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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Hamlets and Movies
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1132  Thursday, 25 April 2002

[1]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 13:15:25 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Full text Hamlet (was It's Only a Movie)

[2]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 13:00:57 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1116 Re: It's Only a Movie

[3]     From:   Dale Lyles <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 18:03:15 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1116 Re: It's Only a Movie

[4]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 02:59:27 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1116 Re: It's Only a Movie


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 13:15:25 -0400
Subject: 13.1116 Re: Full text Hamlet (was It's Only a Movie)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1116 Re: Full text Hamlet (was It's Only a Movie)

>> I would like to know from any of the members who seem versed in such
>> things, if there has been an uninterrupted 'full text' stage performance
>> of, say, 'Hamlet' or the Histories, and what the running time was.

The first Hamlet I ever saw (I was a pre-teen) was Michael Higgins, in
an uncut 4 or so hour production directed by Arthur Lithgow for Yellow
Springs Shakespeare. It flew by, the pacing was so good--- acting ON the
lines, not between them, at the speed of thought; brief deep silences as
space for feelings to flood.  I was transported.  I persuaded my
grandmother to let me see it over again on a subsequent night, when I
was equally absorbed and moved.  I can remember some scenes from that
production today, nearly 50 years and a dozen or two Hamlets later.

Geralyn Horton
http://www.stagepage.org

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[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 13:00:57 -0500
Subject: 13.1116 Re: It's Only a Movie
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1116 Re: It's Only a Movie

David Brailow remarks,

> So long as one group believes that Shakespeare was a universal
> genius whose works enshrine eternal verities which must be passed from
> one generation to the next in order to preserve the culture, and the
> other remains skeptical of these concepts and open to the enjoyment of
> all forms of adaptation and appropriation of the plays, we will be
> getting into these ideological debates.

Behind the somewhat loaded terminology of this statement lie some
interesting implicit questions. Was Shakespeare a genius or not? If not,
was he then merely a hack who was clever at adapting stories for popular
consumption? Do the works contain profound truths about the human
condition or not? If not, are those who find them there self-deluded
fools? If they do embody truths, is it still a waste of time to
discover, preserve and discuss them? Are, in fact, great works of the
past (if any such exist) worth preserving? Finally, is it an either/or
situation -- do you either deny the concepts (genius, truths, culture)
and remain "open to the enjoyment of all forms of adaptation and
appropriation of the plays," or accept them and stay closed-minded?

My questions may appear more severe than I intend them, but I am
genuinely interested. Is it an ideological debate, and are those the two
ideologies?

Curiously,
don

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Lyles <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 18:03:15 EDT
Subject: 13.1116 Re: It's Only a Movie
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1116 Re: It's Only a Movie

David Brailow writes:

>So long as one group believes that Shakespeare was a universal
>genius whose works enshrine eternal verities which must be passed from
>one generation to the next in order to preserve the culture, and the
>other remains [...unfair snip...] open to the enjoyment of
>all forms of adaptation and appropriation of the plays, we will be
>getting into these ideological debates.

Oh dear... I believe both.  Dante had a place for me, didn't he?

Dale Lyles
artistic director
Newnan  Community Theatre Company
http://newnantheatre.com

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 02:59:27 -0400
Subject: 13.1116 Re: It's Only a Movie
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1116 Re: It's Only a Movie

I don't think most of those on what David Brailow, with some reason,
calls the right make exactly the argument he accuses them of making. To
believe they simply oppose all "adaptations" of Shakespeare may be a bit
extreme, though I think it's worth asking what the difference is between
an adaptation and a production. Most productions billed as "adaptations"
do significantly depart from Shakespeare. Going to a billed "adaptation"
I don't expect to see Shakespeare. I think what's at issue here is not
productions that say they're adaptations, but adaptations that say
they're productions. Still, it 's true that the idea that some critics
oppose "adaptation" has been encouraged by, for example, this passage
from Paul Cantor which Charles Weinstein quoted:

"Viewers of a movie version of a Shakespeare play rarely get its text
complete. Often, by the time the director is finished updating and
adapting the play to the screen--adding music, rearranging scenes,
transposing the setting, and so on--little remains of the original work.
What should be the occasion for thoughtful reflection on the human
condition is turned into just another Hollywood movie, sometimes even an
action/adventure flick (such as the Mel Gibson Hamlet, which some of my
students referred to as Lethal Bodkin), and almost always in a form that
emphasizes emotion at the expense of dramatic logic."

The objection that "little remains of the original work" does not quite
end the argument.

Cantor says that as a result of these changes, "What should be the
occasion for thoughtful reflection on the human condition" has become
"just another Hollywood movie" "and almost always in a form that
emphasizes emotion at the expense of dramatic logic." Tight as these
strictures are, Cantor allows a little wiggle room. This "often"
happens, even "almost always"--but not always. The criticisms also go
beyond a mere demand for "the original work". If Cantor's terms sound a
bit oversimple, the point remains that he is not saying that the
adaptation is bad because it departs so far from Shakespeare, but
because staying truer to Shakespeare would retain qualities that made it
a better production. The argument is not that the production is worse
because it is not Shakespeare, but that it is worse because Shakespeare
is dramatically better than the adaptation. There' s a difference.

Granted, people often do object that a production mangles Shakespeare
and leave it at that. Maybe that's all they mean. I believe, though,
that most people, and certainly critics like Paul Cantor and Charles
Weinstein, are not such mindless icon-preservers as David Brailow
alleges. Saying that an adaptation is not Shakespeare will often turn
out to mean, on further examination, both that the adaptation is
misrepresenting Shakespeare and that what makes this so bad is that if
it were truer to Shakespeare it would be a better play.

Shakespeare had more dramatic talent than most directors. His plays have
more interest than most directors give him credit for, and more than
they are able to discover and express to the audience.

A few days ago Charles Weinstein, in a rare and welcome example of his
capacity for appreciation, praised Paul Scofield for a performance that
departed from Shakespeare's intentions: Paul Scofield--fragile, gentle,
lacking both armor and a martial bearing--is not quite the Ghost that
Shakespeare had in mind. No matter: he's wonderful. The worldly and
otherworldly agony that thrills and trembles through his voice! Yet he
does it with the utmost restraint and delicacy. His performance is the
only thing I cherish in that film, and my only reason for purchasing the
video.

Would the performance have been even better if Scofield had been more
faithful to Shakespeare? What would have been gained, and what lost?
When critics see most adaptations as so badly done, questions like these
don't come up. But they could. I think Charles Weinstein and Paul Cantor
would say they are looking for the best drama possible. With more
attention to Shakespeare, and more faithfulness to Shakespeare, these
adaptations would be better drama, because Shakespeare is better drama.
That may not be true. "Faithfulness" can of course be hard to define.
But it's different from saying that an adaptation is worse drama simply
because it's not faithful to Shakespeare.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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