Monday, September 29, 2008

Heads-up from Tom re: Oct. 16 Oberon meeting

This is a heads up for all you Oberon fans. Since October has five Thursdays, the third Thursday of the month comes a bit earlier than usual: October 16. Our meeting this month is thus on October 16. Please be sure to mark your calendars.

We will reminisce about the great potluck meeting at Linda's in September. There will be a brief report about our Greenblatt Encounter in Grand Rapids. And, wouldn't you know, much to say about the joint Shakespeare Oxford Society/Shakespeare Fellowship conference to be held Oct 9-12 in White Plains, New York. All this plus our famous Tom Townsend Treasurer's Report as well as no telling what other sense and nonsense that may occur.

Please join us October 16 for all our usual rollicking merriment at the Farmington Library, Room B. These are evenings not to be missed.

Dramatically yours,
Tom Hunter

Friday, September 26, 2008

Greenblatt around the World

First of all, forgive me for the somewhat far-reaching title of this blog (although I think Stephen Greenblatt would approve of it). I was moved by the increasingly broad geographical trend of the last two blogs on this subject and I wanted to continue with it. It also ties in with what I thought was the most interesting parts of the presentation we saw in Grand Rapids.

I can't really add very much to the two excellent blogs that have already been posted, but I can say a few things.

I would like to give a word of thanks to Marty for letting us know of this opportunity to see Stephen Greenblatt. I only wish we had found out sooner. Perhaps we could have organized a larger Oberon contingent. Perhaps we could have had time to print up our "Holocaust Denial" posters or lapel pins.

Anyway, I had a great time in Grand Rapids and I am glad I went. It's true that it was sometimes hard to follow the details of what Greenblatt was saying, but I liked his general idea. He is interested in how different cultures look at certain "fundamental" ideas or plot points. So his idea was to take a play (or rather a story) and rewrite it to "fit" our cultural ways. Of course, he chose the play Cardenio.

Then he and his collaborator, Charles Mee, sent out their play to other countries along with the basic plot points which it was based on (the original story found in Cervantes) and told playwrights there to write their own version of the story.

Greenblatt shared some of the results of this experiment with us and I found it quite interesting. However, I can't remember enough of the details to include them here in the blog. I guess you will have to wait until Greenblatt's inevitable book on the subject is published.

Of course, I cringed a little when Greenblatt actually got around to talking about the kind of man he imagines Shakespeare to have been, but he is essentially correct in taking him to be interested in other cultures and times and trying to weave plot elements from various sources into his plays (but not, of course, to make a fast buck).

I am quite frustrated to think of Stephen Greenblatt and Marjorie Garber, among others, who purport to be interested in "the man Shakespeare" and what the plays can tell us about him, but then refuse to take their blinders off and really follow the evidence. For years we have been hearing Stratfordians say "Only the plays matter!" and "There is no point in thinking the plays and Sonnets to be biographical!" and now that some of them are willing to look for biographical information, they can only find the most mundane and isolated things like the mention of certain Warwickshire plants in the plays to tie them to Will of Stratford. If only they would open their eyes to the richness to be found when the right person's biography is being matched to the plays.
Well, enough complaining. It was a most enjoyable evening. I have to say, however, that the parts I enjoyed the most were the drive there and back. It's amazing what can be discussed by three Oxfordians!

And thereby hangs a tale.

Greenblatt in Michigan

Little did I think when Marty H. passed along on Wednesday the heads-up about Stephen Greenblatt at Grand Valley State in Grand Rapids that on Thursday Linda, Richard and I would be motoring our way westward across our beautiful state to the land of Amway to hear one of the most renown literary teachers and critics of our time.

Well, we did, and there we found Mr. Greenblatt and a large lecture hall filled with Grand Valleyites who had come to hear his tale of the cultural mobility of Cardenio. The Cardenio project actually represents quite an undertaking, a grand experiment in cultural differences. It is a variation of the Cardenio text as updated by Greenblatt and a professional playwright Charles Mee (prompting many humorous references to the joint work of Mee and I) which was then sent out to be produced in various countries to compare the cultural differences emerging from the various productions.

Why Cardenio? Greenblatt said that it was important to the experiment to use recognizable literary Shakespeare devices for the purposes of seeing what happens to them in different cultures, but not to take them from well known plays where predispositions and prejudices might get in the way. One also suspects from Mr. Greenblatt's narrative that he thoroughly enjoyed the exercise of rewriting Shakespeare--that is, of BEING Shakespeare -- and of being involved in some of the productions as an actor, a scholarly resource, and a character named— Greenblatt!

Mr. Greenblatt made no mention of authorship issues, but authorship raised its ugly head as it usually does in presentations by the orthodox who try to explain the mysteries of Shakespeare by referring to the Stratford man’s fact-challenged life.

Mr. Greenblatt noted, for example, that Shakespeare certainly was not shy about using other people’s material, often throwing weird combinations into the pot, such as in King Lear in which appears, side by side, sources as disparate as Shakespeare’s contemporary Sir Philip Sidney and folk tales from England’s prehistory. But then came the typical Stratfordian spin that Shakespeare, being wildly successful, needed to find material fast to keep the plays coming to the stage to satisfy the Elizabethan hunger for drama.

