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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: March ::
Re: Classical Acting: Decline
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0722  Monday, 11 March 2002

[1]     From:   Karen Peterson <
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        Date:   Friday, 8 Mar 2002 07:48:14 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0704 Re: Classical Acting: Decline

[2]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Friday, 8 Mar 2002 15:14:16 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0692 Re: Classical Acting: Decline

[3]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Friday, 8 Mar 2002 22:17:58 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0681 Re: Classical Acting: Decline


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson <
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Date:           Friday, 8 Mar 2002 07:48:14 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0704 Re: Classical Acting: Decline
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0704 Re: Classical Acting: Decline

> RE: Karen Petersen's attempt to play J.L. Austin
> with this thread -
> don't - better to leave the philosophy to
> philosophers...(dead or
> otherwise).

J.L. Austin?  I'm flattered!  *I* thought I was merely attempting to
play Roland Barthes with this thread. See Article XVI, "Beauty" in *S/Z*
(1973; Oxford: Blackwell, 1990; pp. 33-35).

Still trying to do things with words, I remain cheerfully and
philosophically yours,

Karen Peterson

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Friday, 8 Mar 2002 15:14:16 -0600
Subject: 13.0692 Re: Classical Acting: Decline
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0692 Re: Classical Acting: Decline

Well, I guess I whacked the hornets' nest this time. I will deal with
each of these stingers as best I can with as little prolixity as
possible.

To Martin Steward's point, that the lack of great poets in the period
after Chaucer but before Sidney, can be attributed to the lack of a
"publishing culture" (that existed after it), all I can say is that I
don't buy it. A handful of anonymous lyricists do not strike me as
evidence of major writers, mute, inglorious Miltons, that time has sadly
squelched. (Nor, for that matter, can it explain to me why the first
half of the 20th century was overflowing with major writers, and the
second half not so -- but that's another story.)

To Robin Hamilton's point, that the Middle Scots were working in a very
different tradition from Chaucer so that my remark that "he lived on" in
them was inaccurate -- just so. It wasn't what I meant. I only meant
that his greatness lived on in them, and that people were writing major
works in English, but in Scotland not England. As to the suggestion that
Scots is not English, all I can say is that it looks like English to me,
though God knows I have to work awfully damned hard to read it.

To Mike Jensen's reiteration of an earlier point (that I am (or someone
is) leaving out Skelton, Gray and Johnson as major poets), I can only
say I've never met anyone who could show me anything glorious, majestic
or insightful about Skelton's work (clever and breezy at times, yes, but
great? -- not to me); I have always felt that the poetry is weakest area
of Johnson's writing, and that if he had to stand on it alone he would
not be considered a major writer; and Gray (along with Cowper and
Collins) has always struck me as over-rated.

Which brings me to Karen Peterson's complaint that the term "greatness"
"cannot be defined absolutely." Of course not -- but what can? And there
is a difference between defining something absolutely and defining it
sufficiently for ordinary conversation. I would suggest that we all have
a sense of the meaning of the word, and, what's more, we all agree that
Shakespeare is a vastly greater poet than Skelton. If I felt that it was
really important, I could come up with a working definition of "great"
and "greatness," but it is tedious work and I feel disinclined to embark
on it without a greater sense of necessity for it.

At the same time, I think KP leaves out the concept of judgment. What I
tell my composition students is that nobody is the slightest interested
in their opinions, only their judgments --- that is what they can back
up with an intimate knowledge of the text, quoted copiously, and -- in
more advanced papers -- some familiarity with the judgments of previous
writers on it. A judgment can be tested against the actual words of the
text. You may still disagree with a judgment, because you feel the
person making it has misread the text, but you must concede the
possibility of its being valid if it has evidence at all.
Enough of this. I don't like arguments about who is greater than whom --
except when absolutely necessary. But I submit that the reason that most
of us are employed in this racket is because the greatness of literature
excites us to our very marrow, that we all know (even if some are
reluctant to admit it) that some literature is greater than other
literature, some writers greater than others, and that we are members of
this list because we know that the eponymous author is the greatest of
all, that he excites our imaginations and emotions more often and more
profoundly than any other.

My apologies: more prolix than I wanted --

don

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Friday, 8 Mar 2002 22:17:58 -0000
Subject: 13.0681 Re: Classical Acting: Decline
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0681 Re: Classical Acting: Decline

> But after Chaucer the quality of writing in English drops rapidly (except in
> Scotland where he more or less lives on). I can stomach Skelton only in
> small quantities.

Well, some of us would rate Skelton somewhat higher (Robert Graves and
Stanley Fish for two).  There's also George Gascoigne (1542?-1577).  But
most irritatingly, the original statement quoted managed to obliterate
all the anonymous lyrics and ballads written throughout the fifteenth
century and beyond.

Given at this point (post-Chaucer) that (literary) English was trying to
come to terms with the loss of the final unaccented <e>, while
simultaneously taking Chaucer as a model (vide the mess in Lydgate), the
surprise isn't that there is a slight dearth of +literary+ poets, but
that any wrote at all.

> Wyatt occasionally wrote excellently, and Surrey even less often, and then
> there's another dry spell until the explosion on the scene of Sidney and
> Spenser and some dozens of poets. And after them --
> >

The original citation drew attention to the publication of Wyatt's poems
in 1557, in _Tottel's Miscellany_, which is a rather neat elision in two
ways.

As Wyatt had died in 1542 in his early forties, there would have been
(if, as I do and the original author seemed to, allow Wyatt) "great
poetry" written at least between 1520 and 1542.

Elision two (in the original) is that Things Get Better After Tottel in
1557.  Just about the opposite is the case.  It's worth remembering that
Wyatt as we read him today is edited from the Egerton MS (and others).
Wyatt as read up till at least 1900 was edited (read, "rewritten") by
and read through the spectacles of the egregious Nicholas Grimald, whose
only way to get his own poems into print was to produce the first
edition of Tottel, and who was convinced that every line of an iambic
pentameter poem had to have +exactly+ ten syllables, and go (exactly) te
TUM te TUM te TUM (etc.).

This +does+ lead, for a time, as everyone tries to play by the
Grimal/Tottel rules, to a comparative dearth of decent literary verse,
until Gascoigne's _A Hundreth Sundrie Flowers_ in 1573.

But in both instances, it's possible to see +why+ things go wrong.
Periods of dearth are the exception (and often explicable) rather than,
as was originally implied, the rule.

> Now I will gladly retract what I've just said, which I know is a
> terrible clich

 

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