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THE CRITIC Robert Cohen, THEATRE (Brief edition) Chapter 11 Brooks Atkinson, NY Times, 1925-1960.

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Presentation on theme: "THE CRITIC Robert Cohen, THEATRE (Brief edition) Chapter 11 Brooks Atkinson, NY Times, 1925-1960."— Presentation transcript:

1 THE CRITIC Robert Cohen, THEATRE (Brief edition) Chapter 11 Brooks Atkinson, NY Times, 1925-1960

2 Critical Perspectives  A play’s social significance  A play’s human significance  A play’s artistic quality  A play’s relation to theatre itself  A play’s entertainment value

3 Professional criticism......usually takes one of two forms.  Production reviews generally appear in newspapers and are an immediate response to the play.  Scholarly criticism often appears in journals by persons more knowledgeable about theatre.

4 dramatic criticism Focus on the play itself and less upon a particular production. GOETHE’s questions.... What is the writer doing? How does he do it? Is it worth the doing?

5 An example of dramatic criticism Why has this one tragedy become the archetypal Shakespeare play in modern times? Although Hamlet met with success when it was first performed, it was rarely regarded as Shakespeare's most note-worthy play in the late-sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and many readers found it deeply flawed: as Abraham Wright put it in the 1630s, Hamlet was “an indifferent play, the lines but mean”. The story of death and intrigue at the Danish court was not new – as with nearly all of Shakespeare's plays, Hamlet was adapted from other sources. The Norse folk tale of Amleth – recorded by the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus (c.1200), the French writer Belleforest in Histoires tragiques (1559-80), and in an anonymous play (now lost) provisionally called the ur-Hamlet (c.1580s?) – provided Shakespeare with the main characters and much of the plot for his tragedy: he added to the old legend the ghost, the secrecy surrounding Claudius' murder of old Hamlet, Hamlet's delay, Ophelia's madness, Laertes' revenge, and the character of Fortinbras (although some of these additions may have been taken from the ur-Hamlet). It was Hamlet 's soliloquies, however, – those charged, intimate moments in the play when the audience is supposedly privy to the workings of Hamlet's mind – that captured the imagination of later readers, particularly in the wake of Romanticism (c.1780-1830) in which the contemplative mind and quest for personal integrity became a recurrent preoccupation. Coleridge, drawn to the image of Hamlet as philosopher, claimed that “I have a smack of Hamlet myself, if I may say so”; likewise in 1817 William Hazlitt suggested that Hamlet's thoughts are “as real as our own thoughts [...] It is we who are Hamlet”... Citation: Roberts, Sasha. "Hamlet". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 30 June 2002 [http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=4833, accessed 24 November 2010.]

6 production reviews Jude Law as Hamlet & Geraldine James as Gertrude in HAMLET

7 Theater Review: ‘Hamlet’ NEW YORK—There may be something rotten in Denmark, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with Jude Law's performance in the title role of the Donmar Warehouse production of William Shakespeare's “Hamlet,” now at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway. Law takes the part of the oft-portrayed Melancholy Dane and completely makes it his own, providing the spark for this impressive production. As the play opens, Prince Hamlet finds himself under a dark cloud. His father, the king, died barely two months before, and his mother Queen Gertrude (Geraldine James) has married his father's brother Claudius (Kevin R. McNally) soon after; his new stepfather thus becomes king...

8 Theater Review: ‘Hamlet’...Where some actors have played Hamlet with a regal air and others with an attitude of foreboding, Law imbues the role with a sense of irreverence, the character's entire personality seeming to change from light to dark with the turn of a phrase. The actor's movements can be best described as “careful fluidity;” his hands and body twisting and turning to make a point or befuddle those about him. Although this Hamlet is certainly not mad, as some may believe him to be, he is indeed obsessed, usually realizing too late the destruction caused by his actions....

