HD: Theater and Storytelling
Posted: 29 August 2012 01:59 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Somewhat off topic for this site, but something I think most here will find thought provoking.

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Posted: 29 August 2012 07:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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A very nice piece; I’ve passed it on to several people.  Thanks for posting it.

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Posted: 29 August 2012 10:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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A wonderful (and compelling) article. 

I certainly agree that it is reductive, to say the least, to refer to Shakespeare as a great story-teller.  His texts are remarkably powerful, but they are not powerful because they tell wonderful stories.  The texts do not, of course, tell stories at all: they equip the actors and actresses with tools of wondrous dramatic power.  There is a story (or many stories) to be found in each of them, but the audience is not “told” what the story is: it must find a story itself, and it finds it in the dramatic performances it experiences. It is hard, in fact, for me to think of a way to more completely miss the mark as to what it is about Shakespeare that is so compelling than to say that he was a great story-teller. 

And if watching many modern plays does not involve substantially different experiences than you would have if you read the scripts of those plays to yourself, then something has gone very, very wrong.

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Posted: 29 August 2012 06:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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And if watching many modern plays does not involve substantially different experiences than you would have if you read the scripts of those plays to yourself, then something has gone very, very wrong.

I’m not sure I agree entirely with Syme’s argument or his definitions of narrative and story, but Svinyard’s statement seems to sum up the main point and I agree with it. But it must apply to any play at all, or none, really.

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Posted: 29 August 2012 09:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I didn’t mean to suggest that there is something wrong with modern playwrights writing such plays, but that the “great playwrights” may do so.  I agree that it applies to all plays, or none.  I mentioned “modern” plays simply because such plays were the focus of that aspect of Syme’s criticism.

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Posted: 30 August 2012 03:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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His texts are remarkably powerful, but they are not powerful because they tell wonderful stories.

Though you could, of course, argue that the test of a wonderful storyteller is that he can take even the crappiest old chestnuts and keep you riveted in the telling of them.

Jonathan Bate in his The Genius of Shakespeare took issue with Tolstoy, who had argued that Shakespeare was a bad writer because - among other faults - he blurred the plot of many of the old stories he re-used, e.g. in King Lear where he drops Lear’s motive for dividing his kingdom that is spelt out in the source version. Bate argues that that’s the play’s strength; there is no ‘a leads to b leads to c’ motivation, so the actors and director are free to play it however they feel.

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Posted: 30 August 2012 08:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Though you could, of course, argue that the test of a wonderful storyteller is that he can take even the crappiest old chestnuts and keep you riveted in the telling of them.

Did you read the linked article?  The point is not that playwrights use or don’t use old chestnuts but that they are not, or should not be, in the business of telling stories at all.  To tell a story is to present the past wrapped up in a pretty package; a play is (or should be) a present-tense experience.

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Posted: 30 August 2012 03:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Yes, I did read the article: I just meant to address Svinyard’s remark.
But I think the point Jonathan Bate made is relevant here: that Shakespeare actually - and presumably deliberately - removed some of the narrative coherence of the stories he used for his plays, to give scope for dramatic interpretation and psychological expression.

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