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Studies in

Volume Twenty Eight Number Two

ISSN 1468-2761

Studies in Theatre & Performance | Volume Twenty Eight Number Two

Theatre & Performance
Volume 28 Number 2 – 2008 28.2
91–110 Brecht and the disembodied actor
Roy Connolly and Richard Ralley
111–126 Following the dream/passing the meme: Shakespeare in ‘translation’
Mike Ingham
Studies in

Theatre &
127–145 Technique in exile: The changing perception of taijiquan, from Ming
dynasty military exercise to twentieth-century actor training protocol
Daniel Mroz
147–159 ‘Your sincere friend and humble servant’: Evidence of managerial

aspirations in Susannah Cibber’s letters
Helen Brooks

Notes and Queries

161–182 Stage directions: Valuable clues in the exploration of Elizabethan
performance practice
Kay Savage
183 Aesthetic realism

185–194 Reviews by Frances Babbage, Colin Chambers, Peter Thomson,
Graham Ley and Kate Adams

intellect Journals | Theatre & Performance

ISSN 1468-2761

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Studies in Theatre and Performance

Volume 28 Number 2
Studies in Theatre and Performance is the official publication of the Editor
Standing Conference of University Drama Departments in the UK. It Peter Thomson
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forum for the analysis of theatrical practice, processes and performance University of Exeter
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National School of Drama, India
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Christopher Baugh, University of Leeds, UK
David Bradby, Royal Holloway College, University of London, UK Reviews Editor
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Kirti Jain, National School of Drama, India
Derek Paget, University of Reading, UK
Meredith Rogers, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia
Glendyr Sacks, University of Haifa, Israel
Elizabeth Sakellaridou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece
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Studies in Theatre and Performance Volume 28 Number 2 © 2008 Intellect Ltd

Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/stap.28.2.91/1

Brecht and the disembodied actor

Roy Connolly and Richard Ralley

Abstract Keywords
This article examines Brecht’s contribution to acting theory and the various acting
claims and confusions that have surrounded this contribution when attempts psychology
have been made to impose unity upon his ideas or to re-inscribe his theory in light embodiment
of his practice. Rather than get caught up in existing debates, our strategy is to
examine the processes that Brecht describes as a problem of action or behaviour,
to look for a practical method for the actor and to interrogate this method via ref- consciousness
erence to current ideas in the psychology of embodiment. In doing so, we contend
that, although Brecht’s ideas about acting are (and have been historically)
employed to legitimise a range of practices, they are, in their essence, problematic,
as they depend upon an over-conceptualisation of the human being and a privileg-
ing of symbolic communication.

Brecht and the Academy

Can the approach to acting espoused by Brecht be practically implemented,
and if so in what ways might this approach be said to differ from other
forms of acting? It might be assumed that this question is already thoroughly
exhausted, as ‘Brechtian’ acting often appears to circulate as standard
currency for students, teachers and critics of theatre alike. The shorthand
for Brecht is certainly well known: Brechtian acting is, ‘devoid of emotion,
declamatory, rooted in broad physical caricatures with no basis in reality’
(Krause: 273). Alternatively, it is popularly held that, even if difficult to cir-
cumscribe in their own right, Brecht’s ideas about acting can at least be
elaborated through reference to their opposition with Stanislavski’s system
(Zarrilli: 225) or Strasberg’s method (Krause: 273). This ‘folk’ view of
Brecht has significant prevalence, perhaps not least because it allows
Brecht’s ideas to be rendered with a neatness that facilitates their handing
down to successive generations of actors and students. However, though
this version of Brecht may suit the exigencies of classroom, rehearsal or
assessment, the generalisation it entails will be obvious to any but the
most dilettante reader. Amid some sections of the critical establishment,
this version of Brecht has of course been under challenge for some time.
Eric Bentley drew attention to the dangers of creating binary oppositions
between Brecht and Stanislavski as early as 1964 in his essay ‘Are
Stanislavski and Brecht Commensurable?’ (although, ironically, at the
same time, incorporating the binarism into his argument). Following
Bentley, initiatives designed to expose the flaws that underpin accounts of

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Brecht’s ideas – as simply antithesis to mimetic acting – have been numer-

ous. These studies provide a more convincing portrait of Brecht by high-
lighting not only the problem of constructing binary oppositions but also
by drawing attention to the fragmented nature of Brecht’s output. In this
regard, Peter Brooker argues against the tendency to see Brecht’s work as
fixed and unchanging, or to view it as ‘revered holy writ’ (Brooker: 185);
Elizabeth Wright reminds us we are dealing, not with a closed system, but
with ideas formulated over thirty years which are ‘scattered about his
writings in the form of aphorisms, poetic fragments, working notes, and
instructions’ (Wright: 25); and John Rouse draws our attention to the
absence of the dominance of any single all-powerful acting technique, let
alone the dominance of a global acting methodology (Rouse: 238), and
identifies, on the contrary, ‘the application of virtually the full range of
customary actor techniques’ (Rouse: 238).
These studies have addressed some problems in the ‘folk’ conception of
Brecht. In doing so, they have, however, done little to resolve the matter
of what constitutes the Brechtian performer and, arguably, threaten to
increase contention. A quick review of the literature certainly discloses a
diversity of opinion. We thus, at once, find Brecht co-opted to reaffirm
conventional mimetic forms through a theatre founded on ‘the truth of life
and the warmth of the presentation of the role’ (Eddershaw 1994: 262);
Brecht as advocate of heightened playing and ‘a theatre of rhetorical
gesture and process’ (Baugh: 250); Brecht as rebel against self-indulgent
performance and actors who will not subordinate themselves to the
demands of the play (Hurwicz, cited in Eddershaw 1994: 262); and Brecht
as the father of modern theatre, whose ideas, either alone (cf. Brooker:
194) or in combination with other practitioners (usually Artaud), ‘provide
the basic structure of contemporary drama’ (Wright: 115). Most recently,
Brecht has emerged as the key practitioner for anti-foundationalists or
proponents of postmodern theatre, for whom Brecht is seen as providing a
means of resisting, destabilising, or even dissolving Western Theatre tradi-
tion (cf. Diamond 1997). In such readings Brecht’s contemporary heirs
are held to lie not in ‘theatre’ but in Performance Art, ‘where interpreta-
tion is banished from the stage’ (Baugh: 251) or experimental feminist
performance (cf. Love 1995). As Michael Patterson points out, what we
mean by Brechtian continues, then, to be variously misapplied, loosely
defined and freely adapted to the point where it can seem to be rendered
meaningless (Patterson: 273). Yet simultaneously it is commonplace for
the notion of Brechtian acting to persist as a form that can be absolutised
and distinguished from customary, mimetic or historical forms of acting.
Can we get beyond this confusion? As Michael Patterson has it, can we get
beyond using Brecht’s ideas as a ‘critical hold all’ (Patterson: 273) which
legitimises all kinds of practices or as an ‘exercise in public relations’
(Patterson: 275)?
This article seeks to identify the limits of Brecht’s theories about acting.
We explore the models of performance that Brecht advocates and examine

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the relationship between approach and function that he expounds. In 1. ‘A growing body of
opinion suggests that
doing so, we address the issue of ‘Brechtian’ acting, not only as a philo- the view of cognition
sophical problem, but also as a problem of action or behaviour, and ask as distinct from
whether or not Brecht provides a practical method for the actor. In con- perception, action,
and emotion has
fronting these issues, we argue that there are clear reasons why Brecht’s no theoretical
theory is over-interpreted and/or misunderstood, and suggest that the or empirical
foundation . . . At
confusion Brecht provokes is not, as might be supposed, merely a conse- the root of these
quence of contention over his theories, but rather because of the view of distinctions is a
the human being that he adopts. In this respect, we contend that Brecht disembodied and
inherits a dualism which divorces mind from body and privileges represen- dualist view of the
mind. The notion of a
tation over action (Clark; Dennett; Damasio 1994). Although privileging central executor that
the mind and the human’s symbol-making capacities – and correspond- is distinct from the
ingly underestimating physical processes – is, of course, complicit with a information acquired
from the
vein in twentieth-century epistemology, we argue that in fragmenting the environment . . . [and
human being’s emotional, physical and cognitive processes, Brecht such] distinctions do
not correspond to
inscribes a disjunctive view of the actor. Thus, just as it might be argued the structure of the
that the contradictions between Brecht’s political beliefs and personal nervous system or
to how its functions
behaviours reflect his deferral of engagement with the physical world, so are physiologically
Brecht’s misunderstanding of human communicative processes (his over- implemented’ (Barton
conceptualisation of the human and his reliance on the symbolic order)
produces a considerable problem for the practical realisation of a perfor-
mance style. And, consequently, though Brecht’s ideas may appear theo-
retically compelling, they do little to negotiate the problem of acting as it
exists in the real world. In addressing this matter, we turn to the growing
literature in psychology that argues that dualist views need to be replaced
by embodied views of cognition, which emphasise that thought is a practi-
cal activity (Cosmides and Tooby; Gibson; Glenberg; O’Regan and Noe),
and that physical, emotional and mental capacities must be integrated if
human communication and interpretation (e.g. the actor-audience rela-
tionship) is to be understood.1

Brecht’s theory
It might be assumed that the inconsistencies in the reception of Brecht’s
theories can be attributed to inconsistencies in the theories themselves,
with these in turn attributed to the long period over which they are com-
posed, a period during which Brecht steadily works his way through a
series of models for the theatre. There is some truth here, as there are
undoubtedly contradictions among Brecht’s ideas, and we will return to
these later (cf. Wright: 25). Equally though, there is, in fact, very little dis-
agreement about the most salient points that Brecht makes. In this regard,
the same key propositions of Brecht emerge in criticism time and again.
Foremost here is Brecht’s advocacy of an approach to acting and the stage
that will demystify representation. This is encapsulated by Brecht’s much-
cited reference to the importance of creating a shift from a theatre based
upon emotion and catharsis to a theatre founded on critical detachment,
in which ‘instead of sharing an experience the spectator must come to

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grips with things’ (Brecht: 23). Central to this is, of course, the alienation
effect, in which what is ‘natural’ will ‘have the force of what is startling’
(Brecht: 71). The alienation effect promises to transform the actor from
‘icon’ to signifier, with the actor no longer achieving impact by embodying
a character but instead by presenting ‘the person demonstrated as a
stranger’, with the character’s action placed firmly in parenthesis (Brecht:
125). A concise version of this view is supplied by Elin Diamond:

In performance the actor alienates rather than impersonates her character,

she quotes or demonstrates her character’s behaviour instead of identifying
with it. Brecht theorises that if the performer remains outside of the character’s
feelings, the audience may also and thus freely analyze and form opinions
about the play’s ‘fable’.
(Diamond 1997: 45)

Theory set against practice

The problem of these statements begins to emerge when we examine
Brecht’s practice. Here it becomes clear that the aspects of the theory cir-
cumscribed above (abstract and philosophical ideas) do not square with
the exigencies of Brecht’s rehearsal room. Eddershaw, indeed, suggests
that, in rehearsal, the ambition articulated in Brecht’s theory is put to one
side in place of pragmatism (Eddershaw 1994: 254). Weber (1994) also
suggests that Brecht’s practice reveals an emphasis on results, and there-
fore only partial engagement with the mechanics or process via which
results are achieved. Similarly, accounts of the detail of Brecht’s rehearsal-
room work pull against the theory. Though the rehearsal techniques that
have become known as Brechtian undoubtedly have utility, here, rather
than a manifestation of ‘difference,’ we find techniques that are equivalent
in many respects to, and in some cases overlap markedly with, those tech-
niques developed by other twentieth-century European practitioners (such
as behavioural analysis, role-swapping, narration, and use of metonymy;
cf. Rouse; Eddershaw 1994, 1996). These techniques are less a reflection
of a theoretical position than a means of textual analysis and a series of
more or less inventive responses to the problem of staging the play. Beyond
this, Brecht’s process is documented as relying to a startling extent on
physical circumstance – what he calls the ‘taken for granted’ (Brecht:
235). This is particularly the case where performance is concerned.
Although Brecht’s theory is elaborated by turning, as Stanislavski does, to
what can be learnt from great actors, Brecht does not proceed from these
actors to analysis, he rather seeks to appropriate their skills to support his
theory, co-opting virtuoso performers to his cause. Furthermore, rather
than reformists, the actors he favours are those actors we might identify
with the traditions of melodrama and personality-based performance,
actors marked by plangent vocal or physical characteristics or exceptional
technique. Here we have Frank Wedekind, Hans Gaugler, Helene Weigel,
Charlie Chaplin and Charles Laughton. Laughton presents a particularly

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interesting case, as Brecht depicts him as a Gordon Craig-like renaissance 2. We find Rouse
suggesting that the
figure, expresses reverence for Laughton’s ‘inimitable’, extra-theatrical dynamic between
qualities, and even praises Laughton for the very thing he is usually taken practice and theory is
to oppose: his command of inspiration (Brecht: 163). Brecht’s lack of such that Brecht
continually modifies
engagement with the practical problem of acting is further underlined by or reconstitutes his
the dismissiveness with which he is reported to have treated the complexi- theories on the basis
of what he learns
ties of the actor’s task at various points in his career, as Thomson notes his from his practice
failure to ‘appreciate, or even to recognise, the needs and vulnerabilities of (Rouse: 228), and
Brooker denying any
actors’ (Thomson: 26) and his refusal to entertain the task-based difficul- retreat from theory
ties they might experience (Thomson: 27). Brecht’s real-world relationship into practice and
claiming instead that
with actors might then be variously characterised as based on pragma- there is a fully
tism, reverence or aloofness. Though these attitudes reveal diverse empha- materialist, that is to
sis, in all cases there is a clear ambition in Brecht’s view of acting that say practical, accent
to his theory: ‘the
does not find equivalence in practice. The pragmatic Brecht, concerned theory of gestic acting
with the practicalities of acting, iterates other theatre forms or draws upon was a theory of
the extra-theatrical characteristics of actors to negotiate the gaps in his (Brooker: 197).
theory. The aloof or reverent Brecht meanwhile displays a tendency to
over-regard ideal forms and to avoid engagement with the real-world com-
plexities of realising a method. Bearing this in mind, it is important to treat
with circumspection the suggestion that Brecht’s ideas are ‘workable’ if, or
when, properly understood, as it is precisely this kind of attitude that
underlies the confusion that actors and students experience when first
introduced to Brecht.2 To develop this point further, it is helpful to turn
our attention to the historical context that informs Brecht’s attitude
towards the actor.