9 Theater Review: ‘Hamlet’...The actor's movements can be best described as “careful fluidity;” his hands and body twisting and turning to make a point or befuddle those about him. Although this Hamlet is certainly not mad, as some may believe him to be, he is indeed obsessed, usually realizing too late the destruction caused by his actions. Unfortunately, the acting in several key roles is not on par with Law's performance and thus weakens the overall effectiveness of the play, which suffers whenever Law is not on stage. Chief among the problems is Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ophelia. A pivotal character, her performance never really works, the character feeling one-dimensional all the way through, no matter if she is happy, sad, or desperate. Also not having nearly as much impact as she should is James as the queen, her movements feeling tired and mechanical... Reviewed by Judd Hollander (October 2009)

10 production reviews Hamlet. By William Shakespeare. Royal Shakespeare Company. Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon- Avon. 7 June 1997.

11 scholarly criticism The overlapping runs of the RSC-Stratford's Hamlet and the New Globe's Henry V last summer seemed a symbolic commentary on the changing dynamics of producing Shakespeare in his homeland. Henry V, one of the first plays produced at the original Globe theatre, presumably held particular appeal for Shakespeare's audience, who found a compelling parallel between the potential of their own time and the glories of Henry V's reign. Such a parallel makes the play an apt choice for the inaugural season of the New Globe where there exists a similar celebration of heritage and contemporary vigor. The opening of the New Globe may provoke something of an identity crisis for the RSC, and as a result the timing of Hamlet--a play scrutinizing being in relation to past beliefs and future directions--is striking. A production of a history play done in deference to tradition makes one statement about Shakespeare in production, while an innovative approach to a play as philosophically profound as Hamlet makes quite another. The RSC production of Hamlet, directed by Matthew Warchus, can therefore be seen as a kind of counterpoint to the Globe's Henry V. Theatre Journal 50.2 (1998) 234-237

12 Hamlet at the RSC, 1997 (cont.) At times, the production realizes the potential of liberating a text from its original setting; at others, however, this Hamlet suggests how innovation might prove at least as reductive as historical accuracy. Warchus eliminates the Fortinbras portion of Shakespeare's plot and concentrates on revenge within one family. Seeming to tap into modern preoccupations with family dysfunction and individual psyche, the RSC Hamlet concentrates more on the psychological than the philosophical concerns of the text. Mark Thompson's production design evokes The Godfather, where the icons of power are not those of state, but those of money, influence, and a family empire. By eliminating the details of a specific state of public affairs, the production occasionally provides a glimpse of human turmoil as a universal condition. Most effective is the play-within-a-play scene. Alex Jenning's Hamlet, his face transformed through crudely applied clown makeup, moves through this scene with manic and boyish energy.

13 Hamlet at the RSC, 1997 (cont.) Instead of an individual compelled by his claim to any throne, he becomes an embodiment of the fine line between foolish indulgence and spirited righteousness in a universalized power struggle between young and old. At other times, the depiction of Hamlet's dilemma as an essentially private one robs the character of some of the complications which account for the richness of the text. The decision to feature a gun prominently in the "To be or not to be" monologue is a most striking example of how a modern context might collapse rather than broaden the possible texture of historic work. This gun makes either suicide or murder seem relatively uncomplicated actions: a gun works with simple efficiency when compared to dagger or sword. More importantly, the gun--which Jenning's Hamlet begins by pointing forward before turning it to his own head--reduces a larger rumination on being to a more literal question about specific response in the specific circumstance.

14 Hamlet at the RSC, 1997 (cont.) If the prominence of the gun (which is emphasized in photos promoting the production) takes something away from the pivotal third act monologue, its introduction there provides an interesting twist to the play's last scene where no gun is seen on stage. Hamlet and Laertes (William Houston) do fence; and their fight takes time with each man giving and taking the dominant position while Gertrude, Claudius, and others look on with stoic regard. The notion of a drawn-out sword fight in a contemporary setting gives this scene a sense of eccentric ritual which, like the play-within-a-play scene, translates family pathology into effective theatrical imagery. Even though it boasts uniformly fine performances and excellent design, the RSC Hamlet finally attests to both the potential and the liabilities of its own concept.

