Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 67. Saturday, 21 Mar 1992.
From: 		Michael Dobson <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Subject: 	Misconceptions on misconceptions
Date: 		Thu, 19 Mar 92 9:57:47 CST
Dear SHAKSPERians --
      I'm delighted to hear that David Richman plans to read
my book, an example I hope all right-thinking Shaksperians will follow,
preferably buying it too rather than relying on library copies.
      The 'misconception' I attributed to Mr Richman was not so much the
notion that Shakespeare was 'undervalued' as a playwright between 1660 and,
say, 1830 (although even that claim would be open to question, given the
prodigious numbers of performances of his plays and the efforts
theatre-managers, playwrights and others were prepared to put into making
them comprehensible within a culture by then utterly different from
Shakespeare's own), but that the writers who commented during this period
on what seemed to them to be problems with Shakespearean drama did so from
an anti-theatrical perspective, or at least a perspective ignorant of or
indifferent to questions of theatricality.  Whatever Rowe, Dryden, Dennis & co
may have decided about Shakespeare's dramaturgy, they considered it from
the position of fellow-playwrights, albeit working in a theatre very
different to Shakespeare's own.  I wouldn't suggest for a moment that anyone
today ought to prefer Tate's *Lear* to either of the surviving Shakespeare
versions, but I'm very unwilling simply to dismiss several generations of
Shakespeare's interpreters (far closer historically to Shakespeare than we
are, working under conditions a lot nearer to those of the Globe than to
those of the RSC) on the grounds that they were obviously Wrong while we
are obviously Right.  If Shakespeare has seemed worth studying since the
1700 it is largely because he had already seemed worth adapting for
continuing performance, and worth testing against whatever standards of
criticism were current, since 1660; we are all Tate's heirs, and our own
ways of processing Shakespeare for late twentieth-century culture --
whether in classrooms, on stages, on word-processors or over E-mail
networks -- aren't necessarily any less bizarre than the ways of processing
Shakespeare for Enlightenment culture that founded the whole industry.
     Those who disagree with the above should take up the matter with me in
the autumn, after they've had the opportunity to buy *The Making of the
National Poet: Shakespeare, Adaptation and Authorship, 1660-1769* (OUP) and
read it in full; those who do not will doubtless find the book right up their
street, and should not hesitate to buy several copies as gifts for friends,
relatives and neighbours.  Meanwhile Mr Richman has my full permission to
hold as low an opinion of Lewis Theobald as he chooses -- so long as he
acknowledges that as a lifelong London playgoer, a practising dramatist and
a major and pioneering collector of old play scripts, Theobald may have had
opinions on questions of theatricality at least as well-informed as ours.
     Michael Dobson

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