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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: May ::
Stratford
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0394  Thursday, 4 May 2006

[1] 	From: 	Brian Willis <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 3 May 2006 13:52:56 -0700 (PDT)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0386 Stratford

[2] 	From: 	David Frankel <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 3 May 2006 15:46:56 -0400
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0386 Stratford

[3] 	From: 	David Kathman <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 3 May 2006 23:53:37 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0374 Stratford


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Brian Willis <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 3 May 2006 13:52:56 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 17.0386 Stratford
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0386 Stratford

Terence Hawkes wrote:

 >"Jinny Webber reports the German Othello as 'wonderfully theatrical: the
 >essential drama without Shakespeare's poetry'. Perhaps 'wonderfully
 >theatrical' prescribes some particular state of affairs if I could work it
 >out."

     and

 >"Something without Shakespeare's poetry is not Shakespeare. I
 >repeat my point. What is there of interest in this to an audience in
 >Stratford?"

The production was not maintaining an illusion of reality - Brechtian 
really. There was no imaginary fourth wall. That is rather simplistic 
but I don't want to launch into an essay about what theatricality means. 
When you have live jazz piano portraying the state of mind of Othello, 
Roderigo expressing his sexual frustration in dance, the relationship of 
Desdemona and Othello portrayed through mannered physical contact, not 
to mention of course direct audience address, and then do it 
"wonderfully", (a description I second), it adds up to "wonderfully 
theatrical".

Which brings me to the second point. The comments referring to Stratford 
and/or The Complete Works as a commercial enterprise brought this 
production to my mind. Rather than the usual collection of a summer 
festival, tied together by an increasingly uneven cast and production 
value within the RSC, I think that the visiting companies might provide 
a better example of the pulse of modern world theatre and what it can 
achieve. This particular production happened to deliver on several 
fronts. Overhearing many opinions in the foyer and around Stratford, I 
have been intrigued by the reactions. From nervous laughter from 
schoolkids within the theatre, to complaints about the content despite 
warnings on the advertisement that it was not suitable for children, to 
people who just didn't understand, to others who found it endlessly 
intriguing, this production provided an example of what theatre should 
be and only rarely is. It was not "perfect" (whatever that means) nor 
was it absolutely benign; It has made people talk about it.

It is of interest to Stratford beyond its placement as a piece of the 
Complete Works puzzle. Because it is not "Shakespeare", because it 
doesn't use "Shakespeare's poetry", or prose for that matter, doesn't 
mean that the production did not engage with Shakespeare's work in an 
imaginative way. In fact, this liberation from the script allowed the 
company to make comments about the world in 2006 and how Shakespeare's 
plot, characters and themes still resonate in unique ways.

Personally, the production was far more interesting than most 
experiences I have had in Stratford. I can't count how many times I've 
walked out of the theatre here and forgotten within ten minutes that I 
had just seen a play. The "interest" lies in the fact that it's almost 
ten days later, and I'm still provoked to think of it. I know that many 
of my colleagues and friends in Stratford are as well.

Brian Willis

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Frankel <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 3 May 2006 15:46:56 -0400
Subject: 17.0386 Stratford
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0386 Stratford

T. Hawkes wrote:

 >Jinny Webber reports the German Othello as 'wonderfully theatrical: the
 >essential drama without Shakespeare's poetry'. Perhaps 'wonderfully
 >theatrical' prescribes some particular state of affairs if I could work
 >it out. As it stands it would do equally well to describe a grudge
 >wrestling match. But the 'essential drama without Shakespeare's poetry'
 >conspires to defeat me.  Something without Shakespeare's poetry is not
 >Shakespeare. I repeat my point. What is there of interest in this to an
 >audience in Stratford?<

Perhaps the opportunity to see how a particular theatre company 
manifests one of the plays of Shakespeare in a particular space at a 
particular point (or sequence of points) in time.

C. David Frankel
Assistant Director of Theatre
School of Theatre and Dance
University of South Florida

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Kathman <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 3 May 2006 23:53:37 -0500
Subject: 17.0374 Stratford
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0374 Stratford

At the risk of extending this thread beyond its natural life, I need to 
correct some continuing misconceptions in Peter Bridgman's posts about 
the Shakespeare Birthplace in Stratford.

Peter Bridgman wrote:

 >David Kathman writes ...
 >
 >>I am not aware of any evidence that the property purchased by
 >>John Shakespeare after William's birth was specifically the
 >>western property; as far as I recall, the records are ambiguous
 >>on this point, only noting that the property was on Henley Street.
 >>However, it's possible that my memory of the facts is faulty.
 >>Does Mr. Bridgman have any documentation to back up this
 >>assertion?
 >
 >Only Ian Wilson's 'Shakespeare: the Evidence' [p.30] ...
 >
 >"Although both [properties] were owned by the Shakespeare family,
 >not a jot of evidence tells in which young William was born.  If it
 >was either, it was more likely the eastern half, the notable Stratford
 >authority Edgar Fripp arguing that the western portion was not
 >purchased until 1575, by which time William was eleven.  The
 >tenuous local tradition that he was born in the western part probably
 >derives from this being the section that members of the family
 >continued to occupy after Shakespeare's father's death, leasing out
 >the rest".  [From Wilson's notes, the details of the 1575 purchase
 >come from Fripp's 'Shakespeare's Stratford', OUP, London 1928.]

