1992

Assorted Comments on *Hamlet*

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 390. Thursday, 17 December 1992.
 
(1)     From:   Tad Davis <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 17 Dec 92 09:00:01 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 3.0388  Rs: Mel Gibson as Hamlet
 
(2)     From:   Roy Flannagan <FLANNAGA@OUACCVMB>
        Date:   Thursday, 17 December 92, 09:03:50 EST
        Subj:   [Acting Shakespeare on the Screen]
 
(3)     From:   Gus Sponberg <ASPONBERG@VALPO>
        Date:   Thursday, 17 Dec 1992 10:19 CST
        Subj:   Shakespeare's Voice/Zeffirelli's Hamlet
 
(1)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tad Davis <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 17 Dec 92 09:00:01 -0500
Subject: 3.0388  Rs: Mel Gibson as Hamlet
Comment:        RE: SHK 3.0388  Rs: Mel Gibson as Hamlet
 
Zefferelli's "Hamlet" film has many flaws. But as a piece of narrative art,
the "Z-Hamlet" lays it all over Olivier's version.
 
But then I've never been a big fan of Olivier's anyway. As a director of
himself, he's far too egocentric; and his performances often seem to rely
on some external "trick" of posture or accent or hairstyle. His facility
for capturing externals is astonishing, but I personally never get a sense
that there's anything under it. His presence is Olympian only in the sense
that he makes it seem like an exercise in athletic precision.
 
Watching Olivier's "Hamlet" is, to me, a duty to be endured. (But then no
one would ever accuse me of being a man who could not make up his mind.)
 
Tad Davis
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(2)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Roy Flannagan <FLANNAGA@OUACCVMB>
Date:           Thursday, 17 December 92, 09:03:50 EST
Subject:        [Acting Shakespeare on the Screen]
 
Mel Gibson, and others acting Shakespeare on the screen:
 
Olivier was right about the acting of Shakespeare vivifying his words on
the page--even if Olivier might have been wrong to re-add Colley
Cibber's words to {Richard III} or accept Ernest Jones's portrait of a
languid and indecisive Hamlet who "could not make up his mind."  I first
got excited about Shakespeare at fifteen when I saw {Richard III} on
television.  Today I can laugh with the Python's at Olivier as Richard
in the "London School for Over-acting," but that doesn't take away from
the first effect of the movie.  Try reading the 1940s plot summary of
{Hamlet} in the current {Oxford Companion to English Literature} as
compared with Margaret Drabble's very recent {Companion} and you can see
how tastes change, understanding changes.
 
If Zefferelli had learned nothing from his {Romeo and Juliet}, which was
exciting in places, had gorgeous costumes, showed beautiful young people
in the leads, but was locked into Sixties hippiedom when Romeo swung
from branches to demonstrate how much he loved Juliet, then I would be
down on the {Hamlet} as well.  But Mel Gibson was athletic, exuberant,
if not too cerebral; he did not speak the lines as badly as did Richard
Chamberlain; and he and Zefferelli added touches to the character that
might help a Mel-worshiper to like Shakespeare as well.  I don't think
the effort was reprehensible.
 
Roy Flannagan
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gus Sponberg <ASPONBERG@VALPO>
Date:           Thursday, 17 Dec 1992 10:19 CST
Subject:        Shakespeare's Voice/Zeffirelli's Hamlet
 
May I suggest that persons interested in the above topic read a new
article by Michael Goldman of Princeton entitled "Hamlet: Entering
the Text" in the December 1992 issue of THEATRE JOURNAL, pp. 449-60.
 
