During our action at the Tomato Romp a television camera recorded me talking to it about how shakesphere is deadly and obsolete and worthy of tomato-ing.
two days later, my friends and I had a little debate over email about the veracity of that statement. Now, i share it with you, oh internet.
On obsolescence. 32 messages
Mon, Sep 24, 2007 at 6:09 PM
Great example of how obsolete Shakespeare is not.
Mon, Sep 24, 2007 at 10:50 PM
ummm... correction.FUCKING BRILLIANT example of how obsolete Shakespeare is not.says Tim.
Tue, Sep 25, 2007 at 1:15 PM
Dude. this shit proves MY point. Hutch, the blue whale guy... hiscriticism and re-write idea is superior to shakespheare's original.also i like the way he talks more.i only heard half of it so far, but, it's not shakespheare that'sdoing these guys good, it's THEATRE.
they'd be as good or better offdoing a different play. In fact, doing a play they wrote themselveswould be best.it's actually coincidentally very much like the chapter of the Brechtbook i'm in the middle of reading right now, about how he'd do playswith and for the proletariat and the kind of criticism and feedbackthey'd give him. When i was reading it i thought, man, Brecht, justlike a communist, romanticising the proles again, but then, thisstory, it's the exact same kind of thing.
i stand by my position, that Shakespheare's continued popularity ismostly a social structure, not a sign of real quality or continuedrelevance. that is not to say that no one likes shakespheare, but thatmost people are only pretending to like him out of social obligation.which is the peter brook definition of deadly theatre, a concept thati find very very relevant and useful.
Tue, Sep 25, 2007 at 11:53 PM
I mean, c'mon, you're trying to tell me that if someone gains some understanding by reading/seeing/hearing something that someone wrote/performed/said that the understanding is in no way beholden to that original work or its creator? Actually, that's a rhetorical question. The "?" is there because of my incredulity. Shakespeare endures for many reasons. When I was first introduced to his work, his genius was said to be found in his profound understanding and expression of the human condition. In fact, I propose that the human condition is to be emotional and intellectual and to struggle with these often diametrically opposed qualities in oneself trying to find peace.
You have this knee-jerk suspicion when it comes to emotion and treat it as if it were something external, projected onto/into you by society or somesuch. I'm not sure what the deal is really and you know well that we have very different personalities in this respect. But, anyway, his characters and their situations are extraordinarily real and lucid. Their struggles make sense and people the world over recognize this and identify with Shakespeare's work. Furthermore, he expresses his profundities with amazing literary skill and beauty. I don't believe that it is possible to logically argue that poetry is obsolete or of no value and Shakespeare composed his works with as much grace and dexterity as any poet ever has or probably ever will. His work is recognized as masterful even in cultures that are artistically distinct compared to the West. i.e. Japan, China, etc.
Shakespeare is to literature what Mozart or Bach or Beethoven were to classical music which also endures and will continue to endure. Is Beethoven obsolete? Yet, surely there are plenty of people who claim to like his music who are doing so out of "social obligation." Hey, Beet and Shake have got to be good. People have written books about them! Shallow or ill-considered appreciation does not devalue the work.
I'm not saying it's impossible, but how likely do you think it would be for those inmates to be able to come up with their own play that expressed even a modicum of what they were able to find in Hamlet? It's not just the ability to understand or to have had experiences which contain important lessons or inspire deep insight. The inmates obviously had those things. But, so often do we miss what is right in front of us until it is pointed out or explained or put into a different context. Then, then lessons can be learned or insight found. And, it doesn't have to be in line with the personal thoughts of the author (which in Shakespeare's case nobody knows what those were anyway). If someone takes away a something that wasn't intentionally written into the piece, that piece is not a total failure. It may be a smashing success in this other sense.
"it's not shakespheare that's doing these guys good" That's patently false. They were reading Shakespeare. They learned things that benefited them from it. This was good. Shakespeare did them good ipso facto.
"it's THEATRE" Uh, yeah, Shakespeare wrote plays.
Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 11:34 AM
so the central logical fallacy of your rant lies at the end.