Brecht’s Adversaries
Brecht’s theatre is founded, like most twentieth-century theatre move-
ments, on the rejection of existing paradigms (cf. Zarrilli: 222): specifically,
according to Eddershaw, the style of acting he observed in Germany in the
1920s and 1930s (Eddershaw 1994: 254) which swamps the audience
with emotionalism and thereby deceives or dupes them. Brecht thus con-
tends: ‘We need to get right away from the old naturalistic school of acting,
the dramatic school with its large emotions . . . This isn’t the kind of repre-
sentation that can express our time’ (Brecht: 68). As will be evident, there
is a marked overlap with Stanislavski’s project to rid the theatre of histri-
onic performance. However, as mentioned previously, whereas Stanislavski
starts with real human beings and the rehearsal room and seeks to unpick
what is going on through observation and experiment, Brecht begins with
abstraction and theory and applies this to the physical realm. Furthermore,
he favours, not an attack on anything as small as the over-emotionalism of
a few German actors, but instead prefers large revolutionary language and
opposition to the whole of Aristotelian theatre. This is, of course, a vague
and generalised opponent (see Brecht: 87) which conflates a range of
theatre forms (forms that Brecht subsequently both approves and disap-
proves). Brecht nevertheless maintains his opposition to the Aristotelian

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on the basis of its collusion with emotionalism and illusion (Brecht: 78).
Brecht’s attack on the actor convincing an audience that he or she really
is the character (see Eddershaw 1994: 255) proceeds on this basis. Brecht
characterises this theatre as one in which the actor loses himself in the
role, persuading himself and thereby others that the actor is transformed
completely into the character (Brecht: 137, 214). In contrast, Brecht seeks
a theatre in which the actor is a demonstrator. There is however, something
rather disingenuous about all this. Brecht’s account of realistic theatre is
certainly guilty of the very thing for which he admonishes realistic theatre:
conflating representation with reality. His reference to transformation –
‘the actor convinces himself and thereby the audience’ – in particular mis-
represents or misunderstands realistic acting. The ontological confusion
certainly stands out, for even though realism might exploit a certain
iconicity, realism is never like reality. In psychological terms, the acted role
is always just that, ‘acted’. Even if the stage environment, conscious effort
and emotion provide enough information to convince the actor’s physical
nature of the ‘truth’, there is still no need to think of the actor becoming,
clinically, a different person. The actor may be immersed in an experience,
but this does not create an independent, continuously experiencing self,
free of the actor’s own ability to monitor and control events (cf. Metzinger).
The enacted role is merely the ‘centre of narrative gravity’ (in Dennett’s
terms). On these terms, for Stanislavski (for example) acting is a practical
skill in terms of combining sensations and memories in, crucially, very
active and dynamically varying contexts, but this does not diminish the
fact that the actor always has control over the character and knows he is
acting. Piscator makes a similar point, reminding us that all acting involves
the self-conscious regard for what is shown to an audience or, put another
way, demonstration (see Krause: 272). Brecht then sets himself against an
ill-defined and highly questionable opponent. Aristotelian theatre is at
once generalised, conflated with emotionalism and presented as accom-
plishing an ontological shift. Subsequently, Brecht is led into many tangles
as he is forced to qualify exactly what it is that he opposes and how his
theories play out in light of this. Furthermore, in making these qualifica-
tions, exactly what it is that he opposes is subject to considerable fluidity,
drifting as it does between the extremes of heightened playing – the non-
realistic (cf. Brecht: 213) – and illusionism – too realistic (cf. Brecht: 142).

Brecht in practice
Given Brecht’s endeavour to work within the structures of mainstream
theatrical practices, it is perhaps not surprising that, when we look for dif-
ference in his approach to acting we find, instead, re-inscription of existing
theatrical approaches under the name of epic theatre. This is also the case
if we turn away from theoretical issues to look at famous examples of
Brechtian acting. To elaborate this point it is instructive to refer to perhaps
the most famous of all Brecht’s acted roles: Helene Weigel’s performance
in the Berliner Ensemble’s 1951 production of Mother Courage. For many

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critics, Weigel’s Courage is the definitive Brechtian performance and it is

thus much cited as an exemplar of the Brechtian approach. Furthermore,
this exemplariness is held to adhere in one sequence of Weigel’s perfor-
mance in particular: her use of a heightened and elaborate, yet also silent,
scream to express grief at the death of her son Swiss Cheese. On these
terms, according to Rouse, Weigel’s scream is an example of the ‘type of
carefully elaborated physicality that the ensemble’s actors were expected
to develop’ (Rouse: 236). He argues furthermore:

The very physicality of the moment moves it beyond the level of naturalistic
grief with which an audience can empathise. We are shocked, stunned,
shaken by Courage’s grief, but we are not allowed to share it on the plane of
petty emotional titillation. The technically accomplished extremity of Weigel’s
acting, in short, defamiliarises Courage’s grief through the very demonstration
of that grief.
(Rouse: 236)

This kind of elaboration of natural behaviour is thus held to capture

Brecht’s idea of action formed on a large scale and ‘given a stamp that
sinks into the memory’ (Brecht: 83), or alternatively, using Brecht’s terms,
this may be identified as an example of the gestic principle taking over
from ‘the principle of imitation’ (Brecht: 86). Though this may be critically
exigent, when we examine the detail of what is described here, we find
existing theatre technique – if not the nature of Western theatre itself - has
been co-opted as Brechtian. As critics such as Victor Shklovsky and Peter
Stockwell argue, the key feature of all literary and theatrical works is to
make the familiar world appear new to us by focusing in, re-ordering, jux-
taposing, and heightening reality. Thus, all theatre might be said to involve
something very similar to the kind of defamiliarisation Rouse identifies:
that is, all fictive experimenting with human experience opens up a space
for reflection on the world and/or critique (cf. Shklovsky; Stockwell: 14).
In terms of the specifics of Weigel’s approach, it is also difficult to detect
where her approach departs from mimetic or Aristotelian theatre. For in
mimetic theatre, the emphasis is also less upon faithfully depicting appear-
ances than upon distilling and heightening ‘real life’. In both approaches,
the actor seeks to communicate an idea, not by producing a character in
totality but by drawing on certain correspondences with reality. Furthermore,
we find the clearest account of this kind of metonymic process (the highly
mediated selection from life) in Stanislavski’s system, where he defines the
actor’s task, not as to reproduce or capture reality, but as to distil quotidian
behaviour via ‘attention’ or ‘purpose’ of various kinds: that is, the actor must
resist ‘amateurish rubber stamps’ (Stanislavski: 28) and traits that ‘happen
to flash into the mind’ (Stanislavski: 30), and instead refine action, trans-
forming reality into a poetical equivalent via the creative imagination
(Stanislavski: 174). What we have in the practice of Brecht’s most famous
actors is not an oppositional mode of performance, but rather reinscription

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3. In this regard, both of existing theatre practices (Brecht: 199). If Brecht’s theory does (as Rouse
practitioners draw
heavily on the
suggests) follow behind practice, Brecht’s theorisation of his practice is pri-
account of Brecht marily a reconceptualisation and redesignation of established techniques.
offered by Elin Elizabeth Wright effectively sums up the point:
Diamond in her 1988
essay ‘Brechtian
theory/feminist What he calls ‘epic theatre’ is not a wilful invention displacing the ‘natural’
theory: towards a
gestic feminist theatre, the point being that there is no such thing. Both epic and ‘natural’
criticism’, and later in theatre have demonstrators who show their interests, spectators who are
Unmaking Mimesis.
However, although caught up in the events and prepared to take the role of arbitrators. In each
Diamond attests to case there is an interplay of art and life: the experience is ‘repeated’ and the-
the ‘stunning’ effects
atricalised, rather than imitated as if it were happening for the first time.
of Brechtian acting,
she offers little in the (Wright: 31–32)
way of practical
method, conceding
that ‘A-effects are not Contemporary Brechtian performers
easy to produce’ What, though, if we look at the area where Brecht’s contemporary advo-
(1997: 47).
cates are most likely to be found, in the field of experimental performance?
Might the practices of avant-garde theatre uncover the radical potential in
Brecht? As already mentioned, Brecht provides, if not a practical method,
then certainly inspiration for those seeking a means to resist the ‘repre-
sentational frames of conventional theatre’ (Love: 275). Here, the practices
of the actors Lauren Love and Duane Krause are instructive, as both per-
formers offer reflections on their attempts to implement an ‘epic’ style.3
For each practitioner, Brecht’s appeal rests on the same proposition:

When he appears on the stage, besides what he actually is doing he will at all
essential points discover, specify, imply what he is not doing; that is to say he
will act in such a way that the alternative emerges as clearly as possible, that
his acting allows the other possibilities to be inferred . . . every sentence and
every gesture signifies a decision . . . The technical term for this procedure is
‘fixing the “not . . . but”’.
(Brecht: 137)

Following this idea, Krause states that, when adopting an epic approach,
actors should attempt to reveal to the audience the choices they have
made in presenting their character (rather than mask these choices and
make them appear inevitable) so that alternatives may be recognised
(Krause: 273). To achieve this end, Krause recommends a performance
style based upon a pastiche of different representational forms. In addi-
tion, he argues that the actor should reveal the means of representation at
several points during performance itself by ‘dropping’ the constructed
façade and assuming a ‘natural’ voice and posture to address the audience
directly. Working in this way, he argues: ‘the spectator’s view of the char-
acter is constantly intercepted by the actor/subject’ (Krause: 265), and as
a consequence he suggests, by way of Elin Diamond, ‘the spectator is able to
see what s/he can’t see: a sign system as a sign system’ (Diamond 1988: 90).
However, despite Krause’s enthusiasm for this approach, when it comes to

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the issue of whether or not his practical methods achieve their express
ends, Krause is rather circumspect. He offers the conjecture that the per-
formance is ‘no doubt “strange” as well as “surprising” for at least some of
the audience’ (Krause: 274), but does not interrogate the viewer’s experi-
ence beyond this. Thus, though Krause may successfully draw attention to
the duality of performance, he does not distinguish the duality he fore-
grounds from the duality that is present in all acting (actor/role). He cer-
tainly does not get as far as explicating the relationship between the actor
disrupting character and the audience engaging in critique. Love’s approach is
more politically motivated than Krause. She aligns herself with a feminist
performance project and seeks a performance technique which will ‘allow
the actor to point to the construction of . . . gender’ (Love: 276). For Love,
the basis of resisting organic performance lies in two things. She mirrors
Krause’s desire to have the character and actor present simultaneously, as
she argues having an actor who stands beside the role, and steps in and
out of character (Love: 287, 288) creates a unique tension which, in turn,
opens a space for critique (Love: 282). In addition, Love’s approach is also
marked by the endeavour to disrupt the conventional idea of female char-
acter and thereby resist collusion with the male gaze (Love: 284). She thus
foregrounds the importance of playing against the text’s overall image,
and rewriting character through performance. However, although Love
enthuses about the possibility of resistant performance on this basis, her
approach – like Krause’s – stumbles on the point of intentional fallacy.
She focuses on what is intended to be read in a highly selective manner.
Furthermore, upon inspection, the resistant element in her work owes
more to Stanislavski’s notion of the superobjective than anything in Brecht’s
theory (cf. Love: 286), with the performance she advocates resembling the
performance of any actor playing with an awareness of subtext, and offer-
ing a reading or interpretation of a role. Giving the inconsistencies implicit
here, we find Love ultimately unable to testify to the efficacy of her work
and acknowledging that the outcome of her efforts is rather dubious:
‘Whether or not the spectators questioned their assumptions about gender
or representation is unknown to me and highly doubtful’ (Love: 288).
Consequently, though placing their faith in, and weight behind, Brecht,
both Krause and Love end their reflections upon their work with self-
effacement, looking towards the future breakthroughs of like-minded prac-
titioners rather than celebrating their own achievements. This deferral is,
though, perhaps not surprising, as it mirrors Brecht’s own experience. We
might remember that Brecht himself was circumspect about his success in
realising his theories, noting that only ‘a few connoisseurs’ were apprecia-
tive of his new, cold, rational method and that, at best, this approach rep-
resented a staging post on the way towards the new theatre (Brecht: 28).
In the remainder of the article, we propose to show that the inability of
Brecht and these other practitioners to realise their intentions is not, as
they assume, because of the embryonic nature of their efforts, it is rather
because their practice incorporates an erroneous view of the human

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4. See Durkheim’s being. In order to make this argument, it is appropriate at this point to
influential suggestion
that society is a body
turn to something that may appear to have been conspicuously absent
of ideas that is not from this article – Brecht’s politics, for it is Brecht’s politics that provide
constrained by the clue to the problem with his view of the actor.
human nature
and which provides
the mould for the The constructed human
content of the
mind (Durkheim It is, of course, commonplace to note the influence of Marxist epistemology
[1895]1962). For a on Brecht’s thinking, so we do not propose to visit this topic in depth. For
converse modern
view see Buss (2001): present purposes (our discussion of Brecht and the actor), there are,
‘Culture rests on a though, two aspects of Marxism that are particularly relevant. Firstly,
foundation of evolved
Marxism’s suspicion of the natural order of things and accompanying
mechanisms and emphasis, in league with early twentieth-century psychology, on the con-
cannot be understood structedness of the human.4 And, secondly, Marxism’s concern with raising
without those
mechanisms’ (Buss: consciousness about the power relationships at work beneath social and
955). human structures. Drawing on Marx, Brecht seeks to disrupt the idea of
5. Brecht sees human nature, natural order and ‘“universal” situations’ (Brecht: 96) and
behaviourism as the
source of a new art
to reveal the human world – and by extension the human being’s identity –
capable of affecting as an artificial or arbitrary construct, bound up in changeable social,
the world: ‘We have political and economic factors (Brecht: 86). In doing so, Brecht petitions
acquired an entirely
new psychology: subjects to become aware of their socialisation and political oppression.
viz. the American This view of the human as social rather than biological entity is captured
Dr Watson’s
Behaviourism . . . at its most extreme when Brecht speculates: ‘as in mathematics, it is only
Such is our time, and the series which assigns meaning. “One is no one. One has to be addressed
the theatre must be
acquainted with it by another”; man only comes into being via the language of a collective,
and go along with it, by being called upon to occupy a place. Identity is not there from birth but
and work out an
entirely new sort of
produced within a signifying system’ (cited in Wright: 35). On these terms
art such as will be the human being is represented as narrative matter or data with his/her
capable of influencing identity at best unstable.
modern people’
(Brecht: 67).
The influence of behaviourism
The depiction of fluid identity may suggest chaos at the personal level, but
Brecht finds a point of anchorage amid this account of the human through
an appeal to rationality and science. Furthermore, in science he finds a
natural ally for his perspective in behaviourist psychology which, like
Marxism, focuses on the social influences on behaviour.5 In this regard,
behaviourist science’s aim to control clear and distinct experimental oper-
ations and focus entirely on observables rather than the inner sources of
mind provides Brecht with the inspiration for a new theatre technique in
which ‘social laws’ are subjected to rigorous rational investigation (Brecht:
50, 67, 86). Under the influence of behavourism, Brecht seeks to stage
narratives which will enable a ‘radical transformation of the mentality of
our time’ with ‘theatre, art, and literature [forming] the ideological super-
structure for a solid, practical rearrangement of our age’s way of life’
(Brecht: 23). In this it is important to note that Brecht conceives that it is
‘mental’ influence that impinges on the body of society rather than the
underlying subconscious imperatives of evolved psychological mechanisms

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(Brecht: 23). As a consequence, Brecht aims not merely to reflect the world 6. This, once again,
illustrates the extent
but to lift the world onto a dialectic plain through abstraction, and to focus to which Brecht’s
upon symbolic meaning and the essential aspects of social forces. views reflect the ideas
of his time; a similar
distrust of the
Appealing to consciousness subconscious and the
Brecht’s privileging of rationality and second-order or symbolic meaning is body was prevalent in
bound up with a sense of the necessity for communication to take place on
7. Brecht’s distrust of
the conscious plane in order to facilitate critical detachment and analysis: processes that are
that is, playing has ‘to enable and encourage the audience to draw abstract below consciousness
conclusions’ (Brecht: 100).6 In this respect, the play-audience relationship leads him to warn
against employing
is seen as being underpinned by the kind of algorithmic rules by which evolutionary
mathematical problems may be solved, and the actor is inscribed as data capacities as a means
of communication: for
that can be fragmented and read in multiple fashion by an autonomous example ‘a turn of the
spectator. Brecht’s view here is utopian. He wishes to produce an audience head with tautened
neck muscles, will
who will confront the contradictions and flux of the social world (Brecht: magically lead the
76). Emphasising ideology and social change is, though, also for Brecht a audience’s eyes’
(Brecht: 193).
means of addressing what he sees as the covert operations of existing theatre
practice, where acceptance or rejection of actors’ actions and utterances
take place ‘in the audience’s subconscious’ (Brecht: 91). For Brecht this
kind of physical, non-mediated, non epistemised interaction is to be resisted
at all costs. The body, unlike the mind, is not to be trusted, as it risks
duping the audience or flooding the human system with the chaos of the
organic.7 In this regard, Brecht sees ‘flesh and blood’ not as a wellspring
of human nature and communication but as site of dysfunction, i.e. the
body is the source of a cloddish resistance that stands in the way of ideas
(Brecht: 46).

