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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1726  Tuesday, 10 July 2001

From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Jul 2001 14:36:34 +0100
Subject: 12.1722 Re: Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1722 Re: Joy Leslie Gibson's "Squeaking Cleopatras"

>From Peter Groves:

> But there may be important differences in performance-style between > a
> 1990s film and 1590s Globe acting.  One way to get some sort of
> objective statistical handle on it might be to tot up the points in each
> case at which an actor is <permitted> to catch a breath without
> violating the syntax; these things are called potential intonation
> breaks and are explained and described fully in P. L. Groves, <Strange
> Music: The Metre of the English Heroic Line>,  ELS Monograph
> Series 74
> (Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria, 1998).
>
> Peter (pardon the plug) Groves

I agree with your main point here, and will certainly try to get hold of
your Monograph - but would your system really mark as few "potential
intonation breaks" as Joy Leslie Gibson does?  In the speech that I used
as an example she frequently ignores clear breaks in the text, marked in
orthodox punctuation by the ending of sentences but also involving a
considerable change in the thoughts described, and surely demanding a
new intake of breath.  For example:

       a witchcraft drew me hither
That most ingrateful boy there by your side
From the rude sea's enraged and foamy mouth
I did redeem a wreck past hope he was
His life I gave him and did thereto add
My love without retention

... is one breath by Gibson's standards, but both "That most ingrateful
boy ..." and "a wreck past hope he was ..." would start new sentences
and new thought patterns in most edited texts.  Unsurprisingly the
actors that I studied took new breaths at both these points.

>From Dave Kathman:

> I have not yet had a chance to read Gibson's book, but the second-hand
> reports I've received accord well with what you describe: most of the
> arguments are based on internal analysis of the plays themselves, which
> I've always found to be a very perilous practice.  I prefer to go with
> concrete, documentary evidence where it's relevant (as it is here).

I agree completely and was very much disappointed by the lack of such
evidence in Joy Leslie Gibson's account.

> >In this quarter's "Shakespeare Bulletin" (Vol. 19, No.2 - Spring 2001)
> >there is an interesting article by Marvin Rosenberg ... "The Myth of
>>Shakespeare's Squeaking Boy Actor - Or Who Played Cleopatra?".

> I have not yet seen this either, but I was very interested when I saw it
> in the table of contents here on SHAKSPER.  What, specifically, are
> Rosenberg's claims?  Who does he believe played the female roles on
> the Shakespearean stage?

Impressed by performances by middle-aged male actors in modern
transvestite roles, such as Mark Rylance as Cleopatra in the
Shakespeare's Globe's 1999 "Antony and Cleopatra", Rosenberg believes
that "we had to look for a veteran male actor -- of the kind we see
acting so entrancingly in the cross-dressing theatres of our own day".
"In the adult companies", he suggests, "the actors of mature female
roles had to be as a matter of course trained, experienced, professional
*men*".

Unlike Joy Leslie Gibson, Rosenberg does marshal some concrete evidence
for his claims of the kind that was seen in the SHAKSPER discussion on
this subject.  In the Coventry mystery plays a "man" had been specified
for two female roles.  John Rainolds "Th'overthor of stage-playes"
refers to "young men ... trained to play women's parts" (I would have
thought the use of the word "young" would clash with Rosenberg's
"veteran", but apparently Rosenberg thinks not - he ignores references
to youth in a couple of his other sources as well).  William Prynne's
"Histrio-Mastix" refers to "our men-women actors" and "men [who] ...
adulterate, emasculate, metamorphose and debase their noble sex".

Rosenberg suggests that "boy" used as a verb, as in Cleopatra's line
about "Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness" is always used in a
mocking sense, as by Gabriel Harvey, John Fletcher and Henry Moore (all
cited in the OED).

Rosenberg cites T.W.Baldwin as mentioning two men playing women's parts
in 1635 who were aged between twenty-four and twenty-six.  He mentions
the Cibber comment about a play being delayed because the Queen was
shaving.  He quotes the prologue to the first performance of "Othello"
with a female actress in which it is commented that "men act, that are
between / Forty and fifty, Wenches of fifteen ... When you call
Desdemona, enter Giant".  He points out that Edward Kynaston was a young
man when he played female roles in the Restoration period.  He finishes
by approvingly citing Janet Suzman who claimed that Cleopatra must have
been written "for a man, perhaps a kind of Shakespearean Danny La Rue
... some kind of *prima donna* in his company playing women's parts.
[Cleopatra] could never have been acted by a boy."

> I had been hoping to write an article on this topic this summer, for
> publication next year, but more pressing commitments (with August
> and  September deadlines) have forced me to postpone it.

I shall look forward to seeing this article, whenever it finally
appears, and hope that Dave will be kind enough to let us know via
SHAKSPER when and where it finally comes out.

Thomas Larque.

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