1997

Re: Queen Lear

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.1226.  Thursday, 11 December 1997.

[1]     From:   Rosalind King <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Dec 1997 17:40:41 GMT0BST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.1223  Qs: Queen Lear

[2]     From:   Terence Hawkes <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Dec 1997 12:16:24 -0500
        Subj:   Queen Lear

[3]     From:   Peter S. Donaldson <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Dec 97 12:44:37 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.1223  Q: Queen Lear

[4]     From:   David Skeele <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Dec 1997 12:55:26 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.1223  Q: Queen Lear

[5]     From:   Werner Habicht <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 11 Dec 1997 03:10:10 +0100
        Subj:   [Queen Lear]

[6]     From:   David Evett <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Dec 1997 23:40:37 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.1223  Qs: Queen Lear

[7]     From:   Peter Hillyar-Russ <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 11 Dec 1997 10:03:16 -0000
        Subj:   Queen Lear


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rosalind King <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 10 Dec 1997 17:40:41 GMT0BST
Subject: 8.1223  Qs: Queen Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.1223  Qs: Queen Lear

I would much rather see a production of  Lear with a woman playing the
lead as a woman than one in which an incestuous relationship was played
out (invented?) between Lear and Cordelia. Indeed I've been tempted to
do one myself for some time - the former that is!

I saw the production with Kathryn Hunter in London earlier during the
summer - it had originated in a regional theatre in the north last
spring, West Yorkshire Playhouse, home of Jude Kelly, of Washington
Othello fame, though it wasn't her production but Helena Kaut-Howson's.
I was distinctly unimpressed but that was because the conception of the
play as a whole,  and particularly ironically enough the treatment of
the daughters, was really rather tired and conventional. The play became
a play within a play, in the mind of an old woman in a retirement home,
in order to preach the message that we, as a society, are unkind to our
old-folks. Hunter herself was playing a tour-de-force of 'oldness',
combined with 'maleness' which, for me, got in the way of her playing
the complexities of the part. It was much-hyped however.

Stick to your guns!

Best wishes,
Rosalind

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 10 Dec 1997 12:16:24 -0500
Subject:        Queen Lear

Dear Laurie Rae Dietrich: Your proposal to present Lear as what, in Tony
Blair's Britain, we term a 'lone mother' strikes me as courageous and
exciting. Head for London. Over here, she would find her benefits
sharply reduced, but that, to some degree, accords with the spirit of
the play.  Meanwhile, my own production, in which Lear is played by a
Speak-Your-Weight machine ('O you are men of thirteen stones') still
unaccountably fails to find a backer. They hate us youth.

Terence Hawkes

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter S. Donaldson <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 10 Dec 97 12:44:37 EST
Subject: 8.1223  Q: Queen Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.1223  Q: Queen Lear

There was an experimental production-actually titled Queen Lear, I think
-- in Edmonton; scenes of it will be included in the Open University
CDROM, edited by Lizbeth Goodman and Stephen Regan.  Kristin Linklatter
did a splendid Lear at Wellesley College last year with an all-woman
cast. Suzuki has done amazing things in his "Tale of Lear" which uses
all men-with the daughters as bearded 30 year olds. A woman in the lead
need not necessarily undermine the incestuous subtext, though it might
alter how the convergence of incest and patriarchy is approached. My
experience of Linklatter's production was that the enactment of
patriarchal arrogance and abuse was all the sharper for having a small
woman in the lead, and there was something of the matriarchal
too-somehow the fool survives, played by a young girl, suggesting a kind
of generational continuity.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Skeele <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 10 Dec 1997 12:55:26 -0500
Subject: 8.1223  Q: Queen Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.1223  Q: Queen Lear

Lee Breuer directed a production in N.Y. 3 or 4 years ago with Ruth
Maleczech (this spelling looks suspect-I may have just made it up)
playing Lear as a Southern matriarch.  Breuer also changed the three
daughters to three sons (and of course Albany and Cornwall to women).
This was indeed a controversial production but it was not without its
ardent supporters.  The N.Y. TIMES gave it a lot of press, as did the
VILLAGE VOICE.  I wish I could remember the exact date, but you can
probably find info on it easily enough.  Hope it helps!