Disembodiment in practice/the disembodied actor

A conception of the human as data rather than physicality, then, forms
the basis of how Brecht approaches the actor. He demotes the physical and
focuses on laws and that which is available to consciousness. He seeks not
to exploit physical communicative capacities but to disembody the actor into
the semiotic, so that a language of metaphor stands in for direct experience,
and the actor operates as a signifier (a symbol) rather than as a referent
(cf. Wright: 114). This preoccupation with the symbolic order is reflected
in many aspects of Brecht’s practice. As an example, we can note Brecht’s
fondness for mime, where the creation and manipulation of symbolic lan-
guage rather than direct or pre-symbolic communication requires the spec-
tator to work at constructing narrative meaning. Of course, more notably,
this is also at the root of Brecht’s suspicion of actors’ over-identifying with
the characters they play and of iconicity in performance. In order to avoid
direct correlation (the unity of actor and role) Brecht employs a variety of
devices to dehumanise the actor and turn the actor into a symbol (make-
up, performance style etc.). His employment of a device such as the actor
switching between mimetic acting and narration also reflects this ambi-
tion (as narration is also of course another means of mediating reality)

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(Brecht: 58). In all cases Brecht sees it as his task to establish new rules for
the art of acting, with devices such as the alienation effect, the gestic style
and narration operating as symbolic devices ‘designed to disrupt the imag-
inary unity between producer and text, actor and role, and spectator and
stage’ (Wright: 2). As Elizabeth Wrights notes, this is an enterprise which
is similar in spirit to Barthes’s project in S/Z (Wright: 2). However, as
Brecht works with actors, and not as Barthes does with words, Brecht
runs together organic experience (what is presented via the body) and the
symbolic (what is read).

Brecht’s Error
In conflating the human with the operation of the human’s consciousness,
and, indeed, inferring that the body needs to be held together by con-
sciousness, Brecht overestimates mental processes and correspondingly
underestimates physical capacities, direct human communication and the
body. This misunderstanding or mistrust of the body leads Brecht to
divorce information from its carrier and cut the actor adrift in a disembod-
ied or post-human theatre (Brecht: 95). In seeking to transform acting
from an organic process to the manipulation of data, Brecht overlooks the
extent to which the organic and not the textual (extra-theatrical qualities
and information from outside the play) must be drawn upon by both actor
and audience (Brecht: 54). Similarly, in expecting the actor to have con-
scious control of acting Brecht fails to appreciate how the actors who must
develop his works actually function. His acting theory is thus incompatible
with what the actor is able to achieve. Human predispositions cannot be
ignored. They are central to communication. Without the human element
acting is reduced to a mechanical process. In practice, furthermore, the
reality of the human will always intervene and get in the way of conscious
awareness. The tension here is confirmed by practical experiences and
commentaries of actors, for whom Brecht’s theories over-intellectualise
and/or misconceive the nature of acting. This sense is effectively captured
by Alec Guinness’s contention that Brecht’s theories ‘cut right across the
nature of the actor substituting some cerebral process for the instinctive’
(cited in Eddershaw 1994: 265). And it is also reflected upon by Anthony
Sher and Charles Laughton, who, despite being renowned exponents of
Brechtian theatre, each, nevertheless, profess not to understand Brecht
and thus to employ conventional acting techniques when performing in
his plays (Eddershaw 1994: 260, 265). Such testimonies help substantiate
the view that it is not sufficient to conceive of the human (and therefore
the actor) as a cultural construct; the biological dimension must also be
understood. In order to explore this problem further it is instructive at this
point to turn to the much debated topic of emotion.

The role of emotion (or not) in Brecht’s theatre has generated much dis-
cussion. This is because of clear tension in Brecht’s expressions. On the

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one hand, he conceives of emotion as a source of disruption which induces

helpless and involuntary ‘lurchings’ (Brecht: 89) and so suggests that
actors should play against emotion (Brecht: 122) portraying incidents of
utmost passion without delivery becoming heated (Brecht: 93). He also
claims that demonstration can ‘lose its validity’ if emotion is reproduced
(Brecht: 122); and at his most provocative asserts his disdain for ‘the scum
who want to have the cockles of their hearts warmed’ (Brecht: 14). On
the other hand, Brecht notes that ‘neither the public nor the actor must be
stopped from taking part emotionally’ (Brecht: 173) and admonishes the
frequently recurring mistake of supposing that epic production dispenses
with emotional effects (Brecht: 88). After considerable debate on this topic,
most critics have abandoned the old assumption that Brecht throws emotion
out of the theatre, and now accept that emotion is, in fact, very much a
part of his work (cf. Meyer-Dinkgräfe: 64).
However, the various debates about whether or not Brecht permits
emotion, and, if so, the nature of this emotion, have obscured the real
problem: Brecht inscribes an emotion/reason dualism which misunder-
stands the way people transmit and receive information (Brecht: 15) (for
more on Brecht’s view of rational and emotional points of view see Brecht:
145). Though this is consistent with much of European epistemology, it is
a perspective that is problematic from the point of view of modern psy-
chology. Here, the idea that cognition is skewed towards representation
and abstract problem-solving is increasingly being replaced by approaches
that look at the affective nature of mind. Under such approaches, the
human is no longer seen on the one hand as a coldly rational processor of
information or, on the other, as irrational and error-prone. Emotion is,
rather, accepted as an integral part of thinking. This can be termed a shift
from cold to hot cognition. In hot cognition, motivational systems are seen
to drive cognitive systems, and emotion and purpose are held to be at the
heart of thinking and engagement with the world. A growing number of
researchers working from this premise thus argue that emotion helps human
beings organise and select responses when negotiating the environment
and each other (see Brecht: 193). For Metzinger, emotion is central to the
notion of the ‘self ’. For Panksepp, emotion provides a precondition for the
emergence of thought and reflective self-awareness (Panksepp: 150). For
LeDoux, the human system is an emotional system (LeDoux: 72). And for
Damasio – perhaps the most significant contemporary theorist of emotion –
emotion not only makes communication more efficient, it also operates as
a kind of metacognition (Damasio 2003: 69), which is essential to thinking,
meaning and decision-making (Damasio 2003: 121). Correspondingly,
Damasio argues that judgements made in ‘emotion-impoverished’ circum-
stance are likely to be erratic, or underdeveloped (Damasio 2003: 144–50).
These perspectives foreground the efficacy present in emotion. Such
views have many advantages for explaining human interaction with the
world. They are also helpful to the analysis of theatre, as they offer a plau-
sible account of how the human being engages with the experience of a

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phenomenon such as a play, by giving an indication of the kind of human

tendencies that need to be drawn upon if literary artefacts are to achieve
their effects (cf. Carroll 2007). In this regard, we might note the deictic
manner in which drama functions, that is, how it depends on anchoring
meaning to context. For a dramatic world to function, the spectator must
be allowed to immerse himself in that world, and through this immersion
to familiarise himself with local laws, find his way round, understand the
participatory relationships between characters, and orientate himself in
relation to shifts in location and time (cf. Stockwell: 44–6). A hot view of
cognition suggests that emotion and empathy are the key to this kind of
deictic engagement, that emotion and empathy bind the spectator to the
play and facilitate the identification that is essential for tracking a charac-
ter’s perspective (Stockwell: 153). In addition, emotion and empathy are
the source of the ability ‘to intuit another person’s perceptions, thoughts
and beliefs’ and to envision the world from someone else’s point of view
(Carroll: 641; Stockwell: 171–3). On these terms emotion and empathy
cannot be seen merely as unfortunate after-thoughts or side-effects of a
practice such as drama, they must instead be regarded as that which
makes drama possible: i.e. without emotion and empathy, the spectator
would have no means of navigating a dramatic world because there would
be no positive or negative feelings to prompt the spectator along his course.
In this regard, it follows that it is the affective, and not reflective conscious-
ness, that is the source of the spectator’s ability to structure response to
phenomena such as dramatic stage presentations. Correspondingly, modern
views of cognition imply that there is a binding problem with staging nar-
ratives that are shaped by conscious forms rather than by the underlying
subconscious imperatives of (evolved) psychological mechanisms. These
accounts suggest that, in itself, the conscious mind is unreliable and con-
fabulatory and even a source of irrationality (e.g. Simons and Chabris;
Metzinger: 234–7), and that what binds the human together, and to the
social, is a warmer kind of cognition, emerging from emotion and the
upwelling subconscious, part of which may be the ‘core consciousness’ of
physical states (Damasio 2000).
Under these views, thinking is part of action, and emotion is very
much part of thought. In contrast, Brecht explicitly maintains an ‘uncom-
promising intellectualism’, deprecating emotion in favour of reason and a
socio-historical approach to the human mind (for example, Brecht suggests
that Shakespeare loses his power when the individual becomes a capitalist)
and assuming that everything comes together in consciousness (Brecht:
15, 20). In this, there is a preoccupation with ‘the idea of the human mind
as a carefully engineered machine . . . [rather than] . . . as biological organ
with an evolutionary history’ (LeDoux: 39). This may well fit the spirit of
Brecht’s time, but it has disadvantageous consequences. It prompts Brecht
to underestimate the role that emotion and the subconscious play for the
human being and the performer; human engagement with the world is
more efficient, and less abstruse than he assumes.

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The subconscious
Brecht’s view of emotion inscribes a common metacognitive human error –
the human being’s tendency to overestimate the ability of his/her own
consciousness, which is tributary to an overestimation of verbal, logical,
conscious intelligence, and corresponding de-emphasis of emotion, moti-
vation, and context (Levin; LeDoux; and see also Dennett). Consciousness
is not, though, the kind of representational and processing summation
that it subjectively seems. In fact, even the fraction of the human’s inter-
action with the world that is incorporated into consciousness is incom-
pletely assembled (see Simons and Chabris). Evolutionary psychology
helps develop this point. It emphasises that the mind is more than con-
scious cognition, and that, though the human mind solves problems, it
does not necessarily do so by dealing in abstract formulations but rather
according to built-in adaptations (see Cosmides and Tooby). Furthermore,
as the limited evolutionary remit and capacity of consciousness makes it
unable to process everything adequately for performance, subconscious
processing is the rule rather than the exception (LeDoux). Perceptual,
motor, semantic and response processes are all regularly engaged without
conscious awareness (Dehaene et al.; Milner and Goodale), and even speech
and imagery, which appear to be bastions of the conscious manipulation of
information, are products of subconscious manufacture. Similarly, social
relationships and social decision-making depend on physical functioning,
as the latent activation of motor responses is needed to understand others’
actions, emotions and intentions, and these motor responses occur during
the observation of actions without ever necessarily being available as rep-
resentations in consciousness (Damasio 2003; Gallese, Keysers and Rizzolatti
2004; Rizzolatti and Fogassi 2007). In all respects, the mind’s natural
inclination is to distil the essence of engagement with the world. The mind
sifts out useful rules about how to act, and then seeks to make these com-
ponents of future responses as readily available as possible, for example, by
reducing them to permanent and unconscious skills that are effortlessly
recalled via the process that is commonly known as ‘procedural’ memory.

