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The Elizabethan-Jacobean script-to-stage process: the playwright, theatrical intentions, and collaboration.

In my work as a theater historian, I have managed to sidestep the question of authorial intention. Rather, the three questions that have engaged me for roughly thirty years are: 1) at those first performances of Twelfth Night and Hamlet what did the original playgoers actually see? 2) how can we tell today (i.e., what constitutes evidence)? and 3) to borrow the persistent question from undergraduates and other non-belligerents, so what? (1)

Question 2 has generated for me what seems a never-ending study of the stage directions that have survived in the early manuscripts and printed editions, a study enhanced by my colleague, Leslie Thomson, who compiled a database of over twenty-two thousand items from professional plays that formed the basis of our 1999 dictionary. Cary DiPietro's invitation to contribute to the SHAKSPER Roundtable, however, pulled me out of that comfort zone in italics and forced me to look more widely at the playhouse evidence about the role of playwrights (2) in the script-to-stage process. As opposed to the fairly stable progression from author to print in a novel or in Paradise Lost, what can be determined about authorial intentions in a manuscript targeted at Elizabethan and Jacobean players, playgoers, and playhouses, a manuscript inextricably tied to in-the-theatre practices largely lost to us? Do the surviving stage directions (regularly couched in what seems to be an imperative mode) provide an authorial voice: here is how my playscript should be staged and interpreted? Or are these signals only the beginning of a conversation between a playwright and the theatre practitioners who will bring the words and actions to the stage? What follows is my own idiosyncratic formulation--so, caveat lector.

First to be considered is the historical evidence, such as it is. To determine the contribution of a playwright to the staging of his play by an Elizabethan or Jacobean theatre company is, as with many comparable problems, to encounter a murky area where, in terms of actual evidence, the norm is silence--and this situation is particularly true for the practices of Shakespeare and his colleagues for most of his career, the Lord Chamberlain's and the King's Men. What has been the standard view is provided by Gerald Eades Bentley: "The dramatist sold his manuscript to the acting company for which it had been prepared; after that it was no more his than the cloak that he might have sold to the actors at the same time" (82). For Bentley, examples of the sale of plays by third parties "without reference to the author... further emphasize the playwright's lack of control over his own compositions. Far from being a sacred holograph, a dramatist's manuscript was often treated simply as another theatrical commodity, like a cloth cloak or laced cuffs, 'things of small value'" (87). Neil Carson concentrates on the 1602-03 period in Henslowe's records and concludes: "Dramatists appear to have formed loose partnerships or syndicates which worked together for short periods and then broke up and reformed into other alliances," so that "the impression one is left with is of the playwright as a relatively independent agent who seems to have had considerable control over his own methods of work and to have used that freedom to market his skills, alone or in association with others, to his greatest advantage" (22-3).

In her 2006 book, Grace Ioppolo challenges this widely accepted formulation on the basis of what she teases out of her reading of the Henslowe-AIleyn papers, surviving play manuscripts, and other documents (e.g., the late 1630s dispute between playwright Richard Brome and the Salisbury Court Theatre). In her formulation: "Dramatists could, then, take an extraordinary, and hands-on, role in the staging of their plays, even in purchasing costumes" and therefore "did not simply hand over a completed manuscript, and their authority, at the playhouse door and disappear with no further contact with the company, its actors, and the play itself." Rather, playwrights such as Daborne, Dekker, and Jonson, "even if not exclusively attached to a particular company, appear to have had nearly continuous contact with the companies for which they worked," for "the overwhelming evidence provided by the Henslowe and A archive suggests that authors were not forced to surrender all authority in their plays once the manuscripts were presented." She concludes that "the authors could be consulted, or could interfere, when necessary .... In fact, acting companies frequently sought the advice of authors when casting actors in their plays and continued to turn to authors for other support during readings and rehearsal" (28-9). (3)

This argument warrants attention, though such terms as "overwhelming" and "frequently" may be an overstatement (and other scholars who have pored over the playhouse annotations that survive in a few manuscripts and printed texts do not support some of Ioppolo's conclusions). Clearly, those playwrights somehow attached to a given company (e.g., Shakespeare, Heywood, Fletcher) could have played a significant role in the process of turning an authorial manuscript into a performed play. However, the unwelcome truth (to repeat my mantra) is that, despite the labors of generations of scholars, there is much of significance that we do not and may never know about the script-to-stage process in this period. As a result, both my work in reconstructing onstage business and that of Ioppolo is replete with uses of "may have," "seems" and The Three P's: "probably" "presumably," and "perhaps."

