The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0714  Friday, 4 August 2006

From: 		John Briggs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date: 		Thursday, 3 Aug 2006 17:24:47 +0100
Subject: 	"Metatheatrics notwithstanding"

I realise that this is exactly the wrong moment to start a new thread, 
but there is a topic which I think would benefit from serious thought 
during the Hiatus.  At one point during the recent Weinstein-induced 
mud-wrestling I threw out a glib remark which I have been employing for 
decades, but never actually verified - that every one of Shakespeare's 
plays has a reference to actors or acting.  Is this true?  (I realise 
that it may not be literally every play, but how close is it?)  More to 
the point, what on earth is the reason for this?

I have always assumed that it is the very opposite of Brechtian 
alienation, but I am beginning to have doubts.  Is it simply the actors 
(by their skill) challenging us to greater heights of suspension of 
disbelief, or is there something more complex going on?  Is there really 
a distancing effect, or is it something else?

Can we assume the same relation between actors and audience in 
Shakespeare's day as in ours?  The open-air theatres were hugely 
popular, but how skilled were the audiences at "reading" plays?  Are 
there hidden meanings for an elite (university-educated?) audience who 
were in on the joke, or were the in-jokes just for the actors 
themselves?  Did the actors and/or the playwrights (to what extent did 
Shakespeare's contemporaries employ these devices and allusions?  Is 
there a difference between playwrights who were actors and those who 
were not?) in fact have a contempt for their audience? Or did the 
audiences just react to the plays in a way which we cannot now recapture?

John Briggs

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