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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: April ::
Re: Subtext; TNK; Summer Festivals
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0478.  Saturday, 19 April 1997.

[1]     From:   Kurt Daw <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Apr 1997 17:07:22 -0500
        Subj:   Subtext

[2]     From:   Kurt Daw <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Apr 1997 16:20:17 -0500
        Subj:   Two Noble Kinsmen

[3]     From:   Marian W. Price <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Apr 1997 11:02:17 -0400
        Subj:   Orlando Shakespeare Festival


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kurt Daw <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Apr 1997 17:07:22 -0500
Subject:        Subtext

The thread on sub-text has taken many interesting turns recently, but
since my understanding of the meaning of this term differs substantially
from the generally offered definitions so far, I wanted to put in my
(perhaps idiosyncratic) two cents worth. It is worth noting that I am
primarily an acting teacher, which may well explain why I think about
this subject differently from the thread so far.

Theories of subtext date from the Russian schools of acting at the turn
of the century, especially relating to theories about how to perform
Chekhov.  Scattered throughout his major plays are scenes where the text
(i.e.,. the dialogue) is at odds with other non-verbal (i.e.,.
subtextual) aspects of the scene. A simple example might be the scene
near the end of *Three Sisters* where Tusenbach holds a very trivial
conversation with his fiance Irina about coffee and a few items on his
desk. The scene is utterly incomprehensible if you don't know that
Tusenbach is on his way to fight a duel which he suspects (correctly, as
it turns out) he will not survive.  This fact is never mentioned in the
scene, and no reference is ever made to the reason that Tusenbach utters
such banalities instead of telling his love goodbye, perhaps forever. We
are left to conclude from his behavior and manner of delivery that his
words have very little to do with the main plot interest at that moment.
Commonly, we read into his psychology that he is unwilling or unable to
utter the words out loud because he is unable to face his coming death.

As an acting teacher I have to help students learn to do something
rather sophisticated and difficult when they face this kind of material,
which is make the plot point clear by undercutting the dialogue and
filling in with much behavior. To fail to do so in Chekhov is to render
the play meaningless.

In this usage, subtext doesn't mean that the actor is feeling some
parallel emotion or motivation for the speech. (That is the interiority
question, which has flared up from time to time on SHAKSPER. That
question, too, is debatable and interesting, but not the issue here.) It
doesn't even mean that the actor is feeling something different than
words are expressing.  Characters do this throughout Shakespeare, as
when Juliet pretends to agree with the Nurse about dumping the exiled
Romeo in favor of Paris, or more subtly when Hermione delivers her
moving trial speech.

Sub-text (in the sense that it I am proposing, which is how it is
commonly used in actor training) means that there is an essential plot
point in the scene which is not directly expressed or referenced in the
dialogue. It must be inferred by audience members through interpreting
the non-verbal behaviors of the actors, even at times when their words
explicitly contradict the underlying point. This dramatic technique is
very common in Twentieth Century drama, and learning to play these
behaviors is an essential acting skill.  The problem is that this skill
has also proven useful in cases where there is no underlying plot point,
but the text is so minimal or banal (like, for example, much daytime
soap opera writing for television). Some actors are now used to "filling
in," with interesting bits of their own invention on almost all
occasions.

The firm pronouncement that there is no subtext in Shakespeare pops up
occasionally, almost always in connection with acting teachers who are
trying to put a stop to the indiscriminate use of this modernist acting
technique in early-modern drama. I remember a mini-firestorm on SHAKSPER
about a year ago, arising out of Milla Riggio quoting Michael Kahn on
this subject. Then as now, the topic was complicated by the fact that it
was stated in absolutist fashion and terms were vague. To say that
Shakespeare's characters ALWAYS say exactly what they mean with no irony
or sarcasm or intent to deceive is ludicrous. On the other hand, to say
the plot lines of the scenes are rarely, if ever, rendered totally below
the level of dialogue in early modern drama, so don't play it that way,
is sound advice for the young actor.

For what its worth,

Kurt Daw, Ph.D., Chair
Department of Theater
Kennesaw State University

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kurt Daw <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Apr 1997 16:20:17 -0500
Subject:        Two Noble Kinsmen

To Eric Armstrong:

Concerning your request for information about *Two Noble Kinsmen,* I
strongly urge you to look at the newly released Arden - third, edited by
Lois Potter. In the introductory materials there are superb discussions
of the way in which the play is generally valued and how that valuing
relates to the attribution. Also there are extensive and insightful
commentaries about the theatrical pitfalls and strengths of the play
based on keen viewing of recent major productions. (My disclaimer: I'm
not commercially connected to this volume, just think it is a superb
source.)

Cheers,
Kurt Daw

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marian W. Price <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Apr 1997 11:02:17 -0400
Subject:        Orlando Shakespeare Festival

SHAKSPERians in Florida might enjoy these performances.

                                                 --Best, Norm Holland

The Orlando Shakespeare Festival is performing in Eola Park (Rosalind
between Central and Robinson, downtown).  Performances are at 8 p.m.
Tickets may be ordered with a credit card by phone (407) 245-0985 or by
fax (407) 317-7380.  Prices range from $6 to $35, but the B seats at $10
Sun, Th and $12 F, Sa are good ones.

There's a parking garage on Central opposite the public library.

The remaining dates for Richard III are April 19, April 25, April 27,
May 2, May 4, May 8, and May 10.

The remaining dates for The Merry Wives of Windsor are April 20, April
24, April 26, May 1, May 3, and May 9.
 

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