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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: March ::
Re: The Real Beale
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0612  Monday, 31 March 2003

[Editor's Note: This thread is beginning to sound like people talking to
each other rather than to the Conference as a whole. Personal responses
are most appropriate as off line exchanges. -Hardy]

[1]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Friday, 28 Mar 2003 07:54:14 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0587 Re: The Real Beale

[2]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Friday, 28 Mar 2003 15:55:28 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0606 Re: The Real Beale

[3]     From:   Charles Weinstein <
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        Date:   Sunday, 30 Mar 2003 11:38:34 -0800
        Subj:   The Real Beale


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Friday, 28 Mar 2003 07:54:14 -0600
Subject: 14.0587 Re: The Real Beale
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0587 Re: The Real Beale

John W. Kennedy adds this bit of information to the Look of Hamlet
conversation

>For what it's worth, though, in the New Jersey Renaissance Kingdom we
>have some rather round people who can nevertheless perform amazing
>athletic feats (standing backflips wearing 100 pounds of armor,
>anyone?), and who are holy terrors with a sword.

These people are obviously athletic no matter what their shape and thus
can overcome any audience doubt about their fitness (in both senses).

My view remains unchanged. With casting (as with staging) you gamble
whenever you go against the basic conditions of the play. Just as these
are Renaissance plays, written by a Renaissance author for a Renaissance
English audience, Hamlet is a Renaissance prince and arrives with all
the baggage that that includes. You can, of course, throw some of that
baggage overboard (and, indeed, some of it is superfluous), but the more
you do the bigger the risk of turning your play into junk.

Or you can look at it this way: while excellent acting can overcome
nearly every impediment you put in its way, the more you put there, the
greater the danger of people stumbling and even falling flat on their
faces.

To my mind, it impedes the play if Hamlet does not look like a
Renaissance Prince. He is identified as being thirty and assumed to be
in excellent physical condition for the reasons listed. (He is not, to
my knowledge, described as tall, blonde and blue-eyed -- nor, if you'd
make a trip to Copenhagen (and wouldn't I love to), are all that many
Danes.) The less the Hamlet actor fits the basic conditions that the
play sets out (princely, soldierly, thirty, athletic) the more
difficulty that actor will have in making the audience accept him as a
person, rather than as a guy in a funny suit reciting some familiar
words.

As I have said before, I think many of the problems in contemporary
stagings of Shakespeare arise from the directors showing off. If they
would stop preening and just do the damn plays, we'd have a lot less
crummy productions.

But then, if they did, Charles W. would have a lot less to sputter
about.

Cheers,
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Friday, 28 Mar 2003 15:55:28 -0000
Subject: 14.0606 Re: The Real Beale
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0606 Re: The Real Beale

>1.  The question as to who is "ranting" here is an open one.  At times,
>you have come close to describing my views accurately--e.g., I do
>believe that most Shakespearean films are trivial or poor, and that they
>cannot form the basis for a credible academic discipline.  For the most
>part, however, you have ascribed beliefs to me which I do not hold, and
>have then attacked those beliefs at considerable length.  As a result,
>you appear to be howling to yourself while I eavesdrop, which almost
>makes me feel impolite.

Judging from the comments on our respective postings that have appeared
on SHAKSPER and have been made to me offline, I would suspect that a
greater number of people would accuse you of intemperance in these
discussions than would lay the same charge on me.  I also notice that
rather a lot of people seem to agree with my readings of your opinions,
which is either evidence that you do not express yourself very well (if
these are misreadings), or more likely in my opinion that you delude
yourself about the real motivation that lies behind your comments, and
therefore fail to recognise your opinions in my characterisations of
them.

I notice also that in your "eavesdropping" you fail to respond to just
about any of the most significant points that I make (preferring to,
incorrectly, criticise my vocabulary, and focus on minor comments)
especially when these points directly undermine your own most important
claims.  You have still not told us, for example, whether you consider
Elizabethan biographies and social and familial history contemptible
because they do not always study "the best" and the "most important",
since you tell us that it is a universal rule that academics are only
supposed to study "the best".  I have pointed out that if your views
were consistent you would condemn most Historical writing, no doubt this
is one of the points on which you consider me to be misrepresenting you,
but somehow I do not expect you ever to tell us what your real opinions
are on this matter, since they will inevitably be either inconsistent
with your previous comments or wildly irrational (if you really do
condemn the historical study of anything that is not "the best").
Silence in such conditions is clearly the best policy, but only if you
admit to yourself (however surreptitiously) that you are wrong.


