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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Shakespeare for Kids
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0132  Monday, 19 January 2004

[1]     From:   Al Magary <
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        Date:   Thursday, 15 Jan 2004 20:58:21 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids

[2]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Jan 2004 00:11:03 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids

[3]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Jan 2004 07:52:10 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids

[4]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Jan 2004 11:41:54 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids

[5]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Jan 2004 04:33:58 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids

[6]     From:   Sam Small <
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        Date:   Sunday, 18 Jan 2004 18:16:53 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Al Magary <
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Date:           Thursday, 15 Jan 2004 20:58:21 -0800
Subject: 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids

David Cohen and others make the point, more or less, that Sh.'s plays
often need Sh.'s plot.  One has only to recall the 2002 BBC/PBS
Masterpiece Theatre production of Othello:  the plot only (reset to
today's London--John Othello is the new head of Scotland Yard), no
poetry.  With only one leg, it didn't stand up very well.  I criticized
it on that ground at the time
(http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2002/0249.html).  I'd sooner have
poetry, no plot.

I think kids can latch onto Sh. in many ways.  My younger daughter got
into Shakespeare age 10-12, with R&J (Zeffirelli movie on tape), Dream
(1999 movie on big screen, also play by touring Brits), Tempest and R3
(California Shakespeare), Much Ado (Branagh movie on tape).  I always
wondered how much she understood, of either story or language, but held
my tongue, for I could see that she knew it was at least magic.  Now 17,
she's kept up with Sh., stage-managing Twelfth Night a few months ago,
last night doing a stage diagram for Macbeth, and tonight being
Q.Elizabeth as royal audience for a Sh. showcase (she's got that high
forehead, fair skin).

Cheers,
Al Magary

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Jan 2004 00:11:03 -0600
Subject: 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids

 >Sam Small seems not to know the difference between literal-minded
 >credibility and literary effectiveness in relation to plot . . .

I nominate Thomas Larque's essay contra Sam Small as the best posting
(among many great ones) since I've been a member of this list, and worth
the price (purse?) of admission.  Bravo!  Alas, by comparison, my
response to Small, while agreeing with Larque in principle and in many
details, seems exiguous.

David Cohen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Jan 2004 07:52:10 -0000
Subject: 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids

 >even if the plots aren't "the single most important things about
 >Shakespeare"-
 >that "most important" being arguable

David Cohen's main arguments are actually quite compatible with my own
opinions, but I do object a bit to the selective (mis)quotation that
takes place above.  I suspect that if anybody did that to a critic in a
University essay, and it was noticed, they would be considerably marked
down.

Although my choice of words was - on reflection - a bit ham-fisted, what
I actually said was "Plot is one of the single most important things
about Shakespeare".  OK, so that's a bit like saying "This is one of
many unique vases of this type", in that my "single" suggests uniqueness
while my "one of" suggests multiplicity, but I don't think I was unclear
enough for my meaning to be misunderstood as "Plot is *THE ONLY* most
important thing about Shakespeare".  To make me say that, David Cohen
has had to drop the words "one of" and turn my "plot" into plural
"plots" to explain why I say "things" (with "plot" as one of many)
rather than "thing" (which I would have done if plot were all-important
by itself).

Sam Small, on the other hand, says that plot is nothing in Shakespeare,
and that poetry is everything.  This is clearly rubbish.  As I pointed
out, some of the most famous and effective sections of Shakespeare's
plays ("To Be or Not To Be", for example) are not exactly the world's
greatest poetry if you read them in complete isolation from the text,
since they need the context of plot and character to make them
effective.  Also the success and effectiveness of many adaptations of
Shakespeare that retain his plot without using his poetry - the very
things that Sam Small likes to pretend are useless and worthless - shows
that people are responding to at least some significant extent to the
plot rather than only and entirely to the poetical form.

One way of looking at this is that "Hamlet" can make a very effective
ballet or silent film, even for people who do not know Shakespeare's
original - as long as you give a little prosaic synopsis of the plot,
which you could do in the theatre programme or in boxes on the screen in
a paragraph or two.  Obviously it wouldn't be Shakespeare, and it
wouldn't be as effective as Shakespeare's play - which contains the
plot, the physical visualisation of performance, *AND* the wonderful
poetry, and everything else that makes up a Shakespeare play - but then
the main point at which Sam Small and I really disagree is that Sam
Small seems to consider any adaptation that isn't exactly as good as
Shakespeare in all the same ways to be useless and worthless, and I see
the value of adaptations for what they themselves give, even if that is
ultimately only a partial experience of Shakespeare's original, since
Shakespeare's plays are so good that even a partial experience of them
can be a powerful literary or performance experience.

