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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: February ::
Re: Impossibility of Performance Criticism
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 62.  Friday, 5 February 1993.
 
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Friday, 5 Feb 93 13:38:37 GMT
Subject: 4.0050 Re: Impossibility of Performance Criticism
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0050 Re: Impossibility of Performance Criticism
 
Michael Friedman wants to know what it is that he has been doing all
these years if it hasn't been "performance criticism".  I'm afraid
that I can't answer that since I don't know.
 
Maybe David Richman, and Kay Stockholder in their own ways offer some
indication of the kind of confusion to which my innocent suggestion
originally referred.  David Richman asks (29 January): "If other
critical modes can't accommodate performance criticism, might not the
fault rest with the other modes? and he concludes with the suggestion
that in what he calls "the rush to critical sophistication we sometimes
lose the essential joy" of performance. His practical suggestion is
that we would need to "survey the sometimes terrifying array of perfectly
valid choices that suggest themselves to the performance of even an
appartently simple sequence".   Kay Stockholder's solution (31 January)
is simply to conflate performance criticism and "criticism": "In a
sense performance criticism is new criticism under another name".
 
Now if performance is dependent upon the "reading" of a text, then I
am completely at a loss to see what the purpose of performance is.
Also, I don't know what "essential joy" is, or if it IS essential then
I can't see how it depends upon a performance.   The real problem I
have is in distinguishing between prescriptive accounts about how
plays should be performed, and how audiences should respond, and
inadequate accounts of particular performances.  Neither seems to me
to be satisfactory as a kind of performance criticism. The
episemological difficulty which I confront concerns the hierarchy which
places the "text" (and that is a problematical term in Renaissance
drama generally) as the origin of performance. Added to that kind of
essentialism is Richman's curious amalgam of essentialist and contingent
response. If Kay Stockholder is right, and I think she may be in more
ways than she thinks, the idea that performance criticism is new
criticism writ large, then this simply compounds the confusion.  I
suppose that the issue here is the vexed issue of "meaning"- that is,
the means available to the actor/actress to orchestrate some essential
meaning that resides at the heart of the text, and which performance
illuminates. Unless and until we confront that problem then the idea
of a performance criticism which does something other than prescribe
response, or simply offer reviews (necessarily inadequate because
selective, with all that that implies) of specific performances is, I
contend "impossible".
 
In the light of what I've just said I really would be interested to
know what Michael Friedman thinks he's been doing all these years!
 
Best wishes
 
John Drakakis
 

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