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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: December ::
Understudies
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0807  Tuesday, 4 December 2007

[1] 	From:	William Godshalk <
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	Date:	Saturday, 01 Dec 2007 14:18:57 -0500
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0799 Understudies

[2] 	From:	David Kathman <
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	Date:	Saturday, 1 Dec 2007 15:29:28 -0600
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0799 Understudies


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		William Godshalk <
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Date:		Saturday, 01 Dec 2007 14:18:57 -0500
Subject: 18.0799 Understudies
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0799 Understudies

According to Simon Palfrey and Tiffany Stern's excellent new study, 
Shakespeare in Parts (Oxford 2007), "there were no understudies at the 
time: the word, and the concept, of understudying dates from the late 
nineteenth century" (50). But under necessity an actor "with a smaller 
or more disposable part" would have to stand in (i.e. wing it) using the 
"part" of the missing actor. Parts were contained on rolls that could be 
manipulated by the actor's hand. See the anecdote about Tarleton on p. 51.

Bill

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		David Kathman <
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Date:		Saturday, 1 Dec 2007 15:29:28 -0600
Subject: 18.0799 Understudies
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0799 Understudies

Mike Shapiro wrote:

 >Is there any information regarding the utilization of
 >understudies? How did Elizabethans handle situations
 >in which players came down with the flu or plague?
 >Similarities to our present day use of understudies
 >could have resulted in WS having to play a number
 >of different roles from his scripts.

I'm pretty sure there were no understudies in Elizabethan theatre, 
because the actor playing a part would physically possess a scroll 
containing his lines, which nobody else would have access to. Tiffany 
Stern addresses this a little bit for the 18th-century theatre in 
*Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan*, and I assume the situation was 
the same earlier. On page 212, she writes:

"Because of the ownership of parts -- one actor would 'possess' a 
scripted role -- there could be no understudies. So when particular 
actors were unable to perform, theatres ran into enormous difficulties. 
Mrs Chalke was at one point 'stock-reader... in case of disaster', 
meaning that she would go on with part in hand and read the relevant 
text; on other occasions plays would have to be cancelled altogether 
when the appropriate performer could not perform:  'A New Tragedy' had 
to be deferred because of 'Mrs Bulloc's hourly Expectation of being 
brought to Bed, she having the Principal Part in the Play'. So actor and 
part remained inextricably bound together, sometimes at the expense of 
the play."

I assume there's more about this in Tiffany and Simon Palfrey's 
just-published *Shakespeare in Parts*, but I haven't read that yet.

Dave Kathman

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