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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: November ::
Re: "Versions" of Shakespeare
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 731.  Sunday, 7 November 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Michael Sharpston <
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        Date:   Friday, 04 Nov 1993 23:12:00 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   RE: SHK 4.0705 Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
 
(2)     From:   Cary M. Mazer <
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        Date:   Sunday, 7 Nov 93 9:58:01 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0724  Re: "Versions" of Shakespeare
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Sharpston <
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Date:           Friday, 04 Nov 1993 23:12:00 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0705 Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
Comment:        RE: SHK 4.0705 Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
 
In reply to James Schaefer:
 
It seems to me extremely helpful that James Schaefer has given us a
concrete example as a focus for our discussions.
 
>Some years ago (you'll know when in a moment), I played the character
>Clive in a production of Van Druten's 1951 play, *I Am A Camera*.
>(For those who may not know, he drew the material from Christopher
>Isherwood's *Berlin Stories*; the play later became the basis for the
>musical, *Cabaret*.)  Clive is a rich, ignorant (expletive deleted)
>American who has no idea what is going on in Berlin around him and
>couldn't care less.  His character is succinctly revealed when he
>describes how he had just encountered a Nazi demonstration and asks,
>"Say, who are these Nazis, anyway? ... Are the Nazis the same as the
>Jews?"  In describing the demonstration, he says, "...we ran into a
>bit of shooting....  Seemed just like Chicago."
 
>When I delivered this throw-away line on opening night, I (and the
>director and the rest of the cast) were stunned to find that it
>brought down the house.  Why?
 
>This production was staged in the fall of 1968, about 100 miles from
>Grant Park in Chicago.  The mere suggestion of a Chicago riot was a
>politically powerful metaphor for that particular audience, in that
>place and at that time.  The line got the same audience reaction every
>night of the run.  As an actor, I loved it.  But years later, while
>investigating the effect of context on performances, I realized this
>reaction was _absolutely antithetical_ to the meaning of the play.
 
> [Text deleted]                         ...In the post-Holocaust
>context of the play's first performances in 1951, Clive's off-handed
>comparison of the Nazi's with the largely internal violence of
>Chicago's gangland wars could have been another device of the author's
>to show Clive's political and moral blindness (or at least naivete)
>and self-centeredness -- and by extension, the way in which these same
>qualities applied to American society before the war.
 
>The 1968 audience, composed largely of undergraduate college students,
[Text deleted]                          ...For them, Van Druten's
>simile seemed to be newly true but still accurate:  the Chicago police
>were like the Nazis, Mayor Richard Daley was like Hitler, and the
>violence used against the student demonstrators was akin to the Third
>Reich's efforts to exterminate the Jews.
 
>But such an interpretation reverses an irreversible equation.  The
>simile is not "Chicago is like Berlin," but rather, "Berlin is like
>Chicago," and in any case, the demonstrators in Berlin were the Nazis
>themselves, not their victims.  I believe that in 1951, Clive would
>have been understood to have belittled the threat of the Nazis and
>thereby discredited himself with the audience.  By contrast, the
>audience's understanding of Clive in the fall of 1968 inflated the
>evil of the Chicago police, significant though it was, and made him a
>sympathetic character in so far as the audience agreed with, rather
>than rejected, his comparison.  The result was a spontaneous,
>simultaneous recognition by all present at the performance of a new
>meaning that was not intended by the author, and that ripped the
>delicate fabric of relationships he had constructed.
 
>We retained the line in subsequent performances, and got the same
>response each time.  But by staying true to the author's text, we
>imposed a meaning from our performance context that was at odds with
>the play's internal context, for in every other respect, Clive's
>interactions with the other characters in the play show him to deserve
>nothing but our disgust.
 
The example of the importance of audience and context is excellent,
but I would not quite agree that Clive as being made a sympathetic
character.  Largely, the actor playing Clive, and the play-givers more
generally are certainly made more sympathetic to the audience:  they are in
the know and known to be in the know.  The audience is also likely to have
become more emotionally roused (perhaps involved), yet also more conscious
that they are watching a play with another historical context, a kind of
dramatic irony.  Cf. that wonderful early line in Sophocles' Oedipus
Tyrannus:  "ho pasi kleinos Oidipous" -- "Oedipus famous to all":  although
there of course the dramatist also was clearly in the know.
 
Lapsing perhaps into a dialect of Cyberspeak, can I suggest that the
dramatist, director, actors, and audience constitute a Virtual Community
over Time and Space.  There are shared meanings and resonances and ones
which are not shared.  New meaning is created and some resonances produce
wave interference.
 
Michael Sharpston

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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cary M. Mazer <
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Date:           Sunday, 7 Nov 93 9:58:01 EST
Subject: 4.0724  Re: "Versions" of Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0724  Re: "Versions" of Shakespeare
 
Terence Hawkes writes:
 
> Cary Mazer refers to 'the script that we have inherited' of Macbeth. Where
> is it? What does it look like?
 
If Terence Hawkes is hoping that I will nibble at his bait and defend the
supposed authority of a supposedly stable supposedly received text, he's
asking the wrong person.  Assuming that his rhetorical question is a trap,
he's making my point precisely.  Thanks, Terry.
 
CMM
 

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