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Shakespeare's Dramatic Transactions.

Michael Mooney's book, as the author explains, is heavily indebted to the notions of locus, platea, and Figurenpositionen developed in Robert Weimann's Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater (1978). Unfortunately, Mr Mooney has underestimated the problematic features of Weimann's theories.

Weimann was tempted by the idea that on the Elizabethan stage there were two important areas: the locus, which was relatively far from the audience and was the location of 'illusionistic' utterance, and the platea, which was relatively close to the audience and was the location of 'nonillusionistic' utterance. This makes a neat diagram on an envelope or blackboard, but does not correspond to the diversity of stagings available for players of Shakespeare's dramas. It does not even fit very well the Globe layout, in which the audience might be on three or even four sides of the actors, and in which the actors might use several levels: ground, 'cellarage', stage, dais on stage, and an upper level or upper levels. So Weimann's book manifested considerable uneasiness: he valued the clarity given to his theory by the sense that locus and platea were physical locations; but, recognizing that the staging conditions and acting conventions were too flexible to fit that notion, he compromised by saying that the locus and platea could be regarded as conceptual (rather than physical) locations. His nostalgia for the physically schematic was nevertheless evident in his account of the scene of multiple eavesdropping in Love's Labour's Lost (IV. iii), in which he suggested that each eavesdropper moves downstage towards the audience on the entry of each person who is overheard: a peculiarly impractical staging.

The third term which Mr Mooney borrows from Weimann, Figurenposition, is suspiciously spongy. Mooney cites Weimann's definition:

Figurenposition should not be understood only in the sense of an actor's physical position on the stage, but also in the more general sense that an actor may generate a unique stage presence that establishes a special relationship between himself and his fellow actors, the play, or the audience. . .

Mr Mooney then discusses, in the dim light of these terms, Richard III, Richard II, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. For example, we are told that when Hamlet returns from his sea-voyage,

he discards his antic disposition and speaks from a different Figurenposition. When he appears with Horatio, 'afar off,' he crosses the platea and enters the illusion surrounding a symbolic locus . . . Although he is part of a locus-oriented action, the First Clown's words continue to operate on a platea level. Now Hamlet is held within the illusion.

Even this brief extract may illustrate the difficulties created by the terminology. In one place, we have both the locus and the platea; and as for Hamlet's speaking 'from a different Figurenposition', we might as well say that Hamlet speaks differently. When the modish terminology is translated into clearer and more familiar language, Mr Mooney's accounts of the plays seem actually less responsive to theatrical effects than were those of, say, Granville-Barker. In the case of Richard II, Mr Mooney attributes to the audience feelings of considerable sympathy with Richard; but then, on recalling the evidence that the play was once specially staged on the eve of the Earl of Essex's rebellion against Queen Elizabeth, Mooney remarks rather weakly: 'We cannot know Essex's intentions . . . Essex would have falsified the historical facts for his political purposes . . . Essex may not have falsified history so much as made it serve his calculated interpretation . . .'. Exactly how Essex did this is not explained; and since Mr Mooney's previous account has suggested that a correct observation of the use of locus, platea and Figurenpositionen shows that 'Shakespeare upheld Tudor ideology', one might conclude either that Essex and his followers were naive spectators or that Richard II was a more ambiguous play than Mr Mooney's interpretation (and terminology) had allowed.

Nevertheless, Shakespeare's Dramatic Transactions frequently succeeds in evoking possible stagings, and it may serve as a corrective to accounts which neglect theatrical effects. Although there are more interpretative possibilities than are dreamt of in Mr Mooney's philosophy, those he considers are often delineated with sympathetic enthusiasm.
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Author:Watts, Cedric
Publication:The Review of English Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1993
Previous Article:Shakespeare: A Bibliographical Guide.
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