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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: January ::
Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0015  Tuesday, 2 January 2001

[1]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 02 Jan 2001 09:22:02 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2382 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[2]     From:   David Knauer <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 02 Jan 2001 10:07:14 -0600
        Subj:   Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Tuesday, 02 Jan 2001 09:22:02 -0600
Subject: 11.2382 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2382 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

May I have a review of the bidding?

There is no doubt that Shakespeare wrote what we would call (and he
thought of in slightly different terms) as literature. Both "Venus and
Adonis" and the "Rape of Lucrece" are literary and clearly written for
publication.  Furthermore, although many of the sonnets read, as Auden
once put it, like private mail, many (and perhaps all) were clearly
written for manuscript distribution ("My Mistress' Eyes" is the easiest
one to cite).

There is equally no doubt that he was a practical man of the theatre, a
competent enough actor to be a shareholder in the leading company and
its playhouses, and a very successful playwright -- so successful that
he generated both venomous jealousy (Greene) and adulation (Meres). His
success can surely be partly derived from his willingness to ignore
literary ideals like the classical unities, and give the public what
they wanted (not surprisingly, sex and violence). He made a tidy fortune
from his endeavors and invested it both in property and in vanity (the
famous coat of arms).

There is clearly no way of knowing at this stage how literary
Shakespeare considered his plays. He did not gather and edit them
himself, as did Jonson, but that does not mean that he cared nothing for
them.

What's more, I think anyone with experience of writing, whether for the
theatre or elsewhere, knows that you do not write great works with your
eye on the box office. You may know that the audience will really go for
sword play, poisonings, ghosts, witches, brutal assassinations and the
like, and figure them in. But you write a Hamlet or a Macbeth in a white
heat of inspiration. Quite possibly, to take a Romantic stance, the
reason why the plays achieve a superlative greatness that the two long
poems lack is that the latter were written in a conscious fashion
(making literature) rather than in a purely inspired fashion,
unrestricted by arbitrary rules and standards and needing only to
produce good scenes.

Where you find highly conscious work today that equates to
eye-on-the-box-office writing is in the run-of-the-mill TV sitcom where
one of the leads does not something stupid and their friends and family
insult them about it for twenty minutes (plus commercials).

My own view may be hopelessly Romantic, but I cannot help concluding
that Shakespeare loved his plays and was intensely proud of them.

Side note: the argument from the "Bad" Quartos has gotten loose and
confused. Can someone straighten it out, please? We need first to
separate those First Quartos that are "Bad" from those that seem to be
merely "early." Second, was there or was there not something important
to be gained from publishing an authorized, authorial Second Quarto?
Monetary?  Proprietary? Or did Shakespeare and company merely want to
set the record straight, to make sure the public knew what the REAL
Hamlet was like?

Regards.
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Knauer <
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Date:           Tuesday, 02 Jan 2001 10:07:14 -0600
Subject:        Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

Mike Jensen writes,

"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?"

I certainly agree that in terms of criticism, both literary and
performance approaches are equally valid. But it ought to be recognized
that an individual's silent reading of a play is a vastly different
practice from auditing a performance, and that they carry historical
implications for how we define "literature," how we think about
"character," and how we imagine the "self," among other things. (Walter
Ong is a good introduction to these questions.) Drama doesn't fall
neatly into the category of literacy or orality, but literary and
performance criticism often seem to assume that it does. Taking the
discussion back to Shakespearean drama, how might the fact that most of
his audience was illiterate have affected the way that they experienced
the plays? What might that have meant for a playwright's sense of
authorship?

Regards,
Dave Knauer
 

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