Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Edwin Booth as Hamlet: OMOM Essay 17

Booth caused me even more problems than Stuyvesant (Essay 16). I went through at least two drafts of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan without having any focus for "About the Sculpture" or "About the Subject." Again I solved the problem by asking what made me not want to think about this sculpture. This time rooting about in my subconscious turned up the fact that I find the plot and characters of Hamlet depressing and exasperating; and I disliked actor Edwin Booth (d. 1893) because Hamlet was his preferred role.

Since many people do like Hamlet, though, I decided it was time for an "About the Sculpture" on why people can react to a work of art in such violently different ways. Emotional reactions to works of art are also discussed briefly in my article "Getting More Enjoyment from Art You Love," The Objective Standard 1:2 (Summer 2006).

While researching Booth I learned, to my amazement, that from the 17th to 19th centuries it was common for Shakespeare to be performed in "modernized" versions. Many were the work of Colley Cibber (d. 1757), one of Britain's less distinguished poets laureate. The Sidebar juxtaposes substantial passages from Cibber and Shakespeare. "About the Subject" acknowledges Booth's role in bringing Shakespeare's own words back on stage.

And then there was the photo. Gramercy Park has been closed to the public since its creation in 1831: only residents of surrounding buildings have keys to the gates in the high iron fence. Booth stands at the center of the park, half a city block from the nearest public sidewalk. In 2005 I owned a camera with a 3x optical zoom, inadequate for a good photo at that distance. It took dozens of relentlessly polite and patient emails and phone calls to find someone who would allow me in, under escort, to photograph Booth.

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