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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: April ::
Re: RSC MND; The Future; Shrew Induction
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0287.  Tuesday, 16 April 1996.

(1)     From:   Joseph M Green <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Apr 1996 11:54:01 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.02277  Re: RSC MND

(2)     From:   Harry Hill <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Apr 1996 19:40:24 +0000 (HELP)
        Subj:   The Future

(3)     From:   Lisa Hopkins <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Apr 96 10:46:00 0BS
        Subj:   Shrew Induction


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joseph M Green <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Apr 1996 11:54:01 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 7.02277  Re: RSC MND
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.02277  Re: RSC MND

I think that it is probable that Shakespeare's "breaking the frame" had just
the opposite effect from any sort of Brechtian "estrangement." In the instances
mentioned attention is drawn to the truth of the utterance, enacted in that
moment, rather than to the falsity of the illusion.  At that instant Cleopatra
is squeaking like a boy and at that instant the death of Caesar is again
enacted. If there is self-consciousness about theatricality, there is also a
consciousness that, at this moment, the play is enacting a truth.  Furthermore,
the truths being enacted by each utterance are different although both have the
effect of strengthening the audience's belief in the integrity of the
representation.  If dismay is felt that Cleopatra is here and now squeaking
like a boy, that dismay is caused by the pathos of the distance between
Cleopatra and her representation on stage. The effect is, at the same time this
pathos is felt, to invoke the pathos of the "real" Cleopatra by calling
attention the impossibility of her adequate representation. The reference to
the fact that Caesar's death will be enacted many times calls attention to the
importance of the event and the truth uttered by the actor emphasizes this
importance -- there is no reference whatsoever to the inadequacy or
artificiality of the representation.

Shirley Kagan asks what is wrong with positing an erotic relationship between
Puck and Oberon if the director has already set up the forest as a place of
sensuality and sexual license -- regardless of historical accuracy or
propriety.  In this case why can't the director make use of whatever character
relationships are available?

Of course, if the director can do anything he wants, there is nothing wrong
with anything.  One wonders just what is meant by "available" if this is so?
If it is felt that, somehow, the script limits what can be done to or with
characters, then I wonder how the script can be interpreted to justify the
characterizations in question.

There is very little justification in the script for setting up the forest as a
place of sensuality and sexual license -- unless one misinterprets 'enforced
chastity" as Jan Kott did.  After all, the scene is presided over by Diana,
when a certain party is asked to move a bit farther away lest passion be
fulfilled he does: desires are frustrated and not fulfilled in this particular
forest until everything is arranged so that passion can be consummated in
marriage.  Perhaps there is an equation made between frustration and sensuality
or frustration of desire and sexual license and the forest is Shakespeare's
version of phone sex?  Otherwise, I can't see any merit in the equation.

Even if the forest were a place of sensuality, why should that mean that it is
just fine for Oberon and Puck to be lovers?  Shouldn't there be some indication
that they are characterized as such -- other than the implication (which I
would imagine that many homosexuals would abhor) that Oberon, because he is
"gay" wants the little Indian boy?  This seems to me to, once again, reinforce
the stereotype that many abhor.

Because a place in a play is "set-up" as such and such does this mean that,
regardless of any indications that this is how a character is to be understood,
all characters within that place must partake of the imputed quality of that
place?  Does the fact that Elsinore seems a bibulous place mean that Ophelia
must gad about with a cocktail in her hand? (This has been done, I'll bet)   If
Oberon and Puck can be lovers just because they are, for the moment, (they are
not, after all, natives of the forest) within it does this mean that, once
outside the forest, they could be "straight?"

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Harry Hill <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Apr 1996 19:40:24 +0000 (HELP)
Subject:        The Future

While it is a truism that language evolves and with its evolution comes a
natural concomitant change, it is sad that many undergraduates are finding even
the ordinary vocabulary and syntax of Shakespeare that we assume to be so
accessible on the contrary alien to the point of incomprehensibility. I have
often thought that part of the blame for this lies in our thematic approaches
to the plays, whereby we favour plot and character as their "real" significance
and in so doing ignore an even more tangible, artistically satisfying and
spiritually useful reality in the language by which character is made and plot
advanced.

Agreeing with George Wright in his "Shakespeare's Metrical Art" as well as with
the suave and helpful popularizer Patrick Stuart in his ACTER videos that the
people of the plays *are* what they *say*, and with many others who have
insisted that the language is what raises the readers' and audiences' minds to
an empathetic and metaphysical plane where the "issues" and "ideologies" take
on a life beyond the stage and even beyond language itself, I think it is quite
wrongheaded to teach the plays as if they were events, even theatrical ones and
quite rightheaded to teach them as conversational, theatrical talk the
vocabulary of which *are* the issues and ideologies.

To rouse students to anywhere near the state where they can enjoy the
emotional, intellectual and political benefits to be found in almost all the
plays and of course also in the sonnets and even in the "Lover's Complaint",
informing the innocent while not boring the bright, I think that before we
approach the necessary business of the rhetorical tropes without an apprecation
of which the patterns and sorts of thought are largely lost to oblivion, we
have to insist on old-fashionmed vocabulary lessons. I have found myself in the
middle of a lecture or discussion asking the meaning of certain words and being
met with embarrassed silences. When I pointed out the other day that Paul
Hawkins of Marianoplis College discovered his stuents had trouble with
"mourning" amd "dew" [`as in the essay's due, Mr.Hawkins?'] I assumed that my
own third-year Shakespeare course at Concordia was free of such drastic
semantic paucity. Not so. It is clear from some of my students' papers that
words have not been adequately understood.

A theatre student who gave an excellent reading of Claudius' speech as he
attempts to pray, a moving and richly spoken reading, gave evidence upon
questioning afterwards that there were four words of whose meaning he had not
the slightest notion. But then I myself have gotten away with murderous
ignorance in auditions and even now and then in performances. I remember an
actor in "O What A Lovely War!" saying with delicious bigotry, spat and
splattered, the line referring to the orchestra, "They're all yids!"; it was
only in the sixth week of the run that I discovered he thought he was calling
the musicians by some 1914 English term for faggots. Both actors gave
nonetheless splendid readings. So I suppose it can be done.

Next year in my Shakespeare course I shall begin again with the Sonnets, but
not leave discussing one until I am satisfied that all words have been glossed
thoroughly if they are more complex than conjunctions, although even they, of
course, can change their function from what we now normally anticipate.

In short, I think we have to take it slowly and thoroughly, not abjuring plot
outlines and scene summaries, but lingering long on the language that is, for
better or worse, such a huge part of our background and present talk.

        Harry Hill
        Concordia University
        Montreal

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lisa Hopkins <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Apr 96 10:46:00 0BS
Subject:        Shrew Induction

Something of the same trick as in the celebrated RSC show was played on the
audience at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, in 1990.  The Crucible always does
a Shakespeare in the autumn, but in the summer, famously, it hosts the British
snooker championships.  Accordingly their production of the Shrew began with a
drunk forcing his way past an usherette up on to the stage, where he bawled
'Where's the fucking snooker?'  The audience froze until a burly chap climbed
out of his front row seat and launched into the lord's part, while the
usherette became the hostess.  I can't remember whether Sly remained on stage,
but I have never forgotten the opening, nor that Vincentio appeared as one of
the backpacking walkers so numerous in this locality, who genuinely appeared to
have got lost and wandered into the theatre by mistake.

Lisa Hopkins, Sheffield Hallam University

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