The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2340  Monday, 15 October 2001

From:           David Wallace <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Saturday, 13 Oct 2001 15:18:19 -0700
Subject: 12.2335 Actors' Additions
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2335 Actors' Additions

  W. L. Godshalk writes:

> Irace, Jenkins, and others suggest that in the early modern period
> actors' additions or interpolations were added to the playscript.  Words
> like "well," "by heaven," "I can tell you," "my lord," and "O" when
> interpolated into the play by actors were then actually written into the
> text (by someone) where they are preserved for contemporary scholars to
> identify. I find this hard to believe. Would anyone take time to add
> these words to the book of the play as well as the separate rolls?
> But one of my graduate students (in the Theatre Department) tells me
> that her director does precisely this.  If an actor inadvertently adds
> words to his role, these words are added to the script.
> Is this common practice.

In my experience, actors workshopping a new script with a playwright
generally do not offer to "write" dialogue. It's considered bad
manners.  The actor, in this context, will normally try to make the
existing dialogue work. The playwright and director will confer when
scenes are not working. Actors solve acting problems; playwrights solve
writing problems. A finished script is pretty much considered sacrosanct
(if protected by copyright). Cuts or changes require the permission of
the author. Play scripts that are arrived at through a "collective"
process involving a lot of improvisation may well contain lines
originated by actors. But even then, a playwright generally arranges the
final form and the actors stick to the final script. (Scripts for films
are a different breed and "stars" can and do take enormous liberties
with the text.)

Shakespeare's verse is remarkable for maintaining a consistent metrical
pattern. Variations in line length and placement of stress are governed
by the syntactic character of the sentence, the linguistic
characteristics of (largely) individual words, or the need to provide a
dramatic pause. Adding "well" or "O" or "by heaven" arbitrarily would
throw the pattern out of whack. A glance at lines of verse (in
Shakespeare) containing these sorts of interjections will demonstrate
that these lines are consistently iambic pentameter. There are plenty of
instances where a "my lord" is required by the demands of the verse. I
really can't see Burbage remarking: "Say Will, this line is short a
metrical foot. Shall I add a "my lord"?" Characters in the plays often
refer to verse as "numbers". There is some counting involved. Even the
"O's" count.

Cheers! David Wallace

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