Saturday, April 9, 2011

Troilus and Cressida 9 of 9 - Shakespeare's Stagecraft

Troilus and Cressida 9 of 9

This post is a follow-up on the subject of the Shake-speare author being an amateur playwright as opposed to a professional.

Shake-speare’s Stagecraft

It is sometimes claimed that the Shake-speare plays exhibit an exceptional knowledge of stagecraft such as an actor, but not Bacon, would be likely to possess.

Even Hamlet’s address to the players has been prayed in aid. Thus Richard Garnett and Edmund Gosse in their History of English Literature (Vol. 2.201) say: “No one, surely, can doubt that the writer of this scene had been in the constant habit of giving instructions to performers”. Yet the address says nothing about acting which is not obvious to anyone. The short answer to this claim is that most great playwrights have mastered stagecraft without being actors.

The British novelist and playwright Arnold Bennet (1867-1931) injected a breath of fresh air into this topic when he wrote in English Review (July 1913): “An enormous amount of reverential nonsense is talked about the technique of the stage, the assumption being that in difficulty it far surpasses any other literary technique, and that until it is acquired a respectable play cannot be written…  The truth is that no technique is so crude and so simple as the technique of the stage, and that the proper place to learn it is not behind the scenes but in the pit”.

Another truth is that the pre-eminence of Shake-speare’s plays is due to their qualities of mind and language, not to any special wizardry in their stagecraft which in two respects at least is sometimes defective. One is that the stage directions are sometimes inadequate for performance. One excellent example mentioned was in post # 7 on the unmarked 30 entrances and exits in Troilus and Cressida.

At the other extreme they are occasionally perhaps overfull, literary rather than practical. For example, a Stage Direction in Timon Of Athens 1.2 says: “Then comes, dropping after all, Apemantus, discontentedly, like himself”.

Secondly, several of the plays, certainly Hamlet, Lear, and  Antony And  Cleopatra (line lengths of 3929, 3328, and 3059 respectively), are too long for performance in the public Theatre. An Elizabethan play ran for between two and three hours. Hamlet uncut runs for four hours.

One would expect a playwright who was an actor manager to have been more alive to theatre practicalities, and so to  have avoided these mistakes. But Bacon as an amateur would have been more prone to them.

It’s also been argued that only an in-house playwright could write parts that fit some of the actors peculiarities in Will Shakspeare’s company.  But since Bacon was known as one of the most astute observers of human nature (see his essays), it would not be difficult for him to have tailored some of the parts in some plays to the actors he had seen, and perhaps studied, that were in the company.

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