1999

I rise in defense of King John (the play).....

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0204  Sunday, 7 February 1999.

From:           David Maier <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sat, 6 Feb 1999 01:31:28 -0800
Subject:        I rise in defense of King John (the play).....

I must momentarily shed my status as lurker on this list, and restore
peace to my sleepless nights:  I rise in defense of King John (the play,
not the king), which was recently branded "weaker," "lesser," "a work
from a less developed playwright," and "performatively flat."

King John is none of this.

King John, as are all the histories, is a marvelous study of issues of
leadership and government: what does it take to be a good leader? what
does it take to be a good subject? what are the consequences when
leaders make bad choices? what happens when subjects make bad choices?

I take issue with the statement that King John is "without ...a central
character that really connects to the audience," and that it is
"under-cooked."  King John is a banquet of savory dishes.

For example, Shakespeare serves us Philip the Bastard, the son of
Richard the Lionhearted, the paragon of English monarchy.  Because of
his lineage, he has all of the qualities for which his father was
admired; because of his illegitimacy, he is ineligible for the throne.

And so, Shakespeare prepares this dish, the one person with the
leadership qualities so desperately needed in the realm. But we can't
partake of him because he is ineligible for the throne. And his presence
through the ensuing decay is an aching reminder of our hunger.

The DC production's choice to play Philip as a bumpkin misses the
central nature of the character.  Philip the Bastard is no fool.  He is
Mr. Smith goes to Washington, and through his beautiful monologues, he
is the Chorus for all that happens, and we slowly learn as he does of
the vacuum at the top.  He is also a hero who meets his enemies face on
(rather than with an axe in the back as in the DC production).

O that I might taste more of such finely prepared meat at my theatrical
dinner table!

Another misplaced comment was posited about the play:

        "I couldn't help but feel that King John's character is merely
an
        early draft of Richard II, or that some of the action was
diluted
        by peculiar plot choices.  France and England are almost at war,
        which suddenly becomes a wedding, which just as suddenly
        becomes a war again instigated by Cardinal Pandulph, who
        seems to exist for no better reason than to start a war when the
plot
        bogs down."

AAAAAHHHH!!!  If you couldn't help but feel that way, then the play was
not well performed:  These "peculiar plot choices" ARE the play!  This
play is about wrong wars for the wrong reason; peace concluded for
convenience and expediency, and wars continued for lusty greed.
Everyone is out for themselves, and no one is thinking of the Greater
Good.  They start to fight over succession, but they give it up for
money and power; they take up arms again for a decadent church; they
later refuse to put them down for the same church; not for Principles or
Right, but, as Philip, our Chorus tells us, for Commodity:

"...Commodity, the bias of the world;
The world, who of itself is peized well,
Made to run even upon even ground,
Till this advantage, this vile-drawing bias,
This sway of motion, this Commodity,
Makes it take head from all indifferency,
>From all direction, purpose, course, intent."

It sounds like Philip agrees with the complainant's gripes about
"peculiar plot choices."

My greatest passion is ignited in response to the following comment in a
recent post:

        "It is true that the play itself
        seems a bit like an undercooked or less fully
        dramatically developed R2 or H5, without a
        moving "St. Crispin's" speech...."

It is not clear whether this is a more general indictment of the quality
of the language used by Shakespeare in the play, or a more specific
desire to have a St. Crispin's Day  equivalent.  If the complaint is the
latter, the simple answer is that St. Crispin's day has no place in this
play.

If, on the other hand, the complaint is leveled at the overall quality
of the language, then the complaint is sorely misplaced.For example,
after all the decay, the carnage, the loss of the beautiful Arthur,
after "noble" lords turn traitor and then return, after France has
breached England's shores (a horrific concern of the time) and then has
agreed to an uncertain peace, and after the death of King John, Philip,
the model subject, swears allegiance to the new king, and closes the
play with a stirring speech that has never failed to give me goosebumps:

        "O, let us pay the time but needful woe,
        Since it hath been beforehand with our griefs.
        This England never did, nor never shall,
        Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,
        But when it first did help to wound itself.
        Now these her princes are come home again,
        Come the three corners of the world in arms,
        And we shall shock them.  Nought shall make us rue
        If England to itself do rest but true."

