Julius Caesar: A Guide to the Play

By Jo McMurtry | Go to book overview

6
THE PLAY IN PERFORMANCE

A shift from simple to elaborate production, then back again to simplicity, sums up much of Julius Caesar's stage history for the past four hundred years, as it does the stage history of Shakespeare's plays in general. Which model, then, should be adopted as the best way to realize Shakespeare? Actor-managers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, delighting in every special effect their scenic designers could contrive and their carpenters put together, might have claimed that Shakespeare made full use of the theatrical facilities at his disposal and would have used more had he had them. Reformers of more recent times might reply that a bare stage allows an audience to use its imagination, to reconstitute mentally the world Shakespeare has blueprinted in his dialogue.

Both sides of the debate make telling points. It is true that the grand and cumbersome scenery of olden days, along with the curtain lowering required when the grand and cumbersome scenery had to be changed to make way for the next scene, stopped the flow of the action. It may also have competed with the actors. An audience enchanted by, say, a perspective vista of the Roman Forum may not have paid strict attention to the dialogue, even if the dialogue were then considering some necessary question of the play. Nevertheless, the theater managers were following principles they genuinely felt to be appropriate. Visual splendor was meant to enhance Shakespeare's meaning, not to distract from it. Often, in fact, the lavish settings were based on historical research, or what managers and audiences accepted as historical research if one factors in the appeal of the picturesque, and thus could claim to have added dimensions of authenticity.

The bare platform stage, on the other hand, whatever its theoretical superiority for the improvement of the audience's imagination, has an undeniable potential for boredom. The upshot is that Shakespearean productions today often borrow from both schools of thought, taking what directors consider the best from each. The twentieth-century ideal of continuously flowing action is kept, but the stage is often allowed embellishments by way not only of acting areas on various levels,

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Julius Caesar: A Guide to the Play
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Greenwood Guides to Shakespeare ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • ABBREVIATIONS OF CITED WORKS xi
  • 1 - Textual History 1
  • Notes 10
  • 2 - Contexts and Sources 11
  • Notes 26
  • 3 - Dramatic Structure 29
  • Notes 59
  • 4 - Themes 61
  • Notes 83
  • 5 - Critical Approaches 85
  • Notes 96
  • 6 - The Play in Performance 99
  • Notes 128
  • SELECTED ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY 133
  • Index 141
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