Monday, July 21, 2008

Tragical Comical

Over the weekend, a comment came up in conversation (re: As You Like It) that I would apparently not like it, as I'm more into the tragedies.  (This said by the neighbor who, a few years ago, we attended Taming of the Shrew with where we argued about the relative merits of Shrew v. Hamlet).  Here's what came out of me, on the fly:

"You want to know the difference between tragedy and comedy, as far as mass appeal goes?  For the tragedies, you can go see one 50 times, and every single time you'll walk away saying 'Wow, I never thought about it in that way before.'  There's just that much depth in them, that you always see something new, something to think about, every time.

The comedies on the other hand, excepting the few really great ones, are pretty much the same shallow sort of stuff whenever and however you see it. Miscommunication,'s like seeing a romantic comedy in the movie theatre.  You might like it, you might come away saying it was good, but a few weeks later it's not like you're still talking about how it gave you something to think about, and nobody's in a rush to go make it again and interpret it differently. It is what it is.

So where's the gap?  Simple - the academics, and the Shakespeare geeks like me, we are the sort who will go see a play 50 times, and look at the differences each time and think about what they mean.  But most people won't do that.  Most people in general will go to see a show once.  So for them, the comedies are awesome, because they don't need depth, they just need laughs."

A little something for a Monday morning.


Alan K.Farrar said...

What rubbish! Bored silly with the repeated angst of the tragedies - seen one, seen them all: For goodness sake, how often can Hamlet bore you to death without rebelling?
I suppose you need a few cells missing to be able to sit through all that repeated depression.
Now, I've seen several of the comedies repeatedly and never ceased to be amazed how varied the humour is. One actor takes Petrucio one way, another another ... and the serious subtexts of all of them give you something to think about too.
No, dump the tragedies and vote with your bum - a good laugh anyday.
(And academics are boring anyway - like attracting like?)

Duane said...

Yeah, I can see your point. Sometimes Petruchio comes right out and physically abuses Kate, and sometimes it's just verbal and emotional. Big range, there. I think that finding a serious subtext in Shrew is like finding the pro-Jewish themes in Merchant. We see it because we don't want to believe that it could be what it appears on the surface.

I hear that Ian McKellen's Lear and Patrick Stewart's Macbeth were actually their second choices when their original joint project fell through. What they really wanted to do was portray the Dromios in Comedy of Errors.

Alan K.Farrar said...

There you go you see - obviously not been reading my posts on The Shrew - Hamlet, the emotional range of a dead cat - slow, very slow or none at all - the tragedy of immobility!
Patrick Stewart, by the way, has regularly done the funny roles (great in the film of Twelfth Night - and, if my memory serves me correctly - and it might not on this one - he also was a great Malvolio on stage).
Strange you keep off the topic of Ken Branagh - two tragedies to three comedies as director/Actor.
And the RSC summer season - 4 plays, two comedies, R&J and one that is 'classed' as a comedy (Merchant).
Stewert is to play Claudius in Hamlet - the actor playing Hamlet (David Tennant) will also play in Love's Labours Lost - he's going to do both, not only the Hamlet.
Ian McKellan chose to do the pantomime dame (Widow Twankey in Aladdin)and to appear in the longest running soap opera on English TV - Coronation Street. He balances Lear with 'Sorin' in The Seagull, and to quote one review: "McKellen delivers an exquisitely funny performance as Sorin."
Actors get as bored with unrelenting tragedy as much as the rest of intelligent humanity.

Duane said...

Nothing wrong with balance between the two. In all your examples, your actors do both tragedy and comedy. I never said (or hopefully implied) "Go see the same actor do the same play 50 times and you'll see something different every time". That would be the exact opposite of my point, where you're left with one specific interpretation of the character.

I disagree with where you said "dump the tragedies", and I think all the examples back me up on that. Actors can do both, certainly prefer to do both for their own sanity. But personally, for me, I like periodically to see a show that leaves me thinking. Romantic comedies don't usually cut it, I need something with a bit more depth.

Not to say the comedies can't ever have any depth at all - I carefully included "excepting the few really great ones" in my original comment for a reason. Just saying that in general they do tend to be pretty light. Even Much Ado, a popular favorite, is really only "good" because of the banter between Beatrice and Benedick. It's hardly earth shattering in its storyline or character development.

Looks like I'll have to catch up on your Shrew musings and learn a few things...