Small also misses the fact that adaptations are often more powerful than
the Shakespearean original in particular specific ways (so that a dance
version is actually more visually attractive to an audience than most
stage performances of the play, for example; and a play or novel
specifically about Ophelia will exercise parts of our thought and
feelings - about female experience - that Shakespeare did not have time,
or wasn't interested, in covering in such detail).  Again the experience
may not be as great, and the literary value of the adaptation may not be
as impressive, as Shakespeare's original - but then we don't have to
choose between the original and the adaptation.  We can have both.  Just
because I thought "Hamlet: the musical" as performed in Prague (a richly
staged if rather sentimentalised rock-musical) was brilliant, it doesn't
mean that I have to stop watching and reading "Hamlet", the play by
William Shakespeare.  Instead my experience and enjoyment of
Shakespeare's original play is increased by seeing an adaptation that I
enjoy (and sometimes even by seeing adaptations that I think aren't very
good) in the same way that it is increased by reading academic criticism
that gives new and different viewpoints on the play - even, or sometimes
especially, if these viewpoints do not reflect my own.  Watching an
adaptation, or reading academic criticism, is like having a conversation
with your friend after seeing the play - you often find yourself saying
"I never thought of it like that!" or "I don't think of it like that
myself, but that's a really interesting way of looking at it!".

As for the children's adaptations that Small was attacking originally,
and which Hawkes similarly hates.  Being told a children's story based
on "Romeo and Juliet" when you are five years old, doesn't stop you from
reading and watching the play itself when you are old enough to
understand it properly.  On the contrary, if you *like* the children's
story when you are five, then you get two bites at the cherry.  You can
enjoy the bits of "Romeo and Juliet" that a child can understand,
translated into a language and way of thinking that you are willing and
able to listen to, when you are five; and then when you are an adult,
you can go on to hear the whole story in the original - excitingly
poetical - language, and enjoy the nuances and themes that you would
never have understood as a child.  For Hawkes and Small to deny that a
children's version of "Romeo and Juliet" has any value at all is
virtually unsupportable.  Although it is possible that a particular
children's version could be so badly written that no child would be
willing to sit through it; if the retelling is good enough to capture
the child's imagination, and ideally good enough for the child to say
"Read me 'Romeo and Juliet' again!" on a regular basis, then what you
have is not bad Shakespeare, but a potentially great children's story
based on Shakespeare.

Hawkes seems most upset by the idea that children can't properly
understand the sex and the violence, the politics and the (im)morality,
of the plays.  To paraphrase his argument fairly heavily it is something
along the lines of "These are adult plays about adult subjects that
children can't understand, and which they shouldn't be made to
understand until they are mature enough to do so.  Children's versions
necessarily lack the darkness and ambiguity of real Shakespeare, so they
should not be encouraged".  Well, fine, but - bringing this back to a
point raised by Sam Small - exactly the same could be said about Fairy
Tales.  "Red Riding Hood", at its richest, is a tale of violence
possibly even tinged by fear of sexual threats and temptations, a story
based on deep-seated psychological and evolutionary human fears and
instincts which a child doesn't really understand.  You could say that
"Red Riding Hood" and other Fairy Tales are far too dark, ambiguous, and
complex - intellectually and emotionally - for children to properly
understand.  Again, however, if we are open to the experience then we
get two bites of the cherry.  As children our response to the story is
primarily one of simple primeval fear and excitement.  As adults we get
the chance to respond in a more complex way, intellectually and
emotionally.  We can go from "The Early Learning Picture Book of Red
Riding Hood" to Angela Carter's "The Company of Wolves", or something
similar (pick your favourite adult-oriented adaptation according to taste).

There seems to me no reason why we shouldn't take everything that we can
get from Shakespeare.  Why stick to only enjoying the plays, when you
can use Shakespeare's stories as inspiration for other stories, in the
same way that academics use Shakespeare's plays as a launching-off point
for discussing such things as gender politics, the rights and wrongs of
capitalism, the ways in which a son should behave towards his father, or
a father to his daughter, and so on and on and on?  Adaptations are
simply a way of refining and expressing the sort of thinking about the
plays that Shakespeare and his original Renaissance audiences must have
been doing from the very beginning.  Anybody who goes to the theatre or
reads a book and responds with nothing ot her than passive absorption is
neither entirely human, nor making the most of their experience.  The
entire point of going to see a play is - as Hawkes might even agree - to
be challenged, to be excited, to be made to think, feel, and respond.
None of us would be here reading and writing about Shakespeare on
SHAKSPER (let alone making a living out of doing so, as many SHAKSPER
subscribers are) if we were not compelled to respond actively to the
plays in this way.  Adaptations are just one way of expressing this sort
of response and further encouraging it, as a sort of chain reaction,
from others.

Thomas Larque.
"Shakespeare and His Critics"       "British Shakespeare Association"
http://shakespearean.org.uk           http://britishshakespeare.ws

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Jan 2004 11:41:54 -0000
Subject: 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids

I'm a little surprised at Sam's Dad -'no-one could be that jealous'? And
only slightly more surprised that Sam could rely so heavily on vox pop
like that.

Newspapers / TV are full of stories of enraged lovers / spouses killing
/ maiming partners on such blown and insufflicate surmises, aren't they?
Quite apart from other literature / films / opera / soaps etc? or have I
missed a point here?

