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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: May ::
Re: Subtext (Character)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0547.  Friday, 9 May 1997.

[1]     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 May 1997 12:48:17 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0537 Re: Subtext (Character)

[2]     From:   Cary M. Mazer <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 May 1997 08:12:10 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0543  Re: Subtext (Character)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 May 1997 12:48:17 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 8.0537 Re: Subtext (Character)
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0537 Re: Subtext (Character)

Not meaning to put too fine a point on it, but there has been discussion
of Gielgud's emphasis on the auditory quality of performance.  This
indeed is the case, but leaves out the fact that as a producer, he
placed an equal emphasis on the visual quality of the performance as
well.

Having spent the last two years researching his work with the design
team Motley in the 1930's, I can confirm that Sir John insisted on
settings and costumes that were colorful, directly related to his
concept of the character and mood of the play, and above all exciting
and interesting to watch.  He also made sure that design elements-even
the more decorative stuff-were produced on a scale that enabled even the
cheapest seats, high up in the "gods" to make them out.

What this leads to, with regard to subtext, is that for Gielgud at
least, not much in the way of subtext was left to chance or the
individual actor's spontaneous reaction to "the moment".  Questions of
characterization were established early on, and while Sir John was
notorious for making thousands of adjustments in blocking, etc. (see Sir
Alec Guinness' Blessings in Disguise for a good chapter on that) his
vision of the play was concrete.  Everything from the actor's hair style
to his shoes was deemed essential, and the settings harmonized with the
costumes so as to form a comprehensible whole.

A long-winded way of saying that for Gielgud's productions at least,
"subtext" was a highly defined thing, and consisted of the actor's
seemingly spontaneous re-creation of a character already well defined
and plotted out.

Andy White
Arlington, VA

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cary M. Mazer <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 9 May 1997 08:12:10 -0400
Subject: 8.0543  Re: Subtext (Character)
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0543  Re: Subtext (Character)

Gabriel Wasserman asks:

>Would you say that that character is the *same* character when being
>played by two different actors?  By the same actor under two different
>directors?

Nope:   same "character," different *person*.  Each actor's Hamlet is a
distinct person, who lives and dies, over the course events of the story
enacted in the theatre piece, reacting to the same given circumstances,
speaking the same words as other people calling themselves Hamlet,
kvetching about a mother named Gertrude and an uncle named Claudius, in
other theatre pieces similarly advertised as being "_Hamlet_, by William
Shakespeare."

>What about when we read a play?

I'll leave that to others to answer.  I suspect that you and I don't
meant the same thing when we each say "read."

Cary
 

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