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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: June ::
Re: Character, et al.
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0493.  Saturday, 4 June 1994.
 
(1)     From:   David M Richman <
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        Date:   Friday, 3 Jun 1994 13:07:12 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Character, Nudity, and Comedy
 
(2)     From:   Jean Peterson <
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        Date:   Friday, 3 Jun 1994 13:41:59 -0400
        Subj:   Character
 
(3)     From:   Lonnie J Durham <
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        Date:   Friday, 03 Jun 1994 13:22:50 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0489 Re: Character and Cordelia
 
(4)     From:   Timothy Dayne Pinnow <
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        Date:   Friday, 3 Jun 1994 11:49:58 -0500
        Subj:   Cordelia and Character
 
(5)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH>
        Date:   Friday, 03 Jun 1994 22:38:42 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Terence Hawkes and Lady Macbeth
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David M Richman <
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Date:           Friday, 3 Jun 1994 13:07:12 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Character, Nudity, and Comedy
 
W. B. Yeats, who learned a thing or two about poetic drama, defined personality
as "blood, imagination and intellect running together."  Neither Cordelia, nor
any other of Shakespeare's dramatis personae, has blood, imagination,
intellect, or flesh for that matter.  They are indeed not alive.  But they
pretend that they are.  Lady Macbeth talks about her nipple and her child;
Dogberry boasts about his pretty piece of flesh.  Performers are very much
alive.  They lend their bodies and voices, their blood, imagination and
intellect, to the collections of words and implied actions which constitute all
that remains for us of Shakespeare's (or any other expired playwright's)
dramatis personae. Half-serious suggestion for Doug Lanier:  connect your
interest in nudity in performance to this current flap about "character".  A
partially naked performer can call spectators' attention to the bodies that
performers have, and not-alive "characters" do not.  (Partial nudity may be
more interesting, because more dramatic, than total nudity.)  Edgar reserves a
blanket, and Lear, apparently, doesn't succeed at tearing *all* his clothes
off.
 
As to the query a while back about an essay on comedy:  I'll be immodest and
plug my own book.  *Laughter, Pain, and Wonder* explores the relations between
comedies in performance and their audiences.  It would, I think, be a good
supplement to a course dealing with comedy in performance.
 
Cheers--and let us all keep our shirts on--
 
David Richman
University of New Hampshire
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jean Peterson <
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Date:           Friday, 3 Jun 1994 13:41:59 -0400
Subject:        Character
 
It seems that there is a general tendency to approach character from two
mistaken, anachronistic assumptions:
 
        -- that personality, identity, subjectivity, "self" are unchanging
essences, and mean the same things in Shakespeare's era as they do to us now
 
        --that the theatrical practices and acting methods used now, BASED on
current concepts of personality, self, etc. are also unchanging, and were the
same methods used in the Renaissance theater
 
But if one accepts new historicist arguments that "subjectivity" in the early
modern period was radically different from what it is now, the picture becomes
vastly more complicated, and the incongruity of using "Stanislavskian" concepts
of character, motive, interiority, etc., to speak of early-modern characters
becomes apparent.  For many actors, directors, and theater people, this
incongruity seems an insurmountable obstacle--because these ways of thinking
about character are the only ones they know.  Actors are USED TO thinking about
the motives, impulses, desires and inner thoughts of the developed
psychological entities they call characters, and it is disconcerting to be told
that these things didn't exist, not in the forms and ways that they do now.
 
What does all this mean for theatrical practice?  I think (to use an earlier
example) that to tell an actor: "Play the anti-theatrical prejudice" or "Play
the conflict over court advisors" is to give him/her an impossible task. BUT
WHAT IS POSSIBLE is for directors, actors, designers to develop a set of
theatrical signs that will bring those conflicts to life on stage--a road less
traveled, but well worth exploring.
 
OK, Terence--you've got me curious.  DOES SHE FAINT? C'mon, spill!
 