In the immediacy of the THEATRE, I can fully understand a punter saying
'wow! how can anyone behave like that' or words to that effect, but that
is perhaps an estimate of what they the audience-safely-sitting punter
in their more rational state find incredible about the state of
irrationality depicted on stage and what it has just manifestly led to.
Such excess is scary because, unfettered, it spells the end of human
society - a point that surely Shakespeare is among many others trying to
make. But to extrapolate from that that Shak's plots are therefore
incredible and thus 'dodgy' seems a bit of a leap!

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Jan 2004 04:33:58 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids

What's missing in this discussion of dodgy plots is the fact that
Shakespeare appropriated plots for their entertainment value and not for
their realism. Otherwise, he would never have written most of them,
Midsummer Night's Dream being the primary example.

The comment that "no one could be that jealous" reveals far more about
Sam's father (and I highly suspect Sam himself considering his history
of posts here) than it does about Shakespeare's plots. Any good drama
requires a certain suspension of disbelief that is not represented by
that comment. Theatre is intended to open minds rather than close them.

Brian Willis

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Sunday, 18 Jan 2004 18:16:53 -0000
Subject: 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0121 Shakespeare for Kids

Thomas Larque says: "Sam Small seems not to know the difference between
literal-minded credibility and literary effectiveness in relation to plot."

I suggest that Mr Larque has problems distinguishing plot from, in his
word, "circumstance."  I believe, with some evidence, that Shakespeare
thought of himself first, foremost and quite naturally, a poet.  And
more importantly a poet of people.  The poetry of loneliness, strife,
loyalty, sexuality and all the other 'slings and arrows' that hit our
person throughout our lives.  What Shakespeare was interested in was the
emotional payoff but not particularly the circumstantial set-up.  What
he was looking for was the man wracked by jealousy or one driven to
murder by ambition, humiliated, devastated by love's arrow and a
thousand other intense emotional states.  I would go further - this
being pure cheeky conjecture - that Shakespeare was a poet from the
first, hardly needing tuition and was made to write poetry.
Playwriting, on the other hand he had to learn.  The fact that nearly
all his plays are popular stories lifted from the past supports this
view.  One could also argue that his poetry is perfect but his plotting
otherwise.

Of course the "To be or not to be" speech is in context with "what
happened so far" but I believe that Shakespeare already had the poetry
in his mind of the inability to be good in a wicked world.  All he
needed was the barely credible circumstances to get Hamlet to that
point.  In other words the plays are driven by the need to describe the
human condition - not by storylines.  Therefore Mr Larque, I think, is
not thrilled by the series of events that befall Hamlet but by Hamlet's
reaction to those events.

And this is where children, and my father, if you like, finds difficulty
with the plays.  The plots, or stories themselves are not particularly
entertaining.  Many of them have incredibly depressing endings.  Many
have inconsistent storylines, many are utterly simple at core - Othello
certainly is amongst those.  Therefore in plot terms Romeo & Juliet is
very depressing and Othello incredible.  To use Mr Larque's own phrases
- children need literal-minded credibility, only evolved adults can
appreciate literary effectiveness.

One of the great failings of the amateur writers is the failed "inciting
incident".  This is the set of circumstances that propels the main
character into fatal conflict with the antagonist.  Without believing
that our "ordinary" main character has no other choice than to launch
into life-threatening combat with the forces of evil we simply cannot be
interested in the following story.  Writers, in fact, can spend months
making sure there are no other simple paths to cope with the inciting
incident - such as "calling the police" or "largely ignoring it".
Without going into a lengthy exposition, Shakespeare's inciting
incidents are usually flimsy and "dodgy"  (this means rickety and
unstable - to David Cohen)  But as I have said already - plot is not the
point, poetry is.

My point about "Little Red Riding Hood" is that it is a very popular
story with almost no characterisation.  I suggest that an unexpurgated
version put on the West End stage would bring very little revenue for
the promoter although it is a pure plot that can still frighten and
warn.  But it has no Shakespearean poetry or confrontations.  Perhaps
one or two might be - the joy of giving in to the temptation of straying
off the path to pick flowers knowing perceived authority forbids it -
the realisation that an evil force has consumed a loved family member -
and for the grandmother the anguish that her own stupidity had led to
the death of her dear grandchild.  These ideas are intrinsic in the plot
but never expounded because we believe that the little girl had no other
course, once she tarried, than to be consumed.  Children can ponder the
horror of Riding Hood because the plot is sound and credible.

To address both Mr Lawrence and Mr Steward I say once more that the real
satisfaction in Shakespeare comes from following the poetry and not the
plot - which we are expected to accept actually causes that poetry.  It
is almost a show of faith that we simply accept that Hamlet has no other
choice than to launch himself at the government of Denmark and bring it
crashing down.  Or perhaps that no-one in the entire English government
noticed that a wild, ranting, psychopath was trying to get the top job
and call himself Richard the Third.

SAM SMALL

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