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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: September ::
Re: French/English Scenes
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 737. Saturday, 30 September 1995.
 
(1)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Sep 1995 17:05:01 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0733  Re: French/English Scenes
 
(2)     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Friday, 29 Sep 95 15:13:12 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0733  Re: French/English Scenes
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Sep 1995 17:05:01 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0733  Re: French/English Scenes
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0733  Re: French/English Scenes
 
Sometimes you learn things by appearing in public with your pants down. Thank
you, folks, for pointing out my nudity so gently.
 
Yes, of course, continental or French scenes are important in defining the
structure of an English scene.  And they are important in rehearsal -- as you
say.
 
Blushingly yours,  pantless Bill
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Friday, 29 Sep 95 15:13:12 EDT
Subject: 6.0733  Re: French/English Scenes
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0733  Re: French/English Scenes
 
Thanks to the theater types who have more or less come in on my side in
opposing Bill Godshalk's (d)(r)elegation of "French" scene divisions to
literature not theater.  Such divisions in fact represent traditional "French"
theatrical practice (I'm using quotation marks here because I suppose it also
the practice in the traditional drama of other Continental cultures), the
practice of Corneille, Racine, Moliere, and their followers (that being, as we
know, a neo-classical tradition based on the theatrical practice of Aeschylus,
Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Plautus, Terence, and Seneca), in which a
relatively small number of characters typically converse among themselves for
several minutes at a stretch, until the arrival of a new character initiates a
new grouping and initiates a new stretch of discourse.  But the dynamics of
that structure are deeply theatrical in more ways than the matters of
convenience to which the theater types have referred (ease of organizing
rehearsals and so on).  Consider the development of WT 4.4 in perceptual terms.
 Autolycus has ended 4.3 by singing a song about sad and merry hearts. As he
goes out (up left?)--and modern directors may well have him still on stage when
the next bit starts--in come two both feeling both sorts at once, Perdita and
Florizel (up right?).  They move (down center right?), and talk together for
about 50 lines--two and one-half minutes, give or take, in which (chiefly,
though other things go on) Perdita explains their dilemma and Florizel
announces his plan for resolving it.  Lacking further fresh matter, the two of
them would be forced, as Rosalind teaches Orlando, to either kissing or
entreaty, and us spectators to looking elsewhere out of embarrassment or
boredom; but suddenly there is movement elsewhere on the stage (up center?):
our eyes are compelled to attend to it, and the arrival of a largish group of
new characters gives new matter to not only the couple but us, including, to be
sure, further development of the dilemma (streaked gillyvors and short- lived
primroses and what not--now, alas, I take it, wilting on Dale Lyles'
cutting-room floor), but especially, from a purely theatrical point of view,
the suspense engendered by the presence of Polixenes and Camillo (down center
left?), disguised (for which we have been prepared by 4.2), raising the
possibility of a highly dramatic confrontation between father and son (now a
little farther down right?) which it will be an important part of Shakespeare's
dramaturgy here, by means of the shifting centers of attention which are our
present topic, to prolong for another couple of hundred lines.
 
In other words, the physical entrance of the new characters, making the new
French scene, has refreshed the activity of the play and the interest of the
audience.  And that should be the result of every new arrival, even if it's
just a servant sticking his head through a door to announce that So-and-So is
waiting without.  From a purely literary point of view, we might in fact relish
an even longer appreciation of Perdita's charms than Florizel gives us
(136-146; has she moved down right to join him, reminding us of the opening of
the English scene?); theatrically, however, we need to get on to the admiring
comments of Polixenes and Camillo (spatially balanced against the lovers?),
which play so elegantly against the confrontational expectations aroused by
their arrival, especially when echoed and amplified by the bucolic jocularities
of 181-341-- and against which Polixenes' rage, when it does flash out, with
its wonderful echo of Leontes' corresponding rage in the first half, will play
in its turn.
 
I take this play among visual and verbal elements, words being uttered from and
toward particular points in space, to be at the base of the theatrical as
distinct from the literary experience, and French scenes, because they
articulate it a little more fully than English ones, to be correspondingly more
theatrical.  (It could, of course, be argued that the primal theatrical
experience is the arrival of that first actor on the bare stage, and the bare-
stage-to-bare-stage convention of English scene divisions therefore more
theatrical than the French.  But of course we are not so much interested in
settling this not-terribly-important dispute as in the discussion it provokes.
I hope.)
 
Frankishly,
Dave Evett
 

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