The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0101 Thursday, 17 January 2002
Date: Wednesday, 16 Jan 2002 19:03:50 -0500
Subject: Criticism, Authority and Simon Russell Beale
1. A negative review is a satirical attack on bad art. Those who think
that satire should never be savage had better re-read Catullus, Martial,
Juvenal, Dryden, Swift, Pope, Byron et al. If those examples strike
them as too lofty or remote, they need only look at Forbidden Broadway
and Saturday Night Live.
2. As Mike Jensen has so eloquently written, "criticism is not a
democratic process." The victory belongs to those with superior
knowledge, education, experience and insight. We may justly look to
such spirits as examples and guides. That is why I quoted John Simon
and Robert Brustein, the most learned, rigorous and insightful drama
critics in America. They are also the most experienced--for example,
Brustein is Artistic Director at the A.R.T. where Thomas Derrah is
currently playing Iago.
3. It seems that Brian Willis and I both have "preconceived" or optimal
notions of what Hamlet should be like. We both believe that he should
be "powerful, intelligent, funny, tragic and charismatic."
Unfortunately, Beale was none of those things. Moreover, it is not the
case that Simon's, Brustein's or my review focussed exclusively on
Beale's face and physique, deplorable as those were. On the contrary,
Simon wrote of Beale's wretched verse-speaking, squealing voice and
charmless personality. Brustein discussed Beale's middle-class or
suburban aura, his tiresome and unvarying air of snide disdain, his lack
of sexual chemistry with Ophelia. My own review cited many of the same
defects while focussing on Beale's gray monotony, his sluggish mind and
spirit, his failure to be moving or even interesting. Mr. Willis is
free to deem these murky qualities "luminous." I believe that Simon,
Brustein and I have reached a more accurate assessment. Thanks to Simon
and Brustein's imprimatur, it is an assessment which no honest theater
historian can ignore or misrepresent.
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