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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: October ::
Re: Shakespeare's Performance World
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2058  Friday, 11 October 2002

[1]     From:   D. Bloom <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Oct 2002 09:18:32 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2051 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World

[2]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Oct 2002 16:44:01 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2051 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World

[3]     From:   Chris Whatmore <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Oct 2002 21:09:39 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2051 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World

[4]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Oct 2002 15:36:17 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2051 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D. Bloom <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Oct 2002 09:18:32 -0500
Subject: 13.2051 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2051 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World

 Brian Willis comments:

>I think that debating the ages of these characters is somewhat
>irrelevant. When Shakespeare wanted us to know their age, he tells us in
>the text. Besides, what does it matter if Viola is 13 or 18? . . . We
>don't know exactly how old
>Viola is and it doesn't matter.

In general, I agree. But I'm not talking about their actual age (as I
wouldn't go into Hamlet's course of study at Wittenberg, though much
could be deduced by what he says -- by some one more knowledgeable than
I, of course), only about what they look like.

A director has to make decisions on the look of the show. Viola/Cesario
and Sebastian have to look like something, and the director has to
choose what he or she wants them to look (and thus also talk and move)
like.

Juliet obviously must look/talk/move like a girl almost 14 (within a
certain latitude, of course -- I'd have her played as a year or two
older than the average 14-year-old female I encounter). Gertrude must be
played middle-aged. If the director doesn't bother with these matters or
the actors can't manage them, then vast areas of meaning are lost.

WS does not specify the age of Viola as he does Juliet's, but he has set
up the play with the disguise (out of TGOV and AYLI) and the twin
confusion (out of COE). After a fair amount of mulling over the Viola
problem, I arrived at the judgment rendered.

Ain't no big deal, but it is not irrelevant to the meaning of the play
as performed.

Cheers,
don

p.s. Is there an indication of Hamlet's learning? I doubt that WS
actually concocted an imaginary curriculum, but are there hints that the
author actually was providing an array of consistent
Medieval/Renaissance ideas that would indicate specific areas of study?
Just wondering.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Oct 2002 16:44:01 +0100
Subject: 13.2051 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2051 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World

>Well, I suppose getting misunderstood is inevitable in such a
>circumstance, but I will make one further effort.
>
>1) This business is not part of some Grand Theory of mine, but a matter
>of expedience.

Not really.  It is just your theory.  There is very little indeed to
support it.

>2) Viola is absolutely indistinguishable from Sebastian. (Evidence
>supplied by Antonio, Feste, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Olivia and Orsino.)

Fair enough.

>3) Viola is described as having the attributes of early adolescence, or
>even late boyhood. (Evidence supplied by Orsino, Olivia, Malvolio and
>Feste.).

Attributes that any boy actor capable of playing a woman *must* have in
order to play a convincing woman.  The boy actors, as has been pointed
out, were aged up to 19.

>4) If you make the twins look older, you cause more and more difficulty.
>Viola, if older, should have breasts and hips. Sebastian should have
>height, shoulders, facial hair and a deeper voice. Lacking them, they
>will appear younger.

The boy actors were able to play women when they were 19 years old.  You
happily ignore this, but they would - at such an age - have had exactly
the same "height, shoulders, facial hair and a deeper voice" as a 19
year old Sebastian.

>It is immaterial what their actual age is; as
>described they appear to be about 14. (And puh-leeze don't anyone
>lecture me about how many individuals there are who don't fit the norm.
>I know it very well. But the degree to which you lack these normative
>qualities will make you appear younger.)

The boy actors had all of these qualities, were not universally 14 or
under, and still played women convincingly (as far as Renaissance
audiences were concerned).

>5) I don't find the Portia instance significant since she's not trying
>to emulate her twin brother. As Balthasar she could wear a fake beard,
>or a least a mustache, and speak with a deeper voice.

Not according to the text, she doesn't.

Ner:  Shall they see us?

