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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: August ::
Bears on Stage
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0339  Monday, 2 August 2010

From:         David Lindley <
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Date:         August 2, 2010 4:30:48 AM EDT
Subject:      Bears on Stage

It has indeed been argued that 'real' bears were used in Oberon. But here's my 
note from the forthcoming Cambridge Ben Jonson:

215-16 chariot . . . bears:

The chariot drawn by animals is a standard feature of Renaissance iconography. 
Grant (2001) and Ravelhofer (2002) argue that the bears were real polar bears, 
caught in 1609 and kept by the theatre-manager, Henslowe. Though the bears were 
probably young, and therefore more amenable than adult animals, it may still be 
doubted whether they would have been permitted on stage in close proximity to 
the heir to the throne. They might, of course, have been represented by actors 
in bear skins. But yet the otherwise attentive account in the Trumbull MS makes 
no mention either of the chariot, or of bears -- which one might surely have 
expected if they had actually been used in the performance. Perhaps they, like 
Henry's own earlier wish for an equestrian entrance, were countermanded.

David Lindley


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