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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: June ::
Re: Nudity; Helena
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0559.  Wednesday, 22 June 1994.
(1)     From:   James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
        Date:   Tuesday, 21 Jun 1994 15:03:44 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Naked Bodies
(2)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH>
        Date:   Tuesday, 21 Jun 1994 17:15:53 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: Helena
From:           James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
Date:           Tuesday, 21 Jun 1994 15:03:44 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Naked Bodies
James McKenna:
Your further musing on nakedness in performance raise a slew of what must be
eternal questions, since they sound (and I DON'T mean to sound like the
middle-aged drone I probably am!) the same things friends and I used to say in
innocence about our involvement in theatre and photography -- and in
not-so-innocent self-justification about our involvement in "other
relationships" (a 60's code word for sleeping around -- which is itself a
euphemism ....).
I jumped from the body to the mind in my posting to avoid addressing political
issues, but I know that they are inevitable, because any two (or more) people
ARE political in balancing what they want with what they can get, and naked
bodies are loaded symbols (when not the object itself) of what many people WANT
REAL BAD -- and what many other people decidedly DO NOT WANT, or, at least, do
not want foisted upon them.  I say naked bodies are political even as I find
the politicization of sex to be a gross offense against our common humanity. We
do not commonly walk about naked in this culture and do not usually expose
certain parts of our bodies except for medical examination, sexual play, or
shock value (including intimidation, up to and including rape).  There may be
other reasons, but these come readily to mind.
Can we see a naked body without one of these emotional panniers we carry around
flying open and seizing control of our reactions?  I would like to think so,
and have always admired the work of certain photographers whose work seemed to
catch the spark of arousal without clinical distance, clammy voyeurism, or
abusive control.  Edward Weston is the perfect example ... but then some claim
his work was clinically distant, that his camera was a peep hole -- and that he
was a jerk toward all those women, besides.  Where does this leave me as I look
at his photos? And how far is it from his nudes to those of Robert Mapplethorpe
there in Cincinnati?  those exquisitely printed large-format photographs of
body parts connected in ways that most people did not even think possible, let
alone erotic.
Bodies are not just bodies, and any use of nakedness in a performance will
resonate with meanings that derive from multiple contexts -- the ones I try to
control, if I am the director, and the ones my audience will bring with them,
over which I have no control.  Theatrical productions DO "embody" body
questions -- but the "body" of plays that explicitly address naked-body
questions is not that large.  Setting aside how I might react to _those_ works,
I consciously look for consciously-applied extra-textual meaning (read:
political meaning) when naked bodies turn up gratuitously (?) on other stages.
Now has this added anything to the discussion?  I'm not sure.  To use an
ill-considered term, I'm groping, too:  Some of us in the 60's thought we had
brought naked truth and naked beauty into life and onto the stage ... then got
burned.  Of course, we also thought we had invented sex, only to find that the
radicals of the 30's (or the 20's, or the '90's) had been there before us.
A final note:  you wrote, "Can't the body grab us by the body as poetry grabs
us by the mind."  WHOAA!  Poetry is an exquisitely physical form of literature!
 Poetry theory, too (at least, old theory): have a look at R. P. Blackmur's
"Language as Gesture."
Jim Schaefer

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From:           W. L. Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH>
Date:           Tuesday, 21 Jun 1994 17:15:53 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: Helena
I'd like to remind Scott Crozier of an earlier passage in MND: 2.1.188-244
(Bevington). We have names for what's going on here: sadism and masochism.
Helena says: "I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,/The more you beat me I will
fawn on you" (203-4). And later Demetrius promises: "I shall do thee mischief
in the wood" (237). The passage is full of masochistic submission and sadistic
I will assume that Helena and Demetrius are consenting adults. If so, it seems
that Helena wouldn't mind a little rough love from Demetrius. What she doesn't
like is being teased (as she sees it) by the two men and Hermia.
Yours (from the steamy Ohio valley), Bill Godshalk

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