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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: November ::
Subtext
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2710  Friday, 30 November 2001

From:           Jane Drake Brody <
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Date:           Friday, 30 Nov 2001 09:23:32 EST
Subject:        Subtext

Subtext is a frequently misunderstood concept. Most lay people believe
that it is a translation of sorts of the text.  In this case the subtext
of "Hi" may be "Glad to see you" or "Greetings!"  Most directors/actors
see subtext as a compromise between what the character wants to say and
what the character will say.  In this case, "Hi" may mean "I hate the
very sight of you."  This "compromise" is concerned with the nature of
the conflict in the relationship as much as or more than it is concerned
with the conflict in the plot.  Plots change (so to speak) from scene to
scene or from play to play ie Henry VI.  So the subtext is predicated
upon the essential conflict between the characters which may
theoretically precede the day in which the conflict of the play begins.
For instance, when Hamlet tells Ophelia to go to the nunnery, he is
responding not only to his anger at her in the moment, but also to the
essential problem he has always had with her (the faithfulness or
trustworthiness of women) which precedes the momentary plot of the play.
On the literal level, "Get the to a nunnery" means "Leave my sight."  On
the "relational" level it could have many meanings ie "I am so
disapointed in you," "I wish to kill you," "I beg you to forgive me."
Please don't write to me that the play is just words and that the
characters don't "want" anything.  As an acting teacher, this approach
is not affective in bringing characters to life.

Jane Drake Brody

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