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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: "Reading" the Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0321  Tuesday, 5 February 2002

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 04 Feb 2002 15:20:40 -0500
        Subj:   "Reading" the Plays

[2]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Monday, 04 Feb 2002 11:40:42 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0307 Re: "Reading" the Plays

[3]     From:   Al Magary <
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        Date:   Monday, 4 Feb 2002 12:38:21 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0307 "Reading" the Plays

[4]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Monday, 04 Feb 2002 19:28:28 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0307 Re: "Reading" the Plays


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 04 Feb 2002 15:20:40 -0500
Subject:        "Reading" the Plays

Paul Doniger writes,

"It would seem logical that by the time Jonson, Hemings, and the others
put together the First Folio, the idea of reading the plays must already
have been in the air (1623). A folio would be far too cumbersome as a
script."

Precisely, as the Intro by Heminges and Condell makes clear. The earlier
quartos were surely read! No one bought them to put on amateur plays.
The notion that "reading" the plays is somehow a later "invention" is
really a form of special pleading put forth by critics who want to
privilege an exclusively dramatic approach that, while helpful, is by no
means the only or, sometimes, the best way to get at the plays.

--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Monday, 04 Feb 2002 11:40:42 -0500
Subject: 13.0307 Re: "Reading" the Plays
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0307 Re: "Reading" the Plays

> I think there have been a few discussions here about reading the plays,
> and problems that might be incurred when you read versus see them.  I,
> however, was wondering when the idea of reading play was introduced.

I don't think this question can be answered.  There are some scholars
who maintain that written language was always read aloud until quite
recently, and that reading a manuscript was more like sight singing than
like the silent mental process we are accustomed to.  I just read
(silently) a review of a book that claims that the ancient Greek
dramatists should be referred to as "composers" rather than play makers,
because the creation and reception of the plays was primarily musical.
We can "read" the lyrics, in part, but can't re-construct the melodies
and rhythms and dance movements that were the play maker's primary means
of conveying meaning.

When you look at a set of words to a song, do you sing it, aloud or
silently? Or read it like a laundry list?  Musical literacy was more
common than the ability to read writing in Shakespeare's time, as
difficult as that is for me-- and probably for most people, and
especially the bookworms who become academics-- to imagine: a shepherd
might lean a new tune from notes, but new lyrics only "by ear".

If the literate carried "tables" to the theatre to transcribe the choice
bits, I'd suppose that people with good memories-- and illiteracy
encourages people to develop quick and accurate memories-- might come
away from a second or third performance with passages by heart with
which to regale their family and friends.  (I base my belief that the
Cycle plays were influential long after the annual performances were
suppressed on a notion that the hundreds of people who had learned them
by heart would perform excerpts privately given the least encouragement,
and that there would be plenty of entertainment-hungry friends and
neighbors to encourage the recitations.)

Whether plays were written to be "seen" or "heard" is another open
question: that is, is drama like dance, which evolved for thousands of
years without a system of notation, or more like ... ?

Geralyn Horton
http://www.stagepage.org

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[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Al Magary <
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Date:           Monday, 4 Feb 2002 12:38:21 -0800
Subject: 13.0307 "Reading" the Plays
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0307 "Reading" the Plays

On this thread, but somewhat tangential, I ran across an Atlantic web
column that mentioned one of the biggest problems in reading
Shakespeare:  being seen.  While discussing the Franzen/Oprah to-do, the
column compared Oprah's Book Club and the Readers' Subscription as
originated by Trilling, Barzun, and Auden in the 50s:

"This sort of culture-status anxiety is not new. Indeed, these examples
call to mind a riff from Trilling that is included in _A Company of
Readers_, in his 1961 essay on the 'The Arden Shakespeare.' It is
socially acceptable, Trilling says, to have read Shakespeare, or even to
teach Shakespeare, but to admit to actually be reading Shakespeare is an
act of cultural arrogance.  Culture-status anxiety, in other words, is
not limited to fear of falling too low, but it also includes fear of
appearing to aspire too high. And it's evidently okay to be elitist, as
long as you're not self-consciously so."

--from Scott Stossel, "Elitism for Everyone," Atlantic Unbound, November
29, 2001, http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/polipro/pp2001-11-29.htm

Certainly Shakespeare is invulnerable as everyone's cultural hero (for
example, he came in second to Churchill in a recent BBC public poll
(http://www.sunday-times.co.uk/article/0,,9003-2002005251,00.html).  Yet
I do believe Trilling was right that actually reading Shakespeare in
public would be widely perceived as pretentious, whereas it seems to be
OK to go to a performance.

In other words, perhaps the act of reading *something that you don't
have to read* is what is actually pretentious.  At least in our
generally anti-intellectual America.

Then again, recall this 1996 movie tie-in:  _William Shakespeare's Romeo
& Juliet : The Contemporary Film, the Classic Play_ (Laureleaf, 1996),
showing the stars of the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes,
nuzzling on the cover.  That's America all over.

Al Magary

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Monday, 04 Feb 2002 19:28:28 -0500
Subject: 13.0307 Re: "Reading" the Plays
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0307 Re: "Reading" the Plays

I think the question of reading the plays should be divided into two
separate questions: One, when did the idea arise that people who weren't
artistically involved in the creation of plays might have an interest in
reading plays? and Two, when did someone decide that plays could become
a publishable commodity? The answer to the first question may go back at
least to Aristotle, when plays were a type of poetry. I think Dr. Jung
probably seeks an answer to the second question--an answer which I don't
have--but which I would look to the earliest extant printings of plays.
Is Harbage the place to look for these? It would be interesting to know
which were the first 5-10 plays printed in English.

Jack Heller

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