The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0340  Monday, 2 August 2010

From:         Ros King <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:         July 29, 2010 9:35:53 AM EDT
Subject: 21.0324  Two Gents at Stratford Festival
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0324  Two Gents at Stratford Festival

>Stage directions for Jonson's Oberon (1611) clearly envisage (two) 
>real bears, white, probably the two polar bears acquired from the 
>royal household in 1609 by Henslowe and Alleyn for their bear-baiting 
>operation, and perhaps available for WT-see Teresa Grant, "White Bears 
>in Mucedorus, The Winter's Tale, and Oberon, the Faery Prince," Notes 
>and Queries 48 (Sept. 2001), pp. 311-13. But a brown bear from the 
>bear-baiting, or otherwise kept and trained for public show, would 
>have served.

Indeed. But I believe the Oberon bears were polar bear cubs (very cute) and could 
realistically be led by keepers.

I find it impossible to believe that even (or particularly) a trained and therefore 
traumatised bear could be relied upon to enter and exit on cue without being led on 
a chain, which would defeat the purpose of the effect. They are unpredictable. I 
certainly would not relish being in the vicinity of a grown bear that wasn't both 
chained and muzzled-particularly in the equally unpredictable and scary-to-the-bear 
public theatre audience.

The great bear that was such a disappointment when the royal family went to the 
Tower to see it in (I think) 1609 savaged some horses, and scared the lions so much 
that they did no more than walk up and down at a safe distance. Then it ate a child 
that had been (unaccountably) left near its pen- though it got its come-uppance 

Since the effect in WT must be both terrifying and comic, and that depends on 
timing, my money's on a man in a bearskin -- of which there certainly was a ready 
supply on Bankside.


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