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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: February ::
Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0425  Friday, 13 February 2004

[1]     From:   Todd Pettigrew <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Feb 2004 15:55:57 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0406 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
Performers?

[2]     From:   Bruce W. Richman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Feb 2004 14:11:40 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0406 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
Performers?

[3]     From:   W.L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Feb 2004 16:05:45 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0406 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
Performers?

[4]     From:   John Reed <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Feb 2004 23:37:49 -0800
        Subj:   Reply to Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the...


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Todd Pettigrew <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Feb 2004 15:55:57 -0400
Subject: 15.0406 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0406 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
Performers?

In Othello, Iago happily sets Cassio on a course that will lead to
disaster and then asks

And what's he then that says I play the villain?
When this advice is free I give and honest,
Probal to thinking and indeed the course
To win the Moor again?

Arguably Iago is anticipating a potential bit of name calling, but it's
easy to imagine Shakespeare anticipating the audience yelling at Iago at
this point. Or perhaps the line was changed after audiences repeatedly
being yelling and throwing nutshells at the actor in this scene.
Alternately, one might imagine this line as an invitation for audience
members to start yelling...

t.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce W. Richman <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Feb 2004 14:11:40 -0600
Subject: 15.0406 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0406 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
Performers?

Here are some other plays within plays in the Shakespeare canon:

LLL: The Masque of the 9 Worthies

H IV 1: Hal and Falstaff create a self-mocking skit in II.iv

R III: Richard and Buckingham pre-arrange a little play with Richard
pretending disinterest in the crown. Thomas More's famous piece on
Richard has more on this episode.

JC: Caesar stages a similar rejection of interest in the proffered crown.

KJ: II.i.375-6. Citizens on the battlements watching soldiers "As a
theatre, whence they gape and point/At your industrious scenes and acts
of death."

Tempest IV.i. Prospero addresses Juno, Ceres, and Iris: "Spirits, which
by mine art I have from their confines call'd to enact my present
fantasies."

Timon holds a masque at his banquet.

Coriolanus is full of playhouse metaphors expressing his sense that
campaigning is a sham.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W.L. Godshalk <
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 >
Date:           Thursday, 12 Feb 2004 16:05:45 -0500
Subject: 15.0406 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0406 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
Performers?

Tiffany Sterne's Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan, p. 115,
suggests that playwrights may have taken audience reaction seriously,
"revising plays directly after the first night in the light of the
audience criticism."  But perhaps this isn't the kind of audience
backtalk that you are interested in.

The last scene of LLL also has a disruptive onstage audience.

Bill Godshalk

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Reed <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Feb 2004 23:37:49 -0800
Subject:        Reply to Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the...

This is an interesting question to me.   For some reason I imagine the
original (Globe) audiences to be unlike modern ones in two ways: they
wanted to be paid attention to, and they tended to be rowdy (many of
them may have been drunk).  Perhaps some of them frequented the bear
baitings as well.  So they may have been an active audience, and also a
tough audience.  A playwright would have to deal with that.  Certain of
the plays within plays may have been devices to manage the real
audience, by providing models of decorum.  Another way to manage an
audience is to give it a play absolutely riveting; I can think of some
examples there.

Nowadays hardly any lines are ever delivered aside (especially in filmed
versions) -- someone is going to object and bring up Shenandoah
Shakespeare Express, or something similar -- but even if some companies
do this it is still rare, on the whole.  But I'm guessing on the Globe
stage the incidence of aside lines might have been as high as 20
percent.  That's acknowledging the audience.  Now as to whether the
audience actively responded, well, I can well believe they did.  I can
easily imagine them on their own initiative (some of them, anyway)
jeering at the female characters almost as a matter of course: "Woooh,
Desdemona, nice tits!"  She better have something important to say when
she first enters.  "My noble father, I do perceive here a divided
duty..."   The idea that leading questions were purposely delivered to
invite a response is intriguing.  Whatever response is given (if any),
then the character goes on to develop his own thought.  Sounds like a
way to include the audience more fully in the characters and the play as
a whole.

There is a scene in one of the Henry 6s between Margaret and Suffolk
which to me looks like a double soliloquy: two characters on stage, each
of them basically speaking to the audience, with the other character
overhearing, and sometimes they exchange some dialogue and also make
comments on the other soliloquy in their own soliloquy.  I can't see the
scene performed that way now (I actually did see it once and it was
heavily cut and what remained was entirely dialogue (surprise)).  An
occasional doube soliloquy might be another way to maintain audience
involvement.

There are so many things that on a modern stage are constants that could
have been variables on the original stage.  There are some lines here
and there which look suspiciously like lines of dialogue which were
nevertheless delivered aside.  An example occurs in Macbeth.  Duncan is
found murdered, and I think it is Malcolm who says something like, "Oh,
what is amiss?"  And Macbeth says something like, "You are, and do not
know it."  That line of Macbeth's if given to the audience, has the
effect of treating the audience as a character, in this case, Malcolm.
Audience Personification.  More audience involvement.

But whether they had alternative lines prepared for different audience
responses, as in videogames, that I doubt.

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