Rather than try to summarize, let me quote a couple of passages:
"But though it would be interesting to trace further these configurings of
improvisation and scriptedness in HAMLET, what I want more particularly
to stress in this essay is the way the play explores their necessary
>relation<. I'm concerned, as I think the play is, with what's involved
in >entering into< a script. One might say that Prince Hamlet learns a
lesson every actor must learn: that at the moment of performance, one must
improvise. The instant of commitment to the text of a play necessitates
a vertiginous departure from it."  (452-3; emphasis Goldman's)
 
". . . the Hamlet we meet at the beginning of the play is deeply
suspicious of anything that smacks of theatricality . . . [quotes
"Seems, Madam . . . suits of woe"] All of life is suspect because it
looks like theater. All expression, and all interpretation, are tainted,
untrustworthy, indeed untrue, because they are something that a man might
>play<. In this sense, the play charts Hamlet's journey from depression
to involvement to actdion and death as a coming to terms with the theatrical-
ity of life. Hamlet not only uses literally theatrical means to reveal
Claudius' crime, the antic disposition and the play withing the play, but his
career seems to acknowledge that in order to act significantly in a complex
world one must be ready to play-act. "This above all," says Polonius, "to
think own self be true," but the play suggests that truth to oneself requires
complex performance.
 
"In HAMLET we are made sharply aware of how human action itself, like the
performance of an actor, is an >intervention<, an entry into something
very like a script, a text of interwoven actions, an entry that, though it
raises central qeustions of human choice and responsibility, can never be
made in full knowledge or confidence about the ultimate result of that choice.
In order to be, rather than not be, we just commit ourselves to action and
act, but we can never grasp what Hamlet calls "th'invisible event"
[IV, iv, 50], the unknowable results that eventuate from our act." (456-7,
emphasis Goldman's)
 
The chief unknowable result, according to Goldman, is that "Hamlet's efforts to
revenge his father's murder end by putting young Fortinabras, the son of his
father's greatest enemy, on Denmark's throne."  I thought this point
interesting in view of disapproval of Zeffirelli's cutting of Fortinbras from
his movie. Goldman's reading of the play supports the view that the cut does
great violence to the play's integrity.
 
On the other hand, Goldman pays Zeffirelli a compliment in the
course of exploring the undecidability of a playwright's "true voice".
The play within the play teaches us the futility of trying to decide.
"To begin with, who is the author? At least two people, somebody and
Hamlet. For somewhere in what we are watching is the speech of some twelve
or sixteen lines Hamlet has inserted. We never learn what it is - and
after 390 years we can really stop looking for it . . . As each actor
speaks, we may think >these may be Hamlet's words<, and so each speech
in turn takes on a new possible spin for us, a new performance possibility.
. . . The Court of Denmark thinks it is watching one unitary event, a
play called >The Murder of Gonzago<, but this performance is in fact many
things. It includes Hamlet's intention in adding the speech, the various
intentions of the performers - which presumably include fidelity to aesthetic
principles similar to, but perhaps not the same as those Hamlet has described
in his speech to the players . . . Of course, the players are also motivated
by a desire to please their audience, but which audience? We are aware that
they have been forced to change audiences; until recently, they performed for
the pennies of the anonymous urban multitude, but now they are dependent
on a royal patron . . .
 
"We're certainly aware of one big change as the performance progresses.
This cannot be the kind of gig our actors had in mind when they turned up at
Claudius' castle. One point brought out very well by the recent Zeffirelli
movie is the actors' bewilderment and apprehension as they discover that their
performance seems to be creating an unforeseen script of scandal and
subversion. To put on a play that throws your sovereign into a rage is not
a good career move, and they know it." (458; emphasis Goldman's)
 
There are other pleasures in this essay as well. Perhaps it might prompt
some comment among us.
 
Gus Sponberg
Valparaiso University

Rs: Actresses; Directors's Rights

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 389. Wednesday, 16 December 1992.
 
(1)     From:   Laurie E. Osborne <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Dec 92 14:32:25 -0500
        Subj:   [Re: Actresses]
 
(2)     From:   Laurie E. Osborne <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Dec 92 14:26:15 -0500
        Subj:   Re:  SHK 3.0368  More Rs: Mel Gibson *H
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Laurie E. Osborne <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 16 Dec 92 14:32:25 -0500
Subject:        Re:  Visual Style for *Lear*; Actresses; Directors' Rights
 
Re: Actresses
 
I THINK the author's name for *The First English Actresses* is Elizabeth Howe.
 