Consciousness and technique

Because he seeks to draw attention to representation and the hidden oper-
ations of power, Brecht is suspicious of the notion of these kinds of natural
human capacities. Instead, he has a sense of the necessity of appealing to
a coldly rational human for whom interaction with the world takes place
on the conscious plane. He thus seeks a means of detaching the actor and
audience from their natural biological imperatives. The actor is charged
with developing an effortful, self-conscious kind of acting through refer-
ence to symbol and consciousness rather than the subconscious and the
body (see Brecht: 128) and via this process to transform him/herself into
data. This idea of detaching the actor from character rests on the idea that
the inner world is separable from outer expression and that human behav-
iour is predicated on conscious ideas. Brecht believes that divorcing the

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actor from his ‘natural’ human state aids the process of presenting the
play as a rational, perceptual problem to be solved by an audience. Brecht
also posits that this assists the spectator in becoming an autonomous maker
of meaning who analyses rather than feels as his/her first imperative and
for whom consciousness rather than the body intercedes in the reception
of the play. In psychological terms, Brecht is then focused on ‘declarative
knowledge’ that is consciously reportable. However, as noted above, this is
only a subset of learned knowledge (i.e. most knowledge is unconscious,
procedural and bodily). The subconscious plays a key role in interpretation
and in organising activity, and it is here that most human behaviour (and
communication) is sourced or generated. Consequently, abstractly model-
ling the emergence of complex behavioural patterns of response from simple
ones does not capture how directed purpose is embodied in an external
form (how the actor acts). Thus, where Brecht expresses an acting theory,
this is a theory of the mind and not the body. In this he conceives of acting
as a practice where ‘Knowledge is a matter of knowing the tricks’ (Brecht:
96). However, employing techniques alone, without embedding the actor
in emotion and the subconscious sources of action, is, as Stanislavski
reminds us, a ‘senseless exercise’ (Stanislavski: 238). This might allow for
an idealised actor who exists abstractly, but it does nothing for the actor
who must deal with the contingencies of the real world. Conceiving of
acting as representation and convention involves too limited a view of how
the human operates. Emotion and the subconscious also must be accom-
modated, as they facilitate ‘the direct cooperation of nature itself ’ in per-
formance (Stanislavski: 24) and scaffold human communication, such as
that seen in bodily mechanisms that allow a direct communicative link
between performer and viewer to exist without reflective mediation or
symbolic conceptualisation (Gallese et al.). Emotions, central to the trans-
mission of meaningful information, cannot be freely triggered or manipu-
lated, and so in particular confront the human with the mind’s physicality
(see Metzinger) that through shared inheritance provides richly for the
transmission of information, if the emotional context is right. Rather than
focusing on representation, it is therefore important to establish an organic
connection for the actor between outside and inside conditions. Intention,
purpose or objective are not sufficient on their own, they must put nature
to work. Without this, Brecht’s pedagogics carry more than a hint of being
arbitrary, learnable behaviours (the presumption of which was the down-
fall of behaviourism). In this regard, the repeated insight from key figures
and thinkers in psychological science is that we need to study the human
as thoroughly engaged in action, with the purpose of all perception and
thought being to serve action, and the human continually and actively
using all of its capacities while interpreting and responding to the situa-
tion around it (James 1890; O’Regan and Noë 2001). Developing an
approach to acting that opposes or resists some of these capacities entails
a lack of engagement with the world and an inability to construct an
account of how the actor’s actions ‘play out’ or dramatic patterns emerge

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(something we have already noted Brecht is culpable of in his various

shifts between reverence for actors, aloofness, and pragmatism – ‘the proof
of the pudding is in the eating’). This lack of engagement with the reality of
the human and the physical and affective (as well as conscious) nature of
the actor’s task might thus be seen as the source of the competing claims,
confusions, debates and deferral that surround the topic of Brecht’s
approach to the actor.

The embodied view of cognition is sometimes critiqued for offering a
reductive view of the human. This is because stressing fit-for-purpose
mechanisms and the natural necessities that impinge on the human risks
tying the individual’s responses too closely to the external environments
that specify them. In this regard, emphasising the importance of bodily
mechanism (subconscious, automatic, procedural processing) can appear
to entail determinism or to turn human behaviour into a motorised
process. It is important that this kind of position is avoided, as it merely
inverts the problem of the overestimation of consciousness that we have
discussed with regard to Brecht. On these terms, Brecht’s experimental
and didactic approach to the actor is not to be dismissed as mere esoteri-
cism. While acknowledging that the functioning of the human mind is
constrained by its biological nature, we can also note that a perspective
such as that of Brecht has a contribution to make to constructing a com-
prehensive account of the human. In this regard, Brecht raises important
issues that provide a challenge to psychology. His insistence on con-
sciousness foregrounds an important issue – the human’s non-context
bound capacities (i.e. how the human being is able to detach itself from
immediate circumstance, employ counterfactual thinking (see Glenberg),
and explore and evaluate alternatives [Carroll: 640]). As a consequence
Brecht makes a contribution to confronting psychologists with nothing
less than the issue of how humans alter the world in which they live.
Thus, while acknowledging the tensions in Brecht’s view of the human
(and the actor), Brecht reminds us that not only the body and ‘natural
response’ needs to be at the centre of any account of, or appeal to, the
human (and the actor) but also consciousness and all the complexities
that go with it.
However, while taking on board that the social laws that Brecht
addresses may vary in the extent of their subconscious and biological
constraints (according to the principles of evolutionary psychology; see
Boyd and Richerson; Buss), it is also important to remember that the
transmission of information about such laws cannot be understood inde-
pendently of the evolved design of human social interaction. Innate
human systems create a direct link between human senders and receivers
of information and provide a suitable scaffold for social cognition (Gallese
et al.), and emotion and physical action are central not only to the trans-
mission and understanding of information but also to more conceptual

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8. The word ‘grasp’ explanations of behaviour (Barton 2007: 138–41; Damasio 2003;
appears in discussions
of seminal brain
Gallese 2003, 2007). Consequently, the evolved capacities of social inter-
research (particularly relation, action and empathy are fundamental realities that must be
work by Rizzolatti acknowledged if a theory of acting is to be constructed and/or the con-
et al.) that raises
the prospect that cepts and social laws that Brecht discusses are to be grasped8 or interro-
imagining, simulating, gated by spectators.
understanding and
doing have the same
basis. Hence, with Works cited
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understanding. Brecht, Bertolt (1964), Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, London:
Brooker, Peter (1994), ‘Key words in Brecht’s theory and practice of theatre’, in
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Buss, David M. (2001), ‘Human nature and culture: An evolutionary psychologi-
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G., van der Moortele, P.-F., and Le Bihan, D. (1998), ‘Imaging unconscious
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Diamond, Elin (1988), ‘Brechtian theory/feminist theory: towards a gestic feminist
criticism’, The Drama Review, 32: 1, pp. 82–94.
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Eddershaw, Margaret (1994) Actors on Brecht, in Thomson, Peter and Glendyr
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Gallese, Vittorio (2003), ‘The manifold nature of interpersonal relations: the quest
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of the basis of social cognition’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8: 9, pp. 396–403.
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University Press.
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Consciousness Studies, 9: 5–6, pp. 111–130.
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Zarrilli, pp. 274–288.
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Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Meyer-Dinkgräfe, Daniel (2001), Approaches to Acting, London: Continuum.
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Oxford University Press.
O’Regan, J. Kevin and Alva Noë (2001), ‘A sensorimotor account of vision and
visual consciousness’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24: 5, pp. 939–1031.
Panksepp, Jaak (2007), The neuroevolutionary and neuroaffective psychobiology of the
prosocial brain, in Dunbar and Barrett (eds.), pp. 145–162.
Patterson, Michael (1994), Brecht’s legacy, in Thomson and Sacks (eds.), pp. 273–287.
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in Dunbar and Barrett (eds.), pp. 179–196.
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(eds.), Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, Lincoln: University of Nebraska
Simons, Daniel J. and Christopher F. Chabris (1999), ‘Gorillas in our midst: sustained
inattentional blindness for dynamic events’, Perception, 28: 9, pp. 1059–1074.
Stanislavski, C. (2003 [1936]), An Actor Prepares (trans. Elizabeth Hapgood), New
York: Routledge.
Stockwell, Peter (2002), Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction, London: Routledge.
Thomson, Peter (1994), Brecht’s lives, in Thomson and Sacks (eds.), pp. 22–42.
Thomson, Peter and Glendyr Sacks (eds.) (1994), The Cambridge Companion to
Brecht, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Weber, Carl (1994), Brecht and the Berliner Ensemble – the making of a model, in
Thomson and Sacks (eds.), pp. 167–184.
Wright, Elizabeth (1989), Postmodern Brecht: A Representation, London: Routledge.
Zarrilli, Phillip (ed.) (1995), Acting [Re]considered, London, Routledge.

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Suggested citation
Connolly, R., & Ralley, R. (2008), ‘Brecht and the disembodied actor’, Studies in
Theatre and Performance 28: 2, pp. 91–110, doi: 10.1386/stap.28.2.91/1

Contributor details
Roy Connolly is a Senior Lecturer in Drama, and programme leader for the MA in
Contemporary Performance Practice at the University of Sunderland. His research
interests include cultural identity, acting and directing.
E-mail: roy.connolly@sunderland.ac.uk
Richard Ralley is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Edge Hill. His
research and teaching interests are in cognitive psychology, especially the psychology
of perception and action, and the relationship of conscious to unconscious thought.
E-mail: ralleyr@edgehill.ac.uk

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Studies in Theatre and Performance Volume 28 Number 2 © 2008 Intellect Ltd

Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/stap.28.2.111/1

Following the dream/passing the meme:

Shakespeare in ‘translation’
Mike Ingham

Abstract Keywords
In this article I will investigate why Shakespeare’s plays are sites of translation- memes
adaptation-appropriation par excellence for memetic propagation within and cultural transmission
across cultures. I will explore one of Shakespeare’s most famous and beloved Shakespearean
works, as well as one of his most adapted, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and adaptation
refer to a number of adaptations, appropriations, variations or even evolutionary inter-semiotic
mutations, as one might call them in the terminology of gene and meme theory. performance
What I am principally interested in, for the purpose of this article, is the question
of relevance and applicability of memetic concepts to Shakespeare, himself one of
the most significant cultural phenomena of the last 500 years. As arguably the
most influential adapting and subsequently adapted author of all time, Shake- Korea or Asian
speare is ideal for the purposes of the present study. The sheer popularity, regu-
larity of performance and cultural continuity of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
makes it, along with Macbeth, King Lear, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet,
highly representative in its universality. I will refer to a number of diachronic
appropriations and adaptations, including Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen,
Benjamin Britten’s more faithful operatic version of the play and George Balan-
chine’s sumptuous 1962 ballet version based on Mendelssohn’s famous score. I
will also discuss the current vogue for Asian adaptations of Shakespeare with a
number of examples, focusing especially on Jung Ung Yang’s recent appropriation
of Shakespeare’s Dream into a traditional Korean theatrical idiom for Seoul-based
Yohangza Theatre Company.

This exploration of literary adaptation and appropriation has had recourse

at several points to companion art forms such as film and music and to the
scientific domain, especially to those theories that began with Gregor Mendel
and Charles Darwin in the 19th century and whose tendrils reach well into
the 21st with the ongoing debates about DNA and genetic modification.
(Julie Sanders, Adaptation and Appropriation: 156)

Bless thee, Bottom, bless thee! Thou art translated.

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Act 3, Scene 1)

And the ‘mazed world, by their increase, now knows not which is which.
(A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Act 2, Scene 1)

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Background and meme theory

That virtue of originality that men so strain after is not newness (there is
nothing new); it is only genuineness.
(John Ruskin, Modern Painters, Vol. II)

In Michael Bristol’s book Big-time Shakespeare, the author refers to Harold

Bloom’s theory of poetic cultural influence, particularly Shakespeare’s,
and, extending the etymological proximity of influence and influenza,
likens it to a virus, which replicates itself exponentially. In his discussion of
Shakespeare’s longue durée, Bristol touches on the question of whether the
cultural transmission of Shakespeare’s work has something in common
with concepts of biological replication connected with the human brain
and, by extension, digital replication

Does the principle of a self-replicating code or informational virus appear in

the domain of culture? Bloom’s theory of influence suggests that memorable
literary works are a complex form of obligate parasitism created by skilful
linguistic hackers. On this view the literary artist uses the resources of a
natural language to devise the self-replicating code. This then is loaded into
human bio-ware, where it makes copies of itself.
(Bristol: 127)

Julie Sanders contemplates a similar scenario of dynamic cultural replica-

tion in her 2006 study of literary adaptation and appropriation. She sees a
necessary link, rather than a loose metaphorical analogy, between biologi-
cal and cultural adaptation phenomena

What begins to emerge is the more kinetic account of adaptation and appro-
priation . . . . . these texts often rework texts that often, themselves, reworked
texts. The process of adaptation is ongoing. It is not entirely unconnected
that the disciplinary domains in which the term adaptation has proved most
resonant are biology and ecology . . . . . Adaptation proves in these examples
[adaptive variation in species] to be a far from neutral, indeed highly active,
mode of being, far removed from the unimaginative act of imitation, copying
or repetition that it is sometimes presented as being by literature and film
critics obsessed with ‘originality’.
(Sanders: 24)

Richard Dawkins in his influential book The Selfish Gene (1976) introduced
the concept of the meme. It is defined as ‘a unit of cultural transmission,
or a unit of imitation ([1976]1989: 192). A meme is an idea, but the
latter emphasises the stability of the entity while the former emphasises
its movements. A meme spreads and, like a gene, it replicates. Also like a
gene, a meme transforms itself in accordance with the conditions of the
new habitat in order to survive. The habitat of the meme is the human

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brain. Susan Blackmore discusses its fundamental characteristics in The

Meme Machine: ‘What then makes for a good quality replicator? Dawkins
(1976) sums it up in three words – fidelity, fecundity and longevity. This
means that a replicator has to be copied accurately, many copies must be
made, and the copies must last a long time – although there may be trade-
offs between the three’ (Blackmore: 58).
Dawkins’s agenda is sociobiological. He tries to represent another
dimension of human evolution stressing the role of the brain in genetic
transformation. He is careful to differentiate between the gene and the
meme: ‘. . . In general, memes resemble the early replicating molecules,
floating chaotically free in the primeval soup, rather than modern genes
in their neatly paired chromosomal regiments’ ([1976]1989: 196).
Nevertheless, Dawkins believes that memetic evolution is ‘achieving evolu-
tionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind’
([1976]1989: 192). With methodologies of natural science, one might go
so far as to argue that memes can affect the biological function of the
brain, therefore other body functions and ultimately genetic revolution.
That would be an ambitious and significant task for human beings’ self-
understanding. Yet for the present occasion, I limit myself to using the
concept of the meme without exploring the biological implications (a task
for which I am, as a non-scientist, eminently unsuited!). In any case we
should bear in mind that Dawkins’s original hypothesis of the meme is just
that: a hypothesis and an interesting postscript to his genetic theories, as
he has been at pains to point out in introducing Blackmore’s development
of his hypothesis (1996: xvi).
Notwithstanding reservations about the demonstrability of the meme,
in Dawkins’s recent best-selling broadside against revealed religion and
creationist propaganda, The God Delusion, he appears to have retained con-
fidence in his original concept: ‘The meme pool is less structured and less
organised than the gene pool. Nevertheless, it is not obviously silly to
speak of a meme pool in which particular memes might have a “frequency”
which can change as a consequence of competitive interactions with alter-
native memes’ (2006: 223). Speaking of the thorny issue of fidelity, as
compared to Darwinian replicators, Dawkins offers the exquisitely apt
example of master-apprentice transmission of craft skills. He concludes:
‘The details may wander idiosyncratically, but the essence passes down
unmutated, and that is all that is needed for the analogy of memes with
genes to my work’ (2006: 224).
The concept of the meme has been elaborated and applied in a number
of studies of different disciplines, notably Andrew Chesterman’s applica-
tion of the idea to Translation Studies. In Memes of Translation: the Spread of
Ideas in Translation Theory (1997), Chesterman’s concern is translation
theories. He circumscribes a number of concepts in translation theories,
calling them ‘supermemes’ (after Dawkins) of translation, and discusses
what they mean in different theoretical paradigms. For Chesterman, the
concept of the meme ‘highlights an aspect of the translation phenomenon