Clearly, some playwrights were concerned with how their work was treated by theatrical professionals. The poster child for a playwright seeking to ensure that his intentions were realized is Ben Jonson, as witnessed by the explanations provided by his various choric commentators, most notably Cordatus and Mitis in Every Man Out of His Humour (a play that apparently was a 1599 success for the Lord Chamberlain's Men), two figures who provide a running commentary (at least in the post-performance extremely long "literary" version) on the action and on satire in general. Jonson's fixation on how his plays were treated in the theatre is one of the traits singled out in the attack on him in Satiromastix (1601). Here, as part of the punishment inflicted at the climax, Horace-Jonson is required to swear that he "shall not sit in a Gallery, when your Comedies and Enterludes have entred their Actions, and there make vile and bad faces at euerie lyne, to make Gentlemen haue an eye to you, and to make Players afraide to take your part" (5.2.298-301). Jonson, moreover, provides anecdotal evidence wherein he types himself as one who hovered over his plays in performance. In the Induction to Bartholomew Fair, the Stage-keeper comments: "But for the whole play, will you ha' the truth on't? (l am looking, lest the poet hear me, or his man, Master Brome, behind the arras) it is like to be a very conceited scurvy one, in plain English" (6-9). In Cynthia's Revels, one child actor asks to speak with the author, but another responds: "wee are not so officiously befriended by him. as to have his presence in the tiring-house, to prompt vs aloud, stampe at the booke-holder, sweare for our properties, curse the poore tire-man, raile the music out of tune, and sweat for euerie veniall trespasse we commit, as some Authour would, if he had such fine engles as we" (Induction, 160-6).

Shakespeare, unlike Jonson, was an actor and company share-holder for most of his career and therefore available to tweak his original manuscript during the movement towards performance and provide his insight, if asked, into intended meanings, stagings, whatever. Although what he actually contributed to the post-manuscript part of the process remains a mystery, scholars with performance interests over the years have sought to find "signals in the script" or other markers (as in Ann Pastemak Slater's Shakespeare the Director). If the arrow in the dying Clifford's neck turns up in a putative performance-related text, the 1595 Octavo version of 3 Henry VI, but not in the First Folio version (2.6.0), are we to conclude that Shakespeare was on hand to supply this detail from Holinshed that was not included in his submitted manuscript or was someone else in the company also reading source material? To eliminate Shakespeare (or Heywood or Fletcher) from further participation in the script-to-performance process seems illogical, but to pin down what or how much they contributed is daunting if not impossible.

One procedure often omitted from such discussions is the play-reading. As Bentley notes: "A normal part of the dramatist's preparation of his play for the acting troupe was the reading of his manuscript to them for their approval," so that he cites several allusions to this practice in Henslowe's papers: e.g., five shillings "lent at that time to the company for to spend at the reading of that book at the Sun in New Fish Street"; two shillings "laid out for the company when they read the play of Jeffa for wine at the tavern." He points out further that, since "all the companies of the time were repertory companies, the dramatist knew in advance a good deal about the kind of production his play might get, and a skillful writer of experience could go far in adapting the requirements of at least the major roles to the leading members listening to his reading"; as a result, "a great advantage lay with the actor-dramatists like Samuel and William Rowley, William Shakespeare, Thomas Heywood, and Nathan Field, whose daily familiarity with the styles and talents of their fellows made it easier for them to exploit special gifts and to anticipate difficulties" (76-7).

