Category Archives: International

Some more about Saint Omer

In late November 2014, a First Folio was discovered in the Bibliothèque d’Agglomeration Saint-Omer. I realise I’m a bit late to the party with a blog post on this extremely rare qnd exciting event, but, still,I hope what I have to say here about another of Saint-Omer’s Shakespearean connections remains of interest. Continue reading Some more about Saint Omer

Curating Letourneur

This is a bibliographical post. In the following table, I’m going to list the rough contents of all twenty volumes of Pierre Letourneur’s translation of Shakespeare into French. I am also going to provide a link to the digital copy of each volume on Google Books. To find out why I think this is important, take a look at the bottom of the page. Continue reading Curating Letourneur

Thou art a scholar; speak to it…

Time for something slightly different. In order to prepare for my upcoming presentation on Diderot and theories of acting, I recorded myself reading a draft version of my paper. As well as informing me that I need to cut about 800 words (a matter of some concern), this experiment with Audacity also left me with a recording that I’m going to publish online here in three parts:

Part One: Introduction and ‘The Lovers’

Part Two: ‘Sensibility’

Part Three: ‘Authorship’ and Conclusion

In order to help you follow what is ultimately a detailed analysis of some very knotty textual transmission, the following chart (which I’ll be giving out in the seminar) may well come in handy. You can click on it for a larger version.

Transmission Diagram
A diagram showing transmission of ideas about acting. Click to enlarge.

For my non-francophone readers, here too is a version of a handout filled with my English translations of some of the more important quotations from Sticotti, Diderot and Sainte-Albine:

Translations of passages quoted in French

1) Denis Diderot, Paradoxe sur le comédien, in Œuvres complètes, ed. Herbert Dieckmann et al., vol. 20, 24 vols. (Paris: Hermann, 1975), 75.
Extreme sensibility makes for mediocre actors, mediocre sensibility for the multitude of bad actors, and the absolute lack of any sensibility prepares sublime actors.

2) Diderot, Paradoxe, 68.
The one who is cold, who is self-possessed, who is master of his face, voice, actions and movements.

3) Diderot, Paradoxe, 69-70.
THE ACTOR No, no, do not believe, Madame,
That I return once more to speak of my burning passion…
THE ACTRESS – I recommend you don’t –
THE ACTOR That’s over;
THE ACTRESS – I hope so –
THE ACTOR I want to heal myself, and well know
What from your heart mine possessed.
THE ACTRESS – More than you deserved. […]
THE ACTOR But in the end it’s no matter, and since your hatred
So often drives away a heart that love brings back to you,
This here is the last of the annoyances
That you will ever have from my rejected wishes.
THE ACTRESS You can completely oblige my own wishes, Sir,
And spare me once more this last plea…
THE ACTOR My love, you are so rude and you will regret it.

4) Diderot, Paradoxe, 82.
An actor is infatuated with an actress; by chance, a play brings them together for a scene of jealousy. The performance will be the better for it, if the actor is mediocre, but the worse if he is a great actor.

5) Antoine-Fabio Sticotti, Garrick, ou, les acteurs anglois. (Paris: Rothe et Proft, 1771), 146.
The English author seems to forget the character of his nation here: we know that Frenchwomen are prodigies when it comes to little love affairs, while his Englishwomen are miracles in conjugal love.

6) Sticotti, Garrick, 152.
To express such happy dalliances, it’s not enough / To be a poet, you must also be in love.

7) Pierre Rémond de Sainte-Albine, Le comédien : ouvrage divisé en deux parties, 2nd ed. (Paris : Vincent, 1749), 32.
In actors, [sensibility is] the facility of making all the diverse passions to which man is susceptible succeed one another in their souls.

8) Sticotti, Garrick, 68.
The perfection of the art demands that the actor speak clearly and at the same time persuade us that he is deeply penetrated by what he says; we want above all that, in the development of his well ordered sensibility, ours loses nothing. Weak articulation is, however, permitted in the actor when extreme pain disturbs his speech: in such cases, this is a great beauty.

9) Sticotti, Garrick, 71.
We feel that the proper character of a great actor is to have none.

10) Diderot, Paradoxe, 93.
The soul of a great actor … affects no single determined form, and … equally susceptible to all, keeps none.

