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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: March ::
Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0574  Tuesday, 30 March 1999.

[1]     From:   Dale Lyles <
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        Date:   Monday, 29 Mar 1999 10:44:00 EST
        Subj:   Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

[2]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Monday, 29 Mar 1999 13:08:28 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

[3]     From:   Morris Shaw <
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        Date:   Monday, 29 Mar 1999 16:36:21 -0600
        Subj:   Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Lyles <
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Date:           Monday, 29 Mar 1999 10:44:00 EST
Subject:        Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

I'm only halfway through a huge backlog of SHAKSPER mail, so forgive me
if this has already been mentioned in the future, but...

Am I to understand that we are seriously arguing whether Tom Stoppard
wrote a script which proposes that an author's work is based on his life
experiences???

Even in Newnan, GA, Theatre Mecca of the Universe <tm>, we know better
than that.

Dale Lyles
Newnan Community Theatre Company
Newnan, GA, etc., etc.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Monday, 29 Mar 1999 13:08:28 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

I, too, have not had the leisure to scan the many lengthy posts on this
topic, so am probably being redundant. But I would like to remark that,
in my view, the premise that it is possible that a writer has
experienced "the situation" about which he writes is absurd to begin
with.  What is supposed to qualify as the same situation?  Certainly, no
two situations are the same.  Murdering a rival in a London pub is not
the same as a regicide in Scotland.  So is it necessary that Shakespeare
killed somebody to qualify for this straw man?  How about if he just
competed for the same dramatic role? As Freud has taught us, we need
only fantasize about the crime in order to have committed it in our
hearts and be tormented by Macbeth's demons.

The other straw man, the "great artist," is an irrelevant generalization
designed to elide the differences between poets like Donne who write
from their intellect, and poets like Shakespeare who write from their
hearts.  Please don't kill me for this overfacile distinction. It's
purely rhetorical. In conclusion, it may not be necessary that a writer
has ever lived in Tennesee to write a character that has lived in
Tennessee, but it is necessary that Shakespeare wrote from his own
experience because every human being has experienced love, jealousy,
anger, guilt, etc.

Clifford Stetner
CUNY
York College
C.W. Post College

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Morris Shaw <
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Date:           Monday, 29 Mar 1999 16:36:21 -0600
Subject:        Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

I have been reading the responses for this subject and want to add some
observations of my own.

One of the main problems here obviously is that we cannot sit down and
ask Shakespeare about the degree to which he based things on his
experience, observations or imagination.  This and his humble origins
cause some people to conclude that it was impossible for Shakespeare to
have written his plays at all.

Stephanie Hughes wrote on Friday, 12 Mar 1999

>As I believe I stated in my post, of course he read. Writers read other
>writers (great writers read a great deal of other writing), poets read
>poetry, songwriters listen to the songs of other songwriters, painters
>look at paintings. One is informed as much by one's own genre as by
>one's feelings and experiences. But without those feelings and
>experiences it is simply impossible to bring a story to life. All of
>Shakespeare's reading would have left him a scholar, which he was
>certainly, but to be the writer of works that have lived in the hearts
>of readers and theater-goers for hundreds of years, he could not have
>done it without the living, breathing energy of personal feeling.

Of course writers write with feeling but I don't believe that personal
experience, cultural privilege or higher education is necessary to
create great art.  Now we can go in circles on this subject forever
because Shakespeare cannot answer us.  But we can give examples of
contemporary artists whose histories we can document.  I would like to
offer a comparison between Shakespeare and the great filmmaker Alfred
Hitchcock.  I hope Dr. Cook will allow this because I think it makes
points not only about creativity and experience but touches on the idea
that genius is not limited to those with high birth or higher
education.  The path of Hitchcock's career progression shows us how
someone like Shakespeare could have gone up through the ranks.  Yes,
yes, Hitchcock is a filmmaker and not a writer but he is the "author" of
his films.

Some biographical notes on Hitchcock's early life (from Stanton Peele's
website:  http://peele.sas.nl/lib/hitch.html):

Alfred Hitchcock was born into a Cockney, Catholic family in London in
the year 1899. His father died when Hitchcock was 14. Hitchcock's
fulltime scholastic education ended in 1913, although he read
extensively, took evening classes, attended theater and cinema
performances constantly, and sketched and wrote. He was ambitious, and
moved from a clerical engineering position at his first job to one in
the advertising department as a layout artist. In 1920, he read that an
American film company, Famous Players-Lasky, was opening a studio in
London. He applied for a position as a title designer, was accepted, and
worked as a filmmaker for the rest of his 80 years. Hitchcock set about
with intense concentration to learn every aspect of the film business,
and in little more than three years he became an assistant director and,
by 1925, a director. He worked in Germany for his British employers
between 1923 and 1925, where he absorbed the expressionistic, purely
visual style of the then-most-advanced filmmaking industry in the world,
which included the directors Ernst Lubitsch, F.W.  Murnau, and Fritz
Lang (all of whom, like Hitchcock, were to emigrate to the United
States).

Please note that Mr. Hitchcock was not well educated (schooled) and not
of the privileged class.  He learned on the job, as people of genius are
able to do.  In five years he went from a menial position to the status
of film director.  He was inspired by several great directors that he
was exposed to and learned from them, but eventually developed a style
of his own.  There is nothing in his background that would lead one to
believe he would become one of the master storytellers of the cinema.

Hitchcock's body of work speaks for itself and like Shakespeare he often
returned to the same themes.  Themes that Ms. Hughes would have us
believe are the result of personal experience.

One of the primary themes that Alfred Hitchcock returned to again and
again in his films is the theme of the "Wrong Man."  This is where the
ordinary man (or woman) is thrust into an extreme situation where he has
been misidentified and is being pursued by the police as well as by the
villains of the story.  This "obsessive" theme occurs clearly in  "The
39 Steps," "Saboteur," "North by Northwest" and "Frenzy."  In these
films the character is an outcast, "banished" and "exiled" from his
normal way of life and usually in danger.  Aspects of the theme are
notable in "The Lady Vanishes," "Foreign Correspondent," "Spellbound,"
"Notorious," "Strangers on a Train," "The Wrong Man," "Vertigo,"
"Marnie," "Torn Curtain" and "Family Plot."  That's 14 films out of
roughly 44.  More than one quarter.  And what like event in Mr.
Hitchcock's life resembled or by experience caused this interest in such
subjects?  NOTHING. (But "nothing will come of nothing" you might say.)
But the fact is that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in Hitchcock's life resembled
these situations.  As close as we get is this: When he was a child, his
father sent him to the police station with a note for the policeman.
Young Alfred had been bad and his father wanted him to be locked up for
a little while to show him what happens to bad people.  Could this be
the origin of the obsessive theme?   That's as close as the details of
Hitchcock's life get to a situation that resembles the predicaments that
his characters find themselves in.  And that's not very close.
Hitchcock's experiences did not provide him with the material for his
films.  As a filmmaker he enjoyed manipulating the audience.  This
ability derives from calculation and technique as much as inspiration.
Now one could say that Hitchcock was not a "great" artist.  But that
opinion would fall very much in the minority.

I think the points of correspondence to the life of Shakespeare should
be obvious.  If I were to follow Ms. Hughes line of reasoning I would
have to conclude that someone else really directed Hitchcock's films and
certainly it would have to be someone more personally exciting, cultured
and a graduate of film school at the very least.

- Morris Shaw
 

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