Experimenting With The Globe Essay

7036 words - 29 pages

Reconstructing the peculiar kind of theatre for which Shakespeare wrote his plays, which was unique to his time, has been a matter of recurrent interest both to scholars and to directors and actors of the plays. More than thirty theatres with pretensions to being a replica of the Globe (with, of course, varying degrees of accuracy) have been built since 1820. All of these projects suffered from the inadequacy of the information about the original theatre. Until 1989 the only evidence was a few inaccurate seventeenth-century pictures and the few references to features of the theatre that recur in the plays. The discovery of a fragment, a little over 10%, of the original Globe's foundations in ...view middle of the document...

The texts as they have come down to us record all he thought it necessary for his fellows to have on paper in order to stage the plays. Those taciturn hints, probably taciturn because he knew that he'd be there on stage himself for the rehearsals, do not help us much. So we have to experiment to see what works, and how it works. Everything that the last four centuries have wrung from these texts would be substantially enhanced by a better knowledge of what the original Shakespearean concept was, the plays as he conceived them coming to life on the stage rather than in the relics, the rough scripts I think rightly called, post-Derrida, the pre-texts, that we have on the page.What I hope to do here is raise a few questions. My own starting-point is Bernard Beckerman's 1962 book, Shakespeare at the Globe, 1599-1609,[1] because I think it summed up in a quite outstanding way all the best of what had been conceived about the original staging up to that time. If you read it now, surprisingly few of his main assumptions seem to need dislodging. I propose to do no more than offer a small revision, a reappraisal of Beckerman's conclusions. He is invaluable in prompting the kind of questions we should be asking now that we have the prospect of a real Globe to test his suppositions on.He of course was basing his calculations about the staging on the state of the art as it was in 1960: Cranford Adams, up-ended by Walter Hodges.[2] But the history of thinking about the Globe's design is not my subject. I start from the assumption that, if we concede a few areas of continuing doubt, we can now claim to have restored something reasonably like the original machine, the Globe building, so far as the current information allows. What we cannot do so readily is to re-create all the original materials, not just the original staging but the early audiences for whom Shakespeare wrote, and all the languages that he and they shared and we have lost. Besides the machine itself we need to retrieve the meaning of lines like "Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot" which Kate delivers near the end of The Taming of the Shrew,[3] and to register the meaning of such paralinguistic signifiers as Osric tries to give with his hat-waving to Hamlet, or the games played with the decorums of courtly behaviour in the presence of a king when he is hatless and mad like Lear in the storm. But these limitations in the necessary attempts to reconstruct the "authentic" staging cannot be used as an excuse to ignore what might be learned from a properly careful use of this new replication of the original fabric, if we approach it principally as the basis for experimentation.We need a frame, a theoretical laboratory, to base our experiments on. I start with four basic assumptions. First, that Shakespeare's original playscripts did not contain many stage directions simply because the writer was on the spot to say what he wanted, and therefore did not have to record much of it in the...

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