1998

Re: Female Roles

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0497  Monday, 25 May 1998.

[1]     From:   Ed Taft <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 21 May 1998 12:07:45 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Female Roles

[2]     From:   David J. Kathman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 21 May 1998 18:43:57 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0480  Re: Female Roles


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 21 May 1998 12:07:45 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Female Roles

Dear David Evett,

I hope that you have calmed down enough to notice that in my previous
post I put quotation marks around "Oxfordian." Your description of the
type of thinking James Forse engages in is highly misleading and
extremely condescending. Let me answer you point for point. James Forse
never says that the orthodox consensus about the use of boy actors is
absolutely wrong. Instead, he speculates (and freely admits that it is
speculation) that this consensus might need to be modified. Here is
exactly what he says, "It *may* be more logical to assume that from the
beginning of his career, Shakespeare was associated with one, probably
two, actors who were extraordinarily good at female characterizations. .
. *perhaps* scholars [have] subconsciously blinded themselves to the
*possibility* that Shakespeare wrote his great female roles for adult
partners in his company" (p. 77). Please note the words "may",
"perhaps", and "possibility." He then goes on to provide arguments, some
economic and some statistical, that he finds suggestive. (I find them
suggestive, too.) James Forse does not dismiss the existing documentary
evidence. Instead, he rightly points out that there isn't a whole lot of
it. James Forse does not rely primarily on negative evidence. On the
contrary, he provides his own evidence, both statistical and
argumentative, for his position. James Forse does not say that
adolescents could not play major roles successfully, he quotes others
who say or imply that (Bently, Leary, Styan-see note 2 on page 249).

In short, your post is disgraceful, David, and even more disgraceful is
your implication that the kind of thinking that Forse engages in is
somehow "conspiratorial" and therefore "pernicious." In what way is
James Forse's thinking conspiratorial? Who is he in a conspiracy with?
Me? About what?  And in what way is his speculative article somehow a
danger, either directly or indirectly, to the body politic?

You have every right to disagree with Forse's article, but the way you
have gone about it suggests to me a deeply authoritarian streak that
lashes out whenever orthodoxy seems even remotely questioned.

You owe James Forse an apology.

Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David J. Kathman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 21 May 1998 18:43:57 +0100
Subject: 9.0480  Re: Female Roles
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0480  Re: Female Roles

This post seems to have disappeared into the ether the first time I
tried to send it, so I'll try again.

Ed Taft wrote:

>If David Kathman wants to think of me as an "Oxfordian," that's fine
>with me. I will simply point out the obvious: he did not deal with the
>evidence that I quote from James Forse. Instead, he purposefully
>misinterprets what I write (twice!). I think that David Kathman thinks
>of anyone who disagrees with him as an "Oxfordian"!

No, I don't think you're an "Oxfordian", and I never said that.  Did you
read my post?  I only said that your open disdain for historical
evidence is similar to the disdain shown by Oxfordians.  I can now say
that your shifting into attack mode when cornered is, alas, also similar
to the tactics used by Oxfordians.  You do Jim Forse's arguments an
injustice by being so obstinate.  As I said, Jim Forse and I were two of
the participants in a stimulating (and entirely civil) discussion of
this very topic, on this very list, nearly four years ago.  I seem to
have accidentally deleted the post where you quoted Forse extensively,
but from what I recall those arguments consisted mainly of assertions
that it would have made better business sense for sharers, rather than
boy (teenage) actors to play women's roles.  I don't know how to "deal
with" this assertion other than to point out that all the documentary
evidence we have indicates that these roles were played by teenage boys,
mostly between the ages of 14 and 18.  Your ideas of what would have
made economic sense to an Elizabethan makes little difference in the
absence of some sort of evidence.  Elizabethan England was in the midst
of a transition from feudalism to capitalism, but it was not all the way
there by any means.  There were all kinds of social taboos and beliefs
that might strike us as odd today.  One of these, apparently, was a
belief that it was wrong for women to act on the public stage.

Dave Kathman
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Re: Pronunciation

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0496  Monday, 25 May 1998.

