Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: July ::
Against All-Male Productions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0693  Monday, 24 July 2006

[1] 	From: 	John Briggs <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Friday, 21 Jul 2006 16:05:32 +0100
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0676 Against All-Male Productions

[2] 	From: 	John Briggs <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Friday, 21 Jul 2006 16:47:04 +0100
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions

[3] 	From: 	Martin Mueller <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Friday, 21 Jul 2006 10:48:15 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions

[4] 	From: 	Donald Bloom <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Friday, 21 Jul 2006 11:52:55 -0500
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions

[5] 	From: 	Stuart Manger <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Friday, 21 Jul 2006 18:01:32 +0100
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions

[6] 	From: 	Donald Bloom <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Friday, 21 Jul 2006 14:26:20 -0500
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions

[7] 	From: 	Robin Hamilton <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Friday, 21 Jul 2006 22:59:29 +0100
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions

[8] 	From: 	Holger Schott Syme <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Friday, 21 Jul 2006 18:59:36 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions

[9] 	From: 	Charles Weinstein <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Saturday, 22 Jul 2006 16:59:22 -0400
	Subj: 	Against All-Male Productions

[10]	From: 	David Lindley <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Monday, 24 Jul 2006 10:01:28 +0100
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John Briggs <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Friday, 21 Jul 2006 16:05:32 +0100
Subject: 17.0676 Against All-Male Productions
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0676 Against All-Male Productions

Charles Weinstein wrote, in his inimitable self-laudatory fashion:

 >"When Shakespeare's greatest female character spurns the thought of
 >viewing 'some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness' she is mocking the
 >idea that she could be adequately incarnated by a male."
 >
 >That seems to me indisputable.  Why did Shakespeare devise such a
 >sentiment and make Cleopatra utter it (in her death scene, no less)?
 >Metatheatrics notwithstanding, I think he shared her opinion of its
 >justice.

Metatheatrics notwithstanding? Metatheatrics notwithstanding?  Isn't 
that the whole point of the reference?  Can Charles Weinstein (or 
perhaps someone with a greater knowledge of the texts) point to a single 
example of a play by Shakespeare where there isn't a reference to plays 
or playing?

Cleopatra is, of course, through the medium of William Shakespeare, 
expressing understandable anxiety at being mocked in the context of a 
Roman triumph.  What she actually says is that she will be paraded 
before unwashed groundlings, that hack poets will write bad songs about 
her and that improvising actors will put on impromptu performances of 
their lives.  The sequence of ideas is remarkable, from comparing a 
Roman triumph to a sequence of plays on pageant wagons (such as the 
Corpus Christi plays - can Shakespeare have ever seen them?), to beadles 
harrasing prostitutes (whether in the audience or on stage), to 
balladeers and commedia dell'arte troupes. None of which, of course, 
makes much sense without a knowledge of the theatrical conventions of 
Shakespeare's day.  Wouldn't it be much better to just cut the passage 
for a modern production with female actresses?

John Briggs

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John Briggs <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Friday, 21 Jul 2006 16:47:04 +0100
Subject: 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions

David Bishop wrote:

 >While I generally think, with Charles Weinstein, that it's reasonable
 >to believe that Shakespeare would have used women if he could have,

That rather depends on how you you define "reasonable"!  Here's a tip: 
if Charles Weinstein thinks that something is "reasonable", the chances 
are that it isn't.

 >this line also supports the interpretation that Cleopatra did not
 >want to be diminished by being represented on the stage at all, by a
 >boy or a woman. Still, a boy would seem an even more obviously
 >inadequate representation of her than an actress.

Cleopatra is objecting to being mocked, as I point out elsethread.  That 
she is represented by a boy is entirely according to the stage 
conventions of Shakespeare's own day.

John Briggs

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Martin Mueller <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Friday, 21 Jul 2006 10:48:15 -0500
Subject: 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions

 >We also know that, after Will Kemp left the Lord Chamberlain's Men,
 >Shakespeare chose in his next two plays (Henry V and Julius Caesar)
 >not to include a large role for a clown.  While we can never know how
 >directly causal the chain of events, his next play is As You Like It, and
 >Robert Armin, experienced mimic and clown, is now a member of the
 >company......and Touchstone makes his appearance.

Paul Hebron's comments remind me of Mozart's practice. Unlike 
Shakespeare, he left a fairly voluminous correspondence about his 
practice. There is a wonderful letter to his father about the Abduction 
from the Seraglio, and there is an extensive correspondence about 
Idomeneo. The striking thing about this correspondence is how deeply 
alert Mozart was to what his particular singers could or could not do. 
For the Entfuhrung he had at his disposal a bass with a particularly 
strong low register. The Archbishop thought this was vulgar, but Mozart 
created the role of Osmin. No doubt the thought of annoying the 
archbishop was pleasing to him.

