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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: May ::
Re: Subtext
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0534.  Monday, 5 May 1997.

[1]     From:   Harry Hill <
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        Date:   Sunday, 04 May 1997 08:40:55 +0000 (HELP)
        Subj:   Checkovian Solutions to early modern challenges [Subtext]

[2]     From:   David Jackson <
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        Date:   Sunday, 4 May 1997 21:39:46 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0528  Re: Subtext (Character)

[3]     From:   Scott Crozier <
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        Date:   Monday, 5 May 1997 12:36:02 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0528  Re: Subtext (Character)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Harry Hill <
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Date:           Sunday, 04 May 1997 08:40:55 +0000 (HELP)
Subject:        Checkovian Solutions to early modern challenges [Subtext]

Kurt Daw openly revives the irresolvable Stage vs. Study business by
pointing out that of course non-verbal methods are bound to be present
in performance. Most of us have bodies, however much the young John
Gielgud acted from the neck up; Donald Wolfit and Flora Robson provided
a great deal of augmenting meaning with their eyes, Andrew Cruickshank
with his celebrated back, Paul Rogers with his eloquent fingers.

Perhaps my blind student, in his disappointed reaction to the recent
Leontes in Montreal, came close to an old ideal where such physical
characterization was less visible to an audience in a large theatre and
the emotional effect was more attributable to the actor's vocal
behaviour. This student is seventy-six years old and in addition to the
heightened hearing provoked by his blindness, his earlier upbringing had
a greater auditory component than is now usual; his ears see the text.
When I am booked for a radio drama or a dubbing session, I still rely on
`subtextual' realities and imaginings to influence my auditors' visceral
and intellectual responses, and in some ways the performances are
`purer' than their onstage versions would be. It seems to me that is
good, interesting and salutary for us to remember that these plays are
indeed poems which exist to a great extent in the imagination, and that
to reduce them to visual feasts and revels is to neglect or even negate
a thirsty part of the public, rendering audiences spectators.

There is enormous truth in Terence Hawkes' insistence on characters as
emblems rather than realities, and I am convinced that the `stage versus
study' dilemma remains to be clarified by the actor's voice.

        Harry Hill

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Jackson <
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Date:           Sunday, 4 May 1997 21:39:46 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 8.0528  Re: Subtext (Character)
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0528  Re: Subtext (Character)

I am prepared to accept Kurt Daw's "narrow" definition of "subtext", but
what common word should be used to describe all the other stuff? It's
definitely something lying beneath the text, so how about "epitext"?
Whatever, I want to emphasize that I was talking about what was going on
in the mind of the CHARACTER, not the actor playing the character. As
long as the actor is doing his or her job, there is always a delineation
between the two.

As regards the Oberon example, my question is: Why does he want the
flower?  And then: why does he want to cast the spell on Titania? And
then: Why does he want the Indian boy? And then: Why did he behave the
way Titania says he did (or did he? The text never actually confirms all
of her accusations)? My point is that the concept of a character
"meaning what he says" is inherently unreliable. Since everything a
person says-even if not intended to decieve and stated on the basis of
the declarent's honest perception-is derived from subjective
interpretation of stimuli and is the product of the process of
translation of thought into words (which are then subject to the
specific interpretation of the listener), it is necessary to look far
beyond the printed words to ascertain what the "meaning" of what the
character "says" is. Call it epitext if you will, but then I want to
know the point where such stuff becomes "subtext". If there's no clear
point of demarcation, do we really need two terms?

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scott Crozier <
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Date:           Monday, 5 May 1997 12:36:02 +1100
Subject: 8.0528  Re: Subtext (Character)
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0528  Re: Subtext (Character)

Kurt Daw wrote:

" That is all I meant by saying that I think it is sound advice for
young actors not to seek Chekhovian solutions to early modern
challenges.  They are apt to create more problems than they solve"

As I see it, the problem with this approach is that it denies that the
performance of this "early modern challenge" does in fact occur after
"Chekhovian solutions" were first mooted.  The performance is modern
whether the drama is or not.  To this end, I would expect actors to find
"impulses" for everything that they utter.  Oberon's speech "Thou
rememberset / Since once I..." is, as Kurt Daw suggests, a very long
winded way of saying "Get that flower." Nevertheless, it is a speech of
immense beauty.  The beauty is word based and a character says the
words. Why?  As a director, I would want the actor playing Oberon to
consider very deeply the impulses that triggered the words.  It is these
impulses which give the "long winded" speech life and purpose on the
stage.

Regards,
Scott Crozier
 

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