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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: October ::
Clocks and Bells
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1732  Wednesday, 12 October 2005

[1] 	From: 	Martin Steward <
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	Date: 	Monday, 10 Oct 2005 18:37:00 +0100
	Subj: 	SHK 16.1724 Clocks and Bells

[2] 	From: 	Holger Schott Syme <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 11 Oct 2005 11:43:13 -0400
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 16.1724 Clocks and Bells


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Martin Steward <
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Date: 		Monday, 10 Oct 2005 18:37:00 +0100
Subject: Clocks and Bells
Comment: 	SHK 16.1724 Clocks and Bells

Steve Sohmer wants to satisfy me that bells might intrude on an audience 
attending a performance at the Bankside Globe.

But I never doubted that these bells existed and that they might be 
heard within the confines of the playhouse (I work a stone's throw from 
the Globe and its surrounding places of worship).

What I doubted was that a playwright could put a play together with a 
view to making clock strikes in the performance coincide with clock 
strikes from outside the playhouse - and I doubted it because I wasn't 
convinced that either clocks or perceptions of time were as universal or 
accurate in 1600 as they are today. I thought that that was the initial 
suggestion Steve Sohmer had put before the list:

"In 'Julius Caesar,' which Shakespeare purpose-wrote to open the Globe, 
he placed references to a clock striking three, an odd hour for a 
sunset, and high tide. At line 828 Cassius remarks that "The clocke hath 
striken three." In a modern performance of Julius Caesar, this line 
falls approximately 45 minutes into the play. Thomas Platter tells us 
"at about two o'clock, I went with my party across the water" to see a 
performance of 'Julius Caesar' (Observations 466). If the play began 
shortly after 2PM, Cassius' count of the clock would fall very close to 
3PM. We cannot know how long it took Elizabethans to play 828 lines, but 
Shakespeare did." (SHK 16.1724  Clocks and Bells; Saturday, 1 Oct 2005)

Obviously my doubts are not addressed by observing that "The tower 
clocks of Shakespeare's era were notorious bad time-keepers" and that 
therefore "Elizabethans were used to having tower clocks chiming well 
out of synch."

This was precisely my point!

I have a mental picture of poor old Cassius telling us, "The clocke hath 
stricken three" at 2:50pm, before tapping his foot and glancing at his 
wristwatch for 20 minutes before the bells of St. Mary Overy finally 
responds to his cue...

m

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Holger Schott Syme <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 11 Oct 2005 11:43:13 -0400
Subject: 16.1724 Clocks and Bells
Comment: 	RE: SHK 16.1724 Clocks and Bells

Steve Sohmer's suggestions about the role of ambient city-noises in 
Shakespeare's plays were fascinating, but could be taken too far, as 
Michael Egan shows:

"The darkness (and other references) in Macbeth imply indoor performance 
in a hall lit spookily by candles."

This line of thinking is indebted to a modern (post-Shakespearean) model 
of stage verisimilitude in which representing darkness means generating 
actual darkness. In sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century 
theatres-certainly in the open-air houses, and to a large extent in the 
indoor theatres as well -- reality was not created by replicating as 
closely as possible the _visual_ appearance of actuality, but by 
invoking the real verbally (this is a completely unoriginal point and 
has been made by theatre historians such as Andrew Gurr and Alan Dessen 
over and again). _Macbeth_ is by no means Shakespeare's only play to 
harp on about darkness; __Romeo and Juliet_ is an obvious earlier 
example, and many more could be listed. These plays need to refer 
repeatedly to atmospheric and geographical/topographical conditions 
precisely because they weren't present otherwise: the audience needed to 
be constantly reminded of the sort of space they were supposed to envision.

"In 1 Richard II a man rides a horse onto the set suggesting that the 
action was intended for the outdoors, perhaps the provincial tour"

I've wondered about the horse (and the various bears elsewhere) myself, 
but again find Egan's positivism unacceptable: does he mean to suggest 
that _Woodstock_ was written _exclusively_ for performance outside the 
professional theatres? That seems wildly unlikely. Is a _real_ horse the 
only option imaginable? (Just by the by, his use of the modern 
theatrical term "set" and all it implies points to his anachronistic 
idea of how early modern plays were staged-sets are more Henry Irving or 
Charles Kean than Burbage.)

Holger Syme

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