The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1979 Thursday, 26 September 2002
From: D. Bloom <
Date: Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 09:32:38 -0500
Subject: 13.1944 Re: Her C's . . .
Comment: Re: SHK 13.1944 Re: Her C's . . .
I'm disinclined to spend the time to reply in detail -- not because I
don't value the questions that have been raised -- but because I have
papers to grade and other chores which I cannot afford to shirk (mainly
because they just get worse). I will, however, make some effort to
explain my reasoning on the age question. I did not mean to imply that
the age and gender business of 12N was impossible, but merely unlikely
and outlandish -- piling one unlikelihood on another made it such that
you have to suspend a good deal more disbelief than is ordinarily
Thus, while it isn't impossible that Viola could get away with
pretending to be a man, the technical difficulties facing her would be
extreme. Aside from the fact that she could never let herself be seen
even partly naked (not easy in a barracks environment), she could not
even relieve herself in the casual way that men do. She would have to
spend of good deal of time getting around these problems. And what she
would do about her menses is another whole question.
As to her age, we have three aspects: the actor's age, the character's
age, and the character's apparent age. The first two don't really matter
to me. All that's relevant to my point about Olivia falling in love
with Cesario is that he can hardly appear to be older than about
fourteen and fit the description. The most telling point about him is
his treble voice, the "smalll pipe" that Orsino remarks on. Now it is
not impossible that a boy's voice won't change much later, but the norm
is 14-15. That is the age range, therefore, that Cesario will appear to
be younger than. Appear. Olivia falls in love with an appearance, "a
dream," as Viola herself puts it.
Aside from the voice, this appearance has not grown tall or
broad-shouldered, nor begun to shave, as men do in their mid-teens. I
therefore place her appearance at no more than 15, and better yet a bit
younger -- in appearance -- to make sense of the business. And that is
how I would cast the part (assuming a woman would play the role). I
wouldn't care about her actual age, only that she could look like "a
codling before it is an apple."
Olivia, for her part, has always seemed to me quite different from
Juliet. Whatever age we may guess at for her, she acts -- to my mind --
like a woman who is fully grown up. And she is certainly treated as such
by the duke. She has, we see, assumed the title and property without any
I hope this clarifies what I was getting at. Mature young women, whether
18 or 25, are not normally interested in immature young men of 14. I
prefer not to think of Olivia as a pervert, so I reiterate that it puts
us so far into the fantastic that we near the borders of fairy tale.
(And puh-leeze don't ask me to define that term).
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