Monday, 26 February 2018

Who Fancies a Culture War: not me, apparently (part seven)


Gareth K Vile, for some reason, has flipped out at a stray, innocuous comment that implies melodrama is an inferior genre to tragedy. He believes that the continued diminution of melodrama is an act of class warfare, an attempt by theatre criticism to marginalise a populist genre, demonise the past and present contemporary theatre - at least as far as it claims some kind of naturalism - as superior.

However, he is also nursing a sense of outrage at the productions that he has been watching lately in Scotland. It's not that he thinks they are irredeemable or necessarily bad - he thinks that they get by on some excellent acting - but that they pander to a sense of complicity with the audience, and fail to challenge their self-satisfied assumptions about their own moral excellence. For him, this problem begins with the triumph of naturalism at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the middle-classes were attracted back to theatre by scripts that explored their problems, framing domestic anxiety in a tragic structure and giving dignity to the woes of the dominant class. 

We join him now as he performs a tragic soliloquy. You can tell it is tragic because it reveals his divided self. Melodramatic soliloquies tend to reveal a fixed identity but Vile, like Hamlet or someone, is oscillating between  positions.

To moan, or not to moan, that is the question:
Whether 'tis safer in the mind to suffer
The tropes and structures of middle-class theatre,
Or to write words against complacent stagings
And by opposing end them. Just stop— review
No more; and by silence to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That critics're heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To stop, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to research, there's the rub:
For in that library what ideas may come,
When we have shuffled off to read theories,
Must give us pause—there's the respect
That makes calamity of such retreats.

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The playwright's wrong, the design's contumely,
The pangs of dispriz'd love, critics' display,
Of ignorance of genre, and the spurns
That patient merit of th'unworthy plays,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a clear study? Who would deadlines bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of missing the point,
The undiscovere'd theory, from whose bourn
No audience returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of new knowledge
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

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