Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Quasi-intellectualism at its worst coming up...

Ok, below is a classic example of my tendency to enthuse before I think. But you love me for it.

I'm still excited about this Complete Works fest, but 'Welcome To Bardworld', a piece in the Guardian G2 today gives the whole thing a different slant. I was particularly interested in Gary Taylor's perspective, because he's the one criticising the festival. Here's a sample:

Wouldn't you feel a bit cheated if the box of chocolates labelled "English literature" contained only one flavour? The triumvirate of Chaucer, Milton, and Shakespeare has become, increasingly, a Stratford dictatorship. The RSC Festival promises to produce, not only 30-odd plays, but a white paper telling the government how to change the way Shakespeare should be taught in schools. But who has the same kind of resources, or authority, to tell the government how to teach Virginia Woolf? Toni Morrison? Aphra Behn?

And who is going to tell us, or show us, how to perform and teach the rest of the Renaissance? It would be much easier - and undoubtedly more revelatory - to produce a festival of the Complete Works of Marlowe, or Jonson, or Webster, or Middleton. Or Corneille, for that matter. Or Calderon.

I see what Taylor is saying, of course I do. Nick Hornby says in 31 Songs that The Beatles have 'hoovered up' the 60's, that they have become the 60's. In much the same way, Shakespeare has become Renaissance theatre. Scrap that, Shakespeare has become theatre full stop. But, you know, this is no freak accident. The Beatles weren't just good, they were and are important and the same goes for Shakespeare. They dwarf their contemporaries in pretty much every field. Of course some bands and songwriters have written better songs than some Beatles songs. Of course some playwrights have written better plays than some Shakespeare plays, but when you look at bodies of work, they can't be beat.

The big comparison with Shakespeare is always Marlowe, of course, and I as a literature student am constantly being told that Marlowe could have been a better playwright than Shakespeare had he lived. Well, he didn't so that's that. All we can do is look at what he did produce. I'm nowhere near an expert on Shakespeare, and I've only read/seen Edward II and Doctor Faustus by Marlowe, but I haven't seen the quality and beauty of writing in either of those plays which we just expect from Shakespeare. I know they have different writing styles - the 'mighty line' that Marlowe used isn't made for poetry - but... well in the end it's that age-old matter of 'personal choice' of course.

Despite all I've written, Taylor's point can't be ignored. Sometimes we concentrate on Shakespeare cos that's easier. We know what to expect, and we know it'll get bums on seats (not that I am AT ALL against that - use Shakespeare, use Hollywood stars, do anything to get people into the theatre the first time and they might just come back... rant over). But we've got to challenge ourselves too, and that means branching out once in a while.


Lisa Rullsenberg said...

great post. have blogged on this. Am anticipating re-emergence of dreaded Duffman though...

David Duff said...

The Duffman cometh!

For that, you must blame 'La Rullsenberg' who steered me this way. Even worse, I share your enthusiasm for theatre, so I will be a regular visitor - like Lucio, "I am a kind of burr, I shall stick."

I think Younge is a little unfair to the RSC, because as I understand it, they use the Swan regularly for readings of Shakespeare's contemporaries.

'La Rullsenberg', entirely in character, ties herself up in unnecessary knots as her fundamental intelligence struggles against the crass ideologies with which she has been injected during what passes for her 'education'. In the end all art judgement is personal, and in my opinion, visceral. It is only after the event that we, so to speak, intellectualise our responses. In the last 400 years, zillions of people have 'responded' to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and 'Bill' has fairly consistently beaten the opposition by several lengths. Of course, that does not *prove* he is the better writer, but as no *proof* is ever likely to appear, we can certainly take it as ultra-strong circumstantial evidence that he probably is, indeed, the better writer.

Also, I think us enthusiasts can offer some buttressing support. I don't know about you, but if WS had never written a word, I simply cannot imagine getting as excited about Marlowe,or Johnson, or any of the others.

Finally, did you catch the ETT production of "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead"? Simply terrific!

AnnaWaits said...

Well thank you for coming and having a read sir! I like liking stuff just because I like it. Unfortunately, I never get round to intellectualising my responses ;)

Thanks again!