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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: May ::
Re: A Dream of Hanoi
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0868  Thursday, 8 May 2003

[1]     From:   Richard Burt <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 07 May 2003 09:02:14 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0849 Re: A Dream of Hanoi

[2]     From:   John Briggs <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 May 2003 02:15:39 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0849 Re: A Dream of Hanoi


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard Burt <
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Date:           Wednesday, 07 May 2003 09:02:14 -0400
Subject: 14.0849 Re: A Dream of Hanoi
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0849 Re: A Dream of Hanoi

I hope others will respond to Lois's comments.  At the risk of repeating
myself, I want to respond as well.

Lois writes:

>Although the film opened with the suggestion that Americans and North
>Vietnamese could forget the past and be happily united through the mystical
>religion of Shakespeare -- a
>fantasy that might offer some comfort to anyone trying to think what
>life will be like thirty years after our current war -- it went on to
>show a very painful clash of artistic egos and cultural assumptions.

My questions here are:

1. Why does the film insist that it is not about the war?

2. Why should we want to use Shakespeare to help forget it?

3. Is the comfort the film gives available to "anyone"? Not in my view.
It is open only to Americans who may feel fine about bombing another
country at the time and then come to regret it later. I think the idea
of making a film about Americans taking Shakespeare to Iraq thirty years
from now in order offer comfort to American viewers of the film is
rather appalling.

Lois writes:

>Yes, the story ended in Hollywood style with enthusiastic audiences,
>reconciliation among the actors, and tearful farewells.  Those close-ups
>of enraptured spectators reminded me of Branagh's Midwinter's Tale,
>another film in which, after a comic and agonized rehearsal process, the
>divine Shakespeare brings salvation and reconciliation - on Christmas
>Eve, in this case -- through the experience of performance. It's
>possible, as Burt says, that at the end the Vietnamese "clearly loathe
>the Americans, who mistake their courtesy for affection." It's equally
>possible that all the performers, for a short period of time, really did
>love each other.  This is a cliche of theatrical plots, but it's a
>cliche based on what generally happens at the end of any short-term,
>emotionally involving group effort that turns out to be successful.

4. Why not have some distance from the cliche?  Why not ask people if
they really meant what they said? Was the effort a success?  What counts
as success here anyway?

Lois writes:

>there's lots of rich
>material that cries out for interpretation. I can see why Burt wanted to
>work out his resistant reading, but I'd be interested to know whether
>everyone's reactions were so negative.  My impression was that the SAA
>audience liked the film a lot.

5. What did the SAA audience like? Did they take the film on its terms?
Or did they see it as trashing of the whole bi-national, intercultural
theater project?  I agree that the film cries out for interpretation.
But the film does not ask us to interpret what it presents us.  It keeps
trying to offer us a prepackaged interpretation (and, I think, fails to
do so).

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 May 2003 02:15:39 +0100
Subject: 14.0849 Re: A Dream of Hanoi
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0849 Re: A Dream of Hanoi

My understanding of this debate is that Marx was right and Weber was
wrong.  Marx famously argued that ideas were formed by social and
economic circumstances.  Max Weber consciously set himself up in
opposition to Marx and sought to show that an idea - Protestantism -
could have social and economic consequences - the Protestant Work Ethic
and Capitalism.  As an aside, Robert K. Merton unthinkingly adapted the
Weber Thesis and sought to explain Puritanism as the cause of the
Scientific Revolution.  This was abandoned by historians of science when
too many Roman Catholic scientists were discovered - particularly the
Towneley Group in seventeenth-century Lancashire.  But there seemed to
be some corroboration in the history of technology - Protestant
Non-Conformists were prominent in Britain's industrial revolution, and
prior to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes all Parisian watch-makers
were Protestant.  (There is still debate as to whether France delayed
its own industrial revolution by depriving itself of its precision
engineering industry.)

A glance at the history of the Dutch Revolt helps explain the
situation.  Calvinism took root in the great wool towns of the southern
Netherlands, where the ecclesiastical organision was particularly loose
(or lax, depending on how you look at it.)  The revolt broke out when
Philip II proposed to beef up the ecclesiastical organision with more
bishops, backed up - it was believed - by the Spanish Inquisition.  On
the Spanish reconquest most of the Protestants fled to the northern
provinces of Holland and Zeeland.  The Dutch Republic subsequently
flourished, and the southern cities stagnated - not least because the
Dutch Navy blockaded their trade.

What this tells us is that those who already possessed the Protestant
Work Ethic - usually the urban bourgeoisie (I know this is a tautology,
but I want to emphasise "urban"!) - given a free choice, would choose
their own religion, and this would usually be Calvinism (Not always, of
course.  Baptists, Quakers and Unitarians were prominent in British and
American industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.)  There
wasn't always a free choice, of course.  After the scare of Savonarola,
the Catholic authorities, particularly the Roman Inquisition, kept a
firm grip on the cities of Northern Italy.  Calvinism was not allowed to
return to the Southern Netherlands, but in due course Belgium became the
second country to experience an industrial revolution (before France, in
many ways the more obvious candidate.)  In our own time Belfast is an
example of an industrial city artificially divided into Protestant and
Catholic communities, but arguably both communities have the same work
ethic.

What all this shows is that Calvinism was a product of Capitalism,
rather than the other way round.  Whether Calvin was also a creation of
Capitalism is an interesting question.

What has all this to do with Shakespeare?  Well, the same conditions
obtained in the City of London in Shakespeare's day.  Puritanism was
particularly appealing to the merchant class.  The apprentices and
journeymen who flocked to the playhouses would have had the same work
ethic.  (Weavers were notoriously Puritan.)  Shakespeare's plays don't
seem designed to appeal to City Puritans, but some of Middleton's do.

John Briggs

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