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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: January ::
Re: Authenticity
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0215  Monday, 28 January 2002

[1]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 12:41:30 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0209 Authenticity

[2]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 Jan 2002 10:05:47 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0209 Authenticity


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 12:41:30 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0209 Authenticity
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0209 Authenticity

> To achieve an "authentic" Shakespeare performance is
> desirable because
> it most closely alludes to Shakespeare's own
> approval of good
> performance.

I find this statement problematic. Even the New Globe is not entirely
obsessed with achieving an absolutely authentic performance of
Shakespeare. It is also difficult to state that we know what Shakespeare
would approve of as a good performance. We can make references to the
plays as examples (Hamlet III.ii.) but it is still difficult to guess
what Shakespeare would approve of. Nor should we necessarily want to.
Theatre should never strive to please a long dead playwright. There are
immediate concerns with the audience at hand and the affecting/pleasing
of that audience.

> Another aspect
> sometimes forgot is that some plays were written for
> a small, royal
> audience.  Almost what we would call today a
> "studio" audience.  The
> lines were written to be spoken softly to an
> appreciative, silent
> audience.  A play written for the large, open, noisy
> Globe would be very
> different.
>
> Perhaps list members know which plays were written
> for which stage.
> When we think of the possible ways of performing
> Shakespeare, large
> stage, studio stage, film, TV or radio - which
> medium gets nearest to
> true authenticity?  For my mind it is TV.  What do
> others think?

Andrew Gurr has written several outstanding books on the staging,
audience and conditions of the original performances of the plays. See
The Shakespearean Stage, 1574-1642 and Playgoing in Shakespeare's
London.

Personally, the mood I think of when I envision whose original audiences
is a raucous rock concert. Cheering when familiar and beloved actors
appear. The loud cracking of nutshells. Talking during the performance.
Selling of refreshments in the stands and yard.  Groundlings yelling at
actors. Even relieving themselves in the yard because toilet facilities
were woefully absent and located on the banks of the river.

I think that with the building of the Blackfriars and the growing
prominence of court performances, theatre slowly began to change into
what we understand now, which is basically a cinema setting. Quiet.
Dark.  Usually solitary and individualistic audience focus. I think it
is very inaccurate to think, at least for the Rose, Globe, and Hope
audiences, who participated in a carnival bear-baiting spectacle
atmosphere both in and out of the theatre, to consider the performances
like the TV experience. A lot of critics are annoyed and violently
disapprove of the audience talking and interaction at the New Globe. Of
course, they forget that the original audiences were probably ten times
worse. It's so fascinating that we, who have been trained to be quiet
and sit in the dark at the theatre, can find ourselves speaking out loud
at a performance. Granted, the New Globe could never recreate an
"authentic" performance. But it does change the way we think of theatre,
and it does present a simultaneously new and old way of looking at it.

Brian Willis

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Monday, 28 Jan 2002 10:05:47 -0000
Subject: 13.0209 Authenticity
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0209 Authenticity

Sam Small is certain that "No one in their right mind" would put on
Elizabethan plays in contemporary "accents", and that "no one today
would think of using adolescent boys with tinny voices playing women".
But, rather like his earlier point on the list concerning playing
Shakespeare with a Northern English accent, he has simply missed his
opportunities to witness precisely these efforts at "authenticity".
Quite a lot of it goes on at the faux-Globe in Southwark, but I am sure
that there are experimenters all over the world doing similar things.
It's always salutary to remember that, however wild something might seem
to one's imagination, there is almost certainly somebody out there
putting it into practice.

On the merits of such performances: well, I wouldn't want to sit through
one. The odd time when I have wondered how a particular exchange or
scene would have worked "in historical context" would not justify
spending real money on watching two hours-worth of the stuff. But then,
I am not a student of early-modern acting and staging techniques.
Personally, I am more concerned that Monteverdi should be heard on
replicas of 17th C instruments than that Shakespeare should be played in
a replica of a 17th C playhouse (the standard Globe productions are
modern Shakespeare in a wooden theatre).  Maybe I don't know what I'm
missing.

m

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