Essays on cinematic narrative. The focus is a set of dynamics collected under the concept of folding, a related system of techniques to model agency and causality.


Published: 20 May 2015

In another note, I give my understanding of the big picture, so far as the evolution of narrative. Here, I focus on one punctuation in the process, a time where I think it can be said that folding first appeared in narrative in the way we currently use. (I give a detailed early example of simpler but related structure in the geoKabbalitter section on Matthew, not available at present.)

William Shakespeare! Nearly everyone acknowledges him as a master. Most scholars and theater folks remark on the richness of the characters, the way that the interhuman dynamics affect the narrative and the sheer power of the language. He also seems to have an extraordinarily broad knowledge of nature, some foreign lands and aristocracy, so much that some presume he must have been an aristocrat himself, writing in secret.

Our proposal here is to approach him through his technique of folds. My belief is that his innovation was so vast and varied that we can trace nearly everything in folding to him, save noir.

His most obvious dynamic is how characters are introspective in different ways. They reflect on how the universe is manipulating them and their comrades (a sort of precursor of noir). Similarly, they reflect on their own, internal forces and how they may develop in the context of what is happening. They do this often by soliloquy where speaking to themselves is merged with speaking to the audience. It is a well understood technique, often leveraged in the best productions and more often abused by heavy-handed actors. But not characterized the way we do.

(Just as a reminder, our way of approaching this is informed by situation theory which is our path to modeling soft complexities in such a way that e can build soft machines. No one has had this theory by implementable before, so folds were never considered.)

Shakespeare's peers were using this technique in the simple sense, both playwrights and poets, and of course hoards of writers that have come and gone since. What I think made Shakespeare unique was how he took this folding in the large and merged it — folded it — into a folding in the small. By this, I mean the exploitation of all the poetic and theatricaldevices that are woven into language in the service of his larger themes.

As we will see in the examples and the essay on noir, Orson Welles brought much of this from stage Shakespeare into film as the direct father of noir.

Shakespeare Examples

Some films that use or reference Shakespeare.

Some films that illustrate the idea…

Hamlet (2000)

This is a very clever rehosting that takes possibly the most effective introspective work in existence and adds additional folds. One of these, perhaps the most effective is that Hamlet is recast as a film student and the play within the play is a film within the film.

More on this version of Hamlet is here.

I recently discovered one that surprised me. It came from talking to one of the folks in charge of the reproduction of the Globe near where it originally stood. They invite experienced Shakespearians to perform a play with little rehearsal. Over time, the production matures as the cast anneals with each other and the place. A thing to look for is how the physical nature of the place informs the plays. The plays are video taped at the beginning of the run and at the end.

At some point, a clever student will pull out these videos and note the spatial effects on the dynamics of the mature performances. They interest me greatly and in framethrower, we proposed analyzing and annotating these videos in the context of a three dimensional model of the theater. The reconstruction is not quite accurate I believe and my visit was to query whether they would more seriously consider the scholarship of Frances Yates into the nature of the space.

Yates was able to place the Shakespeare company in a certain set of traditions that now would be called esoteric, and not likely to be touched by conservative institutions like those that run the reconstruction. I describe all this in my GeoKabbailtter history project elsewhere in this site.

Apart from those really interesting dynamics are some that do not have the esoteric baggage. You should know that the theater had two areas for viewers. One was cheap; the poor people would pay very little and stand on the dirt floor in the center of the theater. We did not appreciate until the reconstruction that their heads were about level with the stage.

The more expensive seats were actual seats in booths that formed much of a circle around the stage. (This design was novel at the time and why the theater was named the Globe.) As it happens, there are many times in the plays where an actor breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience. Standing on the stage, one can see that it is easy to make a clear distinction between the classes of viewers. Looking through the plays, one can find many cases where it is clear that the playwright is playing one group off another, indicated by both the sophistication of the language and the complexity of the concept.

This nutshell episode in Hamlet is one such. (Another is in King Lear.) Hamlet says: “I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” When the original site was excavated, the standing room area was found to be covered with deep layers of nutshells from nuts that were sold through the performance. The continuous crunching of feet on these would have been well known to the audience. The Globe itself was nutshell shaped.

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© copyright Ted Goranson, 2015