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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: January ::
Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0024  Friday, 5 January 2001

[1]     From:   Peterson-Kranz Karen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 3 Jan 2001 07:21:57 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0016 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Ildiko Solti <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 3 Jan 2001 09:26:41 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[3]     From:   Pat Dolan <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 03 Jan 2001 13:12:16 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0016 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[4]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 03 Jan 2001 13:10:27 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0016 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[5]     From:   Philip Tomposki <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 3 Jan 2001 21:04:53 EST
        Subj:   Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[6]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 3 Jan 2001 21:41:04 -0800
        Subj:   SHK 12.0015 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

[7]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 03 Jan 2001 21:21:15 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0002 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peterson-Kranz Karen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 3 Jan 2001 07:21:57 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 12.0016 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0016 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

In the last posting to this thread, I wrote (rather hastily):

> we do not have any
> textual evidence of the sonnets in circulation.  I
> have looked (not
> exhaustively, I freely admit) for bits and pieces in
> commonplace books
> and other manuscript sources, to date with no
> results.  It has always
> seemed to me that if the Sonnets were in relatively
> widespread
> manuscript circulation that something would have
> popped up by now.

Immediately after hitting the "Send" button, I realized that I had
failed to specify that I meant manuscript sources (as evidence of mss
circulation) decisively predating the 1609 Quarto.  Certainly there are
manuscripts of the sonnets, particularly Sonnet 2.  Again, to my
(limited) knowledge, there is still substantial uncertainty about
whether any of the manuscript incidences of the sonnets predate the
Quarto.  See Gary Taylor and Wm. Kerrigan for more.

So please, don't everybody jump down my throat at once.  (More evidence
for the wisdom of Hardy's "count to ten before hitting the send button"
suggestion!)

Cheers,
Karen Peterson-Kranz

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ildiko Solti <
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Date:           Wednesday, 3 Jan 2001 09:26:41 -0800 (PST)
Subject:        Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

I too would like to argue that the opposition between literary and
theatrical Shakespeare is mostly an artificial one. Although words are
used by both, in literature words are of primary (or even of exclusive)
significance, whereas in the theatre they are secondary. (A handbook on
directing defines 'dialogue' as the 'container of the action'). The
overlapping terminology between literature and theatre studies is, I
think, quite a big problem, where similar terms can have widely
differing meanings. It is virtually impossible to debate the issue
without specifying what we mean by the respective terms of 'literature'
and 'theatre'. In my opinion, 'action' in the theatrical sense is
composed first in terms of body and space, with vocalization and
movement appearing as 'articulators' of this relationship. So to Paul
Doniger's emphasis on Shakespeare composing in terms of his own actors I
would add the significance of the visible, open-air playhouse with the
thrust stage.  While words are definitely important, it is their
'performative' aspect (Professor Hawkes' term) that theatre uses most,
and this performative aspect is defined by the particular physical
characteristics of production.

It really is quite entertaining that Shakespeare achieved the
much-coveted literary fame of 'Poet' mainly through the language of his
plays, where words are put to use as artisan's tools.

Ildiko Solti

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Dolan <
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Date:           Wednesday, 03 Jan 2001 13:12:16 -0600
Subject: 12.0016 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0016 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

> Raymond Williams's account of changes in the use of the term
> 'literature' is certainly interesting, but far more crucial are the
> changes in the use of the term 'play'. It seems to me that 'playing' in
> the early modern sense was a much more complex business than we allow,
> involving a far broader range of 'performative' activity than that
> implied by the term 'acting'.

Indeed. And, for that matter "read" as in literacy. Surely a great deal
of popular literature was read aloud to others standing or seated in the
vicinity so that even those who couldn't read could "consume." And the
reading aloud would be performance.

Meanwhile a sequence of materialist questions: Many of the literate were
artisans and the like. When would a glover like Shakespeare's father
have the time to read a play? An extended piece of prose fiction? If
labour was sun-up to sun-down, would reading have required lights? How
much would they have cost? Would someone who had to work in a shop or an
agricultural organisation have had the time and the money to engage in
the kind of reading I'm about to spend the afternoon doing? (Oh blessed
break between semesters!) Did the apprentices at the Globe read on their
days off? Or did the go to the theatre? Or both? Did being in the army
provide the soldiers with time for reading and disputation that they
didn't have in their other lives? Who has answers to any of these
questions?

