Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Shakespeare's Intents in Tents

Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Shakespeare's Intents in Tents

Article excerpt

CHECKING "SHAKESPEARE AND TENTS" on Google opens a vast array of possibilities, from scholarly references to products such as tents made by the "Shakespeare" company as part of its fishing and outdoor items. One can learn of the many acting companies that perform Shakespeare in a tent. I also found out about a small acting troupe named "INTENTS," which performed a "physical comedy" about the environment at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2014. This confirmed that I was pursuing a plausible topic, but apparently not one of great interest to critics. For example, by checking various online bibliographies, including the World Shakespeare Bibliography, I uncovered only seven articles that pertain to this topic, five of them focusing only on Richard III, the other two on Troilus and Cressida. I will concentrate on these two plays and also Love's Labor's Lost and Julius Caesar; all four plays require tents of some sort. I explore Shakespeare's intents in tents, culminating with Troilus, which emerges as the most complex and intriguing of the playwright's intense investment in tents. I observe that Achilles's tent in this play epitomizes the hospitable, erotic, and theatrical possibilities of tents.

In my investigation, I found four words that can pertain to tents. Twenty of Shakespeare's plays contain references to "tent" or "tents," the noun that refers to the familiar object of temporary housing; the highest incidence occurs in Troilus. Shakespeare uses the word "pavilion" ten times to mean tent, notably in Love's Labor's Lost and Troilus. He also sometimes includes "toil" to mean a kind of tent structure. A "toil" usually consisted of a series of nets that formed an enclosed area, which might be set up like a tent, into which hunted animals could be directed. Shakespeare intends "toil" to imply some kind of snare; thereby it gains metaphorical meaning as well. The word "hale" can also refer to a physical object that resembles a tent, although Shakespeare does not use the word in this way. But we can find numerous references, such as in court documents, that contain the word "hale," referring to tents.

Henry Wotton in The Elements of Architecture writes that every "Mans proper Mansion House and Home ... [is] the Theater of his Hospitality, the Seate of Selfe-fruition.' (1) I embrace Wotton's linking of theater and hospitality, leading to personal enjoyment (self-fruition). Thus, I argue that tents offer a miniature, transitory expression of house or home and its representation of the sometimes vexing problems of hospitality. An early example can be found in the biblical story of Abraham, which establishes tents as places of hospitality. (2) Through the early Elizabethan plays to the cusp of the beginning of King James's reign, Shakespeare arrives at Troilus where the Greek tents, especially Achilles's, offer the most problematic image of hospitality, tinged with irony, satire, and theatrical representation. This play underscores Daryl Palmer's astute observation: "the representation of hospitality both stabilizes and destabilizes literary genres." (3) Scholars and critics have placed Troilus among the tragedies or comedies, although the quarto title page refers to the play as "history." Its genre remains contested, unstable, clearly made so in large measure by its representation of hospitality. Tents elevate the struggle between visitors and the social demands of hospitality, thereby underscoring their analogous connection to theater and its narrative trajectories.

Court records from the Revels Office, first established in the reign of Henry VIII, provide copious details about the requests for and deployment of tents of various kinds. Shakespeare, of course, would have known much about the Revels, given the numerous performances of the Lord Chamberlain's and King's Men at court during the reigns of Elizabeth and James. According to W. R. Streitberger, since 1513 the Office of Tents "had been intimately connected to the Revels organization. …

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