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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: April ::
Re: Subverting; Visual Interpretation; Theory
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0307.  Monday, 22 April 1996.

(1)     From:   Chris Stroffilino <
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        Date:   Sunday, 21 Apr 1996 18:30:34 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0298  Re: MND (Alienation and Chastity)

(2)     From:   Scott Crozier <
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        Date:   Monday, 22 Apr 1996 11:34:31 +1000
        Subj:   Re: Visual Interpretation

(3)     From:   David Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Monday, 22 Apr 1996 10:57:02 SAST-2
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0302  Re: Theory and Branagh


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Stroffilino <
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Date:           Sunday, 21 Apr 1996 18:30:34 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0298  Re: MND (Alienation and Chastity)
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0298  Re: MND (Alienation and Chastity)

Dear Joseph Green--

Thanks for your engaged questions about what I mean by "subverting tragedy." I
will not go so far as to claim that it subverts LEAR (which was written later,
and was a kind of tragedy I'd dare say that didn't EXIST yet when MND was
written, at least in Elizabethan England). Nor will I venture at this time a
"general claim" about "the tragic sense of life" (though, I would ask YOU to
define more clearly what you mean by that). Instead, I will (perhaps more
modestly) claim that it must be remembered that it is not simply the actors
(Bottom, etc) who are being criticized, but the PLAY (the tragedy rewrit as
"lamentable comedy") of PYRAMUS AND THISBY in the play. And this criticism is
both made by characters in the play, and by the structure of the play itself.
Insofar as the story of Hermia and Lysander starts out as very similar to P&T.
Now, what is it that distinguishes the H&L plot from the P&T story? In part the
presence of the fairies, and the valorization of the need for illusion, and the
way this calls into question the SILLINESS and vapidity even of the ROLES H&L
cast themselves in (unconsciously) in the beginning of the play. It is this
"cheap tragic sense of life" that is what the play sets about to subvert (just
as MUCH ADO uses B&B and Dogberry)    to subvert the conventional "tragic"
sense of the H&C plot. Now, considering the fact that Shakespeare had only
written TA and R&J at this time (or was about to write the latter) in a tragic
mode, and considering the similarity of RJ to PT, and also the differences
between R&J and MND, which may be read as two different "answers" to the
question of how to subvert the stock, and for Shakespeare obviously reductive,
Pyramus and Thisby story, I think such comic subversion of MND does not have to
be read as rejecting a tragic sense of life, but as redefining both "tragedy"
and "comedy" in ways that call attention to the generic conventions that the
characters in the play have been casting themselves in

Actually, at this point I will appeal to the authority of RON MCDONALD (hi,
ron!), who writing of the more "conventional" plot of MUCH ADO says---"It is
not so much that the main plot seems constructed in obedience to conventional
protocol as that the characters in that plot behave AS IF it were."(78) Now,
I'm dealing with a different play here, but I believe this insight applies to
MND as well, and what is attractive about it (and, yes, subversive) is that it
makes ME question MY OWN investment in a certain cliche, and conventional
rhetoric of 'love' that makes certain assumptions about life. I mean to say
that "if all the world is a stage", then EVERY ONE OF US is playing a part and
casting ourselves (whether consciously or not) in some role and even possibly
making genre assumptions. Is life a "tragedy" or a "comedy" or a "hybrid
genre?" The way "art" is shown to construct identity unconsciously, I take it
to be one of Shakespeare's essential "lessons"--and if art does construct
identity unconsciously, by making us CONSCIOUS of that, S's plays allow me at
least to consider different ways of doing so, in short, THE POSSIBILITY OF
CHANGE....

One last point, I would disagree with your characterization of what I'm
claiming Shakespeare to be doing (when you write "SUBVERTING ALL CLAIMS TO
AUTHENTICITY seems to require that one continually repeat 'this is only a
play....'"). I would argue that there is a way to subvert all claims to
authenticity without having to CONTINUALLY repeat this. In fact, those
postmodern writers (such as some of the so-called LANGUAGE poets) who do deny
the value of the illusion of narrative, of verisimilitude, etc., and who do, I
would argue, "constantly" repeat "this is a lie"-- these writers are not as
effective as Shakespeare precisely because they are too constant in their
"subversion"---Shakespeare BUILDS AS HE DESTROYS, I wouldn't go so far as to
say he simply "builds to destroy"--but there are MANY references in the plays
(of all genres) to the "fictiveness" of so-called "reality" and in such a world
the "fool" and the "clown" (and other neglected characters, and utterances)
take on more importance because they are aware of this. This does not mean that
there are NO VALUES in S's plays. I am not arguing for a nihilistic reading,
but that these values are social values, and exist in a "always already" social
world in which "authenticity" is a question of "choice." Benedick, in MUCH ADO,
for instance, chooses a certain "authenticity" when he sides with BEATRICE
against CLAUDIO. This authenticity is TRUE for its time, but provisional. Best,
Chris

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scott Crozier <
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Date:           Monday, 22 Apr 1996 11:34:31 +1000
Subject:        Re: Visual Interpretation

Christine Jacobson wrote of the difficulty she had developing a course
comparing textual analysis and visual interpretation. She may already know
about it, but if she doesn't Dennis Kennedy's "Looking at Shakespeare" and
"Foreign Shakespeare" are a good starting point. Her point, however, raises an
even more interesting one to me and that is the connection between textual
criticism and productions. We all know of the debt that Brook and others have
with Kott, but are there other productions that members of the list know about
where a director was heavily influenced by textual criticism of the time?

Regards,
Scott Crozier

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Monday, 22 Apr 1996 10:57:02 SAST-2
Subject: 7.0302  Re: Theory and Branagh
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0302  Re: Theory and Branagh

Thanks to everyone who responded so promptly and helpfully to my queries abut
Branagh and theory.  I take Peter Herman's point about theory and its advent.
My formulation owed everything to convenience and haste; little to careful
thought.  But the suggestion that ineterest in Shakespeare has grown with the
advent of theories which emphasise the marginal confirms what I had suspected.
The question now remains: why?

David Schalkwyk
 

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