>2.  I am far from the self-besotted actor that you have attempted to
>paint.  Sometimes I feel I've done well; sometimes not; and sometimes my
>feelings are mixed.  (Of course, such assessments can only be made after
>the fact.)  My critical reception during the past fifteen years has been
>quite good, but my reaction to it has been equivocal.  Sometimes I feel
>that my critics are astute; most of the time I don't; and this has
>nothing to do with whether or how much they like me.

Hang on a second.  Aren't you the Charles Weinstein who effectively
tells us that because *YOU* don't like Shakespeare on Film, or most
productions of Shakespeare on Stage, nobody should be allowed to study
these productions (or at least, if they do, they are utterly wasting
their time and their work deserves to be contemptuously dismissed and
attacked)?  Now you are telling us that most critics' opinions are
flawed.  I am not alone, I think, in noticing that the only critic whose
opinions you really value (to the extent of preaching contemptuously
against anybody who disagrees with him) is yourself.

>On the whole I
>feel that I'm good and getting better:  you're welcome to disagree if
>you ever see me perform.  In the meantime I neither expect nor want any
>critic to go easy on me.

Which neatly sidesteps the question that we were originally discussing,
which was whether an actor who quotes six good reviews to "prove [his]
bona fides" and neutralise a bad review is being hypocritical when he
attacks another actor for receiving two bad reviews, without mentioning
any of the good reviews.  Your only excuse for this, so far, has been to
suggest that you were proving that you didn't always receive bad
reviews, but since nobody ever suggested that you did, your only
motivation for quoting those good reviews was apparently to show that
either a) You were a good actor, or b) That the critics liked you.
Simon Russell Beale could show a lot more and much better reviews if he
wanted to neutralise the two bad reviews that you quoted about him.  If
the "Real Beale" is defined only by bad reviews, then why isn't the
"Real Weinstein"?

>3.  Speaking only of his Shakespearean work, I have seen Simon Russell
>Beale as Iago, Hamlet and Malvolio, have listened to his audio
>portrayals of Hamlet and Parolles, and have heard him perform some fifty
>soliloquies and speeches on compilations issued by EMI and Naxos.  In
>general, I find him to be conceptually unimaginative, rhetorically
>mediocre, vocally congested, physically graceless, emotionally shallow
>and dramatically turgid.  His Iago was a bore; his Hamlet was a
>disgrace.  I can, however, afford qualified approval of his Malvolio,
>which Robert Brustein accurately pegged as "a passable imitation of a
>snooty, self-loving English butler."

Fine.  If the paragraph above had been your only contribution to
SHAKSPER on this or related topics, then hardly anybody would have
bothered to respond, except perhaps to say that subjectively they
disagree.  Those are your opinions, and you are entitled to them.  Where
it all falls down is at the point where you start sneering
contemptuously at anybody who dares to disagree with you, or who dares
to study productions, or companies, or actors that you dislike.

I don't particularly admire Kenneth Branagh.  I think his performances
in film are competent but unexceptional, and when I saw him in a stage
Hamlet he spent most of the production trying to warm up.  The
difference between us is that I would not send postings to SHAKSPER on
these grounds denouncing anybody who studied Branagh or his productions
as a poor excuse for an academic whose work should never have been
published, or telling everybody that the "Real Branagh" was a mediocre
actor and implying heavily that anybody who disagreed was wildly deluded
and incompetent (implied suggestions that are made overt in most of
Weinstein's postings about Shakespeare on Film, for example).

What I see in your postings is a man with a God-complex who is furiously
angry, not with bad theatre, but with the fact that other people are not
willing to submit to his personal views of what should and should not be
studied, or of what is or is not good or bad.  You, naturally, see the
words of a wise man whose commonsense is sadly ignored by those feckless
academics with abysmal standards.  You might like to ask yourself
whether I am misrepresenting you to SHAKSPEReans, or whether you are
misrepresenting your opinions to yourself.

