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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: March ::
Re: Act and Scene Divisions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0473  Wednesday, 8 March 2000.

From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Wednesday, 8 Mar 2000 09:38:14 -0000
Subject:        Re: Act and Scene Divisions

Thank you to everyone who provided information on act divisions,
especially those who read what I actually wrote.  The answers to the
most frequently asked questions are: No, I haven't read Baldwin, and
Yes, I am perfectly aware of classical and renaissance ideas on five-act
structure.  I don't have a copy of Gorboduc, and don't know how to track
one down, but if I do I shall be annoyed if I find that the five-act
structure is a confection of later editors...

My working hypothesis is that Shakespeare and his contemporaries were
familiar with the five-act structure for drama (from their education and
their source material), but that they generally didn't apply it to their
own work because their performances (as opposed to "literary texts",
whatever those may be) had no use for act breaks.  The arrival of act
divisions around 1609 (possibly associated with indoor theatres and the
performance of music during the act breaks) is intriguing, because this
is just the time that opera (with initially a five-act structure) starts
in Italy.  One wonders if there is any connection, and how all this
connects with the court masque.

John Briggs

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