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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: February ::
Re: Performance Criticism
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 76.  Friday, 12 February 1993.
(1)     From:   Timothy Bowden <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Feb 93 06:08:05 PST
        Subj:   Re: Performance Criticism
(2)     From:   Michael Friedman <FRIEDMAN@SCRANTON.bitnet>
        Date:   Friday, 12 Feb 93 13:43 EST
        Subj:   Performance Criticism
From:           Timothy Bowden <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Feb 93 06:08:05 PST
Subject:        Re: Performance Criticism
> From:           Tom Loughlin <LOUGHLIN@FREDONIA.BITNET>
>  I do know that, as an actor, when I approach a Shakespearean role I
> am fully conscious of the notion that I am making not only a critical
> statement about how I feel the role should be interpreted from the
> viewpoint of human behavior, but also from the viewpoint of critical
> interpretation.
Also from the viewpoint of four hundred years of the dust of actors
who went before.  I suspect that effect is underestimated, if even
considered.  Edwin Booth did Hamlet as straight drama; every actor who
followed him must bring some native blend onto the scene, else they only
be mimes.
You will see a musing Hamlet, a neurotic Hamlet, an antic driven Hamlet,
not because with pure reason and the text one actor has determined that
is the nature of the role, but because the other choices have been
taken.  I suspect the pride of the actor, and the need to interest a
modern audience, is more the impetus behind some bizarre stagings and
readings today than any new insights into the Bard.

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  (Timothy Bowden)
Clovis in Felton, CA
From:           Michael Friedman <FRIEDMAN@SCRANTON.bitnet>
Date:           Friday, 12 Feb 93 13:43 EST
Subject:        Performance Criticism
Being right in the middle of a run of *The Two Gentlemen of Verona* at the
University of Scranton, I've finally found a moment to try to respond to John
Drakakis on the question of what I've been doing all these years.  In the
meantime, most of what I would have said has already been phrased eloquently,
particularly by David Richman and Steven Urkowitz, but I'll try to add my two
cents without simply repeating their comments.
In my mind, performance criticism views a Shakespearean text as an incomplete
entity that achieves more complete embodiment whenever it is performed.
Theatrical personnel collaborate with Shakespeare through his text to produce
an event that affects individual spectators.  For me, performance criticism is
interested in two steps in this process: the movement from text to peformance,
with all the inherent choices that must be made, and the effects that those
choices have on the reception of the performed text by audience members.  By
studying performance choices that have been made in the past, by speculating on
the possible effects of untested options, or by experimenting on stage with
unorthodox alternatives, the performance critic can gain some sense of the
range of significance the text allows.  There will always be, within this
range, an infinite number of possible "meanings" that can be derived from a
written text, but I also believe that this range does not include all possible
meanings of all plays; so, for example, no production of *The Comedy of Errors*
could ever say the exact same thing to any spectator that a production of *King
Lear* could.  What good performance criticism does *not* try to do, in my
opinion, is to describe a definitive production of a particular play or to
re-create the original staging on Shakespeare's own platform.
I also acknowledge, however, that the practice of performance criticism is
plagued with various difficulties.  First of all, it tends to invite
overgeneralizations about audience response to any particular moment of stage
activity.  It also tends to collapse an entire run of a production, with all
its inevitable development and inconsistencies from night to night into a neat
phrase like "Gielgud's 1949 revival of *Much Ado*."  The practitioners of
performance criticism, myself included, often tend to rely on the eyewitness
accounts of others or to draw conclusions from ambiguous evidence in
promptbooks, particularly when investigating productions from the distant past.
There are those who argue that one ought not even to attempt to write about a
production that one has not seen him- or herself several times, but even with
such experience, one cannot hope to account for the entire spectrum of
responses such a performance might have provoked.  Finally, given the infinite
range of possible performance choices, is there ever any way of determining
relative value among them, or are we forever consigned to an infinite number of
equally legitimate options?
These are only a few of the many limitations of performance criticism, but even
in the face of these obstacles, I still do not find the practice of performance
criticism itself impossible, and I certainly do it find valuable as a tool for
understanding something important about Shakespeare.
                                                Michael Friedman

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