The Backgrounds of Shakespeare's Plays

By Karl J. Holzknecht | Go to book overview

16
SHAKESPEARE ON THE STAGE

How many ages hence Shall this our lofty scene be acted over In states unborn and accents yet unknown! -- Julius Cæsar, III, i, 111-13.

IF, AS WE HAVE SEEN, SHAKESPEARE HAS BEEN REDISCOVered by successive generations of critics and reinterpreted according to the characteristic standards of the age that produced them, the same is true of the plays upon the stage. Shakespeare's roles have always had an irresistible attraction for actors. It is the purpose of this final chapter to give a brief account of the fortunes of his plays on the stage, their adaptation to changing theatrical conditions, and the presentation of these Elizabethan survivals before audiences that had come to expect in the theatre what Shakespeare's contemporaries hardly dreamed. Seldom since his own time, however, has any play of Shakespeare's been acted exactly as it was written. In the compromise with varying theatrical ideals and public taste, it has always been Shakespeare who has given way -- never the theatre. At best, to fit the two hours' traffic of the modern stage, his dramas have been pruned of characters and episodes "least prejudicial to the plot or sense," with the remaining scenes transposed and redistributed at the discretion of the producer. At worst, Shakespeare has simply been rewritten, his plots and characters reconstructed, his store increased by new roles and episodes, and his verse polished to suit contemporary taste. Not until the nineteenth century did the tendency to produce Shakespeare "according to the original text" -- as the playbills put it-become steadily progressive. That has usually meant merely acting as much or as little as the producer saw fit or felt he had time for.

-407-

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The Backgrounds of Shakespeare's Plays
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Preface iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Illustrations vii
  • 1 - Shakespeare's Life in Fact and Tradition 1
  • Suggested References 32
  • 2 - Shakespeare's England 33
  • Suggested References 61
  • 3 - The Drama Before Shakespeare 63
  • Suggested References 89
  • 4 - Elizabethan Theatrical Companies 92
  • Suggested References 114
  • 5 - The Elizabethan Public Playhouse 115
  • Suggested References 144
  • 6 - The Influence of Theatrical Conditions on Shakespeare 146
  • Suggested References 166
  • 7 - Shakespeare's Audience 167
  • Suggested References 185
  • 8 - Shakespeare's English 186
  • Suggested References 219
  • 9 - The Sources of Shakespeare's Play 220
  • Suggested References 245
  • 10 - Some General Aspects Of Shakespeare's Dramatic Art 247
  • Suggested References 265
  • 11 - Shakespearean Comedy 268
  • Suggested References 291
  • 12 - Shakespeare's History Plays 293
  • Suggested References 320
  • 13 - Shakespearean Tragedy 322
  • Suggested References 341
  • 14 - Shakespeare in Print 343
  • Suggested References 371
  • 15 - Shakespeare's Reputation 374
  • Suggested References 404
  • 16 - Shakespeare on the Stage 407
  • Suggested References 437
  • 17 - Shakespearean Scenes and Characters 439
  • Index 471
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