11) Sticotti, Garrick, 62.
It is proper to speak first of general qualities, since they lead to the others. Performance is a sublime tableau, the work (ouvrage) of two great artists: the poet and the actor. Their principal goal is to excite the passions.

12) Diderot, Paradoxe, 52.
When suspended between nature and their rough outline, these genii turn an attentive eye alternatively to one and to the other; the inspired beauties – the fortuitous strokes that they scatter in their works (ouvrages) and whose sudden appearance surprises even themselves – have an effect and a success quite differently guaranteed than those they throw in in the heat of the moment. It’s up to sang-froid to temper the frenzy of enthusiasm.

Beinecke: Performance

This post is dedicated to the various passages found in those papers of David Garrick and William Smith, held at the Beinecke, which deal with the more theoretical side of performance. I already touched on this when writing about attitudes to French actors, so this piece will, in some ways, extend ideas already evoked there.

Along with letters to and from Garrick, the papers I examined also include various figures’ poems in praise of the English actor. One of the most notable of these is by Warren Hastings, the governor-general of Bengal . I won’t quote the text in its entirety, but rather extract the passage that piqued my interest:

Why should our Roscius grieve the want
Of Practice and of art
To bid each pitying bosom pant
To wring each feeling heart?
These found excuses sure degrade
Intrinsic merit here:
Art could have but an actor made
‘Twas nature form’d him Lear!

This short piece is based on the continuing preoccupation of whether technique or inspiration is most central to the actor, which is the theatre’s particular version on the eternal debate of the roles of art and nature in creative endeavour. What I find interesting here is Hasting’s unusual claim that whilst art (i.e. technical skill, “practice”) provides the general qualities an actor needs, it is only nature that provides the specific touches necessary to create the character of King Lear. To my ears (and to theorists such as John Hill or Remond de Saint-Albine), this seems back-to-front in that one would expect nature to have granted the actor the general qualities that make him an actor (sympathy, imagination, physical beauty and strength, etc.) and that art would polish and perfect these qualities into what was appropriate for the role. Instead of this, however, Hastings proposes that Garrick taught himself the general skills and then relied on nature for the authentic recreation of the particular. This reversal depends on a conception of the actor where it is the natural that makes a person unique, something that looks forward to romantic ideas like the egotistic sublime where it is your personal emotional response that counts and not so much your specific use of an established technique.

Quite what Garrick would make of this, I’m not sure. Interestingly, there are very few letters from him about the art of performance. A copy of one of them, sent to the painter Hayman when he was preparing to paint a series of Shakespearean murals, is in the Beinecke, but the main thrust of Garrick’s efforts to describe how the painted figures should be posed so as to express the chosen scenes fully is that a written account cannot possibly do justice to everything involved in the performance and composition of such moments.
Garrick Papers-06-Hayman,F-ShakespearePictures-Transcript-1
Moving from Garrick’s papers to Smith’s (not a large jump, as Smith was often seen as one of the last survivor’s of the ‘Garrick school’), I found a few other scattered thoughts about performance. Some of these pick up things I’ve already seen elsewhere, such as the use of Shakespeare as a theatrical instructor in the epilogue John Byng wrote to mark Smith’s retirement from the stage in 1788, or Smith’s own quotations from Shakespeare to strengthen his satirical prologue on “the intent and business of the stage”. A letter, however, from Capell Loftt to Smith in June 1798 stood out from the rest. I give the relevant section below.

There is much of Mr Grarick’s acting that I think will always live in my remembrance. It is the felicity of very strong impressions, that, depending on the high pleasure they convey to the mind, they serve more forcibly to identify our being, and to give a familiarity, a kind of apparent unity of ideas, to the very remote parts of it. The time when I saw him was that part of my life which was full of hope and of spirits: and if there has been any spirits of any utility in the rest of it, I flatter myself the animation derived from the hearnig and seeing him has had no small share in it.
I do think dramatic representation and specially of the great tragic characters, one of the very powerful exciters of the public mind.

What I find so powerful about this letter is the observation that the actor, whether he is inspired or not, can inspire others, be one of the “exciters of the public mind”. Of course, this is not a new observation (Bacon has a fantastic description of the audience as a violin on which the actor plays), but it is a rare one with regard to Garrick, who is normally seen as resurrecting Shakespeare rather than inspiring contemporaries. Indeed, it is the next generation of actors – Sarah Siddons, Dora Jordan – who are thought of as muses. Here, though, with heavy nostalgia and in a letter to one of Garrick’s inheritors, Loftt makes Garrick (and dramatic representation in general) not into an inspired act but an inspiring one.

