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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: April ::
Dumbshows?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0371  Friday, 28 April 2006

From: 		Jeffrey Jordan <
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Date: 		Thursday, 27 Apr 2006 15:23:38 -0500
Subject: 17.0363 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0363 Dumbshows?

Replying to Kenneth Chan.

 >Please note that the psychological studies I was
 >referring to are not merely hypothetical theories
 >about the subconscious that some psychologist
 >dreamt up; they are actual observations of real
 >human behavior. ...

But the question must arise of whether Shakespeare's personal 
observations of human behavior were the same as what the modern 
psychologists have observed from their formal data.  S was a fine 
psychologist in an informal way, as his works reflect, but he wasn't 
doing formal studies, treating his audience as data, and the modern 
psychologists aren't doing fictional drama (at least not 
intentionally.)  The focus is quite different.  There's a serious issue 
of relevance, in attempting to apply modern psychological theories to 
16th century dramatic works.  Further, the world of drama is, by 
definition, artificial, and not the natural world of typical human 
behavior.  The psychology of any fiction is "abnormal" in the sense that 
fiction is a departure from reality.  It's dubious that a scientifically 
rigorous, real world theory of psychology is going to apply to a 
fictional work, which was intentionally written to be different from 
everyday reality.

 >Recall here that W. W. Greg, J. Dover Wilson, and
 >Terence Hawkes all considered Claudius's
 >nonreaction to the dumb show as a problem that
 >threatened the consistency of the play. This is a
 >serious charge, ...

It may be a serious charge, but were they right in making it?  Such 
charges are obviously no threat to the play, itself, since Hamlet 
continues to exist, and continues subject to any number of further 
interpretations, beyond their own.  They weren't really talking about 
Hamlet, itself, but rather their own understanding of it.  Hamlet, and a 
person's understanding of Hamlet, are two different things.   Certainly 
it's proper to respond to earlier criticisms of the play, and I don't 
mean to suggest otherwise.  However, even if one achieves a goal of 
persuading others, in the contemporary world, that doesn't make one 
right about Hamlet.  One could persuade others to one's point of view, 
at the current time, but still be wrong about what S originally 
intended.  The world of possibilities is a large place.

 >All that is required is that we consider Claudius
 >as a person ...

Except, Mr. Cook has just posted not to do that. :)   It is, indeed, not 
a valid point of view.

Claudius is a "person" only in that S gave him certain things to say in 
the playtext, and that's it.  Claudius, himself, has no psychology, none 
at all.  It's impossible, since Claudius the person isn't really there. 
  Trying to analyze Claudius's psychology runs into the basic problem 
that there's nobody on the couch, and the psychoanalyst is only talking 
to himself.

On my own website, I make common use of the figure of speech that a 
character is a person, and discuss the characters as if they were 
people, but that's only intended as a figure of speech.  It's understood 
(or should be) that since the characters are supposed to be people, one 
speaks of them that way.  But it's only a manner of speaking.  Saying 
"the character" all the time, over and over, gets very tedious, for both 
writer and reader.

Oh, I wanted to ask the participants in general, how often is the Hamlet 
Dumb Show performed in English classes, particularly at the U.S. high 
school level?  I mean having the class perform it.  It seems perfect to 
me, that when students reach the works of S, that the teacher could have 
them perform the Dumb Show, as a little taste of "real Shakespeare 
theater."  It's short, it's simple, and no dialogue.  Dialogue from 
before and after the D.S. could be added as desired.  And with no 
explicit instructions for performing the D.S., that opens it up very 
nicely for classroom creativity.  Students  could do it their own way, 
talking about seating positions of the various characters, and the 
audience, how they think it should be  done, how they think S intended 
it to be done, and talk about it.  Seems to me there's significant 
classroom potential, and a nice break from the old "find four similes" 
bit, but is the D.S. being used in classrooms at all?  I'm not in touch 
with what's being done in English classes these days, and am just curious.

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