Re: Shakespeare--how?

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: alt.movies.silent
Date: Saturday, March 14, 1998 8:27 PM

ChaneyFan wrote in message
>Decades ago in high school English, a teacher pointed out that every book,
>short story, opera, play, and movie ever made derived from one of 37 (I think
>that's the number) possible stories…and pointed out that this number
>coincided with the number of plays Shakespeare wrote.

37 is indeed the number of plays credited to Shakespeare and the number usually given (although 36-1/2 might be more accurate, as "Pericles" had a co-author), but the maximum number of plots, according to a long-discussed book, was 36. A French book published in 1916 as "The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations" by Georges Polti, promulgated this notion. I believe his argument is not well-developed.

There is a lot of overlap of categories in Polti's list. "Enmity of Kinsmen" and "Rivalry of Kinsmen" are two separate categories. "Self-Sacrifice for an Ideal" and "Self-Sacrifice" for Kindred" are another two. "Adultery," "Murderous Adultery," "Crimes of Love," and "Involuntary Crimes of Love" count as four situations, although they scarcely seem to quality as plots apart from one another. Likewise, there are four separate numbers given to "Erroneous Judgment" and three variations on this: "Slaying of Kinsman Unrecognized," "Fatal Impudence," and "Mistaken Jealousy."

Nowhere in Polti's list is there a place for "Invention," "Intellectual Development," "Character Transformation," or "Character Reading Leading to a Change in Circumstances." Therefore, there is no slot on the list where one could categorize the main plot thrusts of "Pygmalion," "Woman on the Moon," "The Country Girl," or even such modern stuff as "The Lawnmower Man"--actually, sci-fi is cut off before it's even looked at.

>Shakespeare wrote lots
>of good plots that would make fine movies with or without dialogue.

Shakespeare did not create the plots of his plays; my understanding is that "The Tempest" is the only Shakespeare play for which an earlier version of the story is not known to have been written by another author. (Oddly enough, "The Tempest" was the source of the sci-fi story "Forbidden Planet" cited in the article to which this post is a response.) High school teachers tend to downplay this when they don't completely fail to broach the topic.

David Hayes

The above post was adapted from a letter of mine which had appeared in the Mensa Bulletin, December 1992.


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