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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: March ::
Re: Inconsistencies
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0819  Monday, 18 March 2002

[1]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Mar 2002 21:10:34 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0810 Re: Inconsistencies

[2]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Saturday, 16 Mar 2002 13:10:30 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0810 Re: Inconsistencies


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Mar 2002 21:10:34 -0000
Subject: 13.0810 Re: Inconsistencies
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0810 Re: Inconsistencies

> I gather that TL is implying that this string-tied beard would hold up
> and be persuasive under the rigors of stage performance as well as it
> would in a Christmas party setting. If so, I wish I'd known it then. The
> director assured me it had to be glued on.

It looks like your director may have been right, from a Renaissance
point of view.  I just looked up "beard" in Allan Dessen and Leslie
Thomson's invaluable "Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama,
1580-1642" and found a reference to a scene in "Antonio's Revenge" where
a character enters "with a beard half off, half on" and states "the
tiring-man hath not glued on my beard half fast enough".

> (Good point about Feste as Sir Thopas -- except Malvolio is being held
> "in hideous darkness," and thus is in no position to a real beard from a
> good fake from a bad fake.)

This is true, but Maria (who provides the costume) doesn't seem to
realise this until afterwards, so the costume would probably have been
the same in any case - especially since the beard doubtless came out of
the theatre's own prop-basket and was probably used to play similar
characters when they appeared as stage roles in their own right (such as
the Priest who marries Touchstone in "As You Like It", perhaps?).

Anyway, the stage direction mentioned above seems to confirm that the
beard was glued on, as you suspected, but there is also good evidence
that the false beards were removable and replaceable in front of an
audience.  The "Dictionary" offers many examples of people putting on
beards, or taking them off, within seconds in full view of the
audience.  Most relevant to our purposes, however, is a reference to
"Edward II" where his tormentors "wash him with puddle water, and shave
his beard away" which would seem to suggest, if there was any naturalism
in the play at all, that the actor concerned had a shaved face under his
beard so that he could show a bare face after its removal.  If Edward II
could be shaved onstage, then the actor playing Kent could presumably
shave himself (so that he would be able to remove a false beard) to
prepare for his disguise as Caius.

In any case we do seem to have established that adult male actors could
disguise themselves by donning false beards, that lead actors could wear
false beards - pretending to be natural ones - as part of their role (as
Bottom intends to do as Pyramus), and that therefore it is well within
the realms of possibility that the noble Kent wears a false beard that
he removes to play the common Caius.

Thomas Larque.
"Shakespeare and His Critics"
http://shakespearean.org.uk

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 16 Mar 2002 13:10:30 -0000
Subject: 13.0810 Re: Inconsistencies
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0810 Re: Inconsistencies

>> I gather that TL is implying that this string-tied beard would hold up
>> and be persuasive under the rigors of stage performance as well as it
>> would in a Christmas party setting. If so, I wish I'd known it then.
>> The director assured me it had to be glued on.

>It looks like your director may have been right, from a Renaissance >point
of view.  I just looked up "beard" in Allan Dessen and Leslie
> Thomson's invaluable "Dictionary of Stage Directions in English
> Drama, 1580-1642" and found a reference to a scene in "Antonio's
> Revenge" where a character enters "with a beard half off, half on" and
> states "the tiring-man hath not glued on my beard half fast enough".

I was so surprised by the Renaissance reference to gluing on of beards
that I didn't read the entry fully enough to notice that it actually
confirms my argument about strings on beards as well.  Apparently "in
the earlier troupe plays in which a small number of actors played many
parts in rapid succession beards were attached by strings, as seen in
Like Will to Like where two figures enter with "no Cap nor Hat on their
head, saving a night Cap, because the strings of the beards may not be
seen".  I would suspect that the strings might well still have been used
when it was necessary to remove or put on a beard rapidly onstage in
front of the audience, as Feste does (this happens many times in
Renaissance plays, as the "Dictionary of Stage Directions" attests).

The glued-on beards might have looked better, but tied-on-with-string
beards were available, so a man with a small natural beard (if he could
not glue a false beard on) could presumably have used the more
old-fashioned false beard attached with string.

Thomas Larque.
"Shakespeare and His Critics"
http://shakespearean.org.uk

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