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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: August ::
Thunder
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1510  Wednesday, 11 August 2004

[1]     From:   Peter Groves <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Aug 2004 00:25:11 +1000
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1499 Thunder

[2]     From:   Alan Jones <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Aug 2004 16:19:41 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1499 Thunder


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Groves <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Aug 2004 00:25:11 +1000
Subject: 15.1499 Thunder
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1499 Thunder

R. A. Cantrell writes "Somewhere (unknown to me at the moment) there is
a quote (more or less) of Inigo Jones exclaiming "They've stolen my
thunder.""

John Dennis, surely, about a hundred years later.

Peter Groves

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alan Jones <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Aug 2004 16:19:41 +0100
Subject: 15.1499 Thunder
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1499 Thunder

Many years ago I attempted a serious investigation of Elizabethan stage
thunder. Alas, I can't now find my notes . . .

However, I can say that I found no evidence for the thunder-sheet until
(as I recall) the late 18th or early 19th century, and that only a "toy"
version in a diorama show, not a theatre. The sheet was of copper, but
the later, virtually universal theatrical effect was achieved with thin
iron sheeting:

I don't think that could be made in Shakespeare's time in a size and to
a uniformity that would rumble decently.

The celebrated "They have stolen my thunder" lament is by a theatre
manager of almost a century later than Inigo Jones, and may or may not
refer to a thunder-run, of which there were two types: one a sort of
helter-skelter built against a backstage wall, the other a long stepped
trough running above the auditorium ceiling. This may or may not be what
Jonson alludes to as the "rolling bullet" effect. The second kind would
not, I think, have suited the Globe, as an open-air theatre, not, as far
as we can tell, the Blackfriars unless it had (who knows?) a false
ceiling under the roof. The Serlio description is fairly vague, but
would again, I think, imply a roofed theatre. The first type would have
been possible at either theatre, but it would have been a
space-consuming nuisance backstage and a very extravagant one,
considering how rarely it was needed. Provision would have been
necessary, too, for safely restraining the "bullets" (cannon balls) at
the end of the run and for hauling them back to the top of the run ready
for the next effect.

Another possibility compatible with Jonson's lines, and readily
moveable, is a long box which can be tilted on an axle (or just a log,
perhaps) so that large stones or iron balls can roll from end to end and
back again. This type of thunder-machine was commonplace in the 18th
century before it was superseded by the iron sheet, and it appears in
the stage directions in a prompt copy of a French Mystery Play dating
from just after Shakespeare's time (that's a reference I very much wish
I could find again). It would be useful if some scholar of the theatre
could discover what was done elsewhere in outdoor plays of that kind:
Spain might yield some interesting results.

A rather mysterious device is the "thunder from a mustard bowl"
satirised by Pope in The Dunciad. If he means the sort of large metal
bowl in which mustard seeds could be powdered by rolling metal balls
around (a sort of large-scale mortar and pestle), then that could - very
loosely - refer to some variant of the box just described. Far too late
and vague  to be convincing evidence for Shakespeare, but perhaps an
interestingly suggestive hint. I also recall a classical mention, again
unfortunately mislaid, to "aenea vasa" (brazen vessels) as a Greek
thunder effect - perhaps the same thing. There are many fascinating
descriptions and illustrations of thunder devices in the Diderot
Encyclop

 

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