When i said "it's not shakespheare that's doing these guys good it'sTHEATRE" you missed my whole point, which is that they would have had these positive experiences doing ANY theatre, not just shakespheare.The importance you place on shakespheare actually belongs to theatre. I can tell you stories about prisoners producing Samuel Beckett, whichis quite the fucking opposite of emotional and poetic and presents avastly different interpretation of the human condition.
The only reason these prisoners are doing shakespheare instead ofsomething more modern and relevant and self-created (like the kind ofplay hutch described) is because this woman likes shakespheare andbecause the insititution approves of shakespheare and allows her to doit. Therefore shakespheare is applied to the situation because of it'ssocial status, not because of it's inherent qualities.
i take issue with the claim that the prisoners can't write plays.There's another episode of this american life with girls in juvie whowrote and produced a musical and acheived amazing community amongsteach other and communicated directly with their parents through theproduction in ways that these guys couldn't. The guy who talks abouthow he delivered his lines about regret and dissappointment to hiswife said "i don't know if she understood what i was saying, but i was saying it for her".
There's ALSO an episode of this america life about a woman in aretirement home who is having a life changing, reborn sort ofexperience at the end of her life in this institution because she iswriting and producing a short film. I bet, if these prisoners wereallowed and trusted, given support and opportunity, they'd be able towrite and produce a play that did a lot more for them. But... thenthey might be a little too empowered and things might get out of handMarat/Sade style (to bring it back to Peter Brooks) which is whythey're doing safe, abstract, cathartic, and ultimately (in realworld, not emo terms) irrelevant shakespheare.
Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 12:14 PM
Oh, and on your second paragraph:
1. my deal with emotional art: in today's world art is a commodity, sowhen art is emotional the emotion becomes a comodity. When we seebourgeois theatre we're paying someone to stand in front of us andemote so that we can feel something and acheive some kind ofcatharsis. It's great fun when it's happening, so is visiting a whore,i imagine, but afterwards, when I'm looking at it intellectually, i feel kinda indecent.
2. all the examples of shakespheare's widespread recognition arefurther evidence of my point, that his popularity is a product of himbeing "approved" by certain art establishments. part of this approvalis based on pretention. Because shakespheare is old and is written indense language, typically overproduced and expensive (not ALWAYS, mindyou, but typically) it works wonderfully as a status symbol. likingshakespheare is proof of sophistication, an upper-class status formany people, again, not all, some people genuinely like it. I don't.If i said i did, i'd be trying to pass myself off as more culturedthan i am.
you feel indecent for allowing someone's emoting to provide catharsis? does this suggest you only desire to feel anything based on direct participation?
Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 1:06 PM
yes. cuz, well, i guess emotional responses are important to me. tooimportant to share with a stranger for money.
also, to frame this more positively, cuz i realize that my defensiveposture makes me awful negative and bitter. my favorite responses toart are when it makes me think, i have a realization, an aha! moment.That's a direct positive emotional response to the peice of art, notto the characters presented in the peice of art.
My way (and Brecht's) is based on using the mind, critically analyzingthe content and drawing a conclusion. It's open to variousinterpretations by various audience members. Catharsis (aristotle,shakespheare) is about numbing the mind in favor of an emotionalresponse, it's a closed system, the art tells you to feel X and thusthink X. Brecht's method inspires change, Shakespheare's supports thestatus quo (even if he slips in bits of subversion, the form isauthoritarian)
Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 1:16 PM
so the chatharsis brought on by, say a shakespeare play, is meant to be experienced the same way by everyone? a stencil? because even in my limited experience, that doesn't happen. so what if i felt catharsis at a Brecht play, despite any efforts for me not too? where does that fall? what if the shakespeare was free? then i didn't pay for the catharsis. how does that change it?
Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 1:25 PM
Shakespeare's work has stuck around for almost 500 years. It didn't survive the first couple hundred by the patronage of soi disant sophisticates. Also, nowhere did I say that Shakespeare's work did/does what no other work can/has. Theatre as a sort-of rehabilitative venture or vehicle for catharsis or communicator is a given. Whether you take the Brecht approach or someone else's. You missed my point in acknowledging the good of theatre which was given in conjunction with the good that Shakespeare's theatre did.
