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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: May ::
Re: *Shrew* Query; The Study and the Stage
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0428.  Friday, 13 May 1994.
(1)     From:   Phyllis Rackin <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 May 1994 09:13:51 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0422  Q: *Shrew*
(2)     From:   Harry Hill <HILHAR@CONU2.BITNET>
        Date:   Thursday, 12 May 1994 16:06:34 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   The Study & The Stage
(3)     From:   Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
        Date:   Friday, 13 May 94 06:43:36 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0422  Q: *Shrew*
From:           Phyllis Rackin <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 May 1994 09:13:51 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 5.0422  Q: *Shrew*
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0422  Q: *Shrew*
Dear Carey Cummings,
Although I agree with Jean Peterson's warning about the temptation to absolve
Shakespeare of responsibility for sentiments we find reprehensible, I think
this is an interesting project, and I'd love to know what you come up with.
Phyllis Rackin
From:           Harry Hill <HILHAR@CONU2.BITNET>
Date:           Thursday, 12 May 1994 16:06:34 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        The Study & The Stage
Jay Funston's suggestion about watching a competent actress giving either
"quite a lively picture of an unsubmissive but loving wife, or got to the
extent of complete satiric reversal of the literal sense" ties in so well with
its companion posting from Jean Peterson who quotes the RSC's Fiona
Shaw,"Lovely rhythm; what a shame about the words." A performed interpretation
cannot provide what Jay Funston calls "the literal sense" [what might that
be?], but only a fleshing out of what I earlier deliberately called
"perfections" [which David Schalwyk took to be a typo, unfortunately].  Of
course the actor's fleshing out can never give the character as WE had seen or
heard him in our imaginative participation that we enjoyed in the study; some
interpretations, further, cannot be acted. Some years ago Catherine Belsey was
on a lively lecture circuit giving her new reading of Marvell's "To His Coy
Mistress", among other things, and one of her points was that the
                "Thus, though we cannot make our sun
                 Stand still, yet we will make him run"
was far from triumphant. It is indeed possible to THINK this, and to read it
thus internally, but it is in fact impossible to SAY that way. When pressed,
she began to try, then realized that it could not be done.
This is not to say that the only test of an interpretation of a poem is the
reading of its lines aloud, although I would certainly hold that as a kind of
litmus test it's pretty reliable as a rule of thumb if not an eternal verity.
With a stage play, however, it is just about the only test an actor can use. .
.but with a stage play that is a POETIC drama we have the case that has arisen
since Johnson, through Hazlitt and Coleridge, Goethe etc.etc.until the present
day, where the plays of Shakespeare exist in two not always joinable
environments, the mind and the body, or study and stage---to a point where we
can say "How dare that actor do that to MY Lear? Goneril is not as thin as
For the performer, what IS "the literal sense". She has to be careful, above
all, never to go for the PROSE sense, never to turn her speeches into so many
internalised motivations, but instead to take what she has been nearly always
so thoroughly given: the texture and shape of her lines, their fell on the
tongue, how they control her facial muscles. Her body knows, for instance, when
she rehearses Regan, that she is a tight-lipped, precise speaker, that she is
"clean, shipshape, well- scrubbed"[Creon describing the ideal running of a
state in Anouilh's "Antigone"];her face knows that she cannot be as expansive
of physical utterance as she is of the referents of her vocabulary. She knows
all this when she says,
                And find I am alone felicitate
                In your dear Highness' love.
The "literal sense" of this is expansive, surely. But the kind of speaker she
is -- and she remains the same throughout the play --as well as the kind of
person, exists in her phonetic structure as the writer has taken care to
establish it.
When I wrote earlier about Orsino's "character" and how a suitably type-cast
actor becomes that role by reposning to his lines, this is the sort of
reponsive method I meant. In short, there IS no "literal sense" if a fiction is
to pronounce it. As I said before, characters in well wrought plays reside in
how they say what they say. To indulge in a penultimate reductionism, their
form is their content. As far as The Shrew is concerned, a close physical
reading of her lines in that final scene can indeed sustain, since they appear
in that not always mature verse play, the satire that Jay Funston rightly says
a competent actress could give, although as Fiona Shaw correctly said, their
rhythm does fight that sense.
The whole business is fascinating to me as an actor. Perhaps, though, we could
ask Catherine Belsey to read the speech for us? In any case, I wish to reassure
David Schalwyk that the fleshing out only becomes a mere ancillary, an optional
prop when the actor whom a director [blasts and fogs upon them!] allows to
bring his body ro to a role ignores the physical guides the lines give to his
mental state and his "character".
I'd like to thank those who corresponded with me privately about the creation
of an interpretation from the shape of the words, their order and feel.
From:           Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
Date:           Friday, 13 May 94 06:43:36 EDT
Subject: 5.0422  Q: *Shrew*
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0422  Q: *Shrew*
Cary Cummings wants to chase after the possibility of Shakespeare
not-the-author of the ending of SHREW because it isn't as comic as it might be.
(I just woke up, so I'm not sure if that is really the point.)  Anyway, let me
suggest that you look at the endings in Q and F of MERRY WIVES.  Q sounds like
it had been  written by someone who had just read C.L.Barber's SHAKESPEARE'S
FESTIVE COMEDY : embraces between parents and child, integration of all
characters into a celebratory feast, Parson Hugh Evans jolly outburst, "I shall
eat pippins and dance at your weddings" (again quoted from cobwebby memorial
reconstruction).  Same moment in Folio text has Ann Page beg her parents for
forgiveness, but they say not a word to her.  No forgiveness, though they greet
her husband warmly.  She stands silent till the end (like the heroine of
Measure for Measure).  There's an essay about this and a similar mood/text
modulation in ROMEO AND JULIET floating somewhere in e-space on the SHAKSPER
Rather than playing the ogburn-and-slash form of literary agriculture, maybe
consider the sustainable formulas of saying "Gee, the people responsible for
these documents seem to have been able to be quite professionally flexible,
artistically inventive, and happily less dogmatic than many folks stodging
about in righteous armor mining the rainforest for gold nuggets of truth."
                            Steve Urquartowitz
                            Grandfather of a recently bipedal child
                               in Bloomington, IN
[To retrieve the essay mentioned above, send the following one-line mail
and voila it will appear in your mailbox.  --HMC]

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