The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.2345  Friday, 15 December 2000

From:           Eric I. Salehi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 14 Dec 2000 17:19:54 -0500
Subject: Re: Julie Taymor's TITUS
Comment:        SHK 11.2296 Re: Julie Taymor's TITUS

"Not all opinions have equal weight.  Some are far more informed than
others.  Some list members sensitively consider the history and
subtitles of an idea or a performance.  They have great learning to back
up their opinions.... I believe it is the responsibility of the poster
to know how informed his or her opinion is, and write accordingly....
Arrogant people will inevitably think their opinion is as valid, or more
valid, than those of brighter and more informed people."

This begs the question: what constitutes a "more informed" opinion?
Most of us, on both sides of the academic fence, are naturally inclined
to believe that we know what we're talking about, and we post our
opinions accordingly.  I don't see much danger in this: the worst that
can come of it is that we are all occasionally exposed to flawed
thinking or shoddy scholarship, which is something we ought to be alert
to anyway.

No, the greater danger is that of losing the opportunity for free
exchange.  I seriously doubt that Hardy wants to put himself in the
position of having to assess the "value" of every posting he receives,
nor would he wish to scrutinize the merit of everyone who posts to the
list.  I agree with Richard Burt that "scholarly credentials do not
necessarily produce good criticism, nor does their lack necessarily
produce bad criticism."  Speaking as someone who came to academia with a
performance background, I can say with conviction that non-academics
(performers, producers, and enthusiastic theatergoers) can contribute a
great deal to our understanding of Renaissance drama.  Some of the most
well-educated people I have known are entirely without credentials or
degrees, and their insights have contributed substantially to my own
understanding and scholarship.

There are other lists out there -- for example, RENAIS-L (Early Modern
History-Renaissance) -- that focus more narrowly on discussions of
scholarly interest, and I subscribe to them.  On the other hand, I enjoy
SHAKSPER precisely because it offers a broader membership, and a wider
array of perspectives.


"The current unpleasantness began when I noticed that those supporting
Taymor's Titus had cogent reasons for liking it and that those that
didn't just blasted with both barrels.  To cite one example among
several, those who liked the sets and costumes had reasons why.  Those
that didn't just insulted them with out engaging the supportive reasons
given by those who liked the film.  That was a wasted opportunity.  If
they had good and informed reasons for disliking Taymor's approach, we
may have all learned something."

I have hesitated to voice an opinion about _Titus_, in part because I
wasn't sure that I could offer much to the discussion.  However, without
sharing Sam Small's wholesale abhorrence for the film, I will say that I
found it deeply flawed on several points.  My greatest objection is that
Taymor's film seemed to me to be largely derivative, both of Fellini, as
several list members pointed out, and of Deborah Warner's stunning 1987
production at the RSC.  While it may be unfair to compare film to live
performance, I felt that the cast in Warner's production was uniformly
superior to the actors in the movie; this despite the fact that Anthony
Hopkins, Jessica Lange and Laura Fraser all seemed to borrow key
gestures and expressions from Brian Cox, Estelle Kohler and Sonia
Ritter.  The sense of imitation was particularly apparent in Lavinia's
bloody gurgle in response to Marcus' query, "Why dost not speak to me?"
(II.iv), and in Titus' mania during the meat pie scene (V.iii).  Even
the sound of Lavinia's neck being snapped seemed to be consciously
patterned after the effect used in the stage production.

Isabella Bywaters' design for the RSC production was stark and
minimalistic; by contrast, Taymor's costumes (some of which looked like
they came straight out of _8 1/2_) and scenery (a la _Satyricon_) came
across as eye candy, and proved a distraction from performances which
were, after all, superficial.  I believe that the Goth-punk motif was
pretty much played out in the 1980s (does anyone else remember David
Hare's _Lear_ at the National Theatre?); in most productions today, and
in _Titus_ particularly, it looks tired and uninspired.

I'm not sure whether this constitutes an "informed" opinion, but I
suspect that others who saw the RSC production found little in Taymor's
version that was fresh.  In any event, I didn't need to go to graduate
school to reach this conclusion.

Eric Salehi

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