Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: August ::
Doubt
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0713  Thursday, 3 August 2006

[Editor's Note: This thread will end tomorrow, Friday, August 4.]

[1] 	From: 	John Briggs <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Tuesday, 1 Aug 2006 20:06:33 +0100
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0707 Doubt

[2] 	From: 	Dan Decker <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Tuesday, 1 Aug 2006 15:08:05 EDT
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0707 Doubt

[3] 	From: 	Stuart Manger <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Tuesday, 01 Aug 2006 22:17:32 +0100
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0707 Doubt

[4] 	From: 	Charles Weinstein <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Tuesday, 01 Aug 2006 18:15:00 -0400
	Subj: 	Doubt

[5] 	From: 	Mathew Lyons <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Wednesday, 02 Aug 2006 02:26:29 +0100
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0707 Doubt

[6] 	From: 	John W. Kennedy <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Wednesday, 02 Aug 2006 12:16:54 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0707 Doubt

[7] 	From: 	Scott Sharplin <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Wednesday, 2 Aug 2006 11:54:31 -0600
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0707 Doubt

[8] 	From: 	Charles Weinstein <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Thursday, 03 Aug 2006 07:48:58 -0400
	Subj: 	Doubt

[9] 	From: 	Hardy M. Cook <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Thursday, August 03, 2006
	Subj: 	Doubt


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John Briggs <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Tuesday, 1 Aug 2006 20:06:33 +0100
Subject: 17.0707 Doubt
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0707 Doubt

Hardy M. Cook wrote:

 >I have not written about "feminized boys (or males)," only that
 >Shakespeare wrote keeping in mind the character in the company who
 >would be playing the part he was writing. One may deduce from this
 >that the actor who enacted the role of Cleopatra must have been
 >extremely skilled.

Or incompetent, according to the protean Charles Weinstein:

 >Since the historical record gives no hint of infant phenomena among
 >The King's Men, I rely upon my own experience and ordinary sense
 >in concluding that the boys were probably inadequate.

I know which one my money's on!  Does Charles Weinstein next want to 
bring his "ordinary sense" to bear on the soprano arias in Bach's St 
Matthew Passion?

John Briggs

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Dan Decker <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Tuesday, 1 Aug 2006 15:08:05 EDT
Subject: 17.0707 Doubt
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0707 Doubt

I believe the proscription against female players was only enforced 
against public performance. Is there any evidence that women might have 
played the female roles when the company was performing in the homes of 
the great lords and other non-public venues? Or at court?

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Stuart Manger <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Tuesday, 01 Aug 2006 22:17:32 +0100
Subject: 17.0707 Doubt
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0707 Doubt

Just to reiterate my previous assertion that I think Weinstein is wrong 
to describe the boys as inadequate.

What about the ubiquitous and irrefutable evidence of the era's plays? 
All Tudor / Jacobean dramatists wrote belting parts for boys to play as 
women. Duchess of Malfi? Beatrice-Joanna? Lady Macbeth? Isabella, 
Ophelia, and that doesn't include any of the comic young lasses - need 
we go on.

You simply do not go on writing parts for actors you know are going to 
screw it up. You just don't. The boys must have been terrific, and I am 
simply baffled by the insistence that they were in some way inadequate. 
No, OK, they were not women, but they must have been more than 
consistently good enough to encourage some of the finest theatre 
practitioners in the entire language in any age to write some of the 
most profound female roles for them. You write defensively, you aim off, 
you make allowances if you think the actors can't cope with what you 
write. Does it truly seem to Mr Weinstein that in Ophelia, or Lady 
Macbeth, or Cleopatra there is any hint that Shakespeare is pulling his 
punches because he is writing for boys? If so, then I challenge him to 
find such instances and present them for us.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Charles Weinstein <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Tuesday, 01 Aug 2006 18:15:00 -0400
Subject: 	Doubt

For years I've been reading about how marvelous Shakespeare's boy actors 
"must have" been; otherwise, he couldn't or wouldn't have written those 
wonderful female roles.  Whereas I think it likely that the boys were 
inadequate (not least of all because they weren't female) and that 
Shakespeare created his women notwithstanding.  Both positions are 
speculative, since there is no evidence one way or the other (although 
the absence of testimonials to the skill or talent of the boy-actors is 
at least suggestive.)  However, the first position sells Shakespeare 
short while over-idealizing his apprentices, while the second position 
takes a realistic view of the kids while honoring Shakespeare's 
unequalled powers of invention.  We may choose which to believe, but I 
don't see that the first position is more plausible than the second.

