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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: January ::
Re: Critical Principles
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0218  Monday, 28 January 2002

[1]     From:   Louis Swilley <
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        Date:   Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 17:46:11 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0211 Critical Principles

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 22:42:20 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0211 Critical Principles

[3]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 Jan 2002 09:53:38 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0211 Critical Principles


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Louis Swilley <
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Date:           Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 17:46:11 -0600
Subject: 13.0211 Critical Principles
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0211 Critical Principles

Charles Weinstein wrote,

> An actor who steps onto a stage to perform Shakespeare (or any other
> playwright) makes himself part of a living artwork.  He thereby exposes
> his entire actor's persona to critical judgment.  This includes not only
> his skill, intelligence, imagination and conceptual powers, but also his
> face, physique, voice, age, height, weight, race, ethnicity and sexual
> orientation.  The critic is free to comment on each and every one of
> these attributes, their suitability to the role in question, the ways in
> which the actor has used, misused, disguised or flaunted them, and
> whether they enhance or compromise the artistic result.  And others, of
> course, are free to disagree with him.

[In the peculiar art of drama, where the whole body and its qualities
are involved, anything visible and/or audible in the actor is proper
grist for the critic's mill; but what is not visible or audible to the
audience should not be.  If the actor's homosexuality is to be
considered, why not his fathering of illegitimate children, his interest
in blond-headed men or women - or both - or his  detestation of
broccoli, licorice and jalapenos, his ugly personal habits?  Where does
it end, and by what principle should it? ]

> As for sexual orientation, this is an age in which criticism in all
> fields is obsessed with the artist's sexuality.  Articles, monographs
> and entire books have been written about the homosexuality of authors,
> painters and composers, and the ways in which their orientation affected
> their artistic product.  The idea that drama critics should be debarred
> from discussing the same issue is ridiculous.

[Any critic may, of course, discuss anything, bring anything into the
estimate of any artistic performance. There are no artistic police to
prevent them.  The question should be, rather, *should* the critic do
so?  Fine writers - Eudora Welty of recent happy memory among them -
have warned against those who insist on introducing matters of the life
of the writer into their estimates of the literary works. We do not seem
to find it necessary to introduce the lives of scientists into the
criticism of their theories, do we - or, if we do at all, we do not
modify or "understand" his physics or his math by such a means. Why
should an artist's works have a different critical treatment?

[One danger of the historical/biographical investigation in the artist
to understand or appreciate his work is that we shortly find ourselves
concentrating on the artist in the manner of gossip columnists; the
artist's *work*, that public act offered, as it were, for his salvation
from his private sins, is now measured with narrowed eyes - "This is a
painting of the xth mistress of Picasso; he was angry with her at the
time he painted and you can see that in these harsh colors around the
eyes, etc." One has to ask: what has *that* to do with the beauty of the
work conceived of as proportion, color, technique, etc.?  As with the
works of Hemingway, subjected to similar "criticism",  the artist is not
allowed anonymity, not allowed to separate his public life from his
private one, not allowed to have the beauty of his work considered
without the intrusion of a biographical gloss, which he obviously did
not intend to be understood as an aspect of his work (otherwise he would
have provided a gloss to that effect), one we generally use to cut the
man down to our meager size. We can't seem to stand that a rascal or a
pervert  or a very monster can nevertheless produce beauty.  Happy are
we in our relative ignorance of the details of the life of Shakespeare,
Chaucer and others; we can look at what they wrote, saved from such
information as the regularity or irregularity of their bowel movements.]

>Perhaps some feel that
>the critic should discuss the issue only when his ultimate assessment is
>positive rather than negative.  I don't think that a principled argument
>can be made in support of such a distinction...

[Neither do I.  The critic has the duty not only to point out to his
public  what is there in an artwork, how it is made, but also to compare
and contrast it to other works of a similar type.  If he does not do
this, he should quit the field. ]

            [L. Swilley]

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 22:42:20 -0800
Subject: 13.0211 Critical Principles
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0211 Critical Principles

Weinstein claims that

>An actor who steps onto a stage to perform Shakespeare (or any other
>playwright) makes himself part of a living artwork.  He thereby exposes
>his entire actor's persona to critical judgment.  This includes not only
>his skill, intelligence, imagination and conceptual powers, but also his
>face, physique, voice, age, height, weight, race, ethnicity and sexual
>orientation.

Most would agree, at least generally, to most of the attributes you list
being relevant, except sexual orientation. How on earth do you judge
someone on the basis of something invisible, which quite possibly even
his wife doesn't know about? Next you'll be saying that spiritual
commitments or even occult powers are relevant to an actor's
performance.

Even if the actor in question is quite public about his or her sexuality
outside the theatre, it need not enter into his or her performance (as
skill and certain gross motor skills must). The relevance of sexual
orientation doesn't follow from anything you've said.

Yours,
Se

 

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