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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: October ::
Women Fencing
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1925  Thursday, 2 October 2003

From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Oct 2003 12:02:25 -0500
Subject: 14.1906 Women Fencing
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1906 Women Fencing

Stevie Gamble responds,

>Fighting and fencing are completely different activities; the challenge
>for the actor is to convey that without the bloodshed that real fighting
>occasions.

Very apt. It might be easier in all circumstances to reserve the term
"fencing" for the sport (with its rules, judging, and scoring), and use
"fighting" for the swordplay when people are trying to kill one another.
But it may be too late.

With that in mind, we can see that the swordplay in *Macbeth* and *1
Henry IV" is fighting. Young Siward and Macbeth are killed on stage in
the former; Blount and Hotspur in the latter -- no judging, no points.
Victory is determined by whether you leave the field under your own
power.

In *Hamlet* the swordplay begins as fencing (or at least ostensibly as
such) and then switches to fighting when the frustrated Laertes
scratches Hamlet to poison him.

I have always assumed that the swordplay in *R&J* was likewise fighting,
though I have seen it suggested that the battles between Tybalt and
Benvolio in the opening scene and between Tybalt and Mercutio in III, i,
were not necessarily intended to be duels to death, but an opportunity
to assert mastery over an enemy and humiliate him by disarming him (a la
Zorro), wounding him, forcing him to beg for life, and so forth. Death
for one would be a possible, but not a necessary, result.

This, unfortunately, rather muddies our differentiation of fencing and
fighting, but it certainly would have connections to Medieval battles
(in wars as well as tournaments) in which people who were worth
something could surrender and force their families (or, in Chaucer's
case, the government) to ransom them.

I don't know about the validity of this suggestion. Any thoughts?

Cheers,
 don

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