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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: March ::
Re: Act and Scene Divisions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0495  Monday, 13 March 2000.

[1]     From:   Werner Habicht <
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        Date:   Saturday, 11 Mar 2000 19:45:28 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0473 Act and scene divisions

[2]     From:   Anthony Martin <
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        Date:   Monday, 13 Mar 2000 11:34:53
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0480 Re: Act and Scene Divisions


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Werner Habicht <
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Date:           Saturday, 11 Mar 2000 19:45:28 +0100
Subject: 11.0473 Act and scene divisions
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0473 Act and scene divisions

It may be useful to distinguish between the five acts as a purely
literary convention derived from the (usually) five 'acts' separated by
choruses of Senecan tragedy and from Donatus's commentary and
Renaissance editions of Terence (see T.W.Baldwin), and, on the other
hand, the practice of continuous performance (as assumed by Baldwin's
critics).  Or does anyone know of evidence suggesting that the literary
act-division was honoured by corresponding breaks or intermissions (as
many as four!) of performances in Elizabethan theatres, whether public
or private? If so, how would audiences have behaved during such
intermissions, considering that apparently no bars were available, not
even crowded narrow ones like those in 19th-century London playhouses.
Even in today's performances with only one intermission (or at most two)
the break does not necessarily occur at an act division in the book.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Anthony Martin <
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Date:           Monday, 13 Mar 2000 11:34:53
Subject: 11.0480 Re: Act and Scene Divisions
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0480 Re: Act and Scene Divisions

With reference to Gorboduc, Michael Ullyott commented, "But I hesitate
to suggest that it was the first five-act play in the English language.
Can anyone corroborate this?"

I should have been much more circumspect in suggesting this. The Senecan
translations of Jasper Heywood et al, beginning with Troas in 1559, are
of course in five acts. Also, Bale's Three Laws, published c. 1548 in
Germany, and reprinted in 1562 in London, had five acts, though not, I
think, a five-act structure. There is a translation of Terence's Andria,
printed about 1530 according to Greg's Bibliography, but I haven't seen
this book.  Are there any others?

What I should have said, therefore, is that the use of a five-act
structure in Gorboduc marks an original development in English drama, as
perhaps the first play produced in England to utilize the classical
structure. (Gorboduc was first performed in the Christmas revels of
1561-2). I would like to second Professor Ullyott's opinion that it is a
play of considerable significance and influence on later dramatists.

Anthony Martin

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