Portia:  They shall Nerissa: but in such habit,
That they shall think we are accomplished
With that we lack; I'll hold thee any wager
When we are both accoutred like young men,
I'll prove the prettier fellow ...
And speak between the change of man and boy,
With a reed voice, and turn two mincing steps
Into a manly stride ...
And twenty of these puny lies I'll tell,
That men shall swear I have discontinued school
Above a twelvemonth

Here we have all the features that you find so indicative of Sebastian's
childishness.  Portia's assumed role is "prett[y]", "between the change
of man and boy", "with a reed voice".  Yet Portia is playing an educated
young man capable of acting as the main authority in a court of law.
The last comment may give you some solace, since it could be taken to
suggest that the "man" she is playing is still a schoolboy, but I would
suggest that instead she is implying that she is old enough to have left
school (how else could she act as a lawyer?) but only just.  Since
Balthasar is of necessity considered a highly educated young man, it
should be reasonably obvious that he could not have left school early
(as Jonson and Shakespeare may well have done) and that if he has
finished grammar school for almost a year, then he is probably at or
very near the age of 17.  Marlowe went to University at 16, and William
Kemp of Plymouth Grammar School assumed that grammar boys would be able
to take a course in logic and rhetoric (presumably at that same grammar
school) between the ages of 13 and 16.  It is not reasonable to assume
that a young man who is either training as a lawyer or apprenticed to
one would have failed to finish his basic education, and would be
playing the role of principal lawyer in a law court at the age of 13 or
14, when he would be considered nothing more than a schoolboy.

>6) Subject to correction, I've always assumed that Rosalind as Ganymede
>is pretending to be a youth of about the same age as Cesario. The way
>she is described and acts in III, ii, suggests the pert (or impudent)
>boy. Orlando calls her a "pretty youth," and she herself says that she
>would, "being but a moonish youth, grieve, be effeminate, changeable,
>longing, and liking, proud, fantastical, apish, shallow, inconstant,
>full of tears, full of smiles; for every passion something and for no
>passion anything, as boys and women are for the most part cattle of this
>colour."

But again, the assumption is surely that "boys and women" are
interchangeable, something that the audience knows is the case because
they are watching and accepting a boy pretending to be a woman, and
therefore it is obvious to them that a woman could pretend to be a boy
of the same age as the actor (who may have been any age between 12 and
19).  The vast majority of the boy actors in Shakespeare's time seem to
have been older than 14, simply because they only had a couple of years
to perform at a younger age.  I would suggest that everything that is
said about "boys" is intended to apply to all of the boy actors who are
playing the parts, whether these boy actors are 12 or 19.  The irony in
the text would be much diminished if the actors were not - in
criticising boys -  being rude about themselves.

>She could, as with Viola, be played by a woman of any age --
>provided she can look like cattle of that color.
>
>7) Phebe's situation is the same as Olivia's, and no more plausible, but
>no less comic. She's is a coarser character, and her infatuation seems
>to me based more on lust (but that may be some latent snobbery on my
>part).

I would tend to disagree.  Phebe uses the stock romantic rhetoric to
describe her falling in love.  The language she uses is not really any
different to that used by Romeo and Juliet.  There is nothing comically
coarse or lustful about her "love", if there were then sexualised
rhetoric of the kind used by the Nurse might well have been more
appropriate.  Similarly although Olivia says that sight of Cesario is
part of her falling in love - as it was expected to be at the time - she
also talks about the youth's personal qualities which would not have
been part of lustful physical love, and we must assume that her love for
the identical Cesario/Sebastian is such that it will allow her a full
and happy marriage with Sebastian in order for the comic conclusion to
succeed.

>Rosalind's promise is meaningless, since she knows Phebe will be
>uninterested once she knows that R is female.

However, for Phebe to take her seriously, Phebe must have believed that
marriage between herself and Ganymede (at the age that Ganymede was
assumed to be) was plausible, realistic, and likely.  As with "Twelfth
Night", the plot depends on us assuming that this male character is of
marriageable age.  Sebastian *does* marry.  If these characters were the
same age or younger than Juliet, who Shakespeare says marries at a
surprisingly young age even for a woman, then this makes little sense.
Men were expected to marry women younger than themselves (although some,
like Shakespeare, did not), they were expected to marry at an older age
than the average woman (although some did not).  These norms are more
important in drama, based on idealised fantasy, than in real life.  The
audience would expect to see romantic norms followed.

