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Do we have to be so disrespectful?

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.148  Friday, 20 March 2015


From:        Graham Watts < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         March 19, 2015 at 5:40:55 PM EDT

Subject:    Do we have to be so disrespectful?


Hi All,


I recently joined this site as I thought it would enable me to interact with fellow lovers of Shakespeare. I have to say that the level of bitterness and lack of respect has dismayed me. As a director of Shakespeare I come from a different perspective and am happy to discuss my experiences of staging the plays. I’ve recently had a book published by McFarland “Shakespeare’s Authentic Performance Texts” in which I argue that - for performers - a modern edited text is next to useless and the Folio should be used as a starting point in rehearsals, although not rigidly adhered to. That’s a controversial view and I welcome engagement with those who think differently.


What I find disturbing is the rudeness and abuse on this site towards those who express contrary opinions. The recent assault on Charles Weinstein is a prime example. He has raised something very important that shouldn’t be dismissed. For the record I LOVE Baz Lehrman’s “Romeo + Juliet,” think that Ethan Hawkes “Hamlet” is one of the most ridiculous Shakespeare movies I’ve ever seen, and find Marjorie Garber’s books very lightweight to say the least. The sad thing is that I suspect she knows in her heart that she’s seriously out of her depth and has little to say of any relevance.  I’m not anti-Garber because she’s female - a thread on promoting the pioneering and truly outstanding work of Porter and Clarke is surely needed? Charles is correct that Harvard University - especially with its links to Shakespeare and Stratford - ought to be a little more rigorous in their choice of films for an academic course.


The list of movies on Harvard’s list (which I’m grateful to Charles for pointing out) demonstrates a notable lack of cultural diversity. I taught a class up in Alaska about Shakespeare on film and used a range of material from across the world. The base text was “Othello” and I screened an early German silent movie (where Cassio looks like a woman and seems about to kiss Othello,) the London Globe production from a few years ago, and the Indian “Omkara,” to name just a few. India has a distinguished record when it comes to Shakespeare and their various film adaptations are amazing. Having watched scenes from about a dozen films of “Othello” I asked the class of adults to vote for their favorite. “Omkara” was the one they all chose.


Despite our collective views on the quality of the films shown at Harvard I think it would be fair to say that Harvard and Garber display a distinct lack of imagination and insight (no surprise if you’ve read Garber’s books.) And the American white - centric choice of movies surely can’t be healthy when teaching the next generation?


These are simply my views, based on Charles’ excellent post. You have every right to disagree with them and I respect your point of view. I’d hoped this site might be a forum to share a love of Shakespeare and not for people to be mean and belittle those who aren’t tenured in some lofty tower. Many of the posts on this site seem to end with a dubious quote from Shakespeare’s plays, taken out of context, to support their view. This is a bit pathetic so I won’t join in and prefer instead....



Graham Watts

Speaking of Shakespeare with John Douglas Thompson, Naomi Liebler & Estelle Parsons, and Terry Alford

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.146  Friday, 20 March 2015


From:        John F Andrews < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         March 19, 2015 at 7:46:56 PM EDT

Subject:    Speaking of Shakespeare with John Douglas Thompson, Naomi Liebler & Estelle Parsons, and Terry Alford


A Conversation with John Douglas Thompson  


Monday, March 23, at 6 p.m.

The National Arts Club

15 Gramercy Park South, New York

No Charge, but Reservations Requested


In 2009, when John Douglas Thompson garnered acclaim for the title roles in both Shakespeare’s Othello and O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, the Times asserted that “there may well be no better classical actor working in the New York theater right now.” That assessment was reinforced in an enthusiastic New Yorker profile by Alec Wilkinson in 2012. Two years later Mr. Thompson earned the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance in Satchmo at the Waldorf. And a few weeks back, Times critic Ben Brantley bestowed fervent praise on Mr. Thompson’s portrayal of the protagonist in Marlowe’s Tamburlaine. That show was produced by Theatre for a New Audience and directed by Michael Boyd of the Royal Shakespeare Company. So what’s next for Mr. Thompson? Please join us for an evening that will shed light on that and other topics.



Estelle Parsons & Naomi Liebler Explore “Shakespeare’s Old Ladies”


Monday, April 13, at 7 p.m.

The Lambs

3 West 51st Street, New York

Members $5, Non-Members $10


For this special gathering, the Guild is delighted to join forces with The Lambs. A venerable theatrical society, founded in 1874, its members have started such prestigious organizations as Actors’ Equity, ASCAP, and the Screen Actors Guild. Hal Holbrook offered Mark Twain Tonight to his fellow Lambs before taking his show public. So it’s hard to imagine a better setting for Estelle Parsons and Naomi Liebler to reprise a dramatic exploration of Shakespeare’s Old Ladies, a dialogue that received sustained applause when it was first presented in 2011 at the New York Public Library. A member of the American Theatre Hall of Fame, Ms. Parsons has been nominated for five Tony Awards, and she earned an Oscar as Blanche Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Dr. Liebler, a professor at Montclair State, has given us such critically acclaimed volumes as Shakespeare’s Festive Tragedy (1967). After their program, they’ll engage in a wide-ranging conversation with the audience.     



