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Old July 2 2013, 02:25 PM   #81
stj
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Re: Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing

Christopher wrote: View Post
It was a bit weird seeing this contemporary setting for a story so rooted in centuries-old customs and attitudes -- dukes and princes, arranged marriages, the fixation with feminine purity before marriage, etc. That always throws me in these modernized productions.
The question then is whether modern dress is a genuine modernization, i.e., a meaningful one? This question applies to Shakespeare's supposed modernization as well, of course. Today we have a great deal of readily available scholarship about past costumes (and possibly a widespread hostility towards identifying with superficially different stage characters.) I still suspect that simple ignorance played a large part in modern costuming in the Elizabethan/Jacobean theater. Costumes cost money.

stj wrote: View Post
Which is, to what extent did Elizabethan/Jacobean audiences regard themselves as "modern," distinct from ancient or mediaeval? Mediaeval religious art also had a tendency to dress its figures in contemporary dress, but it would be foolhardy to assume those artists were modernizing for their audience. Shakespeare was much closer to mediaeval times than to us.
Well, there is the fact that at the time, "modern" tended to be used to mean "ordinary, commonplace," as in Sonnet 83's lament that "a modern quill doth come too short" in writing of the worth of its addressee, or As You Like It's use of "modern instances" to mean trite examples and "modern censure" to mean common sense. But on the other hand, there is All's Well that Ends Well, Act II sc. iii:
Laf. They say miracles are past; and we have our philosophical persons, to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and causeless. Hence is it that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge, when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear.
Par. Why, ítis the rarest argument of wonder that hath shot out in our latter times.
If you substitute "mundane" for "modern" in the All's Well quote, the meaning comes out quite clearly. The character is arguing for belief in magic/religion, an attitude that was becoming associated in some circles with the past. The response is confused in this excerpt. What does "it" refer to? Does "rare" have another meaning in that period?

The question is how clearly they realized that the past was different, including things like daily dress and, more to the point, social customs. I suspect that new discoveries, such as the existence of the New World and technologies, and new religions were the main reasons for regarding their world as "latter times." But these novelties could be regarded as an overlay on a timeless human nature, the false projection of today's life into the changeless past. There are people who still think that way today.

So they did have a sense of their own time being newer and distinct from the past -- just as everyone probably has throughout history.
Rural society comprised largely of illiterates probably felt this? The realization that the past is gone is not at all the same thing as a genuine grasp of the fact that the past was different, and tomorrow will be different. Quite often it seems as though the official adulation of Shakespeare is about enshrining the principle of timelessness to society, which is merely the inevitable expression of eternal human nature.

No analogy is ever exact, but there's no question that Shakespeare was modernizing for his audience. "The clock hath stricken three" in Julius Caesar is a classic example -- they didn't have striking clocks in Ancient Rome, so that's as great an anachronism as the cell-phone video in Whedon's Much Ado. (Oops, I already mentioned that one way back in post #24!)
Again, is it so certain the audience knew it was an anachronism? In what sense is an anachronism a modernization? Much Ado About Nothing is not a modern story. By your report it is not modernized in any meaningful way. The characters are just dressed well (but cheaply.) I think it is a real question whether anything in Shakespeare shows any deep understanding of how society was changing. Really a lot of Shakespeare seems to turn away from the world, to some dreamscape where the emotions run riot, given names, but not really people.

Shakespeare's use of contemporary dress seems to me likely to have been exactly the same thing: An old fashioned story done on the cheap, no fancy costumes only some stinking nerds care about. And this doesn't matter, to people like that, because there's not really anything about the past that is fundamentally different. The past doesn't need commonplace markers like proper costumes. The social customs of the past don't change the drama, because they, like the past as a whole, isn't fundamentally different. I suppose that I have learned from this exchange that it is entirely possible that Shakespeare's use of modern dress was a problematic as modern dress in Shakespeare today. Thanks for the enlightenment!
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