The first Don Giovanni was a baritone with limited singing, but strong 
acting, skills. Don Giovanni has no long or bravura aria. The tenor for 
the Prague production was a virtuoso. The tenor for the Vienna 
production was not: Mozart dropped the Prague aria and added a new aria 
for Vienna. Today's tenors of course insist on both.

There is a moving example from Brecht's practice. I remember arguing 
with a distinguished Germanist about the eloquence of Kattrina in Mother 
Courage and pointed to the fact that she cannot speak but at the end of 
the play puts an instrument of war (the drum) to a peaceful purpose 
(alerting the citizens). My distinguished colleague brushed off this 
interpretation as far-fetched and said, "Don't you know that Brecht 
wanted to create a part for Helene Weigel, but she didn't know Swedish" 
(The play was written in Stockholm and first performed in Swedish). 
Indeed, but theatre is not only an art of make-believe, it is just as 
much an art of make-do. Or as Hamlet put it, "Thrift, thrift, Horatio! 
the funeral baked meats /Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables." 
And if you're very good at this thrifty business you make an art of 
necessity.

Since Shakespeare worked all his life with a single company, it is not 
unreasonable to use evidence from later practice to illustrate what 
seems to be prima facie plausible.

Did Shakespeare strain under the limitations of his stage--boy actors 
and whatever? Beethoven thought that his pianos were pretty wretched. 
The modern piano is a mid-nineteenth century and American invention. 
Beethoven's pianos didn't have metal frames (Chickering in Boston in the 
1820's) or overstringing (Henry Steinway in New York in the 1850's). 
Some pedalling instructions in the Waldstein sonata--deliberate blurring 
of chords--make more sense on an older instrument with its much more 
rapid rate of tonal decay. If Beethoven had heard the Appassionata 
played on an 1857 New York Steinway, would he ever want it played on 
anything else? Probably not.  Charles Rosen argues eloquently--I don't 
quite recall where--that sometimes the music is ahead of the instrument.

Some archaeologists think that the theatre in Athens that saw the 
original productions of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides was a much 
more modest affair than the fourth-century theatres (Epidaurus) that 
have shaped our sense of what a Greek theatre should look like. Perhaps 
it is useful in this context to remember  Shakespeare's  metatheatrical 
reflections in A Midsummer Night's Dream, where the desire of the 
performers greatly outstrips their performance and Theseus comments: 
"The best in this kind are but shadows; and the worst are no worse, if 
imagination amend them."  The audience's amending imagination is always 
the most important variable.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Donald Bloom <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Friday, 21 Jul 2006 11:52:55 -0500
Subject: 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions

My thanks to Paul Hebron for making a point that I feel is long overdue:

 >"Is it not possible that this specific comment of Cleopatra's was not,
 >in fact, a reference to the general practice of female roles being
 >played by adolescent males . . . but was rather Shakespeare making a
 >point about one of the most significant forms of competition he and the
 >Globe shareholders faced at this time; that is the children's companies
 >. . ."

We know from "Hamlet" what Shakespeare's general attitude toward these 
prodigies was. My sense is that he considered them a gimmicky form of 
entertainment that was undercutting the serious art of drama. That he 
had an axe to grind doesn't make his remarks less true.

We go back to what creates the audience's response. Children are capable 
of acting like (and as) children, some excellently, some poorly. Trying 
to depict adults, however, whatever effect they may have on the 
audience, I don't believe they can create the imaginative response that 
a first-rate adult actor can. They are cute and funny-entertaining, but 
not profoundly moving.

This brings us to adolescents, who are not children (in this sense) and 
who often can act like (and thus as) adults. If your lead actress can 
play Juliet in the fall, Rosalind in the winter, and Cleopatra in the 
spring (or Gertrude, or Queen Margaret), I can't see any reason why she 
couldn't be fourteen or twenty or forty or more. We assume they have to 
be older because they almost always are, but that derives from social 
conditions not (I believe) from inability. To my mind, if the boys could 
do it four centuries ago the girls could do it now.

My intuitive response is that Charles is right, and that Shakespeare 
would have much preferred women playing women-if for no other reason 
than longevity. (Boys keep growing up.) But my rational response is that 
we don't have concrete evidence, as Hardy notes. The "squeaking" boy is 
surely one of the "little eyases" that Rosencrantz describes.