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that I want to foreground: the way that ideas spread and change as they
are translated, just as biological evolution involves mutations. In this light,
a translator is not someone whose task is to conserve something but to
propagate something, to spread and develop it: translators are agents of
change’ (Chesterman: 2). In his discussion of the Source-Target supermeme
in Translation Studies, he emphasises this idea as being ‘directional’, and as
being about ‘movement along a path: cognitive linguistics would talk of a
“path schema”, with the translation itself being the “trajector” moving along
this path’ (Chesterman: 8).
This is useful for our present purpose because the metaphor of the path
offers a special dimension in the way we think about the replication of
memes. According to the hypothesis, a meme reproduces itself with trans-
mutation involved in the process. The new meme does not replace the
parent-meme. They exist side by side. If the parent-meme does not survive,
it is because it does not adapt to either a changed or a new environment,
never because it is replaced by the new meme. Any translator, adaptor
or play director can understand this perfectly well. His/her translation/
adaptation/appropriation can never replace or efface the original text,
although the original might not be read by the translation’s readers or
seen by spectators of the adaptation. This is true for inter-lingual transla-
tion and inter-cultural transposition. I am particularly interested, in the
present article, in what Roman Jakobson called inter-semiotic translation
or transmutation – that is, translation across sign systems such as from
words into music, from music into dance, and from dance or music into
painting (Jakobson: 147).
In his essay ‘The Task of the Translator’, Walter Benjamin discusses the
idea of what he terms ‘translatability’, referring to the qualities of the liter-
ary text that lend themselves to translation. He goes on to say, ‘Translation,
ironically, transplants the original into a more definitive linguistic realm
since it can no longer be displaced by a secondary rendering. The original
can only be raised there anew and at other points of time’ (Benjamin: 76).
It is this use of ‘anew’ that is particularly illuminating for theatrical adap-
tation and translation practice. Each local production of a pre-existing play,
from whatever source-culture it may derive, actively seeks to reinterpret the
text for a fresh target audience. This is true of many traditional theatre
practices, even to some extent Japanese traditional theatre, and to a larger
extent traditional Chinese theatre. It is certainly true of Shakespeare, even
in the context of Globe Theatre ‘authentic’ performances. To Benjamin’s
concept of translatability I would like to append that of adaptability – the
extent to which a certain source-text is apt for cross-cultural transposition
and mediation within a somewhat alien target culture. As this article will
argue, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a pre-eminent example of adaptability,
in addition to having achieved pre-eminence as a source of cultural replica-
tion and transmission.
At the very end of his essay on translation, Benjamin’s profoundest
insight, I believe, in discussing what he calls the ‘afterlife’ of the text, is this:

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Just as in the original, language and revelation are one without any tension,
so the translation must be one with the original in the form of the interlinear
version, in which literalness and freedom are united. For to some degree all
great texts contain their potential translation between the lines.
(Benjamin: 82)

It is precisely this nebulous content contained between the lines of a dra-

matic text that has inspired directors and actors of diverse cultures and
generations to explore the vast possibilities inherent in the work, and re-
encode the work for a fresh target audience, be their praxis intra-cultural
or inter-cultural.

The afterlife of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – ‘How shall we

find the concord of this discord?’

‘Ovid’s Metamorphoses are themselves a fable of constant translation, of the

tragic or ironic changes of identity into new form.’
(George Steiner, After Babel: 413)

The performance history of A Midsummer Night’s Dream exemplifies the

view that Shakespeare’s dramatic work is protean and elastic in its perfor-
mance potentiality. To quote Fischlin and Fortier: ‘As long as there have
been plays by Shakespeare, there have been adaptations of those plays’
(Fischlin and Fortier: 1). Given the huge range of adaptations and appro-
priations of this play, it is therefore somewhat ironic that it is one of the
few Shakespeare plays that does not appear, as far as scholarship can tell,
to have been adapted predominantly from a single original source. Dating
from around the same time as Romeo and Juliet and probably first per-
formed in 1595, the play is, in Stanley Wells’s authoritative view, ‘one of
Shakespeare’s “most individual creations”’ (Wells 1967:14).
However, that is not to say that the various components of the play are
without traceable literary sources. There are three main plot strands: the
love affairs and quarrels between the pairs of fugitive human lovers; the
strife and mischief in the fairy world of the forest; and the rehearsals
and ultimate performance of the workmen preparing a dramatic interlude
for performance at the wedding of the Duke of Athens. The Theseus and
Hippolyta element appears to be strongly indebted to Chaucer’s The
Knight’s Tale and the transformation scene with the ass’s head to Apuleius’
The Golden Ass, via Adlington’s 1566 translation. It is even more evident
that many of the play’s mythological references, as well as the burlesque
final-act Pyramus and Thisbe performance, come from Ovid’s mythopoeic
work The Metamorphoses, probably via Arthur Golding’s pedestrian trans-
lation of 1567. There is strong speculation that the play was composed
specifically for an aristocratic wedding in the mid-1590s and first per-
formed in this celebratory context, but there is equal evidence that the
Dream was primarily written for and played in the public theatres.

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1. The libretto of The Subsequent productions of the play itself or textual variants, bowd-
Fairy Queen is derived
from an anonymous
lerised versions and adaptations-appropriations into other art forms or
adaptation of media have tended to emphasise one or two of the above plot strands, fre-
Shakespeare’s A quently to the detriment of the third. It seems that, to judge by a Samuel
Midsummer Night’s
Dream. Subsequently Pepys diary entry of 1662 in which the performance is described as ‘insipid’
it was attributed to and ‘ridiculous’, the claims of spectacular mimesis over dramatic poesis in
Elkanah Settle but
another possible performances of the play were already firmly established. Again this is
author has been ironic considering the magically evocative quality of the language itself.
identified as Thomas
Betterton, with Little wonder, then, that many educated commentators and cultural con-
whom Purcell noisseurs preferred the reading mode of Shakespearean appreciation to the
collaborated on
another semi-opera,
live performance mode. As Wells pertinently observes, ‘Over-exploitation of
Dioclesian. See The the play’s opportunities for spectacle has too long a history’ (Wells: 8). That
Cambridge Introduction said, there is little doubt that among Shakespeare’s plays A Midsummer
to English Theatre,
p. 22 for a more Night’s Dream is commonly regarded as one of the most visually appealing
detailed discussion and enchanting, particularly in an open-air setting where allusions to
of the idiosyncratic
medley of nature in the text can be experienced not only literally, but also viscerally
Shakespeare’s plot and phenomenologically. The powerful synthesis of nature and mythology
details and the
libretto lyrics set to lies at the heart of the play’s power to regenerate its magical allure for fresh
music by Purcell. audiences from century to century and continent to continent.
2. Peter Thomson, The Henry Purcell’s baroque entertainment The Fairy Queen (1692), based
Cambridge Introduction on the quarrels of the mortal and fairy couples – ‘the forgeries of jealousy’
to English Theatre,
1660–1900, in Titania’s memorable epithet – and especially the tussle over the ‘lovely
Cambridge: CUP, Indian boy’, set Shakespeare’s central plot line, but not his dramatic poetry
p. 22.
in any distinctly recognisable form.1 To quote Peter Thomson, the work is
‘a wild composite of startling songs, bursts of dialogue from A Midsummer
Night’s Dream, characters who have crept in from pastoral whimsy . . . and
musical invitations to scenic spectacle’, but for all that ‘for sheer aesthetic
nerve this misshapen spectacular carries the hallmarks of the theatrical
avant-garde’.2 In the creative adaptive process Purcell created songs and
airs of exquisite, crystalline beauty in his rambling, nine-masque version of
the play’s central themes and motifs. The Fairy Queen prioritises music –
both vocal and instrumental – mime and dance over all else. The burlesque
element provided by Shakespeare’s ‘rude mechanicals’ is retained, but
transformed into the presence of a drunken poet, somehow assimilated into
the loose narrative, and the sexually suggestive antics of the rival factions of
fairies. One of the more exotic and entirely extraneous impositions on the
narrative is Oberon’s Chinese-style wedding and a monkey dance, which
prefigure the human reconciliation and weddings proclaimed in ‘Sure, the
dull god of marriage’ and ‘They shall be as happy’ in the final masque.
It is clear from the status of Purcell’s Fairy Queen in the classical music
canon that this type of inter-semiotic transposition of Shakespeare’s play
can be considered great art in its own right. Consequently it may be
argued that the high degree of variation in the transformed text highlights
the musical-operatic form as an agent of change or cultural mutation.
This in turn suggests a correlation between radical difference of the target
text from the source and aesthetic value/creative independence. However,

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a much more recent variation on Shakespeare’s source, namely Benjamin

Britten’s opera, also entitled A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1959) – libretto
by Britten and Peter Pears after Shakespeare – undermines any such for-
mulation. Britten’s opera, by marked contrast with Purcell’s, exhibits a
high degree of fidelity to Shakespeare’s formal and poetic concept, in spite
of his inevitable abandonment of iambic pentameter and trochaic tetrame-
ter. Britten’s and Pears’s libretto for the opera sets many of Shakespeare’s
lines, although it does take structural liberties by conflating certain scenes
from different acts and omitting some of the more extended exchanges
between characters. The three-act structure of Britten’s adaptation – very
much a standard format for opera – succeeds in encapsulating all of the
plot elements in an instantly recognisable form. Certain effects, such as
skilfully devised synchronous duets and quartets covering several
exchanges in the original text, capture the mood of the lovers’ quarrels
wonderfully well. They convey effectively, more effectively perhaps than
consecutively delivered lines of the spoken play, the insistence of each of
the lovers on their own emotional perspectives and their refusal to listen to
each other rationally.
Britten’s master-stroke in his operatic version of this quintessential
English pastoral piece is to recreate the sound world of Shakespeare’s play
in a paradoxically modern and yet ancient style. In doing so he lays to rest
the ghost of Mendelssohn’s magnificent but excessively associated incidental
music of the romantic era, with its famous wedding march and irresistible
motifs suggesting the antics of both fairies and clowns. The Mendelssohn
meme had predominated for more than a hundred years and become
wholly identified with Shakespeare’s play, in spite of a minor variation on
it by composer Erich Korngold in a version specially re-arranged for Max
Reinhardt’s 1935 film of the Dream. Britten succeeds in discovering a more
elemental soundscape to replace the romanticised world of nineteenth-
century interpretation – more chromatically nuanced than the Mendelssohn
score – which harmonises perfectly with the Shakespearean text and
brings out the play’s Englishness. The hauntingly beautiful blessing refrain
‘Now until the break of day’, sung by Oberon, Titania and their fairy retinue,
which closes the opera, is somehow Elizabethan in its use of voices –
reminiscent of Byrd, Tallis or Dowland, but at the same time modern and
original, not mere pastiche.
To use the meme hypothesis here seems apposite. Fecundity and longevity
can be assumed to be demonstrably applicable to Shakespeare in general
and to A Midsummer Night’s Dream in particular. What is more at issue in
the context of the present article is the antithetical claims of free variation
against imitative likeness, or, to put it in the terminology of the arts, poetic
licence versus faithfulness. Variation and difference in the propagation of
the ‘Dream Meme’ in a text like The Fairy Queen are offset by fidelity and
proximity to the parent text in the Britten opera. The 1939 American
swing musical Swinging the Dream – starring a youngish Louis Armstrong,
incidentally, as Bottom – inclined more, not surprisingly, to the Purcell

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adaptation mode. Britten, by contrast, saw something intrinsically English,

pastoral and eternally magical in Shakespeare’s language, which he opted
to transpose remarkably faithfully.
At the same time that Britten was composing his faithful yet indepen-
dent version – and there is clear concord in the discord of this paradox –
George Balanchine was conceiving his neoclassical ballet of the Dream
(1962) for La Scala Ballet Company, fusing his own visions of pure dance
with Mendelssohn’s inspirational music. Balanchine jettisoned much of the
burlesque element provided by Bottom and his fellow mechanicals, in
favour of a two-part structure that highlights the disputes and confusion of
the first act followed by the unifying joint nuptials of the second act.
The wedding march and the various divertissements and pas de deux of the
celebratory and narratively static second act indicate unequivocally where
Balanchine’s interests lay for the purposes of his adaptation. In the first
act, apart from the slightly bizarre variant of transforming the ‘little
changeling boy’ into ‘Titania’s cavalier’ (an excessively sexual interpreta-
tion of Shakespeare’s use of the word ‘squire’, it seems), the adaptation
follows Shakespeare’s narrative quite closely. One exception to the work’s
concentration on pure dance and aesthetic harmony is the incongruity of
Bottom’s dance with Titania, a brilliant compromise between artistic purity
and dramatic necessity. Having dispensed with the plot detail before the
intermission, the choreographer feels free to concentrate on pure dance
and spectacular configurations in the second half. Perhaps, though, such
licence is not so far from the spirit of the original as may be thought. As
Harold Brooks has pointed out, the music, song and dance elements in The
Dream are an intrinsic part of the work’s plot, not merely an optional extra
(see Brooks 1979). The work’s spectacle and its sound world go hand-in-
hand with the lyricism of Shakespeare’s dramatic rhythms and cadences.
The recurrent meme in all of these transpositions – and in visionary,
landmark stage interpretations such as Harley Granville Barker’s 1914
Savoy Theatre production, Peter Hall’s 1959 Stratford production or the
1970 Peter Brook Royal Shakespeare Company production – relies on
transmitting or regenerating the sound-vision balance at the heart of
Shakespeare’s play. The physical sound experience of the language of
A Midsummer Night’s Dream transcends – rather as the words of nursery
rhymes or the works of Lewis Carroll fix themselves in the brain on
account of their sonorities – reception of the performance on purely
semantic levels. The creation of variant rhythms and musical echoes and
motifs in Britten’s opera opened up the potential sound world of the play in
a way that had not been explored as profoundly before. Thus, just when
conventional modes of production and reception are becoming stale with
the accretions of cultural fashion and one-time mould-breaking interpre-
tation, the Dream meme is reinvigorated by a mutation or adaptation,
which reasserts either the play’s rich cultural tradition or its potential for
variation and cultural alterity. As Benjamin observed, going back to the
source text and reading between the lines is the key.

