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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: June ::
Distinguishing Goneril from Regan
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0381  Friday, 15 June 2007

From: 		Nicole Coonradt <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 12 Jun 2007 00:37:46 +0000
Subject: 18.0372 Distinguishing Goneril from Regan
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0372 Distinguishing Goneril from Regan

RE the Quart/Bonomi posts and the extent to which "just words" (Quart) 
were enhanced by "plenty of action" (Bonomi):  both comments make sense, 
and it leads me to another issue of recent interest, especially 
branching off Quart's comments on free speech (and the lack thereof for 
Early Moderns).  In contemplating what might have often been very 
topical treatment of current events in Shakespeare's day, it has been 
demonstrated that, as Bonomi noted, action could easily enhance the 
playgoer's experience-- theater is, after all, *live,* and actors depend 
heavily on audience reaction on many levels for their performances, 
script or no.  Theatre is interactive, not passive, and the whole of 
it-- script, delivery, action, and audience *reaction*-matters immensely.

With this in mind, I note that I had the opportunity to attend a course 
on Shakespeare in Oxford last summer and the attendees were treated one 
afternoon to a snippet of a play that a seminarian, Martin Dodwell, had 
written and directed at St. John's, Wonersh (he wrote and directed a 
second one this spring).  What he explored, in part, was the extent to 
which action might be added to any production to communicate with a 
given audience.  Certainly something to be performed at court might 
differ significantly from what one might do at an Inn, or for a private 
patron with an even more select audience.  We know that plays were 
carefully censored by Tilney (Master of the Revels) and his well-known 
ties to the Howards might mean that he was looking out for the interests 
of those with whom he might sympathize.  That is to say, some of his 
advice for alterations or censorship might have been as much to spare 
the playwrights trouble as get them into it.

At any rate, given that there was certainly "plenty of action," even a 
play whose text had satisfied Tilney's watchful eye might easily gain 
deeper or "other" meanings via added action *not* specified in the 
script.  To cross-reference a bit, at the "Upstart Crow" thread, a 
member (Forbing) posted a comment about rivals ribbing each other-- ergo 
Ben Jonson to Shakespeare-- which often happened textually, in an often 
thinly-veiled manner (frequently referred to as the "Poets' War").  A 
play performed at an Inn catering to an audience of students or lawyers 
might easily gain added appeal by "pimping" those viewers, 
good-naturedly, via actions rather than words.  Some of the script might 
actually have been ad-libbed as well, for all we know now, not having 
any recordings, films, or transcripts of live performances to confirm or 
deny this.

And, just for the record, while most Elizabethans were often 
"illiterate" this should not be confused with our ideas of 
"ignorance"-Stone's depiction of "uneducated yeomen" sitting on "rough 
benches."  Both Quart and Bonomi make a valid case for this.  It was 
probably a pretty savvy audience (politically) most nights.

A final comment.  Quart noted quite saliently, "We have freedom of 
speech. [Elizabethans] could be arrested for saying the wrong thing. 
Lack of freedom fosters secret languages, codes, levels of meaning we 
simply don't bother with because we can come right out and say what we 
mean."  There is current scholarship discussing this very 
thing-dissidence in Early Modern art-called "Dissident Theory" (a 
"neologic" methodology of value to examine any "text" created in times 
of repression).  We see this in the composition of William Byrd, the 
recusant Catholic composer, a contemporary artist of Shakespeare's. 
Among others, Byrd scholar David Skinner (currently at Cambridge) has 
made the case for Byrd's brilliant use of "safe" texts (the Psalms, for 
example), which he enhanced with the "action" of music, whereby even the 
emphasis in the score on a specific part of speech could convey a coded 
message to the audience . . .  much the same way we might imagine the 
action on the stage enhancing a censor-approved script with a forbidden 
or dangerous topical message.

Cheers,
NM Coonradt
University of Denver
Denver, CO  USA

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