Beinecke: The French

This post concentrates on one element of the material I was looking through in the Beinecke library. Although not frequent, nor completely central to the current direction of my thesis, I couldn’t help but notice the odd reference to the French stage in both the William Smith and David Garrick papers.

In the second folder of the David Garrick papers lies a letter from Richard Berenger to the English Roscius. Berenger, now best known for his books about horsemanship, was living in Paris at the time and writes to Garrick with a view of the French stage. Before he gets round to this, Berenger’s preliminary remarks suggest that Garrick’s plans to come to Paris were public knowledge well before his departure later in 1751; that said, Berenger wittily says that Garrick should rather wait until “two-thirds of the French actors have first made a pilgrimage to Drury Lane, and can speak good English”. Such bantering disparagement then sets the tone for his critique of various French performers – views which echo many of those expressed by Garrick when he did eventually visit the Comédie française. Mme Dumesnil “has her degree of merit, but it is not the superlative”, while Mlle Clairon “gains great applause and yet not more than she deserves”.

Berenger's thoughts about acting (click to enlarge).
Berenger’s thoughts about acting (click to enlarge).

Berenger, however, does more than review the great performers of the day. He also offers his opinion on the well-known question of whether actors felt emotion when the were on the stage. In Berenger’s case, it is a resounding yes, since, without feeling, everything “is but a bare repetition of so many times, […] as different from true acting as the dead carcass from the living body”. Curiously, though, the letter does not stop here, but rather makes the observation, based on the widespread belief in a female propensity for strong feeling, that “women have eclipsed the men in my opinion”, even if “both the sexes excel in comedy rather than in tragedy.”

Berenger prefers comedy to tragedy as he finds an “affected formality and stiffness” on the French stage which vitiates “the tender sentiments of Tragedy”. Indeed, the technical rigour of the French stage, what this letter names as “general exactness”, is also evoked by other figures as a way of lambasting foreign practice. In the William Smith Papers, one finds a letter to Smith from Thomas Coutts accusing Kemble of a “false taste” as a result of having “form’d himself on the French stage”. Similarly, Smith himself writes a poem to Sarah Siddons warning her of (amongst other things) the dangers of being influenced by the French:

Let not a Barker’s false and Gallic Taste
Lay all your former well-earn’d harvest waste;
Tutor’d in France plain Nature HE defies,
Misleads your judgment and deceives your Eyes.

The idea that the French defied ‘nature’ is interesting as it is, to a certain extent, the reversal of the praise for French ‘refinement’ one finds earlier in the period. Indeed, both in the Berenger letter arguing that actors should feel and here in attacks on what is perceived as a ‘French’ calculation, the expression or restraint of human nature is the crucial motif.

Marian Hobson-Jeanneret and My Thesis

The first page of the book in question.
The first page of the book in question.

Following on from my post on Anne Barton (née Righter), this post is dedicated to Marian Hobson-Jeanneret (née Hobson), and, more particularly, her book The Object of Art: The Theory of Illusion in Eighteenth-Century France, published in 1982. Like Barton’s Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play, this book grew out of Hobson-Jeanneret’s thesis, so I’ll also be trying to work out, as I write, what I can learn from it for my thesis. For the most part, these will be different conclusions from those drawn the last time I did this, as this book is – for want of a better word – much more ‘theoretical’ than Barton’s.

The book’s aim is a large one: to trace the development of theories of illusion in eighteenth-century France across four major domains, the novel, the theatre, poetry and music. Needless to say, the breadth of knowledge demonstrated by such a book is breathtaking: the book’s bibliography exceeds thirty pages of very small print, and the index contains pretty much anyone you could think of as relevant to this topic. At the same time as being wide-ranging, however, Hobson-Jeanneret is also focussed on the topic of illusion, and manages, by the end of the text, to give a convincing account of how this concept evolved, just as Barton, by focussing on ‘the idea of the play’ is at once wide-ranging and specifically deep.

