Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0718. Thursday, 3 October 1996.
From: Frank Whigham <
Date: Tuesday, 01 Oct 1996 14:45:55 +50000
Subject: "respecting": Shakespeare, Angley, Heston
Given the intensity of hostile rivalry between Protestant and Catholic
adherents in early modern England (and Louis Montrose's contention that the
Elizabethan state church and theater are likewise to be seen as specifically
rivalrous), Mr. Bishop's mocking entertainment at the Rev. Ernest Angely's
passion play seems mild enough, and suggests an interesting historical analogy.
If the Elizabethan state put such effort into "suppressing" the cycle plays as
papist, were there not probably many unextreme voices like Mr. Bishop's (who
should perhaps be renamed for this purpose) deriving satisfaction from enemies'
humiliations? Loathing other people's sincere faith, whether in various gods or
arts, is an old practice. Surely Stubbes and Prynne offer samples of much more
disrespectful passion? Indeed, is it not often assumed that "the people"
lamented the suppression? I wonder if "their" responses were not much more
varied than just pro and con. I think those of us who value the arts for a
living pay too little attention to those who despise them; many Elizabethans
surely felt complex versions of this alienation. I doubt that all Elizabethans
will fit neatly into a general "folk" category on a matter of such political
moment. Indeed, if modern academics (not anti-dancing evangelicals, for the
most part) are ambivalent about TV drama (the dominant dramatic form of our own
time, which many, probably most of us, watch daily), mightn't many Elizabethans
have felt similarly mixed feelings -- including some theater-goers?
On another front of the "respect" issue, seems to me that the various reactions
from different folks to Shakespeare with movie stars, as to whether, say,
Charlton Heston or Keanu Reeves are embarrassing or cool, contain a theoretical
issue. We presumably all have feelings about bad acting and elitism. But I
wonder what we think about just why, just how, "popular" actors and acting
appeal, what's good or effective or appealing about Heston, why he's a Name.
Put another way, can we explain how entertainment works, what needs it meets,
what the experience of entertainment *is*, without resorting to verticalities
about Art? (I bet many readers of this list watch Seinfeld and Law & Order
regularly. This ought to matter.) Surely Shakespeare was a master at *using*
star quality like Burbage's. What is it? And Michael Keaton's Dogberry may have
been wretched (I thought so, anyway), but Chaplin's frame-breaking physical
comedy was dazzling; maybe Kemp's jigs were too. (Seems likely, really.)
After all, the early modern theater was, it's endlessly said, a "popular"
theater. We need to think more about popular pleasures, as complex. I'm not
happy with the view that Heston and Reeves just appeal to modern groundlings,
but the notion of "entertainment" is not at all self-explanatory. Nor is it
If nothing else, this is certainly an important pedagogical issue.
PS. Any discussion of modern movie Shakespeare should involve the dazzling
"Funny Bones," the purest reinvention of Shakespeare comedy I know, especially
regarding physical comedy.