 David Skeele
 Slippery Rock University

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Werner Habicht <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 11 Dec 1997 03:10:10 +0100
Subject:        [Queen Lear]

In 1989/90 there were two productions - in German; but the directors had
come from America - of *King Lear* with female Lears (King Lears, not
necessarily Queen Lears). One, a collage-like adaptation directed by
George Tabori in Bregenz and Vienna (Theater Der Kreis), was re-titled
"Lear's Shadow" and intended to present Lear (played by Hildegard
Schmahl) as a "sickly, old, terrible tyrant and dirty old man who is
being transformed not only into a human being but into a good human
being" (Tabori in the program notes) - a psychodrama with an emphasis on
sexual aspects. The other was Robert Wilson's production at the
Schauspielhaus in Frankfurt, with Marianne Hoppe playing the title role,
who began the performance by reciting, as a motto, William Carlos
Williams's "The Last Words of My English Grandmother" ("...What are all
those fuzzy-looking things out there? Trees? Well, I'm tired of
them..."). Lear, despite her very old and fragile body, dominated the
scene with extraordinary facial expression - proud, grim, sarcastic,
tender, sad. Gender seemed irrelevant, especially in the context of
Wilson's theatrical artificiality.

There is a tape of the Robert Wilson production, though I don't know if
or how it is available; perhaps writing to the Schauspielhaus, Frankfurt
am Main, Germany, might help. Numerous reviews of both productions are
listed in *Shakespeare Jahrbuch (West)*, 1990, p.209 and 1991, p.217-8,
respectively.

W.H.

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 10 Dec 1997 23:40:37 -0500
Subject: 8.1223  Qs: Queen Lear
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.1223  Qs: Queen Lear

Some years back Mabou Mines did a much cut, 6-actor, 1-trunk version of
Lear with not only Lear but some of the other roles gender-reversed; it
had its moments, but the overall weirdness somewhat blurred the main
switch.  You can probably find reviews in NYT, Shakespeare Bulletin,
etc.

Dave Evett

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Hillyar-Russ <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 11 Dec 1997 10:03:16 -0000
Subject:        Queen Lear

There was a production of King Lear given in the Haymarket Theatre,
Leicester, England during February/March 1997, with Kathryn Hunter in
the title role. The director was Helena Kaut-Howson.

I saw the production and considered it excellent - but for research
purposes anyone interested ought, perhaps, to contact the theatre direct
(44)116 253 9797.

It is a not commonly known fact that Leicester = Leir's Castrum, and is
believed to be the town in which the king lived and is buried.

Peter Hillyar-Russ
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

CFP: Southeastern Renaissance Conference

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.1225.  Thursday, 11 December 1997.

From:           AEB Coldiron <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 10 Dec 1997 09:57:15 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        CFP (please pardon crossposts)

Call  for  Papers

Southeastern Renaissance Conference
55th Annual Meeting

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
April 17-18, 1998

Now Receiving Papers on All Aspects of Renaissance Culture
Twenty Minute Reading Time

Send
Two Copies and One-page Abstract
Postmarked
By
January 15, 1998

To
Steven May , President
Southeastern Renaissance Conference
Department of English, Georgetown College
Georgetown, Kentucky 40324

Qs: Queen Lear; Using IT to Teach Shakespeare

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.1223.  Wednesday, 10 December 1997.

[1]     From:   Laurie Rae Dietrich <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Dec 1997 11:43:29 EST
        Subj:   Queen Lear

[2]     From:   Alan Perry <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Dec 1997 14:59:09 -0800
        Subj:   [Using IT to Teach Shakespeare]


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Laurie Rae Dietrich <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 9 Dec 1997 11:43:29 EST
Subject:        Queen Lear

Fellow SHAKSPER-eans...

I'm interested in soliciting opinions about a production of Lear in
which the role is played by and as a woman.

The proposal is being debated by our board for a 98-99 production, and
the group is quite split about it.

The concept is to use a celtic/matriarchal context (think Lear =
Boadicea) in which to spotlight the parent/child, age/youth,
waning/waxing power motifs.  The daughters would still be played as
daughters.  No other significant changes would be made to the text.

Objections have ranged from the simple condemnation of the concept as
"gimmicky" to a more complex argument that these gender choices would
undermine the Lawrencian interpretation of the father-daughter
relationships (particularly the relationship between Lear and Cordelia)
as "incestuously suspect."

I also understand that there have been other productions with a woman in
the lead...even one fairly recently in London?  Does anyone know
anything about that aspect of Lear's production history, or have any
suggestions as to how I might research the matter?

I'm very interested in hearing any reactions to this concept..