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Asian ‘Babes’ – Shakespeare’s Asian progeny and Yohangza

Theatre Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

From fairest creatures we desire increase

That thereby beauty’s rose might never die
(William Shakespeare, Sonnet 1)

In recent decades there has been a proliferation of Asian adaptations of

Shakespeare, whether for the stage or for the screen. Akira Kurosawa’s
Ran and Throne of Blood have embedded themselves in the consciousness of
Shakespeare devotees world-wide and evolved a cultural life both relative
to and independent of their respective parent texts. Many Asian adapta-
tions of Shakespeare are intercultural and inter-semiotic in essence, and
the most memorable succeed in transplanting the Shakespearean seed into
fresh and fertile cultural soil that is culturally alien from London or
Stratford. Anthony Tatlow’s perception of more than a decade ago is prob-
ably even truer now than when he wrote it, given the innate conservatism
and resistance of the Shakespeare establishment towards any attempt to
‘take liberties’ with the Bard, and the corresponding time-lapse required
for acceptance

A Japanese or Chinese Shakespeare no longer seems a contradiction in terms

but can open our eyes to readings we would never have associated with
those texts but which seem entirely justified and hence an enlargement of
our understanding. These performances are simply more exciting and sug-
gestively defamiliarising . . . than anything currently available within a
purely Western repertory.
(Tatlow: 12–13)

Tatlow’s book pre-dates new groups such as Edward Hall’s Propeller

company, and he may not have seen Théâtre de Complicité at the time, but
both companies, not to mention Mark Rylance’s high-quality Shakespeare
productions at the Globe Theatre, have done much to revitalise native
Shakespeare performance in the last ten to fifteen years. Both Complicité
and Propeller have also toured extensively to critical acclaim. Nevertheless,
Tatlow’s point has often been echoed by more open-minded and acute
critics in the West, culminating, I would argue, in a greater acceptance
by western audiences of ‘foreign Shakespeares’. A further factor to con-
sider is that the inexorable effects of globalisation have done much to
reduce the culture gap between western audiences and Asian theatre
Indeed, Shakespeare’s plays appear to have a remarkable affinity with
diverse Asian theatrical forms such as Chinese xiqu, Japanese kyogen and
kabuki, Indian kathakali and Cambodian Khmer classical dance. Dynamic
stylised treatment can open up new perspectives on some of the tired and
clichéd western production concepts of Shakespeare, and especially the

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3. Interview reported in Dream, which correspond to the ‘deadly theatre’ that Brook targeted so
South China Morning
Post, 11 March 2007.
unerringly in The Empty Space. As Jatinder Verma of London-based Tara
Arts, whose recent production of The Merchant of Venice was set in Cochin
in Kerala, points out: ‘Shakespeare is strong on class structures and hier-
archies, but these hierarchies have broken down in England. In Asia we
still have strong hierarchies. I’d say the best way to do Shakespeare and be
true to him is to do it through Asian eyes.’3
One director who sees Shakespeare’s work as utterly Asian is Japanese
master Yukio Ninagawa. Ninagawa’s epic Japanese settings of Shakespeare
plays have become accepted as modern classic productions in the West as
well as in Asia, and his work has, not surprisingly, exerted considerable
influence on fellow Asian directors. South Korea’s leading playwright, Tae
Su Oh, had considerable success internationally with a highly acclaimed
Korean-set Romeo and Juliet. In 2001 the Monsaku Nomura Company’s
kyogen adaptation of A Comedy of Errors, entitled A Kyogen of Errors, was
performed to a rapturous reception at the Globe Theatre in London, as
part of the Shakespeare Globe-to-Globe season. The Singaporean director
Ong King Sen’s Shakespeare variations, making use, for example, of multi-
ple Asian performance techniques in his 1998 King Lear, have also in their
own idiosyncratic way extended the bounds of what is possible. And one
should not overlook the multi-talented Taiwanese actor-deviser Wu Hsing-
kuo, whose brilliant solo performance of all nine major roles in his modern
xiqu King Lear (Hong Kong Arts Festival 2003) was a profoundly rich the-
atrical experience, one which encouraged us to look at the characters of
the tragedy afresh. Such diverse and divergent Shakespeare adaptations
have created a benchmark for excellence and innovation that intrigues and
delights all but the most conservative and closed-minded of audiences in
the West, and has in the process stimulated the creativity of directors such
as Mike Alfreds with his quasi-Japanese Cymbeline (2001).
Another UK director profoundly affected by Asian theatrical techniques
and conventions is Tim Supple. Staged in 2006 for the Royal Shakespeare
Company’s Complete Works Festival, Supple’s ambitious eight-language
Dream, with a cast of 23 actors, musicians and dancers from the Indian
sub-continent, offered an exciting reworking of the play for an audience
whose familiarity with Shakespeare’s work could not be taken for granted.
Many critics expressed the view that this production was of seminal
importance in the contemporary Shakespearean performance context.
Michael Billington in the Guardian called it ‘a play of multiple transforma-
tions all wonderfully realized in this visionary sub-continental version’,
while for Nicholas De Jongh, in The Evening Standard, the Indian Dream’s
vitality and freshness ‘recovered that sense of magic and enchantment of
which the play has been purged by Anglo-Saxon directors’ (vide Tatlow).
That said, Christopher Luscombe’s Regent’s Park production, in the
rain-drenched 2007 summer season, of ‘a deeply English Dream’, as Time Out
put it, demonstrated that a more restrained form of magic is not beyond
the reach of the indigenous director and company. The reason that it was

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‘impossible to withstand the shy but sure magic of this honest, determined
Dream’ (Time Out) may well be an index of the play’s constant powers of
self-renewal and regeneration, and its ability to transcend specific instances
of kitsch and cliché in the production design (as was certainly the case in
Luscombe’s conceptualisation – especially the ever-problematic fairies, which,
to be fair, constitute a creative headache for most Anglo-Saxon directors).
We may conclude that open-air productions of the Dream, whether tradi-
tional Western-style or Asian, or a mixture of the two, generally succeed
in discovering this pastoral play’s magical propensities more than indoor
productions, where arguably it is easier to fail. However, such a view would
be an over-simplification, since many Asian adaptations work equally well
in diverse and distinctly un-pastoral venues, as I have witnessed in Hong
Kong and elsewhere. Incidentally, I would include Globe Theatre produc-
tions in the category of open-air performances, and it is here that visiting
groups performing Shakespeare kathakali, kyogen, xiqu and other Asian
genres, find a natural home and audience.
It is very much in the context of this stimulating recent tradition of
Asian Shakespeare, and of the Dream in particular, that we should see
the Korean Yohangza production. ‘Yohangza’ means ‘voyager’ in Korean,
as director Jung Ung Yang points out. ‘Life is a journey and through the
journey of life we meet a lot of people,’ he adds – a comment that seems
pertinent to the journeys of our dream-lives and of Shakespeare’s own
Dream. First staged in Korea and Japan in 2003, and later at the Seoul
Performing Arts Market in 2005, the adaptation was well placed to attract
international attention and gain promotion and proliferation in the Asia
region and further afield. It has been a critical success at various interna-
tional arts festivals, including Hong Kong’s in March 2007. Jung Ung
Yang professes not only great admiration for Shakespeare’s plays, but also
particular attraction to the tragedies, like so many other Asian directors
and adaptors. When asked during the post-performance, meet-the-audience
discussion why he chose the Dream rather than Lear or Othello, he said
with disarming simplicity and, one suspects, playful disingenuousness,
‘because it is a very romantic play and I am a very romantic person’. As
with Britten, Balanchine, Brook and other highly creative adaptors of
Shakespeare’s play, the Korean company’s version propagates the Dream
meme by adding to it and altering it, whilst at the same time encouraging
the viewer to return to the original text as a point of reference.
One of Tatlow’s (see Tatlow: 35–50) major criticisms of conventionally
prettified and reductive readings of the Dream by actors and directors over
the centuries, and even nowadays, is that such versions are fundamentally
at odds with the Shakespearean text and subtext. For him the play attests to
the society’s unconscious and its repression of anxieties (the Elizabethan
society originally), including anxieties about female sexuality, about pater-
nity and progeny, about controlling nature (human and non-human) and
the undermining of the male prerogative – all the more so in the era of a
female monarch. The comedic, burlesque elements may help to repress

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those fears on one level, but they can also be used to highlight such gender
insecurities, which is precisely how Jung Ung Yang and Yohangza approached
the text. If an Elizabethan audience, or perhaps a more reactionary male
audience, were to see this production, their worst nightmares would seem
to be realised. But perhaps we should not congratulate ourselves too much
about our more progressive and broad-minded attitudes, since this Korean
Dream never allows us to sit back secure in our cultural identities and
assumptions. It is a good Dream, theatrically speaking, precisely because it
is a vaguely disquieting Dream, in which one can quite literally feel targeted
or even isolated amid the comic revelry. It is always edgy, and predicated,
like street theatre or clowning, on what is happening now, and what might
happen if you don’t pay careful attention.
The traditional Korean theatre setting in that respect is misleading. As
Young Joo-Choi has commented in the article ‘Tracking Young Directors in
Korea Today’, ‘what differentiates Yang from his elders is that he adapts
traditional culture without an historical or social consciousness. His purpose
in adapting traditional culture into his style is not so much the implied
interest in his nation, but an interest in aesthetic images that can transcend
local languages and communicate directly with other cultures’ (2006: 75).
This translates directly into a two-way communicative aesthetic, intended
for audience consumption and delight both at home and abroad. Thus the
theatre style is to welcome the audience into the theatrical event, as though
into a shrine, according to Korean traditions of hospitality. The stage itself is
designed as more of a house or home (which picks up on the ‘bless this house’
motif of the Dream’s final act), although there are strong hints of trees and
nature combined with the pine-wood set. The central space is open and
semiotically flexible, at once a living room in which the actors receive their
audience and a site of action and movement.
Dramatic action is choreographed in a fusion of dance, song, physical
comedy and dialogue that borrows lightly from key lines and speeches of
the original. The production idiom is folkloric and essentially traditional
Korean, as is the visual symbolism of the colour scheme – coloured robes
for the lovers’ opening and closing sequences, but off-white for both fairies
and humans for the central body of the play, signifying both the dream
state and Buddhist purity and unworldliness. Although the actors have
specifically designated roles, they step out of them at various points to
move upstage to the music area in order to play the traditional Korean folk
instruments employed by the company. These consist of a double-headed
drum, a bamboo flute, and other gongs and percussion instruments, includ-
ing a xylophone-like instrument that is used to enhance the actors’ ges-
tures. The music is an integral part of the production, as it is in the various
western adaptations we have reviewed. Likewise, it is specially written for
the production by musical director Eun Jeong Kim, with parts adapted
from traditional Korean or western musical elements.
Despite the director’s avowed spirit of hospitality, the audience is
greeted by the cheekily amusing, but also slightly threatening, antics of

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the two white-faced goblins or dokkebi – mythological Korean folkloric

creatures – representing the role of Puck. They are not above frightening
or mocking the audience, or even ridiculing them with scatological tricks
that are reminiscent of Shakespearean bawdy. Among other acts of inter-
action with the audience, some distinctly unsettling, the twin Pucks
distribute fluorescent wrist-bands as a sign of welcome. This splitting or
twinning of the role is not as arbitrary as it first appears; Puck is alluded
to as both Robin Goodfellow and Hobgoblin in the same speech by
Titania’s fairy in Act 2 Scene 1, and admits to all of the appellations. The
doubling of this role works perfectly, since the two sprites play their tricks
in unison and entirely in dumb-show. The duality of the Puck role actu-
ally enhances the capacity of this character – in many ways the source of
the comedic mischief in Shakespeare’s original – for monkey business. It
also facilitates the symmetry of movement in the dance-like sequences
and ensemble work that characterises the confusions and subsequent
rituals of the production.
Dokkebi (goblin), when broken down, can be rendered as Dot (fire – a
recurrent image for romantic ardour in Shakespeare’s text) and Gabi
(father), and these are the two names given to the Titania and Oberon
figures, respectively. There is a crucial difference in their plot functions,
however, because the roles are reversed. Here it is Dot (a female Oberon)
who orders the Pucks to teach her philandering husband (a male Titania) a
lesson, rather than the other way round. One rationale for this switch is
that, in the Korean psyche, it is the women who keep the men in line, and
that the woman’s role signifies domestic harmony in the traditional Korean
order. The transformation of Bottom, not into an ass but a pig, is likewise in
conformity with Korean animal symbolism, which sees the pig as preter-
naturally stupid – more suggestive of stupidity than the donkey – but also a
harbinger of good fortune. Variations on the original mechanicals element
are far more radical than substitution of pig’s head for ass’s head. ‘Sweet
Bully Bottom’ is metamorphosed by the director into a comic old woman
wandering in the mountains in search of a hundred-year-old ginseng. She
has no ‘lads’ or ‘hearts’ for company, and no play to rehearse. The visually
grotesque Shakespearean coupling of Titania with Bottom complete
with ass’s head is paralleled by the absurd sight of the Fairy King falling in
love with a gluttonous and uncouth country woman with the face of a pig.
Nevertheless, in spite of her apparent humiliation, Ajumi (Bottom) eventu-
ally finds the rare ginseng herb she has sought. In Yang’s conception it is a
just reward for unwittingly helping Dot to punish the lascivious Gabi, for
whom the punishment, when he awakes from his dream, definitely fits the
crime. Like Bottom, Ajumi seems only vaguely aware of what has happened
to her, as in a dream one cannot quite recall. Furthermore, in Yang’s
concept the love confusions are triggered by the scent of the herb, rather
than the juice of the flower, illustrating the significant shift of sensory focus
in the adaptation – from eyes to nose – which is very much a reflection of
the director’s policy of creative independence.

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Audience response to the production has been extremely positive. It

doesn’t require a Korean audience to appreciate the warmth and simplicity of
Yang’s approach to theatre. The theatre, for Yohangza, is a place of fun and
humour as well as a meeting-place for audience and artist, just as the bustle
of the traditional market was a meeting-place for vendors and buyers. As
regards the company’s use of their own nation’s folklore and tradition, it
seems well justified in view of Shakespeare’s skilful integration of nature, folk-
lore and mythology in The Dream. Last but not least we are conscious of the
relative de-emphasis on speech and dialogue in this production. The musical-
ity of the iambic and trochaic rhythms of Shakespearean verse is transposed
to the unfamiliar but effective idiom of song with music accentuating simple
speech at key moments. Like many other Asian-aesthetic Shakespeare adap-
tations, this version blends indigenous cultural and aesthetic components,
entirely foreign to Shakespeare’s world, with narrative, creative elements of
the original to produce a seamless work that is both new and old.