Cheers,
don

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Stuart Manger <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Friday, 21 Jul 2006 18:01:32 +0100
Subject: 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions

I simply cannot buy the proposition that the boys couldn't cut it.

EVERY dramatist around at the time wrote for them, they were in demand 
to the point of kidnapping and poaching, they were hot stage property, 
and surely pro playwrights don't go on writing fantastic roles with 
fantastic poetry and psychological insights and emotional complexity, 
etcetc to have it all ripped to shreds by kids day after day in front of 
legendarily critical audiences ! A lot of cold commercial logic, 
reputation and naked self-interest here, wouldn't you say?

Come on, let's get down to the practicalities here!

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Donald Bloom <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Friday, 21 Jul 2006 14:26:20 -0500
Subject: 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions

I hope I may be allowed a second post, since it's a query. Pursuant to 
this on-going discussion, I began making a chart of the parts likely to 
played by boys or youths in each of the plays and find myself perplexed 
in several instances. I would thus like some guidance on the best 
scholarly studies of this question. (The question of homoeroticism and 
pederasty, I should mention, doesn't interest me.)

Cheers,
don

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Robin Hamilton <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Friday, 21 Jul 2006 22:59:29 +0100
Subject: 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions

I'm not sure if anyone has yet made the point that between maybe 1590 
and 1610, there was a considerable evolution in the capabilities of boy 
actors. Predominantly, in the earlier part of the period, female parts 
were either old women or adolescent girls, the easiest parts for boy 
actors to play.  A mature female character like Cleopatra simply 
wouldn't have been stageable twenty years before Shakespeare wrote it.

My contribution to unteasing the observations flying around this thread. 
Please time-stamp your generalisations, ladies and gentlemen.

Robin Hamilton

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Holger Schott Syme <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Friday, 21 Jul 2006 18:59:36 -0400
Subject: 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions

I know I should know better, but Charles Weinstein's most recent post 
demands a reply.  "Some people," he writes, "think that boys could never 
have done justice to characters as complex, imposing and experienced as 
Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra." None of those "people" were contemporaries, 
or even near-contemporaries of Shakespeare. The Romantic and 
post-Romantic notion of character _and_ of acting that informs such a 
judgment has nothing to do with the conventions that governed early 
modern playing. In fact, there is a good deal of  evidence that 16th- 
and 17th-century audiences found the acting of  boys both convincing and 
deeply moving (see, for instance, the well- known report of a 
performance of _Othello_ at Oxford in 1610, or  accounts of the 
inadequacy of female actors in letters from English  travelers).

In any case, the idea that "boys" were almost always "inadequate" simply 
lacks any foundation in historical, or indeed contemporary reality. As 
David Kathman has shown, a "boy" could be anywhere between 12 and 21 
years of age, and one can readily think of many modern actors who, even 
at that early age, possess the presence  (there's a mythical concept for 
you!), technique, expertise, and  talent to pull of a moving and 
effective performance (even of a  member of the other gender).

I do think that Charles' main point -- that Shakespeare "imagined" his 
women as women -- has been fully answered in this thread. I suppose he 
also "imagined" his kings as kings, but didn't expect James to take the 
stage. That there is a profound and irreducible distinction between 
actor and role is the nature of the theatre -- no playwright can summon 
his or her characters to play themselves -- and the example of the 
all-male stage is merely a particular aspect of that basic principle of 
theatrical representation.

Best,
Holger Syme

PS.: One more quick point. Sure, we can fantasize that Shakespeare 
really hoped that one day his female characters would be played by 
women. But it's the same sort of fantasy that makes people think Mozart 
_must_ have hated his pianoforte with its limited range and lack of 
sustain, and thus should be played on a modern grand. It sounds great, 
to be sure, and has many aesthetic arguments in its  favor -- but it has 
little to do with what Mozart might have wished for or been able to 
conceptualize (indeed, one might want to argue that a limitation only 
appears as a limitation once one has a less restrictive option at one's 
disposal). Would Shakespeare have liked the opportunities offered by 
electric lights and fog-machines, not to mention cameras and editing 
suites? Probably... Jonson certainly would have.

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Charles Weinstein <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Saturday, 22 Jul 2006 16:59:22 -0400
Subject: 	Against All-Male Productions

 From Antony and Cleopatra, Arden 3, edited by John Wilder:

"boy my greatness: 'reduce my greatness to what a boy actor can manage' 
(Jones).  Shakespeare shows extraordinary boldness in giving these lines 
to a boy actor, who must, presumably, have done justice to the role of 
Cleopatra."