Jean Peterson
Bucknell University
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lonnie J Durham <
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Date:           Friday, 03 Jun 1994 13:22:50 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 5.0489 Re: Character and Cordelia
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0489 Re: Character and Cordelia
 
Dear Rick Jones: Thanks for your thoughtful, intelligent and temperate reply to
my posting about Hawkes's reply to Pamela Bunn.  You are absolutely right; I
WAS looking past Ms. Bunn's queries toward an old (and continuing)  academic
controversy.  Some of us old Engprofs are like fire horses--strike a particular
bell and we're off with the bit in our teeth.  I, for one, admit myself
entirely unqualified to comment upon the training of actors.  The only tutoring
of that kind I've ever had was from Prince Hamlet--something about not sawing
the air with your hands or arms (or paws or anything you got now) [quote from a
song called "All God's Critters Got a Place in the Choir," just in case you
have never heard that delightful piece].
 
I have, though, seen enough Sh'n theatre by now to feel comfortable that my
readings of the plays at least ENVISION staging, and as we both know, every
dramaturg and director must begin with the text and go on to be a teacher of
dramatic conventions to his-her cast (which is, as in every learning space, a
two-way street).  I think we probably agree also that the chemistry of a
particular production is entirely unique and mysterious.  I have been to
stagings that failed for being too iconic, and to others--of the same play, of
course--that failed for being too naturalistic (for want of a better term).
But it isn't a matter of BALANCING the two tendencies, is it?  Every production
must create the terms of its own world, and make that world artistically
coherent, whatever it happens to be.  That is, don't you agree that it makes no
sense to criticise a Noh play for being "too conventional"?  Nor, I would
argue, does a production become more relevant by pointing toward some
preoccupation of the contemporary media.
 
To be entirely candid, though, and perhaps a bit cynical, I suspect that every
two decades or so there appears (for whatever reason) an enormously influential
production which gets imitated ad nauseum until the next revolution of the
wheel of fashion.  To believe at ANY time, then, that we are FREE of convention
and therefore closer to "real life" is largely, if not entirely, delusional.  I
remember going to a production in Chelsea that starred Jonathan Price as
Hamlet.  Rather than have the ghost appear as a separate character, they chose
to have Hamlet's father's spirit "possess" the prince, indicated by a dramatic
shift in vocal quality (after considerable squirming rather like the
transformation scenes in the old Jekyll-Hyde movies).  After a bit of this, I
realized they were "quoting" one of the most commercially successful films of
the period, "The Exorcist."
 
Finally--and I think this was my real point in the Shaksper posting--literary
education's main task is to point up the pervasiveness and persistence of
convention in ALL media, and to try to define both the form and the source of
those conventions, not only as an academic activity, but as a form of cultural
awareness, because the most virulent strains of political and commercial
manipulation are those that appeal to our desire, especially in the U.S., to be
a new, naked Adam and Eve in a new Paradise, unfettered by the corrupt
conventions of the Old World.  Ask any undergraduate about the interpretation
of a passage and he or she will invariably answer, "It's up to the individual."
 Well, enough.  If you don't mind, I think I'd like to share this rant with the
conference. Cheers to you, and again, thanks for your gentle chidings of my
indifference to Ms. Bunn's concerns.
 
Lonnie
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Timothy Dayne Pinnow <
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Date:           Friday, 3 Jun 1994 11:49:58 -0500
Subject:        Cordelia and Character
 
Lonnie Durham writes that Terence Hawkes was trying to question Pamela Bunn's
teachers about teacher her literary conventions.  If that is the case, then I
wholeheartedly agree--every actor should have a grasp of the Shakespeare from
the literary point of view.  It is an indispensable tool for uncovering the
actions of the characters.   However, Ms. Bunn's class was on *Performing
Shakespeare* and that is another matter.  A matter where character does
exist--at least in the mind of the audience member(forgive my existentialism).
In that case, all the literary knowledge in the world will not save you if you
don't have a firm grip on acting as the fundamental set of skills for the task.
Durham concludes:
 
        The fact is, I will do ANYTHING to grasp and convey a moment in the
        poetry.
 
To which I reply:
 
        The fact is, I will do ANYTHING to grasp and convey a moment in the
        *PLAY*
 
                                       Timothy Dayne Pinnow
                                       St. Olaf College
                                       
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(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH>
Date:           Friday, 03 Jun 1994 22:38:42 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Terence Hawkes and Lady Macbeth
 
To all Shakespeare detectives, why is Terence Hawkes so obsessed with MACBETH
TLN 884-5 (Folio)? He seems to think that some fainting is involved. Lady says:
Helpe me hence, hoa. And Macduff: Looke to the Lady.
 
Did Terence Hawkes really say "really faint"? I don't see any reference to any
fainting in the text.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 

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