Conclusion: ‘And the blots of nature’s hand, shall not in their

issue stand’

I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours

Bob Dylan

For a play that is, like much of Shakespeare’s festive comedy, ultimately
concerned with harmony, reconciliation and, in a number of clear textual
references, regeneration and progeny, it is fitting that we should assess the
play’s success in regenerating itself. That Shakespeare was concerned with
the reception of his work is evident in many of his concluding scenes and
his verse imprecations for audience’s understanding of his intentions –
A Midsummer Night’s Dream certainly being no exception. He is also con-
cerned with the relationship between higher truth, dramatic illusion and
poetic imagination. The onward transmission of his imagination in the
Dream through various adaptations for stage and screen is indisputably
successful, judging by the work’s continuing popularity. The sheer diver-
sity of memetic variations on Shakespeare’s original theme, from Purcell
to Jung Ung Yang, is proof that this play – perhaps more than most in the
Shakespeare repertoire – transcends cultural boundaries. Its satisfying
dramatic design and the accomplished fusion of its hybrid interlocking ele-
ments is impressive by any standards. No matter what elements of the
Shakespeare work are fore-grounded and what back-grounded or side-
lined in any given adaptation, the Dream renews itself through the widest
possible range of authenticating dramatic conventions.
Arguing against individual consciousness in favour of the higher power
of the meme-plex, Susan Blackmore expresses the anti-essentialist-humanist
view thus: ‘The creative achievements of human culture are the products of
memetic evolution, just as the creative achievements of the biological world
are the products of genetic evolution. Replicator power is the only design

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process we know of that can do the job, and does it. We do not need con-
scious human selves messing about in there as well’ (1999: 240). This con-
testation is nothing if not challenging to notions of individual genius and
autonomy of creation. But perhaps Theseus’ comments on the ‘seething
brains’ of lovers and poets needs to be understood through Hippolyta’s reply:
‘And all their minds transfigur’d so together/More witnesseth than fancy’s
images/And grows to something of great constancy’. Like collective memory,
there seems, as Hippolyta/Shakespeare acknowledges, something more at
work than individual genius in these acts of cultural transmission.
Whether one accepts or rejects what may appear to the sceptic as the
pseudo-scientific explanations of meme theory, it is clear that the cultural
propagation of key cultural artefacts in the history of human culture, of
which A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the supreme examples, cannot be
explained by individual arbitrary acts of consciousness alone. ‘Transfigured
together’, the various memes propagated by Shakespeare’s hybrid play and
its diverse sources amount to a remarkable achievement. Productions like
Yohangza’s demonstrate the fecundity and potential in the work for regen-
erating the existing meme set, if one chooses to describe the work in these
terms, and producing even more fascinating variants, without in any way
diminishing the power and capacity to please inherent in the original text.

Works cited
Benjamin, Walter ([1973] 1992), Illuminations, Hannah Arendt (ed.), London:
Fontana Press.
Blackmore, Susan (1999), The Meme Machine, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bristol, Michael D. (1996), Big-Time Shakespeare, London and New York: Routledge.
Brooks, Harold F. (ed.) (1979), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, London: Methuen
(Arden edition).
Chesterman, Andrew (1997), Memes of Translation: The Spread of Ideas in Translation
Theory, Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Dawkins, Richard (1976), The Selfish Gene, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
——— (1999), Introduction to Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine.
——— (2006), The God Delusion, London: Transworld Publishers.
Fischlin, Daniel and Mark Fortier (2000), Adaptations of Shakespeare, London:
Jakobson, Roman (2000), ‘On linguistic aspects of translation’, in L. Venuti (ed.),
The Translation Studies Reader, London: Routledge, 113–118.
Sanders, Julie (2006), Adaptation and Appropriation, London and New York: Routledge
(New Critical Idiom Series).
Steiner, George (1998), After Babel – Aspects of Language and Translation, (3rd edn.),
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tatlow, Anthony (1995), Shakespeare in Comparison, Hong Kong: Department of
Comparative Literature, University of Hong Kong.
Wells, Stanley (ed.) (1967), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Young Joo-Choi (2006), ‘Tracking Young Directors in Korea Today’ in Hyung-Ki
Kim and Seon-Ok Lim (eds.), Sketching in Contemporary Korean Theatre, Seoul:
Theatre and Man Publishing Company/I.A.T.C./Korea.

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House Programmes
Yohangza Theatre Company, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hong Kong Arts Festival,
Teatro alla Scala, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hong Kong, 27–29 October 2006.


Time Out, July 4–10, 2007 – Open-air Theatre, p. 132.

Suggested citation
Ingham, M. (2008), ‘Following the dream/passing the meme: Shakespeare in
“translation”’, Studies in Theatre and Performance 28: 2, pp. 111–126, doi:

Contributor details
Mike Ingham has a Modern Languages tertiary background in the UK. He now
teaches on the English Studies programme at the Department of English in
Lingnan University, Hong Kong. He is interested in many aspects of performing,
particularly drama, poetry and music, and is a founder member of Theatre Action,
a Hong Kong-based theatre group that specialises in action research on more liter-
ary drama texts. As well as doing scholarly work on theatre in performance and
cinema, he directs theatre in Hong Kong and writes performing arts criticism for
local media. His books include Staging Fictions (Edwin Mellen Press, 2004) and
Hong Kong: A Cultural and Literary History (Signal/HKU Press/OUP, 2007).
E-mail: ingham@ln.edu.hk

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Studies in Theatre and Performance Volume 28 Number 2 © 2008 Intellect Ltd

Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/stap.28.2.127/1

Technique in exile: The changing

perception of taijiquan, from
Ming dynasty military exercise to
twentieth-century actor training protocol
Daniel Mroz

Abstract Keywords
This article describes the development and emigration of a Chinese military exercise taijiquan
complex called taijiquan. It traces the genealogy of this practice from sixteenth- contemporary actor
century China to twenty-first-century North American and European profes- training
sional and university theatre programmes. It provides a systemic description of devised physical
the protocols of taijiquan training in order to analyse its advantages and limita- theatre
tions in the contexts of contemporary actor training. Finally, by offering concrete Battery Opera
examples of its application by different theatre artists, it presents a portrait of
One Reed Theatre
both its current use and future potential as a major component of actor training. Ensemble

This article describes the development and emigration of a Chinese military 1. In this article I use
exercise complex called taijiquan.1 I shall trace the genealogy of this prac- the Hanyu Pinyin
standard phonetic
tice in order to shed some light on how a system of military exercises from system to represent
sixteenth-century China has become part of the training offered to North Pitonghua (Mandarin,
the official Chinese
American and European actors by many contemporary professional and dialect) pronunciation
university theatre programmes. of Chinese characters.
Pinyin is used
Folk theory would have us believe that ‘Tai Chi’, the slow exercise prac- consistently in
tised by Chinese people in the early hours of the day in parks around the translations published
in China. Readers
world is an ancient, holistic system of self-care created many millennia ago may be more familiar
by the gentle practitioners of Daoism, China’s indigenous religion and phi- with the earlier system
losophy. This view is supported by countless popular books on taijiquan of Romanisation, the
Wade-Giles, which
and by the popular culture surrounding its transmission in contemporary unfortunately did not
Europe and North America. Taijiquan is presented as an archaic and quasi- set an international
standard and is falling
religious system of movement training concerned with health maintenance into disuse.
and personal enlightenment. By tracing taijiquan’s evolution, from its roots Nevertheless, older
publications using
in the Ming dynasty to its present incarnation in actor training programmes, Wade-Giles will refer
I intend to demonstrate that this perception of taijiquan is a recent one, to taijiquan as T’ai Chi
Ch’uan, Daoism as
created by a romantic nationalist movement among late nineteenth- and Taoism and romanise
early twentieth-century Chinese intellectuals and furthered by the Human such terms as tuishou
Potential Movement in late twentieth-century North America. By provid- as t’ui sho.

ing a systemic description of the protocols of taijiquan training I will offer

STP 28 (2) 127–145 © Intellect Ltd 2008 127

STP-28-2-03-Mroz 4/18/08 2:39 PM Page 128

an analysis of its advantages and limitations in the contexts of contempo-

rary actor training, independent of the discourse of the spurious folk theo-
ries surrounding it. Finally, by offering concrete examples of its application
by different theatre artists, I hope to sketch an accurate portrait of both its
current use and future potential as a major component of actor training.

Ming dynasty roots

The earliest written records of taijiquan indicate that it was a synthesis of
military calisthenics and combative dills put together by one Chen Wangting
(1600–1680). Chen was a successful military officer in charge of the garrison
of Wen County in the Henan province of China between 1641 and 1644.
With the fall of the Ming Dynasty in 1644, his advancement through the
military hierarchy was blocked by the change of regime and he retired to
his family home of Chenjiagou, the village of the Chen family, also in
Henan province (Sim and Gaffney: 12). In the early years of the Qing
Dynasty, Chen synthesised a new system of martial training for the militia
of his home village. It was based upon the best training techniques that
he had come across during his military career. His major source was a
military training manual authored by a Ming dynasty general named
Qi Jiguang (1528–1587). Composed in 1561, Qi’s book, Ji Xiao Xin Shu or
the New Book of Effective Techniques, is itself a synthesis of sixteen different
military training systems popular in the Ming dynasty (Sim and Gaffney:15
and Wile: 7).
In the Ming and early Qing dynasties soldiers were trained for battle by
executing group manoeuvres in formation. They spent virtually no time
on unarmed tactics and their fighting training consisted of countless repe-
titions of simple movements with weapons such as the spear and the sabre.
Chen Wangting’s principal contribution to the story of the Chinese martial
art is his development of incrementally resistant partner training. Soldiers
who might be called up for active duty at any time cannot engage in train-
ing that might leave them injured and unfit for combat. This meant that
the peacetime training of Ming dynasty soldiers was limited to the rote
repetition of short, set sequences of attack and defence with battlefield
weapons. As fighting techniques could not be practised with anything
approaching battlefield intensity without the risk of injuring the troops,
improvisation and spontaneity could not be sanctioned. Improvisation and
spontaneity are the two qualities most needed by combatants who will be
faced with the unpredictability of actual combat. The absence of improvi-
sation and spontaneity in training meant that Ming dynasty Chinese sol-
diers had little chance of improving their skills through safe practice.
Chen Wangting’s solution to this dilemma was a methodology by which
soldiers could practise fighting techniques in a spontaneous and improvised
way that resembled actual combat, without running the risk of serious
injury. This practice is called tuishou, which is usually translated as ‘push
hands’. It refers to a training game played by two partners who practise
body movements that generate force while keeping their forearms in contact.

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The goal for each player is to maintain control of their posture in the face of 2. Contemporary
presentations of
perturbations provided by their partner. To the casual observer, the prac- tuishou vary widely
tice looks like a kind of wrestling done standing up. Tuishou practice begins in intensity and
very slowly with minimal force and allows the players to learn how to structure. Practice
can range from
defend against the four major types of attack found in the Chinese martial flowing and graceful
art, which are referred to as the si ji: grappling (na), throwing (shuai), choreographed
exchanges to intense
kicking (ti) and striking (da). As the partners become more and more used competitive grappling
to absorbing or reversing the forces directed at them, they can gradually reminiscent of such
combat sports as
increase the intensity of the game until they are providing each other with Olympic wrestling,
significant amounts of resistance and impellent force.2 Japanese judo and
Russian sambo.
Thus, Chen Wangting developed a method of training for fighting that
allowed for improvisation and spontaneity and minimised the risk of injury.
Importantly, it allowed older, more experienced practitioners to maintain
their fighting form into middle age and to progressively refine it over their
lifetime. Chen Wangting also devised armed versions of tuishou based on
similar principles (Sim and Gaffney: 16). He also synthesised a series of
solo movement-training sequences, which are called taolu.
Taijiquan, in Chen Wangting’s lifetime and beyond, became firmly estab-
lished as a training system for a rural civilian militia. It remained confined
to the Chen family village until sometime between 1799 and 1853 when
one Yang Lu Chan (1799–1871) journeyed to Chenjiagou in order to
study martial art with Chen Wangting’s descendant Chen Changxing
(1771–1853). Many legends have grown up around Yang’s studies under
Chen Changxing and the transmission remains mysterious for the simple
reason that the taolu and tuishou of the taijiquan taught by Yang Lu Chan’s
descendants is quite different from that practised by the Chen family.

From Chen village to Beijing

Itemising the structural differences between the Yang style of taijiquan and
the original Chen style, and speculating on the reasons for these differences,
are beyond the scope of this article. What is especially significant about
Yang’s studies with Chen is his subsequent teaching of his own modified
system of taijiquan in Beijing after 1851. Because of his great skill as a
fighter, Yang was much sought after as a teacher. His students included
the bodyguards of the Manchurian rulers of Imperial China. Yang, an illit-
erate fighter in a society that prized literacy above all else, was suddenly
exposed to a class of people he had never met before, the upper class Chinese
intelligentsia who, at the turn of the nineteenth century, had a very par-
ticular cultural agenda.
Late nineteenth-century China faced internal corruption and external
colonial pressure. The native Han population had been subjugated by the
Manchurian rulers of the Qing dynasty, and these rulers themselves faced
the combined military and economic aggression of Russia, the United
States of America, Britain and France. Prior to the nineteenth century, the
literate governing classes of China looked down on martial art. China,
after all, was an empire that for hundreds of years had been governed by

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an intellectual class to whose authority the military deferred. Fighting was

for professional soldiers, bodyguards, peasant militias and bandits. What
were the upper classes of late nineteenth-century Beijing doing practising
taijiquan with an illiterate ruffian like Yang Lu Chan? Even more curious,
why did they begin to attribute all sorts of healing properties, Confucian
values and Daoist meditative qualities to it?
Douglas Wile suggests that the disempowered Chinese élite created a
‘holistic’ myth about taijiquan in response to their existential situation. To
confirm their cultural identity, they brought together things that had pre-
viously been separate and even antagonistic: Confucianism and Daoism,
healing exercises and martial art were united under the banner of silent
resistance to the forces that besieged them. Training was not for the purpose
of actual insurrection – personal practice of taijiquan was sufficient revolution
in itself. Rather, the élite could rely on an embodied practice to confirm
their personal and ethnic resistance to the overwhelming forces of history
(Wile: xvii).
This sudden declaration of the perennial and holistic nature of taijiquan
was supported by reference to an anonymous and supposedly ancient text
that mysteriously appeared soon after Yang’s arrival in Beijing. These
writings are called the taiji jing, or taiji classics, and they provided the
Beijing intelligentsia with textual support for their claims. These writings
could not have been produced by the illiterate Yang and are not found in
Chenjiagou, the home of the Chen family style. The taiji classics were likely
authored by Wu Yuxiang (1812–1880), one of Yang’s erudite students.
Wu did two retrospectively brilliant things. He wrote a text that described
taijiquan as a synthesis of native Han philosophies and practices and he
presented it as being an ancient document of divine origin, revealed to a
long-dead Daoist sage in meditation (Wile: i). Indeed the prefix taiji, which
means ‘undifferentiated unity’ and refers to one of the phases of creation
in Daoist metaphysics, was likely coined at this time, over 300 years after
Chen Wangting’s original synthesis.
In the early years of the twentieth century, various students of Yang Lu
Chan founded their own versions of taijiquan. Public policy during the
early Chinese Republican Period (1912–1918) advocated that the people
should take part in what was called ‘self-strengthening’, and the practice
of taijiquan spread widely due to state sanction and support (Wile: 14). By
the 1930s, five major varieties of taijiquan could be identified: the original
Chen, the Yang, the Wu, the Hao and the Sun schools. These different
schools of taijiquan served a spectrum of needs that ran from militia training,
to bodyguard skills, to personal self-defence, to health enhancement, to
national identity construction, with plenty of overlap between categories.

