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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: March ::
Re: Ambiguity?
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0245.  Friday, 18 March 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Cary M. Mazer <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 Mar 94 8:50:56 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0239  Ambiguity?
 
(2)     From:   David Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 Mar 94 16:00:40 SAST-2
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0239  Ambiguity?
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cary M. Mazer <
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Date:           Thursday, 17 Mar 94 8:50:56 EST
Subject: 5.0239  Ambiguity?
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0239  Ambiguity?
 
James McKenna is right to remind us that Shakespeare was there in the playhouse
(on stage, playing a role, in all probability) when the plays were first
performed.  But we all mustn't assume that this puts an end to the
possibilities of ambiguities, unsolved mysteries, and authorial collaboration.
To give two modern instances.  Pinter is notoriously insistent on maintaining
authorial silence about the meanings of the ambiguities that are deliberately
sprinkled through his plays, whether he is collaborating with a director (e.g.
Peter Hall), directing the play himself, or even acting in them.  Joyce Carol
Oates may not be silent in rehearsals of her plays, but she welcomes actors and
directors finding their own paths and discovering things that she didn't
imagine were in the script, and doesn't really care (she claims) if the
production goes off on a direction that she, as author, hardly "intended."
She's quoted as saying, in the February _American Theatre_, "I am the most
agreeable of playwrights.  To be any more agreeable, I would have to be
posthumous."
 
Cary Mazer
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Thursday, 17 Mar 94 16:00:40 SAST-2
Subject: 5.0239  Ambiguity?
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0239  Ambiguity?
 
James McKenna writes:
 
>It occurs to me that, with the playwright in residence, there would be little
>opportunity for ambiguity; the players could simply ask Will.
 
I've just posted a message about South African theatre and this issue.  In
these cases either the playwrights were the actors or the playwright helped to
workshop the production with the actors, changing it with them to suit
particular performing conditions.  The question of asking Atholl, or Barney, or
Percy, or Winston simply doesn't arise, at least as it is meant here.  Which
means that the concept of "ambiguity" is inappropriate here.  They weren't
literary critics trying to determine the meaning of the play.
 
> This begins to create a split between the text as a physical document and the
> text as the acted play.  If we are going to speak about the physical text, I
> think we need to acknowledge that lacunae and ambiguities may be the result of
> stage business firmly decided upon in the playwright's mind. That is, the
> plays aren't born ambiguous but acquire ambiguity as time passes.
 
This process is again very different from the South African plays: first,
because "stage business" is something enacted communally, not a fixed set of
instructions "in the playwright's" mind.  Second, "ambiguity" (if one wants to
call it that, I'd prefer the idea of improvising or performance as family
resemblance) is something that is relatively fixed once the text appears in
print *as a record of a single (unrepresentative?) performance.*  Perhaps we
need to think of the notion of play as performance and its relationship to
text, actor, and playwright completely differently in the light of this
practice?
 
> Has anyone worked on a production of a modern play with the playwright around
> to direct?  Tell me, am I off the beam entirely? partly?
 
Ask anyone who has worked with Fugard.  If what he says in his notebooks is
true then there is no notion of his having things in mind which actors *have*
to do, at least as far as his collaborative plays are concerned.  Rather its a
process of mutual exploration and experimentation, even *after* the first,
second, third, nights, and so on.
 
> Can this idea square with my idea of last week, that the plays have no fixed
> author but are the product of constant rewriting?  I think so.  Each
> production had to make sense to a new audience and in a new context, and
> would do so with a combination of textual revision and acting.  Until the
> play is revived by new actors or by old ones with faulty memories, there is
> no need for ambiguity in our thinking about it.
 
This is exactly what happens in the theatre I'm talking about. Though I'm still
not sure what role the concept of ambiguity is playing here.  Of course,
whether renaissance stage practices bear any relation to those in Apartheid
South Africa is a question that still has to be settled.
 
David Schalkwyk
 

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