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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Hamlets and Movies
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1154  Friday, 26 April 2002

From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 18:33:19 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1132 Re: Hamlets and Movies
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1132 Re: Hamlets and Movies

The Globe Hamlet from two seasons ago was a full length performance,
lasting four hours in length with two intervals.

This debate is not about the superlative genius of Shakespeare. No one
argues against that. Take these questions from Don:

> 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?

Shakespeare was a genius who wrote plays for popular entertainment. He
certainly did not think of them as relics (which they have become, even
regrettably in many performances). The works do contain profound truths
because we are discussing them here four hundred years later, long after
most things from that era, including the theatres, are dust. This is not
an either/or situation. There are many facets to what comprises
Shakespeare in Performance. I think where I, and several other members
of this listserv, begin to get rankled is when Charles in particular
begins to tell us that there are very few things to celebrate about
modern performance and that our views are worthless. For a good many of
us, those modern performances are all we have known and perhaps what
have turned us on to Shakespeare. If the verse speaking was so
inadequate or the concept of the production so bastardized, why were we
drawn to him?

The kernel of his profound truths and situations are available to us in
many formats and in many different versions and explorations. Some of
those modern productions - Luhrmann, Zefferelli, Almereyda, and Kurosawa
for a few - have touched us and opened our eyes to new interpretations
and different perspectives. They are mostly not masterpieces, but they
do effectively tell the story of the text in a new way. Like Shakespeare
took his sources and told the story in his own inimitable way. Both in
an emerging medium and both for popular entertainment.

I am really suspect of placing Shakespeare on too high of a pedestal.
That is not to deny he is the greatest writer to ever live or to reject
his worth as
 a mirror of human nature. For instance, to say that these films are

> "almost
> always in a form that
> emphasizes emotion at the expense of dramatic
> logic."

forgets something. The final scene of Cymbeline is full of nearly twenty
dramatically improbable revelations for the sake of emotional impact.
The reason we accept them is that we know they are coming.  And what is
wrong with emphasizing emotion? Dramatic logic is not always present in
Shakespeare's text, and in some of the more problemsome plays, perhaps
even a significant flaw in the craftsmanship.

I find modern Shakespeare to be riveting, emotionally meaningful,
important stuff. Anyone who argues, like Charles does, that Luhrmann
uses his cast and Shakespeare to make money makes me laugh. How many
Shakespearean films have turned a fast buck? And those that have were
not expected to make money. They became phenomenons, just as
Shakespeare's plays did so very long ago. Charles Weinstein has become
the Robert Greene of this listserv, envious of other media and
adventurers taking the feathers of Shakespeare and remaking them in a
modern context. I celebrate the tiger's hearts beating in many of these
films, because they force mine to beat as well. I'm through defending my
tastes. Besides, who outside of Renaissance scholars remembers Robert
Greene anyway? Lay aside your arms. The war is over. We will never
agree. Just stop bugging me with a regurgitation of the same bitter
complaints. It makes an otherwise enjoyable listserv into a demeaning
and insulting argument.  Let's discuss texts, plays, and interpretation
rather than personal biases. We are so much better at that anyways.

Brian Willis

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