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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: May ::
Re: Doubling
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0391.  Wednesday, 4 May 1994.
(1)     From:   James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
        Date:   Tuesday, 03 May 1994 11:54:57 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Doubling/fragmenting
(2)     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 03 May 1994 15:05:36 -0300
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0385  Re: Doubling
From:           James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
Date:           Tuesday, 03 May 1994 11:54:57 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Doubling/fragmenting
David Richman recently added to the doubling discussion the comment:
>I imagine that doubling is the result, in most theatrical companies including
>Shakespeare's, of pragmatic considerations.  More roles than performers.
"Pragmatic" considerations can vary -- in a high school production, the main
difficulty in selecting a play for performance is often that most plays have
too few roles for the multitude of potential actors -- and they also have
philosophical and aesthetic implications (or roots).  We readily accept the
convention of doubling, of the same actor playing more than one character.  We
accept this even when we clearly know that it is the same actor.  (I
temporarily exempt from the discussion cases in which a character deliberately
dons disguise to deceive another character within the context of the play,
e.g., Rosalind as Ganymede.)
Why then do we resist so strongly the opposite strategy, of fragmenting a
single character out into multiple actors?  As probably one of the last people
trained in an oral interp / chamber theatre tradition that used this technique,
I was fascinated by the way in which it could be used to tease out the
complexities of a character's seemingly monolithic personality -- but I've
avoided using it myself in performance of plays, feeling it will appear
contrived (when everything in performance is contrived) and will only confuse
the audience.  Why do we so readily believe that one person can play many
roles, but insist that the unity of personality precludes more than one person
playing "a" character? There is something deep in our sense of what dramatic
imitation means that doesn't buy it.
Although critical history has left us the impression that the famous *Romeo and
Juliet* in which Gielgud and Olivier alternated Romeo and Mercutio left a
hybrid, composite image of both actors' interpretations of both characters.
Just musing into my beard here.
Jim Schaefer
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Tuesday, 03 May 1994 15:05:36 -0300
Subject: 5.0385  Re: Doubling
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0385  Re: Doubling
Hello, folks.
I'm not a director, or in any way theatrically gifted, but frankly, despite
knowing a certain amount about Shakespeare (I subscribe to the list, after all)
I *am* often confused by doubled roles, particularly in productions that
involve a certain amount of what Hamlet might call "dumb-show" acting, in which
the actors don't say anything for a few minutes.  Of course, perhaps my
confusion is "the point," in some pomo sense.
There's another thing no-one has brought up.  If we can't count on a one-to-one
correlation of actors and characters, then we have to rely on costumes to tell
us who's who.  If Hamlet also plays (say) first gentleman, and second soldier,
then we only know it's Hamlet because he's dressed like James Dean.  This
means, though, that we can't have any characters change into different clothes
within the course of the production.  I tend to think, for instance, that
Hamlet should look quite a bit different at the end, perhaps changing from his
usual black to a more clean-cut white at the beginning of act 5.  In Henry IV,
we can hardly expect Hal to wear the same clothes in a nightclub (I'm assuming
a modern dress production throughout, in case anyone hasn't gathered that),
while dealing with matters of state policy, and in combat.  However, if his
Rolling Stones t-shirt is how we tell him apart from Douglas, his change into
camos for the battle would make it difficult to tell if Hal or Douglas has
changed clothes.
I can see how the associations of characters can make us think about their
roles (or raise suspected correlations to the point of bigotries), but can't
this also seriously curtail certain artistic tools?
As always,
        Sean Lawrence.

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