Laurie Rae Dietrich
Artistic Director
The Shoestring Shakespeare Company
San Antonio, Texas

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alan Perry <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 9 Dec 1997 14:59:09 -0800
Subject:        [Using IT to Teach Shakespeare]

In January I will begin an experiment with my 12th grade students in the
use of videotapes, the Internet, computers and CD-ROMs in the study of
Shakespearean plays (both Hamlet and Macbeth).  I have done what I feel
is a fairly extensive literature review, and I have not found much that
has been published on the use of such technology in the teaching of
Shakespeare.  If you know of a publication of any type on this subject,
or if you have tried using technology in your classroom, I would very
much appreciate your sharing that information with me.  I would
especially like to hear from those of you who have conducted your own
experiments and of your success or failure in using technology.  Thank
you.

First Chapter of Vendler's Book on the Sonnets

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.1224.  Wednesday, 10 December 1997.

From:           Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, December 10, 1997
Subject:        First Chapter of Vendler's Book on the Sonnets

For those who have been unable to get a copy of Helen Vendler's *The Art
of Shakespeare's Sonnets* and for others who might be interested, *The
New York Times* on the Web through its Books Section provides Vender's
first chapter at
http://search.nytimes.com/books/first/v/vendler-sonnets.html

Claudius; Quarter Turns of Ham; Shylock's pounded

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.1222.  Wednesday, 10 December 1997.

[1]     From:   Simon Malloch <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Tuesday, 09 Dec 1997 23:14:09 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.1220  Re: Claudius

[2]     From:   Susan Gray <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Dec 1997 12:00:44 EST
        Subj:   Quarter Turns of Hamlet

[3]     From:   Daniel Traister <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Dec 1997 12:52:47 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   THE TIMES: ARTS Shylock's pounded flesh


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Simon Malloch <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 09 Dec 1997 23:14:09 +0800
Subject: 8.1220  Re: Claudius
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.1220  Re: Claudius

It was only after I saw Branagh's Hamlet that I began to perceive that
the tragedy could be about Claudius.  This is no doubt due in part to
Derek Jacobi - his acting brought out that interpretation, I felt.

Simon Malloch.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susan Gray <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 9 Dec 1997 12:00:44 EST
Subject:        Quarter Turns of Hamlet

Anyone looking for different takes on Hamlet for their classes might be
interested in Margaret Atwood's very brief and funny piece called
"Gertrude Speaks" printed in _Good Bones_.  It's written from Gertrude's
point of view, speaking to Hamlet.

Cheers,
Susan Gray

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Daniel Traister <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 9 Dec 1997 12:52:47 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        THE TIMES: ARTS Shylock's pounded flesh

Without permission from THE [London] TIMES: ARTS (December 9, 1997)

        Shylock's pounded flesh

For 400 years, actors have wondered how to play the Bard's Jew. Heather
Neill reports:

In the first production of <I>The Merchant of Venice</I>, in 1597,
Richard Burbage played Shylock dressed in a red wig. The hair was an
important signal: it put Shylock in the tradition of the villain of the
medieval mystery plays in which Judas and Satan sported just such a
garish trademark. But nothing Shakespeare did was that simple; his Jew
had feelings expressed in poetic verse, intelligence, a quick wit and a
daughter who betrayed him.

Shakespeare's character has survived, a "real" person complicated enough
to be open to interpretation and analysis, yet he was invented at a time
when it would not have occurred to audiences to feel any discomfort at
the portrayal of a villain with certain stereotyped racial
characteristics.

Today, seeing Shylock as a representative Jew, especially in the light
of 20th-century history, actors, critics and audiences are faced with a
problem. If Shakespeare was as humane as we would like to believe, if he
was sophisticated in language and psychology beyond any expectations we
may have of his contemporaries, what can he have meant by this portrait
of a vengeful, greedy, merciless Jew? It is difficult to ignore the fact
that Nazi directors staged <I>The Merchant of Venice</I> in Germany some
50 times between Hitler's rise to power in 1933 and 1945.

Some commentators declare the play unstageable now. The Jewish
playwright Arnold Wesker has written a companion piece, <I>Shylock</I>,
which redresses the anti-Semitism he finds in <I>The Merchant of
Venice</I> and which he advocates should always be acte d and studied
alongside it.  Modern directors deal with the Shylock problem in various
ways, usually making him sympathetic, sometimes even turning him into
the hero of the piece.