[1]     From:   Jonathan Hope <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 21 May 1998 13:58:15 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0487  Re: Pronunciation

[2]     From:   Justin Bacon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 20 May 1998 12:27:37 -0700
        Subj:   Pronunciation

[3]     From:   Richard J Kennedy <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 21 May 1998 16:20:49 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0487  Re: Pronunciation


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jonathan Hope <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 21 May 1998 13:58:15 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 9.0487  Re: Pronunciation
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0487  Re: Pronunciation

Joseph Tate reads me as implying that the 'sonic features of a language
are allowed only semantic functions'.  I certainly didn't mean to imply
this.  One of the basic problems with trying to recreate accents from
the past is that while the semantic content of words is (relatively)
stable, the connotations of the phonetic features that make up accents
can change much more quickly and more radically (as I tried to
illustrate with my post-vocalic 'r' example).

This may be just terminological, but I'd class these connotations of
phonetic features as sociolinguistc, rather than semantic.  So I think I
said the opposite of what Joseph thinks I said... I think.

Jonathan Hope
Middlesex University

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Justin Bacon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 20 May 1998 12:27:37 -0700
Subject:        Pronunciation

I must agree with the general trend that the conversation is taking:
Attempts at reconstructing period accents may be useful as intellectual
exercises and to explore possible interpretational impacts those accents
might have, but to actually *use* them for a stage production would be,
in my opinion, to push their usefulness too far.

Justin Bacon
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard J Kennedy <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 21 May 1998 16:20:49 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 9.0487  Re: Pronunciation
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0487  Re: Pronunciation

The DNB has this to say of Henry Wriothesley's great-grandfather, Sir
Thomas (d. 1534):

"He spelt his name in a variety of ways, originally as Writh or Wrythe,
subsequently as Wreseley, Writhesley, and eventually Wriothesley; the
last was the form adopted by his own and his brother's family.  In Tudor
times it was pronounced Wrisley."

It seems that I am wrong and that WRIOTHESLEY is not pronounced WORTHY
or some such, and it also seems that everyone is wrong about ROSELY.
STC19867 led me to an item that might settle the matter, not just to
take the word of the DNB.  It is an epitaph of some 110 lines upon the
death of Henry's father, Lord Henry the 2nd Earl of Southampton.  Within
a decorated border, the poem in black letter, the Earl is honored under
this heading:

"An Epitaph on the death, of the Right honorable and vertuous Lord Henry
WRISLEY, the Noble Earle of Southhampton: who lieth interred at
Touchfeelde in the Countie of Hamshyre, the30. day of November 1581. and
in the 24. yeare of our most drad and Soveraigne Ladie Elizabeth by the
grace of God, of England, Fraunce, & Ireland Queen. &c."

And so, WRIOTHESLEY seems to be spoken as WRISLEY, if we can take the
above as a phonetic proof.  And so the ROSE of the marriage Sonnets is
not a pun on WRIOTHESLEY, an argument used by Stratfordians and some
Oxfordians.

Re: Jennings's *Hamlet*

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0494  Monday, 25 May 1998.

[1]     From:   Joanne Walen <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 21 May 1998 15:50:54 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0478  Re: Branagh's and Jennings's *Hamlet*s

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Sunday, 24 May 1998 16:49:41 -0400
        Subj:   Re:  Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joanne Walen <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 21 May 1998 15:50:54 EDT
Subject: 9.0478  Re: Branagh's and Jennings's *Hamlet*s
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0478  Re: Branagh's and Jennings's *Hamlet*s

John McWilliams wrote:

>Personally, I couldn't imagine a better introduction to Shakespeare or
>'Hamlet' (or theatre generally) than this Jennings production.

Yes, oh yes. I quite agree. I was hoping that the RSC tour might get to
the west coast so I could take my 12-year-old grandson to this 'Hamlet'.
He's been enjoying Shakespeare plays since he was 7, but only the
comedies so far. The Jennings' Hamlet would be a wonderful introduction
to the "weightier" work. So what if he misses here the "war" setting and
some of the soliloquies? He'll get that in other productions (on tape
the Olivier [well, no Fortinbras there, either]), Jacobi, Branagh,
Gibson, etc., etc.)     And the text, whatever you want to argue about its
source, is "fresh" . That's what I want him to hear.

Perhaps this version is "not for all markets," but for a 'first look at
a great play', it has much to recommend it.

Joanne Walen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 24 May 1998 16:49:41 -0400
Subject:        Re:  Hamlet

I saw the Jennings version at the BAM last night and feel impelled to
chime in on the comparison of it with Branagh's film.  Jennings'
production was well played (except for Paul Freeman's bombastic
Claudius) and more than a little "interesting."  But, as someone in the
audience said during intermission, "its a good story, I wonder what
Shakespeare would have done with it."

