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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: March ::
Re: Oth.; Curse; Lancelot; Anti-Semitism; DWEM; Sakren
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0200  Monday, 9 March 1998.

[1]     From:   Kimberly Nolan <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Mar 1998 12:52:40 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0189  Re: Casting

[2]     From:   Ed Peschko <epeschko@den-mdev1>
        Date:   Friday, 6 Mar 1998 14:26:35 -0700 (MST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0196  Re: Macbeth curse

[3]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Saturday, 7 Mar 1998 10:59:11 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Launcelot Gobbo

[4]     From:   Ira Abrams <
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        Date:   Saturday, 7 Mar 1998 12:14:38 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 9.0190  Re: Racism, Sexism, etc.

[5]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Saturday, 07 Mar 1998 13:51:38 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Racism, sexism, etc

[6]     From:   Susan St. John <
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        Date:   Sunday, 08 Mar 98 17:24:28 -0700
        Subj:   Prof. fired for teaching sexist Shakes


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kimberly Nolan <
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Date:           Friday, 06 Mar 1998 12:52:40 -0500
Subject: 9.0189  Re: Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0189  Re: Casting

I saw the Patrick Stewart production of Othello and found it well-acted,
entertaining, and intellectually stimulating.  The pacing of the
performance I saw was remarkable-the play moved very quickly, and only
slowed during Iago's monologues.  As I recall, critics were not
impressed with this actor's performance, but I found him quite
convincing-he struck me as careful and methodical whereas other
characters seemed driven by passion and politics.

As to the race reversal-for me it emphasized the way "Black" has been
used as a pejorative for many centuries.  I believe James Baldwin has an
excellent essay on this very topic, and the Stewart production (for me)
brought this to the fore.  The ability to use language to "mark" a
person, persons or culture was an intriguing element of the production.
Black became a word that related to character not skin color; Othello
was still presented as the other-a military leader, yet barbarian-who
worked for the more refined politicians of Venice.

I know others have spoken at length about this production-but to argue
that this was not truly Shakespeare's play, but an adaptation of sorts
(Boys from Syracuse vs Commedy of Errors) does a great disservice to the
excellent company.

I should add that I saw this production on the same day as Hilary and
Chelsea Clinton and sat next to secret service agents.  The play
received a standing ovation, and Mrs. Clinton applauded vigorously.
Perhaps she sees a correlation between Iago's plotting and Ken Starr's
investigation?

Kimberly Nolan

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Peschko <epeschko@den-mdev1>
Date:           Friday, 6 Mar 1998 14:26:35 -0700 (MST)
Subject: 9.0196  Re: Macbeth curse
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0196  Re: Macbeth curse

Well, I'm not sure how accurate this is, but

http://hem1.passagen.se/dunsel/ba.htm

has transcripts for the whole series (1-4) and it lists the 'Macbeth
Ritual' as being (in context):

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
M (an actor): ..lest you continue in your quotations and mention the
name of the
              "Scottish Play".

K (an actor): Oh-ho.... never fear, I shan't do that. (laughs)

Blackadder:   By the "Scottish Play", I assume you mean *Macbeth*.

(The actors perform a ritual warding off of bad luck.)

Actors:       Aahhhhhh! (slapping each others hands, pat-a-cake fashion)
              Hot potato, off his drawers, pluck to make amends.
              (pinch each others nose).

Blackadder:   What was that?

K (an actor): We were exorcising evil spirits. Being but a mere butler,
you will
              not know the great theatre tradition that one does NEVER
speak the
              name of the "Scottish Play".

Blackadder:   What, *Macbeth* ?

Actors:       Aahhhhh! Hot potato, off his drawers, pluck to make a
mends. Ohhh!

Blackadder:   Good lord, you mean you have to do *that* every time I
say....
              *Macbeth* ?

Actors:       Aahhhhh! Hot potato, off his drawers, pluck to make a
mends. Owww!

M (an actor): Will you please stop saying *that* ! Always call it the
              *Scottish Play*.

Blackadder:   So you want me to say the "Scottish Play"?

