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  • Authentic Shakespeare?
    Started by Stephen on Feb 19, 2014
    1 reply Replies / 10557 Views
    2 Recommendations

    Is “authentic” Shakespeare, really authentic?

    There is a lot of interest these days about performing Shakespeare “authentically.” Whether that is using all male actors, a setting in the 17th century, or speaking in original pronunciation – theater goers seem to desire a more genuine experience.

    As Elizabeth Dalton argues in the Wall Street Journal, “In the 16th and early 17th centuries, female roles were indeed played by male actors, but presumably for one reason only: Women were not allowed on stage until 1660, 44 years after Shakespeare’s death.”

    There is no doubt in the success / stage-worthiness of these “authentic” productions (see Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre’s “Twelfth Night”); however, are these productions any more “authentic” than “Taming of the Shrew” set in the 1950’s or an all female “Julius Caesar”?

    If the text is Shakespeare’s, does it matter if the actors / setting / dialect match the time period when Shakespeare staged his plays?


    Descending / Ascending

    RE: by Elsa on May 25, 2014

    I just read Dalton’s piece and I have thoughts!

    Perhaps Shakespeare would have cast women in the female roles if he could have, but he still wrote knowing that the roles would be played by men. That awareness is everywhere in the plays, sometimes in humor, other times in mind-bending explorations of gender and identity.

    Dalton offers this line, spoken by Orsino to Cesario, as evidence that the actor playing Viola must actually look like a girl in order for the line to make sense: “For they shall yet belie thy happy years, that say thou art a man. Diana’s lip is not more smooth and rubious.”

    I’m thinking and typing at the same time here, but it occurs to me that the announcement that Cesario’s lips are smooth and rubious is exactly that: an announcement. We’re talking about a time when people were watching plays in a crowded, distracting environment without spotlights or contact lenses. Most of the audience would not have been able to see details like facial structure or stubble or wrinkles. A line like this tells an audience that these physical details are true of Cesario/Viola, that this is what Orsino sees as he stands close enough to Viola to, in some productions, actually reach out and touch her lips. I’m not sure how important it is that we, the audience, can see for ourselves that Viola’s features are soft and feminine.

    I had the very great luck to see the Rylance Twelfth Night, and I disagree a bit with Dalton’s description of his appearance as funny. Olivia was as times hilarious, and yes, sometimes it was a mincing step or an exaggerated feminine flutter that got the laugh, but for me, Rylance’s Olivia was the most moving I have ever seen. His performance of femininity deepened my understanding of Olivia. This Olivia was trapped, trapped in those stiff clothes and wig, trapped in her grief and trapped by the persistent, unwanted attentions of Orsino.

    I don’t think that the obviousness of the male actors made the end of this play a farce at all. Orsino’s attraction to Viola began when she was Cesario. In this production Orsino and Cesario almost share an extremely charged kiss. The point is not authenticity for authenticity’s sake – it is the fascinating interpretation that becomes possible once the choice is made to stage the play with an all-male cast.


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