"Catharsis (aristotle, shakespheare) is about numbing the mind in favor of an emotional response, it's a closed system, the art tells you to feel X and thus think X." If that were the case then the prisoners wouldn't have had contrary thoughts/feelings regarding Hamlet. The killer whale guy saw what was on the surface, what he was told to feel, and came up with something else that was deeper and more relevant to him. You can't say that the author didn't intend for that to happen or provide for it. It was there to be found intentionally or not. In fact, saying that so-and-so is numbing the mind and trying to make you feel exclusively is pure opinion. Like I said, nobody today knows what Shakespeare's motivation or actual intent was. Hell, people argue about whether or not he was really a single person writing all the things that have his name on them. Catharsis is not anti-intellectual. We need to understand our emotions.
You take these broad slashes at folks who claim to enjoy his work because it's the hip thing to do if you wanna look classy, and there's a lot of that I agree; but I'm sure that most of that group would have a genuine and defensible appreciation for Shakespeare if they looked at the work in earnest rather than use it as a way to bolster their image.
Yanno, I hate most of the music on the radio. That is to say, pop music. But it's not just because lots of people say they like it. Or because it's pop music. But because the recording industry actually has and seeks formulas with which to crank out "hits". That's bullshit. If something is crap it can be made popular, yes. But, if something is really great, what? What's supposed to happen? Does it have to remain underground to be worthy of high regard? Genuinely good work should be damn popular too. The fact that something can be used for shallow ends doesn't make it irrelevant or bad.
Hames has the other end of the argument. I'm following that.
Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 1:36 PM
"so the chatharsis brought on by, say a shakespeare play, is meant to be experienced the same way by everyone? a stencil?"
according to aristotle, yes. If it didn't work for you then somehtingabout the production failed, or you're too intelligent/sophisticatedfor it to work on you.
"experience, that doesn't happen. so what if i felt catharsis at a Brecht play, despite any efforts for me not too? where does that fall?"
Again, it falls on the work failing to acheive it's goal relative toyou. which Brecht often (perhaps even more often than not) did. His methods were experimental.
"the shakespeare was free? then i didn't pay for the catharsis. how does that change it?"
that removes the commodity aspect of it, but not the mind control aspect, i guess.
im not convinced. people aren't going to a play with a clean slate, waiting for "catharsis type A". the catharsis comes from how they interpret what they see, and how the oddities, personalities and other individual quirks shape and morph the interpretaion, and therefore the catharsis. this leaves, mathematically, a huge number of varient responses to a play, all forms of catharsis, but each unique if only slightly.
the only reason people have stayed to talk to you after your shows is becasue they felt a level of catharsis, an understanding that either reflects as negative or positive to them. catharsis is not something that is completely removeable from interaction. this conversation has the very strong possibility of bringing someone a moment of catharsis. everything, to me, does, becasue of our different wirings and ways of understading what is going on around us.
i think you try too hard to remove emotion from your analytical process. you are not Mr. Spock, even if you try to be.
Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 2:22 PM
"You missed my point in acknowledging the good of theatre which was given in conjunction with the good that Shakespeare's theatre did."
Please clarify: Are you saying that it's the fact that these prisoners did shakespheare in particular that made it so effective? If so, idisagree. If not, this story doesn't prove anything about shakespheare, only about theatre.
"If that were the case then the prisoners wouldn't have had contrary thoughts/feelings regarding Hamlet."
the prisoners were the actors, not the audience. catharsis is supposedto work on the audience.
"In fact, saying that so-and-so is numbing the mind and trying to make you feel exclusively is pure opinion. Like I said, nobody today knows what Shakespeare's motivation or actual intent was."
Shakespheare worked within the vein of aristotilian drama, and aristotle laid out pretty clear how it's supposed to be.
