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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: August ::
Re: Bears
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1352  Monday 2 August 1999.

[1]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Friday, 30 Jul 1999 09:30:37 -0400
        Subj:   Bear Speculation

[2]     From:   David Nicol <
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        Date:   Saturday, 31 Jul 1999 06:44:08 PDT
        Subj:   Re: Bears I Have Known


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Friday, 30 Jul 1999 09:30:37 -0400
Subject:        Bear Speculation

Karen Peterson-Kranz wrote

>Two standing bears were prominent in the heraldic imagery of the Earls
>of Warwick...Might Shakespeare have been alluding to his home-county
>nobility?  I'm not sure whether such an allusion would be interpreted by
>an audience as praise or derogation...it might depend on how the
>bear-living or otherwise- deported himself on stage.

If there is an allusion to Shakespeare's local nobility (which I think
is very possible, but would require a lot of historical research to
explore), then I don't think the line I cited earlier: "Though authority
be a stubborn bear, yet he is oft led by the nose with gold" (IV,iv,788)
could possibly be construed as complimentary.  And since Antigonus's
defiance of authority which gets him killed proves the salvation of the
Sicilian State, the bear can only be described (as does the Clown) as
"curst" (III,iii,120)

and Michael Yawney wrote

>I would be curious if any scholar who has wrestled with performance text
>vs. printed text, or with the make-up of the acting company, or other
>stage practice issues  has any particular insight into the peculiarities
>throughout Winter's Tale. The visual, sensual experience of this play
>seems to be even more important to interpreting Winter Tale than it does
>to other Shakespearean dramas.

I might suggest that there is an analogous movement in the drama to that
from Renaissance to Baroque painting.  I believe The Winter's Tale is
part of the so-called Elizabethan revival cited by Francis Yates as
centered around Prince Henry.  If so, it is a response to certain
masques designed in praise of Henry which would account for its emphasis
on the visual and sensual.

Melissa Aaron alluded to one of these masques when she wrote:

>In 1608/09, three white bears were brought back from a voyage from around
>the polar regions ... The bear in Mucedorus is white ... the two white
>bears in Oberon-same year-have to pull a chariot slowly, and that chariot
>containing the Prince of Wales. ... someone-probably Inigo Jones-designed a
>smashing bear suit or two for Oberon and it was a shame to let them go to
>waste.

I think you're saying that the polar bears brought back in 1609 are the
two listed by Henslowe, that one of these was used for Mucedorus, but
bear suits for Oberon and Winter's Tale?

I agree that wild polar bears seem highly unlikely for any kind of
public performance.  However, travelling gypsies have been training
brown and black bears to do all kinds of tricks for centuries (in fact,
the somersaults over the bear's back sound like a gypsy carnival trick).

There is no reason to train the bears that are going to be chained up
and mauled by a pack of dogs.  They are, nevertheless, highly
trainable.  A small, young, brown bear, easily obtainable from the bear
gardens to trot across the stage.  Antigonus may have already exited and
be watching from the safety of the tiring house by the time the bear
appears.  I think it plausible.  Besides, why such a short appearance if
it's a guy in a suit?  Why not chase Antigonus around a few times and
have him speak a few lines about bears being like stubborn authority
unless a quick in and out is all they could easily count on the animal
to manage?

and Mac Jackson wrote:

>...one reason for the extraordinary popularity of Mucedorus (the most
>frequently reprinted of
>all pre-Restoration plays) may have been that in the role of the bear
>that terrifies the clown Mouse and chases Segasto and Amadine in the
>first Act, the King's Men, for their revival (some time before the
>publication of the augmented quarto of 1610) cast a real tame bear, and
>that the same animal may have been brought on in The Winter's Tale.

It is after all possible that they did it one way at the Globe, another
at Blackfriars, and another on the road.  If I follow you, Shakespeare's
bear is a white bear suit.  I think that the audience may be inclined to
overlook the endowment of Bohemia with a coast line, but polar bears
must have seemed too far out of place even to a primitive zoologist.  On
the other hand, I suppose the suit could have been dyed.  On the other
hand, I suppose a brown bear can be dyed white.

Are there bears in England?

Clifford Stetner
CUNY
C.W. Post College
www.columbia.edu/fs10/cds.htm

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Nicol <
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Date:           Saturday, 31 Jul 1999 06:44:08 PDT
Subject:        Re: Bears I Have Known

Hello everyone,

I'm fascinated by this discussion of the staging of the bear in "The
Winter's Tale". For what it's worth, I just took a look at the 'bear
scene' in "Mucedorus" (1610 version). It does not answer the question of
whether the bear was real or not, but there are suggestions that it was
more likely to be a man in a bear suit.

In "Mucedorus", the 'bear scene' involves a clown called Mouse. Mouse
enters in a state of terror, having just been frightened by a bear. He
says

"O horrible, terrible! Was ever poor Gentleman so scared out of his
senses?  A bear? Nay, sure it cannot be a bear, but some devil in a
bear's doublet, for a bear could never have had that agility to have
frighted me."

He worries that the bear will follow his footprints, and so he decides
to escape by walking backwards. We then get the following stage
direction:

"As he goes backwards, the bear comes in and he tumbles over her, and
runs away and leaves his bottle of hay behind him." (I.ii.15)

Then, immediately afterwards:

"Enter Segasto, running and Amadine after him, being persued with a
bear."

They all run away, and then Mucedorus enters with his sword drawn and
the bear's head in his hand.

I wonder what this proves about the likelihood of the bear being
represented by a real live animal? I find it hard to believe that the
actor who played Mouse was expected to 'tumble' over a live bear.
Wouldn't that be rather dangerous?

Of course, the King's Men might have used a harmless, friendly bear; or
perhaps an old, blind veteran of the bear-pits who was no longer strong
enough to be dangerous. But this brings us to another problem. Both "The
Winter's Tale" and "Mucedorus" seem to require bears that are
frightening; everyone in "Mucedorus" is terrified of the bear, while
Antigonus and the Clown are afraid of the bear in "The Winter's Tale".
Yet an harmless, toothless bear dragged onto the stage with a chain
might not terrify the audience. Indeed, Mouse himself seems to
acknowledge this problem, when he says that a real bear would be less
frightening than "some devil [or even an actor?!] in a bear's doublet"
because it would lack the requisite "agility".  There is another
problem: the bear must be funny as well as frightening.  Both bears are
associated with clowns. In "Mucedorus", the clown 'tumbles' over the
bear, presumably in a comic way. In "The Winter's Tale", the clown
describes the attack of the bear in a comic monologue.

It seems to me that a man in a bear suit would actually be much more
successful in achieving that synthesis of fear and laughter than a real
bear could. He could run onto the stage, roaring, to give the audience a
pleasant shock, and then turn the fear into laughter by engaging in some
rough-and-tumble comedy with his victim. John Velz's story in the last
posting sounds as though it was a very successful example of this type
of scary-funny bear.

It is also worth nothing that the bear in "Mucedorus" is white.
Presumably the bear in "The Winter's Tale" was white, too.

So was the bear in "The Winter's Tale" a live bear? Reading "Mucedorus"
doesn't answer the question, but the effects it seems to be aiming at
might have been more successful with a fake bear. Since Shakespeare was
almost certainly recycling successful material in his play, I suggest
that he was also getting the company's money's worth out of an
expensively acquired white bearskin.

David Nicol
UCE
 

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