Laurie Osborne
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Laurie E. Osborne <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 16 Dec 92 14:26:15 -0500
Subject: 3.0368  More Rs: Mel Gibson *H
Comment:        Re:  SHK 3.0368  More Rs: Mel Gibson *H
 
In response to Jon Enriquez's comments about the director's rights and the
different "works" of staged/filmed Shakespeare as opposed to the text, I
would like to point out that many directoral choices find their way into
texts. The nineteenth century published an enormous number of acting/
performance editions which cut and rearrange Shakespeare's text at will.
We are not just talaking about *Hamlet* here. I am currently working on
the multiple texts of *Twelfth Night* which was cut and rearranged in
a variety of ways during the period. My question is two fold: are these
editions which record performance choices (and I would include videotexts
as performance editions) really completely different works? It seems to me
that these are versions of *Hamlet* or *Twelfth Night* or whatever but
there is some basis for comparing them as versions rather than totally
distinct works. If so, how would we define that basis? It certainly is not
a "fixed text" or is it?
 
Laurie E. Osborne
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Shakespeare's Voice

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 387. Tuesday, 15 December 1992.
 
From:           Tad Davis <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 15 Dec 92 09:07:01 -0500
Subject: 3.0382  Shakespeare's Voice (Was Shakespeare as Himse
Comment:        RE: SHK 3.0382  Shakespeare's Voice (Was Shakespeare as Himse
 
I'd like to suggest another avenue of analysis altogether. Dig up the
Mountjoy depositions, the full set published by the Wallaces in 1910 (in
Nebraska University Studies, I think). Read the interrogatories and read
Shakespeare's full responses -- not just the bits and pieces that get
quoted in the various Lives. Note especially where Shakespeare's response
goes beyond the specific phrasing of the question, and where an initial
tentative response was crossed out and revised. In those tiny gaps, I
think, we get a glimpse of Shakespeare Himself speaking.
 
Not as revealing as a spiritual testament, but it's better than a laundry
list.
 
Meanwhile I remain confident that a vast trove of Shakespeare's letters,
diaries, personal recollections, and essays on the craft of playwrighting
remain buried under the sand at the Globe site.
 
Tad Davis
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Rs: Mel Gibson as Hamlet

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 388. Wednesday, 16 December 1992.
 
(1)     From:   Gus Sponberg <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Dec 1992 12:00:18 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   RE: SHK 3.0383  Mel Gibson as Hamlet
 
(2)     From:   Jon Enriquez <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Dec 1992 15:34 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 3.0383  Mel Gibson as Hamlet
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gus Sponberg <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
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 <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
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.

Role Splitting

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 386. Tuesday, 15 December 1992.
 
From:           Lyn Tribble <ETRIB@TEMPLEVM>
Date:           Tuesday, 15 Dec 92 09:48:32 EST
Subject:        Role Splitting
 
Given the discussion of doubling recently, I thought the list might be
interested in an instance of role *splitting* I witnessed recently.
The Professional Theatre Training Program at the University of Delaware
produced *Henry V* and cast five different actors (three men, two women)
in the title role.  According to the program note, the reason for this
decision was pragmatic: this is the first play the group has produced,
and they wanted to give several young actors and actresses the chance to
play this role.  The transition to the "new" Henry worked rather like
passing the baton in a relay race--the actor who was about to take the
role emerged from group of attendants and began speaking the lines with
the "old" Henry.  After a line or two, the transition was complete and
the new Henry put on his or her crown and took the scene from there.
 
The effect was quite interesting--questions of interiority seemed
entirely irrelevant (no unified subjectivity here).  Instead,
narrative was foregrounded; the actors were telling the chronicle
history of Henry V--and doing a very good job of it, by the way.  The pace
of the production was very brisk; the play ran under two hours with
no intermission.  (It was also fun to see women playing Henry).
 
To those living in driving distance of Delaware, I recommend this group
highly.  They'll be doing *Romeo and Juliet* and "As You Like It" in the
spring.
 
Lyn Tribble
etrib@templevm

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