--Charles Weinstein

"Shakespeare accepted the limitations of boy-actors without confining 
his imagination."--John Russell Brown

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Mathew Lyons <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Wednesday, 02 Aug 2006 02:26:29 +0100
Subject: 17.0707 Doubt
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0707 Doubt

I'm not sure why this debate is still going on - I rather thought David 
Lindley laid it to rest. However, here it still is and I am sufficiently 
irritated by it to put my shoulder to the wheel, for what that is worth!

 >What this means, of course, is that Shakespeare's female characters are
 >"to some degree" feminized boys (or males).  Having strenuously endorsed
 >this curious proposition ("There is NO doubt"), while attacking my
 >"outrageously flawed" and "nonsensical" reasoning in the process,
 >Professor Cook now recants by admitting that Shakespeare's female
 >characters are indeed wholly female.  In which case, there is nothing
 >left of the proposition, and an open question as to whose reasoning is
 >outrageously flawed.

The flaws in reasoning here are Mr Weinstein's. There is no 
contradiction in the two statements of Mr Cook's referred to. Indeed, 
the paraphrase of Mr Cook's statement as being that 'Shakespeare's 
female characters are 'to some degree' feminized boys' is inaccurate: it 
elides the obvious distinction between characters and actors thus 
creating the contradiction which Mr Weinstein then fosters on Mr Cook. 
To put it another way: Juliet is never a feminized boy, but she was no 
doubt played by one every time Shakespeare saw it performed.

Anyway, for anyone still awake, the facts are as follows. Yes, 
Shakespeare's female characters are female. But yes, they were written 
for, in Mr Weinstein's phrase, feminized boys, that is, boys dressed up 
as girls. Mr Weinstein may think Shakespeare did so reluctantly and 
regretfully. However, that is not a fact; it is an opinion.

Mr Weinstein's position, as I take it, is this:

1   Shakespeare wrote great female characters
2   Female characters are best played by female actors
3   Ergo Shakespeare must have written those characters to be played by 
women.

I think we can all agree on No 1.

I think most of us, these days, would assent to No 2, even those of us 
who would not necessarily assent to its corollaries - for example that 
Aaron and Othello should be played by black men. However, it is not 
obvious to me that Shakespeare would assent. I would like to think that 
he would; but I cannot share Mr Weinstein's confidence. As far as I 
know, Shakespeare would never have seen a female actor, and certainly 
never on the professional stage. His views on the subject are unknowable.

Point 3 is pure speculation. Even if we could be sure that Shakespeare 
himself assented to the second point, on which point 3 is based, point 3 
presumes that Shakespeare wrote for posterity, a position which is, at 
best, debatable.

Mr Weinstein's argument, as I understand it, then, is based on the 
premise that Shakespeare wrote his female characters in the 
hope/belief/knowledge that at some point in the future they would be 
played - and played better - by women. The logic of that position is 
that Shakespeare didn't care if the parts he wrote were beyond the 
capabilities of the players - in this particular argument the boy 
players, but the same point must apply to Burbage et al as well - and 
therefore exposed his plays and his company, of which he was a sharer, 
to ridicule (and loss of profit).

All Shakespeare cared about, in this reading, was how his plays might be 
acted in the future. Given that Shakespeare made little or no effort to 
ensure that his plays actually survived for future generations of actors 
- male and female - this is not an especially flattering assessment of 
Shakespeare's general intelligence.

 >Where is the evidence that the masculinity of Shakespeare's actors
 >"conditioned the composition" of his female characters?  I don't find it
 >in the text or anywhere else, and therefore see no reason to believe it.
 >What I do find when I read Shakespeare is an imagination quite free of
 >actors' limitations; that is what I meant by "uncompromising."