You don't see many romantic plays or television programmes in any period
- even now, when we are more relaxed about these things in real life -
which casually (and without making it a major plot-point) focus on
relationships between very young men and much older women.  Audiences
would expect there to be an explanation for such events if they were
part of a plot, since they would be contrary to their expectations and
would otherwise jar heavily and put them off the story they were
watching.

>8) To be sure, a young woman could be pretend to be older (19 was the
>suggestion) by speaking lower (as I suggest for Portia)

Wrongly.  Portia directly says that she is speaking in a reedy voice
"between boy and man", just like Viola.

>but Viola
>doesn't. They could be any damn thing at all provided they don't look
>tall, broad-shouldered, deep-voiced, or hairy. In short, provided they
>look about 14..

But again, you seem to be sticking your head into the sand and ignoring
the fact that the boy actors who played women, were able to play
convincing women despite being 19 years old, and every bit as "tall,
broad-shouldered, deep-voiced [and] hairy" as 19 year olds were at that
time.  If the boys could play women at 19, then it seems obvious that
according to this disguise convention women could pretend to be the boy
actors.  The "young men" that Shakespeare's female characters disguise
themselves as, *were* the boy actors.  They simply dressed in male
clothes to reveal their genuine masculinity.  The obvious conclusion
from this is that the age of the "young men" that these women are
pretending to be could be exactly the same as the age of the actors who
were playing them.  The boy actors were aged between 12 and 19.

I should also point out that Viola and Sebastian's age (in the past) is
mentioned at one point in "Twelfth Night".  Their father died on Viola's
(and therefore Sebastian's) thirteenth birthday.  Since this event seems
to have taken place some time ago, in order for it to be part of their
secret knowledge by which they can identify one another, this makes it
increasingly unlikely that Viola and Sebastian were *still* 13.

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

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Whatmore <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Oct 2002 21:09:39 +0100
Subject: 13.2051 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2051 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World

On paper, Don Bloom's case for age discrepancies in Twelfth Night seems
irrefutable. But having recently seen the all-male production at the
Globe, I have to concur with Brian Willis and others that on stage, the
problem simply doesn't (or needn't) arise. Mark Rylance's miraculous
Olivia could have been anything from 20 to 50, while Michael Brown's
Viola and Rhys Meredith's Sebastian could have been late teens or early
30s. With so many layers of artifice and pretence ranged against us (the
plot, the language, the performances - especially Rylance's - the wigs,
the period costumes, the make-up, the men acting women acting men, the
spooky likeness of the twins, the playpen environment of the Globe
itself) all we spectators could really gather from the few specific
references to age, voice and bodily appearance was who was supposed to
be male and who female at any given moment. The effect was disorienting
and profoundly touching. In the end one didn't care how old they were,
what sex they were or even who they were; one just wanted these confused
human creatures to get together and be happy. And with all due respect
to the Authorial Intention thread, I guess that was really the point!

(Sorry - that's two posts in one day. Won't say another word until
November.)

Chris Whatmore

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Oct 2002 15:36:17 -0700
Subject: 13.2051 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2051 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World

Is it possible that in a world so stratified and role-bound, where
costume mattered so much, that people were not as attuned to individual
differences as we are, in this democratic age of bikinis and closeups?
That, along with the newness of "realistic" theater, would have made
Shakespeare's audience more willing, and able, to suspend their
disbelief about boys playing girls playing boys, or indistinguishable
brothers and sisters. This disparity is one reason it's so funny to see
Joseph Fiennes, in Shakespeare in Love, speak so innocently of his
passion to the thinly disguised Gwyneth Paltrow.  We can still enter
into the game when watching the plays, but with a slight sense of
playing the game that the Elizabethans may not have been so likely to
feel. Thus these long arguments about convention versus reality.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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