Final day of Hypertext 2004 today, and I’m sitting in a panel on hypertext evaluation.

Last night was the main social event of the conference, namely an open-air production of John Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed by Shakespeare Santa Cruz. I can’t say that I was particuarly impressed, especially if I compared it to the open-air Much Ado that and I saw in Oxford a few weeks ago. In terms of the direction, the performances themselves were generally okay, and the opening scene was very effective, with the background action (the wedding party) freezing as each actor spoke. However, the interpretation of the script was frequently poor. For some reason, while the setting for the play had been transported to 1950s America, the choice had been made to interpret the script in a very literal, very heavy-handed manner.

For example, consider the following exchange. Jacques, Sophocles and Rowland are discussing the conduct of the women; Maria, Petruchio’s bride, has refused to go to her marital bed, and the women have barricaded themselves in with her.

Ile tell you in a word,
I am sent to lay
An imposition upon Sowse and Puddings,
Pasties, and Penny Custards, that the women
May not releeve yon Rebels: Fare ye well sir.
How does my Mistresse?

Like a resty jade.
She’s spoil’d for riding.
Exit Iaques.
What a devill ayle they?
Enter Sophocles.
Custards, and penney Pasties, Fooles and Fiddles,
What’s’ this to’th purpose? O well met.
I cannot stay to talk long.
What’s the matter?
Here’s stirring, but to what end? whether goe you?
To view the works.
What workes ?
The womens Trenches.
Trenches? are such to see?
I doe not jest sir.
I cannot understand you.
Doe not you heare
In what a state of quarrell the new Bride
Stands with her husband?
Let him stand with her, and there’s an end.
It should be, but by’r Lady
She holds him out at Pikes end, and defies him,
And now is fortifide; such a Regiment of Rutters
Never defied men braver: I am sent
To view their preparation.

The line “custards and penney pasties, fooles and fiddles” was accompanied by a parade of women across the stage carrying pizzas, beer and a guitar, while the line “and now is fortifide” was accompanied by a woman carrying two bottles of gin. While this is all very well, such a literal interpretation goes close to playing down the point of what the men are saying, that the womens’ idea of preparing for a siege (of sorts) is to stock up on luxuries. This was one of a number of such examples, where a dogged adherenece to the letter of the script meant that the production managed to overlook any figurative meaning.

I was reminded most of watching the terrible Looking for Richard, in which Al Pacino and chums demonstrate that they’re capable of completely suspending their critical faculties as soon as “The Bard” is invoked. My favourite moment from this film (if favourite is the right word) is the scene where Pacino suggests changing the initial “G” in the following lines by Clarence in Act One, Scene One in order to make the film easier to understand by the audience, and in doing so misses the point that G refers to (Richard, Duke of) Gloucester.

He hearkens after prophecies and dreams;
And from the cross-row plucks the letter G.
And says a wizard told him that by G
His issue disinherited should be;
And, for my name of George begins with G,
It follows in his thought that I am he.

(panel has now finished, so I’m off for a coffee before the closing session)

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