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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: April ::
Dumbshows?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0324  Wednesday, 19 April 2006

[1] 	From: 	Alan Dessen <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 18 Apr 2006 11:43:06 -0400 (EDT)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0318 Dumbshows?

[2] 	From: 	Kenneth Chan <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 19 Apr 2006 10:44:31 +0800
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0318 Dumbshows?

[3] 	From: 	Steve Roth <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 18 Apr 2006 23:29:00 -0700
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0312 Dumbshows?

[4] 	From: 	David Lindley <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 19 Apr 2006 12:39:44 +0100
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0318 Dumbshows?

[5] 	From: 	Jeffrey Jordan <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 19 Apr 2006 12:09:30 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0312 Dumbshows?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Alan Dessen <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 18 Apr 2006 11:43:06 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 17.0318 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0318 Dumbshows?

Here's the entry for *dumb show* from *A Dictionary of Stage Directions 
in English Drama, 1580-1642* (Cambridge UP, 1999):

Alan Dessen

dumb show:  sometimes abbreviated to show, this term refers to mimed 
performances of various lengths in about forty-five plays (in more than 
fifty other plays with a dumb show the terms are not used in 
directions); 1) many dumb shows are simply or primarily an expedient 
means of summarizing events not presented due to time and/or staging 
constraints, 2) others are more complex, often revealing information to 
the audience in order to create dramatic irony, 3) still others are 
overtly allegorical, requiring explication; staging conventions that for 
other actions made specific directions unnecessary did not exist for 
dumb shows, so that virtually all are described in detail too great to 
reproduce here; the few dumb shows not described usually represent well 
known stories or events: "the show of Lucrece" (John of Bordeaux, 1267), 
"the show of Troilus and Cressida" (Rare Triumphs, 219, also 225, 231, 
237, 243), "the solemn show of the marriage" (Two Maids of More-Clacke, 
A1v), or the description is supplied by a chorus/prologue/presenter 
(Spanish Tragedy, 3.15.28; 2 Fair Maid of the West, 387); the following 
roughly chronological list of those plays which use dumb show (or the 
abbreviation show) in directions demonstrates its continuous popularity 
and usefulness: Arraignment of Paris, 456, 478, 494, 496; Three Lords of 
London, I2r I3v; Battle of Alcazar, 24 8, 35 40, 1256 7; Battle of 
Alcazar plot, 5 10, 24 30, 55 65, 90 101; 2 Seven Deadly Sins, 14, 80; 
Edward I, 1964; Locrine, 2 8, 431 8, 961 4; Warning for Fair Women, D1r 
v, G2v G3r; Weakest Goeth, 1 8; Thracian Wonder, B4v; Antonio's Revenge, 
3.1.0, 5.1.0; Satiromastix, 2.1.83; Whore of Babylon, before 1.1, 27 52, 
1.2.81, 2.2.185, 4.1.0, 4.4.0; Hamlet, Q1 F3r, Q2 H1v, Folio 1990 2002, 
3.2.135; 1 Fair Maid of the West, 275; 1 If You Know Not Me, 216, 228, 
239; Revenger's Tragedy, I2v; Macbeth, 1657 8, 4.1.111; Travels of Three 
English Brothers, 351, 403; Pericles, C1v, 2.Chorus.16; Christian Turned 
Turk, F2v; Valiant Welshman, C4v; Henry VIII, 2642 57, 4.2.82; Four 
Plays in One, 321, 326; Golden Age, 19 20, 35, 53, 72, 78 9; Silver Age, 
96 7, 146, 156; Brazen Age, 239; White Devil, 2.2.23, 37; Tom a Lincoln, 
149 55, 165 71, 1701 6, 2860 5; Swetnam, G2r; Hengist, before 1.2, 1 12, 
before 2.3, 1 22, before 4.3, 1 17; Prophetess, 363; Herod and 
Antipater, C3r, F3v, F4r, I4v; Two Noble Ladies, 1543 9; Faithful 
Friends, 2476 84; Game at Chess, Malone MS 1187 90; Jews' Tragedy, 1102 
10; Maidenhead Well Lost, 127, 144, 151 2; Bloody Banquet, 846 59; Queen 
and Concubine, 46; Cunning Lovers, I2v; Landgartha, F1r.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Kenneth Chan <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 19 Apr 2006 10:44:31 +0800
Subject: 17.0318 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0318 Dumbshows?

