The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0942  Thursday, 4 April 2002

From:           M. Yawney <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 3 Apr 2002 18:52:04 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0922 Re: Acting the Bard
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0922 Re: Acting the Bard

> I have a feeling this might be a little biased
> towards modern ideas of
> Shakespeare's plays.  Surely Shakespeare was writing
> for a series of
> specific individuals, most of the time at least, and
> was more or less
> unconcerned about the fact that somebody other than
> Richard Burbage
> might ultimately end up playing what to Shakespeare
> (writing for a
> specific actor in a specific company) was
> undoubtedly going to be
> Burbage's role.  Is not the concept of drama being
> free from the author
> and determined by the interpretation of a long
> string of different
> actors and directors something which was created
> more recently?  Might
> not the ambiguities of the characters be a function
> of the literary form
> in which Shakespeare wrote, rather than a simple
> preparation for the
> fluidity of acting interpretations?  Shakespeare,
> for example, could
> easily have *told* Burbage whether Hamlet was really
> mad or not, so many
> of the problems that confront modern actors would
> not have caused
> difficulties for Shakespeare's original casts.

Actually no.

Burbage played roles created by Allyn and we know that companies
carefully guarded scripts because anyone who had a copy could mount a

While it is true that many roles were written with specific actors in
mind, there also was a sense that the script had a life outside of the
original cast.

It is true that Shakespeare was able to communicate directly to his
original casts, I do not think that accounts for some of the richer
ambiguities. The example you give of whether or not Hamlet is mad is
information. That is the sort of thing a writer CAN tell an actor.
Another area that is ambiguous in a way that invites the actor's
collaboration is why Hamlet is so hesitant to take on his task. We can
come up with any number of answers--but an actor will likely choose only
a few or even one. If a playwright respects an actor, he will be more
interested in what option that actor chooses than imposing any
definitive answer.

I suspect the greater ambiguity of character of English Renaissance
drama as opposed to Ibsen, Shaw, Modern drama (or even the ancient Greek
and Romans) was because the methods of producing plays at that period
necessitated a greater contribution from the actor than drama of other
periods that had more extensive rehearsal time.

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