The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.022  Monday, 23 January 2012


From:         Robert Projansky <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         January 22, 2012 4:37:35 PM EST

Subject:     Light duty for an older actor?


It occurred to me some years ago while watching a performance of Macbeth, that a number of Shakespeare’s plays have an older character (or a character who can reasonably be played by and as an old man) in Act I who then disappears from the play, perhaps making a nominal appearance at or near the end of the show. For example: 


Macbeth:           Duncan

Hamlet:             Ghost

R&J:                 Montague

Othello:             Brabantio

AYLI:                Adam

MND:                Egeus

TN:                   Captain

C of E:              Merchant

Tempest:          Master, Bos’n

Cymbeline:       The two exposition Gentlemen who open the play

Richard II:        John of Gaunt

Henry IV 2:       Lord Bardolph

Henry V:          Archbishop of Canterbury


Some of these roles are light duty indeed -- the Master in The Tempest has only sixteen words -- but others have some heavy lifting. Gaunt has three or four scenes, gets himself all worked up and has a fierce confrontation with Richard before going offstage to die. The Archbishop of Canterbury has a long comic monologue that runs almost five minutes. And of course there’s the Ghost. But they all had lots of dressing room time (if they’re not doubling) before they were needed for their (possible) late appearance, curtain call and the dance.


Can it be that Shakespeare, at least for some of these characters, was writing roles for some arthritic older actor yet simultaneously cutting him considerable (and considerate) slack? Maybe a company member? Maybe himself? I know that tradition has it that Shakespeare played Adam and the Ghost, both of them early outs. Some of these roles are quite juicy, and it’s very easy to imagine Shakespeare writing them for himself.


Does the membership have any candidates? Or a better theory? Or have I found one more Secretly Encoded Key to the Universe that isn’t there at all?


Best to all,

Bob Projansky

Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.