Cheers,
Patrick

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Wednesday, 03 Jan 2001 13:10:27 -0600
Subject: 12.0016 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0016 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

 Karen Peterson-Kranz takes me rather to task, so I feel constrained to
explain, if not rebut.

First off:

>Don Bloom writes of the Sonnets:
>
>> many (and perhaps
>> all) were clearly
>> written for manuscript distribution ("My Mistress'
>> Eyes" is the easiest
>> one to cite).
>
>I am curious about why Don sees Sonnet 130 as more "clearly written for
>manuscript distribution" than any of the others.  I hope he, or others,
>will enlighten me on this.

Now, now. Let's be fair here. What I said was that "My Mistress' Eyes"
was the "easiest to cite." I could remember it (and almost recite it
from memory) and nearly everybody who's done anything with the sonnets
will recognize it. Anthony Burgess used it for the title of his
novelized biography about WS, didn't he?

As to my contention that it was written for MS, hand-to-hand
distribution, I still think that's obvious on the face of it. What else
could it be written for? I put it in contrast to those rather personal,
intimate poems that Auden called "private mail," that might have been
written for the Friend's eyes only, and escaped into publication the way
private letters do. I have doubts, as I said, about that, but it remains
a "might have been."

She goes on:

>I am a bit troubled about the implied authorial intent expressed in
>"clearly written for...".  We have as hard evidence only the famous
>Meres comment (in 1598) that the sonnets were known "among his private
>friends."  To my knowledge (and I stress the "my" -- I have frequently
>been proven painfully ignorant by others on the list) we do not have any
>textual evidence of the sonnets in circulation.  I have looked (not
>exhaustively, I freely admit) for bits and pieces in commonplace books
>and other manuscript sources, to date with no results.  It has always
>seemed to me that if the Sonnets were in relatively widespread
>manuscript circulation that something would have popped up by now.

Opinions differ, but I would consider Meres's remark to be conclusive
proof. If they weren't at least widely enough known for him to be aware
of them, how could he refer to them?

Again:

>I offer these musings only because I have always shied away from any
>firm conclusions about the intent behind the Sonnets.

I agree in general, but there are different kinds of intent. What Hamlet
wrote to Ophelia, for example, would stand as an example of "private
mail," written in a bungling verse. It is a poem in the larger sense,
but not meant for "publication," such as being read aloud by Polonius to
Claudius and Gertrude. Its intent was merely to please and compliment
the reader.  When I see a whole series of Petrarchan conceits parodied,
I presume the poem was written for a readership which would know
immediately what was being parodied, and enjoy both the game and the
affirmation of love that it concludes with.

I repeat: I agree in general. You have to be very careful with matters
of this sort. But surely you have to be willing to apply your judgment
in matters where the alternatives are so clear. If a given sonnet was
not written as private mail, it must have been written either for
private friends or open printing, either one being a form of
publication.

One last:

>Going on, I also hope Don can elaborate on the following:
>
>> 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. (snip) ...
>> but you write a Hamlet or
>> a Macbeth in a white
>> heat of inspiration.
>
>You do?  I have experience of writing, but not the experience of writing
>a Hamlet or a Macbeth -- not yet, anyway!  Sorry, I am being a bit
>sarcastic here, but again, I don't think we have sufficient evidence to
>draw that conclusion.  As a small bit of counter-evidence, I suggest
>that we only have to look as far as the King James Bible to see that
>great, "literary" writing need not come about only as a result of
>inspiration.  The latter text was done by a committee, of all
>things...certainly the ultimate situation of writing done "in a
>conscious fashion."

There are two points here, which I will address in reverse order:

1. Her point about the AV is well-taken in general, but I don't see the
relevance to my point. The three groups set out to translate the
scriptures into English and did so very successfully. I don't see much
in common with a writing a play.

2. I confessed, when I wrote originally, to having a Romantic bias in
this.  I repeat it (pretty shamelessly, too). Moreover, I assume at the
outset that writing something great operates on the same principles as
writing something much less, so that Ms. Peterson-Kranz's experience of
writing something of great intensity, like mine, will be much the same
as WS's even if the result is far below it. Not all great writing will
necessarily get done this way, but all of that sort will. Jonson's
remark decrying the players' claim that he "never blotted a line,"
suggests to me that S. wrote his works in just that "white heat" that I
refer to.