In her review of the sparse evidence for such play-readings (evidence that does not include any examples linked to Shakespeare's company), Tiffany Stern observes that such a reading "gave the playwright a chance to speak the text in the manner in which he wished to hear it performed" (2000: 60). Here is an opportunity for a strong-minded playwright such as Jonson to make his wishes known. But to confront this play-reading practice is to enter the misty realm of conjecture. Would a playwright who was also an actor have been histrionic in his presentation? Stern includes a passage from Histriomastix (1599) where Posthaste, a bumbling poet-playwright, "reads out his text highlighting the passion so strongly that it overtakes him" (60). Would a play-reader such as Jonson or Shakespeare have responded to questions or provided a running commentary? What tantalizes me is: would such a reading of a manuscript include a reading aloud of the stage directions? If so, would some of those signals---e.g., the "fictional" ones that appear to tell the story or slip into a narrative mode--be linked to the playwright's thinking ahead not only to the eventual performance but also to this reading audition trial run? More generally, if such a to-be-expected extra step between completed manuscript and preparation for performance was anticipated, would some manuscript features be conditioned by an author or authors taking into account that intermediate phase? Would such an author-centered event have conveyed a sense of his intentions to the players as auditors?

As will have become clear, l can offer many questions about the role of the playwright in the script-to-stage process but few answers. Since I do not wish to echo Prospero in his Epilogue ("And my ending is despair"), I will turn to the area 1 know best, the many extant stage directions, and what they can and cannot tell us about authorial intention. First, as context, consider a recent essay by Cary Mazer ("The Intentional-Fallacy Fallacy"), where the author, drawing on his experience as a dramaturg, posits a crucial distinction "between dramatic content and theatrical materials." In this formulation, for the theatre artist "the contents of the dramatist's intention are indecipherable, unknowable, or irrelevant; but the dramatist's artful arrangement of the dramatic and theatrical materials--the playwright's craftsmanship--is both discernible and knowable. With this distinction in mind, the stage-centered Shakespeare scholar can avoid questions of authorship and intentionality with regard to meaning, while at the same time embracing intentionality with regard to craftsmanship." The term craftsmanship is used "to cover questions about dramaturgical strategy--the craft of dramatic story-telling--and about theatrical conventions, the period-specific machinery of staging employed by the original theatrical collaborators in building the theater piece from the script provided by the playwright." Mazer argues that when "addressing questions of dramaturgical strategy, stage-centered scholars practice the Intentional Fallacy with impunity: there must be a reason for the playwright to have decided to delay this entrance, to introduce that character into this scene, to narrate this offstage event rather than showing it happening onstage, to have one character respond to an event with a lengthy speech and to another with silence" (102-3). As examples he invokes Brutus hearing the news of Portia's death not once but twice; Leontes' reunion with Perdita being placed offstage; and Edgar, not Albany, being given the final speech in Folio King Lear.

To focus upon intentional strategy or craftsmanship is, in turn, to build edifices upon the surviving stage directions, particularly those supplied by experienced playwrights targeting their work at the public professional theatres--as opposed to amateurs, academics, or writers of court masques and other special one-shot, no-expense-spared entertainments. Even with their admitted limitations, these signals can indicate what seasoned professionals thought was within the realm of the possible. Here a brief overview of that evidence will be helpful. (4)

Early editors such as Edmund Malone assumed that these signals were furnished by the players and therefore were negligible as evidence; other candidates have been scribes who copied the manuscripts, compositors in the printing shop, and bookkeepers in the playhouse who supposedly transformed a playwright's draft into a promptbook suitable for performance. Recent scholars, however, have debunked the notion of an orderly promptbook as an anachronism and demonstrated that a high percentage of stage directions are authorial in origin (see especially the work of William B. Long). Indeed, close attention to the surviving manuscripts and printed texts with playhouse annotations has shown how few were the additions or corrections made by the bookkeeper--most commonly to specify sound effects, spell out which actors are to play supernumerary roles, and anticipate the introduction of large properties.

