Mis-Appropriating Shakespeare

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.198  Wednesday, 25 May 2016


[1] From:        Al Magary <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 11, 2016 at 4:26:35 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Mis-Appropriating 


[2] From:        Nemma Parvini <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 13, 2016 at 9:16:52 AM EDT

     Subject:    Shakespeare commenting on “stuff”




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

Date:         May 11, 2016 at 4:26:35 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Mis-Appropriating


Shakespeare did not comment on cognitive science or colonialism, if the words ‘comment’ and ‘cognitive science’ and ‘colonialism’ are being used meaningfully; that is, in the way that university-trained scientists and historians would recognize. The disagreements that have developed on colonialism and cognitive science in recent posts are at an impasse because each side doesn’t agree on what it means to comment. And it seems to me that the more specious camp is one that uses ‘comment’ metaphorically, art personified as the thing doing the commenting, and in which case it’s not Shakespeare who's doing the commenting in the ordinary sense.


So, if Shakespeare is not doing the commenting, who is? Jason Rhodes suggested that what authors had in mind doesn’t really matter, writing, “Regardless of authorial intent, culture places certain values on symbols” in a previous post. Fine, but who’s placing those values in Shakespeare’s mouth or behind his name? Shakespeare “can comment on stuff that wasn’t around in his time,” Rhodes writes. But how does that work? Especially if Shakespeare’s intent doesn’t matter? How do you comment on “stuff” that you have no idea about? Seems like careless, confused language. Is Shakespeare also commenting on newly discovered methods for detecting gravitational waves? Genome sequencing? Biolinguistics? Or is it just cognitive science?


Meanwhile, Neema Parvini writes that he’s “argued elsewhere that cognitive science does give us some interesting and convincing explanations for the social phenomena described by the Marxist and post-Marxist theory.” I suspect he’s argued the same for phenomena described by Shakespeare. Then he writes, “I do think certain answers lie there, even if cognitive scientists haven’t always pushed their conclusions in those directions.” Well, there’s good reason for that: the science community will hold them accountable to evidence and verification trials and will be refuted and be quickly left behind for maintaining invalid claims. This is basically happened to the saints of New Historicism Althusser and Foucault (whom Parvini mentioned); their carelessness with historical facts and scientific terms, combined with their penchant for confused language, could not be taken seriously by practicing scientists or historians in their time. Indeed, today they’re not canon texts in science nor history courses and should not be taken as authorities in any of those fields. And since Parvini is eager to alert us of his forthcoming book on “Shakespeare and New Historicist Theory,” I hope he is just as eager to defend his methods, should they in any way resemble those of Althusser and Foucault.        


Last, were Shakespeare alive today being asked by NPR what he thought about cognitive science or colonialism or whatever, his most probable comment would be, “No comment, man.” Anyone who has truly appreciated Shakespeare—the great self-effacer and biography-eluder who never seems to take any sides, positions, and doctrines—would generally agree. I think. “Speak less than thou knoweth,” he might say.



Hardy, I don’t disagree with “Gnos Chimski”—in fact, he is right on—but I think you’re publishing someone under a pen name: “Gnos” meaning knowledge; “Chimski” being the humanities blog chimski.com.  


I wouldn’t be surprised if Gnos himself is the main Chimski at the blog, having written in the last few weeks “Fables: Did Socrates write anything?,” “Sonnet: On True Love compared with False Love,” “Good Mourning: A sonnet addressed to Shakespeare on the 400th year since his death in 1616,” and “Hard Evidence: How the case of Will Kemp proves Shakespeare’s authorship.” 



Al Magary



From:        Nemma Parvini <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 13, 2016 at 9:16:52 AM EDT

Subject:    Shakespeare commenting on “stuff”


It would be appreciated if Gnos Chimski could actually read things before commenting on them. If you’d read the article you’d know that I am mostly on board with the idea of the “two-eyed playwright” who seldom takes sides easily. And, of course, I’d agree that Shakespeare had no idea about cognitive science. I’ve argued that he has things to say about human thinking, especially as regards intuition and reasoning. Were these things “not around in his time”? The basic logic of this argument is that the facets of human thinking have been broadly similar since the start of recorded history, so it stands to reason to find Aristotle, Shakespeare and modern cognitive scientists describing the same phenomena in different words. In short, Shakespeare has a good deal to say about human thinking, and nothing at all to say about cognitive science.