>Unfortunately, some people are attempting to elevate Beale to major
>status.  Those of us who think this absurd will say so.

But what makes you think that your estimation of Beale is the "Real
Beale", while everybody else (in fact, the majority, as far as I can
see) sees something false?  Again, there is a difference between making
clear your own views and pretending that anybody who disagrees with you
is deluded.

>Of course, the
>issue cannot be resolved by counting the numbers on either side.

Especially not, I suspect, when the majority is on what you consider the
"wrong" side.

>As a
>shrewd Prince once told a cry of players, you must not heed the
>"unskillful," but rather the "judicious"--"the censure of the which one
>must in your allowance o'erweigh a whole theatre of others."  By that
>standard, I do think it significant that the two best theatre critics in
>America are both unimpressed by Simon Russell Beale.

But we already know that the Weinstein definition of "the judicious" is
"anybody who agrees with Charles Weinstein - and *ONLY* when they agree
with Charles Weinstein".  You have told us that you frequently disagree
with Brustein, but despite this you are all too willing to use him as if
he was an infallible authority (much more significant, say, than all
those British reviewers - most of whom are presumably at least as
respected here as Brustein is there) on the occasions when he agrees
with you.  Are you telling us that if these two critics agreed on
something that you disagreed about, you would cite them as the authority
on "The Real ..." whatever?  Since that is rather obviously not the
case, why do you expect anybody to agree that "The Real Beale" is a poor
actor on their authority?  What exactly do you think you have proved,
apart from the unsuprising fact that even the best actor is disliked by
some?

>As in all such matters, time will be the ultimate arbiter:  inflated
>reputations have often been punctured by a wiser posterity.  In his own
>day Maurice Evans was widely regarded as a great Shakespearean; now he
>is remembered, if at all, as an elocutionary fake.  In this regard, we
>can be grateful for archival videotapes, which will allow future
>generations to see for themselves what all the excitement was about, and
>in some cases to discover that it was about nothing.

It is certainly true that posterity will draw its own conclusions.  I am
endlessly amused, however, by your apparent confidence that posterity
will sit down and say to itself "You know, nobody accepted it at the
time, but that Charles Weinstein was right about everything!"  Posterity
is just as likely to elevate actors and productions that you detest as
it is to moderate the admiration for actors that others have enjoyed.
This being the case, why are you constantly telling us that posterity
should not be allowed the information that it would require to make up
its own mind, for example, about the Gale Edwards production of "Taming
of the Shrew"?  There are already some detailed and approving analyses
of this production in modern performance histories, and these might just
spark a future historian to view that archive tape and decide that the
production was groundbreakingly revolutionary and the forerunner of much
that had happened by their own time.  Charles Weinstein, however, would
tell us that the modern studies of this production should not have been
written because the production was "bad", and that future generations
should not be told anything about the production for the same reason.
The fact that some people already disagree with this assessment of the
production, and that more people may do so in future, is apparently of
no interest to Charles Weinstein, who has already decided that this
production has no value to performance history.  Charles Weinstein has
apparently decided that he already knows what posterity will say about
Edwards' "Shrew", but there is no reason to believe that he is
unquestionably right.

Since most theatre productions have no archive tapes, it is still more
important that people record as much as possible about as many
productions as they can - especially, but not exclusively, those which
the individual concerned thinks are interesting, important, brilliant,
or inventive - opinions which may differ considerably from what Charles
Weinstein, or any other critic, believes; these are subjective
judgements and should be made by individuals.  If a particular work of
criticism or performance history is really worthless then nobody will
publish it, or it won't sell, but anything that is accepted now could
certainly be of great importance in the future.  Shakespeare's plays
were so much regarded as background material in the Renaissance that
hardly anybody wrote about them, and the sketchy diary jottings of Simon
Forman (who briefly recorded his responses to seeing the plays) became
valuable academic sources.  Similarly a study of something like the
Arcola Theatre's production of "The Tamer Tamed" (a fringe production of
a minor play, that many academics consider virtually unstageable) might
well be of minimal interest to academics in the 22nd century, but might
- on the other hand - prove enormously important if it turns out to be
part of a process (possibly further encouraged by the RSC production
this year) which turns "The Tamer Tamed" into a major text, which is
endlessly performed and much studied by future generations.

