Saturday, 28 April 2012

Perfoming 'Rapunzel'

When schoolchildren visit the Kelmscott House Museum they now have the chance to participate in dramatisations of Morris’s early poem ‘Rapunzel’, which is based on the Grimm fairy-story; and since the available props for doing so include blonde pig-tailed wigs, cardboard crowns and plastic swords, one imagines that they very much enjoy doing so. May Morris alerts us to more adult and formal performances of her father’s poetry, when she notes of ‘Sir Peter Harpdon’s End’ that ‘a private performance some years back brought out in a surprising manner the fitness of this poem for the stage’.

I’m reminded by all this of the description of the Sunday meetings in B.F. Skinner’s strange utopia Walden Two (1948): ‘There’s usually some sort of music, sometimes religious. And a philosophical, poetic or religious work is acted out. We like the effect of this upon the speech of the community. It gives us a stock of common literary allusions’ (ch.23).

I can see how you’d act poems out, yes indeed, and I wouldn’t mind waving a plastic sword around myself (well, I was once the White Rabbit in a school production of Alice in Wonderland, after all). But it’s much more Skinner’s notion of acting out philosophical works that intrigues me now. So could we one day imagine meetings in the Kelmscott Coach House in which stretches from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Marx’s Grundrisse or Derrida’s Of Grammatology were acted out – with what props, for heaven’s sake - before an admiring audience?

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