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Tony Grist

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Jacobean Stagecraft- Notes And Queries [Apr. 9th, 2012|12:34 pm]
Tony Grist
1. An Elizabethan audience would have been full of people who carried weapons and knew how to use them. I assume the fighting on stage would have had to have been fairly realistic to please them.  

2. How many bodies could Shakespeare muster to form his armies and mobs?

3. The Tempest has a scene in which a banquet is made to vanish "with a quaint device". I'd love to know how that was done. Slightly later a bunch of nymphs and reapers perform a dance and then "to a strange, hollow, and confused noise, they heavily vanish". "Heavily vanish": what on earth does that mean?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-09 12:28 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's good. I think you're onto something there.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-09 12:36 pm (UTC)
I think your guess that "heavily" means "downwards" is probably spot on.

So, we conjure up a host with noise not numbers. That makes sense. I like the idea that they made use of the audience.
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[User Picture]From: wemyss
2012-04-09 02:52 pm (UTC)

Come, come. This won't do.

I really must urge another point. Iris has summoned the nymphs and the corydonic, rustic reapers to dance to celebrate a contract of true love, and 'make holiday'; and they vanish when Prospero, starling, speaks hsi aside, to recall to his mind that Caliban has plotted against his life and the crisis of the conspiracy is at hand. Thus the rustic dance, the antic hay, is interrupted, amidst confusion and ominous noises, by Prospero's sudden start and the imminence of conflict: wherefore the celebrants depart 'heavily', or in more modern terms, sadly, heavy-heartedly, and with dragging, disgruntled step. That is the more likely 17th C meaning of the term, I submit.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-09 04:01 pm (UTC)

Re: Come, come. This won't do.

I take your point, but the word is "vanish"- which implies some kind of stage magic. And it's reinforced by Prospero's telling us that they have "melted into air". These dancers are spirits not flesh and blood, so vanishing is an appropriate way for them to leave. The stage directions are original, I believe, and represent- even if they're not Shakespeare's own words- the way things were managed in an early production- probably at The Blackfriars where they had state-of-the-art stage machinery to play about with.

There are other so-called "vanishings" in the Tempest- including that of a banquet "with a quaint device". It seems to me they'd developed a way of making things disappear in full view of the audience and were having fun with it.
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[User Picture]From: wemyss
2012-04-09 04:23 pm (UTC)

That there is a distinction between vanishing & exeunt, I don't deny.

What I do continue to believe is that it's rather more likely that 'heavily' in the directions refers to the players' attitude: that is to say, 'vanish with a quaint device' is a pure technical and mechanic direction, but Ariel's 'vanish[ing] in thunder' does not mean 'by use of a specific rig' and 'heavily vanish' is not prescriptive of which quaint device to use.

But I cd of course be wrong.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-09 05:50 pm (UTC)

Re: That there is a distinction between vanishing & exeunt, I don't deny.

Sadly, there's no way of settling it. If I had a TARDIS my first destination would be Shakespeare's Globe.
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[User Picture]From: wemyss
2012-04-09 07:43 pm (UTC)

Oh, THERE'S a question.

I'm not at all sure that that shd be my first port of call.

Too many choices, really.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-09 09:13 pm (UTC)

Re: Oh, THERE'S a question.

Agreed, but I can't think of anything I'm more curious about. Not right now, anyway.
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From: amritarosa
2012-04-09 06:10 pm (UTC)
I just want to say that I'm really enjoying your discussion of Shakespeare here. :)
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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2012-04-09 07:05 pm (UTC)
As I am. There is so much to learn here. It is not enough to study the plays, to view the video productions of the plays. I really need to know and understand the staging in Shakespeare's time. My professor gave us an overview of the Globe and a glimpse of the audience, the stratification of the classes in the audience, etc. But there is so much more to it. I rely on discussions such as this one to fill in the blanks. Thanks, Poliphilo, for starting this particular discussion.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-09 07:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I'm glad you find it useful.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-09 07:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2012-04-10 11:51 pm (UTC)
The "quaint device", from what I've read:

You have a table, with a fake banquet built into the tabletop as a single piece. The entire tabletop spins, flipping upside down, with the reverse side being an empty table. You can make the food appear and disappear at will by spinning the tabletop around.

Stage fencing masters could also work as real martial arts instructors, too. The sword-swap in the Hamlet/Laertes fight requires a pretty well-known disarm counter to work: you lock and grapple blades, then twist it out of your opponent's hand -- but it leaves your own blade vulnerable to a similar twist if the opponent knows how to do it, but at least you've got your grappled sword in a good position to wield it, and vice-versa. It's actually a pretty slick exchange done well.

Shakespeare's company could be stripped to 13 actors for his touring crew, but usually had a few more than that. For crowd scenes, they likely dropped costumes on their stagehands, money collectors, and possibly even locals. Say, maybe, twenty-plus bodies?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-04-11 08:21 am (UTC)
Thank you. That's the information I was hoping someone would come up with.

Twenty people on a small stage is quite a crowd.
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