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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: February ::
Stage Money
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0101  Tuesday, 6 February 2007

From: 		Will Sharpe <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 06 Feb 2007 18:36:51 +0000
Subject: 	Stage Money

Dear all,

I'm curious about money as a prop on the stage and wonder if anyone 
knows about it. For example, Barabas is seen in his counting house "with 
heaps of gold before him" at the beginning of The Jew of Malta. How is 
this realised on stage? The idea of a theatre company being able to 
supply "heaps of gold" coins as a prop in one of its plays seems to me 
to be incommensurable with early modern theatre as a business that made 
far less than this by steadily churning out plays to remain afloat 
financially. Editors of the play seem reluctant to engage with the 
question, which seems to me a fundamental one. We imagine a pile of gold 
if told about it by Chaucer in The Pardoner's Tale, but in a play it 
needs to be realised as a physical image. Dessen and Thompson's 
excellent Dictionary of Stage Directions points to the fact that in lots 
of plays that call for money it appears in bags, which easily explains 
how it's done. But sometimes it doesn't. Of course, when a stage 
direction specifies 'money' it doesn't always say how much money, but 
I'm curious about what would have been used if a pile of gold coins was 
needed. Is there any evidence of fake money, like school plays using 
'gold'-covered chocolate coins today? Also, if the play calls for sums 
of ready money (like angels, groats, shillings etc.) to be thrown on the 
stage, would real coins have been used, or would the old 'coins in a 
bag' thing have been the more likely convention? I realise this may be 
unanswerable, but if anyone has specialist knowledge of this, or can 
suggest a good resource on the matter, I'd be very grateful.

Best,
Will Sharpe

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