"whether or not he was really a single person writing all the things that have his name on them. Catharsis is not anti-intellectual. We need to understand our emotions."
catharsis does not provide understanding of emotions, actually, i think we've all been kinda misusing the term "catharsis" in place of something more like "indentification" or "empahty" but the thing we're talking about does not provide understanding of emotions. in aristotilian drama the emotions are not displayed for criticism and understanding, but for sharing the feeling with the audience. that tingly thing really good (method type) acting makes you feel. Brechtian acting puts emotions on display where you can understand them instead of getting caught up in them.
"I agree; but I'm sure that most of that group would have a genuine and defensible appreciation for Shakespeare if they looked at the work in earnest rather than use it as a way to bolster their image."
i'm sure if i continue to bend to peer pressure and go see more andmore shakespheare (like i will tomorrow night) and better shakespheare at the pressure of all the people who constantly insist it is "thebest" theatre, or see new adaptations and approaches to shakespheare eventually i'll see something i like in it (julia taymor's titus, for example). but that just supports my position, our society INSISTS that shakespheare be given this scrutiny and chance upon chance, while Ionesco, for example (or even hamletmaschine, the interpretation of hamlet, called "dreaded" in this very radio program), is just nutty avant-gaurde shit and Brecht is just propaganda, to be disregarded out of hand.
Or, to make it simpler: compare Shakespheare to Marlowe. Dudes rippede achother off like crazy and other playwrights too (they all did, copyright is a relatively new invention) if our society glommed onto one of those other names the way it does "Shakespheare" then we'd all have grown up surrounded by Marlowe texts and adaptations instead ofshakespheare and the names would probably be reversed.
Shakespheare is a brand. a social institution and when i try and strip that away and weigh it on it's merits, trying to give it equal chance as any other play, it comes up sorely lacking in my opinion, and i suspect it would be the same for the majority of people who are perpetuating the institution. maybe even you.
Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 2:25 PM
i like to think that people hang out after my plays cuz they got ideas, or had questions.
Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 2:32 PM
damnit, why do you keep writing Shakespheare? Am I missing something here? Is it an allusion to his sphere of influence or something? Maybe an old way of spelling it? I'm particularly confused because there's a lot of hits w/ that spelling when I google it. What don't I know?
Wed, Sep 26, 2007 at 2:42 PM
–noun, plural -ses
1. the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, esp. through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music.
2. Medicine/Medical. purgation.
a. psychotherapy that encourages or permits the discharge of pent-up, socially unacceptable affects.
b. discharge of pent-up emotions so as to result in the alleviation of symptoms or the permanent relief of the condition.
the questions or ideas they have came from the catharsis your play brought them. it created a connection for them, that allowed further exploration that became questions or ideas. it starts with the catharsis, or they would be completely indifferent. the "purging" is, in other words, a recognition of an emotion that the play brought on, and the sudden sensation of feeling the emotion, despite not directly experiencing the event, and only witnessing a re-creation.
Thu, Sep 27, 2007 at 9:35 AM
I think i disagree with that conceptualization of my audience's reactions. I haven't worked it out completely (and certainly hadn't when i wrote George and Claire) in fact, now that i think about it, if i had been more aware of the kinds of things i'm studying now i might have acheived a more intentional result with that play, because the play wasn't only about rape, it was largely about the class dynamic and whatnot and that really didn't come accross for most people. Not that i'd strip it completely of emotions, or hit people over the head with the politics, but i might be able to play with people more effectively.
Cuz i'm not 100% behind brecht and the alienation effect, i think that catharsis or identification can be useful to lead the audience into a trap and then expose the trap to them thus forcing them to think critically about the trap i'd just led them into (which is kinda what i did with George and Claire, but i didn't understand the mechanisms at my disposal like i do now)
but that whole thing is very aside from shakespheare, and something that i am studying a lot and will eventually put together a full report (seriously, as though i was in school) about it (as well as a session of the Workshop- which we're sorely missing your presence at, mr hames- about Brechtian acting)
i spell shakespere wrong, cuz i don't care what the proper spelling is (in this context).
