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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: August ::
Doubt
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0720  Friday, 4 August 2006

[1] 	From: 	Jack Heller <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 3 Aug 2006 11:58:15 -0400 (EDT)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0713 Doubt

[2] 	From: 	David Kathman <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 3 Aug 2006 12:18:59 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0713 Doubt

[3] 	From: 	John W. Kennedy <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 03 Aug 2006 13:26:10 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0713 Doubt

[4] 	From: 	Michael Luskin <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 3 Aug 2006 13:59:29 EDT
	Subj: 	SHK 17.0713 Doubt

[5] 	From: 	Geralyn Horton <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 3 Aug 2006 14:46:59 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0713 Doubt

[6] 	From: 	William Godshalk <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 03 Aug 2006 15:06:00 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0713 Doubt

[7] 	From: 	Jeffrey Jordan <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 3 Aug 2006 15:30:12 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0713 Doubt

[8] 	From: 	Alan Horn <
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	Date: 	Friday, 4 Aug 2006 00:55:16 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0713 Doubt


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Jack Heller <
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Date: 		Thursday, 3 Aug 2006 11:58:15 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 17.0713 Doubt
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0713 Doubt

I resisted contributing to this thread until now because I thought it 
was going to die sooner. However, there are two things which the 
consideration of the subject ought to include, and I have not seen them 
mentioned yet in this thread. First is this passage from Twelfth Night, 
Act 5:

Orsino. Be not amazed; right noble is his blood.
If this be so, as yet the glass seems true,
I shall have share in this most happy wreck.
[To VIOLA]
Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times
Thou never shouldst love woman like to me.

Viola. And all those sayings will I overswear;
And those swearings keep as true in soul
As doth that orbed continent the fire
That severs day from night.

Orsino. Give me thy hand;
And let me see thee in thy woman's weeds.

Especially in this play, I don't think Orsino's "Boy" and "let me see 
thee in thy woman's weeds" suggest that Shakespeare had in mind a female 
performance of the role of Viola.

Secondly, early modern records do occasionally note the appearance of a 
woman on stage. I don't know which woman was first nor how often this 
occurred, but records show that Mary Frith appeared following a 
performance of The Roaring Girl, a play based on Frith's public persona. 
  Frith was notorious for dressing in men's clothing, which she 
apparently did at this performance.

Jack Heller

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Kathman <
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Date: 		Thursday, 3 Aug 2006 12:18:59 -0500
Subject: 17.0713 Doubt
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0713 Doubt

Dan Decker wrote: "I believe the proscription against female players was 
only enforced against public performance. Is there any evidence that 
women might have played the female roles when the company was performing 
in the homes of the great lords and other non-public venues? Or at court?"

Short answer: no. As far as anyone can tell, the proscription was a 
general one, with the force of social custom rather than law. The 
company would obviously need to train women to act if they were to 
perform at court or in private performances, and the evidence that they 
did so is absolutely zero.

Charles Weinstein wrote: "the historical record gives no hint of infant 
phenomena among The King's Men, I rely upon my own experience and 
ordinary sense in concluding that the boys were probably inadequate."

They would not have been "infant" phenomena. The boys who played female 
roles in the pre-Restoration English theatre were between 13 and 21 
years old, as I show in exhaustive detail in my article "How Old Were 
Shakespeare's Boy Actors?" in Shakespeare Survey 58 (just out late last 
year). It's possible to reconstruct the roster of boys employed by the 
Chamberlain's-King's Men with surprising thoroughness from the late 
1590s onward.

And Mr. Weinstein underestimates what the historical record shows. In 
fact, we do have contemporary praise of a performance by one of the 
King's Men's boys -- by Henry Jackson of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, 
who saw the King's Men perform Othello there in September 1610 to large 
crowds and "full applause", and recorded his impressions in Latin. Of 
Desdemona, he wrote, "At vero Desdemona illa apud nos a marito occisa, 
quanquam optime semper causam agit, interfecta tamen magis movebat; cum 
in facto in leto decumbens spectantium misericordiam ipso vultu 
imploret." ("In truth, that famous Desdemona who was killed in front of 
us by her husband, acted her whole part supremely well, but surpassed 
herself when she was actually killed, being yet more moving, for when 
she fell back upon the bed she implored pity from the spectators by her 
very face.") (This translation is from Joy Leslie Gibson, Squeaking 
Cleopatras, pp. 193-94; Jackson's diary entry was first noted in TLS, 20 
July 1933, p. 494.) Desdemona in this production may have been played by 
John Rice, who was the King's Men's leading boy actor in 1610; on 31 May 
of that year, he played the "fayre and beautiful Nimphe" Corinea of 
Cornwall opposite Richard Burbage's Amphion, in a water pageant honoring 
Henry's creation as Prince of Wales. Rice was probably in his late teens 
at the time; in my Survey article I suggest that he may be the John Rice 
baptized at St. Bride's Fleet Street on 22 September 1591, which would 
make him almost exactly 19 at the time of the Corpus Christi 
performance. By 29 August 1611, he had jumped to the newly-formed Lady 
Elizabeth's Men, made up largely of young men who had recently been 
apprentices and/or boy actors.

