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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: Squeaking Cleopatras
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1843  Tuesday, 24 July 2001

[1]     From:   Fran Barasch <
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        Date:   Monday, 23 Jul 2001 14:20:20 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1833 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras

[2]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Jul 2001 01:17:14 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 12.1833 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras

[3]     From:   David Kathman <
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        Date:   Monday, 23 Jul 2001 22:44:54 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1833 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Fran Barasch <
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Date:           Monday, 23 Jul 2001 14:20:20 EDT
Subject: 12.1833 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1833 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras

For Stuart Manger:

As you guessed, boys could not always be recruited from children's
companies, e.g., during intervals when the latter were inoperable.
Here's a French method which the English may have practiced:

The major French actor Valleran (fl. 1590-1613) and his wife, who are
mentioned in a contract of 1606, took on apprentices for pay.  One
Jacques le Messier apprenticed both his son Pierre (later, the famous
Bellerose) and his daughter Judicq to Valleran in 1606 and 1609,
respectively.  Also, Symon Diye of Brittany apprenticed his daughter
Elezabel to Valleran for seven years to learn how to "read, write and
play the spinet" as well as to play comedies, tragicomedies, and
pastorals.  (W.C. Wiley. "Early Public Theatre in France."  (?Yale
UP:c.1960), 93.

Best wishes, Fran Barasch

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Jul 2001 01:17:14 +0100
Subject: Re: Squeaking Cleopatras
Comment:        SHK 12.1833 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras

Question to Janie Cheaney:

WHEN do 'boys' get a chance for 'arduous practice'? As you say, the
schedule was frenetic, so.....? Did they learn their skills exclusively
in the children's companies? OK, I can see that is possible, BUT surely
not ALL of them came from such companies? Were some like the
disgustingly psychopathic little mall-rat Webster from 'Shakespeare in
Love' who learns by sneaky voyeurism? I think imitation of the masters
up to a point is the answer. Probably such aspirants would expect to
learn that rapidly if they wanted to survive on the stage. No learning,
no deal. I doubt that any decent company could / would have tolerated
incompetence, such was the competition for public as well as royal and
aristocratic favour and sponsorship - the companies simply could not
afford a flop. And there seemed to be no shortage of 'eyasses', and the
turnover also seems to have been pretty rapid too.

I wonder if Shakespeare is perhaps having a good visual and theatrical
in-joke about real boys playing girls playing boys in getting Viola to
be such an incompetent wimp in the farce duel with Aguecheek in 12th
Night? Perhaps it is based on real theatrical experience i.e. that the
boys who usually play girls were hopeless or seriously under-trained
when it came to sword play - which is after all an archetypal expression
of the adult male ? Did the scene perhaps grow out of a session before a
show when the 'boy' Viola did not know any sword-fighting passes - or
many - and suddenly, everyone there sees the comic potential?

What baffles me are the intimate love scenes. The man writes such
ardently, sensuously urgent and sophisticated material for lovers, and
such sexually tense scenes, that you really do wonder exactly how they
did it? Today's Globe experience in London shows how frighteningly close
the groundlings were/ are, how alert the audiences would be for the
slightest slip, or attempt to chicken out. Surely there is nowhere to
hide. And I cannot think that Shakespeare would actually risk a scene
being wrecked by crowds sniggering at boy incompetence or shy coyness at
such crucial moments as the bedroom scene in R and J, or Othello and
Desdemona on Cyprus, or Antony and Cleo passim. There is so much talk in
all his plays of 'witchcraft in those lips'..... so how did they do it?
Did they actually kiss?  Or maybe the Elizabethan audience relied on the
signals that the verse gave and an anthology of archetypal but sketched,
short-hand type gestures to establish the moods / scenes /
relationships, as one assumes is happening on stage in the dumb show /
'Mousetrap' in 'Hamlet'? Stoppard is interesting in trying to deal with
this in 'R and G are Dead' in the entry of the Players, where the
company 'boy/girl' Alfred is obviously very sick of playing girls, and
Shakespeare himself uses Hamlet to comment on how the women might be
played by a lad whose voice is clearly about to break.

I think the real problem here may be that we are trying to approach this
from a very specifically 2001 angle, and how OUR own 12-15 yr olds might
feel in such performances, and we tend to imagine all manner of hassles
that simply would never have occurred to them then. How it is possible
to write modern fiction that successfully conjures that 'innocent' age /
acting lads beats me. How do you start? How can you retain credibility
when modern audiences are always bringing huge stacks of post-Freudian
baggage to the business of reading?

But then again, was Marlowe telling it like it was for all the 'quality'
when he remarked on the pleasures of boys and tobacco? The worm in the
bud.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Kathman <
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Date:           Monday, 23 Jul 2001 22:44:54 -0600
Subject: 12.1833 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1833 Re: Squeaking Cleopatras

Janie Cheaney wrote:

>> [1]     From:   Stuart Manger
>
>> 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.
>
>I wonder about this myself, since I write fiction about boy players.
>Historical allusions to their training (or anything else about them) are
>maddeningly scarce.  Only three apprentices are listed as part of the
>Lord Chamberlain's Company in 1599: Samuel Gilburn, Ned [no last name,
>might have been Edmund Shakespeare], and Jack Wilson.  In the next
>couple of years, Ned and Sam grew out of female roles, and a Samuel
>Grosse joined the company.

