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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: May ::
Re: FX and Stage Props
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1085  Tuesday, 23 May 2000.

[1]     From:   Bradley Ryner <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 May 2000 00:15:26 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1071 FX and Stage Props

[2]     From:   Leslie Thomson <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 May 2000 08:11:43 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1071 FX and Stage Props


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bradley Ryner <
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Date:           Tuesday, 23 May 2000 00:15:26 -0400
Subject: 11.1071 FX and Stage Props
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1071 FX and Stage Props

I'm sorry to say that I am not familiar with _A Looking Glass for London
and England_, so I cannot offer much conjecture about how these effects
were achieved in the context of the play.  However, I would highly
recommend looking at Philip Butterworth's _Theatre Of Fire:  Special
effects in early English and Scottish theatre_ (London, 1998).  The ISBN
is 085430 0627.  Butterworth does a wonderful job of explaining how
certain stage directions could be practically achieved.  He mentions one
of the effects that you're interested in, the "flames of fire" in which
"Radagon is swallowed."  He suggests that this could have been
accomplished by blowing gunpowder (or some other combustible material)
out of a tube and across a stationary flame under the stage (see p.
39-40).

As for the lightening, Butterworth show several ways in which flashes of
lightening were achieved (most of which involve some variation of
gunpowder or rosin being thrown on a flame).  He quotes the following
nineteenth century account how how to give the illusion that lightning
has actually struck an object:  "When a thunderbolt is to strike an
object, a wire is run from the flies to the object which is to be
struck.  A rider runs on the wire.  The rider consists of a section of
iron pipe.  Around it is secured asbestos by means of wire.  The
asbestos is soaked with alcohol, and is lighted just at the instant when
it is to be projected upon the object. It is usually held by a string,
which is cut.  It rushes flaming through the air, and produces the
effect of a ball of fire striking the object" (45).  Butterworth
suggests that this techniques could have been practiced in the 16th
century with cane soaked in aqua vitae used in place of the iron.

The hand out of the cloud and the burning sword effect seems a little
harder to account for.  Butterworth describes ways of designing a staff
that would hold slow burning gunpowder which would spark or flame out
from the staff.  The sword could be a variation of this, or it could
simply be any sword-shaped object soaked in aqua vitae.  The aqua vitae
would burn off and leave the object unharmed (and re-usable for another
show); however, I get the feeling that aqua vitae would burn down rather
quickly, meaning that the effect couldn't be sustained for too long.  I
wonder whether the "hand" was an actual human's hand or a larger than
life facsimile.  It might have been possible to move the latter across
the top of the stage via some form of pulley.  I also wonder about the
"cloud."  The stage direction immediately conjures to mind the image of
white, fluffy clouds, but may just as easily refer to a cloud of smoke
created during the effect (possibly to mask whatever was on the opposite
end of the hand from the sword).

I hope that some of this conjecture has been helpful.

Best,
Brad

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Leslie Thomson <
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Date:           Tuesday, 23 May 2000 08:11:43 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 11.1071 FX and Stage Props
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1071 FX and Stage Props

There is a copy of a quarto of *LGLE* which is annotated for
performance, at the U of Chicago Libraries. It has been extensively
documented in a 1932 article, which I suspect few have read. It is by
Charles Baskerville, in *Modern Philology* 30 (1932). The *Dictionary of
Stage Directions in English Drama, 1580-1642* (CUP, 1999) has entries
for virtually all of the terms in these stage directions.

Leslie Thomson
 

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