OK, first of all, Ian Wilson is not a Shakespeare scholar, and I would 
not want to cite him against people like Samuel Schoenbaum and Mark 
Eccles.  The real reference here is to Edgar Fripp, who appears to be 
your ultimate source via Wilson.  Fripp made his argument based on 
circumstantial evidence and certain assumptions, specifically the 
assumption that the Henley Street house that John Shakespeare bought in 
1556 was the same one he occupied in 1552, presumably as a tenant. 
Fripp's argument has been accepted by some people -- notably Robert 
Bearman, the current Head of Archives at the Shakespeare Birthplace 
Trust -- but has been treated skeptically by others, notably Schoenbaum 
and Eccles, neither of whom was exactly a slouch as a historian, and 
both of whom thought the house purchased in 1556 was distinct from the 
one occupied in 1552.  You're perfectly free to believe that the western 
part of the Birthplace was not purchased until 1575, but to state this 
as a fact is pretty misleading.

 >I suspect the "local tradition" came from the fact that in the 19th
 >century the western half looked something like a half-timbered
 >Tudor building while the eastern half resembled a brick building
 >with Georgian bay windows (see the early 19th century illustration,
 >Plate 3, in Anthony Holden's biography).

That brick facing was added on the outside of the eastern part at the 
beginning of the 19th century, when that part was still an inn called 
the Swan and Maidenhead, and was removed in the mid-19th-century 
renovation.  It was always the same building underneath.

 >Chapter 3 of Wilson's book is titled: ' 'Stratford-Upon-Avon 'One
 >of the biggest frauds in England'? '  Wilson is quoting Bernard
 >Levin in the Daily Mail ...
 >
 >"Stratford permits - indeed encourages - one of the biggest frauds
 >in England to rage unchecked.  I mean those two monumental
 >frauds, 'Shakespeare's Birthplace and Anne Hathaway's Cottage".

Ah, Wilson again.  I had forgotten about that chapter from when I read 
Wilson's book so many years ago.  I see, in reading Wilson's chapter 
again, that he appears to be your main source for all this -- he even 
uses the word "demolished" on the following page, though he's referring 
to the houses on either side of the Birthplace houses, not to the 
Birthplace itself.

While Wilson's book is kind of interesting, it's not a work of original 
scholarship, and in many places he mainly seems to be trying to stir 
things up and be controversial.  This business about the Birthplace 
being a "fraud" is one such place, and another is his overarching 
argument/assumption that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic.  I wrote up 
a review of the book for this very list soon after it came out in 1995:

http://www.shaksper.net/archives/1995/0221.html

 >David Kathman again ...
 >
 >>As far as I'm aware, the Trust did not "demolish" the Birthplace
 >>properties; they renovated and restored them to make them look
 >>roughly as they would have in the 16th century, which is not the
 >>same thing as "demolishing" them.  They did demolish the
 >>buildings on either side of the Birthplace, to reduce the risk of fire.
 >
 >If you don't like "demolished", how about "totally gutted, then
 >completely and cosmetically rebuilt"?

No, I don't like "demolished", because it implies that the original 
structure was destroyed and replaced with something else, which clearly 
did not happen.  "Gutted" is maybe a little closer, because there was 
definitely a thorough restoration in the mid-19th century after the 
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust bought the property, but that's not the 
same thing as "demolished" in my vocabulary.  Here is what Robert 
Bearman wrote about the restoration in his article on the Birthplace in 
*The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare* (2001), p. 47:

"Photographs taken in the mid-19th century reveal a dilapidated 
property, forming part of a terrace.  Following the purchase of 1847, 
the trustees, over the next fifteen years or so, restored the property, 
using the earliest known drawing of the Birthplace (by Richard Greene, 
in 1769) as a model, but also drawing on architectural evidence as the 
work proceeded.  From the street, the most noticeable alteration was the 
removal of a brick skin, built across the front of the Swan and 
Maidenhead early in the 19th century, and the reinstatement of three 
gables shown on the early drawing.  There was a certain amount of 
replacement of decayed timbers but generally speaking the work was 
honestly done.  Houses on either side, mostly later in date, were also 
demolished, leaving the Birthplace isolated from neighboring properties."

 >And here are two Victorian photos of the Henley Street properties,
 >the first one taken before the adjoining buildings were demolished.
 >Note that the eastern "half" (the pub) was a Georgian brick building.  ...
 >
 >http://www.oldstratforduponavon.com/images/henleyst_l_.JPG
 >http://www.oldstratforduponavon.com/images/henleyst_b_.jpg

No, I think that first photograph is just of the two parts of the 
Birthplace
 >before the restoration had rebuilt the gables in the roof and removed
 >the brick facing from the front of the eastern part (on the right side
 >of the photo).

All these accusations of "fraud" seem to be based on a somewhat naive 
view of the nature of historical buildings. The two connected buildings 
we now know as the "Birthplace" were built about 500 years ago and have 
been in continuous existence since then, though obviously they underwent 
a lot of changes during that time.  The most extensive changes seem to 
have been made in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in the century 
before the Trust purchased it.  The restoration of 150 years ago was 
designed to undo these major changes (which had included the removal of 
the gables and the building of the brick skin on the eastern part) while 
preserving the structure as much as possible, so that the buildings 
would look roughly as they did during the first 300 years of their 
existence.  Since then, the connected building has been a museum which 
is supposed to recreate for visitors what it may have been like in the 
16th century when the Shakespeare family lived there.  I don't think the 
Trust has ever represented it otherwise.  It's too bad if some people 
think that what they see there today has remained unchanged for the past 
400 years, but that says more about those people's mistaken expectations 
than it does about any "fraud" perpetrated by the Shakespeare Birthplace 
Trust.

Dave Kathman

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