(3. Personal aside: the sarcasm didn't bother me in the slightest. In
fact, I thought of it only as irony. Compared to the brickbats that
sometimes fly around here, it was the gentlest chiding.)

Regards,
d. a. b.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Philip Tomposki <
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Date:           Wednesday, 3 Jan 2001 21:04:53 EST
Subject:        Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

Don Blume asks: "Does anyone have any facts on levels of literacy in
general and the make-up of Shakespeare's audience?"

Alison Weir, in The Prices in the Tower, refers to Thomas More's claim
that over half the English population in the early Sixteenth Century
could read and write.  This figure is perhaps just a guestimate, but it
suggests that almost a hundred years before Hamlet a substantial portion
of Englishmen were literate.  However, the literacy of audiences at
public theaters may have been considerably less.  If the design of the
theaters is any indications, the majority of playgoers were groundlings,
and presumably among the less privileged inhabitants of the London.
Also, many in the audience would have been no more than functionally
literate, and would probably have no interest in reading plays.

I've read a number of times, although I don't recall any specific
source, that plays were not considered literature and would not have
been read for pleasure.  This makes sense to me.  After all, there are
some fairly sophisticated motion pictures created in the last century,
but the demand for movie scripts is mainly limited to film buffs and
students.

Philip Tomposki

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 3 Jan 2001 21:41:04 -0800
Subject: Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        SHK 12.0015 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

I've written too much today, but I couldn't resist just one more. If I
am running off at the mouth, please forgive me. I need to stop this and
start correcting papers anyway! Well, here it goes:

Don Bloom wrote:

> 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.

While it is certainly clear that the two plays mentioned (and a number
of other plays by W.S.) are "white hot" and "inspired," I think it is
dangerous to view Shakespeare's workshop methods from a post-Romantic
perspective. He was undoubtedly a genius (Ooh, I hate using the "G"
word, but I can't think of a good enough synonym), but he was also a
practical man with deadlines to meet, and audience to satisfy, actors to
please (what I would give to eavesdrop on a conversation between him and
Burbage!), and creditors/backers to placate ... and then there were his
employers (Lord Chamberlain, King James). He probably wrote under a
great amount of pressure-especially time pressure. If nothing else, his
work proves that one CAN keep one's eye on the box office without
writing trash! In fact, many playwrights often do just that (it isn't
all a "Scribe Factory"). Even TV script writers are capable of some
degrees of excellence! The Romantic notion is very nice, but I doubt
that it measures up to reality.

Paul E. Doniger

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 03 Jan 2001 21:21:15 +0000
Subject: 12.0002 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0002 Re: Literary vs. Theatrical Shakespeare

> 1. It doesn't seem too unreasonable to assume that the actor who may be
> responsible for the 'Bad' Quarto was faulty in his memory.

Has it been established that this was a memorial reconstruction? To me
the argument that it was a version created for the road makes a lot more
sense.

> 2. Most scholars generally accept the notion that the Second Quarto was
> published (1604) especially (and perhaps ONLY) to correct the errors of
> the First ('Bad' and unauthorized) Quarto, most likely because it was
> affecting revenues for The Lord Chamberlain's Men. It is even suggested
> that this publication was an action which was reluctantly performed.

Performed by whom? The company or the author?  Isn't it likely that the
author would have been compelled to see to it that a "true" version was
published in order to overcome the bad impression made by the
unauthorized version?  Great writers usually care a great deal about
their literary reputations, if they care about nothing else.

> Is there any evidence from anywhere that suggests that Shakespeare
> actually DID have any interest in seeing his plays published?  I know of
> none, but would be curious (and surprised) to see it.

It is certainly interesting that there is no evidence, as you say, that
Shakespeare cared about publishing his work.  Where there is so much
that is strange and remains unexplained, that this area is dark is not
surprising.  What surprises me is that you would be surprised to see
evidence that Shakespeare cared about publishing his work.  That this
great artist wanted to see his work published in the best possible
format and as close as possible to his final version seems as much a
given to me as that he required food and sleep.  Anything else makes no
sense at all.

Stephanie Hughes
 

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