"Must" is an idealization, and not everyone subscribes to it. 
Cleopatra's "boy" is comprehensive and unqualified.  There is no 
evidence that exempts the youngling who played her from its 
implications.  Has the memory of this youthful phenomenon come down to 
us a la Burbage and Alleyn?  Are there encomia in prose or verse to his 
astonishing precocity?  Tales of auditors enthralled by the uncanny 
maturity of his genius?  No, no and no.  Could a boy in any era be 
adequate to Cleopatra, the mature siren past her salad days, the Serpent 
of Old Nile wrinkled deep in time, the tragic heroine soaring beyond 
girlishness into transcendent womanhood?.  I am not the only one who 
finds this unbelievable.

Let's be real:  the system of boys playing women was a bad one, and the 
striplings must have fallen short in any number of respects.  Only a 
theater in which women play women has a prayer of matching Shakespeare's 
conceptions.

--Charles Weinstein

"Shakespeare accepted the limitations of boy actors without confining 
his imagination.  This is shown by the many generations of actresses who 
have inherited the boys' roles...there has been more than sufficient 
material in the text of the plays to awaken their full talents."--John 
Russell Brown

[10]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Lindley <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Monday, 24 Jul 2006 10:01:28 +0100
Subject: 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0687 Against All-Male Productions

 >Thus, one can reasonably believe that the roles were played
 >by boys, and that the boys were probably inadequate.

Well, no doubt some were - but others probably were not - see Jonson on 
Salomon Pavy, for example.

The argument that 'Shakespeare would have used female actors if he 
could' is an impossible one to sustain. He knew he couldn't, and 
therefore, presumably, wrote parts in a way he believed his available 
actors could cope with. It's all a bit like the argument that Bach would 
have used the saxophone if only he had known of it. It is a quite 
different argument from the question whether it is possible to recreate 
original performance conditions - in drama, or in music - whether 
'authenticity' is possible or desirable, and therefore whether modern 
all-male productions can reproduce what Shakespeare 'intended'. There 
are a whole lot of problematic assumptions in such a supposition.  But 
there is simply no doubt that Shakespeare wrote for boy (or male) 
actors, and that this must have, to some degree, conditioned the way he 
composed his female roles.

David Lindley

[Editor's Note: I wish that I had days and days to think deeply and 
write profoundly about what has disturbed me about this thread since its 
inception, but I don't. This digest today contains some thoughtful and 
incisive commentary, but that commentary is ultimately derived in 
response to the outrageously flawed premise upon which this thread is 
based, a premise founded upon a fantasy not terribly different from the 
fantasies of authorship devotees. I learned a long time ago how 
impossible it is to fight a "tar baby": I tried myself to point out how 
Charles was using a context-shifting argument regarding Cleopatra's 
"squeaking boy." Yet Charles still rejected my explanation of the 
meaning of the lines in the context of the play in performance. When I 
read Charles's comments today -- <Q>Let's be real:  the system of boys 
playing women was a bad one, and the striplings must have fallen short 
in any number of respects.  Only a theater in which women play women has 
a prayer of matching Shakespeare's conceptions.</Q> -- I was reminded of 
the Romantic Period's page-stage debate. No actor could possible 
captured the grandeur of Shakespeare's characters; therefore, 
Shakespeare's plays should not be enacted on the stage because all such 
attempts are bound to failure. But this is nonsense. Isn't it? I 
wondered if I should not just let this thread go on and on, over the 
same grounds, perpetuating the same logically and reality flawed 
arguments and then I read David Lindley's post above. David Lindley's 
commonsensical statement is the last word in this thread:

The argument that 'Shakespeare would have used female actors if he 
could' is an impossible one to sustain. He knew he couldn't, and 
therefore, presumably, wrote parts in a way he believed his available 
actors could cope with. It's all a bit like the argument that Bach would 
have used the saxophone if only he had known of it. It is a quite 
different argument from the question whether it is possible to recreate 
original performance conditions - in drama, or in music - whether 
'authenticity' is possible or desirable, and therefore whether modern 
all-male productions can reproduce what Shakespeare 'intended'. There 
are a whole lot of problematic assumptions in such a supposition.  But 
there is simply no doubt that Shakespeare wrote for boy (or male) 
actors, and that this must have, to some degree, conditioned the way he 
composed his female roles.

Once more for scholarly reality:

But there is simply no doubt that Shakespeare wrote for boy (or male) 
actors, and that this must have, to some degree, conditioned the way he 
composed his female roles.

There is NO doubt. Hardy]

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the 
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the 
editor assumes no responsibility for them.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.