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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: September ::
Re: Her C's . . .
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1944  Tuesay, 24 September 2002

[1]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Sep 2002 15:55:57 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1930 Re: Her C's . . .

[2]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Sep 2002 14:26:13 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1930 Re: Her C's . . .

[3]     From:   Jan Pick <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Sep 2002 20:08:21 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1930 Re: Her C's . . .

[4]     From:   Mari Bonomi <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Sep 2002 16:57:53 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1930 Re: Her C's . . .


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Sep 2002 15:55:57 +0100
Subject: 13.1930 Re: Her C's . . .
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1930 Re: Her C's . . .

>On the other hand, the acceptance of Cesario is clearly too facile to be
>believable -- except in the context of what Shurgot has already called a
>"fairy tale." But the idea that Viola could pass herself off as a male
>in the context of the Duke's household is even more outlandish than
>that the mature Olivia would fall madly in love with a boy of twelve
>or thirteen -- not to mention Sebastian's acceptance of the marriage
>proposal from a woman of say 18-25 (and thus half a dozen to a
>dozen years older) that he's never seen before.

Where did you find their ages in the text?  I don't think they are
there, so presumably you are making assumptions about the age of the boy
player and assuming that Sebastian and Viola must be played at the exact
chronological age of the boy actor who played Viola's role.  In that
case, however, why are you assuming that Olivia - also played by a boy
actor - is five to twelve years older than both Viola and Sebastian?

The only defining age related comment that I remember from the text -
which I haven't bothered rereading before writing this, so I may be
wrong - is Malvolio's "in standing water betwixt boy and man"
description of Viola as Cesario, and since Sebastian is exactly
identical to his disguised sister we may assume that this is true of him
as well.  There is nothing to justify the assumption, however, that this
intermediate age must be 13.  Joy Leslie Gibson in "Squeaking
Cleopatras" (where her citations are more reliable than many of her
conclusions - I discussed the book here and reviewed it for "Shakespeare
Bulletin") points out that "a woman could not divorce her husband for
impotence until he had reached the age of eighteen for it was not
considered likely that he would, in the delicate Elizabethan phrase,
have enough ink in his pen until that age" (67) which suggests that
young men were considered to be between boy and man for most of their
teenage years.  Dave Kathman's research suggests that actors playing
female roles were generally aged between 13 and 19 (see, for example,
http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2000/1629.html - although Dave Kathman
has done more research since this time, and I cannot speak for his
opinions now).  The actor playing Viola, therefore, may well have been
15 or 17 or even 19, and the character could have been any of those ages
and still been convincingly young.  It is self-evident that the boy
actor, at any of these ages, was considered between boy and man since he
was considered suitably young to play a young woman convincingly, and
therefore to be between stage femininity and masculinity - a position
that he would apparently grow out of when he became a fully mature adult
male.

If we presume that the actors playing Sebastian and Viola were the same
age, then it makes sense to assume that both were near the upper end of
the boy actor's average age for playing female roles.  Sebastian must be
a convincing adult male (although perhaps a young one) while Viola must
be a convincing young woman (although the character could be much older
than the actor - boy actors played Gertrude, Volumnia, and Cleopatra
without difficulty).  My own guess would be that the actors might well
have been between 17 and 19, and the characters may have been assumed to
be a similar age, but a 15 year old acting Viola and a 25 year old
acting Sebastian, both as 20 year old characters - or something similar
- would certainly not be impossible.  The resemblance between the
characters was almost certainly the product of the audience suspending
its disbelief in any case, so age differences might not be any more
significant than any other differences in appearance between actors who
probably were not twins.

As for Olivia, we can only be certain that she is young and attractive -
people keep reminding her that she will lose her looks with age - and
that she is younger than Orsino (who tells Viola that men should love
younger women than themselves).  Orsino himself may be relatively young,
since he apparently is not surprised that Viola - between boy and man -
is in love with a woman Orsino's age.  Orsino suggests that men should
pick younger not older women, but he does not suggest that Viola's
interest in the older woman is improbable or perverse (as he might if
"Cesario" was 13, and Orsino 50).  Again, I am guessing, but I would
suspect that if there was any difference in ages between
"Cesario"/Sebastian and Olivia they would be smaller than those between
William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway (since historians still consider
his marriage to be unusual due to Anne Hathaway's comparative
maturity).  It seems quite reasonable to me that Olivia might well have
been the very same age as "Cesario"/Sebastian or very near it, so that
the age difference did not obstruct the romantic conclusion of the
play.  There is no reason why Olivia (as character, or even as actor)
might not be *younger* than "Cesario"/Sebastian.  If the actor playing
Viola was 17, Olivia might be 15 or 14, for example.  The only evidence
for Olivia's "maturity" in the text, as I remember, is her ability to
run her household and the sense of her power, both of which might be
results of her successful aristocratic upbringing and position as
unmarried heiress whose male relatives have died, and may well not be
indicators of age.

