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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: January ::
Re: Literature, Music, Language
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0063  Thursday, 14 January 1999.

From:           Ed Pixley <
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Date:           Wed, 13 Jan 1999 21:25:42 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 10.0025 Re: Literature, Music, Language
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0025 Re: Literature, Music, Language

I confess to coming in late on this discussion, but in browsing ahead I
found nobody addressing this question from quite the same point of view
that I have, though several who dealt with music and spoken literature
appear to share my point of view.  I will not get into semiotics nor the
latest fashionable terms that are normally used to give academic
credence to such discussions-because, quite frankly, I'm not adept at
handling them.  Nevertheless, with all this discussion of "meaning" in
the language of literature, I am reminded of John Ciardi's essay of many
years ago,"How does a poem mean?" and concomitantly of Aaron Copland's
book on "How to Listen to Music." Similarly, as a theater artist and
educator, I want to know, "how does a play mean?"  I would not be a
theater person if I believed its meanings were inherent only in the
spoken language of the text.  Were that so, production would be
redundant, nothing more than an illustration of the text.  But there is
a very complex visual and auditory language by which theater
communicates which is only suggested by the text.  Aristotle
notwithstanding, spectacle is an essential part of theater (though,
within the text, that spectacle lies innate).  Most theater audiences,
however, are no more equipped to read a play text and fill in the sound
and visual progressions inherent in that text than most concert-goers
are equipped to read a musical score.  One of my colleagues in trying to
help beginning theater students grasp this problem suggests that they
try to whistle the "Mona Lisa."   The medium (Aristle's material cause)
of printed literature is bound up in the grammar, style, and images of
the written language, whereas the medium of theater is bounded in time
and space.  Aristotle knew that, of course, and recognized it by listing
spectacle as the 6th part of drama. But he didn't respect it, perhaps
because his experience of the tragedies was only in revivals a century
after their original performances.  Thus, he attributed the power of the
action to the imitation of it in language.  However, that language, the
spoken words (the text, with all of its grammar, style, and image
structures),  is among the many cues that occur within that space/time
continuum.

For the above reasons, a play can never be said to be complete until it
is in production before an audience.  Theater is truly the most
collaborative of the arts, in that no playwright can be successful-much
less achieve the universal acclaim of a Shakespeare-who does not write
for the potential creative contributions of subsequent collaborators. By
collaborators, I mean actors, directors, designers, etc., including the
actors of his own company, who were, after all, the artists who brought
those plays to life before the Globe audiences.  Some of these
collaborators, of course, make a hash of it, but there are always those
who open up astonishing new possibilities inherent in that text, as they
fill in the space/time elements necessary to bring the play to life
before a responding (also imaginatively active in the process) audience.

Thanks for allowing me briefly to get on my soapbox.

Ed Pixley
SUNY-Oneonta

PS:  Those of you who are primarily scholars are also among
Shakespeare's collaborators as you fill in, hypothesize, interpret, and
imaginatively create your own ideal productions in the theaters of your
imagination.  And Shakespeare has provided you with extraordinarily
fertile ground for such collaboration.
 

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