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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: November ::
Re: Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2228  Friday, 8 November 2002

[1]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Thursday, 7 Nov 2002 17:06:55 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2223 Re: Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right

[2]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Thursday, 7 Nov 2002 12:59:58 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 13.2223 Re: Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right

[3]     From:   Charles Weinstein <
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        Date:   Thursday, 7 Nov 2002 18:50:00 -0500
        Subj:   Anything Goes, or Whatever Is, Is Righ

[4]     From:   Charles Weinstein <
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        Date:   Thursday, 7 Nov 2002 18:59:29 -0500
        Subj:   Anything Goes, or Whatever Is, Is Right

[5]     From:   Brad MacDonald <
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        Date:   Thursday, 07 Nov 2002 23:48:32 -0500
        Subj:   Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right (a reply)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Thursday, 7 Nov 2002 17:06:55 -0000
Subject: 13.2223 Re: Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2223 Re: Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right

>And I, for one, have seen at least a dozen very mediocre Shakespeare
>performances this year, yet none without a spark of something that
>made the evening worthwhile.  And I also can't believe that anyone on
>this list has ever seen the "perfect" Shakespearean performance.

I couldn't agree more.  This is almost exactly the message that I
intended to put across in my reply to Charles Weinstein.  Tony Burton
and I seem to agree on this point, but in doing so we are disagreeing
with Weinstein who seems to airily dismiss everything that he doesn't
think of as "perfect" as worthless trash.

Everything, in Weinstein's view, is "mediocre" or "great".  There is no
room in the Weinstein worldview for the "moderately good", the "very
good but not exceptional", or the "generally pretty terrible but with
moments of astonishing insight".  Studies of Shakespeare in Performance
(as opposed to studies of Shakespeare as Text; and despite what Tony
Burton says not all Shakespeareans study performance in any significant
sense) should quite justifiably look at everything from the not so good
to the very good indeed, since - as Burton admits - insights can be
found in even the most unpromising material, and there is a great deal
of significance in what is popular even if that is not always the same
as what is "great" (the modern view of Shakespeare is influenced much
more strongly by a film like "Romeo + Juliet" or Branagh's "Henry V"
than by the greatest of theatrical productions, which can only be seen
by a limited number of people, and a production by the RSC is seen or
read about and therefore affects many more people than a production by a
Fringe Company, even if - as often happens - the Fringe production is in
many ways the better of the two).

Weinstein would like to believe that unless studies of Shakespeare in
Performance limit themselves to "great" productions (that is,
productions that Weinstein, and possibly Weinstein's imagined picture of
Harold Bloom, would like) that the whole discipline is "mediocre" and
worthless.  That rather obviously isn't true.  There is no production
*ever* that can be seen as unquestionably "great".  Weinstein is always
very coy about which productions actually get his stamp of approval, if
any, but just as some people idolise Branagh, and some hate him, some
idolised Irving, and some hated him - even though many of Irving's
productions have stood the test of time that Weinstein advocates - and
no production is ever going to appear "great" to everybody.

A more realistic way of judging the significance of a study of
Shakespeare in Performance is whether the points that are considered are
"interesting" or "significant", whether these are drawn from the best
productions or the worst (as long as there is an interesting and or
important point to be made about how and why the worst was so bad, or
there are aspects of the worst productions that transcend their
surroundings), or more likely from the mixed productions that make up
the vast majority of Shakespearean work in any period.

