The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.025  Tuesday, 24 January 2012


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

Date:         January 24, 2012 9:04:42 AM EST

Subject:     Light duty for an older actor?


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


>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. . . . 


>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



>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



Given the comparative smallness of most early modern acting companies and the fact that cast lists were often in excess of the number of players available, extensive doubling of roles was often necessary (as Bob Projansky acknowledges). The fact that a character doesn’t reappear doesn’t mean that the actor didn’t reappear. To take one of Bob’s examples, Twelfth Night, there are, later in the play, small roles (for example Fabian and the Priest) that have to be accounted for. Or perhaps more attractive thematic doubling would be the Captain with Antonio, since each acts as a kind of guardian figure for one of the play’s twins. If we have to come up with a theory like Bob’s to explain the brief appearance of the Captain we also have to explain the brief appearances of Curio and Valentine. Or, if in Henry V we are going to identify Canterbury as a role for a non-reappearing arthritic actor, why not Ely too? These were actors, after all—it was their job to play roles older (or younger or of a different race or gender) than themselves. I can see the attraction of Bob’s idea, but it seems to me to be quite unnecessary


Peter Hyland

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