But Shakespeare did write with the company of players he had at his 
disposal in mind. One example is Will Kemp, for whom Shakespeare wrote a 
number of roles in the late 1590s. That might be characterised as 
pandering to Kemp's limitations; personally I would prefer to see it as 
writing to Kemp's strengths. Either way, it is not the quite 
uncompromising artistic imagination that Mr Weinstein has in mind. To 
take the argument to its logical conclusion: if Kemp had stayed with the 
company, is it conceivable that he would have been given, say, the part 
of Othello? If actor's limitations have no place in Shakespeare's 
thinking, such a scenario is not inconceivable; however, in practice, it 
would be ridiculous.

 >the historical record gives no hint of infant phenomena among The King's
 >Men, I rely upon my own experience and ordinary sense in concluding that
 >the boys were probably inadequate.

With regard to the first point, it is true, as far as I know, for the 
King's Men; but more generally I would refer Mr Weinstein to Jonson's 
epitaph on the boy actor Solomon Pavy. Pavy - presumably (I think) one 
of Hamlet's little eyases at Blackfriars - specialised in playing old 
men; but I see no reason why an 11-year old boy, suitably trained, 
should be intrinsically capable of simulating old age effectively but 
not capable of simulating femininity.

But, of course, to quote Donald Rumsfeld in another context, absence of 
evidence is not the same as evidence of absence, as Mr Weinstein takes 
it to be. And Mr Weinstein's experience and ordinary sense, since we are 
concerned with events at some 400 years distance, are not really 
admissible evidence.

My position, for what it's worth, is this:

1   Shakespeare wrote great female characters
2   When he wrote them he knew they would be performed by pre-pubescent boys
3   Ergo the boys in question must have been at least competent to the 
task of playing those characters

Mr Weinstein thinks not. He is not persuaded, for instance, by 
Shakespeare's evident trust in these boys not to ruin his work day in 
day out.

I am not fond of argument by analogy. However, since the piano has 
changed dramatically over the last 250 years, I have an analogy which 
seems valid to me. The proposition is this:

1   Mozart wrote great music for the piano.
2   Today's pianos are better instruments than any that Mozart could 
have known.
3   Ergo, Mozart wrote for today's instruments, not those of his own day.

Any takers?

Mathew Lyons

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John W. Kennedy <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Wednesday, 02 Aug 2006 12:16:54 -0400
Subject: 17.0707 Doubt
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0707 Doubt

Hardy M. Cook <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 > writes,

 >I never accused Mr. Weinstein of being "wild-eyed." However,
 >I did inquire as to what evidence Charles had for making the assertions
 >"that he expected his actors to keep up with him, that he was pleased
 >when they could, and that he didn't change his writing one iota when
 >they couldn't."

Indeed, this seems quite absurd in light of the growing conviction (it 
is now the consensus, is it not?) that the substantial textual 
variations among QQ and F1 are, in some part, the products of either 
in-production editing or, in some cases, auctorial post-production (or 
inter-production) revision.

William Niederkorn <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 > writes,

 >Here is some evidence that boys were playing female roles, as all no
 >doubt remember. Hamlet's speech to the players showed that a boy
 >playing female roles was growing too old for them:
 >
 >"You are welcome, masters; welcome, all. . . .  What, my young lady
 >and mistress! By'r lady, your ladyship is nearer to heaven than when
 >I saw you last, by the altitude of a chopine. Pray God, your voice,
 >like apiece of uncurrent gold, be not cracked within the ring."

That males played the female roles in London needs not to be 
extrapolated from "Hamlet"; the direct documentary evidence is plain. 
What is in some doubt, as I understand it, is whether /all/ females were 
played by pre-pubescent boys (puberty, of course, came later in those 
days than it does in the modern West), or whether some character roles 
were played by mature men.

Neither of these questions directly relates to Charles Weinstein's 
position that Shakespeare was essentially writing closet drama, (or 
"Kunst der Zukunft" if you will); neither do they relate to his dogged 
certainty in this, however much seeming to be born of naked intuition. 
Mr. Weinstein seems to believe as almost an a-priori truth that the 
Elizabethans were as thoroughly wrong in their casting practices as the 
Augustans believed them to have been wrong in their plot construction.

