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Book Report: The Staging of Romance in Late Shakespeare

Your Humble Blogger has just returned The Staging of Romance in Late Shakespeare, by our own Gentle Reader, Chris Cobb, to the Interlibrary Loan office. Now, all Gentle Readers will remember that ethical constraints ordinarily permit me only to discuss books written by friends in terms of their chances of making that friend filthy rich, enough for instance to lend me money and not worry about getting it back. This book has likely already done as much as it will ever do for Chris, just by the fact of being published; Gentle Readers may have been reading about the academic monograph over at the House Out of Focus.

Anyway, Your Humble Blogger knows next to nothing about academic monographs. I am able, barely, to read them, if the subject matter is already familiar to me. This isn’t at all a criticism of Chris or his book, which is less opaque than much of the other academic stuff I’ve read. I seem to have been able to follow it fairly well.

The bulk of the book is about The Winter’s Tale, a play I’ve never seen performed. It’s considered, I think, in the general culture, to be a weaker effort. There are good reasons for this: it fails to preserve the Unities, the initial mover of the plot involves somebody acting irrationally, the progress of the plot involves wild coincidence, the main characters at the beginning are offstage for much of the play, the climax makes no sense at all, nobody understands the title, there is not awesome and breathtaking poetic scene to sink its catchphrase into our cultural memory, and of course there’s a bear. I mean, bears are great, but a trifle difficult to stage effectively. Grrrr.

One thing that Chris does in the book is make me want to watch the play. That’s got to be considered a decent-sized achievement. I mean, it’s not generally much of an achievement to make me want to see Shakespeare, but since I’m realistically going to be watching only a few plays a year (barring a visit from Chris or other Gentle Readers bearing DVDs, snacks and a time distorter) (that’s Fermata brand time distorter, accept no substitutes. Amuse your friends, astound your enemies, o’erthrow law and in one self-born hour plant and o’erwhelm custom, with the Fermata brand time distorter. Paper due at nine? Only half-an-hour for lunch? Too tired to tango after tucking in the toddler? With Fermata brand time distorters, the time is NOW! And with our new compound-interest layaway plan, the Fermata brand time distorter pays for itself in only n + k time units! Don’t forget, get Fermata), I think Winter’s Tale would normally fall well behind, say, the third different version of the Scottish play, or getting the version of Lear with Lord Larry edited out, leaving Leo McKern to star as Gloucester.

Sadly, another thing that Chris does in the book is make me want to watch the version of the play that takes into account his theories that resolve some of the problems of the play, or rather, take them not as problems to be avoided but assets to be exploited. That version, like all ideal versions, has the surpassing flaw of not existing. Other than that, though, it does sound a lot better than the BBC one.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Thank you for commenting on my book!

As to getting filthy rich: there's more earning potential here than you might expect. If my book does _very well_--that is, if it sells quite a lot of copies to grad students and professors as well as to research libraries--I fully expect that my royalties will enable me to recoup my expenditures on postage during the editing process. If I ever get a royalty check, I'll spend it on a nice dinner to celebrate!

The BBC production of _The Winter's Tale_ is not particularly inspiring. _The Winter's Tale_, like most of Shakespeare's late plays, has been much more frequently staged in the last 20 years, and their reputation is rising, so perhaps you will have an opportunity to see a good production of it sometime. The late plays are risky to do because they can easily turn out badly. It's hard to do a really stinko production of Twelfth Night, or Midsummer, or The Comedy of Errors, for example. Shakespeare's comedies are very safe choices. But the late plays can also be exceptionally moving when they are done well.


Fermata brand time distorter, accept no substitutes. Amuse your friends, astound your enemies, o’erthrow law and in one self-born hour plant and o’erwhelm custom, with the Fermata brand time distorter. Paper due at nine? Only half-an-hour for lunch? Too tired to tango after tucking in the toddler? With Fermata brand time distorters, the time is NOW! And with our new compound-interest layaway plan, the Fermata brand time distorter pays for itself in only n + k time units! Don’t forget, get Fermata

This is brilliant :) May I use it in a novel, given the caveat that I'll happily acknowledge its source, and the other caveat that I may never actually finish a novel?

peace
Matt


Oh, and I have actually seen Winter's Tale. At Arena in DC, I think, although it may have been at the Folger - it was ages ago, in another lifetime, when I was a theater major.

Anyway, it was quite an experience. The director made a choice, as I recall, to have the court scenes be very stylized, very coldly lit, and very minimal of set, whereas the pastoral scenes (with the bear, for instance, whose presence in the play, but not on the stage, I remember) were warmly lit and bawdy, very naturalistic, and more property and scenery intensive. I thought it worked very well, I don't remember much of the plot, and I certainly don't remember anything like a climax...

peace
Matt


Matt,

Well, and I took the brand name from the novel Fermata by Nicholson Baker, where it isn't a brand name or a product so much as a name for a time distortion event. I didn't like the novel at all, I'm afraid, but the word stuck in my mind, so when I was looking for a brand name for the time distorter, there it was.

An interesting idea for the staging; now I'm curious about the details.

Thanks,
-V.


Bummer about Fermata.

If you email speccoll@gmu.edu and inquire about Arena collection 3, Box 129, folder 5 and Box 130, folders 1 and 2, they might be able to indulge your archival curiosity. The archival page I found that information on seems to imply that it was a 1990 or 1991 production. I didn't dig much deeper than this.

peace
Matt


Ah, in fact, I was wrong. I was thinking of the February, 1987, production by what is now the Shakespeare Theater Company, and it must have been at the Folger, after all. I don't know that those aforementioned boxes will in fact have any information about it at all. It was directed by one Michael Kahn, who seems still to be with the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

You might enjoy the three photos posted in their gallery, which finally convinced me that this was the production I remembered.

peace
Matt


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