Terry Alford Introduces Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth


Tuesday, April 14, at 6 p.m.

The National Arts Club

15 Gramercy Park South, New York

No Charge, But Reservations Requested


To mark the 150th anniversary of what has been described as the most dramatic moment in American history, we’re pleased to announce a special event with Terry Alford. A prominent Civil War historian who has an article in this month’s Smithsonian, Dr. Alford will be introducing his long-awaited biography of an actor who co-starred with his  two brothers in a November 1864 production of Julius Caesar, and who restaged a “lofty scene” from that tragedy five months later when he interrupted a rollicksome comedy at Ford’s Theatre. Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth will be launched during a dialogue that will occur on the same date as that notorious act, and in a setting adjacent to the final home of the assassin’s older brother. After his dialogue with John Andrews, who has published articles on the same topic in The Atlantic and the New York Times, Mr. Alford will be happy to sign copies of his book, which will be available for purchase.      



Visit for details about these and other gatherings, among them a May 11 dialogue with Diana Owen of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, who’ll talk about recent developments at New Place in Stratford, and a May 12 program with Daniel Watermeier, who’ll introduce American Tragedian: The Life of Edwin Booth


Email  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  or call (505) 988-9560 to register for these events. 

Adventures in Original Punctuation

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.145  Thursday, 19 March 2015


From:        Gerald E. Downs < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         March 19, 2015 at 2:20:27 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: OP


Gabriel Egan wrote:


> In deference to what I suspect is the shortening

> patience of SHAKSPERians, I’ll keep this response

> to William Blanton short.


I think this is a good thread.


> Blanton thinks that it is “pettifogging” to make a

> distinction between the claim “that Shakespeare

> himself was the one who marked up Q1” to produce

> Folio copy for The Merchant of Venice and the less

> specific claim (by Bate) that someone did it.

> Since SHAKSPERians demonstrably care about what

> Shakespeare did in relation to his work, I trust that it

> matters to the majority of them even if it does not

> matter to Blanton.


But this issue does matter to Bill Blanton, and in the same way that most Shakespearians care. The “less specific claim” made by Bate or Rasmussen was probably carefully written for Blanton (aka, the “general reader”), who’s supposed to understand that F MV was further influenced by Shakespeare, subsequent to and in approval of his very own Q1 copy-text, as evidenced by F additions taken from his very own promptbook preserved by Heminges & Condell.


A corrupt Q1 MV was copy for F; no one knows where the additions come from—that’s what editors should say. In a moment of weakness Gary Taylor addressed the matter in the case of F King Lear (PBSA 79, 1985): “We have no clear evidence that the manuscript was a prompt-book, or a derivative of one.”


Perhaps Bill Blanton is confusing F MV with F King Lear, for which the Oxford editors do claim that Shakespeare revised the corrupt Q1 and that he at least began on a copy of the quarto—an idea so unlikely that revisionists have conjured up other fanciful reasons for F’s Q1 derivation. As a result many Shakespeareans actually believe Shakespeare revised Lear into the F version. That’s no good, but good enough . . . ?


Blayney believes “that Q1’s copy was an authorial manuscript; that the adaptation was made by someone other than Shakespeare from the printed Q1 rather than from a playhouse manuscript of any kind; and that F1 was printed from a manuscript (either the adapter’s final draft annotated for promptbook use or a promptbook prepared from it) with the assistance (primarily for punctuation) of a copy of Q2.” Take out the ‘authorial’ bit and we’re getting hot.


Yet Blanton is mistaken to think that replacing “someone” with “Shakespeare” is a minor issue. Textually, that’s always the big question. Editors agree with Blanton, Taylor, Wells, Jowett, the Egans, Drakakis, &c. that Shakespeare’s finger was in nearly all Folio pies, putting in plums. They say it with more art than matter; it’s too much of a reach to say out loud. Up n’ Comers aren’t slow to learn which side of the Buddha the bread is on. Questioning foul papers, Hand D, and promptbooks is for Ardens 8, 9, & 10. 


> Regarding the authority of the Folio versions of plays,

> Blanton writes:


>> Hemings and Condell state that their friend Will

>> Shakespeare wrote the plays included in the First

>> Folio, and that they had selected the best versions

>> of those plays for inclusion. That's good enough

>> for me.


