Philobiblon: Who says these are the arcane, unemotional arts?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Who says these are the arcane, unemotional arts?

Dry, serious scholarship, disapassionate criticism - that's the theory of research and reviewing of the arts. But emotion it seems, is breaking out all over.

First, a German academic has claimed that not only does she know with certainty what Shakespeare looked like, she also knows how he died.

Prof Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel said she could prove that there were at least four surviving portraits of the playwright. ... Startlingly, she said swellings close to Shakespeare's left eye, which she says are clear in several of the contested portraits, are evidence that he had lymph cancer. By dating the portraits, she said, it was likely that he had suffered for around 15 years in increasing pain and died from it.

Now of course, what Shakespeare looked like on one level doesn't matter one jot, but there is human curiosity - and an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery opening soon, which happens to claim that only one of the portraits is actually of the bard.

So distinctly unacademic language - "rubbish" is not usually an academic word, at least in reference to a scholar's work.

Then in Germany, a critic has been punished for a nasty review by having a dead swan dumped in his lap. After this his notes were snatched and he was chased from the theatre in the middle of the performance, in fear at the least of his bodily integrity.

The unfortunate critic, Gerhard Stadelmaier, of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, became a target because of his old-fashioned ideas about how theatre should be staged.
“This rubbish theatre has gone too far,” he said yesterday. “It is robbing us of our imaginations. When blood is called for you do not have to squirt syrup. Sex and desire do not have to be made flesh. You don’t have to show everything, but you do have to act.”

The actor claimed that he was merely trying to involve the audience.

I hereby put it on notice that although I'm a theatre critic, I'll pass on the swans, or even sparrows, thanks.


Blogger clanger said...

To be fair, Germany has a long tradition of rubbish drama-I refer of course to dadaism, which although it began in Switzerland, was terribly popular in Germany.

The dadaists were very passionate in their anti-art, which despite worthy intentions, was anti-understandable to the vast majority of the punters, many of whom probably also exited at speed, stage left, muttering 'rubbish' (or more likely the German equivalent) and quite possibly covered in dead swan bits (dada being dada).

In the interests of health and safety, bird flu and all that, lets hope this doesn't start a trend.

Mixing the medium and message in drama usually works better conceptually, than practically, but thrusting young directors have to make their name somehow.

Perhaps there is a reason why art's traditional forms are the traditional forms. Perhaps we actually prefer pedestrian things like orderly narrative, and the framing of the performance as reliable vehicles for conveying meaning (for want of a trendier term).

Better than having performers deposit their deceased pets in your lap as part of the performance.

But what of the ex-swan, and also mentioned in the article, the ex-rabbits? Are small furries and noble birds being slaughtered left, right and centre by continental dramatists? This is not on. Perhaps a fatwah is in order, a few riots, and a boycott (criticism must move with the times too-no longer can a simple review keep you on the cutting edge).

Relax. My global campaign of violent intimidation against German theatre would of course be an ironic post-post-modernist act of performance art, and all tongue-in-cheek: a mixing of medium and message, of personal and private, expressing my exasperation at not being allowed to stage an appropriately-Brechtian performance of Galileo for Channel 4 more than a decade ago.


2/23/2006 06:58:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Thanks Clanger. I just came home from a long and emotionally draining, if interesting, political meeting. (More of that tomorrow). A bit of post-post modern irony was just what I needed.

2/23/2006 11:56:00 pm  
Blogger Lis Riba said...

Darn; she's a kook.
And I was so hopeful when I saw this story about Shakespeare's death mask, but it's by the same source...

2/24/2006 02:05:00 am  

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