Restoration Shakespeare: Viewing the Voice

Restoration Shakespeare: Viewing the Voice

Restoration Shakespeare: Viewing the Voice

Restoration Shakespeare: Viewing the Voice

Synopsis

Between 1660 and 1682 seventeen versions of Shakespeare's plays were made for the newly reopened public theatres in London, and in its three parts Restoration Shakespeare: Viewing the Voice offers a new view of why and how such adaptation was undertaken. Part I considers the seventeenth-century debate about how dramatic poetry works on the mind. Part II offers an analysis of each play with regard to its visual and metaphorical effects. Part III concludes with a review of Shakespeare's reputation in these years, drawing a distinction between what readers and playgoers would have known of him.

Excerpt

On 16 May 1661 Sir William Davenant received from Charles II an exemplification of the letters patent that he had received from Charles’s father in 1639, granting him the right to erect a theater and run a company of actors. The new document stipulates Davenant’s duties and rights as a manager, and these include the performance of drama, including “operas, musick, scenes,” and the taking of payment from spectators “in regard of the great expences of scenes, musick, and such new decorations, as have not been formerly used.” For the plays themselves, “old and revived” ones are to be purged of profanity and obscenity and, because some people have formerly taken offence because “the womens parts therein have been acted by men in the habits of women,” actresses will now play such roles in reformed plays that will thereby become “useful and instructive representations of humane life, to such of our good subjects as shall resort to see the same.” (The documents are contained in James Wright’s Historia Histrionica [1699], and reproduced by Robert Dodsley in vol. 1 of his Select Collection of Old Plays [1825], clxx-clxxvi.)

While the document makes clear that words offensive to the ear must be expunged from old plays its stress is strongly on what the eye will henceforth behold. The sight of cross-dressed males was formerly offensive and must go, an assertion that neatly and unanswerably preempts as an argument in favor of professional actresses the prescription of Deuteronomy against cross-dressing. The introduction of actresses would come to be deprecated as a corrupting influence on the stage, however, and actresses were indeed soon to be deployed to interest the audience by the sight both of exposed legs in “breeches” parts (the offense of crossdressing forgotten) and, later on, of their physical distress in plots involving assault. In addition the document stresses the new use of sights for the eyes in scenery and decoration; these will be popular but expensive to develop.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.