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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: October ::
Re: Shakespeare's Performance World
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2086  Wednesday, 16 October 2002

From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 Oct 2002 17:28:07 +0100
Subject: 13.2068 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2068 Re: Shakespeare's Performance World

>I'm getting a bit weary of this thread -- and doubtless many others are,
>too. So, I'll supply only one more comment.
>
>It is immaterial to me whether the actors playing Viola / Cesario,
>Rosalind / Ganymede, Julia / Sebastian, Portia / Balthasar or any others
>were 19 or even older. If they are short, slight, beardless and
>high-voiced they will appear (when wearing male clothing) like boys of
>about 14.

In other words you've just given up your only argument.  You have told
us that Sebastian and Viola (and - by implication - the male characters
played by Rosalind, Portia and every other disguised woman) can only be
13 or 14 because they are described as having no hair on their faces and
reedy voices, being "between man and boy".  You then tell us that
actually all of the male actors playing female roles in Shakespeare's
company must have fulfilled these same criteria and that - whether they
were 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, or 19 - they will have been "short, slight,
beardless and high-voiced" and "appear about 14".  Now all we have to do
to demolish your remarkably empty argument is point out that - by your
own reasoning - a large number of 17 to 19 year olds in Shakespeare's
days looked exactly the way that Viola's Cesario and Sebastian, Portia's
Balthasar, Rosalind's Ganymede, and so on, are described (you claim that
these were the very type of late teenager chosen to play women's
parts).  Therefore Viola, Portia and Rosalind are very likely to be
imitating, and Sebastian is very likely to be, exactly this sort of
late-teenage young man.

If you try to determine the age of the characters from the text, then
you have only the feminine appearance and indeterminate age (between
child and adult male) - which you have just said could apply just as
easily to the 19 year olds that we know sometimes played these parts -
and a lot of references to actions and abilities that would seem very
unlikely in 13 year old boys, who even in Shakespeare's time were
regarded as schoolchildren without adult experience or standing.  I
would argue that no 13 or 14 year old schoolboy could be the main
authority in a Court of Law (as Portia's Balthasar is), nor is such a
boy likely to have married in Shakespeare's day (as Ganymede offers to
do, Cesario is begged to do, and Sebastian actually does), nor would
anybody believe that such a boy was "Fencer to the Sophy" (as Belch
tells Aguecheek Cesario is) or likely to win a swordfight with an
experienced adult soldier (Toby apparently won his knighthood on the
battlefield - hence his contempt for Aguecheek's carpet-consideration)
even if he was drunk, nor would Renaissance (or even modern) audiences
have been likely to accept - without at the very least some explanation
- a love affair and marriage between a 13 or 14 year old boy and a woman
in her mid-twenties (as you have suggested the courtship between Olivia
and Cesario and Ganymede and Phebe would be, and as you have suggested
the marriage between Sebastian and Olivia was - to fulfil Renaissance
romantic norms, as Orsino makes clear, the women would have to be
younger than the men).  In other words all the evidence within these
plays - including the implication that Portia's Balthasar has left
school for possibly as much as a year, but would have to lie to persuade
people that he was older - clearly suggests that the women pretending to
be men and Sebastian (who looks just like his disguised sister) are
considered to be young but not fully mature adults (that is, by our
standards, late teenagers) rather than schoolchildren.

>(You got me on the Portia gaffe. I remembered something, gave a cursory
>look to the text, and missed what I didn't want to see. Dumb, but not
>unprecedented.)

Fair enough, but it leaves you with no easy dismissal of Portia's
Balthasar as not fitting your rules.  You seem, in your comments about
this, to have agreed that Portia's Balthasar must be older than 13 or 14
in order to act in such a way in a court of law.  We have evidence from
the text - which you missed - that Balthasar is the same age and has the
same youthful appearance as Cesario/Sebastian.  If we accept, as you
seem to have done, that Balthasar might well be 19, then we must also
accept that Cesario/Sebastian probably are as well.

>(I'm neither surprised nor troubled that the production CW refers to was
>found engrossing. Excellent acting can transcend all manner of strange,
>unexpected and even mistaken directorial decisions, provided the text is
>not too crummy. Since Shakespeare's texts are some distance above
>crummy, you can do all sorts of things with them and have them work --
>if you've got the actors.)

The reconstructed Globe tends to use older actors than did companies in
Shakespeare's day.  They have said that teenage boys

 

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