To begin with, 400 years ago, it was different. There were few Jews in
Elizabethan England, Edward I having expelled them 300 years earlier,
which perhaps added spice to the notion of an exotic alien race, members
of which few playgoers would have known.

Other villainous stage Jews were common. Marlowe's Barabas (sharing a
name with the murderer freed by the mob in preference to Jesus on the
eve of the Crucifixion) was a monstrous caricature, although it is fair
to say that the Christians in <I>The Jew of Malta</I> are a pretty
odious lot as well.

During the 18th and 19th centuries all the leading actors tackled "the
Jew". Charles Macklin frightened George II with his savage performance
in 1741. In 1814 Edmund Kean broke with the tradition of the
one-dimensional villain and, dispensing with the red wig, impressed
Hazlitt with the intensity of his acting. But it was Henry Irving, in
1879, who first invested Shylock with a degree of humanity.

The roll call of great actors continues into the 20th century: Donald
Wolfit's Shylock was "full of venom and hatred" and, according to the
writer John Gross, Michael Redgrave and Emlyn Williams presented
conventionally villainous readings of the part in the 1950s.

Then, in 1960, Peter O'Toole's interpretation at Stratford marked a
turning point. Perhaps it was not so much that the horror of the
Holocaust had taken this long to be acknowledged, but rather that the
theatre had become a forum for political ideas. His Shylock, directed by
Michael Langham, was a heroic, dignified figure, in contrast to what one
reviewer described as "a gushing, nervous, trivial band of Christians".

The RSC's 1997 Shylock, Philip Voss, had a walk-on part in that
production and still says it is the best he's seen to date. He,
meanwhile, having begun with trepidation, has found the part rewarding.
"He's a rich, deep character, an outsider, which is very appealing. He's
an incredibly witty man. I don't think Shakespeare is anti-Semitic:
Shylock becomes unhinged because his daughter betrays him. That short
scene with Jessica shows how much he loves her, has dominated her but
loved her too."

The most famous speech in the play - "Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a
Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?" and so on
- is often cited as proof of Shakespeare's humanity. Voss delivers it
standing upright, "not kicked and bleeding; he's presenting an
argument".

In the intervening years, Laurence Olivier's Shylock in Jonathan
Miller's Victorian-dress 1970 production for the National Theatre was
memorable for his emphatic Jewishness and the downplaying of other
strands in the plot.  The text was slightly cut to omit unsympathetic
lines.

In the early 1990s, the director David Thacker also made judicious cuts
and also made Shylock (played by David Calder) a businessman among other
businessmen. But this time the setting was the contemporary Stock
Exchange and due weight was given to the casket scenes. Shylock was a
reasonable man driven mad by the defection of his daughter with a
Christian, and so completely won the audience's sympathy that there was
an audible expression of horror when he was ordered to renounce his
faith and become a Christian.

Ten years ago Antony Sher grappled with the role in Bill Alexander's
1987 RSC production. A South African Jew, Sher was all too aware of
racial prejudice and sought to stir it up in the audience to shake their
complacency, giving them an unsympathetic, an gry, exaggerated Jew. A
yellow star of David was sprayed on to the wall at the back of the
stage.

Gregory Doran, who directs Voss in this season's <I>Merchant</I>, played
Solanio in 1987. That production, he believes, "loaded the play in the
post-Holocaust sense. It over-balanced it. The casket scenes went for
nothing, but they are crucial because it is all about human values -
Portia is a commodity too.

"The play has been hijacked by history. We are putting it back into the
world of renaissance trade. We've started with the title: Shylock was a
merchant of Venice. I wanted to take the swastikas and stars of David
out of the play."

The differences between Shylock and Antonio, he believes, have more to
do with commerce than race - a Jew, unlike Christians, was allowed by
his religion to charge interest. "Shylock doesn't expect to ask for the
pound of flesh," he says, but, driven mad by Jessica's elopement with a
Christian, he seeks revenge and then, having gone too far, discovers
that he is an alien after all.

Four hundred years on, Shylock can still be approached as if for the
first time. Whether private person or representative Jew, caricature
villain or grieving father, as much as any character in the canon he
demonstrates Shakespeare's extraordinary malleability, the chameleon
property which allows succeeding generations to find themselves
reflected in the plays.

<I>The Merchant of Venice <I>opens at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre,
Stratford (011 44 1789 295623), tomorrow.

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