Thursday, November 17, 2011

Shakespeare, Or Not Shakespeare, That Is The Question

With the film Anonymous coming out in the near future, which questions us whether Shakespeare wrote his plays (or was it the Earl of Oxford, or even Christopher Marlowe?), I came across this New York Times (Books) article on Twitter through @MatthiasRascher.

The article talks about Italian Romantic composer Verdi who successfully composed three operas: Macbeth, Otello and Falstaff out of Shakespeare's plays. It goes on to talk about drama in Shakespeare's time; how plays were written, how they were commissioned, so on and so forth, dispelling the theories that Shakespeare didn't write his plays, along the way.

The article written by Pulitzer-Prize winning author, historian and journalist Garry Wills can be found at this link:

Presented below are two paragraphs from the Shakespeare part:
Those who doubt that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare are working, usually, from a false and modern premise. They are thinking of the modern playwright, a full-time literary fellow who writes a drama and then tries to find people who will put it on—an agent to shop it around, a producer to put up the money, a theater as its venue, a director, actors, designers of sets and costumes, musicians and dancers if the play calls for them, and so on. Sometimes a successful playwright sets up an arrangement with a particular company (Eugene O’Neill and the Province- town Players) or director (Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan), but the process still begins with the writer creating his script, before elements are fitted around it, depending on things like which directors or actors are available for and desirous of doing the play. Producers complain that it is almost impossible to assemble the ideal cast for all the roles as the author envisioned them in his isolated act of creation. The modern writer owns the play by copyright and can publish it on his or her own, whether produced or not. None of these things was true of dramatic production in Shakespeare’s time.
Then, the process began with the actors. They chose the playwright, not vice versa. They owned the play, and could publish it or withhold it from publication. Each troupe had limited resources—often, nine to twelve adult actors (all male), and far fewer boy actors (sometimes as few as two). A Swiss traveler in 1599 saw “about fifteen” players handle the forty-five speaking parts in Julius Caesar.9An aspiring playwright had to bring his idea to these actors (or their representatives) with a plot accommodated to the number and talents of the particular troupe. The parts he was describing had to be so arranged as to allow for multiple doublings. A man playing two roles could not meet himself on stage, or even come back in as someone else too soon to allow for costume and other changes (a beard, wig, spectacles, padding, and so on). “For some thirty-five years from 1547–8 plays advertise, usually on the title-page, the number of actors required and how the parts may be doubled, trebled, and even septupled.”10 In a 1576 morality play, The Tide Tarrieth No Man, the Vice character is told to prolong his duel “while Wantonness maketh her ready” in the tiring-house to come back out as Greediness.11 The plot had to be tailored for the company from the very outset.
Happy reading! 

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