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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: November ::
Re: Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2215  Wednesday, 6 November 2002

[1]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 17:10:30 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2205 Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right

[2]     From:   Elizabeth Klett <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 05 Nov 2002 11:31:17 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2205 Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right

[3]     From:   M. Yawney <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 09:35:29 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2205 Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right

[4]     From:   David Linton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 12:54:54 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.2205 Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right

[5]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 18:25:59 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2205 Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right

[6]     From:   Michael B. Luskin <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 16:48:45 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2205 Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 17:10:30 -0000
Subject: 13.2205 Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2205 Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right

>"The study of mediocrity, whatever its origins, breeds mediocrity."
>                                                      --Harold Bloom
>
>Bloom's epigram applies pointedly to Shakespeare in Performance.  In any
>given period, most Shakespearean productions are mediocre, and of no
>lasting significance.  This is no less true of productions emanating
>from London, New York, Hollywood, Ashland and both Stratfords than it is
>of those from other venues.  Most theatrical productions are justly
>forgotten on closing night, and the factitious permanence of celluloid
>does not instill lasting value in everything printed upon it.  Yet it is
>precisely these undistinguished productions that form the pseudo-canon
>of this pseudo-discipline.

If "mediocre" productions are not worth studying, are they worth seeing,
or performing in?  Could the Charles Weinstein who criticises the
mediocrity of just about every Shakespearean production (on film, or in
the theatre) and all writing about these productions, be in any way
related to the Charles Weinstein whose performance as Bottom in
"Midsummer Night's Dream" is described by the Boston Theater Mirror's
Reviewer in the following terms ...? :

"Charles Weinstein, ordinarily a formidable comic actor, seems oddly
cast as Bottom, never really embodying the kind of gregariousness, size
and love that is Bottom. With stark receding hairline and Peter Lorre
eyes, Weinstein almost seemed in another play at times, and not just
different from the other actors, but sometimes different from himself
from line to line. His erratic and sometimes spooky take on this
loquacious weaver ran the gambit from funny to strange to
incomprehensible, at times soliciting dead silence from the audience.
Further, Bottom and the mechanicals are a band of brothers, but this
band strangely seemed to hold little affection for their leader as
evidenced in their forced reunion in the final act."

See:  http://www.theatermirror.com/midsum.htm

Would Weinstein let us know whether a production described in these
terms is worthy of study?  Of review?  Of being watched?  Why did he
bother to act in it?  The answer is surely that even the most mediocre
production of Shakespeare is an attempt by those involved to produce a
great or at least an entertaining production, and that even when such
well meaning attempts go hideously wrong (as Weinstein's seems to have
done here) there is value in the attempt, and often varying opinions
about the level of success or failure.

Unless we go back to a study of Shakespeare that only allows dusty
academics in book-lined studies the right to comment about Shakespeare's
greatness (as preserved in the Quartos and Folios), then we must study
modern Shakespearean productions to see what modern actors, directors,
and audiences are making out of these wonderful plays in our own time -
and for a large proportion of the population, seeing Shakespeare on Film
or in Performance is the most visceral and important way of experiencing
Shakespeare's works.  If Shakespeare was never performed, then his plays
might as well have been novels (and even novels often get filmed).  If
the productions are weak or fail - and like most people on this list I
cannot accept that every film and almost all theatrical productions of
Shakespeare are worthless, as Weinstein seems to believe - then these
films and productions should be studied to show why or how they fail,
and suggestions should be made about how they can be improved in future.

If studies of Shakespearean performance are worthless, and acting in
mediocre productions of Shakespeare is worthless, then somebody needs to
help us to work out how one produces productions of Shakespeare that are
not worthless.  Charles Weinstein (apparently one of those mediocre
actors, on at least one occasion) does not make any attempt to do this,
however, he simply snipes at other people's presumed mediocrity while
failing to acknowledge his own.  Those who do study Shakespearean
performance are at least engaged in a criticism with positive motivation
- showing what they and others believe are important aspects of modern
Shakespearean production, and identifying those aspects of productions
which - for various reasons - do not work for the critic or parts of the
audience.

