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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: October ::
Re: Gielgud & Beauty and Hamlet to the Players
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0733.  Wednesday, 9 October 1996.

(1)     From:   Bradley S. Berens <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Oct 1996 08:14:15 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0731  Gielgud & Beauty

(2)     From:   Scott Shepherd <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Oct 1996 11:33:53 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0731  Gielgud & Beauty

(3)     From:   Jesus Cora <
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        Date:   Tuesday,  8 Oct 1996 18:15:35 UTC+0100
        Subj:   SHK 7.0731  Gielgud & Beauty

(4)     From:   Paul Hawkins <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Oct 1996 14:22:13 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0731 Gielgud & Beauty

(5)     From:   Ron Macdonald <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 08 Oct 1996 17:12:56 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Hamlet to the Players


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bradley S. Berens <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Oct 1996 08:14:15 -0800
Subject: 7.0731  Gielgud & Beauty
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0731  Gielgud & Beauty

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

This is in regard to the postscript of Andy White's recent email:

>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.

Andy, as I read this I could hear the sound of John Drakakis lacing up his
soccer cleats, ready to stomp all over it, and you, so I want to jump lightly
on you with rubber-soled slippers first.

In your postscript you a) mistake Burbage for Prince Hamlet, and b) more
seriously, confuse Hamlet's speech about the purpose of playing and rhetorical
adequacy with "realism."  Here's the first part of that speech from the
Riverside text:

         Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc'd
        it to you, trippingly on the tongue, but if you mouth it,
        as many of our players do, I had as live the town-crier
        spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with
        your hand, thus, but use all gently, for in the very
        torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, whirlwind of your
        passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that
        may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul to
        hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to
        totters, to very rags, to spleet the ears of the
        groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing
        but inexplicable dumb shows and noise.  I would
        have such a fellow whipt for o'erdoing Termagant, it
        out-Herods Herod, pray you avoid it.

There is nothing in here, or what follows in the scene, that indicates a
Shakespearean call for realism.  It is entirely possible to talk about *bad
acting* without bringing "realism" into the discussion: an actor could chew the
walls in a Gilbert and Sullivan piece, and be justly lambasted for it by
critics, without anyone thinking that the actor was violating some convention
of realism.

But perhaps Andy would respond that I have too conveniently quoted from
Hamlet's speech; he might riposte with this excerpt:

                                         Suit the action to the word,
        the word to the action, with this special observance,
        that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature: for any
        thing so o'erdone is from the purpose of playing,
        whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to
        hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue
        her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and
        body of the time his form and pressure. . . .

"Nature" is the key term, here, that might let someone think Hamlet is talking
about realism.  But again the issue concerns decorum in acting: i.e., not
overdoing the speech so as to imbalance the performance as a whole, and not
allowing the clown to digress while "some necessary question of the play" is
forgotten.

While playing might hold a mirror up to nature, that does not mean that the
image in the mirror is a realistic one.  Far from it: Elizabethan playgoers
delighted in "applying" play-fictions out to the society surrounding them,
regardless of surface meanings or a playwright's possible intentions. Jonson
famously complains about this in the "Letter to the Two Sisters," and--in a
less famous letter--says "My noble lord, they deal not charitable, who are too
witty in another man's works, and utter, sometimes, their own malicious
meanings, under OUR words."

Shakespeare is ordinarily (and in HAMLET almost obsessively) concerned with
exposing the play AS a play, which is a dramatic strategy directly contrary to
a realistic enterprise.

Before I wind up, Professor Drakakis, if I have mis-anticipated your reaction
to Andy's post, please forgive me.

        A good morning to all.

                Faithfully,
                --Brad Berens

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scott Shepherd <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Oct 1996 11:33:53 +0000
Subject: 7.0731  Gielgud & Beauty
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0731  Gielgud & Beauty

That "speak the..." speech always gets attributed to Shakespeare instead of his
puppet. Wilde has already pointed out that all that mirror up to nature
business is just more evidence of Hamlet's lunacy. Also Hamlet's ulterior
realism motive is consistenly forgotten, viz to accurately reenact a crime in
front of the criminal.

As for Shakespeare, you'd think he'd have shaken a realism rap by incessantly
peopling his plays with ghosts and witches and fairies and sorcerers and gods
of the ancient world and implausible coincidences and historical inaccuracies
and violations of time and space and grand convoluted poetry.

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jesus Cora <
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Date:           Tuesday,  8 Oct 1996 18:15:35 UTC+0100
Subject: Gielgud & Beauty
Comment:        SHK 7.0731  Gielgud & Beauty

Dear Shakespereans,

May I point out that, among the many reactions in a time of crisis, we can
count fantasy, the absence and avoidance of realism? I tell my 17th-century
students that drama and literature in general reflect all this different ways
of reacting to the crisis of the period. That is why we find violence,
philosophy, religion, satire, etc. in such a wide range and variety of plays
and writings. If audiences "escaped" from the crude reality by seeing Gielgud
play King Lear, I can perfectly understand that. It is a legitimate option.
Besides, seeing a character suffer on stage can have a curious ef- fect on the
spectator: he/she can feel empathy, solidarity, anger, bore- dom, etc.
(Aristotelian catharsis?) I do not think there is a single way of reacting to
_King Lear_ or that there should be one. For that matter, I do not think there
is or there should be a single way of producing _King Lear_

Opinions, comments?

Jesus.

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Hawkins <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Oct 1996 14:22:13 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 7.0731 Gielgud & Beauty
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0731 Gielgud & Beauty

On Gielgud's being incapable of serious political discourse:  I remember
reading (and I believe he recounts it himself with shame) that when war was
declared, his first reaction was "My God! What will this do to the theatre?"

(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ron Macdonald <
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Date:           Tuesday, 08 Oct 1996 17:12:56 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Hamlet to the Players

Andrew Walker White, SHK 7.0731, appears to equate Hamlet's advice to the
playes with "the standard the Bard himself set for his company."  Can he really
be so sure that Hamlet's classicizing direction, delivered, it seems to me, _de
haut en bas_ and with considerable condescension, is really Shakespeare's own?
On what basis has he decided this?

                                       --Ron Macdonald
 

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