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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: April ::
Representations of the Living
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0651  Thursday, 7 April 2005

From:           Thomas Pendleton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 6 Apr 2005 15:25:03 -0400
Subject: 16.0607 Representations of the Living
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0607 Representations of the Living

This gets to be a complicated question.  Perhaps somebody should write a
book or a dissertation on it.  Generally, living people weren't
portrayed on stage, and if they were, the actors might well be in deep
trouble.  Still, there are a number of exceptions, and even a number of
kinds of exceptions:

1) Politics, usually international. Although in 1624 Middleton's Game at
Chess examined at length the question of the proposed marriage of Prince
Charles (soon to be Charles I) to a Spanish princess.  Most of the
people involved are designated as chess pieces, but Gondomar the Spanish
ambassador is, as I recall, called Gondomar.  A great and scandalous
success, the play ran for nine consecutive days before being suppressed,
but the players were back in business in a couple of weeks-seemingly a
slap on the wrist for impertinence in the right direction.  Five years
earlier, Fletcher and Massinger put Sir John Vanolden Barnavelt on
stage, according to the Revels History, within six weeks of the title
character's execution, even though the play was censored and re-written
in the interim.  Obviously, most of the participants-notably Maurice of
Nassau, who ordered the execution-were still alive.  Chapman's two-part
The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Byron appeared in 1608, about a year after
the title character's beheading.  The living characters included the
King, Henry of Navarre, a couple of foreign rulers with whom Byron had
conspired, the judges who condemned him, and assorted courtiers. As
performed originally, The Conspiracy included a scene in which Henry's
queen, Marie de Medici, thrashes Henry's mistress.  The lady's name was
DeVerneuil, although Chapman calls her D'Entragues: Chapman always seems
to  provide Anglicized real names for the men, but pseudonyms for the
women-toujours la politesse.  The French ambassador complained, some
actors were imprisoned, and much to Chapman's dismay, the offending
scene-and much else-was cut from the published text and never restored.
(Henry of Navarre seems to have been the most popular of these
exceptional figures: as Larry Weiss noted, he's in Massacre of
Paris-along with his first wife, Marguerite of Valois-and he must have
been very prominent in the lost three- or four-part sequence by Dekker
and Day on The Civil Wars of France [1598-99].)

Chapman also explored French court politics earlier in Bussy D'Amboise
(1604) and later in The Revenge of Bussy D'Amboise (1610).  Since Bussy
was murdered in 1579, most of his friends and enemies had died by the
time Chapman wrote, but there is an interesting exception. A nobleman
named Montsurry was one of the group that conspired in Bussy's death-he
was the husband of Bussy's mistress-and he was still alive when Chapman
had Bussy's fictional brother, Clermont D'Amboise, avenge his murder in
the second play.  Thus, Montsurry was alive in Paris while Clermont was
killing him on stage in London: well, living is the best revenge.

2. True Crime:  Real-life domestic tragedies sometimes were dramatized.
The best example is the anonymous Arden of Faversham, but it's about
forty years after the crime, so no living people would have been
portrayed.  Around 1605-1608, the Walter Calverly story seems to have
been portrayed in Wilkens' Miseries of Enforced Marriage and in the
anonymous Yorkshire Tragedy.  Although the victims and the criminals
were dead, there were probably some living people who had been involved
and were portrayed.  Obviously, the critical details would require some
heavy researching.  There also seems to have been in the lost 1594 play
Keep the Widow Waking a dramatizing of a bizarre crime committed in the
same year, hence, real living people put on stage.

3. The Poetomachia.  In the exchange of attacks between Ben Jonson's
Poetaster and Dekker's Satiromastix (both 1601), both plays represented
Jonson as Horace, Dekker as Demetrius, and John Marston as Crispinus.
The real names don't occur, but when Jonson has Crispinus vomit up gobs
of Marston's vocabulary, it's clear that the scene is meaningless
without the off-stage identifications.  These are plays of the competing
boys' companies, and they presume an especially au courant audience,
that would not ordinarily be the case in Shakespeare's theater.

4. Cameo appearances by the royal family:  In Macbeth, I presume that
the eighth king "who bears a glass" showing "many more" and some with
"twofold balls and treble scepters" is James I, King of England and
Scotland and putatively founder of a dynasty that will stretch out to
the crack of doom (i.e., the Hanoverians).  James also seems to make an
appearance in Jonson, Marston, and Chapman's Eastward Ho: a character
appears briefly to comment  with a Scots accent that "He's one of my
twenty-pound knights." The reference to James's notorious selling of
knighthoods was clear enough to get Jonson at least imprisoned and
threatened with having his ears cut off. Finally, in masques, like
Jonson's Masque of Blackness, Queen Anne and her ladies appear, formally
at least within roles-e.g., black ladies in search of beauty-which they
then drop and appear as themselves.  Whether this means portraying
living characters on stage will require examining the nature and extent
of mimesis, and this is long enough already.

I'm sure there are more examples and species of examples.

Tom Pendleton

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