The major role of the extant stage directions is traffic control--getting actors and properties on and off the stage--so that the most widely used term by far is enter. A large majority of the signals therefore consist of an enter and some combination of proper names (Hamlet, Faustus, Hieronimo); titles or professions (queen, bishop, merchant); and generic types or collective nouns (army, citizens, others, servants, soldiers, women). Also plentiful are signals that specify the place where or from which the entrance is to be made (above, below, at several doors, in a prison, shop, or study) and modifiers that characterize the entering figure as amazed, bleeding, booted, disguised, marching, mourning, muffled, raging, reading, running, sick, solus, or weeping (to cite but a few examples). Equally important are the many uses of erit and its plural exeunt, along with related terms such as manet-manent and offers to go.

When one moves beyond enter-exit and traffic control, problems increase exponentially, for what is characteristic of most playscripts of this period is not explicit detail about how to stage a given moment but some combination of 1) silence and 2) coded signals directed at playhouse professionals who knew their craft well. A large sub-group of such signals can be labeled "permissive" or "open" wherein key details are left indeterminate. One recurring situation is to leave indefinite the number of actors required for an entrance. Most common is to leave open the number of figures in an entrance by means of a collective noun (army, attendants, followers, lords, men, others, train, "and the rest"), but also to be found are various modifiers (certain, diverse, sundry, and most commonly several) and versions of "as many as may be."

Such indeterminacy can also be glimpsed in a much larger group of stage directions that contain coded or shorthand terms that omit significant bits of information so that much is left to the implementation of the players. In the most visible examples the missing details are easy to spot and flesh out, for few readers will take literally a direction such as "Exit corse" (Richard III, 1.2.226) where the attendants who carry the bier are assumed, not specified. More tantalizing are those situations where what is omitted is less certain. An ellipsis may be obvious when an object is cited without the player who must carry it but is much harder to recognize when personnel or effects are signaled without any accompanying costumes or properties. A reader today who confronts such theatrical shorthand will either expand the phrase or at the least recognize the existence of some coded effect (enter in a shop, enter in his study), even if the exact implementation of that effect remains in doubt. But, as already noted, the vast majority of surviving stage directions consist only of an enter followed by one or more named figures or generic types (doctor, forester, friar, jailor, lawyer, lord, merchant, nurse, sailor, servant, soldier) with no information about costume, make-up, and hand-held properties, all of which were presumably the province of the actor (as opposed to an altar, bed, bar, bier, coffin, scaffold, or table that would have been thrust onto the stage). For example, an apparently straightforward stage direction such as "enter a jailor" or "keeper" may be as elliptical or incomplete as "Exit corse" if such a figure would be assumed to have a distinctive costume and be carrying a large set of keys so as to convey to a playgoer a sense of enter in prison. Also to be factored in are various clearly coded signals, as when figures are directed to enter mad-distracted, unready, "as in prison," "as in a garden." (5)

What then does this evidence reveal about intentions, strategy, and craftsmanship? Consider two case studies. First, a tricky issue when dealing with stage directions and, by extension, theatrical intentions is their placement in a given scene, particularly for mid scene entrances and exits--and here is an issue where theatre historians and editors often part company. In an influential essay, E. A. J. Honigmann describes what he sees as Shakespeare's carelessness with stage directions: "He often omitted them, or left them incomplete, or inserted them in approximately but not precisely the correct place"; he argues, moreover, that some of these signals "were added or misplaced by scriveners, prompters, Folio editors or compositors," to the point that the editor or reader "cannot avoid giving a higher authority to the 'implied stage-directions' of the dialogue than to directions printed as such" (187).

Honigmann rightly calls our attention to omissions or incompleteness in the surviving stage directions, but the line between "carelessness" and "permissiveness" (wherein one knowledgeable theatrical professional is talking to another) is a hard one to draw. Of interest here is a recurring phenomenon: that a number of figures in the early printed texts enter one or more lines before they are noticed by those onstage. Readers of Shakespeare who do not work directly with the original quartos or the First Folio will not be aware of many of these potential anomalies (roughly one or two per play), because editors regularly move the signals so as to have them conform to normative usage. To Honigmann and many editors, these odd placements represent carelessness (by the playwright or compositor) or the result of exigencies in the printing shop or an indication of the depth of the Globe stage (so that a few lines were needed for the entering figure upstage to join a downstage group). The latter explanation (that extra lines were inserted for practical reasons) makes good sense until one asks: why is such a special allowance granted to one entrance but not to the fifteen to thirty comparable moments in the same script?