Actors:       YES!!!

Blackadder:   Rather than.. *Macbeth* ?

Actors:       Aahhhhh! Hot potato, off his drawers, pluck to make a
mends. Owww!
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

But then again, like I said, this was made under the same constraints
(listening and transcribing the series) and is probably as accurate... I
kind of wish I had BA on tape... reading the transcripts makes me want
to see BA again....

Ed

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Saturday, 7 Mar 1998 10:59:11 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Launcelot Gobbo

Launcelot was the focus of my own undergraduate paper on The MoV (to be
found at http://www.columbia.edu/~fs10/mov.htm), which I read as an
allegory of the Protestant Reformation.

Shylock is not primarily a quintessential Elizabethan jew figure, but
rather a representative of the popish church, and Launcelot, in his
eloquent expression of existentialist conflict in leaving his master, is
a symbol of the loyal English people, forced to leave a spiritual master
who has become the devil.  The various bonds in the play evoke both the
bond of England to the Roman church and the marriage bond of Henry to
Katherine of Aragon (as well as Elizabeth's commitment to her father's
schism).

Without going into detail, I think that the key to understanding the
verbal play between Lance and Old Gobbo is in the reversal of terms
between the expression "it is a wise child that knows his own father"
and "it is a wise father that knows his own child."

In my reading, the anti-semitism of the play is Sh's use of contemporary
prejudices (brought to public attention by Marlowe's play and the Lopez
affair) to associate the popish church of the Reformation with the
Pharisees during the birth of Christianity.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ira Abrams <
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Date:           Saturday, 7 Mar 1998 12:14:38 -0500
Subject: Re: Racism, Sexism, etc.
Comment:        SHK 9.0190  Re: Racism, Sexism, etc.

It seems to me that arguments about whether (i.e.) Merchant is in some
sense an anti-semitic play, or whether it is perhaps rather
anti-anti-semitic, (and so forth...) are much more difficult to make
than we allow ourselves to believe.  One wants to make some sort of
absolute statement about Merchant and Jews, or about Shakespeare's Shrew
and Women, but it may not be possible.

For one thing, the relatively "human" Shylock which many want to find in
Merchant does not necessarily serve as any kind of evidence that
Shakespeare was trying to reform or even to get some distance on the
attitudes of his contemporaries toward Jews.  This deduction is based
upon a fallacy.  In the OE poem Beowulf, the monsters (especially the
dragon) are similarly "humanized" and given a legitimate gripe, but it
is not reasonable to argue that this represents the putative poet's
attempt to change his society's attitude toward monsters.

Along the same lines, it is far from clear that the anti-semitism in
Shakespeare's play is exactly or even approximately the anti-semitic
discourse of Elizabethan England.  Even to point to the sad case of poor
Dr. Lopez or to other poignant anecdotes as evidence for the
anti-semitism which Shakespeare might have been trying to counter or to
"critique" does not solve the formidable, perhaps insurmountable problem
facing the sort of ethical-historicist criticism we would like to be
able to do.  Dr. Lopez was, after all, prosecuted as an agent of Spain,
home of the Inquisition.

A key question relating to the Jewish problem in Merchant remains not
only unanswered but also unasked as far as I know: Did Shakespeare
contemporaries object to to the ostensible generosity of his portrayal
of Shylock?  I am not aware of any such contemporary responses, but it
seems to me this sort of evidence would be of much more use to
historicist criticism than  citations of parallel incidents and echoes
of speech.

Since I also have one foot in the bucket of modern African drama, I feel
compelled to raise a second set of objections, applying to the view that
we ought to censure or at least fell troubled by plays like Merchant (or
Taming of a Shrew) for ethical reasons.  That is, were the same criteria
to be applied to the plays of, say,  Nigerian Nobel Prize winner  Wole
Soyinka it would be very easy to dismiss this masterful and important
writer as racist, even hateful, on account of his portrayals of various
groups-especially whites.  Why is it that no one ever asks for instance
whether the Brits in Soyinka's masterpiece, Death and the King's
Horseman, are fully human or not?  The answer to this question is very
disturbing, and it must make a serious person stop before looking at
Merchant through a lens forged in the heat of the Holocaust.

