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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: May ::
SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0315  Monday, 26 May 2008

[1] From:    Kenneth Chan <
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     Date:    Sunday, 25 May 2008 10:38:13 +0800
     Subj:    Re: SHK 19.0310 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

[2] From:    Alan Dessen <
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     Date:    Monday, 26 May 2008 18:37:58 -0400
     Subj:    "Intentions" Roundtable


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:        Kenneth Chan <
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Date:        Sunday, 25 May 2008 10:38:13 +0800
Subject: 19.0310 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0310 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

An interesting point is highlighted by Terence Hawkes's contribution "Sans 
Everything." Although Shakespeare's actual words constitute the most crucial 
aspect of his works, there is nonetheless more to a Shakespearean play than the 
language in his text. This probably explains why a Shakespearean play may retain 
much of its impact even when the original language is translated. And even if we 
remove all the words (as in the "wordless" Macbeth), it is still not "sans 
everything."

This may be a relevant point in the debate on intention. Let us look again at 
the quote from the 2002 volume, Shakespeare in the Present: "We choose the 
facts. We choose the texts. We do the inserting. We do the perceiving. Facts and 
texts, that is to say, don't simply speak, don't merely mean. We speak, we mean, 
by them"

This quote would be largely true if it refers to the language in the text. A 
play, however, is more than just the language in the text. It also has structure 
and plot content (by "plot content," I mean the action or "what is actually 
happening" in the scenes).

While much of the debate on intention is focused on the author's words, these 
other aspects of Shakespeare's plays should perhaps also be considered together 
with the words. Clues as to the author's possible intention may also be found in 
the structure of the play and in its plot content -- i.e., those aspects of the 
play that are not altered by a translation of its language.

Here is an example of how a play's structure and plot content may be relevant to 
the debate on intention. In many Shakespearean plays, certain key motifs are 
echoed repeatedly throughout the play, from start to finish. Significantly, 
these repeating motifs are different for different plays. For instance, no other 
Shakespearean play comes even remotely close to Hamlet in the number of 
references to death and its inevitability. This would suggest authorial 
intention. And a translation of Hamlet into another language would not alter 
this fact.

Thus, with regards to the debate on intention, I believe it is reasonable that 
we also consider the structure and the plot content of the play together with 
the words in the text. We will, at least, then have the benefit of a more 
complete picture.

Kenneth Chan

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:        Alan Dessen <
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Date:        Monday, 26 May 2008 18:37:58 -0400
Subject:    "Intentions" Roundtable

I enjoyed David Evett's comment with reference to my speculations about the 
practice of playreading to assembled company members: that stage directions are 
sometimes read aloud during an initial read-through in today's rehearsal hall. I 
have no such rehearsal room experience, but I have seen at least one Mike 
Alfreds production (the 2001 London Globe _Cymbeline_), done with six actors and 
two percussionists, where for added clarity Alfreds had his cast speak aloud 
various stage directions ("Enter Cloten, the Queen's son"; "Enter Imogen dressed 
as a boy"; "Enter Caius Lucius, Soothsayer, Roman Captain") or place indicators 
(Rome, Cymbeline's court, Imogen's bed chamber, A cave in the Welsh mountains).

In response to Tom Reedy's citation of the Johannes Rhenanus comment -- that in 
England actors "are daily instructed, as it were in a school, so that even the 
most eminent actors have to allow themselves to be taught their places by the 
Dramatists" -- that passage has indeed been invoked for various purposes. For 
example, first Alfred Hart (in 1941) and later David Klein (in 1962) in articles 
with the same title in _Modern Language Review_ ("Did Shakespeare Produce His 
Own Plays?") cited Rhenanus on different sides of the question (Hart argued no, 
Klein yes). In her rehearsal book Tiffany Stern observes that "Rhenanus" passage 
is often quoted as a description of rehearsals in the Elizabethan public 
theatre, but it occurs in the introduction to _Speculum Aestheticum_ (1613), a 
translation of Thomas Tomkis' Trinity College, Cambridge, play _Lingua_." Stern 
concludes: "Almost certainly Rhenanus is writing about academic productions . . 
.  and he is probably making a direct reference to the preparation of _Lingua_ 
itself" (p. 40). For a more recent summary of her argument in behalf of 
one-on-one "Instruction" (as opposed to group rehearsals), occasionally by the 
playwright but more commonly by senior actors, see _Shakespeare in Parts_ 
(co-authored with Simon Palfrey), pp. 66-70. As I noted in my original post, a 
playwright attached to a given company (as was Shakespeare) may have played a 
significant role in the script to stage process, but the fragmentary nature of 
the evidence forestalls any firm conclusions. Meanwhile, for me the work of G. 
E. Bentley, although not the final word, remains a model of scholarship that I 
have learned to trust, hence my reference to "the standard view."

