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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: June ::
Re: Why Hawthorne Hated the RSC
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1504  Friday, 7 June 2002

[1]     From:   David Wilson-Okamura <
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        Date:   Friday, 07 Jun 2002 10:18:14 -0500
        Subj:   Did Shakespeare hate actors?

[2]     From:   Jane Drake Brody <
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        Date:   Friday, 7 Jun 2002 11:47:17 EDT
        Subj:   RSC

[3]     From:   Graham Hall <
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        Date:   Friday, 07 Jun 2002 19:19:04 +0000
        Subj:   Hawthorne at the RSC


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Wilson-Okamura <
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Date:           Friday, 07 Jun 2002 10:18:14 -0500
Subject:        Did Shakespeare hate actors?

On Tuesday, 28 May 2002, Takashi Kozuka <
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wrote:

>David Wilson-Okamura declares that 'in five years [...] we will all
>suddenly "realize" that Shakespeare was a poet at heart and that he
>hated actors'.
>
>This sounds strange to me. I should be grateful if David could explain
>why he is certain that Shakespeare hated actors (despite the fact that
>he was an actor himself) and why he did not write only poems instead of
>plays if he was 'a poet at heart'. Or did I either misunderstand his
>argument or miss a joke (again)?

I apologize for taking some time to respond. I was trying to practice
the "Wait 10 seconds before replying" rule and sort of got carried away.

What I was trying to get at in my previous post is that Shakespeare
criticism moves back and forth between extremes: was Shakespeare
primarily a man of the theater, or primarily a poet? Right now we are
hovering pretty close to the "man of the theater" extreme; hence the
preference for what we think might be acting texts in the Oxford
Edition.

When I said that "in five years [...] we will all suddenly 'realize'
that Shakespeare was a poet at heart and that he hated actors," I wasn't
suggesting that Shakespeare really did hate actors, but (a) that we are
due for a correction in the opposite direction and (b) that correction
is likely to be excessive, because it is dramatic gestures that grab
headlines, and academics (like media executives) are getting more and
more impatient for the Next New Thing.

Where might such a correction start? As I said, I think it would be a
mistake to move to the other extreme, but if that's what I were trying
to do I would reread and strive to rehabilitate the Romantic critics
(Coleridge, Lamb) and their 20C heirs (beginning with Goddard). I would
review very bad productions of King Lear and suggest that perhaps it is
"unplayable" after all. Then I would jump up and down on the acting
references that Shakespeare places in the mouths of cynics ("All the
world's a stage"), simpering sinners ("Thus play I in one person many
people"), and scoundrels ("Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player").

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jane Drake Brody <
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Date:           Friday, 7 Jun 2002 11:47:17 EDT
Subject:        RSC

It was odd to read the Nigel Hawthorne accusation of desertion by the
RSC.  My husband and I happened to see a perfectly dreadful production
of "The Comedy of Errors" by the RSC a little over year ago and at the
time it was obvious that this production had been deserted.  My husband
literally said, "Well, it looks like the big guns have gone to America
and left the graduate students in charge of the production."  Given what
Hawthorne said, I guess his perception was right.

Jane Drake Brody

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Hall <
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Date:           Friday, 07 Jun 2002 19:19:04 +0000
Subject:        Hawthorne at the RSC

The late Mr Hawthorne, in his post-employment criticism, joined a
distinguished coterie of established actors in being more vociferous
about the RSC's shortfalls once he had left it than when he was with it.
One wonders what the impact upon change in the company might have been
were such observations to have been put with more forthrightness during
tenure of office. Some of us who assume the role of box office fodder
take a wry view of the declamations we hear in the Dirty Duck,
suspecting - and on many instances knowing - that they are not voiced
when and where they would carry most weight. But at the end of the day
we realise that actors like most mortals have to pay the mortgage.

The strange set of that particular production of Lear was not without
its hazards. Hawthorne was borne about the stage in a hybrid gazebo/four
poster bed during 4.7. It was wrapped in some sort of canvass webbing
and was surrounded by attendants with flaming torches. As the scene drew
to a close on the night I attended Lear drifted off to sleep and the
contraption was pushed off stage. Unfortunately it had caught fire and
as the increasingly panicking torch bearers attempted to beat out the
flames Hawthorne continued to remain serenely asleep. Some time later I
mentioned this event to him and expressed my admiration at his
sang-froid. It was, he assured me, the first he had heard of the event.
Perhaps he therefore had a point about the lack of communication that
existed in the company.

The parallel production of Macbeth at the Swan during that season also
had experienced a real fire (Lady Macbeth's candle being the culprit, I
believe). Had both these conflagrations been allowed to develop their
full potential the current agony about whether or not to demolish the
current site might have been avoided.

Notwithstanding the general tenor of his remarks, Hawthorne appeared to
show genuine affection for his Fool at curtain calls which was
touching.  That is to his credit.

Best wishes,
Graham Hall

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