Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0731. Tuesday, 9 October 1996.
Date: Monday, 7 Oct 1996 18:53:34 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Gielgud & Beauty
Perhaps the disturbing thing for me of the criticism of the 1940 Lear is that
it seeks to condemn two great artists for doing, in a time of crisis, perhaps
the only thing they knew how to do well. Is it fair to condemn an actor and
director for making a gesture of cultural solidarity with their fellow
countrymen? It will always look frivolous to some people when artists push
themselves to produce great works of art with the shadow of war looming over
everyone, but it will always look noble and perfectly appropriate to others.
Should Gielgud and Barker have ditched that silly little Lear for something
like "Chu Chin Chow"? Should they, instead, have started to dig trenches?
What, exactly, should they have done instead?
Gielgud is well known to be incapable of serious political discourse, and yes
he has a reputation for vanity and preciousness. But this is the same man who,
in the thick of the war, toured in Hamlet, trying to give something of himself
to the many who were facing the horror of battle. From the memoirs of his
wartime shows, particularly his last performance in Egypt, it seems that far
from dismissive, the soldiers hung on his every word and gesture.
P.S. -- as for the sop against realism, may I remind everyone that it was
Burbage, not Barker, who set the standard for such? Do I really need to
remind everyone of the standard the Bard himself set for his company? "Speech
the speech" was an injunction to avoid unrealistic behavior; trash realism, and
you trash the Bard's own.