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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: July ::
Thunder
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1466  Thursday, 22 July 2004

[1]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Jul 2004 13:05:16 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1457 Thunder

[2]     From:   Barbara D. Palmer <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Jul 2004 12:31:22 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1461 Thunder


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Jul 2004 13:05:16 +0100
Subject: 15.1457 Thunder
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1457 Thunder

Sebastian Perry asks "how thunder was created as a sound effect on the
early modern stage".

For the Italian stage, Nicola Sabbattini (1574-1654) advised having one
or more balls running along an inclined channel with irregular drops in
it (Barnard Hewitt, ed, _The Renaissance Stage: Documents of Serlio,
Sabbattini and Furttenbach_ (Coral Gables FLA: University of Miami
Press, 1958) p. 172)).

That this was also done on the London stage is suggested by the prologue
to Jonson's _Every Man in His Humour_, which lists dramatic effects that
will not be used in the play:

     nor roul'd bullet heard
To say, it thunders; nor tempestuous drumme
Rumbles, to tell you when the storme doth come;
(1616 Folio Works, A3r)

The "bullet" is presumably a cannonball providing the deep rumbling of
thunder, in which case we might expect the "tempestuous drumme" to
provide the sharp crack which accompanies lightning. The deep rumble of
thunder is in fact the same sound as the sharp crack that accompanies a
lightning strike but perceived at such a distance from the source that
the component frequencies, which travel at different speeds, form a
succession of sounds arriving over a period of time.  The likely
ignorance of this fact might explain the peculiar stage direction in
_The Tempest_, "A tempestuous noise of Thunder and Lightning heard"
(1623 Folio, TLN 2), which appears to make a distinction between thunder
and the sound of lightning.

Jonson's description of the sound effects for a storm indicates only the
deep rumble of distant thunder, but snare drums such as the tabor are
quite capable of producing the sibilant crack necessary to indicate a
lightning strike. The use of the large balls to make the sound of
thunder is corroborated by an apparent reference to them in
Shakespeare's _Othello_: "Are there no stones in heauen | But what
serues for the thunder?" (1622 quarto, M4v).

Gabriel Egan

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Barbara D. Palmer <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 21 Jul 2004 12:31:22 -0400
Subject: 15.1461 Thunder
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1461 Thunder

Shenandoah Shakespeare did a very effective job for _The Tempest_ storm
with ball bearings rolled in a tambourine shell (without the
jangles)--quite portable for different venues, unlike the thunder
machine in old silent movie houses and early U.S. theatres, which was a
sort of wooden "mill run" down which cannon balls rumbled.  Leslie
Thompson, by the way, is not a "he."

Barbara D. Palmer

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