The chopping and reorganizing succeeds in portraying the prince as
clearly bonkers, but at the expense of many themes in the play which are
at least as valid.  Indeed, the main plot of vacillation doesn't come
through, as there is too little time for delay to be significant.  The
loooong full version, while requiring patience, seems designed to make
this clear to even the dullest groundlings.  And it is full of little
masterstrokes, like the oft-cut Polonius and Reynaldo scene (II.i), to
let us know that substantial time has passed.  The Branagh film, while
imperfect, accomplished this very well.

I am also troubled by the omission of Fortinbras (like Laertes, an
important foil against which Hamlet's inaction is set off), although I
certainly would not have made as much of him as Branagh did.  I see no
justification at all for treating Fortinbras as an invading pillager,
not only because there is no hint of it in the text but also as this
tends to diminish the brilliance of Claudius's diplomacy (as to which,
see posts from myself and others a few months back).

Jennings' deletion of Fortinbras (and his deliberate expurgation of  any
explanation for Hamlet's conduct other than madness) also leads him to
omit the "How all occasions..." soliloquy [IV.iv.32-ff], which I
consider the most important in the play, containing the central sentence
of 26 consecutive monosyllabic words which sum up the main theme
[ll.43-46].  (I have seen nothing written about that sentence and I
wonder if other list members regard it as being as significant as I do.
I would also compare this speech with the gravedigger's understanding of
the philosophical concept of the three branches of an act [V.i.10-12]).
Say what you like about Branagh's staging of this soliloquy, it
certainly emphasizes its centrality.

The Last Words on the Roasted Crabs Thread

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0495  Monday, 25 May 1998.

[1]     From:   Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 21 May 1998 14:15:42 +0100 (BST)
        Subj:   Re: Crabs

[2]     From:   Jacquie Hanham <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 22 May 1998 16:10:07 +0100 (BST)
        Subj:   Crabs


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 21 May 1998 14:15:42 +0100 (BST)
Subject:        Re: Crabs

Alexandra Gerrull points out the value of non-specialist postings:

> It took me about two minutes to get the two plays
> down from the shelf and check what the notes had to say.
> Some minutes more to type the reply. Yet, before I put
> the plays back on the shelf I thought about the two passages
> for a while which I would not have done otherwise. So
> apart from being able to help, I got the idea for what
> sounds like a very nice recipe for cold nights
> and another little Meisterstueck from Mr. Shakespeare,
> something I must have read but never noticed several times.

I would be glad to offer this list the fruits of my
SerendipityServer(tm). This is a Perl script which works by randomly
selecting an editorial gloss from the Arden2 CDROM and then finding the
word in Shakespeare's text which provoked the editorial explanation.
This word is automatically pasted into an fake email letter of enquiry
from a bona fide list-member, and then the letter is sent off to the
list.

Why should we have to wait for someone on the list to actually ask these
valuable questions? I vote we let SerendipityServer(tm) take over this
work.

Gabriel Egan

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jacquie Hanham <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 22 May 1998 16:10:07 +0100 (BST)
Subject:        Crabs

Dear All,

Is there nothing Professor Wells can do right? In my opinion his initial
response to the 'crabs' inquiry was to attempt to suggest a way of
empowering the inquirer. When this was misconstrued he then reacted with
an offer of spontaneous generosity i.e. the offer of a book. Some people
on the list seem to feel that there is a sense of elitism latent amongst
some of the more well-known list members (perhaps harking back to
discussion regarding Gabriel Egan's comments on SHAKSPER). It seems to
me though that the harsh response to Professor Wells is bordering on the
paranoid.

Jacquie Hanham

[Editor's Note: I agree and see no need to distribute further posts on
this subject.  -HMC]

Re: Branagh's *Hamlet*

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0493  Monday, 25 May 1998.

[1]     From:   Justin Bacon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 20 May 1998 12:21:44 -0700
        Subj:   Branagh's and Jennings's *Hamlet*s

[2]     From:   Kristine Batey <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 21 May 1998 10:14:23 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Branagh's *Hamlet*

[3]     From:   Jean Peterson <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 21 May 1998 15:16:50 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0485  Re: Branagh's *Hamlet*

[4]     From:   Justin Bacon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 20 May 1998 11:45:47 -0700
        Subj:   Branagh's Hamlet

[5]     From:   Justin Bacon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 20 May 1998 11:59:06 -0700
        Subj:   Hamlet -- A Pet Peeve

[6]     From:   Justin Bacon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 20 May 1998 12:09:11 -0700
        Subj:   Branagh's and Jennings's *Hamlet*s

