Someone should let me know one way or another where this is supposed to go, because one thing that I have not yet figured out since beginning this project is exactly how to create another blog still linked in to our group blog in some way. Maybe this is it. Maybe I'm writing this and it will enter The piece of geography that the University lays claims to in internet land and be lost forever.
In any event. This week I have primarily been focusing my research upon the history surrounding the frame of our research project, as well as focusing a bit upon Holberg himself. A few things have stood out. Primarily I spent some time reading Selected Essays of Ludvig Holberg The man, while primarily known in regards to Scandinavian Literature and Theatre, was also, during his time, known for his philosophical writings. Some of these essays are included in this collection. Some are on serious topics, others not so much. A few were quite pertinent, though I must confess to reading his ode to coffee/tea/tobacco as well, in which he defends his consumption of them and proclaims their health benefits (67).
The most interesting essay that I have read thus far has been "Good and Bad Comedies" (95). In this essay he discusses, amongst other things, that plays originally written in other languages and translated for Danish audiences have not fared well traditionally, with the exception of Molière. He claims that this has been the case, without the audience knowing, or even caring who the author of the play might be. He attributes this to the Danish audience being a more discerning type of audience than that of the Parisians. "Since in all countries Molière's comedies are considered to be masterpieces and since our Northern spectators can stomach only very few of the comedies written after Molière's time, one can be adjudge their taste to good." (95).
This series of essays are from a larger volume of essays in Danish that were released during Holbergs lifetime, though from this collection it is not made clear what essays appeared when. That having been said, it does seem to relate to the call for a truly Danish comedy, the likes of which is the focus of our topic. Having commented that many notice that the same plays are staged to frequently, Holberg dismisses by this tactic, one of the two options presented: translating the newest French and English plays. That only leaves creating new, Danish, plays as a way to answer this problem. He tells the reader that it has been done before and it can be done again. He takes this opportunity to place himself in the company of Molière, mentioning that "it is because of the applause of such [Danish] spectators that I have a good opinion of my own dramas, for I have seen them stand up against Molière's comedies in our theatre, whereas most of the translated pieces cannot do so." (97-98).
I look forward to reading some of Holberg's plays this week and seeing whether to my mind they do, in fact, stand up to Molière.
Despite this mention of his Danish plays as a positive note, this essay would seem to have been written after the "failure" of the "Danish Play" project. He does not seem to recommend translating pieces from other countries, as to him they are nearly all terrible, nor does he recommend the creation of new works. "Experience has shown that innumerable authors have tried in vain ... I cannot advise anyone to venture out into such waters" (96). As far is he is concerned, for an essay entitled Good and Bad Comedies, there are apparently only bad ones. "It may be said that from the the age of Plautus until Molière, a period of two thousand years, no drama of note of which anything is known came into being" (97).
These are no longer the words of a man who sees a strong future for the theatre.
Holberg, Ludvig. Selected Essays of Ludvig Holberg. Ed. P. M. Mitchell. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1955. Print.
This has been an interesting last week for me in terms of research for this project. I've primarily focused upon looking into historical context surrounding the time frame which we are focusing upon, as well as digging a bit more into who Holberg was. I found a fantastic article entitled "The Nordic Moliere," which describes the life and work of Holberg.
I was also thinking this week about my concerns regarding the format of the presentation. I've been a bit trepidatious in regards to the performative aspects of it from the outset, but as it has been the primary interest of the group I worked on going along with the plan and doing everything I can to contribute. However, we haven't really fully developed the idea yet and it is starting to make me nervous. I think if we push really hard to develop fully and concretely what it is we want to represent and how we want to represent it. If we can't do this, I say we switch back to a more conventional format (Update: discussed this with the group and we have decided to move back to the lecture format, allowing ourselves moments of theatricality within the more conventional structure. Quite frankly I'm thrilled. This strikes me as potentially the perfect balance between both ideas.)
First to answer Bryan's questions directly.
Do I think Holberg makes a fair assessment in comparing French audiences to Danish audiences?
