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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: Squeaking Cleopatras
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1809  Thursday, 19 July 2001

[1]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Jul 2001 23:56:18 +0100
        Subj:   Squeaking Cleoptatras

[2]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Thursday, 19 Jul 2001 05:33:55 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 12.1791 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Jul 2001 23:56:18 +0100
Subject:        Squeaking Cleoptatras

In her tailpiece, Ms Crane in what I fully realise is a throwaway aside
has inadvertently opened a can of worms: the shouting power of
'adolescents'?

Well, in Elizabethan terms, what age ARE adolescents?

We might suggest ages in terms of our own day - but even then we would
find ages differ from region to region of the world. Diet plays a huge
part. There has been way back a long and fascinating correspondence on
this topic. It involves the uncertain, shifting age of puberty, breaking
of voice, legal minimum age at which stockholders could legally be  /
were actually engaged on the Elizabethan stage, thus what age 'boys'
were.

Rylance may well play Cleo, BUT he is NOT a boy, such that Shakespeare's
'squeaking' joke applies to .... well, what age? Boys of 17 up to not
very many years ago might not yet have broken voices, BUT they might be
quite tall, quite imposing, quite graceful, and with already long
theatrical experience behind them. Many scholars have researched the
ages of some of the most revered.

Certainly, on a personal note, I am only too aware of the extraordinary
carrying power of the committed 'adolescent' voice - like a rusty nail
maybe, or sometimes husky and without intending to be so, quite sexy,
but penetrative, so that Shakespeare would well know many many shades
and nuances of boy 'squeaking'.  But, of course, it all depends on the
age a 'boy' would get the chance to play a major lead like a Viola,
Hermione, or Cleopatra, or even a Juliet. My own theatre experience is
that the most feminine roles are very difficult for modern boys to play
without dangerous flirting with camp - Shakespeare's 'boys' would be
more to the manner born. Lady Macbeth, Regin, Goneril, Witches, Queen
Margaret, even a Doll Tearsheet are far easier, since they involve
either women suggesting macho or at least unlikely feminine paradigms in
their roles, or on the other hand bawdy humour.

Most boys today have few problems with a female role that involves these
qualities or those which can be outrageously camped, and in which they
can be both knowingly themselves and recognisably other - feminine AND
masculine simultaneously. When they have to suppress their own
masculinity more or less completely, and become unmistakably feminine,
vulnerable, possibly the victims of masculine violence, then many boys
have real problems. An anecdote from my own experience:

In a deliberately all-male R and J, in this school eight years ago - an
experimental production, specifically designed to re-create
Shakespeare's intentions (I now know to be a hopeless, and ludicrously
over-weaning unrealisable ambition!), Juliet  - very good actor indeed,
lad of about 14 - was fiery and convincingly bolshy until the moment
when the post-coital bedroom scene had to be blocked. I thought I had
sufficiently anticipated every conceivable difficulty, but he could not
cope with anything beyond the most chaste hand holding despite the
encouragement of numbers of other actors who assured him of their
unfeigned and total support - of course. Here was a modern boy, a
post-Freudian boy, playing to a post-late-night TV / post-easily
available magazines with porn age AUDIENCE, the assumption of the role
of a vulnerably and sexually active young girl of virtually his own age
was way beyond what he would suggest. I suspect NOT beyond what he could
imagine, but well, well beyond what he was prepared to conjure on
stage.  The real oint of this anecdote is what happened next: in the
process of chastening the show, we all - he included - gradually
realised more and more that to play it innocent and chaste for a shy
Juliet ran totally counter to the urgency of the sensual, volatile
poetry and every one of the major scenes of the play.  Nevertheless, we
decided to keep it cool, and hoped the audience would accept our
reticence. They did: to have an all-male R and J when girls were
available was sufficiently odd for them to sit tight and watch! My
modern lad had all the vocal kit he needed to be a verbally convincing
Juliet, but the moment we shifted the show into anything like a modern
frame, he took fright, and none can blame him. He had seen as we all did
that in the poetry of the role Shakespeare has inbuilt a sumptuously
fizzing, violent sexuality that no boy can get near. Interestingly, that
same 'Juliet' later played Romeo in a show I took on tour to high
schools in the Boston area in 1995!

It is a commonplace to observe that many adolescents are nervous about
their own sexual identity at the best of times - today's adolescents
even more so - such that asking them to project sexual characteristics
quite other than those that are probably native to them is a real
trial.  A director has to work from the externals of movement,
mannerism, comfort with skirts etc, inwards to the 'truth' within. But
what 'truth'? That was the hassle in this show. The anecdote take long
to tell, but I hope you see where I am driving.

I imagine that Shakespeare's 'boys' had few if any hang-ups at all, such
that very little preliminary was required. I wonder if there is any
literature that reveals / documents for us how 'boys' in Shakespeare's
day were wither selected or trained. Was it all by imitation? Standing
in the wings, as it were, and observing the masters at work? Surely
not?  You do not have the time to muck about with training in so
rampantly commercial an outfit as the Lord Chamberlain's men, would you?
You would surely use a 'boy' because you had observed / or he had been
recommended / or he had been sold to you as having something already to
build on? No training - learn the lines and get on and ride your luck? I
wonder.

Presumably, that jibe at Cleos in the play is a complex self-deprecating
in-joke. It would be nice to know what kind of voice the 'boy' would
have adopted to draw the requisite laugh - if indeed it is a laugh line.

Stuart Manger

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Thursday, 19 Jul 2001 05:33:55 -0400
Subject: Re: Squeaking Cleopatras
Comment:        SHK 12.1791 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras

David Lindley comments

'So Shakespeare is to blame for pantomime as well as everything
else........'

Isn't it evident that 'Cinderella' is the down-market version of 'King
Lear'?

Terence Hawkes

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