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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: November ::
Questions Suggested by Productions
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0840.  Friday, 15 November 1996.

(1)     From:   Jeff Myers <
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        Date:   Thursday, 14 Nov 1996 14:52:35 GMT
        Subj:   Cross Casting

(2)     From:   Mike Field <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Nov 1996 17:05:38 -0500
        Subj:   Gloucester's blinding


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jeff Myers <
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Date:           Thursday, 14 Nov 1996 14:52:35 GMT
Subject:        Cross Casting

Saw a wonderful production of _The Importance of Being Earnest_ at Goucher
College last night.  The part of Aunt Augusta was played by a young man (around
20) who was as delightfully convincing as any Aunt Augusta I've seen.  Got me
to thinking about older women in Shakespeare's plays and whether or not young
men (as opposed to boys) might have taken the parts.  In contrast,
Lane/Merriman was doubled by a similarly young man who played both parts,
absolutely unconvincingly, as a decrepit old man.  I was wondering if that part
might not have been more effectively played by a young woman.  Just a thought,
since young people in college productions seem to have the most difficulty
playing older people; perhaps the way to go is to cross-cast the roles of old
people in such productions.

Jeff Myers

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Field <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Nov 1996 17:05:38 -0500
Subject:        Gloucester's blinding

I'm glad Frank Whigham and others have brought up this subject as it has been
on my mind for some time. I was lucky enough to see the Company of Women
production of Lear here in Baltimore at Goucher College not too long ago. I'll
admit I went with considerable skepticism and mostly out of curiosity to see
the acting of renowned teacher/author Kristen Linklater. Like many an American
Shakespeare production there was considerable unevenness with the language, but
overall it was perhaps the best staged production I've ever seen of this very
difficult play.

The blinding of Gloucester was horrifically bloody although I am embarrassed to
admit I don't recall how precisely it was done. I believe it was the
pluck-and-stomp variation that Frank suggests. I just remember feeling that I
was witnessing the precise precursor to Jacobean horror drama.

But my problem: in this production the scene ends with the blinding. In the
text, of course, there are two servants left, one of whom says, in effect (I am
without text) "I don't know about you, but I'm going after the old man with egg
whites and alum to soothe his injury." As I recall, these lines were omitted
from the much-reviled BBC production as well, and others I have seen.

In college I was instructed that this little bit of humanity in the face of
overwhelming horror is a key to understanding the play. That scene, along with
Lear's insistence "Look here, a breath" just before he dies illustrates the
human capacity for hope and compassion, even in a world, such as Lear's, where
it is not warranted. I simplify, perhaps, but I still accept the basic thrust
of this argument. Shakespeare's peculiar genius in Lear is being able to look
into the vast abysm of human darkness without, I think, succumbing to nihilism.
Hope and compassion may not be warranted (and in Lear's world it is difficult
to see how they can be) but Shakespeare reveals they continue to exist
nonetheless, an equal part of our humanity.

Why then do so many directors omit those few lines after Gloucester's blinding?
Or is it only versions I've seen? Any comments?
 

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