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Scott Sharplin <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Wednesday, 2 Aug 2006 11:54:31 -0600
Subject: 17.0707 Doubt
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0707 Doubt

If I may play the arbiter:

Professors Weinstein and Cook appear to agree on the following points:

1) That Shakespeare's female roles were played by males throughout his 
lifetime;
2) That, in spite of this fact, Shakespeare's female roles possess an 
intrinsic femaleness;
3) That Shakespeare's knowledge of contemporary stagecraft influenced 
his writing;
4) That Shakespeare's intimacy with his own company of actors often 
guided his casting choices and characterization;

Professor Weinstein believes that male actors are inadequate in female 
roles, and (lacking evidence) he has taken the liberty of projecting his 
own judgment upon Shakespeare. For him, point 2 trumps points 3 and 4.

Professor Cook, I think, is willing to consider that, in Shakespeare's 
time (and possibly in ours), some male actors had sufficient talent to 
interpret Shakespeare's great female roles. For him, points 3 and 4 have 
the potential to outweigh point 2.

Until Professor Weinstein sees a performance by a male Cleopatra so 
powerful that it repudiates his belief, he will not waver from his 
assumption. Can we agree to disagree?

-Scott Sharplin

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Charles Weinstein <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Thursday, 03 Aug 2006 07:48:58 -0400
Subject: 	Doubt

The idea that a great artist cannot create magnificently vivid 
characters on his own is quite untrue:  look at Dickens, who had no 
actors to help him at all; look at any great novelist.  The idea that a 
supreme artist like Shakespeare could not have created his female 
characters without relying on the variable and embryonic talents of 
teen-aged male apprentices strikes me as not only unfounded but 
ludicrous; and an insult to Shakespeare.

--Charles Weinstein

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Hardy M. Cook <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Thursday, August 03, 2006
Subject: 	Doubt

Charles Weinstein <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 > writes,

 >The idea that a great artist cannot create magnificently vivid
 >characters on his own is quite untrue: look at Dickens, who
 >had no actors to help him at all; look at any great novelist.
 >The idea that a supreme artist like Shakespeare could not
 >have created his female characters without relying on the
 >variable and embryonic talents of teen-aged male apprentices
 >strikes me as not only unfounded but ludicrous; and an insult
 >to Shakespeare.

This post is an example of one of the reasons that I have felt compelled 
to step out of my role as behind-the-scenes editor/moderator and become 
a contributor, and I sincerely hope that my comments are taken as those 
from a member of the list as they are intended and not from the list's 
editor/moderator as they are not.

The other day, I wrote "What I am most concerned about is the 
absoluteness of Mr. Weinstein's convictions, the uncompromising 
assurance of the rightness of his assertions." In addition, to the 
sentiment I express here, the above statement is characteristic of 
Charles Weinstein's method of arguing as displayed throughout this 
thread. Charles either creatively or inventively accuses others of 
subscribing to positions they have not actually expressed or in this 
case Mr. Weinstein replies to a position that no one has in fact 
contended.  I cannot recall anyone making the assertion: "The idea that 
a great artist cannot create magnificently vivid characters on his own 
is quite untrue." Neither has anyone to my knowledge maintained that 
"The idea that a supreme artist like Shakespeare could not have created 
his female characters without relying on the variable and embryonic 
talents of teen-aged male apprentices strikes me as not only unfounded 
but ludicrous; and an insult to Shakespeare."

I have a strong preference to discuss what I have actually said not what 
Mr. Weinstein has accused me or others of saying.

It would appear that Mr. Weinstein has an agenda to which he subscribes 
so thoroughly that he either is not capable of discerning or purposely 
distorts what others have said to sustain his own deeply held position.

I hope that it is clear that above I have been addressing what I 
perceive as Mr. Weinstein's method of arguing and not Mr. Weinstein 
himself. I personally find Mr. Weinstein at some time refreshing and at 
other times exasperating.

Hardy

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the 
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the 
editor assumes no responsibility for them.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.