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Home :: Archive :: 2011 :: February ::
Corpsing?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0055   Wednesday, 23 February 2011

From:         Matthew Steggle <
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Date:         Thursday, February 3, 2011 4:49:23 AM ET
Subject:      Corpsing?

>Does anyone know of any references in early modern drama or associated materials to  
>the phenomenon now known as "corpsing" where an actor becomes seized by laughter in 
>the middle of a performance?

Tom Bishop might want to look at my book, _Laughing and Weeping in Early Modern Theatres_ (Ashgate, 
2007), which hoovers up early modern references to laughing on stage: how it was done, how it was notated 
in surviving scripts. Also in there (in Chapter 7) are various early modern accounts of mishaps on stage-
actors forgetting their lines, etc -- that provoke unintended audience laughter. None of them (I can 
think of) refers to actors _laughing_ uncontrollably. About the nearest you get is this typically unfunny 
jest-book joke:

[A] Master of Art in one of the Vniuersities, hauing acted in a Tragedy, and his body lying seeming dead 
on the Stage, for the time, was not yet come that hee should be taken away, a passion took him that he 
was forced to cough so loud that it was perceived by the generall auditory, at which many of them falling 
into a laughter, hee rising vp excused it thus: you may see Gentlemen what it is to drinke in ones 
porridge, for they shall cough in their graue.

[attr. Archie Armstrong], A Baquet of Jeasts. Or Change of Cheare. Being a Collection of Moderne Jests. 
Witty Jeeres. Pleasant Taunts. Merry Tales (London: Richard Royston, 1630), 103.

Matt


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