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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 

 

 

[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;

 

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

 

[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

 

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”

 

Significance

 

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.

 

Innovation

 
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.

 
 
Curtains for the Richard III Bones Drama

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.142  Thursday, 19 March 2015

 

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

Date:         March 18, 2015 at 7:22:56 PM EDT

Subject:    Curtains for the Richard III Bones Drama

 

Ricardians and some of the rest of us are awaiting next week’s extensive Richard III reburial: 

 

http://kingrichardinleicester.com/topics/reburial/timetable/  

 

Channel 4 will be televising events:  

 

http://royalcentral.co.uk/royaltyinthemedia/week-of-live-broadcasts-of-richard-iiis-burial-to-be-shown-on-channel-4-45770

 

The tomb in Leicester Cathedral, which underwent £2.5m in remodeling, will be formally sealed at noon GMT on Friday, March 27, and that afternoon the grave will open as a tourist site.  

 

Cheers,

Al Magary

 
 
Shylock and the Greek Debt Crisis

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.141  Wednesday, 18 March 2015

 

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

Date:         March 17, 2015 at 5:46:31 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shylock/Greece

 

Many thanks to Dr Appelbaum for his provocative comparison of the Greek debt crisis to the contest in TMOV:

 

http://www.thebaffler.com/blog/merchants-of-europe/

 

But, Dr A., doesn’t maturation demand a measure of fair and just discipline to counter the infantilizing indulgence of years past?

 

And isn’t that wastrel fortune hunter Bassanio a better fit than Anthonio for Greece, forever wooing its ‘richly left’ EU for her Golden Fleece? Shouldn’t Greece return the EU’s pound of fiscal flesh back to the EU? 

 

Also, I wonder at Dr A.’s faith in “democratic process” to override Greek debt. Does Dr A. truly believe a majority of all EU citizens would stand with Greece rather than with German minister Schaeuble and his nasty unforgiving money men?

 

Skeptical,

Joe Egert

 

SHY: “and thrift is blessing, if men steal it not.” (1.3.86) 

 
 
Shakespeare at Harvard, or Things Rank and Gross

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.140  Wednesday, 18 March 2015

 

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

     Date:         March 16, 2015 at 3:02:19 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Harvard 

 

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

     Date:         March 18, 2015 at 8:09:32 AM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Harvard Rank and Gross 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         March 16, 2015 at 3:02:19 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Harvard

 

In re Charles Weinstein’s ungenerous comments on the distinguished Marjorie Garber’s judgments about what Shakespeare films might stimulate her students, 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. Or perhaps by continuing in the class, he might actually learn something, listen more, and speak less.

 

All best,

Hugh Grady

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         March 18, 2015 at 8:09:32 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Harvard Rank and Gross

 

Oh, dear!  I do hope that Charles Weinstein does not expect fellow readers of this list, simply because they share his love of Shakespeare’s wonderful plays, to agree with his poisonous, small-minded, pedantic, vicious and frankly stupid polemic having to do with Shakespeare on Film and in the Academy.  He is the type of audience member with whom Shakespeare himself did not have to contend, since no one in Shakespeare’s audience had seen any of his plays before and therefore did not know that there is only one “right” way to do them. Mr. Weinstein is that audience member absolutely convinced of the correctness of his own view of the text, and the consequent impossibility of a sensible differing opinion.  I have seen his ilk sitting in productions of the plays with penlight blazing and head bobbing over a copy of the first folio, never once looking at the stage while shaking his head and muttering in distressed tones whenever an actor transposes a word or a director cuts a line. Mr. Weinstein's arguments are so full of holes they are barely worth addressing specifically, but just to take a couple of examples:  

 

 What, pray tell, is this mystical “test of time?”   Has some work of art passed this test at a specific remove in time from the date of its creation?  What is that specific time – I’d really like to know? 5 years? 25? 125?  Oh, wait a second, that leaves theatre productions out of the mix entirely.  It is impossible for them to “meet the test of time.”  Unlike scripts or films they are not artifacts, but must be experienced in the moment of creation and for a very fleeting moment indeed - in the case of a Shakespeare production a test of time that can be measured in months at the absolute longest of runs.

 

 Literary scripts, theatrical productions of scripts and films of scripts are entirely different forms with entirely different demands from their creators, from their producers and from their readers/viewers.  To say that a particular film provides a bad version of the script is not the same as saying it is a bad film.  Films are not commonly judged solely on the basis of the literary quality of their scripts, but on a host of other elements like cinematography, direction, editing, and a thousand other qualities that do not apply only to the text. It is a simple matter to find respected film critics writing at length in respected film journals extolling the particular virtues of all the films Mr. Weinstein denigrates and dismisses.  And whatever a film might do to Shakespeare’s language, it cannot be judged in the same way as a production in a theatre.  The simple fact, “to belabor the obvious,” as Mr. Weinstein would have it, that he suggests that productions on film and productions on the stage are the same (how else to read his line, “. . .each of these movies is merely another production of a Shakespeare play”) is absolute proof of his abysmal ignorance of both forms. 

 

 It is particularly remarkable to me that Mr. Weinstein accuses his “insecure academics” as lacking in humility, when he is the one whose entire diatribe, from start to finish, is a model of pernicious arrogance.  His ad hominem dismissal of Baz Luhrman as an “ignoramus and vulgarian,” must, perforce be the correct view to take even though Mr. Luhrman's films are loved and admired by literally millions of people.  Not one of those sycophants, of course, is capable of coherent thought, as the humble Mr. Weinstein has so helpfully informed us.

 

Finally, Mr. Weinstein sells both the instructor and the students associated with the class in question very short indeed. His position is quintessentially Neo-Classical - any bad example shown equates to supporting that example.  It’s the Puritan stance against Shakespeare, “vice is made a show.” Students are smarter than that, and many of them actually have working, searching, questioning minds.  To have them study a text and then view a film, especially when the large preponderance of time and energy is put on the text, is not to unquestioningly elevate the film to equal status with the script, but to ask a question - "What do these two things have to do with each other?" I venture to suggest that even Mr. Weinstein might be humbled to discover how many students would find serious and significantly meaningful discrepancies between the script and the film, and take the film version to task for those discrepancies.   If I were to fault the syllabus for anything it would be that the students are sent to watch films instead of (or in addition to) going to see the scripts produced in the theatre.  I assume (though I don’t know) that this is a function of the size of the class and the simple logistics of getting a large lecture class to the theatre and then monitoring their attendance.  However, it makes me thankful to be teaching at an institution that prizes small class sizes, where I can challenge my students as individuals to argue for their perceptions, discuss scripts, productions and films in relation and opposition to one another and where, every year, I can take them with me to Stratford, Ontario to see all the productions of Shakespeare’s plays in their rep, every year.  Finally, I am most thankful that my students are not subjected on a daily basis to this type  arrogant and despicable intellectual bullying.

 

Golden lads and girls all must,

as chimney sweepers,

come to dust.

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