If Weinstein really feels that Shakespeare in Performance is such a
monumentally worthless activity, then I cannot understand why he spends
so much of his time acting in Shakespeare productions, writing about
Shakespeare in Performance, and reading SHAKSPER.

Of course we know, from past experience, that Weinstein will not respond
in any way to the points made against him, and will just endlessly
repeat his loathing of Shakespeare on Film, in Theatre, and studies of
Shakespeare in Performance.  There is no value to such a hollow and
unresponsive viewpoint.

Thomas Larque.
"Shakespeare and His Critics"
http://shakespearean.org.uk

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Elizabeth Klett <
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Date:           Tuesday, 05 Nov 2002 11:31:17 -0500
Subject: 13.2205 Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2205 Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right

I have no idea what prompted Charles Weinstein's diatribe against
scholars who (like myself) study, write about, and teach Shakespeare in
Performance.  It is typical, however, that he begins with a quote from
Bloom, proponent of Bardolatry and defender of the Western canon (both
of which have ensured that his books always appear on the bestseller
lists).  Bloom's tired defenses of the canon aim to deter the expansion
of English Studies as a discipline, and prompt such questions as:  Who
determines whether a work is "mediocre" or not?  Can Charles Weinstein
put together an objective list of qualities that would admit a literary
work (or a performance of Shakespeare) into the ranks of "great" rather
than merely "good," "mediocre", or "bad"?  How do we define these
categories, and who gets to decide upon them?  These are questions which
have been asked many times before by those who have sought to expand or
discard the idea of the canon.  It seems impossible, in my opinion, to
cite Bloom, as it were, at face value, totally disregarding the debates
over the canon that have been taking place for decades now.

If Mr. Weinstein were at all familiar with the excellent work being done
in the field of Shakespeare in Performance, he would certainly not
assume that performance scholars take the attitude that "anything
goes."  I would point him toward the work of Barbara Hodgdon, W. B.
Worthen, Susan Bennett, Richard Burt, Alan Dessen, and Anthony Dawson,
to name a few, none of whom are "indiscriminate millers."

I can only assume that Mr. Weinstein's attack was calculated to provoke
answers like mine, to which he can then launch counter-attack.  Although
I could not resist the opportunity to reply to such an offensive and
narrow-minded outburst, I have no desire to take part in a
back-and-forth nit-picking and sniping match.  (Nor do I want to cause
any more headaches for our editor!)  Instead, I have to get back to my
dissertation, which, incidentally, is filled with analysis of
Shakespearean productions that Weinstein would most certainly consider
"mediocre, trivial, and dull."  As far as I'm concerned his dismissal
would qualify as a ringing endorsement.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           M. Yawney <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Nov 2002 09:35:29 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.2205 Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2205 Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right

While I usually do not like to bite at obvious provocation, something
interesting might come of the discussion in this case.

Mr. Weinstein seems to think that only the best art is worthy of study.
However, anthropologists and cultural historians would argue that any
cultural product can be looked at productively. The field of performance
studies has in its brief existence drawn as much from anthropology and
figures like Goffman as from literary criticism. (In fact, in some
circles and notably in The Drama Review under Michael Kirby's
editorship, the role of the performance scholar was seen to document
performance, not to evaluate them.)

While it is true that few works in any discipline are masterpieces, that
does not mean there is nothing worth consideration and debate in the
tiers under timeless.

And timelessness cannot enter into this. Mr. Weinstein says that since
performances do not stand the test of time, they should not be
considered. This is disingenuous because the nature of theater is
ephemeral. Mr. Weinstein might just as well say pencil sketches are not
worthy of study because their color palate is so limited. In fact, it is
the ephemerality that makes the study of performance so
important--because even the greatest insights a production provides will
be lost as the years go by unless that production is documented and
discussed.

I am somewhat baffled at why anyone with such a contempt for theater
would have any interest in Shakespeare. I may be a bit of a purist, but
I do think that Shakespeare

 

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