Chimski might also want to check what I’ve said before in print about the so-called saints Althusser and Foucault. My point is that whatever their failings—and I’d be among the first to point them out—they do answer some broad questions fairly convincingly. For example, why don’t the masses rise up and overthrow their capitalist masters? Why do people willingly accept conditions in which they are being exploited? They are more compelling when answering these sorts of questions than when trying to account for personal liberty and agency or historical change. My point was only that cognitive science provides empirical data for some of the phenomena they described. And heuristics especially can explain some of the effects (of power and ideology) that they talk about, which must in the last instance, rely on the capacity of human thought to be manipulated. In any case: do you need a scientist to tell you that totalitarian states have been a real thing, or that it has generally been the case that workers have not overthrown their masters? Do you need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows?


I suspect, however, that Gnos Chimski is not very interested in discussing or engaging with any of these ideas, but seeks instead to close them down. It’s easier to say: 1. Shakespeare wasn’t aware of cognitive science, therefore he had nothing to say about the human mind, 2. Althusser and Foucault got some things wrong, therefore we should not take anything they say at all seriously, and 3. Shakespeare was generally non-committal, therefore we should not say that he commented on “stuff”. Okay, great, what shall we do now?




Review: Cymbeline by the Royal Shakespeare Company

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.197  Wednesday, 25 May 2016


From:        Kirk McElhearn <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 11, 2016 at 11:10:02 AM EDT

Subject:    Review: Cymbeline by the Royal Shakespeare Company




Theater Review: Cymbeline, by the Royal Shakespeare Company


Last night was press night for Cymbeline, at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. This “rarely performed” play is touted as a “romance of power, jealousy and a journey of love and reconciliation.”


Shortly after the performance, Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells, who was in attendance, tweeted: “Cymbeline is surely Shakespeare’s maddest play.” This sums up the beyond-suspension-of-disbelief plot of the play. [ . . . ]


One of Shakespeare’s late “romances,” those plays that don’t fit in the three standard categories – comedy, tragedy, and history – and most of them contain, well, all the plot elements in the above graphic, except one. Critic Harold Bloom said, of Cymbeline, that it is “a revenge by Shakespeare against his own achievements.”


Cymbeline is long; over three hours (not counting a 20 minute intermission), and it feels long. It feels like a lot could have been cut, but the complex nature of the plot makes it hard to cut anything in the beginning that comes back at the end. The RSC’s production takes place in “a divided dystopian Britain,” as the RSC’s summary says; this, I guess, is pretty much like the UK of today. “Britain is in crisis. Alienated, insular and on the brink of disaster. Can it be saved?” But this isn’t the plot of the play. [ . . . ]


Nothing there about the Romans, who the British will fight near the end of the play (in a bloody, pyrotechnic fight scene), because that’s secondary to the real plot: that of the lovers being separated and then reunited. And the dystopian bit? Some graffiti on concrete walls; some Mad Max costumes; that’s all that suggests a post-apocalyptic landscape. And we suspend disbelief when we see that in Italy, all is normal, with singing, dancing, drinking, and partying. There was no apocalypse in southern Europe, it seems.


It’s a long way from their separation to their union, and you almost need a scorecard or a flowchart to keep track of what’s going on. The RSC’s hyperbolic production makes this even more confusing. Director Melly Still has chosen to pile on the effects, with part of the stage, around a dead tree trunk, rising up to look like artwork by Roger Dean. With extravagant lighting, smoke, and explosions. With song and dance routines. And with a strange way of having the characters move in very slow motion when others are speaking asides.


With some Shakespeare plays, you need to pay attention because of the subtlety of the plot: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, even some of the comedies, require that you are attentive to detail. This production of Cymbeline is so manic that it’s hard to follow; it’s best to just go with the flow, and hope it all makes sense at the end. It’s an uneven play, with some long scenes with only two characters (such as the scene where Iachimo is in Innogen’s bedroom as she sleeps; one of the best scenes in the play, because there’s no cruft, just great acting and great language), and others where there’s almost too much going on.