Finally, as to John Drakakis' query, I'm not sure I understand the distinctions 
he is invoking, but I do have major problems with so-called "implied" stage 
directions as evidence. Again, for me here there be dragons. As he rightly notes 
many onstage actions can be inferred from dialogue (e.g., kisses, embraces, 
kneelings), but such inferences are subject to a range of transhistorical 
assumptions and reflexes (what I term "theatrical essentialism") that can lead 
to questionable conclusions. For the sake of brevity, I will limit myself to 
three examples.

First is the question of timing. My pet example is the final bit of the 
penultimate scene in _Taming of the Shrew_ where Petruchio gets Kate, after some 
initial resistance, to kiss him in public. The Wells-Taylor Oxford edition 
provides "They kiss" at 5.1.139 (and that inserted signal is not placed within 
square brackets). Does indeed the kiss come here (so she kisses him, he reacts 
"Is not this well?") or does he say "Is not this well?" (to the playgoer? in 
response to her verbal acquiescence?) and then kisses her. In a production, this 
kiss can be a major and memorable moment, but that moment can be defined or 
understood differently depending upon its timing and how a playgoer understands 
"is not this well?" Yes, a kiss is implied and does takes place; yes, an editor 
is entitled to choose a placement (that's what editors do); but the placement of 
the action is not self-evident.

A second example is provided by one of the many lessons I have learned from the 
choices of actors and directors. After the blinding of Gloucester, Cornwall 
says: "Regan, I bleed apace, / Untimely comes this hurt. Give me your arm" 
(3.7.97-8), and the Riverside is typical in providing: "Exit [led by Regan]." I 
have lost count of the number of _King Lear_ productions I have seen (by now 
close to fifty), but more than a few have produced a very strong effect by 
having Regan ignore her husband's outstretched arm and stride offstage. What 
kind of evidence is provided by "Give me your arm"?

Finally, consider the tricky question of what should and should not be 
designated an "aside." As noted in our dictionary entry, many asides are 
specified in the original manuscripts and early printed texts (e.g., twenty-five 
in _The Jew of Malta_), but more often such signals are provided by today's 
editor. E. A. J. Honigmann notes that by inserting "aside" an editor "often 
implies that the speaker would not have dared to utter the same words openly," 
but "if the situation includes an impudent speaker or an inattentive listener 
the case for an aside is weakened." For Honigmann, Hamlet's "A little more than 
kin, and less than kind" (1.2.65 - designated [Aside.] in the Riverside) 
"expresses the riddling impudence that is characteristic of all of his exchanges 
with Claudius before Act V"; why then "assume that he would not have dared to 
speak out loud, and that the only alternative is an aside?" Another alternative 
is "that Hamlet, the arch-soliloquiser, not infrequently mutters to himself and 
cares not a rap whether or not others catch his words," but "Such opportunities 
are lost if the editor prints 'Aside'" (176-78).

My own pet example is found at the end of the caldron scene where Macbeth, 
although onstage with Lennox, devotes 12 lines (4.1.144-55 - also labeled 
[Aside.] in the Riverside) to his plans against the Macduffs and his innermost 
thoughts. Most editors treat this passage as an aside and have Macbeth address 
Lennox again only in the final line and a half of the scene, a choice that can 
work effectively in today's productions. But, like Honigmann's Hamlet, Macbeth 
by this point may not care who knows what he is thinking or planning or, as an 
alternative, may be so rapt in his little world of man (as in 1.3) that he is 
momentarily unaware of Lennox's presence. As with Honigmann's examples, to mark 
this speech as an aside is to enforce upon the unsuspecting reader one choice at 
the expense of other equally interesting options. For example, in his 1987 
Oregon Shakespeare Festival production director Jim Edmondson provided a 
rationale for the appearance of the "messenger" who, after the departure of 
Rosse, appears with a warning for Lady Macduff (4.2.65-73) by having that figure 
overhear Macbeth's "The castle of Macduff I will surprise" comment (4.1.150-53).

In these comments on "implied" s.d.s I have drifted away from John's query and 
the focus on intentions but I remain faithful (or so I think) to my paradigm of 
a conversation started by the playwright that resulted in a production now lost 
to us, the eavesdroppers.

Alan Dessen

Works Cited

Hart, Alfred. "Did Shakespeare Produce His Own Plays?" _ Modern Language Review_ 
36 (1941): 173-83.

Honigmann, E. A. J. _Myriad-minded Shakespeare_. Second Edition. New York: St. 
Martin's Press, 1998.

Klein, David. "Did Shakespeare Produce His Own Plays?" _Modern Language Review_ 
57 (1962): 556-60.

Palfrey, Simon and Tiffany Stern. _Shakespeare in Parts_ Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007.

Stern, Tiffany. _Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan_. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.

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