Last night, mulling over this, i realized that i- a non-fan of shakespheare- have seen more shakespeare than any other single playwright, way more than a lot of playwrights that i like a lot. The only one that comes close is Beckett, and i had to travel to chicago three times to see as much of that as i wanted. if that isn't evidence of shakesphere's over-exposure in our society, i don't know what is. When i say that Shakespheare is obsolete i mean that there is no use in producing him anymore, this is what Peter Brook thought back in 1970, when he coined the term "deadly theatre" and took up the challenge, found a way to make stale-ass shakeshere fresh (taking radical revisionist approaches to his least popular plays) but now that revisionism is played out as well, hollywood did it (Leo's Romeo and Juliet) professional theatre companies do it more than they do straight shakes anymore (indeed i am seeing my first straight up period shakesphere performance tonight) amateur groups do it (the kids who did merchant of venice as a 80's high school clique, or Titus as a slasher movie) even the fucking Boulevard has done Midsummer nights dream set int he wild west. To borrow Kate's metaphor, this hanky has been used a few to many times. The only use i can find in shakesphere is throwing tomatoes at it.
Thu, Sep 27, 2007 at 11:25 AM
I absolutely agree that Shakespeare is over-produced and that this distracts from new or different theater. I also agree that some people only attend Shakespeare for the social status of it (we have many subscribers at the Skylight who do the same thing, only with operas). I have enjoyed reading his plays, but they take me some time, as the language is confusing for a dolt like myself. I have seen little staged Shakespeare. I don't think his work is obsolete, just the attitude towards it. He is a strong and lasting spot in theater that is fine to be measured with, but it certainly shouldn't overshadow all other theater the way it does.
My belief and understanding of catharsis and analyzing is that I believe the desire to even analyze what you have seen is rooted in, first, catharsis, and the rest flows from there.
Thu, Sep 27, 2007 at 12:03 PM
Alright, so here's my point-for-point on obsolescence:
1. no longer in general use; fallen into disuse: an obsolete expression. Obviously that's not the case. Yeah, I agree his work has been overproduced. And, I'm seeing more the truth of the problem with production of Shakespeare overshadowing or getting in the way of newer stuff. I only see that because of my recent involvement with the theatre scene. Casual theatre goers may never see it because people need their pop stars and easy to digest nuggets of supposed knowledge that tell them so-and-so is the best of the best. Then they can talk about so-and-so and look all atrsy shmartsy.
2. of a discarded or outmoded type; out of date: an obsolete battleship. Well, not yet. The key words there being discarded or outmoded. It wouldn't be right to flat out discard any genius from any field. Maybe Shakespeare should be outmoded, but it's not yet or we wouldn't be having this discussion.
3. (of a linguistic form) no longer in use, esp., out of use for at least the past century. Compare archaic. Again, not the case yet. It's archaic but still in use.
4. effaced by wearing down or away. What's an antonym for effaced? Cuz Shake's been made that, whatever that is . . .
So there we are. Shakespeare is not obsolete. When you say that it is, I also hear "Shakespeare is not pertinent." and I say that that is not the case as well based on all of the examples that I've cited previously. His work still can and does have power to teach, to clarify, to change a person or put things in perspective for them, in a word, to benefit people. I suspect that will always be true.
I now am of the opinion that Shakespeare should be made obsolete by a revolutionary form of theatre, some new epoch. Never forgotten, but learned from and given the nod here and there in acknowledgment of the brilliance that once shone. I'll always enjoy reading his work and his poetry, the sonnets etc. will always be beautiful and relevant. Shakespearian theatre though . . . I do want to see genuine productions of it because I haven't before, but I would be more excited to be attending a performance of something never before attempted. I agree with Hames that it's the attitude towards Shake. that is a problem.
I've got just a little more to say but I have to go to work.
P.S. One of the janitors at UWM recognized me from the tomato romp and stopped me to chat a bit. That was cool. He said he didn't throw tomatoes because he was too respectful. My question should have been, "Too respectful of Shakespeare or us actors?" If it was the former I'd have to shake a weary head. The latter would just mean he was a nice guy.
