1.0007 Project Gutenberg Announcement (107)

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 1, No. 7. Monday, 30 Jul 1990.
Date:         Mon July 30, 1990
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1.0006 Modern Interpretations, Branagh (151)

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 1, No. 6. Monday, 30 Jul 1990.
(1)   Date:   Mon, 30 Jul 90 03:20:00 EDT                    (64 lines)
      From:   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
      Subject: Modern Productions
(2)   Date:         Mon, 30 Jul 90 11:10:25 EDT              (67 lines)
      From:         Ken Steele <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
      Subject:      Branagh's Lear and MSND
(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date:   Mon, 30 Jul 90 03:20:00 EDT
From:   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Subject: Modern Productions
     Certainly one cannot complain about adapting Shakespeare to the
modern stage if it works.  But I do not think we can make comparisons
between "modern" and "traditional" productions.  The 19th Century's
most popular productions involved what Michael Booth calls spectacular
theatre, and the style of acting was entirely different from what we
are used to.
     Henry Irving was considered the greatest Shakespearian
actor of his day, but a recording of him doing Wolsey's final speech
in *Henry VIII* had me rolling on the floor.  An American journalist
transcribed Irving's treatment of some lines in *The Merchant of
Venice* as follows:
          Wa thane, ett no eperes
          Ah! um! yo ned m'elp.
          Ough! ough! Gaw too thane! Ha! um!
          Yo com'n say
          Ah! Shilock! Um! ouch! we wode hev moanies!
          (as qtd. in Ellen Terry, *The Story of My Life*.
            London: Hutchinson & Co., 1908.  p. 273)
But to most Victorian theatre-goers (both English and American),
Irving's style of acting and production was perfectly acceptable--
even laudable.  Irving was the first actor to be knighted.
     What I find interesting about contemporary productions of
Shakespeare is how the theatre has changed its perception of
Shakespeare's works completely.  Now instead of seeing his plays as
great temples of moral and cultural virtue, they are works for the
"common people."  Now the idea is to "popularize" Shakespeare, and
make him "accessable" to the masses.  And so I get to see *The Comedy of
Errors* performed at Lincoln Center as schtick with the Flying
Karamatzov Brothers, *The Taming of the Shrew* converted into the
"Wild Bunch," and *A Midsummer Night's Dream* placed into "The Road
Warrior."  And how often do we see the comedies as opposed to the
tragedies?  Would the ratio today be the same as the 16th, 17th, 18th,
or 19th Centuries?
     But I am not complaining about modern productions.  I saw Kenneth
Brannagh's productions of *Lear* and *Dream* when the Renaissance
Theatre Company came to Toronto, and felt that they were very good.
Emma Thompson's Fool was outstanding, and I feel her's will be
considered one of the great interpretations of that role.  And I
did not agree with the Toronto critics, who for the most part panned
both productions.  For me, they were acting like snobs and saying,
"We will not be taken in by this British company, because we are
sophisticated Torontonians."  They missed the point.  Brannagh's
interpretation of both plays, while seeking to be popular, employed
a style that was "faithful" to the plays.
     My feeling is that we can compare styles, but to do so is more an
exercise in theatrical and cultural history than one about
Shakespeare.  We can criticize and praise different productions, but
we can never really talk about the "definitive" or even "traditional"
productions any more than one can talk about the "definitive
interpretation of the text.
Stephen Matsuba
York University
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------71----
Date:         Mon, 30 Jul 90 11:10:25 EDT
From:         Ken Steele <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Subject:      Branagh's Lear and MSND
Well, perhaps this is somewhat tangential to the essential subject, but
tangents are the foundation of most conversation.  I don't believe that
Toronto critics (and New York critics, and Los Angeles critics...) were
being snobbish when panning Branagh's Lear and MSND.  I found them both
to be surprisingly *flat* productions: the cast was either tired or
uninspired, and the audience soon caught this boredom from them.
Ethna Roddy's Cordelia was truly awful; more than one noted Shakespearean
has remarked to me that this was the only Cordelia they had ever seen
whom they were actually glad to see die.  I agree, Emma Thompson's fool
was intriguing, and deserves the applause given it by almost every
critic.  Perhaps Branagh's Edgar and Quince would have been impressive,
too, but understudies took both roles when I saw the productions.
The staging for Branagh's Lear was expressive, but the endeavour to
design a set for both MSND *and* Lear resulted in a set which was
ideally suited for neither.  Of course, twinned plays always create
interesting resonances: I noted in particular that Snug carries a
joint-stool around CONSTANTLY in MSND, but that in Lear's mock trial
scene, the joint stool is purely a figment of his imagination.  But the
double feature at Stratford Ontario last year, combining the Comedy of
Errors and Titus Andronicus in a single evening, did considerably more
interesting things with the interconnections, I though, although they
did justice to neither play in such abbreviated versions.
Branagh's rain effect for the storm sequence was impressive -- a
custom-designed sprinkler system created a semi-circular curtain of
water cascading down into the ditch around the set -- but it was more
spectacle than drama.  More effective, for me, was the version of
the storm on the heath presented on Toronto's Harbourfront by
Theatresports, who staged a mock-King Lear in the duck pond wearing
hip-waders.  Lear and the Fool don goggles for the storm sequence,
in which other actors hurl buckets of water from either side.
But moving water does not assure moving drama.
The workmen in Branagh's MSND were wonderful, of course -- the modern
dress and tools brought their characters to life, and they ran away
with the show (even Bottom was a disappointment compared to his peers).
Perhaps the most hilarious moment of the play, though, was as Snug
reverently approached Theseus and Hippolyta, and began handing out his
business card to the members of the royal audience.
Something I have noticed, though, is the phenomenal difference an
audience can make to a production.  Last year I saw David Williams'
Shoemaker's Holiday twice at Stratford (Ontario, as always): the first
time I saw it with a herd of Renaissance scholars, who applauded
enthusiastically and added their energy to that of the players.  I
was convinced that this was the most successful play of the season.
The second time, with my wife, I was mortally disappointed as the
audience failed to grasp the jokes, sourly resisted applause, and
the actors waned in enthusiasm as a result.  Very different play,
although only a few weeks had passed and the performance had not been
altered.  My point is that perhaps the Branagh production seemed
equally remarkable during some of its performances, but I was not there
during one.
Branagh's cinematic Henry V, of course, is an amazing triumph which
ranks him as Olivier's successor.  Perhaps my expectations were too high
for his stage productions -- or perhaps his true talent lies in directing
film rather than stage productions.
Ken Steele
University of Toronto