Peter Goldman writes: "What was the fascination with dumbshows about? 
... 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 interesting question about the dumbshow in Hamlet - especially if 
dumbshows were outmoded during Shakespeare's lifetime - is why 
Shakespeare included it.

This dumbshow is significant to the play because it effectively set up 
the problem of why the King did not react to it, a problem that 
generated much academic debate over the last century. If the dumbshow 
could simply have been dispensed with, why did Shakespeare include it? 
Did Shakespeare overlook the problem it caused, or was that deliberate?

Kenneth Chan

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Steve Roth <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 18 Apr 2006 23:29:00 -0700
Subject: 17.0312 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0312 Dumbshows?

I know fairly little about the larger history/tradition of dumb shows 
beyond readings here and there, generally yielding the impressions that 
Peter Goldman relates. (Does anyone know: Is there a reasonably 
comprehensive study out there somewhere?)

But, a few items on Hamlet and dumb shows, perhaps peripheral to Peter's 
questions but perhaps pertinent because they illuminate how S., in H., 
is riffing on the outdated dumb-show tradition/conventions:

* I can't remember where I read it, maybe JD Wilson in WHIH: the Hamlet 
dumb show is the only known instance of an Elizabethan dumb show that 
exactly mimics the action of the play which it precedes. (True?)

* Definitely Wilson: Hamlet's miching mallecho line, "the players will 
tell all," and his whole air of being so exercised about the dumb show 
and prologue, are because he didn't intend them--the players did them 
without consulting him, and he thinks they're screwing up his scheme by 
giving it away in advance.

Ophelia's confusion is definitely interesting and odd, and to me at the 
moment, somewhat inexplicable from the 
what-was-S-trying-to-do/achieve-here perspective, except perhaps by 
providing lines for Hamlet to reply to, voicing his anxieties and anger 
and letting the (outer) audience (us, I mean) know how he feels about 
the situation.

Steve Zimmer: thanks so much for the note on three (count 'em, 3!) dumb 
shows in Pericles. I shall run, not walk, to check them out.

Steve

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Lindley <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 19 Apr 2006 12:39:44 +0100
Subject: 17.0318 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0318 Dumbshows?

I'm surprised no one so far has mentioned Dieter Mehl's study, 'The 
Elizabethan Dumb Show' (1965). It answers many of the questions so far 
asked - though leaving plenty of room for further enquiry.

David Lindley

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Jeffrey Jordan <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 19 Apr 2006 12:09:30 -0500
Subject: 17.0312 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0312 Dumbshows?

Replying to Peter Goldman.

 >The criticism I've read suggests that the dumbshow
 >functions to foreshadow the main action. ...

In Hamlet it does, but that isn't what a dumb show typically did. 
According to Harold Jenkins, writing in the Arden edition of Hamlet, a 
dumb show would normally be used to present things that could not be 
given in dialogue, for some reason, or a dumb show would be emblematic 
for the play.  Jenkins calls it "singular" for the dumb show in Hamlet 
to give an exact representation of the play (and I don't know of any 
reason to disagree.)  Hamlet arranged the dumb show before the Mousetrap 
play with a special purpose, to help drive home the point to Claudius, 
but such a special-purpose stratagem would not arise in the performance 
of plays in general.

The Elizabethans were fond of emblematic treatments of subjects. That's 
shown in the popularity of emblem books around that time, for one thing. 
There's a nice site about emblem books here, with examples from that era:

http://emblem.libraries.psu.edu/home.htm

The Elizabethans also liked masques, or at least they were popular at 
the royal court.  So, emblematic, or allegorical or symbolic, treatments 
were generally popular, and a common part of the culture.   Symbolic 
treatments of subjects, done in some way, have always been popular. 
Apparently, then, a dumb show would ordinarily be used to "set the 
stage" in a thematic way for a play.

How the custom of dumb shows arose, well, I haven't researched this and 
can only guess, so please understand that, but for the Elizabethans it 
probably came from the Catholic Church tradition of teaching by 
allegory.  The Catholics found that necessary because of dealing with so 
many different languages and cultures.  They could translate, or employ 
locals, but still, symbolism that doesn't rely on spoken language is 
highly desirable in the multi-lingual situation of Europe (and the 
world.)  Even the local area of London was significantly multi-lingual, 
and multi-dialect.  Still is.  A play with dialogue has to be written in 
one particular language, of course.  So I suppose that dumb shows, such 
as the Elizabethans used, probably go back to cross-cultural invention, 
not relying on any particular spoken language.

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