Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Performance History

There are several things that have found their ways into the performance traditions of Shakespeare's plays that were never intended or written into the original scripts. These interesting elements have helped the plays grow in our understanding of them or fit the times in which they are performed. They are not "right" and are ever changing, but they add a level of mystique and tradition to what is done upon the boards.

The most popular example comes from Hamlet in the Closet Scene from Act III. The Queen's Closet would have been her anti-chamber; nothing extensive or large. It would have contained perhaps a vanity and mirror and a chair to sit in and "fix her face." Indeed, in original Jacobean staging, little in the way of properties or furniture was used so there would have been little brought onstage to indicate the location of the scene.

But we live in a post-Freud world where much of the action in any play has to be psychoanalyzed. Add to that a health dose of the Oedipus Complex and all of a sudden this scene requires a bed to stage. It was not until the early part of the Twentieth Century that this scene began being played out in the Queen's bedroom, and subsequent productions have followed suit.

What other little nuances have been passed down over the years? Please feel free to share them in the comments.

Happy Birthday: Lionel Barrymore (1878-1954)

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