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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: July ::
Re: Branagh; FRINGE; Cultural Contruct
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0587.  Thursday, 27 July 1995.
 
(1)     From:   John Owen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Jul 1995 12:04:32 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 6.0559  Re: Branagh; Films
 
(2)     From:   Janet MacLellan Winship <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Jul 1995 12:22:17 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   SHAKSPER: Unfunny clowns
 
(3)     From:   Michael Yogev <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 Jul 95 08:47:12 IST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0584  Re: Cultural Construct
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Owen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Jul 1995 12:04:32 -0700
Subject: 6.0559  Re: Branagh; Films
Comment:        RE: SHK 6.0559  Re: Branagh; Films
 
Well, since this subject continues to plod its weary way, perhaps I won't be
too heavily censured for prolonging it to the length of one more note.
 
I have enjoyed the remarks from both sides of this debate. However, Seth
Barron's July 18 remarks were disturbing on so many levels that a specific
response seems in order. When we find a critic, in the space of a few
paragraphs, amazed, nauseated and intensely embarrassed by those with whom he
disagrees, we have reason to suspect that indignation has taken the place of
judgment. After all, we would expect one seeking the "morbity of celebration"
to welcome nausea -- at any rate would expect his taste to detect the
distinction between "terrible" and "mediocre".
 
1. Mr. Barron condemns Branagh for playing the wooing scene in a frothy manner
-- only a Goebbels could find these and other similar scenes delightful.
Rubbish. The scenes with Katherine at least are clearly written in the form of
romantic comedy. I am led to suspect that Mr. Barron's beef is with Shakespeare
himself and not with the hapless director, who seems, even according to our
critic, to be faithfully reproducing the author's intent. (BTW, I believe
Goebbels should be faulted more with humorlessness than bad taste. The humanity
implied by a healthy sense of humor could only have improved his worldview.)
 
2. Regarding Mr. Barron's amazement at diverging standards of taste, would the
following quote from Hume help? "We are apt to call barbarous whatever departs
widely from our own taste and apprehension; but soon find the epithet of
reproach retorted on us. And the highest arrogance and self-conceit is at last
startled, on observing an equal assurance on all sides, and scruples, amidst
such a contest of sentiment, to pronounce positively in its own favour."
 
3. "Funny" is what makes the audience laugh. The audience with whom I saw MAAN
laughed heartily at many points, as did the audience at Henry V (fascists? all
of them?)
 
John Owen
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Janet MacLellan Winship <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Jul 1995 12:22:17 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        SHAKSPER: Unfunny clowns
 
As an addendum to the recent "Fringe" thread on unfunny Shakespearean clowns, I
recommend Michael Green's _The Art of Coarse Acting_ (Hutchinson, 1964. Rev.
ed. 1980 [not quite as breezily amusing as the original version--jm]):
 
        As a treat, Coarse Actors are sometimes allowed to play
        Shakespearean clowns, or, more often, assistant clown. I need
        hardly say that Elizabethan comics are the unfunniest parts
        ever written. . . . Fortunately the lines are so dreadful that
        it does not matter if one mixes them up or even forgets them
        entirely. . . . Unfortunately amateur producers are never
        honest about this. Professional producers are rarely under any
        such illusion. They cover up the lines with business. But
        instead of admitting that the clowns are a dreary lot,
        amateurs insist that they are hilarious, against all the
        evidence of the script. As a last resort the producer will say
        that Shakespeare did not intend this clown to be funny, he
        meant him to be pathetic.
 
        During a production of _Twelfth Night_, in which I had the
        misfortune to play Fabian, the producer carefully explained
        that Feste was the elderly clown on his way out, which was why
        his jokes weren't funny, and Fabian was the up-and-coming
        clown. I pointed out that this theory broke down because
        Fabian was even more unfunny than Feste, so if he represented
        the tops in court wit they must have had a lean time of it.
        But I could not convince him.   (1964 ed, 20-22)
 
For those interested in performable Shakespearean parodies, _TAoCA_ offers
_'Tis Pity she's [sic] the Merry Wife of Henry VI. (Part One)_ It includes an
appropriately dreadful clown scene, e.g.:
 
        FIRST CLOWN: Mass, t'would [sic] make a neat's tongue turn
        French tailor, and cry old sowter out from here to
        Blackfriars, would it not?
        [COARSE ACTOR]: Aye marry and amen.
 
        _They pause, because the producer has told them this is funny.
        It is, however, received in silence, except for the rustle of
        programmes as the audience look to see if this pair are
        supposed to be comics._   (1964 ed, 118)
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Yogev <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 Jul 95 08:47:12 IST
Subject: 6.0584  Re: Cultural Construct
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0584  Re: Cultural Construct
 
This is to Moray McConnachie, who claims not to engage in critical debate in
her work or "pure research."  Not to sound either fanatic or grumpy (I am
really neither), I have serious problems with this sort of positioning of
oneself as outside or beyond the pale of the raging critical storms that
constitute academia for better or for worse in our era.  Such a stance in
itself of course presumes the ability to achieve and ironic distance, and to
claim such an ironic perspective or immunity is in itself of course a deeply
ideological move--the problem is that it poses in the name of "liberal" or
"objective" when it is no more so than Pope or Dryden ever are in their ap-
peals to "common sense" or "Nature."  A few year ago I was witness to a debate
in which an undergraduate curriculum was being examined by the faculty of a
large US university.  The debate revealed the polarization of the faculty be-
tween more "traditionalist" or "liberal" members (generally the post-WWII folks
) and the younger more intently theoretical types.  To make a long story short,
the tendency in the debate was to recognize that survey courses and the idea of
presenting a "breadth" of study are perhaps no more than a "Chinese menu" that
may not serve the deeper needs and interests of even undergraduate students.  I
personally think that the students can learn a great deal from reading the so-
called DWM "canonical" works, but the most interesting part of the debate was
when the senior scholar of the faculty, a man with an international reputation
in several literary figures and in contemporary critical theoretical circles
(and also the subject of intense professional jealousy by some younger faculty)
rejected the suggestion of a "concentration" or "course focus" in literary
theory.  His remarks remain, for me, the definition of how theory, teaching,
and even scholarship are intertwined and inseparable.  In essence, he said that
any teacher who believes s/he is not teaching theory when they are teaching a
course in ________ (fill in topic or author) is simply living in a disturbing
state of intellectual self-deception.  We all teach "theory" to our students by
what it is we "notice" about any given text, and as Prof. X justly pointed out,
the more open and honest we are about why it is we notice what it is we notice,
both to ourselves and to our students, the better off the entire profession
will be.  His remarks also serve the useful purpose of "demystifying" both the
pretensions and jargon of much contemporary theoretical discourse AND of those
who claim to simply "read the texts" in some "objective" fashion.
 
In short, Prof. X reminds us, "Scholar/teacher, know thyself."  Eschewing all
pomposity, please.
 
Michael Yogev
 

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