Consider one highly visible example, the entrance of a smiling Malvolio in yellow stockings and cross-gartered (Twelfth Night, 3.4). (6) Most modern editions (here the Riverside is an exception) place that entry just before Olivia's "How now, Malvolio?" (15), so that she and the playgoer see the entering figure at the same time. In the Folio, however, Malvolio is directed to enter two lines earlier, just after Olivia's "Go call him hither," so that the only authoritative early printed text of this comedy places Malvolio onstage for her "I am as mad as he, / If sad and merry madness equal be" (13-14).

To some readers, the difference may seem unimportant; to many editors, the Folio version appears illogical or impractical. But what happens if we take this placement as seriously as any other bit of evidence in the Folio Twelfth Night? For example, what would be the effect upon Malvolio if at his entrance he overhears Olivia talking about her own madness? Could such words reinforce in his mind the evidence gained from the letter in 2.5 and therefore serve as another building block for the cross-purposes and comic delusion that follow? Or would a playgoer who sees Malvolio enter, while at the same time hearing Olivia talk of her own malady, be more likely to see an analogy between the two instances of comic madness or self-delusion? Again, how does one distinguish between "carelessness" and a valid theatrical strategy or intention?

To puzzle over the placement or timing of stage directions is to confront a related yet different set of problems. Dealing with permissive or coded signals is regularly to encounter silences in the original manuscripts and printed texts. In contrast, provocative evidence is available about early entrances, but those signals are regularly deemed dispensable by many scholars because their placement is out of phase with our paradigms or expectations--and if an editor repositions such a signal, users of that edition will be unaware that such an option even exists. In this instance, provocative evidence may survive, but, whether because of the editorial process or because of the lenses through which today's reader views a Shakespeare play, no one is paying attention. In seeking to recover the original staging and the possible intentions behind it, the theatre historian is therefore bedeviled by both the absence of evidence and the presence of seemingly anomalous signals that can easily be ignored. Both silences and anomalies, however, can be crucial if the goal is to open up a window through which we can view the original strategies and craftsmanship.

My second example is generated by an atypical stage direction from another familiar script, 1 Henry IV, that sets up the re-robbing of Falstaff and his cronies at Gadshill: "As they are sharing the Prince and Poins set upon them, they all run away, and Falstaff after a blow or two runs away too, leaving the booty behind them" (2.2.101). The use of the initial as clause is not unusual, for many stage directions are keyed to the timing of an action (with while clauses the most common), but this particular action is rare--indeed, our database contains no other use of share/ sharing.

Is then this anomalous signal part of some strategy or theatrical intention? In general terms, readers of 1 Henry IV have teased out an analogy between the Gadshill robbery of Act 2 and the rebellion that climaxes with the confrontation at Shrewsbury in Acts 4 and 5, but what if the original staging italicized this analogy? First, as detailed in the Quarto's "As they are sharing," when interrupted by Hal and Poins the four thieves (Falstaff, Bardolph, Peto, and Gadshill) are somehow dividing up the spoils, probably grouped around their loot which is laid out in front of them. A few scenes later (3.1) four figures again appear onstage (Hotspur, Glendower, Worcester, and Mortimer) and again are grouped around an object of common interest (this time a map of England) in order again to divide up the spoils (this time the kingdom itself). The two scenes could be blocked to highlight the analogy so as to call attention to a link between two seemingly disparate actions which are not as disparate as they first appear, a relationship that can easily elude a reader faced only with the printed page.

