Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Interviewing the Experts

You may have skipped over this article titled, like so many others, 20 Things You Never Knew About Shakespeare because we've seen it all so many times before.  Well, go click on this one because it's quite different.  This one is actually an interview with Stanley Wells and Jonathan Bate, among others, and covers such topics as:
  • What did Shakespeare spend his money on?
  • Did he keep a pet?
  • Was he a fan of lighting and sound effects?
  • What is his most overrated play?
Of course it's all conjecture, but at least it's conjecture from the experts who have at least a reasonable argument to back up their points.  The first question, about Shakespeare's sexuality, is likely to drive most of us a little batty ("Whatever he was, at parties he would certainly have gone home with the best-looking person in the room"), but other answers are more factual and less frustrating.

I have to admit, they cover topics I'd never thought of.  Or, rather, thought I'd known the obvious answer to.  Was Will a good drinking buddy, or more shy and standoff-ish? Did Will Kemp really leave their group because of creative differences?  How often (and when and why) did he get back to Stratford?


JM said...

Although a lot is standard conjectural fare--stuff that's been talked about for years in "biographies",a couple of the questions and their answers really caught my attention. One for its insight:

"What made him different from other playwrights of his day?"

Wells' answer, I feel, is poignant:

“Nothing apart from his genius,” says Stanley Wells,...“The sheer fundamental brain work in the plays is remarkable — and it’s as a thinker I think he’s a bit neglected”.

Another for its ignorance:

"Did he go in for lighting and sound effects?"

The answer, having to do with switching out burned out candles INDOORS, hardly speaks of Shakespeare's penchant for "lighting EFFECTS". (as though he might have been the George Lucas of the Elizabethan entertainment scene) Any other kind of "lighting effects" were non-existent and impossible in the afternoon sunlight, which is when the plays were performed, open to the sky, at the Globe and other "outdoor" theatres.

Another notable feature I got a kick out of is the first commenter berating Bates and other academes for "dumming-down" even their own conjecture on WS's private life and knowledge.

Caroline said...

Your blog is fantastic. I'll be linking you soon!

Alexi said...

I feel you're a bit hard on the interviewees, Duane. THey did a pretty good job answering the questions cogently and accessibly. Shakespeare DOES have loads of sound effects (the storm in Lear, off the top of my head) and the Blackfriars candle answer, while not strictly relevant to lighting effects, brings up the fascinating, lesser-known fact that Shakespeare wrote for an indoor theater as well as the Globe, and that the structure of the space had an influence on his plays. There's the more clearly delineated structure, but also the fact more music and magic are incorporated into the later plays (most notably the Romances) because they complemented the candlelit atmosphere of the Blackfriars.

I was upset with their identification of Shakespeare's worst joke; those lines in Lear are set-up, not a punchline. The fools says "The reason why the seven stars are no more than seven is a pretty reason," and Lear responds, as expected, "Because they are not eight." Then the Fool caps that with a punchline: "Indeed! Thou wouldst make a good fool nuncle." Easier to get than some of the Fool's humor, and certainly elicting many a laugh.

Alexi said...

Oops! I meant to write "JM" rather than "Duane" in the first sentence of my comment. Sorry for any confusion I caused.

JM said...

I think, Alexi, that we're still belabored by some pretty stiff conjecture when we talk about any of this stuff. But--here goes some more:)
The company didn't take over the Blackfriars until 1608-09. That leaves the much greater majority of the plays to have been conceived for the configuration the open air playhouse. The Blackfriars was the "winter home" (when it could be). SOME lighting had to be applied indoors, and maybe they did make use of it as it may have afforded some opportunity for adjustment per creative suggestion. (more conjecture) But I think it's much more likely accurate in these cases to assume that the performances there were "adapted" to fit per occurrence, than it is to assume that Shakespeare was influenced by the indoor stage to write for special effects with candles, or indeed to "write for" that stage at all.
Although the folio does have more act/scene divisions for some of the later plays, there is more conjecture in that it has been suggested that it might have been an uncharacteristic effort on the part of Heminges and Condell to give the volume some literary aspect. But again, those act/scene divisions are so incomplete and basic--and sometimes ridiculous-- that it begs the issue either way.
Coupled with the fact that in all of the Quarto editions Continuity is the overriding rule--a rule which if adhered to, makes the case for the fact that Shakespeare wrote exclusively with the Globe configuration in mind, which would have accommodated that quality handsomely.
So given the late date of the Blackfriar acquisition, (only Coriolanus, Timon, Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, and Henry VIII coming afterwards) I'm still unconvinced that "magic" might have influenced Shakespeare's act/scene divisions or that music or special effects could have been played any more easily or conveniently than they were able to be in the tiring house, in Hell (underneath the trap door), or in the crow's nest, et al; or any "special effects" or sound effects possibilities might have caused Shakespeare to completely alter the style in which he wrote in order to write "exclusively" for that stage in any way.