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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: May ::
Re: Masks; Character; Double-Casting; Doubling
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0423.  Thursday, 12 May 1994.
 
(1)     From:   David Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 May 94 15:27:32 SAST-2
        Subj:   Re: masks and character
 
(2)     From:   James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
        Date:   Wednesday, 11 May 1994 12:29:37 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Character
 
(3)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH>
        Date:   Wednesday, 11 May 1994 20:47:42 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Masks in Renaissance plays?
 
(4)     From:   Fran Teague <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 May 94 11:41:28 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0420  Re: Doubling; Double-Casting
 
(5)     From:   J. F. Knight <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 May 1994 06:44:54 +1000 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0417 Re: Doubling
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 May 94 15:27:32 SAST-2
Subject:        Re: masks and character
 
David Evett writes:
 
> No reason why masks should be regarded differently from any other physical
> element of dramatic production--sets, costumes, lights, space.  It's always
> going to depend on how good they are, how well they're used, how fully the
> particular advantages and limitations they offer cooperate with all the other
> theatrical decisions, about text choice, cuts, casting, pace.
 
I wonder whether the question of masks does not raise theoretical issues that
put masks on a different level from "any other elements of dramatic
production--sets, costumes, lights, space".  (I'm not sure that "space" is on
the same level as the others here, either.)  The reason for this is that masks
intervene at the intersection of language and action, at what we might call the
"expressiveness" of both (provided we *don't* imply an "interior" that is
conveyed by the mere medium of an "outside").  To treat masks as if they were
just like the set or costume is to suggest that the human face is as externally
related to human language as is lighting, whereas I wish to suggest that they
are internally related: that discourse is fundamentally affected by the ways is
which it is embodied or disembodied, or that our concepts are interwoven with
what Wittgenstein calls "fine shades of behaviour", including those enacted by
the face.
 
I am not suggesting that masks should be prohibited; rather I'm trying to work
out (rather ineptly, in an exploratory way) in what ways we should consider
their use and effect.  To conceal the expressiveness of a face with the rigid
expression or inexpression of a mask can be highly effective precisely because
of the effect this has on both discourse and the expressivity of the rest of
the body. But the point I'm trying to make may also explain why some might find
it inconceivable or horryfying to have certain characters in a mask (someone
has mentioned Romeo).  We should also remember that the 'social' mask or visor
worn by certain kinds of characters for particular social or cosmetic ends--can
a cosmetic end *not* be social, setting aside UV polution for the moment--in a
masque, or by Olivia, for instance, is not of the same kind as the mask which
stands in for the actor's face in the theatre, and it would be interesting to
see how a production might cope with the interaction of both kinds of mask:
"Good Madam, let me see your face . . ."  Why is this such a crucial request?
 
This is related to the question of doubles: it is the necessary and singular
embodiment of human expressivity, both discursive and non- discursive, that
proves so disturbing about doubling major characters, not the possibility that
audiences might get confused. Though, of course, this unease may be the very
reason to double, as some have suggested.
 
Harry Hill's welcome comments about playing the lines endorses what I am
suggesting about the expressivity of embodiment without any suggestion of an
inner state to be represented, although I fear that his comment 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 imperfactions" suggests that such "fleshing out"
is a mere ancillary, a optional prop, *in the theatre*.  As for character,
perhaps Terence Hawkes's grammatical correction, that Orsino *is* a character
rather than *having* a character, is not only insightful, but is also a way of
extending what I am trying to express.
 
Oh, may I ask you to join me in the celebration of what can only be a regarded
as the miracle that happened in and to South Africa this week?  We are all, as
Nelson Mandela said, "free at last".
 
David Schalkwyk
English Department
University of Cape Town
Rondebosch 7700
South Africa
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
Date:           Wednesday, 11 May 1994 12:29:37 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Character
 
E. L. Epstein proposes differentiating real character(s) from fictional
character(s) on the basis of the latter's lack of physical embodiement.  But
drama becomes theatre precisely when the disembodied "character" is embodied.
And I, as an audience member seeing and hearing this embodiement, come to know
its "character" in the same way that I, as an individual in all that world that
exists outside the theatre, see and hear others (my colleagues at work, my
spouse, my students, the fellow next door who keeps carrying guns in and out of
his house) and thereby come to understand them.  In fact, it is precisely this
mode of knowledge (talking and listening to others) that the drama imitates.
 
Jim Schaefer

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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH>
Date:           Wednesday, 11 May 1994 20:47:42 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Masks in Renaissance plays?
 
The other night I happened to reread Phillip Stubbes's "beware, therefore, you
masking players, you painted sepulchres, you double dealing ambodexters" in the
notes of Kerrigan's HAMLET'S PERFECTION. And that "masking players" took on a
new meaning (in the context of our discussion of masks). Before I had always
taken "masking players" to be a redundancy, something like "acting actors." The
"painted sepulchres" certainly suggests actors' makeup. Does the "masking"
suggest that some actors in some productions wore masks? Or should we take
everything that Stubbes says about the playhouse to be suspect rather than
suggestive?
 
Who was that masked man?  Bill Godshalk, of course.
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Fran Teague <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 May 94 11:41:28 EDT
Subject: 5.0420  Re: Doubling; Double-Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0420  Re: Doubling; Double-Casting
 
Rick Jones asks about the problem that directors face with too few female
roles.  In the local theater where I sometimes direct, this problem comes up
again and again.   We often cast women in men's roles and service on the play
selection committee means long discussions about how to ensure an adequate
chance for actresses to shine as brightly as actors.
 
When I directed MND a while back, we wound up with nine men, eleven women, and
a dog in the cast.  It worked reasonably well, I think, but then as director, I
would.  The reviews were generous and we made a fair amount of money, both of
which suggest the Goddess production (as it became known) had something going
for it.  When a friend directed TN, he added a Mute Wench and changed Antonio
to a pirate maid Antonia.  The problem of too few women's roles was alleviated,
but the omission of Antonio and the addition of the Mute Wench's horseplay
altered the tone considerably.  In this as in every production, the director
has to decide what works given the personnel available and what the
production's goal is.  If anyone's too outraged by that attitude, I'd suggest
working on a production to see if the experience changes one's perspective.
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           J. F. Knight <
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 >
Date:           Thursday, 12 May 1994 06:44:54 +1000 (EST)
Subject: 5.0417 Re: Doubling
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0417 Re: Doubling
 
What's all this about the doubling between Cordelia and the Fool being evident
from the text?  I thought David Wiles (Shakespeare's Clown, Cambridge, 1987)
had made a pretty unanswerable case that roles like the fool were played by
specialist clowns who never doubled, and that Lear's fool in fact was played by
Robert Armin.  Is someone suggesting that Armin played Cordelia?  According to
Wiles he was a grotesque dwarf - although extremely intelligent.  Sort of an
inverse version of Elle McPherson, in fact.  Fool/Cordelia doubling is a more
recent idea.
 

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