And this is not by any means an isolated example of Shakespeare's
craftsmanship in this play.  For example, John's seduction of Hubert for
the purpose of killing Arthur culminates in one of the finest examples
of a shared line, where the pentameter is shared among the characters
and, if done well, has a riveting effect:

        "K. John: Death.
        Hub:            My lord?
        K. John:                A grave.
        Hub:                            He shall not live.
        K. John:                                        Enough."

The dirty deed is proposed, questioned, explained, committed to and
confirmed in one astonishing line.

It amazes me that King John continues to be considered a lesser play,
unworthy of production, when a respectable number of idioms and usages
of speech have their origins in this play:

widow-maker
gild the lilly
bell, book and candle
cold comfort
elbow room

and I'm sure that there are more that I've overlooked. How could it
happen that these have entered the common parlance if the play is
unworthy?

The language in King John is not sweet and refined.  It is Hot. It is
Passionate.  It is Raw.  It is a play about Power and Greed. It is a
swaggering play that is rough and must move.  It must be spoken from the
gut to the gut.  And if it didn't reach your gut when you were in the
audience, then it wasn't spoken right.

This brings me to my conclusion, which I hope is not lost in the length
of this.  It troubles me to hear people praise a Shakespearean
production and yet come to its rescue because of some "fault" in the
play.  I did not become rabid about King John because I'm a scholar or a
Shakespeare geek.  My fire was lit because I saw a production of it in
1991 directed by Jan Powell at Tygres Heart Shakespeare Company in
Portland, Oregon.

If the DC production did not light your fire over King John, then I
submit that the fault rests not in the play but in the production and
the artistic leadership behind it.  I fear that we have become far too
willing to accept boredom and ennui as the natural state of a
Shakespeare audience, and I experience boredom at far, far, far more
Shakespearean productions than I think is justified.  If there is even
one production of a Shakespeare play that makes the play work, then
there is no excuse inherent in the play itself for any production to
fail.

There are NO problem Shakespeare plays.  The problems ARE the plays.
Merchant of Venice is NOT an anti-semitic play.  It's a powerful play
about anti-semitism.  The Taming of the Shrew is not a sexually
chauvinistic play.  It's a play about sexual roles and what we have to
do to get what we want within them.

And there is so much meat in the histories, but there is barely enough
heat applied by most productions to brown, much less undercook them.  A
notable exception, in addition to Tygres Heart performances I've seen,
was a wonderful conflated production of Henry VI three or four years ago
at Theatre for a New Audience in New York, which I had the serendipitous
good fortune to see.

Given the resources available to produce these pieces "in a 'big'
theater way" and the number of the theaters dedicated to doing so, why
do we tolerate so many mediocre productions when we all (I hope!) have
experienced the fire and the flame of an excellent one?

It seems that some theatres have become mired in the swamp of
Shakespearean preconceptions.  Could it be that they are bored with this
stuff? Is it not possible to open a script as if for the first time,
free of all assumptions and look at each work anew as if it had never
been performed?

And why do we tolerate so much poorly spoken verse from professional
actors on Shakespearean stages?  So much passion, emotion, and fire is
communicated in the meter of the verse.  The meter is to Shakespearean
verse as legato is to opera, and a singer without a sense of line and
legato rarely makes it onto an operatic stage.  Why do we settle for so
much less with Shakespeare?  Shakespeare must speak to us in our gut,
not just our head, and what a sacred treasure of life it is to
experience one that does.

It is plain to me that those who attended the DC performance of King
John did not have that experience.  And I know from my own experience
that it wasn't the fault of the play.

Mushroom

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0203  Sunday, 7 February 1999.

From:           David Evett <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 05 Feb 1999 15:15:57 -0500
Subject:        Mushroom

A history department colleague of mine is looking for earlier C-17
literary or theatrical references to "mushroom gentlemen"-men of no
particular antecedents now suddenly promoted.  If you know of any,
please send them to me, and I'll pass them on.

