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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: December ::
Shakespeare as Falstaff
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0827  Tuesday, 11 December 2007

[1] 	From:	Paul E. Doniger <
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	Date:	Saturday, 8 Dec 2007 18:08:43 -0800 (PST)
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0817 Shakespeare as Falstaff

[2] 	From:	Steve Sohmer <
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	Date:	Saturday, 8 Dec 2007 23:58:35 EST
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0817 Shakespeare as Falstaff


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:		Saturday, 8 Dec 2007 18:08:43 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 18.0817 Shakespeare as Falstaff
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0817 Shakespeare as Falstaff

John Briggs wrote: "A rather more cogent question would be to ask who 
played what in 'Twelfth Night' (1601/2)? I would say that whoever played 
Falstaff played Sir Toby - would anyone argue? But which role did 
Richard Burbage take? The other leading male roles are Malvolio and the 
Duke (probably in that order). (The play is remarkable for having three 
strong female roles.)"

I think the Sir Toby/Falstaff issue is quite probably correct, but who 
was it? I believe tradition (well, Baldwin, at any rate), says that 
Burbage played Orsino. For some reason, Orsino was usually considered 
the male "lead," even though it is a rather small part (line-wise). The 
largest male role in terms of lines is Toby. The other large ones are 
Malvolio and Feste (who has more lines than Malvolio). In modern times, 
it seems that the leading actors have tended to want to play Malvolio. 
It would be interesting to discover why the interest has shifted from 
Orsino to Malvolio. Of course, the real central figure (if there is only 
one central figure in "12th Night") is Viola.

Paul E. Doniger

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Steve Sohmer <
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Date:		Saturday, 8 Dec 2007 23:58:35 EST
Subject: 18.0817 Shakespeare as Falstaff
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0817 Shakespeare as Falstaff

Dear Friends,

I think it's pretty clear from the inside jokes that Shakespeare played 
Julius Caesar and Polonius. If I can ever get around to drawing a long 
breath and writing at length about HAM, I'm going to suggest that 
Shakespeare played both Polonius (Ophelia's dad) and Old Hamlet 
(Hamlet's  dad).

In general, my hunch is that Shakespeare took on those characters who 
have a literary (or narrative) bent. And that from 1600 forward he 
played a lot of dads. We like to think Shakespeare played Prospero and 
delivered his grand farewell. I wouldn't be surprised if he played 
Chorus and delivered the "this is not the man" epilogue in 2H4. I like 
to think he discharged the same duties in R&J and H5. It would have 
seemed to  audiences "just right" if writer-Shakespeare (who wrote the 
play) engaged actor-Shakespeare to narrate it.

Those of us who have worked in the entertainment business know that a 
performer's personal life can inform his/her roles for better or worse; 
audiences tend to migrate what they know about a performer's personal 
life into the characters he/she portrays. I remember working very hard 
on the promotion to launch NBC's television series of "Casablanca" 
starring David Soul. A few weeks before the series premiere, the 
tabloids were filled with stories about Soul abusing his wife. True or 
not, it was clear that female viewers wouldn't accept him as Rick, the 
gallant protector of Ilsa Lund, and the show was a flop. I once had the 
unenviable duty of explaining to Jane Fonda that her playing a 40 
year-old virgin in "The Old Gringo" would overstretch an audience's 
capacity for the willing suspension of disbelief.

By the time Shakespeare's company moved into the new Globe in 1599, his 
fame as a theatrical storyteller was well-established. And, given that 
the population of London was all of 200,000, he must have been a very 
familiar face around town. That's why the inside jokes in JC must have 
worked so well.

If anyone believes this thesis might hold even a little water, they 
might like to speculate as to whether Shakespeare played other dads as 
well as characters with a literary (or narrative) bent, e.g. choruses, 
pedants, Jacques, etc. For myself, I think he would have found 
irresistible the part of Cinna, the poet murdered for his bad verses.

Hope this helps.

Steve

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