The Weinstein method tries to have it both ways with posterity.  If an
actor that Weinstein thinks is bad is critically slated then he says "Of
course they are terrible, and posterity does not need to know about
them, so nothing should be written about them".  If an actor that
Weinstein thinks is bad is considered by many to be a great
Shakespearean actor (particularly on film) then he says "Most people
think he is great, but the really wise and important people agree with
me that he is terrible, and posterity will realise that I was right, so
nothing should be written about them".

Weinstein witters on endlessly about productions not having passed the
test of time, but he also believes that any production that he thinks
bad should not be written about, which means that future generations
will know next to nothing about them and they will automatically be
excluded from the test of time.

>4.  Finally you note that I do not earn my living as an actor and
>question whether I regard acting as "fun" (bad) or as "a job of work"
>(good).

Now who is talking about misrepresenting arguments?  I have been an
amateur actor, which was fun (good), but not a job of work (in many
ways, also good - no money but no pressures).  So I don't have any
objection to somebody enjoying themselves.

Many professionals, however, would question whether somebody who does a
job only in their spare time and without depending upon the income can
really be considered "professional" in the way that a full-time worker
who lives on his wages would be.  You can argue this all you like, but I
know several people who would certainly make that distinction.

>The answer, of course, is both.  In any case, I am paid for my
>acting, and have sometimes been paid for my criticism.

Well, it may interest you to know that I have been paid for my acting as
well, as part of a professional Theatre-in-Education company.  The
Company was professional, but I certainly never considered myself a
professional actor.  My main employment at the time was as a Theatre
Researcher / Administrator, and that was what I did for a living.  The
acting was a sideline.  The money was nice, of course, but certainly not
enough to make me compare myself to those who made acting their career.

>You, as you have
>acknowledged, are not paid for your critical labors at all.  Having fun?

I certainly am, but then I've never claimed to be a professional
theatre-reviewer.  As you admit above (although - call me cynical - it
sounds as if you are rhetorically trying to make it look as if a
confession was beaten out of me), I've always been very open about the
fact that I am not.

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

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Sunday, 30 Mar 2003 11:38:34 -0800
Subject:        The Real Beale

Dear Mr. Larque:

Actors go to the theatre all the time.  Like most people, they sometimes
dislike what they see, including the performances.  Naturally, they say
so:  sharply, unreservedly and, in my experience, with considerable
insight.  To insist that they should never do this--that criticizing
other actors embroils them in some ethical lapse or moral quandary--is
ridiculous; yet that appears to be your position.

Why stop there, however?  Why not insist that academics should never
criticize other academics, or scientists other scientists, or writers
other writers, etc. etc.?  Or perhaps you mean to say that an erstwhile
recipient of adverse criticism should never criticize others in his
field.   Alas, that comes to the same thing, since who has never
received adverse criticism?  Or perhaps you mean that the obscure should
never pass judgement on the famous, in which case most of the members of
SHAKSPER, including one Thomas Larque, should also keep their mouths
shut.  Thomas Larque, after all, is a self-confessed aging student who
has yet to receive his degree.  An academic could hardly be more
"minor": where does he get off writing reviews of distinguished
scholars, or of anyone else for that matter?  Or perhaps you mean that
the unknown may indeed judge the eminent, but only favorably.  Excuse me
for not removing my cap and tugging my forelock, but I think that's
twaddle.

The simple fact is, you disagree with me.  You're entirely free to say
so, but that isn't enough for you:  you want to find some moral or
ethical reason as to why I shouldn't be speaking at all.  You won't
succeed, which is fortunate, since any such argument could boomerang on
you.  Record your disagreement as often as you like, but do stop
proclaiming that I'm somehow obliged to muzzle myself.  It won't fly and
it won't work.

Regards,
Charles Weinstein

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