> It should not be good enough for anyone who cares about

> the truth since part of this claim is demonstrably untrue:

> the Folio is not the best version for every play. 2 Henry 4,

> for instance, is represented in the Folio by an expurgated

> text in which Falstaff is robbed of his rich wordhoard of

> oaths evident in the preceding quarto.


F 2H4 is revised throughout by someone other than Shakespeare. Q1 is corrupt. H & C said as much (through Ben Jonson): the plays were stolen, surreptitious, and cured (as if). They weren’t the best, but the best—the only—they had. And “F only” does not in itself imply authority.


> Lastly, and equally erroneously:


>> I believe that we all recognize that Shakespeare

>> wrote his plays as scripts to be performed, not

>> as texts to be studied.


> We don’t. The vast body of evidence against this view

> is contained in two books by Lukas Erne:

> ‘Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist’ (Cambridge University

> Press, 2003) and ‘Shakespeare and the Book Trade’

> (Cambridge University Press, 2013).


The vast—the real—body of evidence indicates that Shakespeare had nothing to do with the actual publication of his plays. Erne’s books are fantasies—author intention notwithstanding. I would like to know what evidence Egan is talking about. It may be that Shakespeare wanted to publish his plays. The evidence shows that someone(s) else got the job done, just as H, C, & B.J. say (with interesting mixed results). 


> It’s not the ignorance I object to—


Here I think Gabriel Egan is right.


John Drakakis remarks:


> There is a rather conservative strand in textual bibliography

> to which Egan seems now to have attached himself, and from

> this position he professes to decide what is scientific ‘truth’

> and what is error.


Textual bibliography is a bad term. It sounds much like bibliography, which it isn’t. However, Gabriel Egan does seem to defend a line of talk inherited from Greg and the New Bibliography via the Wells-Taylor-Jowett pipeline. His faction (real or not) decries analytical bibliography as somehow akin to author-robbing Postmodernist Theory. It is characterized by the determined acceptance of “foul papers” printer’s copy as explaining enough textual anomalies to claim that Shakespeare is directly behind early editions of his plays; by unqualified acceptance of “Hand D” as Shakespeare’s holograph, despite the absence of a paleographical case; by acceptance of authorized “promptbooks” as printer’s copy; by accepting Shakespeare as the reviser of plays existing in more than one substantial version; by believing Shakespeare acquiesced in theatrical alterations to his playtexts; and so forth.


> You are right to insist that Launcelet’s surname is ‘Iobbe’

> and NOT ‘Gobbo’.


Unless holograph copy is proved “insist” is too strong a word. But ‘Iobbe’ has the better claim.


> The question is: what can we do with this instability

> and how do we justify it. It is because we have too

> few surviving copies of Q1 in existence that it would

> be difficult to reconstruct a fuller printing history for it.


It’s doubtful a full history would settle any such questions, unless a manuscript decides them. The “questions” are matters not of bibliography but of textual analysis. Bibliography trumps literary analysis but it seldom decides the issues.


> There is evidence to suggest that MV was an untidy play.

> There are some loose ends and it is difficult to know what

> to do with them  The ‘Iobbe’ issue is one of them. IF ‘Iobbe’

> is something that in the manuscript copy from which Q1 is

> set is substantive . . .


Right. But what if the manuscript is a faulty transmission? “Untidy” often seems to refer to Shakespeare at Work (in his fateful Hand D style) but untidy happens in other ways. I can’t prove it but I like to think the greatest playwright of the age was better than that.


> I would, if I were you, not be sidetracked into the debate

> about the few other textual cruces that appear in Q1.


Amateurs (or lower-caste professionals) should not bother with the debates. I know all about sidetracks. Running trains for thirty years on the old Southern Pacific (or waiting to run trains), sidetracks are where I did my best thinking—no one told me not to. I agree that by avoiding debate one will not be told one’s wrong; but if what’s what’s what one’s about, it’s not so bad.


Gerald E. Downs

Shakespeare at Harvard, or Things Rank and Gross

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.144  Thursday, 19 March 2015


[1] From:        Anthony Burton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 18, 2015 at 3:49:17 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Harvard 


[2] From:        Charles Weinstein < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 19, 2015 at 10:42:47 AM EDT

     Subject:    Shakespeare at Harvard, or The Unweeded Garden 




From:        Anthony Burton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         March 18, 2015 at 3:49:17 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Harvard;


I too have to grit my teeth at Charles Weinstein’s dismissive, overstated, and hostile style, and it’s especially painful when his immoderate style poisons the virtues of more than one intelligent observation. 


