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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: October ::
Re: Teaching *Ham.*; *Prospero's Books*; Boys
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0865.  Friday, 28 October 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Peter Greenfield <
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        Date:   Thursday, October 27, 1994
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0860  Re: Teaching *Ham.* with Film
 
(2)     From:   David Wilson-Okamura <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 Oct 94 12:40:05 CDT
        Subj:   Prospero's Books
 
(3)     From:   David Joseph Kathman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 Oct 94 18:14:09 CDT
        Subj:   Boys
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Greenfield <
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Date:           Thursday, October 27, 1994
Subject: 5.0860  Re: Teaching *Ham.* with Film
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0860  Re: Teaching *Ham.* with Film
 
I have had good luck getting a class started on Hamlet by showing the first two
scenes from the BBC version (Jacobi) and the Zeffirelli film (Mel Gibson).
Though the students initially prefer the Zeffirelli because its cinematic
conventions are more familiar than the "stagy" BBC, the comparison immediately
starts a discussion about what Zeffirelli altered or left out, what his changes
gain and what from the original is lost.  (Students quickly grasp that
Zeffirelli has simplified the opening of the play, but at the cost of much of
its mystery, as well as of its larger scope, with Z. focusing in almost
exclusively on the Hamlet-Gertrude-Claudius relationships.)
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Wilson-Okamura <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 Oct 94 12:40:05 CDT
Subject:        Prospero's Books
 
My wife, myself, and a few friends of ours rented _Prospero's Books_ about a
month ago, and could not get make ourselves watch past the first twenty
minutes.  Gielgud is a fine actor, but the reverb on his voice was (to our
taste) annoying in the extreme, especially as it goes on and one like that
throughout the film.  The next day I even went forward another hour to see if
it might get any better: it did not.  For my own part, I loved _The Cook et
al._, so I don't think I can put my antipathy down to an anti-Greenaway bias.
 _Prospero's Books_ is simply self-indulgent and unwatchable (_viz._, if you
show it in class, prepare for your students to snooze).
 
                                                Yours faithfully,
                                                David Wilson-Okamura
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Joseph Kathman <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 Oct 94 18:14:09 CDT
Subject:        Boys
 
I don't have the time right now to sit down and write a full-blown response
to James Forse's latest posting on boy actors, but I have a few comments
which I hope I can keep brief.
 
1) As for "the Queen was shaving":  teenagers have been known to shave.  I,
myself, distinctly remember shaving when I was a teenager.  As for Davenant's
1660 royal patent, the word "men" here can, I think, be very plausibly
interpreted as meaning "males" in this context, and does not necessarily
imply "fully adult men".  Males age 14-21 are in a gray area, such that they
might be called either "men" or "boys" depending on context.  And as for
the 1660 *Othello* prologue, yes, that's probably the most explicit
statement that men sometimes played women's roles (and I never denied that
they did), but it is, after all, a post-Restoration source, and as Forse
himself admits, many other post-Restoration sources explicitly talk about
boys playing women's roles.  I'm perfectly willing to admit that adult
men sometimes played women's roles prior to the Restoration (maybe I should
have made that clearer), but my point is that there's a lot more evidence
for "boys" (i.e. apprentices) playing women's roles than there is for
non-apprentice men playing them.
 
2) Maybe Cleopatra's "squeaking boy" line refers to Daniel's play; could be.
But what about all the other internal evidence from other plays, such
as that cited by Adrian Kiernander, much of it from plays written before
the revival of the boy companies in 1600?
 
3) Forse points out that most of the most explicit evidence we have for
teenage apprentices being trained as actors is from the reign of Charles.
True.  But it is also true that a greatly disproportionate amount of what
we know about virtually every aspect of pre-Restoration theatre comes from
the Caroline era; most of the few surviving playhouse manuscripts, for
example, date from this era.  We do the best we can, in many cases
using explicit documents from the 1630s to extrapolate backwards to flesh
out the relatively meager scraps we get from the Elizabethan and Jacobean
eras proper.  A large amount of what we know about the organization of
Elizabethan acting companies, particularly Shakespeare's, comes from
lawsuits filed decades later, and this information, added to the scraps
we get from Elizabethan wills and chance references, gives us a pretty good
idea what was going on.  In the case at hand, the explicit testimony
about apprentices from the 1630s complements such things as internal evidence
from the plays and occasional contemporary remarks from Heywood and
Jonson to make it reasonably clear what was going on.
 
I certainly can't prove that non-apprentice men *didn't* play major female
roles, and I'm willing to admit it as a possibility.  But I think if
sharers regularly played female roles, there would be some more evidence
of it, to go along with all the evidence that apprentices played such roles.
And by the way, I do agree that the term "boy actor" does give a misleading
impression to the modern reader, and that some other term such as "teenage
actor" or "apprentice" might be better when we're talking about the
adult troupes.
 
Dave Kathman

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