How firm is this connection? Yes, the unusually explicit signal from 2.2 does set up an onstage image of four thieves starting prematurely to share "the booty," but more typical of Elizabethan playscripts are the silences in 3. I. The initial stage direction is only "Enter Hotspur, Worcester, Lord Mortimer, Owen Glendower" (3.1.0), with no mention of any stage furniture or even the map. The latter prop is referred to several times in the dialogue (6, 69) and is the focus of attention for a major segment of the scene (69-138); chairs, stools, or cushions are implied by Hotspur's "Lord Mortimer, and cousin Glendower, / Will you sit down? And uncle Worcester" and Glendower's "Sit, cousin Percy, sit" (3-5, 7). If they had not already seen the possibility, Shakespeare could have noted an analogy between 2.2 and 3.1 to his player-colleagues (and here is one of many advantages of having an in-house playwright at hand during the script-to-stage process). Nonetheless, the silences in 3.1 are typical of other such moments (when a possible, even likely configuration is left open)--as opposed to the unusual specificity of the signal in 2.2 (presumably owing to its more complex or atypical nature).

To repeat, the silence linked to the configuration of Hotspur and his group in 3.1 is the norm, whereas the scripted action of Falstaff and his group "sharing" is the exception, so that here as elsewhere the actual stage directions rarely provide firm support for such hypothetical stagings. Is such an onstage analogy indeed part of the playwright's strategy? Or is such a proposed link, which may make theatrical or interpretative sense today, a product of a post-1642 sense of aesthetic unity or of a critic-teacher-director's tastes? Are staging choices that enhance a sense of patterning inherent in a given script (a stance maintained by the first generation of performance critics and by some of today's theatrical professionals) or are supposed analogous actions no more than a product of the interpreter's eye? The original players (with the playwright sometimes at hand) were adept interpreters of a playscript, but would their script-to-stage reasoning correspond to ours? For me, the distinctive "As the), are sharing" sets up a certain credibility that the "image" may have been repeated elsewhere and that such an echo-repetition was part of the playwright's strategy, but such a conclusion is anything but bedrock.

To conclude: what emerges from my account is a sense of a collaborative theatrical process where, in the construction of their play manuscripts, the authors of the surviving stage directions took for granted the professionalism and expertise of the players. Shakespeare and his colleagues were not benighted primitives who lacked our superior know-how and technology but were highly skilled professionals who for many decades sustained a repertory theatre company that is the envy of any comparable group since. However, when putting quill to paper, Shakespeare (or Heywood, or Fletcher) was crafting his plays for players, playgoers, and playhouses that no longer exist. In reading early modern playscripts today, we enter into the middle of a conversation--a discourse in a language we only partly understand--between a playwright and his player-colleagues, a halfway stage that was completed in performances now lost to us. Although we will never reconstitute those performances, we may be able to recover elements of that vocabulary and hence better understand that conversation, whether the pre-production concept of the playwright or the implementation by the players. Nonetheless, despite such efforts in historical recovery, we remain eavesdroppers.

From the perspective of a theatre historian, much has been irretrievably lost about Shakespeare's role in the playhouse--and his intentions--and I, for one, have great difficulty hearing an authorial voice in his stage directions and elsewhere in his playscripts. However, even as eavesdroppers, some elements on some level (e.g., in terms of craftsmanship or strategy) can still be recognized and, with effort, understood for our profit and delight. The rest is silence.

Works Cited

Bentley, Gerald Eades. The Profession of Dramatist in Shakespeare's Time 1590-1642. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1971. Print.

Carson, Nell. "Collaborative Playwriting: The Chettle, Dekker, Heywood Syndicate." Theatre Research International 14 (1989): 13-23. Print.

Dekker, Thomas, Satiromastix. In The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker Ed. Fredson Bowers. 4 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge UR 1953.1:299-391. Print.

Dessen, Alan C. "Stage Directions and the Theatre Historian." In A Handbook on Early Modern Theatre Ed. Richard Dutton. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. 51327. Print.

--. Recovering Shakespeare's Theatrical Vocabulary. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. Print.

--. and Leslie Thomson. A Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama, 1580-1642. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999. Print.

Honigmann, E. A. J. Myriad-Minded Shakespeare. 2nd ed. London and New York: MacMillan, 1998. Print.

Ioppolo, Grace. Dramatists and their Manuscripts in the Age of Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton, and Heywood." Authorship, Authority and The Playhouse. London: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Jonson, Ben. Bartholomew Fair. Ed. E. A. Horsman. Revels Plays. London: Methuen, 1960. Print.