Dave Evett

Re: Camels and Needles

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0201  Sunday, 7 February 1999.

[1]     From:   Robin Hamilton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, November 5, 1999
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0196 The Holy Qura'n & The Bible

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 05 Feb 1999 09:20:51 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0196 The Holy Qura'n & The Bible

[3]     From:   Tim Perfect <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 5 Feb 1999 09:26:45 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0196 The Holy Qura'n & The Bible

[4]     From:   Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 05 Feb 1999 15:23:47 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0196 The Holy Qura'n & The Bible


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, November 5, 1999
Subject: 10.0196 The Holy Qura'n & The Bible
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0196 The Holy Qura'n & The Bible

>I find the following quotation from Richard II: "It is as hard to come
>as for a camel / To thread the postern of a small needle's eye. (V.v.
>ll.  16-17)," which the Bard had taken from Matthew 19:14, 24,
>synonymous to the following quotation from The Holy Qur'an: "To those
>who reject / Our signs and treat them / With arrogance, no opening /
>Will there be of the gates / Of heaven, nor will they / Enter the
>Garden, until / The camel can pass / Through the eye of the needle: /
>Such is Our reward / For those in sin.  (trans. A. Yusuf Ali, 1975, PP.
>350-51)" indicating that both The Holy Qur'an and the Bible must have
>come from one source-Allah.
>
>Ali A. Al-Ghamdi

Or that both draw on what may have been a familiar saying.  I seem to
remember reading somewhere that in Jerusalem, there was a gate called
The Needle which was so narrow that a camel couldn't pass, and that this
became a common image of difficulty or impossibility.

Robin Hamilton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 05 Feb 1999 09:20:51 -0800
Subject: 10.0196 The Holy Qura'n & The Bible
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0196 The Holy Qura'n & The Bible

Hi, Ali.

>I find the following quotation from Richard II: "It is as hard to come
>as for a camel / To thread the postern of a small needle's eye. (V.v.
>ll.  16-17)," which the Bard had taken from Matthew 19:14, 24,
>synonymous to the following quotation from The Holy Qur'an: "To those
>who reject / Our signs and treat them / With arrogance, no opening /
>Will there be of the gates / Of heaven, nor will they / Enter the
>Garden, until / The camel can pass / Through the eye of the needle: /
>Such is Our reward / For those in sin.  (trans. A. Yusuf Ali, 1975, PP.
>350-51)" indicating that both The Holy Qur'an and the Bible must have
>come from one source-Allah.

Could Richard II have come from the same source?

By the way, as I understand it, there's an additional rub.  "The eye of
the needle" was a gate in Jerusalem just large enough for pedestrians.
Apparently, it was possible to get a camel through on its knees, but
with enormous difficulty.

Cheers,
Se


CFP: SAMLA '99, Bowers' Principles at Fifty

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0202  Sunday, 7 February 1999.

From:           David Gants <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 5 Feb 1999 16:07:33 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        CFP: SAMLA '99, Bowers' Principles at Fifty

Call For Papers
1999 SAMLA Convention (Atlanta, GA, 4-6 November)
Textual and Bibliographical Studies

The Textual and Bibliographical Studies section of the South Atlantic
Modern Language Association is seeking papers for its session at the
1999 SAMLA convention.  The session will mark the fiftieth anniversary
of the publication of Fredson Bowers' landmark Principles of
Bibliographical Description.  The organizers are particularly interested
in papers that extend the ideas initiated by Bowers and developed
further by scholars like G. Thomas Tanselle. Possible subjects might
include:

  * How has the practice of descriptive bibliography evolved in
different literary periods or genres?
  * Do different authors, booksellers or publishers require different
descriptive models?
  * How does descriptive bibliography fit into the larger field of
graduate education?
  * Is it possible to accommodate emerging digital technologies into
traditional descriptive practices?
  * How might we use Principles to describe electronic texts and
literary databases?

