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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: April ::
Re: Subtext
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0457.  Monday, 14 April 1997.

[1]     From:   Hilary Zunin <
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        Date:   Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 10:17:41 -0700
        Subj:   Subtext

[2]     From:   Norm Holland <
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        Date:   Saturday, 12 Apr 97 14:16:21 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0449  Re: Subtext

[3]     From:   Stephan B. Paragon <
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        Date:   Sunday, 13 Apr 1997 05:41:26 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0444 Re: Subtext


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hilary Zunin <
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Date:           Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 10:17:41 -0700
Subject:        Subtext

A subtext anecdote:

After taking students to see a professional production of The Taming of
the Shrew, several actors come out to respond to audience questions.
One young woman asked Kate what she was thinking during her final speech
and what she was trying to get across.

The response?  Pardon my paraphrase:  "Our job isn't to interpret; it's
to give you the lines as Shakespeare gave them to us.  We don't want to
propagandize.  We want you to discover the meaning."

"Bull----!" mumbled the student.  This, from a fifteen year old.  During
the ride home she and her peers berated the actor for copping out.  In
their minds every choice, from decisions regarding the performing of
each line, to costumes, to music, to blocking, all informed the
subtext.

Oh, the joys of so-called "naive" audiences!

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Norm Holland <
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Date:           Saturday, 12 Apr 97 14:16:21 EDT
Subject: 8.0449  Re: Subtext
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0449  Re: Subtext

To this reader-response critic, the very term "subtext" introduces the
confusions usual when one attributes to a text (sheets of paper) things
that are really the activities of readers, audience, or, in this case,
actors.

That is, a given reader or audience member may interpret a passage (say,
Polonius' advice to Laertes) "straight" or as the babblings of an old
fool or the advice of a worldly and corrupt courtier.  WS's words remain
the same, the meaning differs, and then a critic comes along and
attributes this new meaning (from somebody's reading) to a "subtext."

The actor's position is a little different.  He (if Polonius) uses
facial expression, tone of voice, gesture, body articulation, and all
the rest to facilitate one interpretation of the speech and make others
less available.  In doing so, he does exactly what all of us do when we
speak to someone in everyday life.  I use my smile, my tone, my hands to
try to make sure my hearers "get" what I want them to get.  This is not
always successful, of course, and a  gesture I might make meaning OK to
an American are insulting to a Brazilian.  So the actor needs to be sure
he or she is using the codes of the culture in customary ways.

Where is "subtext" in all this?  Always a good question, as I was taught
in philosophy.  I know where "text" is, but where is "subtext"?  In
somebody's mind, I take it.

I read the "sub" as a confusing metaphor of location.  Some kinds of
meanings are "under" others.  Hmmmm.  Reminds me of my students'
complaints about "deep meanings."  Or perhaps I could construe "sub" as
the trace of a verb-past participle: submerged or subsumed.  In that
case, who or what did the submerging or subsuming?  The main text?  WS?
The actor?

All such confusions vanish like the great globe itself if we simply
remember that it is we who construe not texts that do things or hide
things or reveal things to us.  Texts are inanimate things, all our
glamorizing metaphors to the contrary notwithstanding.

--Best, Norm Holland

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephan B. Paragon <
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Date:           Sunday, 13 Apr 1997 05:41:26 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 8.0444 Re: Subtext
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0444 Re: Subtext

Ghost's are not always spirits. But may be our own conscience fighting
back. Proving once again that truth may be more powerful than fiction.
 

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