--. Cynthia's Revels. In Ben Jonson Ed. C. H. Herford and Percy and Evelyn Simpson. 11 vols. London: Oxford UP, 1925-52.4:1-184. Print.

Hart, Alfred. "Did Shakespeare Produce His Own Plays?" Modern Language Review 36 (1941): 173-83. Print.

Klein, David. "Did Shakespeare Produce His Own Plays?" Modern Language Review 57 (1962): 556-60. Print.

Long, William B. "Stage Directions: A Misinterpreted Factor in Determining Textual Provenance." Text 2 (1985): 121-37. Print.

Mazer, Cary. "The Intentional-Fallacy Fallacy." In Staging Shakespeare, ed. Lena Cowen Orlin and Miranda Johnson-Haddad. Newark: U of Delaware P, 2007, 99-113. Print.

Palfrey, Simon, and Tiffany Stem. Shakespeare in Parts. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

Slater, Ann Pastemak. Shakespeare the Director. Brighton: Harvester Press, 1982. Print.

Stern, Tiffany. Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

Alan C. Dessen

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


(1) For a full discussion of such questions and the nature of the evidence, see the first three chapters of my 1995 Recovering Shakespeare's Theatrical Vocabulary.

(2) Playwright (as opposed to dramatist or author) is my term of choice based on the analogy to a shipwright or wainwright who constructs a product from the available material (which, in the case of a playscript that will lead to a performance, consists of more than words alone). The prevalent term in this period appears to have been playmaker.

(3) One of the responses to my SHAKSPER contribution came from Tom Reedy, who asked about the comment from Johannes Rhenanus--that, in England, actors "are daily instructed, as it were in a school, so that even the most eminent actors have to allow themselves to be taught their places by the Dramatists." Here is a good example of the murky nature of the evidence, for that passage has indeed been invoked by scholars but for varying purposes. For example, first Alfred Hart (in 1941) and later David Klein (in 1962) in articles with the same title in Modern Language Review ("Did Shakespeare Produce His Own Plays?") cited Rhenanus on different sides of the question (Hart argued no, Klein yes). In her rehearsal book Tiffany Stem observes that "Rhenanus's passage is often quoted as a description of rehearsals in the Elizabethan public theatre, but it occurs in the introduction to Speculum A estheticum (1613), a translation of Thomas Tomkis's Trinity College, Cambridge, play Lingua." Stem concludes: "Almost certainly Rhenanus is writing about academic productions.., and he is probably making a direct reference to the preparation of Lingua itself' (40). For a more recent summary of her argument in behalf of one-on-one "Instruction" (as opposed to group rehearsals), occasionally by the playwright but more commonly by senior actors, see Shakespeare in Parts (co-authored with Simon Palfrey), pp. 66-70. Again, a playwright attached to a given company (as was Shakespeare) may have played a significant role in the script-to-stage process, but the fragmentary nature of the evidence forestalls any firm conclusions.

(4) For a fuller overview, see my "Stage Directions and the Theatre Historian."

(5) I am sidestepping the slippery question of "implied" stage directions--i.e., actions indicated in the dialogue. Admittedly, various crucial onstage moments lack a stage direction (e.g., the blinding of Gloucester), but this material represents shifting sands, not bedrock. Typical is Gertrude's description of Hamlet in the closet scene: "Forth at your eyes your spirits wildly peep, / And as the sleeping soldiers in th' alarm, / Your bedded hair, like life in excrements, / Start up and stand an end" (3.4.119-22). Are we to conclude from this passage (see also Julius Caesar, 4.3.279-80) that Richard Burbage had a fright wig, or that he had the ability to make his hair stand on end (self-willed horripilation)? Or are such descriptions substitutes for what cannot be bodily displayed to a playgoer? To tease out onstage effects and practice from dialogue is repeatedly to encounter this problem.

(6) For a fuller discussion of this phenomenon, see Recovering Shakespeare's Theatrical Vocabulary, pp. 64-77.
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