Films do indeed stray far from anything might or wish to see enacted on stage.  And films do, by their unlimited shelf life, have a disproportionate influence on succeeding generations of people who see them for the sole reason that they claim to represent a Shakespearean play.  General observations about film as a medium miss the point, such as George Angell’s “To say that a particular film provides a bad version of the script is no the same as saying it is a bad film.”  I’m also sad that the admirable Hugh Grady was drawn by Weinstein’s style to cast doubt on the existence of “canons of taste” (though he protects himself by limiting his remark to those claiming to be “absolute”).  One may play Beethoven’s Fifth symphony on an accordion, ocarina, banjo, whiskey jug and recorder and have a helluva hoedown, but it’s going too far to advertise it as a performance of Beethoven’s symphony. 


Perhaps that’s the expression of my own “canon of taste;” perhaps it smacks of the absolute and unfairly denigrates a performance that Barney Google would have enjoined.  But there are lines to be drawn.   I myself have written about the harm done to any understanding of the potentially rich character of Hamlet’s mother Gertrude through the cumulative result of successive film diminutions of her rôle in the play.  Them as wish can find the essay in June Schlueter’s and Paul Nelson’s book in honor of Jim Lusardi, “Acts of Criticism.”  


The many flawed “Hamlet” films arguably have a legitimate place in a program of film studies dealing with drama on film, given to people who already know the play.  But offered as Shakespearean productions they open themselves — boldly and quite consciously— to justifiable criticism when they present their idiosyncrasies AS enactments of plays written by Shakespeare’s.  Would that their critic were other than Weinstein.


Tony Burton



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

Date:         March 19, 2015 at 10:42:47 AM EDT

Subject:    Shakespeare at Harvard, or The Unweeded Garden


1.  Hugh Grady writes:  “I am amazed to see that absolute canons of taste still survive, at least in the mind of Weinstein.  Those of us who left them behind sometime after the death of T.S. Eliot might well be spared them in the future, however.”


Tell me:  What kinds of “canons of taste” impel us to continue giving courses on Shakespeare?  Non-absolute?  Relative?  All-inclusive? 


2.  George Angell writes:  “Mr. Weinstein’s arguments are so full of holes they are barely worth addressing....”  He then devotes four paragraphs to addressing those arguments.  His attempted rebuttal is so full of holes that it is barely worth addressing; but I will note that he chides me for loathing Baz Luhrman’s films when they are “loved and admired by literally millions of people.”  Cf. Hamlet’s advice to the players, in which he tells them that a bad production may please the “unskillful,” but that it “cannot but make the judicious grieve, the censure of the which one must in your allowance o’erweigh a whole theatre of others.”  But perhaps Hamlet is here being as “poisonous, small-minded, pedantic, vicious and frankly stupid” as Mr. Angell takes me to be.


--Charles Weinstein


Hamlet Spoof

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.143  Thursday, 19 March 2015


From:        Lois Leveen < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         March 18, 2015 at 5:54:45 PM EDT

Subject:    RE: Ham Spoof 


Although I support innovative interdisciplinary approaches, I feel compelled to point out that the applicant’s previous attempts to incorporate astronomy and life sciences resulted in the deaths of two star-crossed lovers, not to mention a brace of the Veronese prince’s kinsmen.  Perhaps the NIH does well to direct funding elsewhere . . . surely there is a theory of humor(s) to be investigated.


-Lois Leveen



Project Title: “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark”




Understanding the human condition is arguably one of the most pressing issues facing mankind. Specifically, elucidating the sensory experience, internal integration, and motor consequences of joy, sorrow, rage, and despair is critical for knowing what it means to be alive, conscious, and self-aware. Previous studies in these areas have given rise to multiple great works of literature, both tragic (cf. Aeschylus 472 BCE, Sophocles 442 BCE, Euripides 438 BCE) and comic (Aristophanes 425 BCE). Nevertheless, the human condition is still poorly understood. The present proposal will make use of tragedy to explore this phenomenon, focusing on betrayal and vengeance. Both factors will be examined through a protagonist, ‘Hamlet,’ whose hesitation to act is predicted to influence the behavior, and ultimately cause the death, of multiple characters. The work therefore has the potential to unify disease states as diverse as madness, sword wounds, and poisonings as deriving from a single underlying mechanism, indecision.



In Act III of Hamlet, I will implement the novel technique of a play-within-a-play. This new device will shift current paradigms of playwriting, in which player and spectator have (to my knowledge) never before been one and the same man. Moreover, by distinguishing the reflective Hamlet from the emotional performer, I will provide the spectators with new insights into the nature of Hamlet's problem. As such, this method has advantages over current practices, which require the spectator to make indirect inferences about character motivations from the complete performance, which can often require two or more hours. An additional advantage is that the utility of this method will likely motivate other playwrights to adopt the same approach. Most importantly, it will offer a topic of analysis for literary critics, i.e., those who generate no creative arts but simply evaluate the creativity of others, that will likely keep them busy for at least four centuries.

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