The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2860 (R)  Monday, 17 December 2001

From:           David Wilson-Okamura <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 17 Dec 2001 09:00:03 -0600
Subject:        Soliloquies: Performance Practice

Last week, while reading Samuel Johnson's "Life of Milton" with my
Milton seminar, I was struck by the following stricture on _Comus_:

             What deserves more reprehension is, that the prologue
        in the wild wood by the attendant Spirit is addressed to the
        audience; a mode of communication so contrary to the nature of
        dramatick representation, that no precedents can support it.

The problem, I assume, is not that a prologue addresses the audience,
but the prologue addresses the audience directly _and_ participates in
the action. The reference to "no precedents" struck me (and my students)
as odd, though, because there seem to be prominent counterexamples in
Shakespeare -- one thinks (I thought) immediately of Richard, in R3
("Now is the winter of our discontent"), or of Edmund, in Lear ("Thou,
nature, art my goddess"). Upon reflection, however, it occurs to me that
the reason these seem like counterexamples is because I am used to
seeing Olivier address the camera thus on screen. I take it from
Johnson's remark, though, that this kind of address to the audience is
_not_ something that was done by actors in the eighteenth century. Can
anyone confirm this?

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