Mathew Lyon replied to Charles Weinstein: "With regard to the first 
point, it is true, as far as I know, for the King's Men; but more 
generally I would refer Mr Weinstein to Jonson's epitaph on the boy 
actor Solomon Pavy. Pavy - presumably (I think) one of Hamlet's little 
eyases at Blackfriars - specialised in playing old men; but I see no 
reason why an 11-year old boy, suitably trained, should be intrinsically 
capable of simulating old age effectively but not capable of simulating 
femininity."

Actually, Pavy was born in 1588, and was between 12 and 14 when he 
performed with the Children of the Chapel; he died in 1602 at the age of 
14. But the boys in the all-boy companies were a bit younger than the 
boys in the adult companies, as I discuss a bit in my article; Pavy 
would have been pretty young for the Chamberlain's-King's Men.

John W. Kennedy wrote: "That males played the female roles in London 
needs not to be extrapolated from "Hamlet"; the direct documentary 
evidence is plain. What is in some doubt, as I understand it, is whether 
/all/ females were played by pre-pubescent boys (puberty, of course, 
came later in those days than it does in the modern West), or whether 
some character roles were played by mature men."

I discuss this question at some length in my Survey article, cited 
above. First of all, female roles were not necessarily played by 
"pre-pubescent" boys. Even allowing for the generally later age of 
puberty then, many of the boys who played women were in their late teens 
or very early 20s, and thus definitely post-pubescent, though they 
probably retained the ability to speak in a convincing falsetto for 
several years. "Boy" in this context did not have our modern meaning of 
"pre-pubescent male"; it had the then-common meaning of "male 
apprentice". As for the question of whether such boys played all the 
female roles, the answer is essentially yes; I only found one possible 
example of an adult sharer playing a female role in the early 1630s, but 
it was an extremely minor role of five lines, and the role assignment is 
dubious on a number of grounds. At the Restoration, there is evidence 
that adult men sometimes played female roles alongside boys such as 
Edward Kynaston, during the brief period before actresses became 
well-established; however, that's no reflection of pre-war conditions, 
since trained boy actors were undoubtedly scarce in 1660 when legal 
playing was returning in full force.

Dave Kathman

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[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John W. Kennedy <
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Date: 		Thursday, 03 Aug 2006 13:26:10 -0400
Subject: 17.0713 Doubt
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0713 Doubt

Mathew Lyons <
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 >1   Mozart wrote great music for the piano.
 >2   Today's pianos are better instruments than any that Mozart could 
have known.
 >3   Ergo, Mozart wrote for today's instruments, not those of his own day.

A musician's reply, of course, is that there are modern makers of 
Mozart-era pianos (called, for convenience, "fortepianos", although 
"pianoforte" and "fortepiano" were synonymous in Mozart's day, precisely 
because today's pianos, designed for Romantic-era piano-vs-orchestra 
works, are actually poorer for performing Mozart or even Beethoven. This 
would seem, as an analogy, to go too far in the opposite direction.

Charles Weinstein <
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 >The idea that a great artist cannot create magnificently vivid characters
 >on his own is quite untrue:  look at Dickens, who had no actors to help
 >him at all; look at any great novelist.  The idea that a supreme 
artist like
 >Shakespeare could not have created his female characters without relying
 >on the variable and embryonic talents of teen-aged male apprentices
 >strikes me as not only unfounded but ludicrous; and an insult to
 >Shakespeare.

It is you, sir, who are supposing him to be so fuddled that he forgot 
that he was a playwright, supposing himself rather to be an author of 
romances.

It is a deadly insult to an artist to suggest that he does not know his 
own craft.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Michael Luskin <
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Date: 		Thursday, 3 Aug 2006 13:59:29 EDT
Subject: Doubt
Comment: 	SHK 17.0713 Doubt

Quite a while ago, someone thought it was significant that Cleopatra 
used the verb, "to boy," and took that as evidence of a number of 
things.  But remember that Shakespeare was perfectly willing to treat 
the language as plastically, if that is a word, as he needed.

When Cleopatra talks of her salad days, she doesn't mean romaine or 
Caesar.  She just means young.  And when Old Capulet says, "Thank me no 
thankings nor proud me no prouds," we know exactly what he means, and no 
other words would have done as well.

