moment a student, his eyes
aglow with pleasure, said, "So that's what it's supposed to be like!"
We were walking out of the theater at Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire,
after having seen Henry V. That moment of discovery just IS the grail
and wouldn't it be nice if we all had the time and money to achieve that
moment with every person who has never read or seen a first-class professional
production of a Shakespeare play. But we don't, and probably never will,
and, I think, we ought to be a little more charitable toward Gibson and
Zeffirelli for giving us a version of the story that, it can be demonstra-
ted, awakened many people to the power of Hamlet who would not have paid
it the slightest attention otherwise. The more important question, and
the more difficult to answer, is how many moviegoers in San Diego, say,
their curiosity piqued by Z & G, will pay 10-40 dollars to see live
actors in Shakespeare at the Old Globe and will thereby begin to appreciate
Des McAnuff's great skill.
        There is such a thing as growth in discernment. Professional
theater is not dying in this country, but it is growing far more slowly
and struggling far more ineffectually than is necessary. One reason is
that it doesn't make it easy and convenient to approach theater, either
in practical terms, such as in buying tickets, for example, or in developing
understanding about its art. One notable exception in my region - Chicago -
is Bill Pullinsi who runs the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse - and we academics
all know the prevailing attitudes about dinner theater. Bill prides himself
on the number of un-theater-ed people to whom he has introduced theater and
who have "outgrown" Candlelight to become subscribers at the Organic, or
Victory Gardens, or Steppenwolf. In general, though, professional theater
people in America lack a "missionary" spirit. The cause of Shakespeare, as
of theater in general, would be advanced far more strongly if there were a
true national professional theater organization which "taxed" the present
playgoing population for funds that could then be used to systematically
"seed" professional theater in the many, many cities and towns which
presently have none.
 
Gus Sponberg
Valparaiso University
 
(2)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jon Enriquez <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Dec 1992 15:34 EST
Subject: 3.0383  Mel Gibson as Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 3.0383  Mel Gibson as Hamlet
 
Once more unto the breach, dear friends...
 
I find myself allied with most of what Tom Loughlin says, but
I think his venom is stimulated by the wrong thing. ;-)  Yes,
there is a grand tradition of Shakespearean acting in the US;
yes, I'd rather go to see a live performance than a movie.
But.
 
When people say Zeffirelli and/or Gibson (and/or Close, Bonham
Carter, etc.) are making Hamlet more "accessible", they generally
mean more accessible than _the written text_.  It is a sad
commentary on our educational system that most Americans are
initially exposed to Shakespeare by _reading_ bastardized versions
of his plays in high school literary anthologies.  (Most of the time,
too, they read _Romeo & Juliet_, quite possibly the worst of the
tragedies.)  Olivier writes in his biography that Shakespeare can't
be read; it has to be acted or heard.  I wouldn't quite go that far,
but he's correct that hearing it is a better experience than
reading it.  Certainly, taking the written word and hearing it
and seeing it in your head is a skill that few theater
professionals of my acquaintance have, let alone high school
students.  And there's no way around the fact that the Bard's
English is not like our own; it requires translation, and high
school kids aren't always equipped to do that.  As a result, most
people think Shakespeare is lofty art, and you have to be either
a genius or a poser to enjoy it.
 
However, when students see performances, they understand that even
they can enjoy Shakespeare.  The plays make the text accessible
to them.
 
Like plays, movies can have that same sort of effect.  They can
give the sight and sound of a text to an audience that cannot
supply it for themselves.  People stop being afraid of or bored
by Shakespeare per se, and read or see other plays, movies, or
scripts associated with Shakespeare.  That's how the movie
helps all Shakespeareans.  By stocking his movie with big stars,
Zeffirelli ensured that more people would go to see it.  The
people who will see Mel Gibson in _anything_ are the kind of
people who obtain "access" through the movie.
 
Has Gibson affected the acting tradition of Shakespeare on film?
Quite probably, although I haven't seen any filmed Shakespeare since.
Has he changed the course of the stage acting tradition?  Not very
much, I think.  Because a play is so different from a movie, anyone
who tried to copy Gibson's style on stage would find it difficult
if not impossible.
 
Some fairly big US movie stars have done Shakespeare on stage, and
I've even seen some of them do fine work.  I would have loved to
see the _Shrew_ that Papp did in New York with Morgan Freeman and
Tracey Ullman.  But I didn't get to see it, and I'll wager you didn't
either.  The fact of the matter is that movies reach more people than
plays do, not least for reasons of cost and convenience.
 
Who has been seen by more people as Hamlet, Gibson or Olivier?  In
this country, probably Gibson.  Whose Hamlet will over time prove
to be more influential?  Olivier's, no question, because he affects
more people who are in a position to carry on the tradition.
 
I agree with you, Tom, that it's not fair that Gibson gets all the
attention.  But in the end I think he has done more good than harm.
 

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