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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: October ::
Re: Her C's . . . (now Shakespeare's Performance
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2041  Wednesday, 9 October 2002

[1]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Oct 2002 17:10:36 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2029 Re: Her C's . . .

[2]     From:   M. Yawney <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Oct 2002 09:23:57 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Which World of Performance Does Sh Belong to? (Was "Her C's")

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 08 Oct 2002 18:39:16 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2029 Re: Her C's . . .


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Oct 2002 17:10:36 +0100
Subject: 13.2029 Re: Her C's . . .
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2029 Re: Her C's . . .

>If we were directing the play (which I do incessantly in my mind) we
>would have to make some decisions about how to deal with Illyria in
>general and Viola in particular. The actress could be of any age, but
>she would have to be able to play of girl of about thirteen or fourteen
>who was pretending to be a boy (her twin brother) of that age in order
>to fit the requirements of the text. (Or else we must start excising
>those passages.)

The only reason that Don Bloom has given for claiming that Viola must be
13 is that she is identical to her brother, and her brother apparently
looks enough like a woman for a disguised Viola (with an unbroken voice
and hairless face) to look exactly like him.  Since this is rather
obviously also true of every other disguised woman in Shakespeare's
plays (that is, they have no beard and have high voices) then Bloom must
assume that Portia in "Merchant of Venice" is disguised as a 13 year old
boy, that Rosalind in "As You Like It" is disguised as a 13 year old
boy, and so on.  Despite this Rosalind as Ganymede promises to marry a
woman (and Shakespeare makes clear that he considered Juliet's marriage
at *14* very precocious, and through Orsino voices his society's
expectation that men will prefer women who are younger than themselves -
which would make Phoebe - if she was younger than her prospective
husband, as was normal - much younger than Juliet) and Portia in
disguise is allowed to take a major role in the proceedings of a law
court, something that would require an education in law that was simply
not attainable by 13 year old boys in the Renaissance.

Now we can dismiss all this as improbable fantasy, as Bloom does, but
there seems no reason for doing this.  If Shakespeare's boy actors could
pretend to be women when the boy actors were between the ages of 12 and
19, then it seems reasonably obvious that a young woman could pretend to
be a boy of the same age.  If a 19 year old "boy" actor can play a young
woman convincingly (with high voice and no beard), then a young woman
can equally obviously play a "boy" of 19 by pretending to have shaved,
and if necessary by speaking in a deliberately lower voice.  Renaissance
drama, with its traditions of teenage boys playing women, repeatedly
asserts the interchangeability of "boys" and women, and it seems
unquestionable that the benchmark for this interchangeability is the boy
actor himself, who we know to have been usually between the ages of 12
and 19.  Assuming that Sebastian, Cesario, Ganymede and Portia's Lawyer
are all 13 years old, and - even in Shakespeare's time - little more
than children, seems to me to distort plays that assume that all of
these characters are (young) adult men, old enough to marry without
surprising anybody, act as lawyers without being taken for ridiculous
child prodigies (people treat Portia as precociously young, but old
enough to have authority and knowledge - I suspect a 13 year old would
have been laughed out of court), win sword fights as equals against
experienced but drunken opponents (would Toby Belch really have drawn
his sword on a 13 year old, let alone have lost to him?).  If we assume
that these "men" (all but Sebastian being disguised women) were presumed
to be 17, 18, or 19 then all of this makes sense.  If we assume that all
of them were 13, then it does not.

Thomas Larque.

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

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           M. Yawney <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Oct 2002 09:23:57 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        Which World of Performance Does Sh Belong to? (Was "Her C's")

In the whole age of Viola flap here, I realized that the those
responding to me assume a theater very much like mainstream theater of
today.

I also realized that my assumptions are different.  Some time ago a
writer (I cannot remember who), who looking at the famous description of
the boy-Desdemona who moved the audience by his facial expression in the
death scene, noted that the performance values described were closer to
Kabuki theater than modern Western theater. After all, both switch
between realism and high-artifice in a flash, use female impersonation,
etc. The author suggested looking toward Eastern forms for a model of
what Shakespeare's theater might have been like.

The author's point was that we come to this work with assumptions about
theater that may or may not have been shared by Shakespeare and his
audience. One respondent to me, said that he cannot help looking at the
character Viola as a real person, meaning (I assume) the specificities
of age, background, behavior, etc of a real person. This respondent did
not acknowledge that looking at characters in this way may not always be
in line with what was intended or understood by the first audience. Even
today, there are other arenas of performance in which the specifics he
foregrounds in reading Viola are subordinated to other values.

Reflecting on my assumptions, I think I assume a performance mode like
that in modern opera houses. We see young girls played by mature women,
black sons of Asian fathers, and a whole range of casting and behavior
that makes no sense in realistic terms, yet is extremely moving to those
who buy in. Because of the kinds of virtuosity that Renaissance writers
demanded of performers, I have always thought that the style must have
been more akin to what we see in opera, dance, performances by theater
companies like the Wooster Group, or the old-time Hollywood musicals,
where it is impossible to accept the action as a realistic
representation but rather is seen as a mediated interpretation of life.

Of course, that is just as much an ultimately unprovable opinion as the
other extreme. However, it still seems to me that my opinion is more
grounded in historical fact and common sense than any other--but that is
the real problem. We all build a Shakespeare to our taste out of a
selective reading of the plays and the historical record.

If only the eye could see itself!

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 08 Oct 2002 18:39:16 -0400
Subject: 13.2029 Re: Her C's . . .
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2029 Re: Her C's . . .

>I apologize if you are offended that I didn't note and quote your
>earlier post.  However, this is not something that one need be a scholar
>to notice.  I performed in 12th Night in 1961, 1965, and 1973, and the
>1965 production is the one where I had plenty of time on my hands to
>think about such matters.
>
>Possibly working on a production is what brought it to Barker's
>attention?

I think that is clearly correct.  And I have no pretensions to
scholarship. Nor did I take offense or assert any proprietary interest
in the notion.

>Why is it, do you think, that Fabian appears so late into the play, if
>he was in the first draft? What character would he be doubled with, if
>any?

This is an excellent question, and one I have thought about.  I wish I
had a completely satisfying answer.  The best I can come up with is that
when Feste was created he absorbed lines that had previously been
assigned to Fabian, leaving the old character nothing to do until II.v.

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