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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: June ::
Michael Kahn's Comment
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0459.  Wednesday, 19 June 1996.

(1)     From:   Thomas E. Ruddick <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Jun 96 13:59:37 EST
        Subj:   RE: SHK 7.0457  Re: Shylock

(2)     From:   Rick Jones <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Jun 1996 13:39:13 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0457 Re: Shylock

(3)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Jun 1996 15:43:44 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0457  Re: Shylock

(4)     From:   Elizabeth Kent Burdick <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Jun 1996 10:35:44 -1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0457  Re: Shylock; Milla Riggio's comment


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas E. Ruddick <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Jun 96 13:59:37 EST
Subject: 7.0457  Re: Shylock
Comment:        RE: SHK 7.0457  Re: Shylock

Due respect to Milla Riggio and Michael Kahn, but I am put off by the
pontifical quality of the comments we were recently provided from the preface
of the forthcoming MLA book.  Kahn may be a competent director, but for him to
assert "you MUST mean that (only what the characters say) and nothing else"
demonstrates, for me, an appalling lack of recognition of current acting
practice.  When Kahn has the sort of performance vita that Kenneth Branagh has
achieved, he *still* won't be entitled to make such a blanket statement!

If the character is not played with attention to subtexts (which are present in
the uncertainties of all characters, not just Shakespeare's) then we are left
with overly simple mouthed words.  For a great look at how different
interpretations impact a good Shakespearean performer's reading of a text, you
might take a look at Patrick Stewart's comments on his performances of
Enobarbus in two different RSC productions of "Antony and Cleopatra" in the
videotape series "Preparing to Perform Shakespeare".

"TR"
Thomas E. Ruddick

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rick Jones <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Jun 1996 13:39:13 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 7.0457 Re: Shylock
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0457 Re: Shylock

Milla Riggio says that Michael Kahn says "something to the effect that in
directing Shakespeare one of the hardest lessons he has to teach actors is that
they character means what s/he says.  It's difficult for actors trained to be
always asking about the latent "subtext" of a speech to mean just and only what
the lines SAY, says Michael.  As a character, he says, one has a life, a past,
and so forth, but when the character speaks in Shakespeare, s/he MEANS JUST
WHAT THE LINES SAY.  You MUST mean that and nothing else, says this one
director, who goes on to suggest that if the plays had "subtexts," they would
be much shorter!"

OK, I'll bite.  How DOES this sanctimony advance the argument? The question is
whether Shylock intends, in Act I, to kill Antonio if given the opportunity.
HE DOESN'T SAY, one way or the other.  He wants revenge.  How far he'll go to
get it is left up to the (dare I invoke Shakespeare's profession?) actor to
decide.  Shylock says he wants a pound of flesh.  He also calls the contract "a
merry bond".  Which to believe?  Perhaps both, and Shakespare's plays were
written not by the actor from Stratford or by the Earl of Oxford, but by Luigi
Pirandello, who miraculously transported himself back through time.  The
acting/directing process is always, inevitably, about making choices. Sometimes
those choices "work", sometimes not.  But pretending those choices don't exist
is, to my mind, a guarantee of disaster.

I'm beginning to understand why I so loathed the only Michael Kahn-directed
Shakespeare I've ever seen.

Rick Jones

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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Jun 1996 15:43:44 -0400
Subject: 7.0457  Re: Shylock
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0457  Re: Shylock

>Michael Kahn in the Preface says something to the effect
>that in directing Shakespeare one of the hardest lessons he has to teach actors
>is that the character means what s/he says. . . . As a character, he says, one
>has a life, a past, and so forth, but when the character speaks in Shakespeare,

>s/he MEANS JUST WHAT THE LINES SAY.  You MUST mean that and nothing else, says

>this one director, who goes on to suggest that if the plays had "subtexts,"
>they would be much shorter!

There are loads and loads -- cart loads -- of problems with Michael Kahn's
approach.  Lines, of course, don't "say" anything; the lines are said by
actors, and they are said in different ways by different actors with different
meanings.  The pun was Shakespeare's fatal Cleopatra -- and when we hear a pun,
we entertain the possibility of various meanings.

And where does meaning lie?  In the words themselves, in the voices of the
actors, or in the minds of the auditors?  Doesn't the auditor ultimately
determine what meaning she takes from the spoken lines?  Can meaning be
circumscribed?

And editors also get into the act:  what does Hamlet say, "O that this too too
sallied flesh would melt," or "Oh that this too too solid Flesh, would melt,"
or "O that this too much grieu'd and sallied flesh/Would melt to nothing"
(Bertram and Kliman, eds, 32-33)?

Skeptically yours, Bill Godshalk

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Elizabeth Kent Burdick <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Jun 1996 10:35:44 -1000
Subject: 7.0457  Re: Shylock; Milla Riggio's comment
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0457  Re: Shylock; Milla Riggio's comment

Mario Siletti, my Shakespeare acting teacher at the National Shakespeare
Conservatory in New York said much the same thing - subtext in Shakespeare is
right there in front of you - it is the text.
 

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