Ideally the session will look ahead to the ways in which Bowers'
Principles might be employed in the next 50 years.

The deadline for proposals is 15 April 1999, and speakers must be
members of SAMLA in order to participate.  Please send a brief (250-500
word) proposal for a 15-20 minute paper to:

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

with the subject line "SAMLA 99" or by post to:

        David L. Gants
        Department of English
        254 Park Hall
        University of Georgia
        Athens, GA  30602-6205

Re: Groundlings & Literacy

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0200  Sunday, 7 February 1999.

[1]     From:   Frances Barasch  <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 5 Feb 1999 09:21:35 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0195 Re: Groundlings

[2]     From:   Franklin J. Hildy <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 05 Feb 1999 09:42:56 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0195 Re: Literacy

[3]     From:   William Williams <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thu, 04 Feb 1999 15:57:09 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0195 Re: Groundlings

[4]     From:   David Knauer <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 5 Feb 1999 11:41:14 -0600
        Subj:   Re: Bloom & Illiteracy


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frances Barasch  <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 5 Feb 1999 09:21:35 EST
Subject: 10.0195 Re: Groundlings
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0195 Re: Groundlings

>Taking due notice of our colleague's gadfly instincts, and of the
>rhetorical device of hyperbole, I am still forced to wonder about
>exactly how many of those spectators really were illiterate.  I have
>long believed that the "groundling" character was largely a Victorian
>caricature of what those people were really like, a myth propagated to
>explain the bawdry: prosperous, educated folk don't laugh at dirty
>jokes, after all.  Is not this rather romanticised view of Shakespeare's
>audience simply an inversion of the assertion that a glover's son from
>the provinces could not have written these plays?

>Or has there been recent work (say, in the last ten years or so) which
>would support an argument for a largely illiterate audience?

 Rick Jones

Rick Jones is much mistaken about what "prosperous educated folks" laugh
at than or now.  continental theater history bears out the fondness for
bawdry in ducal and royal courts of renaissance Europe .  Frances
Barasch

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Franklin J. Hildy <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 05 Feb 1999 09:42:56 -0500
Subject: 10.0195 Re: Literacy
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0195 Re: Literacy

Like Rick Jones I too have wondered just what the literacy rate among
the audiences at the Elizabethan Playhouses must have been. The normal
estimates for literacy in London seem too low and I think a good case
can be made for it being higher among those who attended the theatre in
any event. Certainly Londoners were buying a great many broadsides and
not a few books-someone had to be reading them. Has anyone been working
on this?

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Williams <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thu, 04 Feb 1999 15:57:09 -0600
Subject: 10.0195 Re: Groundlings
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0195 Re: Groundlings

>Audience simply an inversion of the assertion that a glover's son from
>the provinces could not have written these plays?

>Or has there been recent work (say, in the last ten years or so) which
>would support an argument for a largely illiterate audience?

What is illiterate?  We know that many people were taught to read in
Shakespeare's time but were not taught to write.  Probably a majority of
the population could read +Titus Andronicus+ but only a small fraction
could have written it.

William Proctor Williams

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Knauer <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 5 Feb 1999 11:41:14 -0600
Subject:        Re: Bloom & Illiteracy

Rick Jones, responding to Terence Hawkes, wonders if the illiterate
groundlings aren't a Victorian myth.  According to David Cressy's
Literacy and the Social Order, a study that has been qualified but I
believe not superceded, the literacy rate in Elizabethan London was less
than 50%, and less than 40% in less cosmopolitan areas.  (Sorry for the
inexactness; the book is at home.)  Cressy arrives at these figures by
counting signatures, a method that has its problems: is the ability to
sign one's name really "literacy"?  What about folks who were taught to
read but not write?  Perhaps a method that focuses better on how many
people read drama is to look at the number of plays actually printed
during the period.  Peter Blayney's essay in the recent New History of
Early English Drama assembles data to show that plays generally weren't
very widely available for reading, nor were they all that sought after.
So, no, the non-reading audiences of Shakespeare's time are probably not
a revisionist figment.

David Knauer

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