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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: January ::
Re: Criticism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0158  Wednesday, 23 January 2002

[1]     From:   Ben Fisler <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 22 Jan 2002 19:44:12 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0148 Re: Criticism

[2]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 22 Jan 2002 17:56:55 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0148 Re: Criticism


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ben Fisler <
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Date:           Tuesday, 22 Jan 2002 19:44:12 EST
Subject: 13.0148 Re: Criticism
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0148 Re: Criticism

Don,

Your objection seems unaware of the context of my post, which was in no
way intended to establish the absolute correct interpretation of Hamlet,
merely to point out that placing criticism in a hierarchy implies that
all interpretations are fundamentally the same.  The author I was
responding to saw Hamlet in a certain way (as a powerful, charming,
energetic figure), and failed to acknowledge that not all readings of
the character would expect those qualities.  Quite the contrary, some
readings would demand the opposite.  That was all I was arguing.  I
provided the theory of humours (blood, phlegm, etc) as understood by the
Elizabethan/Jacobean worldview as simply one example of a contrary
reading.  And as I said, contextualism is not the only way to read a
play.  If you found the terminology ambiguous, then I agree, it
certainly is, and if I were trying to explain the theory in depth, I
would provide more specific examples.  But to do that, I would need to
explain contextualism in much greater depth and provide textual
references in Hamlet and propose performance strategies based on that
analysis, and I saw no reason to do so in the context of that particular
reply.

>Ben Fisler denies the idea that Hamlet should be "powerful,
>intelligent,
>funny, tragic and charismatic," and says instead that "[i]f you
>look at
>the humour theory, you'll find that not only should Hamlet not be
>any of
>these things, he should in fact be melancholic, weak, sadly
>funny, and
>inconsistent."

Incidentally, this reading misreads me.  I never rejected anything
except the positivism of the original post.  I enjoy productions where
Hamlet is funny and charismatic.  But it's extremely dangerous to assume
that this is the only "right" way to interpret the role.

Yours,
Ben

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Tuesday, 22 Jan 2002 17:56:55 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0148 Re: Criticism
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0148 Re: Criticism

A few things on this thread:

The idea of Hamlet being "powerful, intelligent, funny, tragic and
charismatic" was actually my attempt to use words that critics used to
describe Beale's effect on them. It didn't necessarily mean that his
Hamlet had power, even though it has spiraled into a discussion of that.

As for Hamlet's superiority in fencing, Horatio and even Osric acclaim
Laertes as the much better fighter in V. ii. It is entirely possible
that Laertes does find his treachery against his conscience and, like
Hamlet, hesitates to hit him with the poisoned blade.  His confession is
a reflection of his growing uneasiness with his act of revenge.

Tying into both of those points, I will bring up a specific example of
this in the Beale performance.  Beale's Hamlet was held back by his
beliefs. Hence, his conscience made him a coward by refusing to allow
him to revenge, a decidedly anti-Christian concept.  The abundance of
crosses and the crucifixes the characters wore made this an always
apparent concept.  It became obvious throughout the evening that those
morals and values were shallow, bankrupt or non-existent with the other
characters in Denmark. In the final scene, Laertes was also implied as
having a heavy conscience. Hamlet's fatal wound occurred entirely by
accident when his little finger hit the point of Laertes's sword.
Enraged and unaware of the poison, Beale gained possession of Laertes's
sword and slashed him with it. Seeing himself steeped in sin, or perhaps
finally aware that he was doomed anyways, Beale killed Claudius, when
Claudius dared him to do it. Only Horatio was able to stop Beale's
Hamlet from drinking the poisoned chalice and committing suicide.
Hamlet was perhaps a fully dignified and active human being who is
everything one could hope for in a ruler.  The tragedy was that his
deeply moral and Christian concept of revenge as mortal sin forbade him
from cleansing the corruption from Denmark. Murder, decadence and
shallowness were practically more powerful than goodness. Nice guys
finish last. It made for a powerful, enlightening and deeply tragic
night for me.

Lastly, Charles Weinstein is clearly one of a long line of people who
prefer the old ways over new methods. There is nothing wrong with that
at all.  Remember though that at one time people hated Olivier's style
as unclassical and preferred older styles. Olivier confesses this in his
autobiography.  He wanted a more natural style of speaking verse. A
great example is his Romeo with Gielgud's. Olivier was not seen as a
romantic figure (sounds like Weinstein's description of Beale) while
Gielgud's concurrent interpretation was preferred for its more lyrical
speaking of the verse. Some people nowadays, unfortunately, would think
that Gielgud's delivery is too artificial. I like both actors but
realize that they are attached to two different ideas of acting.  That
is why they clashed sometimes and both revealed their respect but
disapproval of the other's approach to acting.

Every generation overthrows the previous a little bit (God, I hope I'm
not sounding like Harold Bloom).  While Marlon Brando was an oddity then
in 1954's A Streetcar Named Desire, method acting for instance is now
preferred by actors as a style. I don't say that I dislike classical
acting styles. Several people still use them and I often find they make
certain performances work better. It's just that film for instance has
forced a more natural and toned down style of acting. Olivier's Richard
III and more obviously his Othello for the National did not translate
too well to the small or silver screens for some people. Both, not
surprisingly, post date Brando's breakthrough onto the screen. It's a
matter of taste. Both can work. Take it for what it is. But don't get
personal. Describe intelligently and rationally why that style did or
did not fit the role.  It strengthens your argument and doesn't turn
everyone off to your writing.

Brian Willis

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