Thu, Sep 27, 2007 at 1:04 PM
"1.no longer in general use; fallen into disuse: an obsolete expression. Obviously that's not the case."
take out the "general use" part of the definition and it is the case. I got little use for it. I made the original claim, so we use my (perhaps inaccurate) definition, or i get to modify the claim (which i would modify it to: "should be obsolete by now already, christ").
As far as pertinent goes, i'd say shakespheare is LESS pertinent than a LOT of other shit that is totally overshadowed by shakespheare, which annoys the fuck out of me. it seems (from your last paragraph) we agree on this.
have we found a common ground? how delightful!
i was thinking, another reason shakespheare is such an institution is the economics of play production. rights to the scripts are free and it's recognizable and thus garaunteed to get some people in the seats. this makes me suspect we'll not be free of shakespheare until we are free of capitalism (or at least intellectual property rights, which is interesting, because without plagarism shakespheare wouldn't exist)
on the other issue:
hames, your understanding and beleif doesn't seem to leave room for non-catharsis, which makes the word "catharsis" kinda meaningless or usesless.
thank you both for participating in this discussion. i really enjoy it, it provokes much thought and provides clarity to my understandings of these things. I'd like to post it to my blog (cuz that's kinda where i archeive these things for future reference, and there's a slight possibility that someone might read it sometime and provide a new insight) any objection?
Thu, Sep 27, 2007 at 1:39 PM
I was thinking as I walked today that it's interesting that the supposed paramount of theatre is almost 500 years old. but no other art form has been so thoroughly mired in the past. Has one? Sculpture maybe? Eh, prolly not that either.
Thu, Sep 27, 2007 at 1:45 PM
theater all but ceased to exist in the dark ages, suppressed by the church. ironically, it was the start if liturgical theater that slowly brought all forms of theater back into being.
Thu, Sep 27, 2007 at 1:52 PM
I didn't know that, i thought there were still morality plays and folk theatre n shit, just none of it was good enough to remember.
but, yes, a few months ago when i was reading about deadly theatre in Peter Brook, i saw one of the EUR reports on the bus and it was all derisive towards britney spears and someone else and i realized, EVERYONE only aknowledges these pop stars in this sort of way. No one genuinely likes them. They are as deadly as shakesphere, even deadlier. The fact that our medium (theatre) is more dominated by Shakesphere than pop stars means an upstart group has a great opportunity to make a real impact. the medium is ripe for it. but, now i saying that, i feel like lenin justifiying the soviet revolution in pre-capitalist russia, which is not a good feeling.
but it's more complicated than that! really! i'm not trying to skip over history and opening the door for a genocidal maniac to take over, i swear it. (keep matty r in the box, don't let them see him!) It's okay, really!
Thu, Sep 27, 2007 at 1:55 PM
the morality plays sprang from the Liturgical "plays". folk theater did exist, but like you said, it was not documented, and basically illegal. They would travel from town to town, and go where Church rule may not have been as strictly observed.
Thu, Sep 27, 2007 at 2:06 PM
Oh that's hilarious. So a troupe could show up in town, but they don't know if they'll be locked in an iron maiden or forgotten in an oubliette if they perform so they've gotta test the waters first.
A few of them saunter up to a guy in the street and start casually telling him a story. Well, one guy starts and slowly the others begin to, again casually, toss out a few lines for different characters. 'Til the local is like:
"Wait a second, wait just a darn second! . . . Are you tellin' me a play?"
Troup member: "I dunno. What uh . . . what might you say if we were?"
Local: (winking repeatedly while speaking loudly) Why I'd say 'tis 'gainst church rules! I'd go straight to me lord and turn you rabble rousers in, I would!"
Troup member: "Praise God that we're not then!" (whispered) You're place tonight, midnight?Local: (quick nod) Right! Good then. Off with you, I've turnips to plant!
Hasty departure by all.
Thu, Sep 27, 2007 at 2:21 PM
ha ha excellent. we should do that as street theatre!
1 hour ago