The final frontier of this type of criticism is probably the committed
idealist's position that everything should promote the progress of
universal non-discrimination and other values we cherish.  This ignores
the particular conditions in which works of art originate, are
reproduced and are received.  Think of it in the terms of Tibetan
Buddhism: you work with your problems because they are all you have, no
one starts from enlightenment.  To want art without warts is to want to
make art impossible.  Merchant may provide an opportunity for us to
encounter our own anti-semitism, but that is only one possible response
to the the play.

Ira Abrams

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Saturday, 07 Mar 1998 13:51:38 -0500
Subject:        Re: Racism, sexism, etc

My comments on DWEMs and idiosyncratic casting have been conflated into
one thread, and I think it makes sense to do that.  Stevie Simkin's last
post addresses both issues, and I shall respond to both in this single
reply:.

(1) Simkin says that his "point was not that we should give 'extra
credit' for race/sex/etc., but that we should recognize that the canon
has been constructed historically and historically there have been
disincentives of varying degrees for women and members of ethnic
minorities (for example) to create poems, plays, whatever."

It can be argued with some validity that, historically, literature was
one of  the few fields of endeavor in which sex, race, etc., were less
significant in determining success than they were in other areas, and,
therefore, women and members of minority groups had positive incentives
(not disincentives) to attempt to make their marks in that field.  But I
prefer not to open that can of worms, as the issue depends on detailed
historical analyses which are beyond my resources (and probably Stevie's
as well).

Instead, I demur.  I will assume the point arguendo. What follows?  What
is the remedy? Do we banish the works of Shakespeare and other DWEMs
from the canon?  Do we leave them in but give equal prominence to lesser
works because their authors have the disadvantage of being female,
non-white, alive, etc?  I think that Simkin begins to propose a more
satisfactory remedy when he notes "recent efforts by feminist and
post-colonial critics and literary historians to bring their work to
light."  No objection so far as that goes (except to the loaded words-
"post-colonial," really!).  But Stevie omits to say that once "brought
to light" such works should be subject to the same rigorous analyses
which he would be the first to apply to DWEM authors, without giving
extra points for race, sex, etc.

(2)  Continuing his theme, Simkin goes on to criticize Olivier for
treating Othello as "colonial property."  Why the fixation on
colonialism, a particularly loaded and unfair concept in this context?
But, putting that aside, isn't it true that most actors take a
proprietary interest in their roles?  Is there anything wrong with
that?  Or is Simkin really suggesting that Olivier was disqualified by
his race from playing Othello?

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susan St. John <
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Date:           Sunday, 08 Mar 98 17:24:28 -0700
Subject:        Prof. fired for teaching sexist Shakes

I have gained a little inside scoop on the "firing" of Jared Sakren at
Arizona State University.  This info comes from one of his colleagues,
another professor in the ASU theatre department (who has a great deal of
professional experience, BTW).  Apparently, Mr. Sakren was specifically
hired to develop their new MFA program with an emphasis in original
works and contemporary plays.  The Board of Regents of the three state
universities in AZ most explicitly stated that there should not be any
duplication of specialized programs among the three schools and the
University of Az already had the Classical Studies MFA program.

Mr. Sakren failed to fulfill his directive in keeping to modern works
and it was this fact (Professor Fired for Teaching Shakespeare) that the
news media took off with.  I would like to once again point out that the
article posted which began this thread was from UofA, which is the
cross-town rival (read hated adversary) of ASU.

My bottom line here is that both universities have fine theatre
departments and both schools have a healthy appreciation for
Shakespeare, but UofA in Tucson has the MFA program in Classical
Theatre.

And just as a side note, Sakren is still in the Phoenix area, having
taken over as Artistic Director of one of this city's most avant garde,
contemporary theatre companies.  Go figure!

Hope this clears up some of the confusion and bad feelings.
 

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