The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0487 Thursday, 13 March 2003
From: Charles Weinstein <
Date: Wednesday, 12 Mar 2003 17:50:47 -0800
Subject: Shakespeare at Stratford
1. My respondents' defense of a methodology that forces them to study
bad, mediocre and unimportant productions while ignoring good,
influential and brilliant ones is unpersuasive, since any such
methodology is indefensible.
2. Peter Holland professes to love my logic. I would like to
reciprocate, but I can't figure out what his logic is. Does he suggest
that a Stratford venue guarantees a production's quality and
significance, making it automatically worthy of protracted academic
analysis? I suppose he does: how else could he justify this foolish
3. If given a free hand, would the Shakespeare at Stratford authors
have chosen just these productions to study, and no others? Of course
not. In fact, their desire to study superior productions from elsewhere
is often so keen as to be poignant. See, e.g., the following passage
from Miriam Gilbert's volume on The Merchant of Venice:
"One non-Stratford production deserves special mention since it
seems to me a ground-breaking interpretation in a number of ways. When
Jonathan Miller directed the play with Laurence Olivier as Shylock in
1970 (National Theatre, London) he set the play in 1880 with outdoor
scenes evoking a cafe society....[G]iven that the director of the
National Theatre and one of England's greatest actors (Olivier became
the first theatrical lord during the run of this production) was playing
Shylock, this production continued to emphasize Shylock's centrality.
The nineteenth-century setting, the problematic relationship between
Antonio and Bassanio, the implicit (and sometimes explicit) criticism of
both Belmont and Venice, and the continuing power of Shylock--all
captured on videotape as well as on stage--make Miller's production one
that haunts the imagination still."
Which is all that she can say before dutifully turning to such matters
as John Caird's failed 1984 production starring Ian MacDiarmid.
4. Martin Steward seeks to defend the study of bad productions on the
grounds that someone associated with them might one day achieve
greatness--that the productions might have tenuous future connections
with something worthwhile somewhere. That is rather too thin-spun for
me. It is also frivolous, since it would license academics to spend
most or all of their time studying dreck. Their calling, as I
understand it, is to study the best.
5. The situation is even worse when the elucidators of garbage refuse
to acknowledge what they're doing. For the Shakespeare at Stratford
authors never deem a production a failure and seek the reasons for its
inadequacy. On the contrary, they carefully suppress all personal
judgment, slathering every production in the same bland acceptance.
That is one reason why their work is so flavorless and dull, and the
chief reason why it is meretricious.
6. I care nothing for Stratford boosterism, and I can't imagine why any
general reader should.
7. One looks forward to "Shakespeare at Stratford: Hamlet," a book
which will have to ignore the postwar productions starring Alec
Guinness, Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Nicol Williamson, Ian McKellen,
Albert Finney, Derek Jacobi, Jonathan Pryce, Daniel Day-Lewis, Ian
Charleson, Steven Berkoff, Ralph Fiennes, Stephen Dillane and Simon
Russell Beale. What a useful and interesting volume that should be! Of
course, not all of these productions were good, and some were dreadful,
but what is the value of a performance study that fails to assess and
discuss any of them?
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