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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: June ::
Re: Nudity in Shakespearean Performances
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0517.  Thursday, 9 June 1994.
 
(1)     From:   James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
        Date:   Wednesday, 08 Jun 1994 12:17:01 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0510  Re: Nudity in Shakespearean Performance
 
(2)     From:   Douglas M Lanier <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 8 Jun 1994 12:40:19 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Nudity in Shakespearean Performances
 
(3)     From:   Noel Chevalier <CHEVALIE@UREGINA1>
        Date:   Wednesday, 08 Jun 94 15:09:41 CST
        Subj:   Nudity in Shakespeare
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
Date:           Wednesday, 08 Jun 1994 12:17:01 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 5.0510  Re: Nudity in Shakespearean Performance
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0510  Re: Nudity in Shakespearean Performance
 
re: Q: What is this discussion about nudity about?
 
A: In journalism, it is called "The Silly Season," the dog days when nothing is
going on and nothing happens and you still have a news hole to fill between the
ads, so you write about things like people with separately-named buttocks.
 
I guess this is what we academics do when we don't have papers to read or a
lecture to prepare for tomorrow.
 
Jim Schaefer
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Douglas M Lanier <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 8 Jun 1994 12:40:19 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Nudity in Shakespearean Performances
 
Since I started the discussion about nudity in Shakespearean performance with
my query, and since Professor Engler has expressed interest in what it's about,
let me explain.  My interest lately has been in how, in the shadow of the
Shakespearean text, Shakespearean performances have underlined or foregrounded
their "bodiliness" (necessitated all the more by the fact that most audiences
have been thoroughly conditioned by film and TV, where performers are not
physically present to the audience).  Nudity is one way--in American culture a
particularly powerful way--to stress the physical presence of the performance,
to make it more immediate.  And in the case of Shakespeare that immediacy is
complicated by our awareness of the text as text, by its rhetorical formality,
its historical differences in language, and the sacral authority of that text
for most audiences.  It's for that reason, I would argue, that nudity in
Shakespearean performances functions rather differently from nudity in
productions of modern works (say, famously, *Equus*).
 
I got started on this line by wondering about the overwhelmingly negative
reactions to the nudity in *Prospero's Books*, which was labelled "gratuitous"
by many reviewers (and viewers) and which caused Greenaway no end of trouble in
production.  (When he went to Japan to process the film using NHK's HD-TV and
electronic paintbox technologies, the Japanese labelled the film pornography
and went through elaborate legal gyrations to enable him to use the NHK
studios.)  I'm also intrigued by the charge of "gratuitous" that is levelled at
nudity in Shakespearean productions in many reviews, but which is not nearly as
often levelled at other elements of production.  There is, I think, more than
mere prudery operating here--there are interesting issues of the relationship
of textual authority to performative "license" (especially the construction of
the limits of that license), and of the place of bodily spectacle in
Shakespearean production.  Nudity in Shakespearean performances seems an
interesting limit case for performance theory, particularly because it remains
controversial even for seasoned theatergoers.
 
This is why I asked SHAKSPERians for some additional evidence to inform and
complicate my thinking on this issues.  I thank all that have offered instances
and remembrances, and I would, of course, welcome any thoughts about this line
of inquiry.  And I suppose I need to promise that I won't show up at SAA
meetings in my G-string.
 
Cheers,
Douglas Lanier
University of New Hampshire

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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Noel Chevalier <CHEVALIE@UREGINA1>
Date:           Wednesday, 08 Jun 94 15:09:41 CST
Subject:        Nudity in Shakespeare
 
This may have been mentioned already, but discussion of Jarman's *Tempest*
reminds me of Greenaway's *Prospero's Books*.  As a reading of *The Tempest* it
seems dubious to me--more self-indulgent (if that's possible!) than other
Greenaway films.  However, the point of the nudity there was to underline the
*naturalness* of the *natural* characters--Caliban, Ariel, &c--in direct
contrast to the *civilised* characters--Propsero, Miranda, Ferdinand.  Given
the post-colonial readings of *The Tempest* as a play partly about
colonisation, does Greenaway's reading underscore the savage/civilised binary
suggested by the text?  And does Jarman, in turn, get away from this binary by
having Miranda and Ferdinand nude as well?
 
Does anyone know if Jarman's film is at all available?  I think a comparison of
Jarman's and Greenaway's readings of *The Tempest* would be worthwhile.
 
Noel Chevalier.
 

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