And there were some scenes where the characters spoke in Italian, French, or Latin, with the English texts project on the back of the stage. Why translate Shakespeare’s English for certain scenes? This was just wrong.


The title character, Cymbeline, actually isn’t central to the play. Well portrayed by Gillian Bevan (the RSC has made king Cymbeline a queen in this production), I felt that she sometimes stamped around on stage for no reason. The two main characters are the lovers Posthumus (Hiran Abeysekera) and Innogen (Bethan Culliane). I found Innogen to be breathtaking in her performance, and certainly the best actor in this play, but Posthumus was a bit too histrionic at times, and his diction wasn’t always clear. Oliver Johnstone as Iachimo was also excellent both as the full-of-himself Italian come to seduce Innogen, and the contrite prisoner at the end of the play.


Another group of characters – Cymbeline’s lost children, Guideria (Natalie Simpson, also a wonderful Ophelia in this year’s production of Hamlet) and Arviragus (James Cooney), and Belarus (Graham Turner), the banished soldier who has been raising the children – made a coherent unit, even if their feral nature seemed a bit overdone.


And “overdone” is be the watchword of this production. Between periods when it seemed to drag, to the last hour or so, with the battle scene and the long, final reconciliation scene, the gears shifted several times during the play. I felt a disconnect between the language and the direction, which made the entire production feel like an exercise in style. Nevertheless, the audience loved it, giving the cast rousing applause and cheers at the curtain calls.


There’s a reason this play is rarely performed. You can take the “lesser” Shakespeare plays and make them very good, if the production fits just right; this was the case with the RSC’s 2014 production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. But last night’s production didn’t feel just right to me; it felt like it was trying too hard to make the play something it isn’t. This “mad” play may call for a mad production; or, perhaps, something more nuanced. While I felt this was an interesting night out at the theater, I don’t think it quite hit the mark.







Query: Good Recent Essays on the Henry Plays?

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.196  Wednesday, 25 May 2016


From:        Ellen Moody <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 14, 2016 at 8:51:32 AM EDT

Subject:    Query: Good Recent Essays on the Henry Plays?


Dear all,


I’ve been watching the 2014 and now 2016 Hollow Crown; I’ve now gone twice through the first set (R2, 1 and 2 Henry IV, and Henry V) and find them superb. The best rendition of Falstaff that I’ve ever seen. To tell the truth, I’ve watched R2 three times just to watch Suchet and Lindsay Duncan at it. Now I’ve begun 1 Henry VI and I see that (as in other performances I saw on stage years ago at the Shakespeare Festival in NYC) they’ve abridged the 3 plays into 2.


I haven’t read Shakespeare criticism is a long while and find myself wanting to read far more modern pieces than the 1970s essays (good as they are) I read in graduate school.


Can anyone recommend good readable articles on these plays?


Does anyone know if they will be played on US PBS channels? I’m watching using a BBC iplayer my know-how daughter installed for me on my PC.


As a total non-sequitor: does anyone know if the Branagh-Dench film of Winter’s Tale has any chance of being made generally available to the public as a DVD?


Ellen Moody

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.




Podcast on Shakespeare and Feminist Theory

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.195  Wednesday, 25 May 2016


From:        Neema Parvini <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 13, 2016 at 2:12:21 AM EDT

Subject:    Podcast on Shakespeare and Feminist Theory




Why is feminist theory important to the study of Shakespeare’s plays? Neema is joined by Marianne Novy, author of the forthcoming book Shakespeare and Feminist Theory, for the Arden Shakespeare and Theory Series.



Macbeth, Macbeth Book Launch

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.194  Wednesday, 25 May 2016


From:        Annie Martirosyan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Thursday, May 19, 2016 at 5:48 PM

Subject:     Mac, Mac


Something wicked this way comes... Macbeth, Macbeth is a novel by Ewan Fernie and Simon Palfrey, based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth and inspired by Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (much to my anticipation and delight!). 


The book launch takes place in The Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon on 10 June (see poster attached).


And here is the trailer of the book https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6U0X66RM1MlZjRwM0VrekRsb1E/view 





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