Hmmm... I'm not sure where you found these apprentices "listed", but the
information you got is not quite accurate.

Samuel Gilburne is listed among the actors in the First Folio, and he
was mentioned in the will of Augustine Phillips in 1605 as "my late
apprentice", so he may have been a boy actor in 1599, but we have no
direct evidence.  He has sometimes been conjectured to be the "b samme"
[=boy Sam?] who played several minor roles in *The Dead Man's Fortune*,
but this was probably an Admiral's Men's play, and the date is
uncertain.

John Wilson was in fact a boy actor-singer with the King's Men, but not
until a decade after the time you're talking about.  He was apprenticed
to John Heminges on 18 February 1611 -- nominally as a Grocer (since
Heminges was a freeman of that company), but in reality as an actor, as
all of Heminges' apprentices were.  Wilson was born on 5 April 1595, so
he could scarcely have been a boy actor in 1599 anyway; I suspect your
source gave that date because of the stage direction in the Folio
version of *Much Ado About Nothing* which indicates that "Jacke Wilson"
played Balthasar and sang a song.  However, this stage direction is not
in the 1600 quarto, and must date from a revival closer to the 1623
publication date of the Folio.  Wilson began writing songs for the
King's Men around 1614, at the age of 19, when he wrote songs for *The
Maske of Flowers* and *The Tragedy of Valentinian*.  He was freed as a
Grocer on 29 October 1621, and a year later he became one of the waits
of the city of London, eventually becoming a lutenist in the King's
Musicke and a Professor of Music at Oxford.

As for "Ned", we have no way of knowing for sure who he was, but I find
it interesting that your source has him as a member of the Chamberlain's
Men in 1599.  The only place we know of this boy is in the written
"plot" for the play *The Seven Deadly Sins*.  Just about everybody has
followed W. W. Greg in supposing this play to have been performed by
Strange's Men around 1590, but there's actually pretty good evidence
that it was performed by the Chamberlain's Men around 1598.  The "T.
Belt" who played the female role of Panthea must be Thomas Belt, who was
apprenticed to John Heminges on 12 November 1595; the "Saunder" who
played the two leading female roles has been supposed (with good reason)
to have been Alexander Cooke, but he was not apprenticed to Heminges
until 26 January 1597.  The hired man "J. Duke" must be John Duke, who
is first heard of in 1598 with the Chamberlain's Men; the "Harry" who
played a couple of prominent young-man roles was probably Henry Condell,
also first heard of in 1598 with the Chamberlain's Men (age 22), in the
same cast with Duke.  There's more, but it's all consistent.

As for "Samuel Grosse", I don't know of any actor by this name.  A
Samuel Crosse is listed among the actors in the First Folio, but almost
nothing is known about him; he is probably the "Crosse" mentioned by
Heywood in *Apology for Actors* (1612) as an actor from before his
(Heywood's) time, and he may be the Samuel Crosse baptized in London in
1568.

>Common wisdom seems to be that many of these
>boys, like Nathan Field, were recruited from the children's companies.
>But I doubt that all of them were.

Some of them certainly were, as contemporary testimony makes clear.
Nathan Field was one such, as were William Ostler and John Underwood.
At least some of them were bound as apprentices to members of the
company who were freemen (as in the examples I gave above), and for all
we know all of them might have been -- some of the relevant
apprenticeship records are lost, and others haven't yet been searched
thoroughly.  The only one of Heminges' apprentices who can't be traced
as a performer with the Chamberlain's/King's Men is Nicholas Crosse
(apprenticed 1614), who may be the same Nicholas Crosse who was a
chorister at St. Paul's in 1607.

>If "Ned," for instance, was the
>playwright's brother, simple nepotism may have earned him his place,
>though he surely had some talent as well.  I like to think that,
>especially after the year of the "theater wars," adult actors regarded
>the boys of the children's companies as such smart-alecky twits they'd
>prefer to grow their own talent.

Maybe.  But they did recruit some of those boys, as noted above, though
not until several years after their prime as boy actors.

>Although I have often read [never in a primary source] that each boy was
>assigned to a player of the company, who served as tutor,  I can't
>fathom how the adult actors had much time for this.  Surely most of the
>boys' instruction had to be by observation.  There were probably stock
>conventions for playing certain types of roles: ingenue, country dame,
>bitch, madwoman, etc.  Easy enough to learn, perhaps, though perfected
>only by arduous practice.  Given the hectic schedule of all the London
>theater companies, a few bad performances while a boy was learning his
>craft could be excused.

The Elizabethans did lots of things that are hard for us to fathom.
Performing a dozen or so different plays in rotating repertory must have
been taxing, but they did it.  I'm sure you're right that most of the
apprentice actors' instruction was of a practical nature, as was the
case in the guilds.

>But what about kissing on stage?  Where Elizabethan boys so blase they
>could do THAT?  I can see Doll Tearsheet delivering flattering busses to
>Falstaff behind a fan, but how would Juliet, in full view of a
>wisecracking Elizabethan audience, come by the knowledge that Romeo
>kisses by the book?

An interesting question, and one that could be a direct paraphrase of
any of a number of anti-theatrical tracts, e.g. Stephen Gosson's *Plays
Confuted in Five Acts*, which said how scandalous it was "for a boy to
put on the attire, the gesture, the passions of a woman".

Dave Kathman

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