Of course the fact that Weinstein has appeared in a production which,
judged by his own standards, should be cast aside as "mediocre" or worse
does not disqualify him from having views about other people's
productions.  Few critics are also masterful actors, and Weinstein might
not be so self-deluded that he believes that the vast majority of
Shakespearean productions are "mediocre" with the exception of those
starring himself.  However, such experiences should make Weinstein
willing to accept the truth that Burton sets out early in his own
posting,  that productions do not have to be unquestionably "great" to
have value.  Weinstein clearly failed to produce an unquestionably
"great" performance, but he might still feel justified in drawing his
pay and not personally giving the entire audience a refund if some of
the audience enjoyed his performance, and if it gave some new insights
to some of the spectators about life, the play, or just about anything
else.  Similarly, whether or not a particular Shakespearean film or a
particular work on Shakespearean performance is a success, depends not
on the Weinstein test (Do I - or does somebody whose views I admire -
think this is "GREAT"?) but on whether it is enjoyed by some or many of
its audience - readers or viewers - or whether a large number of the
people who come into contact with the work go away with satisfyingly new
ideas, or feelings.

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

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Thursday, 7 Nov 2002 12:59:58 -0500
Subject: Re: Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right
Comment:        SHK 13.2223 Re: Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right

Bertolt Brecht thought bad acting was helpful in the theatre. It
loosened the play's mesmerising grip on the audience and so encouraged
them to think.

Terence Hawkes

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Thursday, 7 Nov 2002 18:50:00 -0500
Subject:        Anything Goes, or Whatever Is, Is Right

Must I really quote my good reviews in order to establish my bona fides?
Very well then; here are a few:

"Charles Weinstein's Polonius is a delight--a tedious, garrulous
fussbudget who speaks Shakespeare as if it were his mother tongue."--The
Boston Globe, 2000

"Charles Weinstein is marvelous as Bottom the weaver..."--The Portland
Press Herald, 1997

"As Bottom, Charles Weinstein owns the stage, and holds the audience
with as little as a cocked eyebrow."--The Maine Times, 1997

"Charles Weinstein plays the Duke [in Measure for Measure] with passion
and precision."--The Portland Press Herald, 1995

"As Puck, Charles Weinstein was, well, Puck.  Shakespeare's hobgoblin
could not have been better played."--The Lewiston Sun-Times, 1992.

I am not actuated by bitterness at personal failure, but by genuine
anger at what I see happening around me.

--Charles Weinstein

P.S.  Despite the positive assessments quoted above, I was indeed
miscast as Bottom, and I wholly agree with the negative review cited by
Mr. Larque.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Thursday, 7 Nov 2002 18:59:29 -0500
Subject:        Anything Goes, or Whatever Is, Is Right

So far as one can see, Shakespeare in Performance is governed by neither
canonical principles nor procedural principles.  Academics in this field
can do whatever they like without apparent protest from their
colleagues.  Some publish reviews of productions they have seen and dub
the results "scholarship."  Others trek through Shakespeare's plays
line-by-line providing encyclopedic commentary on the wildly varying
ways in which different actors have read a speech or played a moment.
This chaotic welter of data is supposed to tell us something about
Shakespeare; in truth, it is a zero-sum game that tells us absolutely
nothing.  Others who would normally cast a skeptical eye on big-money
enterprises fall down and grovel before the Great God Film, penning
excited encomia to the latest piece of nonsense from Hollywood.
Journals of performance criticism cover professional and
semi-professional productions indiscriminately.

Are there any standards governing this field?  If so, I would be
interested in knowing what they are.  If not, how can any thinking
person take it seriously?

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brad MacDonald <
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Date:           Thursday, 07 Nov 2002 23:48:32 -0500
Subject:        Anything Goes or Whatever Is, Is Right (a reply)

I disagree with Charles Weinstein's assertion that recent Shakespeare
films are merely mediocre because they have no lasting significance. The
films based on Shakespeare's work should not be judge as intensely as
his written word. These films are not meant to be lasting and timeless,
rather they are meant to entertain a specific modern audience. For
example, I thought that Romeo and Juliet starring Leonardo DeCaprio was
a particularly fascinating production. It reflected the mass media and
violence of our time and still incorporated the beauty of Shakespeare's
words. Many modern Shakespeare films have been beneficial merely because
they have sparked the interests of younger generations, and perhaps
tempted them to study the real thing.

-Brad MacDonald


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