1.0004 Modern Interpretations (91)

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 1, No. 4. Friday, 27 Jul 1990.
(1)   Date:         Thu, 26 Jul 90 20:15:21 EDT              (34 lines)
      From:         Willard McCarty <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
      Subject:      old plays in modern mode
(2)   Date:         Fri, 27 Jul 90 05:51:12 EDT              (35 lines)
      From:         Ken Steele <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
      Subject:      Modern Productions
(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date:         Thu, 26 Jul 90 20:15:21 EDT
From:         Willard McCarty <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Subject:      old plays in modern mode
I recall hearing about a production of Euripides' Bacchae in Toronto
during the early 1970s in which the Maenads and Bacchantes were played as
hippies, Pentheus as a fascist dictator. According to my informant
the followers of Dionysus had long hair, wore outrageous clothing, smoked
joints, and so forth. It was hugely successful, I am told. Of course it
did great violence to Euripides' play, which is nothing at all like that,
and had it been, it most certainly would never have survived to our day.
But does anyone say that it is WRONG to try such things?
Or take Pasolini's version of Euripides' Medea, very different than what
it is based on. I happen also to think that Pasolini didn't manage to
bring it off, but that's neither here nor there. Or perhaps it is. Perhaps
the only criterion is whether or not the thing works.
As my wife (an artist) is constantly reminding me, artists are notorious
thieves, often with no respect whatever for the scholarly virtue of
faithfulness to time and place. They take what they can use. On the
other hand, I have observed how some of the greatest of these thieves
(e.g. Ovid) manage to remain extraordinarily faithful to their material,
although not in an antiquarian's sense. I get the feeling with Ovid, for
example, that he reaches the timeless and brings it into his own time.
So, can we expand and refine the criteria by which we tell whether some
new production, say of Shakespeare, is successful by comparing it with a
good traditional one? Can a new production by comparison with the old
open our eyes to what is good, or what we think is good, about the old
Willard McCarty
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------39----
Date:         Fri, 27 Jul 90 05:51:12 EDT
From:         Ken Steele <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Subject:      Modern Productions
I think I would agree with Willard McCarty when he suggests that the
most important criterion for a modern production's legitimacy is its
success on-stage; if modern embellishments are faithful to the central
theme and are drawn from the play's own imagery, they can be powerful
and effective.  (I hope I pointed out some of the ways that the
French/English clash was suggested by Shakespeare's own language and how
certain situations truly gained in the translation.)
Almost immediately, however, I start to see complications on the
horizon.  Certain plays seem to demand greater fidelity to the author's
purpose than others.  The Comedy of Errors, for example, has been
successfully performed in New York as a combination
Vaudeville/Juggling/Acrobatics display, and in Toronto on a stage
covered with sand with the actors all in bathing suits.  Perhaps
the distinction I am making is simply generic, and I am simply observing
that more liberties can be taken with comedies than with tragedies.
Akuro Kurosawa's *RAN* is a very effective version of King Lear, though,
despite its considerable transformation of the original play.  Perhaps
something essential is retained nonetheless.  Although I did not have the
opportunity to see Mabou Mines' King Lear when it showed here in Toronto
(and I understand it also showed in New York), it sounds rather more
radical, swapping the gender of every major character and turning it
into a matriarchal tragedy.  From the few still photos I've seen,
though, it looks more like a transvestite performance of a comedy than a
tragedy (did anyone see this production?  Am I right?).  Just how far
can a director alter a Shakespearean play to make it more "relevant" and
"modern" without transforming it into something completely different,
like Tom Stoppard's *Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead* or
Anne-Marie MacDonald's *Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)* (both
of which, incidentally, I enjoyed very much!) (and both of which,
perhaps significantly, are comedies).
                                                 Ken Steele

