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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: April ::
Dumbshows?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0312  Monday, 17 April 2006

From: 		Peter Goldman <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 12 Apr 2006 09:52:16 -0600
Subject: 	Dumbshows?

What was the fascination with dumbshows about? In Hamlet's advice to the 
players, he suggests that a taste for dumbshows was characteristic of an 
unrefined popular audience (" . . . the groundlings, who are for the 
most part capable of nothing but dumbshows and noise" [3.2.11-12]). And 
of course Shakespeare apparently dispenses with dumbshows (except for a 
play within the play), as do his contemporaries, suggesting that they 
are outmoded during his lifetime. The criticism I've read suggests that 
the dumbshow functions to foreshadow the main action. I also seem to 
recall reading that dumbshows or miming go back to the Roman stage 
tradition. Hamlet's comments after the dumbshow of the Murder of Gonzago 
suggests his impatience ("Marry, this' miching mallico; it means 
mischief"). Strangely, Ophelia seems unable to grasp the dumbshow, 
asking Hamlet twice what it means, and speculating that it "imports the 
argument of the play."

My questions are: why did they need a dumbshow to foreshadow the main 
action, at least in the dramatic tradition which precedes Shakespeare? 
How did this custom arise? How widespread and important was it? and what 
was the attraction of dumbshows? They seem completely dispensable to me, 
but then I've never been a fan of street mimes either.

Thanks,
Peter

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