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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: May ::
Re: Subtext (Character)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0537.  Tuesday, 6 May 1997.

[1]     From:   Cary M. Mazer <
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        Date:   Monday, 5 May 1997 11:12:42 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0534   Re: Subtext

[2]     From:   David M Richman <
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        Date:   Monday, 5 May 1997 11:25:42 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0534 Re: Subtext

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cary M. Mazer <
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Date:           Monday, 5 May 1997 11:12:42 -0400
Subject: 8.0534   Re: Subtext
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0534   Re: Subtext

As usual, I find Harry Hill's wisdom and experience illuminating and (I
say this respectfully) infuriating.  Yes, his blind student's
experience, and Hill's own experience in Radio Drama, might suggest that
an audience member's perception of an actor's embodiment of a character
does not lie exclusively in that actor's body, as Hill's descriptions of
Gielgud, Wolfit, Cruickshank, and Rogers confirms.  But I can't agree
with him when he concludes that:

>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.

Whether we experience the actor's performance via sight, sound, or (all
too often, in smaller fringe venues) smell, what we are experiencing of
the character is the *actor*.  Hawkes may very well be right when he
repeatedly reminds us not to treat the characters of the play on the
page as anything more than rhetorical constructs.  But when we
experience an actor's performance of that character (Hill uses the word
"embodiment"; I prefer the Elizabethan word "personation"), we are
experiencing much more than the words she or he speaks, or the
emblematic function of the dramatis persona in the overall structure of
the dramatic (i.e. literary) work; we regard the character, via the
person of the actor, *as a person*.

Now the relationship between our perception of the person of the
playscript and that person as "personated" by  the actor is a
complicated one; and this relationship no doubt varies from one period
and place to the next, both with the histrionic conventions of the day
and (more to the point here) with how a culture defines what constitutes
"person"ness.  I make no assumptions about how an Elizabethan audience,
viewing an Elizabethan actor's performance, understood the actor, nor
(more to the point here) how the Elizabethan spectator understood the
person the actor was personating; I strongly doubt that psychological
matters of biography and motivation pertained in the same way they do
now, if at all.  But when we, today, experience an actor's performance,
the *only* thing we understand about the person of the script (aside
from the intertexutal preconceptions and expectations that we bring from
other performances we have seen, from our reading of the script, and
from the cultural iconicity that has accrued to the character through
the centuries) is what we experience of the actor playing the part.   It
may be a mistake to psychologize or to ironize that actors' performance
excessively, or to overcomplicate the intentionality behind a speech
utterance in relation to the surface meaning of the words (which I
gather is the issue on the table in this whole "subtext" thread).  But
we cannot wish away the personness of the actor, or the audience's
willingness to perceive the character-personated-by-the actor *as* a
person.

David Jackson inadvertently helps me make my point, when he writes, in
the same SHAKSPER posting:

>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.

I don't have a clue what's happening in the mind of a character; and I'm
quite prepared to join Terry Hawkes in questioning whether a character
has a mind at all.  I *only* know about a character-that character only
*exists* as a person-when that character is played by an actor.  And I
am only prepared to talk about issues of intentionality, action,
motivation, biography (or the lack of any or all these things) as they
pertain to a particular actor's personation of that character.

Cary

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David M Richman <
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Date:           Monday, 5 May 1997 11:25:42 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 8.0534 Re: Subtext
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0534 Re: Subtext

As always, excuse typos resulting from eccentricities of synthetic
speech.

A few curmudgeonly reflections on the subtext debate:

As a blind director, I would agree with Harry Hill's blind student.  If
the passion is not properly and intelligently in he voice, then it has
not been properly displayed to the auditory. (Deliberate
sinesthesia-some of us do indeed see with our ears.)

Oberon is saying a great deal more than "get the flower."  He is telling
an important tale and infusing his auditors with power similar to the
power he is describing.  "Long-winded" as an adjective descriptive of
his speech does diminishing damage.  I would suggest that the question
for performers is: Why must he tell this particular story, in these
especial rhythms and figures.  For me "long-winded" does not describe:

That the rude sea grew civil at her song
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres
To hear the sea-maid's music.

"Conjuration" or "spell" or "incantation" may be more useful terms.

Two cheers for the ear and the voice:  David Richman
 

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