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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: March ::
Re: The Laws of Theatre
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0674  Wednesday, 6 March 2002

[1]     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Tuesday 5 Mar 2002 12:50:07 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0653 Re: The Laws of Theatre

[2]     From:   Steve Roth <
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        Date:   Tuesday 5 Mar 2002 09:50:37 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0653 Re: The Laws of Theatre

[3]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Tuesday 5 Mar 2002 18:10:01 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0653 Re: The Laws of Theatre

[4]     From:   Brandon Toropov <
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        Date:   Tuesday 5 Mar 2002 11:07:31 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0653 Re: The Laws of Theatre

[5]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday 05 Mar 2002 16:46:26 -0500
        Subj:   The Laws of the Theatre


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Tuesday 5 Mar 2002 12:50:07 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 13.0653 Re: The Laws of Theatre
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0653 Re: The Laws of Theatre

I could add, to Larry Weiss' endorsement of Hamlet's advice to the
players, that he may be doing something very specific:  he's dealing
presumably with players who work the public stage, and is coaching them
for a private, indoor performance.  It's his way of saying that what may
have worked for them in the public houses will look freakish and
unnatural.  My experience from watching at the New Globe, and talking
with actors who have performed on that stage, is that the atmosphere of
that open-air house lends itself to grander gestures and vocalizations
-- what seems ham-fisted and overdone on an indoor stage seems strangely
natural in the New Globe.  So we may be looking at two sets of rules for
acting, not one.  [I think Ben Jonson's two sets of prologues are
instructive on this point as well; but that's another discussion
entirely.]

What I love about Shakespeare's plays-within-plays (I'm thinking, too,
of MSND) is that he portrays royalty as boorish, impatient, ready to
correct the actors on a whim if he doesn't look or talk right.  One can
only wonder how the less-moneyed groundlings would have taken this royal
example . . . and one can only wonder what effect this kind of
interference would have had with the development of any 'method' for
acting in those days.

Andy White

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Roth <
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Date:           Tuesday 5 Mar 2002 09:50:37 -0800
Subject: 13.0653 Re: The Laws of Theatre
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0653 Re: The Laws of Theatre

>the speech can be regarded as a pithy little essay by Shakespeare on the
>requirements of good theatre.

Crucial (and common) error here. It's a pithy little speech by *Hamlet,*
not and essay by Shakespeare. The multiple levels of irony and
multivalent meaning that emerge from the speech are to a great degree a
result of that auctorial framing.

Gotta watch this. i.e. A. L. Rowse's excrable biography of Shakespeare:

Speaking of Hamlet, he says, "Everyone sees that he is the most
autobiographical of all the characters." And of Hamlet: "It is fullest
of what Shakespeare himself thought of the theater."

Well, maybe. I just have trouble figuring out which of Hamlet's
contradictory edicts Shakespeare believed, and which he was ridiculing
through the words of his o'ertopping protagonist.

Thanks,
Steve
http://princehamlet.com

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Tuesday 5 Mar 2002 18:10:01 -0000
Subject: 13.0653 Re: The Laws of Theatre
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0653 Re: The Laws of Theatre

Paul Doniger suggests Heywood's "Apology for Actors" (1612) as a
codification of the laws of theatre. But that really was an apology - he
was merely coming up with lots of arguments as to why theatre was
edifying, and not dissolute, debased, a plaything of the devil. He
doesn't really go into a theoretical discussion of drama, except insofar
as he writes of it as a spur to moral thinking. By the same token, John
Greene's "Refutation" (1615) does not waste time discussing the finer
points of dramaturgy, but goes straight for the moral jugular no
messing.

On the same subject, Bill wrote, "I'm dubious about most 'laws' of the
theatre, especially when they aim at limiting audience response", and
celebrates his authority to "react any damned way I please and ask any
questions I want". I heartily support him in his interpretative freedom,
at least as an ideal. But, when one comes up against a play that, for
example, advertises itself as "The Chronicle History of Perkin Warbeck",
then the text's own engagement with the critical and theoretical history
of dramaturgy begins to limit one's response even before one has read /
seen it. Or does it? I think that setting oneself interpretative
limitations (within a context of ideal freedom) is the very basis of
critical enjoyment of works of art. Is that OK, or is it really
paradoxical? Or tautological?  Or just dumb...?

Larry Weiss questioned my "just kidding" after suggesting "Hamlet" as a
codification of the laws of theatre. I guess I was just kidding about
that "just kidding". The common people are now permitted to laugh at me
for saying something out of character.

m

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brandon Toropov <
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Date:           Tuesday 5 Mar 2002 11:07:31 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0653 Re: The Laws of Theatre
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0653 Re: The Laws of Theatre

Larry Weiss writes:

> > "What are the laws of the theatre? Has anyone
> codified them? "
>
> > Shakespeare - Hamlet, Prince of Denmark [only
> kidding]
>
> Why "only kidding"?  As Hamlet's advice to the
> players elucidates
> neither the plot nor the character to any
> significant extent, and as it
> is prose so it is not likely to have been
> included as a poetic etude,
> the speech can be regarded as a pithy little
> essay by Shakespeare on the
> requirements of good theatre.  And who better
> to express a view on the
> subject?
>
> If we consider the speech as the author's
> opinion, we find that WS was a
> member of the naturalistic school, a fact which
> may help in our
> understanding of what he wrote and why.

Note: This connects with what we were talking about on the SHAKESPEARE &
SEX thread -- it really makes much more sense here, so let me try to
transfer that discussion into this one.

I could not agree more with what Larry has written above. I realize may
be relying on my own subjective judgment in assigning Hamlet's
sentiments on acting to William Shakespeare, but that's a judgment call
I'm quite willing to make.

We don't have any qualms about assuming that Hamlet's sentiments about
companies of child actors reflect Shakespeare's opinion. Why should we
treat (similarly topical) observations about actors and acting, issuing
from the same character, any differently?

This seems to me to be the only logical position.  Or are we willing to
argue that Hamlet's observations about the troupes of child actors are
meant to reflect only the (imaginary) Denmark of the play, and have no
relevance to anything that took place in Elizabethan England?

I'm not sure Hamlet's instructions to the players are, or should be
considered, "laws," but I do think they should be required reading for
anyone who attempts to perform Shakespeare.

Brandon

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday 05 Mar 2002 16:46:26 -0500
Subject:        The Laws of the Theatre

W. L. Godshalk writes,

"I'm dubious about most "laws" of the theatre, especially when they aim
at limiting audience response. When I was a student, I was recurrently
told that I was not "supposed" to have certain reactions or ask certain
questions."

I have to agree with Bill. "The laws of the theatre," like the precepts
of new criticism, are actually ways to contain the text and delegitimize
certain perspectives and certain points of view. That's clearly apparent
in the way that the new critics tried to make fun of A.C. Bradley's
"character analysis" or the way in which they tried to make the 19th
Century's biographical reading of the sonnets "out of bounds."

Theatre historians and performance critics are valuable colleagues and
scholars, and I've learned a lot from them, some of whom are on this
list. But I've also learned a lot from Harry Berger and Stanley Cavell.

"Negative capability" is what Shakespeare himself had, if Keats is to be
believed, and critics need more of that, and less of a tendency to
mistake interpretations for facts.

--Ed Taft

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