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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: May ::
Re: Character, Doubling, and Acting
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0414.  Monday, 9 May 1994.
(1)     From:   E. L. Epstein <epstein@QCVAXA.BITNET>
        Date:   Sunday, 08 May 1994 09:53:59 EDT
        Subj:   RE: SHK 5.0408  Re: Character
(2)     From:   Harry Hill <HILHAR@CONU2.BITNET>
        Date:   Sunday, 08 May 1994 15:37:03 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0411  Re: Character; Doubling
From:           E. L. Epstein <epstein@QCVAXA.BITNET>
Date:           Sunday, 08 May 1994 09:53:59 EDT
Subject: 5.0408  Re: Character
Comment:        RE: SHK 5.0408  Re: Character
Re: *character* in plays--the question is not, Do characters in plays have
*real character* but rather, Do people outside plays have character? What is
*character* anyway?
From:           Harry Hill <HILHAR@CONU2.BITNET>
Date:           Sunday, 08 May 1994 15:37:03 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0411  Re: Character; Doubling
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0411  Re: Character; Doubling
What a laudably lucid and oral prose style Tom Dale Keever has! Such a pleasure
to read his interesting three postings -- as if we were in an elegant vocal
As an actor who had the fortune to play Sir Toby rather than Orsino he will
know that the unstoppable thread on New Shakespearean Knowledge (to which I
contributed a shameless and doubtless irrelevant three lines on "Desire Under
The Elms", has brought forth an unexpected, flurried rustling of virtue from
the Cakes & Ale Anonymous Group. He also doubts that Orsino has no character; I
wanted to say a while ago that his character exists in his lines, their shape
and feel, and that should an actor be visually plausible as a love object
himself all he really needs to do is SAY the part in sensitive obedience to the
phonic signals given so languidly and sensually in the text, he will to all
intents and purposes BECOME the character. Orsino is --they all are,of course
-- a fiction, a character, not a person, and his music reacts with others'
music to constitute the poetic/dramatic event that is the performed play. The
actor ought on no account to attempt a motivation for this, surely. He is an
instrument in an artistic experience in which if the right notes are played at
the indicated volume and pace the whole becomes a visual and aural equivalent
of emotion in which thought and feeling are played for us, rather than merely
"Ah!" I hear some sighing. "What volume? What pace? What face to make [ or cute
mask to be told to wear ] ?" The answer again is this: the lines tell all that.
I suspect that Tom Dale Keever will agree with me, even although he also knows
that it is perfectly possible to bring one's own body, face, habits and so on
to bear on a role and thereby flesh out its perfections.
He also says sensible things about doubling. The examples he gives from
shoestring Edinburgh Fringe offerings of course bring with them the audience's
collusion: aware as they are that they are present at a financially precarious
perormance, a small cast doing a large play is totally accepted and questions
simply do not enter spectators' minds. To see Third Witch reappear as Waiting
Gentlewoman even in a large company does not trouble as much as larger doubled
roles would, but in a small company it is accepted as a convention just as
speaking in verse is. But IS speaking in verse heard much now? There has been a
tendency since Stanislvaski and Strasberg to turn it into prose by ignoring the
glorious ambiguities and character-creating moments afforded by line-endings,
short lines, broken ones and other rhetorical signals given in the verse
portions of the plays. I remember being given my typed script of Henry V at a
theatre which I dare not name: the first rehearsal, we all had "sides" just as
they are presumed to have had in Shakespeare's theatres, that is one's own part
and the cues. Mine, the Duke of Burgundy, who gets to say fine things about the
bloodied battlefield, was typed out as PROSE. "But," I said to the hot young
director [I too was young], "These words are actually in verse, you know."
"It's the MEANING we're going for, Sir Henry, not the POETRY. Feel the emotions
of the speech!" Alas, I discovered that the entire play had been carefully
edited and typed out lest, I suppose, we actors got carried away. Carried away?
Carried into truth, for heaven's sake. The truth of the character resides in
how he says what he says. She IS how she says what she says. Her form his her
content. This one example is, I concede, perhaps extreme; but it merely
indicates the way the verse could probably have been said anyway, pauses run
over, antitheses and significant repetitions glossed over.
In short --I'm sorry to have whined so long --I would like to reiterate that
there seems to be rather little said about interpretation through signals
given. Might it be, might it just be that the more we find ourselves given up
to thematic considerations the fewer of us are actually able to scan a line? To
see where the physical process of thought and the lightning vacillations of
character are poetically created? In most of these plays, thoughts are things.
I was, I add as a last thought, mightily gratified to see another actor join
the company. We don't have all the answers. . .but those of us who are are also
musicians and readers of poetry like to get in our performers' two cents worth.
We also like to criticise ourselves. This is a curse rather than a virtue. We
lead double lives, masked. But we do very much need and appreciate scholarly

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