None of the spin about Shakespeare is documented, of course, nor does it even come close to explaining the creative process which produced that exquisite body of work, but it was presented as fact to an audience willing to listen to authority, not to mention a good story. There was no thought, for example, that, as Nina Green has suggested, Shakespeare learned to write by employing the classics and other sources in his own creations.

How much more sense does it make to explore the possibility that Shakespeare lived under the same roof as Arthur Golding whose name appears as translator of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, well recognized as Shakespeare's primary source, and who in fact was Shakespeare's uncle and tutor? How much more sense that Shakespeare may well have participated in Golding's Ovid project as part of his learning and that his own craft resulted from the very process of weaving sources into finished plays because that is how he learned, not because he had to turn out plays for a demanding and impatient audience to earn fame and fortune and to compete with other playwrights?

Mr. Greenblatt also, both during his presentation and afterward in conversation, stressed his amazement with the mystery of why one of Shakespeare’s predominant themes throughout his work had to do with male friendship and betrayal. Well, duh! Or should I say, DUH! One of our favorite pastimes, of course, has been observing such expressions of mystery by the orthodox and musing at how obvious the answers would be to them if they would only open their eyes to what they refuse to acknowledge. But more about that later.

In the mean time, it was good enough to meet this literary titan and to leave with the sense that, yes, he is truly excited by Shakespeare and that, yes, perhaps that is the common ground upon which a dialogue might be built and finally that, yes, perhaps at some future time he might experience a certain cultural mobility in which we might not seem like such Holocaust deniers after all.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Greenblatt in Grand Rapids

Last night a few Oberons trekked across Michigan to attend Stephen Greenblatt’s lecture on “Cultural Mobility: The Strange Case of Shakespeare’s Cardenio” in the L.V. Eberhard Center at Grand Valley State University in downtown Grand Rapids.

Greenblatt, who is a professor of humanities at Harvard, is the GVSU’s Distinguished Academic Lecturer for their Fall Arts Celebration which includes the fifteenth anniversary season of the Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival. This year the festival offering is A Midsummer Night’s Dream ballywood-style at 7:30 p.m. Sept 26, 27, Oct. 2, 3, 4 and matinees at 2 p.m. Sept 27, 28, Oct 4, 5 at the Louis Armstrong Theatre Performing Arts Center on the GVSU Allendale campus.

Greenblatt is, famously, the author of numerous critical works on the Shakespeare oeuvre, most recently his 2004 $1-million baby -- Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare. He is known for his development of a theory called “new historicism” which as near as I can figure says that writers are products of their culture. He is also notorious for his comment that those who doubt the legitimacy of the Stratford man’s authority over the works of William Shakespeare are akin to those who doubt the reality of the Holocaust that he later repudiated.

I went to see if he had horns and a tail, but he was neatly dressed in a gray suit with gray tie and white shirt – neat, lithe and dapper with closely clipped hair. He is a good looking man with a well modulated voice, who spoke with some hesitance especially during the brief question period.
The audience consisted of about 200 people, mostly students and a few older folk – supporters of the arts celebration – one of whom snoozed comfortably in the second row.

The whole issue of Cardenio is too convoluted to explain – really, it’s totally insane. Apparently there was a play by Fletcher and Shakespeare entered in the stationer’s register in 1612 that was based on a story in Don Quixote. What Greenblatt spoke about was his and Charles Mee’s version of the quasi-play and the Japanese, Croation, and Spanish iterations. Greenblatt and Mee’s Cardenio debuted in May at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA.

Greenblatt said Cardenio was headed for Broadway and that a famous actress agreed to play the part of “bitch” Doris but only if she could marry one of the principals at the end. When he and Mee declined to change, the Broadway deal fell through.

In his commentary, Greenblatt repeatedly referred to Shakespeare as a thief of material, but neglected to mention which public library the writer preferred.

“Shakespeare’s imagination worked by theft. He clearly preferred picking up pieces ready-made. He seemed open to the idea of ceaseless change," Greenblatt said.

And:
“The first thing that was said about Shakespeare is that he was a thief . . .,” Greenblatt said referring to Greene’s ‘upstart crow beautified with our feathers’ comment as if it referred to Shakespeare when, in fact, only an un-named “shake-scene” is mentioned.

The lecture was very hard to follow because much of the discussion was about the synopsis of the play and its iterations. Also I found Greenblatt’s style lacking in succinctness – finding the point of his commentary was difficult for me.

Greenblatt-isms I found particularly perplexing:
“ . . . peculiar irony of cultural mobility”
“The natives find themselves both stymied and colonized by what their past has bequeathed them.”

The university went all out for Greenblatt, hosting a gourmet dinner in a beautiful lounge overlooking the Grand River before the lecture. After Greenblatt spoke, a fruit and cheese buffet with chocolate-dipped strawberries, tiny fruit tarts, and mousse piped into individual spoons was served to all attendees.

Of course we stayed!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Whirligig of time


. . . brings in his revenges. Clown, Twelfth Night, V,i

On September 21, the Oberons once again convened to the labyrinth in Howell to purify their hearts for another year's adventures.

And, of course, we ate. And Tom T. reminded us of time's whirligig while we ate:
tossed salad
bleu-cheese slaw
tuna noodle casserole
VG's fried chicken
pasta shells and peas
peanut butter krispy rice treats
chocolate zuccini cake
cheesecake and
the best chocolate cake in Michigan

And Richard was presented with a puzzle to commemorate his leadership in the Ann Arbor SOS/SF conference. (What's two year's delay among friends?)