In fact, "to boy" means exactly what Shakespeare needed it to mean, and 
no other word in the language would have done as well.

And it also seems to me that we are forgetting that Shakespeare was also 
a businessman, and he had to deal with the little eyases he mentions in 
Hamlet.  While he might have thought of Bernhardts and who knows who 
else in the future, he had to deal with teens that day.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Geralyn Horton <
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Date: 		Thursday, 3 Aug 2006 14:46:59 -0400
Subject: 17.0713 Doubt
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0713 Doubt

John Briggs <
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 >Does Charles Weinstein next want to bring his "ordinary sense"
 >to bear on the soprano arias in Bach's St Matthew Passion?

We have records of the running battle Bach fought with church officials 
for permission to use female sopranos for soloists instead of boys. He 
won some, he lost some. Of course this proves nothing about the skill 
level of boy players, or Shakespeare's attitude toward them.

At this point I usually toss in Ellen Terry's tribute to the 10 year old 
Olivier play Kate in his school's Shrew:  "That boy is already a great 
actor".

Dan Decker <
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 >

 >I believe the proscription against female players was only enforced
 >against public performance. Is there any evidence that women might
 >have played the female roles when the company was performing in
 >the homes of the great lords and other non-public venues? Or at court?

I feel that the urge to recite these roles is so strong that not even 
severe sanctions could prevent women from performing them somewhere.... 
as severity did not prevent women from reading Lolita in Tehran.  But 
alas, that is merely my feeling. However difficult it is for me (and 
thee?)to believe that ladies who appeared in Masques,  and played 
instruments and sang in social gatherings, would be  content to be 
excluded from play reading and sit silently while their  male relatives, 
untrained in female impersonation,  performed for  their entertainment-- 
  those who have researched the matter say that  the facts are 
otherwise.   How I wish that a letter might be found saying something 
like: "Cousin Thomas so stank of tobacco o' Tuesday that I could scare 
bear him near me when he woo'd my Beatrice in the personage of Benedict. 
  My Lady Mother swears that if I do not amend ere next we meet to read 
a play, she will give the role to my sister Kate-- though Kate be low 
and brown and fit only to play serving maids...."!

G.L. Horton, playwright
Newton, MA
http://stageblog-glhorton.blogspot.com

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		William Godshalk <
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Date: 		Thursday, 03 Aug 2006 15:06:00 -0400
Subject: 17.0713 Doubt
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0713 Doubt

Matthew Lyons jests:

1   Mozart wrote great music for the piano.
2   Today's pianos are better instruments than any that Mozart could 
have known.
3   Ergo, Mozart wrote for today's instruments, not those of his own day.

Peter Alexander in HAMLET FATHER AND SON seriously makes a somewhat 
similar argument with regard to Cassals and Bach. Alexander writes: "for 
Cassals is, as you know, the first 'cellist who has been able to 
demonstrate that Bach's 'cello suites can be adequately performed on the 
instrument they were written for" (3). Perhaps Shakespeare's plays also 
had to wait for the right performers.

Bill

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Jeffrey Jordan <
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Date: 		Thursday, 3 Aug 2006 15:30:12 -0500
Subject: 17.0713 Doubt
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0713 Doubt

Rosalind.  A "he" playing a "she" playing a "he."  Playing a "she." 
What about that?  If you cast a woman as Rosalind, how well is she going 
to portray a young man?  Or, if you cast a boy as Rosalind, how well is 
he going to portray a woman?  What are you going to do?

The Rosalind character is "really" a girl.  Okay.  But she pretends to 
be a boy.  How well do you want that to come off?  It's important for 
the play, that she be credibly a boy, good enough to fool the other 
characters, and make it believable to the audience that she's  fooled 
them.  She'd better do it well.

Putting together the views of both Mr. Projansky, and Mr. Weinstein, 
Rosalind is impossible to cast.  Re Mr. Projansky, no woman could 
acceptably play the young man part of the role (and Shakespeare could 
never really have wanted that.)  However, re Mr. Weinstein, no boy could 
convincingly play the woman part of the role (and Shakespeare could 
never really have wanted that.)

We must therefore conclude that S wrote his Rosalind as an exercise in 
masochism, as he flayed himself, viciously, with everything he hated. 
Men being women being men being women, oh, god, he couldn't STAND it!! 
Poor Shakespeare.  Let us shed a tear, for how he suffered so, for his art.

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Alan Horn <
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Date: 		Friday, 4 Aug 2006 00:55:16 -0400
Subject: 17.0713 Doubt
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0713 Doubt

I don't know why list members keep resisting what should be obvious, 
based not just on this but on multiple previous threads. Charles 
Weinstein is troubled by deviations from traditional sex roles in a way 
that is quite beyond the reach of argument.

Alan H

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