Finally, the suggestion that Viola would not - in anything other than a
"fairy tale" - have been able to disguise herself as a man, would almost
certainly not have been accepted by Renaissance audiences.  Of course
there have been many genuinely factual examples of women living in male
disguise and convincing those around them.  Fairly recently a jazz
musician who had been married three times and had adopted children was
revealed to be a woman after death, something which apparently shocked
both his adoptive children and at least some of his wives (despite a
full sex-life with what turned out to be a prosthetic penis, he told
them that he had been mutilated in an accident and did not like to have
the lights on when naked).

Renaissance pamphlets recording both "historical" myths (real history to
Renaissance audiences) and current events were filled with supposedly or
actually genuine examples of women who disguised themselves as men.
Although I cannot track down any of these sources immediately, I
remember references to two women who lived as pirates and accidentally
courted each other (with both assuming the other was male, and the whole
crew convinced by both), and to a woman who fought as a man during the
Netherlands war with Spain.  Mythologically Pope Joan and others who
made such transformations were completely believed in by many
Renaissance people.

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

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Sep 2002 14:26:13 -0400
Subject: 13.1930 Re: Her C's . . .
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1930 Re: Her C's . . .

>From:   D. Bloom 
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>But the idea that Viola could pass herself off as a male
>in the context of the Duke's household is even more outlandish than
>that the mature Olivia would fall madly in love with a boy of twelve or
>thirteen -- not to mention Sebastian's acceptance of the marriage
>proposal from a woman of say 18-25 (and thus half a dozen to a dozen

I think this measure of credibility is out of context for many reasons,
theatrical and otherwise. Theatrically, Olivia, Viola, and Sebastian are
all male actors, and if Dave Kathman's heap of evidence is to be
believed, all are in their teens.  Viola is a convincing boy because she
is in fact a boy.

Good actors have no problem generating the chemistry of love and
focusing it on whatever object the plot demands.  It is what they train
to do.  Whether they draw upon some innate pansexuality or use their
potent imaginations to change the literal being playing the scene with
them into something they find attractive is a mystery, but their
imitation of love is as credible as their imitations of wrath or fear.
A boy, a girl, an old man, a devil, a donkey-- or in modern instance,
Sylvia, Gurney's dog or Albee's goat-- all these objects and
relationships are metaphors, ways to examine the range of emotion that
is labeled "love".

> years older) that he's never seen before.

Shakespeare himself married a woman 8 years older when still in his
teens, and one of the scholars here has told us that while not usual
such older-woman- young- man marriages were fairly common at the time,
mostly for economic reasons.  Why should he or the audience regard it as
implausible if they have experienced it?

Arranged marriages in which the partners are primed to love the mate
that destiny assigns them are at least as common cross culturally as
marriage which is the result of personal courtship.  "We" tend to forget
this, because it is not part of "our' experience.  But it is common in
the narratives from which Shakespeare drew his plots, and was part of
the experience of at least part of the Globe's audience.

There are recorded instances of people who have passed their entire
lives as members of the opposite gender.   Some of them even married.
We "know" this from history and tabloid gossip, and the Globe's audience
"knew" it in the same second hand way we know it.  In addition, most
people have had the embarrassing experience of mistaking the gender of
someone, however briefly.  This is enough to lend credibility to a
disguise plot unless, as is often the case, the producers cast as Viola
an actress of blatant femininity. Whether you see a girl or a boy or
androgynous creatures in your mind's eye when you read the lines of
Viola and Sebastian is up to you.

I played Olivia twice in my youth.  One Orsino was very attractive, and
I locked myself away from him because I was attracted to him but afraid
of marrying him and being abused afterwards -- the Count, who will not
take no for an answer, has a streak of sado-masochism that makes me very
glad that Viola will have a gallant brother near by to protect her from
Orsino's volatility.   The other Orsino was cloddish, though of course
not as cloddish as Sir Andrew, the only other candidate for husband.
Cesario was simply more appealing, despite-- or even because of-- his
effeminacy.   I felt very vulnerable as Olivia, with neither father nor
brother to protect me.  Orsino is dangerous.  The moment when my new
husband Cesario denies me and sides with Orsino in act five was
terrible. Sebastian was a miracle, an unspeakable joy: having all the
qualities I admired in Cesario plus the important ones she lacked.

>In this situation, what
>difference does it make if Olivia's acceptance of Sebastian as the
>"Cesario" she fell in love with has a degree of implausibility?
>
>You may find this cynical. I find it an innocent romp.

Geralyn Horton

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playwright, actor, critic
Newton, MA
www.stagepage.org

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jan Pick <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Sep 2002 20:08:21 +0100
Subject: 13.1930 Re: Her C's . . .
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1930 Re: Her C's . . .

Yes, but Sebastian is not years younger - nor is Viola.  She appears a
young boy because she is female and therefore acting unbroken voice -
with all the double meanings and layers of the boy actor etc.  In fact,
surely Viola, the woman, is of a similar age to Olivia, and therefore,
so would her twin brother.  Therefore, this 'age' argument is somewhat
tenuous.

Jan

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mari Bonomi <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Sep 2002 16:57:53 -0400
Subject: 13.1930 Re: Her C's . . .
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1930 Re: Her C's . . .

Don Bloom says, in his discussion of 12N as fairy tale, that 

 

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