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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: May ::
Re: PC and Productions
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0351.  Monday, 1 May 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Kezia Sproat <
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        Date:   Saturday, 29 Apr 1995 15:23:19 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0349 Qs: PC and Pro...
 
(2)     From:   Heather Stephenson <
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        Date:   Saturday, 29 Apr 1995 18:51:42 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: Directorial Responsibility
 
(3)     From:   Adrian Kiernander <
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        Date:   Monday, 1 May 1995 10:54:43 +1000
        Subj:   Re: Merchant
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kezia Sproat <
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Date:           Saturday, 29 Apr 1995 15:23:19 -0400
Subject: 6.0349 Qs: PC and Pro...
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0349 Qs: PC and Pro...
 
For Ian Doescher: The term "politically correct" was, according to a reliable
informant (Jean Godby at OCLC Online Computer Library Center, who is a
linguist), invented to discredit feminists and perhaps others who may urge
change, in order to make us appear fascist or narrow. So, strong feminist that
I am, I'd recommend not worrying about political correctness: instead, look
closely at the text and present what you find. I find hugely sympathetic
feminist ideas throughout the Shakespeare canon--in fact, I learned about
feminism from these texts, and am still learning. Specifically on TOS, Coppelia
Kahn wrote a study of it that might be very helpful to you as a Director. I
can't remember where it was finally published. I saw it in manuscript more than
20 years ago, and cited it in my dissertation (A Reappraisal of Shakespeare's
View of Women, Ohio State, 1975) as follows: "Coppelia Kahn's study 'The Taming
of the Shrew: Shakespeare's Mirror of Marriage' (unpublished ms.) argues that
Katherin is participating in Petruchio's comic exaggeration when she makes her
final speech, just as she participated in it in her sun/moon speech. Professor
Kahn point out several processes in that play which combine to indicate that it
is meant to satirize conventional methods of courtship. For example, the entire
Bianca subplot can be seen this way. Her study argues that Katherine and
Petruchio understnad each other and have a good marriage." Interestingly, Kahn
told me in 1974 that she "kept her feminism separate from her scholarship," and
I assured her I found feminism and scholarship perfectly congruent. National
Theatre Company toured TOS through Columbus in the late 1970s, and in their
production Petruchio sat on a 3-legged stool during Kate's speech; at its end,
she puts her hand under his boot and topples hims backward. He has smiled and
bragged via body language throughout her comic overstatement, but keeps
laughing as he falls. I suspect that if the theatres hadn't closed in 1642,
stage tradition would have passed such lore down to us directly from
Shakespeare's company. Keep your eyes on the text and you can't fail. That same
advice holds for Merchant of Venice: stay with the text. The most eloquent
anti-racist statement and most influential in my life ("Hath not a Jew eyes?
etc.) comes from the mouth of Shylock. It truly pulls sympathy. Let Shylock be
a whole person onstage, angry, but whole, as the text allows. You might also
add a program note about the other "Jewish" plays being staged when that one
was written: in context, Shakespeare's is not so bad. Scheduled
audience/actor/director discussions of these problems after the curtain can
help. We surely need more open public real time dialogue on these matters, and
less restriction and concern with what's "proper" or "correct."  "The weight of
this sad time we must obey/ Say what we feel, not what we ought to say." (text
may be garbled there??)
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Heather Stephenson <
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Date:           Saturday, 29 Apr 1995 18:51:42 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Re: Directorial Responsibility
 
Ian Doescher writes:
>In our politically correct society, how ought directors or performers deal
>with the issues of racism and sexism in "Merchant of Venice" and "Taming of
>the Shrew?"  Quite clearly, the racism against Shylock must be dealt with in
>order to be appropriate for modern audiences, as well as the inherent sexist
>attitudes towards Kate.  Should directors nowadays concern themselves with
>making their productions point out the negativity of racism and sexism?  Or is
>it not a director's responsibility to be sensitive to an audience?
 
Of course it is a director's responsibility to be sensitive... if not to the
audience itself, at least to the pertinant issues of her/his time period.  What
are Shakespearean plays if not tools with which to interpret current issues?
More than simply being examples of English Renaissance history, the plays are
"living literatures" because they are adaptable, interpretable, and force the
director and audience member to THINK... to consider and to create meaning.
The interpretive gaps that Shakespeare left in the plays open a wealth of
opportunity for directoral and audience intervention in the texts.  Perhaps the
charge to the director is not to point out the negativity of racism or sexism,
but to highlight the existance of these negatives, show potential readings and
make the audience itself take on the responsibility to THINK and assign
meaning.  Kate's speech at the end of _TotS_ is uncomfortable.  And it is this
discomfort that forces directors and audience members (and actor/actresses...
in short, all players in the interpretive process) to wrestle with the many
issues of sexism and finally to come up with a satisfactory or at least
plausible explanation. The attention to these negative issues provides an
opportunity for education, enlightenment and growth -- for all who encounter
the plays. Choosing NOT to highlight or address these issues is in itself
addressing them, assigning a value to them.  NOT being sensitive to racism,
sexism, classism... avoiding filling in these areas of interpretation actually
fills them in a very specific manner.
 
In short, the director absolutely MUST be sensitive to the negative issues in
Shakespeare, lest s/he take a stand by refusing to take one.
 
Heather Stephenson
Georgetown University
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Adrian Kiernander <
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Date:           Monday, 1 May 1995 10:54:43 +1000
Subject:        Re: Merchant
 
In reply to Ian Doescher's question about _Merchant_ a good place to start
thinking about these issues would be the first chapter in Alan Sinfield's
recent (1994) _Cultural Politics--Queer Reading_, published by Routledge.
 
Adrian Kiernander
Department of Theatre Studies
University of New England
Armidale, NSW 2351
AUSTRALIA
 

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