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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: April ::
Dumbshows?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0318  Tuesday, 18 April 2006

[1] 	From: 	Steve Zimmer <
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	Date: 	Monday, 17 Apr 2006 12:45:12 EDT
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0312 Dumbshows?

[2] 	From: 	John V. Knapp <
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	Date: 	Monday, 17 Apr 2006 14:01:27 -0500 (CDT)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0312 Dumbshows?

[3] 	From: 	Bob Rosen <
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	Date: 	Monday, 17 Apr 2006 15:27:51 EDT
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0312  Dumbshows?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Steve Zimmer <
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Date: 		Monday, 17 Apr 2006 12:45:12 EDT
Subject: 17.0312 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0312 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

Peter-I too am interested in the history of the dumbshow and look 
forward to the responses from the scholars who frequent this list. I 
can't resist taking the rare opportunity to actually add something to 
the conversation by mentioning that in Pericles there are not one but 3 
dumbshows, two of them coming in acts 3 and 4, and therefore likely to 
be Shakespeare's own writing. I think one reason he used them in 
Pericles was to further the general feeling that we were watching a very 
old story.

Steve Zimmer

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John V. Knapp <
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Date: 		Monday, 17 Apr 2006 14:01:27 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 17.0312 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0312 Dumbshows?

Peter et al., --

One quick answer has to do less with the dumb show per se., and more 
about the context and content of the message Hamlet gives the actors in 
setting it up.  This characterological and thematic issue is important, 
as I have argued in *Reading the Family Dance,* when Hamlet says to the 
actors:

	"One speech in't I chiefly loved -- t'was Aeneas's tale to Dido --
	and therabout of it especially when he speaks of Priam's
	slaughter. (II, ii, 442-44)

In that scene, one of the more poignant elements in Virgil's lines is 
the Queen's wrenching request of Priam: "Come to me, come to the altar;/ 
It will protect us, or at least it will let us/Die all together" (l. 448).

This closing of ranks of Priam's family to withstand the coming horror 
of "deadly Pyrrus" is reflected in Hamlet's own "chiefly loved" fantasy 
of an intact family, one where Hector's mother loves his father enough 
to die with him, and elderly father Priam loves Hector's mother enough 
to defend her to the death against Pyrrus's "villainous behavior" 
(*Reading,* 212).

Hence the planning of the dumb show is useful in reinforcing the 
emotional tension Hamlet has about his mother's "o'er hasty marriage" 
and her attempt to make Claudius Hamlet's 'substitute father.'

John V. Knapp
Professor, Dept. of English;
Northern Illinois University

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bob Rosen <
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 >
Date: 		Monday, 17 Apr 2006 15:27:51 EDT
Subject: 17.0312  Dumbshows?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0312  Dumbshows?

 >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.

Peter,

The dumb show in itself is dramatic. It also serves as flashback that 
emphasizes the crime from which all else emanates. It calls together 
most of the primary characters in their relationships. The scene also 
gives Shakespeare a chance to express his views about theater. How could 
he resist this scene when it occurred to him?

Bob Rosen

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