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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: September ::
Authorial Intention
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0651  Friday, 28 September 2007

[1]	From: 		Larry Weiss <
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 >
	Date: 		Thursday, 27 Sep 2007 14:03:50 -0400
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0647 Authorial Intention

[2]	From: 		Brian Willis <
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 >
	Date: 		Thursday, 27 Sep 2007 13:01:43 -0700 (PDT)
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0647 Authorial Intention


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Larry Weiss <
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 >
Date: 		Thursday, 27 Sep 2007 14:03:50 -0400
Subject: 18.0647 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0647 Authorial Intention

Prof. Alan Dessen, whose special interest is the intersection of text 
and performance, asks a very good question:

 >should or should not the material conditions of London
 >theatre in the 1590s and early 1600s be part of this discussion?

I think the answer depends on how we delimit the discussion.  If we are 
exploring only whether it is "futile" to attempt to derive authorial 
intent, then it follows that contemporary stage conditions and 
conventions are immaterial -- there is no case to be answered.  But if 
we allow that it is legitimate to inquire what an Elizabethan/Jacobean 
playwright expected to be understood by his words, then a knowledge of 
how he believed his text would be rendered on stage is highly pertinent.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Brian Willis <
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 >
Date: 		Thursday, 27 Sep 2007 13:01:43 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 18.0647 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0647 Authorial Intention

Alan Dessen makes invaluable points about authorial intention, and 
necessarily so when speaking of drama of any period. In the process of 
rehearsing and mounting a production of a play, the director and actors 
are in constant negotiation about the "meanings" and "intentions" of any 
given playwright, and especially so with Shakespeare. A play finds its 
life within the context of the theatre space (although with Shakespeare 
there are a long history of arguments about the private and silent 
reading of those particular texts). But a play on the stage is the 
culmination of many tiny and (usually) non-public negotiations about 
meaning and, with the case of the truly dedicated actor, many private 
interrogations of the text.

When a play is produced, (outside the draconian statutes of textual 
fidelity as dictated by, say, the Beckett estate or Edward Albee's close 
guarding of the rights to his plays), that text is no longer within the 
"intentions" of the author even if we can assume that intentions 
existed. Authorship of a play then becomes a collaboration between the 
playwright, the actor choosing interpretations and line readings, and 
the stewardship of the director. The performance we may see on any given 
night is out of the hands of the author(s) and re-authorized as a public 
collaboration. The text is embodied by the actor, and read within the 
material of the mise-en-scene, and the signifiers presented through 
his/her gestures, appearance, movement, and (especially important with 
Shakespeare) voice, i.e. how the body intends the text to operate. 
Within such a theatrical context, intention becomes very clouded indeed.

Brian Willis

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