The introduction to The Object of Art contains a table, laying out some of the conceptual framework Hobson-Jeanneret has created for the discussion of illusion. I’ll reproduce it here:

S1: simulation
making itself like something which is not there
A1: seeming
the work seems (to be) (like) – it is not really
Contrary of Adequatio
S2: dissimulation
hides itself by some diversionary behaviour
Contrary of Aletheia
A2: appearing
shows itself, and points to something beyond

This framework, elaborated with the help of Gombrich, Hamon, Derrida and Plato, demands study. I can only get a grip on it by setting one side against the other: S1 vs A1 shows the importance of “it is not really”, and S2 vs A2 the importance of a direct relation to aletheia. The important S1 vs A2 (adequatio vs aletheia) distinction is explained by Hobson-Jeanneret as follows: “our attention is relayed by the appearance towards what is pointed at” in aletheia, while “adequatio, on the contrary, seeks a replica, a simulation, it excludes what is not truth, it presents the alternatives”. Such distinctions, and other new concepts introduced here (like papillotage), become clearer as the book dives into the worlds of writing around novels, plays, music and poetry, but this way of beginning a book is, I find, quite remarkable. It asks a lot of the reader, but does provide the tools the reader will learn to use better as they go on with the text. On top of this, such an interpretative grid, established before really entering into the eighteenth-century material, claims the potential for being extracted and used in other debates over ‘illusion’. Ultimately, therefore, as well as having a broad corpus of texts, Hobson-Jeanneret’s tight focus on illusion is, from the outset, itself aiming at broader applications.

With regard to my own work, I don’t know whether such a thing would be possible. At the moment, I don’t really have a single concept open to such anatomisation as Hobson-Jeanneret performs. I suppose I could obtain one by taking the concept of ‘performance’ and then breaking down the various ways of understanding it in the period, ranging from the ‘execution’ of a task to the mere appearance of doing something (doing it / feeling as though you’re doing it // not doing it / not feeling it). I suspect that if I took this road, the concept of ‘performance’ would become the limiting factor, the tight focus of my thesis, and so replace Shakespeare’s reception. Studying the concept of ‘performance’ in the eighteenth-century reception of Shakespeare would only provide me with a body of texts both too small and too unrepresentative to work with.

I’ve just been using The Object of Art to help me prepare my paper for Yale. Upon returning to the book, I noticed a few other things about the way it is written that might come in handy for my own work. The first of these is the density of Hobson-Jeanneret’s text, which is not so much the result of her style, but rather the sheer inter-connectedness of her way of writing. Individual points are hard to extract as each point grows out of another. This means that she is very hard to argue against, as each point justifies and is justified by another, with the whole ensemble serving as the foundation for her choice of subject. If I can get anywhere near such interrelation with my own writing, I will be very happy indeed. To be more precise, though, what is specifically striking is not so much the creation of a network, with lots of cross-references (although this is also present), but rather the linear way each point leads to the next, and this new topic then drives us forward into another. To be able to do this demands more than a grasp of a wide range of material, but a powerful logical approach to them as well.

My second main observation, and the last I will detail in this post, is Hobson-Jeanneret’s flair for neat and memorable expression. The chapter on plays (in the section on illusion and the theatre) concludes with a memorable use of the word ‘ogle’ in the summary of how perceptions of what plays should be evolved (from aletheia to adequatio, as defined above):

Conventional tragedy refers away from what it is: it ogles a meaning which is not within it; like certain scurrilous novels it is often à clé; it clearly accepts theatrical convention and sharpens it to an extreme of artificiality; its defenders use the theory of voluntary illusion. The reform of drama, on the contrary, tries to make meaning and play coincide: signs are to be eliminated in favour of the thing signified.

Another example, and one I’m currently quoting in a draft of the NEASECS 2013 paper, is Hobson-Jeanneret’s description of Garrick’s role in Diderot’s thought about the theatre:

Just as Chardin’s [i.e. a painter’s] work and talk may have forced Diderot to recognise the role of technique in creation, so it is round the figure of Garrick that the recognition that the art object is imaginary crystallises

Overall then, whether it encourages me to think of my research in more abstract terms, or provides an example of powerful and memorable argumentation, The Object of Art has been pretty useful for my thesis. This is, of course, without even really mentioning the many detailed and clear observations it makes on eighteenth-century material that have been extremely useful for my general understanding of this area. I suspect that I may have portrayed Hobson-Jeanneret as too theoretical here, and so it’s important to note in this final sentence that, like all good concept-heavy approaches, this one also has deep textual roots.