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September 17 2013

"On the Edge of Slander" - Stephen Greenblatt's review of Much Ado About Nothing. As featured in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books.

Wikipedia sez:
Greenblatt is regarded by many as one of the founders of New Historicism, a set of critical practices that he often refers to as "cultural poetics"; his works have been influential since the early 1980s when he introduced the term. Greenblatt has written and edited numerous books and articles relevant to new historicism, the study of culture, Renaissance studies and Shakespeare studies and is considered to be an expert in these fields.

Wow! Stephen Greenblatt! He's a bit of a celebrity critic in the world of English literary studies. This is a big deal. Of course, Joss was a big deal before, but you know what I mean. This review will be handy to bring up for those of us who are still trying to convince our colleagues that Whedon Studies is a valid field of literary and cultural criticism. :)
He's an expert on Shakespeare, not on architecture.
He wrote one of the books we're using in my graduate Shakespeare class.
I like these kinds of articles, that give the story behind the story (like what society was like when the story was originally written, and that even innocuous scenes involve deliberate choices by the director).
As I was saying, it reads less like a review than a textbook entry for a book titled Elizabethan Drama Through Film. Very enlightening. (Then again, I've heard of but am not that familiar with the publication it came from - I guess that is standard for their reviews.)

[ edited by DaddyCatALSO on 2013-09-17 15:28 ]
This is at least as much about the play as it is about the film, and I feel he is inflexible in his assessment of some of the characters - especially Claudio. And he seems not to have grasped just how much Spanish noblemen were involved in Italian politics in Shakespeare's day. Sicily and the entire southern half of the Italian peninsula were Aragonese property for centuries before Spanish unification in 1492. An Aragonese lord would be a perfectly commonplace element of Messina society.

In 1501, King Ferdinand II of Aragon, son of John II, conquered Naples and reunified the two kingdoms under the authority of the newly united Spanish throne. The title King of Both Sicilies[7] or King of Sicily and of the Two Coasts of the Strait was then borne by the Kings of Spain until the War of the Spanish Succession.

I know Greenblatt is a bit of a star in Historicist criticism, but this is a rather elementary error, which undermines a point he is trying to make comprehensively. It's fairly arcane historical knowledge, but surely a Proper Scholar of the Early Modern period should know about it?

Is it just me, or is he unpleasantly patronising about the Whedon home? It's not all entirely to my taste, I admit, but that doesn't make it tacky. And it works perfectly in the context of the film.

So, IMO, more points to Joss than to Stephen.
Is it just me, or is he unpleasantly patronising about the Whedon home?

Not just you. But I did appreciate his points about Shakespeare's "distractions" (Beatrice and Benedick) taking over the play. Glad they did!
Good catch, Gill. It's illuminating to me that he has a historical error even in this review, because there's actually a controversy surrounding Greenblatt right now concerning the occurrence of "factual errors and shallow history," as this article reports:

I think Greenblatt's celebrity does illustrate some of the paradoxes and contradictions in the Ivory Tower -- why has he just been awarded the MLA prize for a book that contains so many observable factual errors? Does celebrity status mean you just get away with it? I am still REALLY excited that he wrote this review, though, because in my eyes, it's more proof that Whedon's coming closer and closer every day to being canonical (and that I may see a world where no one responds "who?" when I say I write about Joss Whedon!).

More points to Joss than to Greenblatt - agreed. And in general, more points to Joss than to pretty much everyone.
Thanks for the link, Mare. How can he be regarded so highly as a scholar when such elementary details elude him?

My personal points score puts Joss a bit below Shakespeare, but in a different league from Greenblatt!
I may be misremembering, but I think some of the quotes Greenblatt cites have been cut from the text of the film. Certainly Greenblatt doesn't seem to note (am I making much ado about noting here?) that there *are* cuts in the text in the film, which seem to drive the experience in certain directions. On a totally unrelated note, boy, would I have loved to see Sam Waterston's Benedick ...
Greenblatt mentions the "deep cuts" Joss made to "plow through this musty plot quickly."
1starbuckstown - Which contradicts all we heard in advance about it saying only 1 word was cut. Hmmm.

Shapenew: Well, umm, maybe it's avialable, err, somewhere. Beatrice was played by Kathleen Widdoes (The Group, The Mephisto Waltz, Savages, Another World, As the World Turns.)
No. Joss only changed one word. He cut plenty.

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