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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Acting the Bard
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0988  Tuesday, 9 April 2002

[1]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Monday, 8 Apr 2002 17:40:37 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0978 Acting the Bard

[2]     From:   Philip Tomposki <
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        Date:   Monday, 08 Apr 2002 20:12:06 -0400
        Subj:   RE: Acting the Bard


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Monday, 8 Apr 2002 17:40:37 +0100
Subject: 13.0978 Acting the Bard
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0978 Acting the Bard

Jane Drake Brody writes that "I find the idea that [Shakespeare] simply
told the actors what he meant a bit far-fetched", explaining, "The
greatness in the writing and its ability to reverberate across the years
is lodged permanently in its ambiguities". I'm sure we'd all like to
agree to some extent or other with her second clause. But the point is,
The King's Men's 1599 production of Hamlet (e.g.) has not
"reverberate[d] across the years". It was a one off, just as Olivier's
or Branagh's 20th C Hamlets were one-offs. So the "meaning" of the 1599
production inheres not only in Shakespeare's text, but in Shakespeare's
directions to the players, and those players' individual insights. Those
directions and insights must necessarily have narrowed the
interpretative possibilities latent in the text alone (by adding, one
takes away, paradoxically). This, of course, has not prevented those
latent possibilities from "reverberat[ing] across the years", as Ms.
Brody says, nor indeed the proliferation of more and more possibilities
which we must assume to have been unavailable in 1599 (Freudian Oedipus
complex being the most obvious and crude example; also Hamlet in
business suits, etc.).  Perhaps Jane Drake Brody would reconsider her
statement if she imagined she had said, "I find the idea that Laurence
Olivier simply told the actors what he thought Shakespeare meant a bit
far-fetched, because the greatness in the writing is lodged permanently
in its ambiguities". Moral of the story: never forget (or at least
always be prepared to consider) that Shakespeare was first and foremost
a theatre professional, a sharer in the most important playing company
in the world, and a writer of plays only as a corollary of that
profession.

m

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Philip Tomposki <
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Date:           Monday, 08 Apr 2002 20:12:06 -0400
Subject:        RE: Acting the Bard

Jane Drake Brody writes:

"I am probably naive about such things, but I have always felt the fact
that Shakespeare left his characters open to interpretation was a
tribute to a more complicated view of human nature than the dramatic
literature which preceded him.  The idea of absolutes, so present in
medieval drama (and in some of his contemporaries) is with few
exceptions no longer seen in his work and it becomes more interesting
for that exact reason.  I find the idea that he simply told the actors
what he meant a bit far-fetched.  The greatness in the writing and its
ability to reverberate across the years is lodged permanently in its
ambiguities. . ."

However, there need not be a dichotomy between the practical and
aesthetic aspects of an artist's work.  Art loves serendipity.  Some of
Shakespeare's ambiguity likely resulted from rushing scripts into
production, hoping the actor, after some explanation from the author,
could compensate for the gaps and inconsistencies.  After a time, he may
have found that the ambiguities which resulted worked to his advantage.
This is why I feel strongly that, despite the beauty of the writing,
Shakespeare is primarily a theatrical artist.  The plays can only be
understood when an actor gives them life.  Shakespeare the actor
undoubtedly understood this.

Philip Tomposki

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