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This review is taken from PN Review 102, Volume 21 Number 4, March - April 1995.

BREATHING TRUTH PATSY RODENBURG, The Need for Words: Voice And The Text, with a foreword by Antony Sher (Methuen) £8.99

Anyone at all who has directed or performed in a play by Shakespeare knows that academic 'interpretations' of the plays (as opposed to scholarship concerning them) are wholly irrelevant to their performance. G. Wilson Knight to his credit discovered this when he produced Othello and realised that if the production was to work he would have to throw out his cherished theories about the deep symbolism of the play. It is not a lesson that has been much noted in the academy. Not that such a lesson should be needed: a little thought should show the absurdity of academic pretensions. Consider, by analogy, a great performance of Beethoven's piano sonata, opus 111, compared with a paper interpretation provided by one of that vastly increased breed, the musicologists. It is folly to pretend that the latter interpretation is an interpretation at all. And so with academic interpretations of Shakespeare's plays, and in fact of almost any dramatic or literary work. But lessons and thought count for nothing, since there are too many vested interests at stake.

There are also the matters of the power and influence of the academy, as well as what one might call its aura, whereby some critic's interpretation of Lear is regarded as being somehow more respectable than, say, Laughton's, Scofield's or Gielgud's, or that of a director like Peter Brook. Yvor Winters's unconsidered words about actors are typical of academic thinking. The situation of, and within, the academy has had a disastrous effect ...


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