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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: December ::
Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.2382  Friday, 29 December 2000

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 27 Dec 2000 09:35:28 -0800
        Subj:   SHK 11.2377 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 27 Dec 2000 23:01:52 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2377 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Dec 2000 14:49:39 -0500
        Subj:   Literary Versus Theatrical Shakespeare

[4]     From:   Philip Tomposki <
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        Date:   Friday, 29 Dec 2000 09:35:26 EST
        Subj:   Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 27 Dec 2000 09:35:28 -0800
Subject: Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        SHK 11.2377 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

I'd caution against finding Shakespeare's opinions in the opinions of
his characters.  As many before me have pointed out, this only tells us
what the character thinks, not necessarily what the playwright thought.
This is very clear when many points of view are given, and certainly
problematical with a character like Fluellen whose knowledge of the
literature of the wars, look you, is used for comic effect.

I have no doubt that Shakespeare's opinions are in his plays, but
sorting them from contrasting opinions may not be simple, and many would
argue that his opinions are not recoverable.  I disagree in some limited
cases, but that is another topic.

Since I am writing anyway, I wonder if I am missing the point of the Lit
vs. Theater problem.  In a world that accepts Feminist, Marxist, and
other approaches as different, valid tools for addressing literature,
why are the literary and theatrical approaches so often put in
apposition to each other, rather than mutually embraced?

All the best,
Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 27 Dec 2000 23:01:52 -0000
Subject: 11.2377 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2377 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

> From:           Monica Chesnoiu <
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> I venture to open one of Paul E. Doniger's cans of worms and ask: was
> the early modern understanding of the concept of "literature" similar to
> what we mean by it?

Raymond Williams traces the development of the term "literature" in
_Keywords_.  The analogous term at Shakespeare's time would be "poetry",
which didn't narrow (so Williams notes) to "writing in verse" till the
mid-seventeenth century.

Robin Hamilton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Dec 2000 14:49:39 -0500
Subject:        Literary Versus Theatrical Shakespeare

I'm afraid I must side with Stephenie Hughes in this debate.  It is
impossible to believe that Shakespeare didn't know how good his work
was, or that he was serenely resigned to its loss in the dark backward
and abysm of time.

Donald Foster recently suggested that Shakespeare 'retired" because he
was sick.  I don't know if there is any evidence for that, but a much
more plausible reason is that he was exhausted.  Who wouldn't be?  It
makes perfect sense that he contented himself with revising and
tinkering with certain plays (and with bailing out Fletcher on
occasion), secure in the knowledge that his close friends were planning
to publish a Folio of his works sometime in the future.

The notion that businessmen (and women) look only to the immediate
future is a peculiarly American one.  Not every businessperson contents
himself or herself with the next quarter's profits.  In fact, the
Japanese have never thought that way. Nor the Koreans, nor the Chinese,
etc., etc.--nor Warren Buffett, for that matter!

--Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Philip Tomposki <
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Date:           Friday, 29 Dec 2000 09:35:26 EST
Subject:        Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

Stephanie Hughes writes:

'He certainly knew that there would be very few performances of "Hamlet"
in its entirety.  Why then did he write five hours of play? Because he
wanted it read.'

It is my understanding that the version of a play seen at Court differed
from that presented to the public.  (I can't recall the source for this
so I'm relying on my increasingly fragile and faulty memory.)  If this
is true, could it be the case that Hamlet's length results, at least in
part, from the fact that both 'versions' are contained in the same
script, with the Lord Chamberlains Men selecting the parts that would be
played according to the occasion?  Or that the versions found in the
'Good' Quarto and the Folio were the equivalent of the modern 'Directors
Cut'.

It is interesting that the 'Bad' Quarto is considerably smaller the
'Good', about 2200 lines vs. 3800.  Since it is assumed that the 'Bad'
Quarto came from the publicly performed version, memorized by a hired
actor, this may be an indication of a work much shorter in performance
that in written form.  Of course, it could also be a result of a faulty
memory on the actors part, but it seems Elizabethan actors had quite
prodigious memories.  Or it could be the printer simply cut what he saw
as an overly lengthy play.  Perhaps one of our scholars on our list can
provide a more informed judgement.

At any rate, there seems to be developing a false dichotomy of opinion.
Theater is literature, even if it is not originally intended to be
read.  After all, the Iliad and Odyssey were never intended to be read,
and the author(s) were probably illiterate.  It seems a reasonable
assumption that Shakespeare originally wrote for the stage, and latter
edited or revised his work for posterity.  While I believe he intended
them to be performed in the playhouse, I don't think he would begrudge
anyone from appreciating them in the comfort of their living room.

Philip Tomposki
 

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