[7]     From:   Justin Bacon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 20 May 1998 12:21:44 -0700
        Subj:   Branagh's and Jennings's *Hamlet*s


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kevin J. Donovan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 21 May 1998 08:29:02 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 9.0485  Re: Branagh's *Hamlet*
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0485  Re: Branagh's *Hamlet*

> Finally, let me defend one of the choices that was remarked on earlier:
> putting a prostitute in Polonius' bed.  One of the themes I see at work
> in the play is the notion that men inherently lust after and degrade
> women.  As Polonius says to Reynaldo, one of the "usual slips/ As are
> companions noted and most known/ To youth and liberty" is "drabbing",
> i.e., whoring.  Hamlet himself recognizes this and is unsure who's to
> blame: men or women ("I could accuse me of such things it were better my
> mother had not borne me" and, alternately, "wise men know well enough
> what monsters you make of them").  To put a prostitute in Polonius' bed
> emphasizes this theme.

Yes, yes, we're all pigs.  What about the descriptions of Hamlet's
father?  His behavior towards Gertrude hardly "degrades" her.  Certainly
the play is obsessed with lust and sin, but this directorial decision
seems heavy-handed and tendentious.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kristine Batey <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 21 May 1998 10:14:23 -0500
Subject:        Re: Branagh's *Hamlet*

>No turnip, but most definitely Scarlett.  Dale Lyles isn't the first to
>have noted the echo of GWTW.

In my own family, for example, one person started humming-well,
booming-the GWTW Tara theme, while two others yelled, "As God is my
witness, I'll never be hungry again!"

This is why we have to watch movies on video.

Kristine Batey
Northwestern University
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[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jean Peterson <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 21 May 1998 15:16:50 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 9.0485  Re: Branagh's *Hamlet*
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0485  Re: Branagh's *Hamlet*

I knew my objections to Branagh's *Hamlet* risked being misunderstood,
so let me clarify: In my opinion, directors have the "right" to make
aesthetic choices, and to scissor the text (of Renaissance plays
especially, so notoriously unstable to begin with) into any
configuration that suits their artistic purposes.  What I found
objectionable-indeed, outright dishonest-was the gap between the CLAIMS
Branagh made while promoting the film-creating the impression that he
was somehow presenting a pure, authentic, unadulterated Hamlet (an
impossibility anyway, but let that pass)-- and his practice.  Russell
Jackson reports in the film diary that Branagh agonized over
"compromising" (B's word) the text (a cut-and-paste compilation of
extant versions-why is this "the full" or "complete" *Hamlet*?) by
changing so much as a syllable.  It strikes me as simply bizarre that
two such apparent textual "purists"-and they are the ones placing value
on textual fidelity, not me-did not view extra-textual elaborations, the
introduction of new characters, and the interpolation of non-existent
scenes in the same light as altering or changing the words.  Sure,
seeing Polonius with a prostitute enhances the general theme of
hypocrisy and sexual corruption.  But SHE ISN'T IN THE PLAY-so if you
are going to put her there, kindly drop the pretense that this version
is somehow more truthfully, authentically "Shakespearean" than all the
others.

After that, we get into matters of taste and opinion.  Those who enjoyed
the film are welcome, of course, to do so, but I could not.  It seemed
to me that what Branagh really needed was a director-someone to rein in
his excesses (we've already had fun with the *GWTW*-inspired
intermission break, but that was only one inappropriately risible
moment; Claudius' demise by flying sword and Phantom-of-the-Opera-esque
chandelier was my particular favorite), put brakes on his
self-indulgence, give his own performance better guidance, and (please!)
tone down Patrick Doyle's intrusive score.  And this is from someone who
still thinks that *Henry V* was a marvellous film; I even liked *Much
Ado*, which has had a much more negative reception from Shakespeareans
in general (and this list in particular, if I recall correctly).  So
here I stand by my opinion that Branagh's ego has, rather recently,
overwhelmed his sense of artistic discrimination.   And I say this in
genuine disappointment that a talent I admired seems to have squandered
itself in so short a space of time.

RE: Phyllis Rackin's suggestion that the film's campiness was
intentional; perhaps. (If only?)
 But that's hard for me to reconcile with how seriously Branagh seemed
to be taking himself and it during its promotion.  Still, it's possible
his tongue was planted in his cheek...

