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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: August ::
Updating Shakespeare's Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0426  Monday, 3 August 2009

[1] From:   Donald Bloom <
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     Date:   Monday, 3 Aug 2009 10:39:29 -0500
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0419 Updating Shakespeare's Plays

[2] From:   Julie Sutherland <
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     Date:   Monday, 03 Aug 2009 09:01:37 -0700 (PDT)
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0414 Updating Shakespeare's Plays


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Donald Bloom <
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Date:       Monday, 3 Aug 2009 10:39:29 -0500
Subject: 20.0419 Updating Shakespeare's Plays
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0419 Updating Shakespeare's Plays

Terence Hawkes writes: "What an enlightened literary criticism needs is 
an analysis which dissects these productions, rejects their 
preconceptions, and considers seriously the state of mind which they 
imply. This won't enable us to connect with Shakespeare's history, which 
in many aspects remains thankfully unavailable. But it will reveal a 
number of truths about our present."

I find myself in agreement but with certain qualifications.

Dissection of literary works (read or performed) is not done with 
scalpel and forceps but with the same words, ideas and process of reason 
by which the original work was done. The literary pathologist always has 
to keep that fact in mind: he or she is as much a poet or dreamer as the 
author. This does not license "junk" criticism, or suggest that 
anybody's half-baked impressions are as useful as a well-reasoned 
interpretation by a knowledgeable and insightful reader. But it is (if 
remembered) a useful corrective to arrogance and obscurity.

Preconceptions need not be rejected so much as recognized and overcome. 
The grosser prejudices (racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and such) we 
reject out of hand, of course, but we have to guard against our 
antagonism to them distorting our judgment. Treating a late 16th mind as 
if it were trying to think like an early 21st century mind gets us 
nowhere. We will either judge it unfairly (because it fails to do so) or 
misinterpret it (to make it seem like it does).

The phrase "truths about our present" makes me a trifle uneasy. It 
sounds a bit grand for the likes of me. Clearly these truths are a lot 
of what Hawkes and all the rest of us are looking in for in Shakespeare, 
whether in reading, or watching, or acting it. But stating it that way 
might lead the unwary into a kind of interpretation that (as I 
understand him) Hawkes is trying to prevent. ("I know more about 
Shakespeare and what he means because I am God; other professors drop by 
my office from time to time to ask me to clarify passages they're 
uncertain about. Or they ought to.")

I hope I haven't either misread or trivialized what TH was getting at -- 
correction, I have I haven't misread him too badly. His preconceptions 
and my preconceptions remain in place despite what we think -- or think 
we've thought. The lunatic, the critic and the poet are of imagination 
all compact, as Peter Quince goes on to prove.

Cheers,
don

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Julie Sutherland <
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Date:       Monday, 03 Aug 2009 09:01:37 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 20.0414 Updating Shakespeare's Plays
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0414 Updating Shakespeare's Plays

I also agree there have been some very poorly chosen settings into which 
Shakespeare's plays have been thrown, which make the company's agenda 
seem too strong and feel as though Shakespeare's play takes a back seat 
to the politics at hand.

I don't think, however, that these things are never done with more 
recent plays. I do agree that we aren't typically as drastic as putting 
"Death of a Salesman" in war-torn Kosovo, etc., but I would argue we 
haven't YET because we're still too close to the period in which Miller 
or Williams or Hellman wrote their plays. A time may come when we will 
'update' these plays, or transfer them to a different period. In the 
mean time, we still interpret them, it would seem, through an updated lens.

I have seen productions of "Death of a Salesman" in which Linda Loman is 
not a loyal and loving wife, patient about her husband's wild dreams and 
infidelities. I have seen a production of You Can't Take it With You in 
which Rheba and Donald were Irish immigrants rather than black servants. 
I'm not necessarily saying these interpretations were brilliant -- but 
it does suggest our inventive minds are at work when we feel that a 
representation that seems uncomfortable or inaccessible in 2009 needs to 
be re-assessed.

Regards,
Julie Sutherland

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