1.0005 Modern Interpretations (25)

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 1, No. 5. Sunday, 29 Jul 1990.
Date: 28 July 1990, 07:21:25 EDT
Following Willard and Ken, I think modernizing Shakespeare should depend
on what works.  I first saw *Lear* in a Canadian production in Eskimo
dress, and it worked very well--furs on Lear emphasizing his massiveness
and slit tunics on Goneril and Regan emphazising their evil sexuality.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Miller this last spring,
and he still has no problems with *Merchant of Venice* in 19th c. dress or
with Bob Hoskins as a cockney Iago (Miller quoted Hoskins as saying
"Well, oim a villain, ain't I?").  Miller did feel that there were
extremes of bad taste represented in some productions.  One
fictionalized production in a forgettable movie cast Richard III as an
offensively gay king, but I can imagine a well-done version of the same
general idea, with Richard's relationship with Buckingham being
emphasized, as well as his disgust with Anne.  Roy Flannagan

1.0003 Canadian Performance of "Romeo & Juliette" (64)

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 1, No. 3. Thursday, 26 Jul 1990.
Date:         Thu, 26 Jul 90 16:55:45 EDT
From:         Ken Steele <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Subject:      Romeo & Juliette
     Rather than generating *heated* discussion by persecuting
any Baconians who might be in our midst, I'll try to initiate an
*illuminating* dialogue through recourse to my usual approach,
describing a recent Shakespearean production I've seen.
     "Romeo & Juliette" [sic] played at the DuMaurier World
Stage Festival on Toronto's Harbourfront last month.  Nightcap
Productions (Saskatchewan) set the play on the Canadian prairie,
transforming the Montague/Capulet feud into a clash of English
and French cultures.  A la *West Side Story*, the drunken
masquers attend the Capulet (pron. "Capulay") barbeque, where
Paris in his business suit stands out from the rest of the country
"hicks."  Rapier duels are fought with baseball bats and tire
irons, the balcony scenes take place over the tailgate of an
ancient Fargo pickup truck, Romeo turns a pitchfork on himself
in desperation, and the "Apothecary" is a drug pusher.  This sort
of modernization is familiar to everyone, I'm sure, but to what
extent does it enhance the experience of Shakespeare's play and
to what extent bury it?
     The bilingual feud was strikingly appropriate in the midst
of Canada's Meech Lake crisis, and will be still more so this
summer at the Stratford (Ontario) Festival now that Meech Lake
has failed.  The juxtaposition of French and English lines was
fascinating for the audience, from the French soliloquies of
Juliette to the closing lines,
                 "For never was story of more woe,
                 Que celle de Juliette et son Romeo."
Romeo's wooing of Juliette is the more touching because he
attempts to use her language, swearing "par la lune," and his
attempts to communicate with Tybalt are all the more vain when
he tries to express himself in halting French.  Mercutio's lines
about the French, "Signior Romeo, / <bon jour!> there's a
French salutation to your French / slop" (2.4.43) suddenly gain
new relevance, too.
     Shakespeare uses snatches of French in many of his plays,
so the technique of combining languages is perhaps not totally
alien to its conception.  To some extent every production is a
"translation," of course, but has anyone seen similar things done
with Shakespeare's language in other productions?  How does
this compare with the experience of seeing a foreign production
which is completely in translation?  Does anyone feel it unjust
to foist modern (or Canadian) political implications on a
Renaissance play?  Or can it *be* a Renaissance play when
performed in 1990?

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