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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: November ::
Dictionary of Stage Directions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1990  Monday, 15 November 1999.

From:           Alan Dessen <
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Date:           Sunday, 14 Nov 1999 12:41:49 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Dictionary of Stage Directions

The discussion of "compliment" as used in King Lear provides an
opportunity to call attention to a new reference work (U.K. publication
date November 4) that may be of interest-although this dictionary is
keyed to stage directions rather than dialogue.

Alan Dessen and Leslie Thomson

Alan C. Dessen and Leslie Thomson, A Dictionary of Stage Directions in
English Drama, 1580-1642 (Cambridge U.P., 1999)

compliment:  1) usually a noun or verb that requires some formal act of
civility, courtesy, or respect but can mean 2) complement (the usual
spelling), "accoutrement"; typical are "The King and Queen with Courtly
Compliments salute and part" (Noble Spanish Soldier, 1.1.0), "Enter
Alphonso; Pynto and Muretto complimenting on either side of him" (Queen,
1028-9), "they embrace, making a mutual show of compliment" (Conspiracy,
G1v; see also Anything for a Quiet Life, E1v); Love's Sacrifice provides
"Exit Giacopo going backward with the glass, Maurucio complimenting" and
"The women hold hands and dance about Ferentes in diverse complimental
offers of Courtship" (799-800, 1851-3); variations include "After their
salute. All the rest compliment as strangers" (2 Iron Age, 406), "They
two stand, using seeming compliments" (Antonio and Mellida, 1.1.115),
"Callow stroking up his hair, compliments with Faces and Legs" (Two
Merry Milkmaids, C3r), "While they talk, Corbo and Douze are sometime
dancing, sometime complimenting, and sometimes laughing to one another"
(Twins, D4r); see also Two Maids of More-Clacke, H2v; 2 Iron Age, 411;
White Devil, 2.2.37; Noble Spanish Soldier, 5.4.46; Staple of News,
2.5.77; Perkin Warbeck, 2.3.71; Changes, C1v; an example of the
alternative meaning is enter "with the complements of a Roman General
before them" (Sophonisba, 3.2.0).

[Note: Because of conversion problems, italics are missing here for both
titles and s.d.s.  Included in the volume is a "List of Plays and
Editions Cited" to which the short titles above are keyed.  Entries
related to compliment include bow, conge, curtsy, kneel, make a leg,
obeisance, and reverence.]

Dust jacket blurb: This dictionary, the first of its kind, defines and
explains over 900 terms found in the stage directions of English
professional plays from the 1580s to the early 1640s.  The terms are
drawn primarily from surviving printed and manuscript sources and from
the plays performed on the London stage, by both minor and major
dramatists.  The authors build on a database of over 22,000 stage
direction derived from around 500 such plays.  Each entry offers a
definition, gives examples of how the term is used, cites additional
instances, and gives cross-references to other relevant entries.  Terms
defined range from the obvious and common to the obscure and rare,
including actions, places, objects, sounds, and descriptions.  The
authors have also provided a user's guide and an introduction which
describes the scope and rationale of the volume.  This will be an
indispensable work of reference for scholars, historians, directors, and

From Introduction: In preparing what we hope will be a useful and usable
resource, our focus is on the terms-what we conceive of as the
theatrical vocabulary actually used by the playwrights, bookkeepers, and
scribes of the period as reflected primarily in the stage directions to
be found in the surviving manuscripts and printed texts of plays.
Behind this phrase lies our postulation of the presence then of a
language of the theatre shared by playwrights, players, and playgoers
that can easily be blurred or eclipsed in modern editions, stage
productions, and on-the-page interpretations.  In some instances, to
re-establish such meanings is easy, no more than translating a Latin
word (manet, exiturus, rustici).  In other situations, to recover such
meanings is more challenging but nonetheless possible, a process
analogous to the work of an iconographer who ranges widely in the
available literature so as to explicate an image appropriately (see
booted, hair, rosemary).  Elsewhere the meaning or implementation of a
theatrical signal remains very much in doubt, a matter of scholarly
controversy (see trees, vanish, shop, study).  Our goal has been to
isolate terms and then gloss them as best we can by referring
principally to other stage directions rather than to the OED (which we
have, however, regularly consulted).

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