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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: May ::
Re: PC and Productions
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0356.  Wednesday, 3 May 1995.
 
(1)     From:   John Owen <
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        Date:   Monday, 1 May 1995 12:50:12 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 6.0349  Qs: PC and Productions
 
(2)     From:   David Glassco <
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        Date:   Monday, 01 May 1995 14:43:44 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0351  Re: PC and Productions
 
(3)     From:   Constance Relihan <
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        Date:   Monday, 1 May 1995 22:04:10 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0351 Re: PC and Productions
 
(4)     From:   David Chambers <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 May 1995 19:58:43 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHREW and PC
 
(5)     From:   Helen Robinson <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 3 May 95 13:48:59 EST
        Subj:   The Merchant of Venice
 
(6)     From:   Diane Mountford <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 3 May 1995 00:00:30 -0400
        Subj:   Re: PC and Productions
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Owen <
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Date:           Monday, 1 May 1995 12:50:12 -0700
Subject: 6.0349  Qs: PC and Productions
Comment:        RE: SHK 6.0349  Qs: PC and Productions
 
In response to Ian Doescher's question. Common ground is certainly of paramount
importance in an art form so dependent on communication as drama. We have lost
some of that in the intervening years since Shakespeare's lifetime and there is
really no point in either denying the change or in compensating by pretending
to "understand" Elizabethan attitudes. Clearly, there must be some noise in the
line. While I am not eager to revive the touchy and unpleasant Shylock debate,
here are a few thoughts on the Shrew:
 
It seems like directors have taken one of three ways to get out of the sexism
charge:
 
1. Ignore it. Taming of the Shrew is a witty and charming romp, hilarious on
its own terms and a great crowd pleaser. People will adjust themselves to the
ancient ideas and have a good time. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, in other
words. See the two movies of TOS, the early talky with Fairbanks and Pickford,
and the less successful Zefferelli version, as well as the Caedmon recording,
the abridged Living Shakespeare production with Peter O'Toole and innumerable
stage productions. Problem: this ignores reality. People will be offended by
the spectacle, and the director owes the members of the audience the
sensitivity to present the work with them in mind.
 
2. Change Katherine. Adapt the play to modern sensitivity so that Katherine is
not really "tamed" but rather made a partner in Petruchio's swaggering. In this
version, the "unknit those threatening brows" speech is played purely for
laughs, with a lot of winking and smirking between Kate and Petruchio and the
added option of strained physical humor, which might please the groundlings,
but . . . I have generally been spared this interpretation, although I did see
it once in a performance with Meryl Streep in Central Park. Problem: It goes
against the text so completely, that the director and actors end up working
against themselves. In the final scene, the stage business, the smirks and
winks, are not employed to reinforce the text, but to distract the audience
from what is being said, or worse, to contradict it. Not only is it strained
and unfunny in the extreme, but it doesn't even work as a blind. Audience
members interviewed after the Streep production complained about the sexism of
the final scen e. They might also complain about being treated like fools, who
presumably can't understand what is being said.
 
3. Change Petruchio. He is not a bully, who tames Kate through a swaggering
contest of wills, but a mature and sensitive soul who "teaches" Kate about
being human. Yeah, right. I saw this with the BBC production a few years back,
and John Cleese was so darn good he almost made it work. And at least this
interpretation doesn't have anything as direct as the final scene to belie it.
But it still doesn't quite describe what is going on in the play, and gives you
a weird feeling that you are watching two plays at the same time. The one
Shakespeare wrote, and the rather bizarre episode of Thirtysomething which the
actors seem to be performing.
 
Sorry this is so long.  Anyone have an answer?
John Owen
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Glassco <
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Date:           Monday, 01 May 1995 14:43:44 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0351  Re: PC and Productions
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0351  Re: PC and Productions
 
May I just offer a quiet bravo for the clear sanity of Kezia Sproat's remarks
on *Shrew* and *Merchant*
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Constance Relihan <
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Date:           Monday, 1 May 1995 22:04:10 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 6.0351 Re: PC and Productions
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0351 Re: PC and Productions
 
On Mon, 1 May 1995, Kezia Sproat wrote:
 
> 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.
 
Hmmmm.... When I was an undergrad. at the University of Illinois from 1978-82,
we used to refer to people as "pc" if they were sympathetic to alternative
lifestyles, leftist causes, vegetarianism, recycling, etc. It was only some
years later that I became aware that the term could be used pejoratively to
describe members of the left. I know this issue doesn't directly bear on
Shakespeare, but I wonder what the relation is between my experience of the
term and that which Sproat describes.
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Chambers <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 May 1995 19:58:43 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Re: SHREW and PC
 
To the SHREW question, I want to put forth one possible "solution" to the
ending which does not, I believe, fly in the face of the text or play into the
the desperate "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" tricks (cf. Streep, et al.)that are fast
becoming the conventions of late 20th century productions of the play.  Two
wonderful actors (Diane D'Aquila of Toronto and Francois de la Giroday, then of
NY) came up with this strategy in a production I directed in the mid eighties:
 
Kate played the speech completely "straight," filled with promise, devotion,
and sensual sincerity.  Then with the concluding couplets, she knelt to "place
[her] hands below [her] husband's foot" and finished the lines, about to kiss
his foot.  But before she could complete the action, a deeply moved Petruchio
silently stopped her, rose from his chair, sat her on it, removed her boot, and
kissed HER foot reverently and passionately!  A few lines later they sped off
with great hilarity (and sexual anticipation). The key to balancing the play is
not to twist it out of shape, but to freshly read Petruchio, the price he pays
(exhaustion, sexual restraint/frustration), but most importantly the
transformation he undergoes as he discovers her!
 
David Chambers
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Helen Robinson <
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Date:           Wednesday, 3 May 95 13:48:59 EST
Subject:        The Merchant of Venice
 
I have just finished directing "The Merchant of Venice" in Sydney, Australia
(opening night was Saturday 29th April). Sometimes directors can be too
concerned with the sensibilities of a modern day audience. The racism in the
play cannot be ignored nor do I think it should be underplayed - particularly
in the scene between Shylock, Solario and Solanio. Kezia Sproat makes the point
that Shylock should be allowed to be a whole person on stage. At times we loath
Shylock - at other times we feel sympathy especially when Shylock mourns the
loss of his wife's ring in the scene with Tubal. Whilst I accept that audiences
will bring certain experiences and feelings to a performance, I hope they will
recognise that people, no matter what race or creed they are, all have their
strengths and weaknesses.
 
Helen Robinson

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(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Diane Mountford <
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Date:           Wednesday, 3 May 1995 00:00:30 -0400
Subject:        Re: PC and Productions
 
In addition to my whole-hearted endorsement of the comments by Kezia Sproat and
Heather Stephenson, here are some rather-more-disjointed thoughts on the
subject:
 
I directed *Merchant* last summer with an emphasis on pointing up all the
contradictions Shakespeare gives us about every character in the play, from the
backed-into-a-corner violence of Shylock to the radiant racism of Portia. The
production ended with Jessica clutching the paper on which Shylock has signed
away his fortune and his faith, and singing an ancient Hebrew prayer. In
discussion after the play, the audience seemed to be thinking, which I took as
a sign of success.
 
For comments on some interpretations of *Shrew*, I refer everyone (again) to
*Clamorous Voices, Shakespeare's Women Today* for some cogent comments on some
interpretations which take feminism into account.
 
Cheers,
Diane Mountford

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