15 Hamlet at the RSC, 1997 (cont.) In a curious way, however, this mix seems an apt companion for a play entertaining indecisiveness. Hamlet dies an enigma. Certainly the RSC and its proud tradition will live on; however, the RSC may face some challenges at the Stratford location-- to the extent that people are drawn to the theatre as part of touring Shakespeare's birthplace. Might the appeal of the birthplace fade alongside the opportunity to get a glimpse of the "real life" of the Bard through a careful reconstruction of his theatre in London? The implications of such a question go beyond the most obvious ones for the tourist industry and only time will tell what is to be as the New Globe reconfigures the terrain of producing Shakespeare in Britain. Sarah J. Rudolph University of Wisconsin-Marathon

16 Student Criticism......characteristically adopts one of the professional perspectives, but different standards apply.  Expectations of a class  Expectations of a peer group  Expectations of a student publication  Expectations of a student organization

17 Student Criticism... An example from a Salt Lake City blog Review: Pioneer Theatre’s Hamlet by Lara Rosenbaum http://www.saltlakemagazine.com/blog/2010/09/review-pioneer-theatres-hamlet/ Posted: Monday, September 20th, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

18 student criticism To see or not to see, that is the question. Generally, when it comes to a Shakespearean play, you can’t go wrong, and Hamlet—perhaps one of the Bard’s longest plays (if not the longest) is no exception. The Pioneer Theatre Company’s latest interpretation of the classic tragedy is good, it’s worth your time, but you have to be willing to lose your preconceptions a bit—and willing to sit for three hours. Let’s start with the acting: Phenomenal. Michael Crane was superb in the lead role and his performance was seamless. When he spoke Hamlet’s classic soliloquies, it was as if they weren’t soliloquies at all. Instead, it seemed like Hamlet was speaking to the audience, addressing everyone like old friends, right there in the room with him. http://www.saltlakemagazine.com/blog/2010/09/review-pioneer-theatres-hamlet/ Posted: Monday, September 20th, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

19 student criticism Really, all of the actors were superb–it’s hard to call one out over another. To be honest, I almost want to see the play again because of the quality of the acting. The set design was wonderful, too. Of course, it was simple (for the most part, a large, marble-esque room), but it made for gorgeous lighting and interesting scene changes, especially when it came to the ephemeral appearances (and disappearances) of the Ghost. The one rub for me was the time setting of the play, or more so, the costumes. The actors’ attire seemed to switch from that of the Victorian era (complete with embellished ballgowns) to, well, if you count the black turtleneck Hamlet wore toward the end of the play, the ’50′s or ’60′s.

20 student criticism The actors also spoke their lines with modern intonations—very conversational. That was all fine with me, and made the play more relatable. I just had to stop ‘noticing’ the costumes so much, and had to let myself go. If anything, I saw Hamlet’s more modern attire later in the play as a way to signal his personal evolution as a character. (He had grown up, by then.) In all, Pioneer Theatre Company put on a fine production. Just prepare to sit and relax for a while and let yourself go. Hamlet runs through October 2. For tickets and more information, visit pioneertheatre.org or call 801-581-6961.

21 Resources for student critics  University of Wisconsin Writing Center University of Wisconsin Writing Center  How to Write a Play Review WIKI How to Write a Play Review  How To Review a Play WIKI How To Review a Play WIKI

22 An national organization, ATCA, is a serviceATCA organization for theatre critics in America Critic John Lahr George Jean Nathan

23 We are the critics Theatre demands mutual and active participation, so we are all critics. We can use our role to hold theatre to high standards, by developing our awareness of qualities of the theatre. We need to be observant, informed, sensitive, demanding and articulate. The best critics are knowledgeable, fair and open-minded.

24 Questions over your reading 1.What are the critical perspectives that help viewers focus on their response? 2.What are the characteristics of newspaper, scholarly and student criticism. 3.What are the qualities of an effective critic?

25 Some suggested readings  No Turn Unstoned by Diana Rigg  The Poetics of Aristotle  “Preface to Cromwell” by Victor Hugo  “The Defense of Poesy” by Sir Philip Sidney  “Tragedy and the Common Man” by Arthur Miller  The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

26 Your reaction paper  Sample Review 1 Sample Review 1  Sample Review 2 Sample Review 2  Sample Review 3 Sample Review 3  Response form Response form


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