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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: October ::
Re: Shakespeare's Performance World
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2094  Thursday, 17 October 2002

From:           Michael B. Luskin <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Oct 2002 11:40:26 EDT
Subject: 13.2086 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2086 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World

I am not a literary scholar, and am becoming more and more relieved that
I am not.

If we turn a logical eye on every Shakespeare play, OR almost anything
else, we see things that are not "realistic."  Does that make the play
junk?  NO.  In any play, in any work of art, in any joke, in all human
discourse, one has to suspend literal objective realistic expectations.

In all works of art, there is a need to suspend judgment, or consider a
wider or different reality.  Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
That is a stupid question, pass the potatoes.

One of Groucho Marx' funniest movie lines is, while feeling someone's
pulse, "Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped."  How many
members of this list would go off into a discussion of cardiology and
time keeping devices, to prove that this DOES NOT MAKE SENSE, and not
even realize that there was a joke intended?  I hope few or none, but
worry.

To be or not to be, what is the decision.

I am not upset that Bohemia in reality does not have a coast line.  So
what, I bet Shakespeare didn't know or didn't care.  I suspect that he
cared more how Bohemia would affect his rhyme scheme than anything else.

I think that "exit, pursued by bear" is a pretty funny line, though
probably unintentionally so.

I am not upset that in reality no young woman would be able to disguise
herself as a young man, and look manly or boyish enough to attract a
young woman enough to fall almost instantly in love.  This is a gimmick,
it makes the play work, that is enough.  And of course I don't care if
Shakespeare had young male actors in the roles, I am sure the audience
did not react with SURPRISE to learn what the characters in the play
learned at the end, "My God, it's a WOMAN!!!!!!!!!!!"

The question nobody is addressing is when and how this suspension does
or does not work.

In Cymbeline, there's a great line, when the heroine comes across the
decapitated corpse of her supposed lover, "Alas, where is thy head?"
That is simply funny, Shakespeare didn't get away with it that time.

On my first Saturday night in the army, they trucked us soon-to-be basic
trainees to the theater to see the movie of West Side Story.  Most of my
big city, Viet Nam era, fellow draftees knew much more about street
warfare than Leonard Bernstein did, and several times, when Tony started
singing, the theater rocked with laughter.  I was curious, and asked
people about it going back to the barracks.  They loved the songs, they
liked the dancing, they liked the characters, but made it clear that
even within the reality of the movie, Tony was singing at the wrong
times.  I have looked at the movie since, they were right.

There is a time for logic, there is a time for art.  Usually there is a
logic within the art.  Reality is only one of the choices.

Michael B. Luskin

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