Jean Peterson
Bucknell University

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Justin Bacon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 20 May 1998 11:45:47 -0700
Subject:        Branagh's Hamlet

Jean Peterson wrote:

> With all due respect to Justin Bacon, I do wonder at his holding up
> Branagh's *Hamlet* as a kind of standard or definitive *Hamlet*, as his
> suggestion implies.

My apologies, that was not my intent at all. Although, personally, I do
find Branagh's to be my favorite of the various filmed versions of
Hamlet I have seen, I was in this case suggesting the film not as a
matter of quality or validity of interpretation, but rather for
completeness of text. In this case a text based upon the Folio and Q2
versions of the play, which would provide a valid contrast (in my
opinion) with the Q1-influenced text used in the Jennings RSC
production.

>  This seems to take Branagh's own claims about the
> authoritative nature of his film entirely too much at his word.  I for
> one was at first puzzled and increasingly put off by Branagh's repeated
> insistence that he was filming the "entire" play, the "complete" text-as
> if such a thing existed-when he, like many directors before him, culled
> together a working text from all existing versions of the play,
> including modern emendations.  Branagh's version has the dubious
> distinction of being longer, perhaps, and including more of the
> potential options than other *Hamlet*s have, but his representation of
> his film as "the" complete *Hamlet* deliberately and dishonestly glossed
> over the very complex and interesting problems that the multiple texts
> of that play offer, and presented a misleading picture of his own
> directorial process.

To be fair to Branagh, he was attempting to present his reasons for
doing a 4 hour long Hamlet to a popular press-a popular press which is
unlikely to appreciate the finer nuances of textual interpretation. ;-)
We must also realize that for the vast majority of people there is no
such thing as alternate texts-there is only "Hamlet". They can
understand cutting the play down, but explaining the existence of
multiple "original" texts for the plays and the challenge of compiling a
single text from theses disparate sources is quite beyond their
knowledge base or their interest.

His version is certainly the most complete version of the play done for
film.

> I am not a textual "purist" myself, but I saw troubling contradictions
> between the way Branagh so vociferously claimed to treat each word of
> the text as sacrosanct, while taking such cavalier liberties with other
> kinds of changes and interpolations:

Agreed, the film's weakest parts are when he decides to try to be clever
(such the prostitute and sexual flashbacks).

> In short, I found Branagh's take on the play as "horribly warped" (to
> use Mr. Bacon's phrase)--by, more than anything, the continual intrusion
> of the director's colossal narcissism, which, since the dreadful
> *Frankenstein*, has apparently overpowered what judgement he once ever
> had-as anything the RSC might currently be dishing out.

The slight liberties Branagh may have taken with the play compare in no
way with the decisions made in Jennings' RSC version, in my opinion.
Branagh, while becoming excessive at times with his interpolations and
interpretations, remained largely true to both the structure and sense
of the play. The changes of the Jennings' version serve to not only
fundamentally alter the structure of the play, but also change the sense
and meaning of the play. I know it has become culturally vogue to have
Hamlet be completely insane and the Ghost false-but to push it so far as
to have an interpretation in which Claudius is obviously meant to be
*innocent* of Old Hamlet's murder is beyond my comprehension (by
removing and altering his two on-stage confessions and all other outward
signs of guilt). You are no longer even doing Shakespeare's Hamlet at
that point, in my humble opinion.

Justin Bacon
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[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Justin Bacon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 20 May 1998 11:59:06 -0700
Subject:        Hamlet -- A Pet Peeve

Speaking of the Jennings and Branagh Hamlets has reminded me of a
personal pet peeve which I possess regarding a particular interpretation
of a line in this play. It is a little thing, but it is something which
has always baffled me. (Jennings does it in his performance, which was
one additional, small strike for me.)

Just after Hamlet sees the Ghost he has a long speech in which is
contained the line:

[OXFORD EDITION -- G.R Hibbard editor -- Stanley Wells General Editor ]
"My tables,
My tables -- meet it is I set it down
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain."

Why is it that immediately before, following, or during this line there
is always a stage direction of something along the lines of "He
writes."?

Yes, I know that "tables" are (as Hibbard describes in his footnote)
"small portable tablets for jotting down notes and observations". We
also know that Hamlet doesn't literally mean, "Let me take out my book
and write, 'That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.'" because
earlier in that same speech he says:

[Same edition.]
"[...] Remember thee?
Yea, from the table of my memory
I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,
That youth and observation copied there,
And thy commandmant all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmixed with baser matter."

That passage clearly sets up "table" as a metaphor for memory. When he
says "My tables, my tables-meet it is I set it down..." he isn't saying,
"Let me jot down a quick note on this.." he's clearly saying, "I must
remember this!"

