The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1499  Monday, 14 August 2000.

From:           Tom Bishop <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 11 Aug 2000 10:45:18 -0500
Subject: 11.1491 Re: Tudor Iconoclasm
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1491 Re: Tudor Iconoclasm

Jack Heller quotes Houston Diehl on MND:

>"In observing a theatrical performance by an acting company such as the
>Lord Chamberlain's Men, the spectators must recognize (as the
>Mechanicals in *A Midsummer's Night's Dream* are so anxious to
>demonstrate) that what they see is a representation, and not the literal
>presence of what is represented. They must consciously accept the
>illusory nature of theatrical images and yet believe in the figurative
>truth of those very images." (Diehl, *Staging Reform, Reforming the
>Stage*, 98).

Though it's taken out of context here, and hence may be making some
other point, it's hard to see how this doesn't apply equally well to
every form of dramatic representation.  But the matter is more complex
than that, surely: when Edgar "looks over the cliff" in King Lear what
is "literally present"? A man pretending to look over a cliff, as well
as a man pretending to pretend to look over a cliff.  The nature of the
relation between what is "literally present" and what is "figuratively
true" often cannot be simply dichotomized. "The best in this kind are
but shadows" but there are many kinds of shadows. The mechanicals are so
cack-handedly funny largely because they insist on making a fuss about
very obvious things, often having to do with the verb to be ("I Pyramus
am not Pyramus but Bottom the Weaver.")

While the transubstantiation controversies of the sixteenth century may
have put pressure on this in a slightly different way, since they too
were engaged in fighting about the relation between what was seen and
what was "truly" there, and about the verb to be (it's important to
remember that Cranmer and his spiritual descendants believed fervently
that Christ WAS PRESENT in the Eucharist, properly received), it's
hardly the case that earlier drama didn't know about it. The Second
Shepherd's Play, to take one instance, would be impossible without a
complex sense of how drama plays games with presence and absence. And,
late anecdotes by anti-theatricalists notwithstanding, does anyone
seriously believe that Passion Play spectators thought a man was being
literally crucified?

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