Feb 23, 2005

Great Shakes

An interesting literary exercise at the Guardian, asking historians and theatre folks to speculate on Shakespeare's personality. Given my own predilections, I immediately glommed onto a quote cited by playwright Alan Plater, credited to Peter Brook, that "Shakespeare's greatness lies in the fact that we never know which side he's on." Of how many contemporary playwrights—even, and let's tread lightly here, the late, great essential Arthur Miller—can this be said?

3 comments:

Ravi said...

Simon, Stoppard, Ayckbourne, ...

Rob Kendt said...

Touché on Stoppard. I would add Caryl Churchill and Wallace Shawn and Michael Frayn, and, roughly every other play, Tony Kushner.

Point is that Brook's quote, in the context of Shakespeare, refers to some pretty weighty "sides" and huge, reign-wrenching conflicts. The bigger the stakes, the more precious—and rare—is the playwright's relative neutrality. Even on a smaller, more domestic scale, frankly, I have a big problem with cheap, overdrawn villains and pop-psychological justifications, of which there are far too many in contemporary drama (onscreen and onstage). There's typically no such problem in comedy, which is why the best comedies (I'm not sure I'd include Simon and Ayckbourn in this lot, frankly) are similarly saturnine and un-stacked.

Ravi said...

"Touché on Stoppard. I would add Caryl Churchill and Wallace Shawn and Michael Frayn, and, roughly every other play, Tony Kushner.

Point is that Brook's quote, in the context of Shakespeare, refers to some pretty weighty "sides" and huge, reign-wrenching conflicts. The bigger the stakes, the more precious—and rare—is the playwright's relative neutrality"

The difference may be that some, and I am one, don't mind a partisan viewpoint. I enjoy authors who take a stand. Churchill's FAR AND AWAY was political, I didn't see an overt political slant to FEN. Simon and Ayckbourn - very popular and living authors who write comedies. I had taken you literally, without regard to "reign-wrenching" scope. But, re: Shakespeare, was he politically neutral in the history plays? Socially neutral in Shrew and Merchant? Don't know the answer but it is my understanding that the questions have been debated at length.