Like I said, it's a minor, little thing-and I am probably overreacting
to it. Yet I have always wondered why it has survived not only as an
archaic stage tradition, but as a prime example of poor scholarship in
not plucking that misplaced stage direction out of the text.

Justin Bacon
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[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Justin Bacon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 20 May 1998 12:09:11 -0700
Subject:        Branagh's and Jennings's *Hamlet*s

Kristine Batey wrote:

> I have to agree with Jean about the Branagh Hamlet. There was a lot to
> like about it-the amount of textual material included set some parts of
> the play into a totally different perspective. But I, too, found myself
> put off by  the 19th-century setting. Anachronistic staging can work
> very nicely on the live stage, but it's rough to pull off on film, which
> is a terribly literal medium, without the anachronism being obtrusive.

I could find no objection to the 19th-century staging (although,
initially I was concerned). Branagh stayed true to the characters,
although their costuming had changed. This is certainly preferable to
staying true to the costuming while despoiling the characters.

> Oddly enough, the Hamlet-Gertrude bedroom scene was
> amazingly devoid of sexual tension; it eventually peters out into Hamlet
> and Gertrude sitting on the settee, having a calm chat, with Polonius
> stretched out on the floor in the background.

Allow me to say, "Thank God." There is nothing in the text to support
conclusions of sexual tension in that scene-to attempt to layer them on
destroys what I feel to be the true dynamic of the scene, Hamlet's
attempt to force Gertrude into resolving her inner conflict and "live
the better" half of herself.

> Branagh himself spends the whole movie tearing up the scenery and
> out-Heroding Herod; I was very disappointed in his performance. And the
> cameos, a la List of Adrian Messenger, got just plain silly.

I personally loved Crystal's Gravekeeper. Lemon, Gielgud, and Dench
(OTOH) were the lowest points of the film.

Justin Bacon
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[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Justin Bacon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 20 May 1998 12:21:44 -0700
Subject:        Branagh's and Jennings's *Hamlet*s

John McWilliams wrote:

> I'm sorry to hear that
> Justin Bacon got bogged down in textual niceties and ended up hating
> this production.  Personally, I found it wonderfully enjoyable (and,
> incidentally, I think the cutting of the whole first scene was inspired,
> as it allowed for more inclusion elsewhere).

This is not about "textual nicety", but about a decision made somewhere
along the way in the development of Jennings Hamlet that decided they
would not be doing *Shakespeare's* Hamlet. The performance I saw had a
tangential relationship with Shakespeare's Hamlet, but was clearly *not*
Shakespeare's Hamlet-its form, its characters, its plot, and its events
were all different in very fundamental ways. They were similar, but
different.

The decision to not include the first scene, for example, fundamentally
changes the structure of the play-and was clearly done so that we never
see anyone but Hamlet observe the Ghost.

> And, it must be said, Alex
> Jennings acts rings round Kenneth Branagh...

Jennings and Branagh are my two favorite "young" Shakespearean actors.
I'm afraid I cannot rank them.

> >Why remove everything in the play which gives tangible proof
> >that Hamlet is not insane
>
> Well, I think that the definite proof that Hamlet is not insane which is
> being sought here shouldn't be given by any production. Isn't one of the
> play's virtues that it leaves us unsure as to the exact nature of
> Hamlet's state of mind and that our responses to this character are
> constantly shifting throughout the play.

I'm sorry, my original message was sloppily constructed and I did not
communicate my ideas effectively. The question's of Hamlet's degree of
sanity is, of course, open to a certain degree of interpretation,
however I feel in Shakespeare's Hamlet there are a few things we know
for sure:

1. The Ghost is real. Multiple people see it, its accusations are
confirmed, etc.
2. Claudius really is guilty. He admits it, the play (when done
properly) functions as corrobative evidence.

Jennings' Hamlet (and that's not an accurate descriptor, since it
certainly wasn't Jennings who made those decisions) cast both of those
things up in the air. Claudius' admissions of guilt are cut or blatantly
altered with no textual preference. The Ghost's reality is never
confirmed. The play scene was deliberately manipulated so that Claudius'
reaction was not one of guilt, but of reaction to Hamlet.

Shakespeare's Hamlet may occasionally balance on the brink of insanity,
Jennings' Hamlet clearly is meant to have slipped completely over the
edge- seeing false Ghosts, believing in false accusations, murdering
without cause, raving like a complete madman.

Justin Bacon
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