Quite frankly, no. One of the things that is is interesting about this essay is the somewhat Nationalistic tone that it takes on at points. This is despite the fact that Holberg by this point in his life is largely done writing plays, based upon the assumed dates of this essay's publication, given as estimations by the editor. He still on some level believes that the Danish people understand what good comedies are, and he uses their enjoyment of both his plays and Moliere, as his primary examples of this fact. I really think this position that he takes is indicative of the post Great Norther War (a war in which Denmark/Norway fought for many years with Sweden), during which distinctions between the nations of Scandinavia were emphasized, given their prolonged conflict. While this does not explain the slight of the French, it may help clarify his preference for Danish audiences. His criteria for a good comedy are not made clear in this essay, or many others for that matter and he never did write a true Holberg's theory of Comedy or anything of the sort. He identifies good comedies by pointing out that they are few and far between and he labels many others as bad comedies, exemplified by their inability to play before Danish audiences.
As far as my concerns with the project, yes, they were primarily in terms of format. Especially over the last week or so the last bits and pieces of information we've needed has started to come together and I actually feel good about our research.
This week I've seen the presentations that have been done thusfar and am quite impressed with the work that people have done. People tend to be doing Powerpoint presentations, which is not surprising, but one thing that I've noted as distracting for me, as an audience member is when there is simply too much information on a slide. I think that is something which as a group we need to avoid. There is no reason for us to write out every word that we are going to say on the slide...that is why we say the words out loud, after all. In any event, with the exception of perhaps trying to fit too much info into 20 minutes, that was my only critique of the other presentations so far. Excellent stuff. I have started on our group's powerpoint presentation and I am hoping to finish up my sections at least today. I've sort of sketched out other parts which my group mates will be speaking primarily on, but I don't want to hold them back or dictate their organization of that information fully. So, when we meet on Sunday, we'll lock down the rest, practice the presentation and should be good to go. This is what I've been working on this week and I'm starting to feel good about all of it.
I actually feel quite good about the way our presentation went. 20 minutes is a remarkably short amount of time and I do feel that we would have better served our discussion/arguments if we had been able to practice the presentation a few more times, because as things went we did have to rush things at the end pretty substantially. I felt like I was giving the tiny type at the end of a radio advertisement (ie: "no purchase necessary, void where prohibited, may cause instant death, notify your doctor if this occurs"). At various points I've had my concerns about this project. I was concerned about the idea of adding too many theatrical elements into our presentation, and I was also concerned that we were going to place to much of an emphasis upon humor for the sake of trying to keep the audience involved. I think, in the end though we ended up with a solid balance. Other members of the group were at one pushing for, amongst other things, a "Holberg is a hipster" kind of joke. In my opinion, it didn't really make sense and it really was just an issue of something that was thought to be funny by some at the time, but it took some pushing to make it go away.
Despite that however, the appearance of Dan as Holberg worked out excellently. I think one of the only weaknesses of the presentation overall directly had to do with having enough time for the information we wanted to convey. I think introducing the frame for our discussion as early as we did was an excellent choice and seemed to help the audience understand our logic as we traveled through our main points. However, the more we had discussed the topic throughout our research, the more complicated our argument became and we found that our assertion ended up walking a thin line. Part of this dealt with some of the historiographical issues that we faced, because in the end our argument flew in the face of what historians have written. Our argument was based upon historical knowledge, as well as our own observations and comparisons to the work which we found him to be too similar to. (Moliere and others). While I think these distinctions were understood, I think if I had been able to spend a bit more time discussing the historiographical concerns and tie together the similarities to the work of Moliere, our argument would have been more clear.
That all having been said, I've been surprisingly pleased with how this whole thing went. Typically, I hate group projects, particularly when you do not get to choose your group members. I just end up doing far too much of the work and while I did have to step up and put forth a good deal of effort to compensate for some slackness early on by some, I was still quite pleased by what my group members brought to the table. I've even enjoyed utilizing this blog format for documenting the process of the research as it happens. To that point, I may even use it further, as I am probably working on an independent study with Will next semester and may utilize this blog (or another one, should it prove to be a format more suited to the task) to document my research as it progresses. In short, very pleased with the results of the project and even quite pleased with the task and format of the project itself!