The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0415  Monday, 8 May 2006

From: 		Cary Dean Barney <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date: 		Sunday, 7 May 2006 09:37:30 +0200
Subject: 17.0391 Characters
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0391 Characters

A couple of thoughts on backstory:

1) It's questionable whether an actor needs to create/imagine this. 
Stanislavsky would have said yes, I suppose, but it's been my experience 
that actors who construct elaborate backstories get distracted by them 
and become inattentive to what really matters onstage: action, reaction, 
interaction.  This holds as true for Shakespeare as it does for Beckett 
or Sophocles.  Shakespeare gave the actor plenty enough to perform with, 
and if actors think they need more it's on account of post-Aristotelian 
notions of "fatal flaws", Freudian theories of subconscious and the silly
Stanislavskian notion that characters in a dramatic text have the same 
weight and heft as flesh-and-blood human beings.

2) This kind of speculation, though, has its place in adaptation.  I 
recently showed students Kurosawa's "Ran" which invents a past for the 
Lear-surrogate.  We know so little of Lear's reign -- he's spoken of as 
having been "kind" and within Shakespeare's play we don't need to know 
more.  Kurosawa's inquiry into the cruelty of the other characters (in 
particular his Lady Kaede, who is Goneril plus Regan plus Edmund plus 
Cornwall and then some) leads him to construct a backstory for his 
character which has nothing to do with psychology, everything to do with 
violence.  It
seems to me this is in keeping with the roots of violence and cruelty in 
many of the plays (Shylock, for example).  Nonetheless it makes no claim 
to be King Lear's definitive backstory, and one of my students handed me 
in a different adaptation with a completely different backstory.  This 
is not a scholarly pursuit, but an imaginative one and a worthy one. 
(And in the same spirit I've been trying to write a "Tempest" prequel, 
but that's another story.)

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