Taijiquan and the founding of the People’s Republic

With the establishment of the Communist People’s Republic of China in
1949, the ideological and functional nature of taijiquan changed yet again.
In 1956 the State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports of China

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introduced the National 24 Form of taijiquan, a radically simplified and

shortened version of the taolu of the Yang style of taijiquan. Recall that
traditional taijiquan practice is composed of solo training or taolu for coor-
dination training and conditioning and of tui shou, or partner training, for
combat. In constituting this new form, the Communist government of
China made choreographic choices with ideological implications. The pos-
tures of the National 24 Form do not adapt well to actual combat. The
form takes four to six minutes to execute, down from the thirty minutes it
takes to perform the traditional Yang family taolu, thereby reducing the
level of conditioning it provides. The National 24 Form was taught not to
individuals for solo practice, but to large groups for collective training. The
popular image of hundreds of Chinese people training outside, dressed in
matching clothes, executing exactly the same movements in unison does
not represent the tradition of martial practice in China as much as it does
the Communist ideals of collective unity and efficiency – it has far more in
common with Taylorism than with Daoism! Finally, and most significantly,
the State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports de-emphasised the
practice of tui shou combat training to such an extent that the practice of
taijiquan became synonymous with the practice of the taolu, or solo exer-
cise, for its own sake (Sim and Gaffney: 27).
The new National 24 Form of taijiquan fulfilled only one of the possible
functions of the earlier traditional forms. Communist style taijiquan was not
useful for training militia, bodyguards or private citizens in self-defence. It
was too short and simple to contribute meaningfully to health enhance-
ment and physical conditioning. It could no longer be related to traditional
Chinese religious cosmology or Daoist meditation, as the Communists
viewed such things as primitive and reactionary. The only thing that it
remained useful for was national identity construction, an identity dic-
tated by the Communist party. Although the National 24 continues to be
taught, practitioners of the traditional family styles are very much present
in martial arts in China today. However, during the devastation of the
Cultural Revolution and the period immediately afterwards, the tradition-
alists practised in almost total secrecy.

Taijiquan in Taiwan and beyond

In the unrest leading up to the Communist victory, many nationalist
Chinese martial artists fled to Taiwan. Among them was Zheng Manqing
(1900–1975) a Chinese doctor known for his calligraphy, poetry, painting
and taijiquan. Zheng studied Yang style taijiquan with Yang Lu Chan’s
grandson, Yang Cheng Fu, in Beijing from 1929 to 1936.
Zheng’s influence would likely have remained confined to the Chinese
martial art communities of Taiwan and Southeast Asia had he not attracted
the attention of Robert W. Smith (b. 1926), an American aficionado of
combat sports. Smith worked for the CIA and was posted to Taiwan where
he studied taijiquan under Zheng from 1959 to 1962, an unusual honour
for a foreigner in those days (Smith 1995: 51). Smith became the first

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Western writer to document the Chinese martial art in a thorough fashion

and his many books and articles on the subject are considered authorita-
tive (see, for example, Smith 1999).
Zheng Manqing described himself to Smith as an eccentric, or qiguai. Not
a typical martial artist, Zheng felt that classical Chinese painting and taijiquan
shared common principles, a seemingly dilettantish position made credible by
his unusual skill in both disciplines. It is perhaps due to this eclecticism and
his friendship with Smith that he accepted French and American invitations
to travel and show his artwork in the West. On his return from an exhibition
at the Cernuschi Museum in Paris in 1964, Zheng visited New York City
where he was welcomed by members of the Chinese community and by
American ‘artists, literati and taiji aficionados’ (Smith 1995: 61).
By 1965, Zheng had moved to America, settling on Riverside Drive in
New York City and teaching in a studio in the Bowery. Zheng welcomed all,
including Americans, artists, eccentrics, dropouts, hippies and pot-smokers
(Smith 1999: 278). One can imagine what a romantic figure Zheng must
have cut, dressed in traditional Chinese robes, sporting a dapper goatee and
curling side-locks, surrounded by adoring Chinese and Western students.
Along with his unusual personality and innovative choice of students,
Zheng appears to have made significant choices in his presentation of taiji-
quan to North Americans. Firstly, as explained in detail by American taiji-
quan teacher J. Justin Meehan, Zheng’s recorded execution of the Yang
style taolu differs significantly from the Yang style taolu demonstrated by
Yang family heir Yang Zhenduo (b.1926), in that Zheng’s version is far
less vigorous and athletically demanding (Online Source: Meehan, J.).
Secondly, as explained by American taijiquan teacher Scott M. Rodell, Zheng
may also have de-emphasised the martial partner exercises of taijiquan in
his North American teaching:

While cannily balancing the martial and civil components in his own life
and practice, Zheng’s writings often tend to emphasize the spiritual, medita-
tive, and medicinal aspects of taijiquan. Further, when teaching in New York,
Zheng adopted a relatively passive attitude toward the development of
martial skill among his students.
(Online Source: Rodell, S.)

Although Zheng was definitely a leading author of the popular perception of

taijiquan in North America, the rapid spread of taijiquan there was facilitated
by two aspects of educational and popular culture that were ascendant in the
1970s, the idea of interdisciplinary studies and the experiential workshop.

Taijiquan’s North American incarnation

Interdisciplinary studies and the experiential workshop became the back-
bone of the Human Potential Movement, a North American cultural phe-
nomenon born at an alternative educational institution called the Esalen
Institute. Located on the California coast near Big Sur, Esalen was founded

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by Michael Murphy and Dick Price in 1962 with the goal of integrating
insights from a wide variety of traditional and marginal disciplines, East
and West. The Human Potential Movement was a cultural and intellectual
trend that emerged during the 1960s. It combined ideas derived from
developments in Western psychology with the philosophies and practices
of numerous Asian meditative and religious systems in order to develop
the extraordinary abilities found in leading artists, intellectuals, athletes
and religious figures both living and historical. Inspired strongly by the
work of psychologist Abraham Maslow, the participants in the Human
Potential Movement sought to synthesise from contemporary and tradi-
tional sources actual practices that would lead to an exceptional quality of
life, characterised not only by peak experiences but also filled with joy, cre-
ativity and contentment (see Kripal: passim).
At Esalen, therapy, education and recreation were combined in experi-
ential workshops that offered instruction in such Asian disciplines as hatha
yoga, meditation and taijiquan (Wilber: 257–8).
One of the most influential tajiquan teachers at Esalen was Chungliang
‘Al’ Huang. Huang’s teaching approach emerged from the emphasis at
Esalen on the potential interrelationships between diverse Asian disci-
plines and the primacy of the experiential. Given the Human Potential
Movement’s concern with personal happiness, creativity and fulfilment,
Huang’s presentation of taijiquan built on the holistic myth created at the
turn of the century in China, and updated it for 1970s North America:

Tai ji is just a Chinese word for something that appears in many forms of dis-
cipline. Yoga, in essence, is tai ji. Zen is tai ji. Tai ji is what is. No more, no less.
(Huang 1973: 11)

Furthermore . . .

Tai Ji is a universal medium for the cultivation of Body, Mind and Spirit.
It is natural. It is perennial. It is for everyone, of all ages.
It is easy to learn. It can be joyful and exciting to practice.
It is a dance of life to be treasured.
It is for you.
(Huang 1989: 7)

While reinforcing a perception that taijiquan was ‘oriental’ and ‘mysteri-

ous’, by refusing to define it, Huang also de-emphasised the importance of
the five traditional lineages and implied that taijiquan is first and foremost
an individualistic expression:

[When asked] ‘What do you practice?’, I say ‘I practice the Huang style.’ My
style comes out of the other styles, and I have to develop it to the point that
it becomes me.
(Huang 1973: 12)

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Finally, he transformed tuishou from an exercise in combat training into a

practice concerned with settling the emotional and social conflicts of par-
ticular individuals:

I used this one time in a couples workshop, and I practice this with my wife
when we feel crossed and in conflict. She’s a very headstrong woman and
sometimes when we disagree I say, ‘Suzanne, let’s do t’ui sho.’ She says, ‘ I
don’t want to do t’ui sho; I’ve had enough of your encounter things.’
(Huang 1973: 70)

If Zheng Manqing brought a taijiquan that was still very much culturally
Chinese to a cosmopolitan public, Huang and those who have followed in
his footsteps can be seen to have created a whole new, specifically North
American, incarnation of the art. Today, taijiquan instruction in North
America exists along a continuum. At one end are the representatives of
the traditional five lineages, who look upon the taijiquan that they teach
as a martial art with classical standards of execution and an emphasis
on combat training. At the other end of the spectrum are teachers who
present a gentle exercise complex that offers students an opportunity for self-
expression, contains little or no partner training and is legitimised by its sup-
posed link to the exotic and archaic spirituality of Daoism. It also appears
that the majority of North American practitioners, regardless of their orien-
tation, eschew the purely martial end of this continuum, placing greater
emphasis on solo taolu practice than on partner tuishou, a tendency that also
holds true in the teaching of taijiquan in performing arts institutions.

Early use of Taijiquan in actor training programmes

As Professor Robert Dillon of Southeast Missouri State University puts it:

Since the sixties the notion of ‘martial arts for actors’ has gone from being
alternative in every sense of the word to being mainstream. Edwin Wilson, in
his introductory text, The Theatre Experience, mentions ‘martial arts’ as actor
training tools (121) and discusses tai chi [sic] in some depth (119-120); you
can’t get much more mainstream than that.
(Online Source: Dillon)

Dillon’s perspicacious essay on martial art in actor training describes,

quite accurately, the state of taijiquan practice in North America:

Tai chi [sic] is almost totally a solo practice. . . . Tai chi has pretty much
lost—except in certain schools and with certain teachers—many of its
combative applications in favor of a Taoist-flavored and broadly defined
‘spiritualism’; tai chi systems are mostly ‘about’ self-discovery, wellness, and
(Online Source: Dillon)

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The section of Edwin Wilson’s The Theatre Experience that deals with taiji-
quan concords perfectly with Dillon’s description:

Unlike some martial arts, tai chi [sic] is not aggressive: it is a graceful,
gentle exercise regimen performed widely by men, women and children in
China. It has spread to other countries where it is sometimes practiced in
conjunction with meditation or body awareness. The movements of tai chi
are stylised and often seem to be carried out in slow motion. Among other
things, tai chi requires concentration and control, both valuable qualities
for a performer.
(Wilson : 12)

Wilson goes on to say that taijiquan is useful to actors because it helps

them with ‘centering’. ‘When performers are able to “center” themselves’,
he says, ‘they achieve a balance, a freedom and a flexibility they could
rarely find otherwise’ (Wilson: 127).
The idea of using a combative exercise system in the training of actors
is not new. Countless traditional performance forms from around the world
derive their physical culture and choreography from martial movement.
For example, Chinese jingju (‘Beijing Opera’) employs martial exercises
adapted from the bei shaolin, the northern systems of Chinese martial art,
as a source of both performance choreography and performer preparation
(Yao: 21). And, while such techniques as boxing, historical fencing and
stage combat have been used in twentieth-century North American and
European actor training, they have never been described in such existen-
tially portentous terms as the language Wilson uses to describe taijiquan.
The perception that taijiquan solo taolu training has a profound transfor-
mational outcome can be traced to both the nineteenth-century Chinese
self-strengthening holistic synthesis and to the twentieth-century American
Human Potential Movement.
Furthermore, the aesthetic innovations of American performing artists
that began in the 1950s created a receptive atmosphere for taijiquan’s
adoption as an actor training protocol. Arnold Aronson describes these
innovations as being ‘a rebellion against the mainstream commercial system
and the utter rejection of the status quo’ (Aronson: 3). This new movement
was responsible for the eventual erasure of the boundaries between
theatre, dance, art and music and, a half-century later, allows critics and
theorists to describe contemporary theatre as being characterised by a
‘movement away from the dominance of the word to the primacy of the
moving body . . .’ (Mitter and Shevtsova: xviii).
As theatre artists became increasingly preoccupied with the lived expe-
rience and training of the body, they reached out to a host of movement
disciplines, and not least among these was taijiquan, in its multiplicity of
North American incarnations, from the personal expression of the Human
Potential Movement to the martial art of the traditionalists.

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The first major North American theatre training institution to employ

taijiquan in its acting programme was the University of Madison-Wisconsin’s
Asian/Experimental Theatre Program, founded by Professor A.C. Scott in
1963 (Zarrilli 1995: 182). A pioneering scholar of Chinese performance
forms, Scott had studied a shortened version of the taolu of Wu-style taijiquan
from an unnamed teacher in Hong Kong in the 1950s (Online Source:
Zarrilli). Later, in the early 1970s, the theatre programme of the California
Institute of the Arts, under the guidance of Herbert Blau, hired Marshall
Ho’o, who taught student actors a shortened version of the taolu of the
Yang style of taijiquan (Blau: 122). And from here, smoothly and quietly,
taijiquan became an accepted part of theatre training.
Although an historical overview provides an understanding of how the
current perception of taijiquan was created, a systemic approach is needed
to understand its actual potential in actor training.

Systemic analysis of Taijiquan training

In his classification of human athletic and movement activities, Russian
kinesiologist L.P. Matveyev proposes three overall groupings: monostruc-
tural exercises characterised by relatively stable forms, polystructural
exercises, characterised by variable forms, and complex exercises, made up
of combinations of mono and polystructural exercises. Examples of mono-
structural, polystructural and complex exercises are, respectively, weightlift-
ing or endurance running (mono), team games or sporting combat (poly)
and combined events, such as decathlons or aesthetic sports such as
gymnastics and acrobatics (complex) (Matveyev 1977, cited in Siff: 432).
According to Matveyev’s system, taijiquan practice is a complex exercise.
Tuishou, conforming as it does to the category of sporting combat, is a
polystructural exercise, while taolu practice, containing, as it traditionally
does, virtuosic feats of coordination and motor skill, is an aesthetic sport.
In combining the characteristics of both combat and aesthetic sports, taiji-
quan potentially offers actors benefits in two key areas, their psychophysi-
cal coordination with respect to themselves and their psychophysical
coordination in relationship to a fellow player.
The moment where the gains of an exercise complex such as taijiquan
are applied in a performance-specific venue is referred to in kinesiology as
conversion (Bompa and Carrera: 24). All aspects of actor training have
their moment of conversion, where drills and skills have to be applied in
context. The measure of a training protocol’s utility is in how effectively
conversion takes place.
I suggest that the effectiveness of taijquan’s conversion to actor training
protocol be evaluated in terms of the overall psychophysiological effects of
both taolu and tuishou training and in terms of how these effects address
the needs of actors performing in a variety of types of theatre.
Yang Yang (b. 1961) is a teacher of the Hunyuan style of taijiquan, which
is a modern branch of the Chen style, and a doctoral candidate in kinesiology
at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He describes the process of

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learning taijiquan taolu as being concerned with familiarising the practi-

tioner with ‘natural’ movement, where natural refers to:

. . . the orientation or angle of the body joints relative to the direction of

movement . . . If the body’s joints are not naturally aligned with the intended
direction of movement, two outcomes are certain: the force exerted will be
weak (or even non-existent), and the unnatural alignment will eventually
result in injury.
(Yang: 83)

It is important to understand the nuanced use of the word natural in this

example. Because of the degree of coordination involved, natural move-
ment in taijiquan will necessarily be experienced by the novice as compli-
cated, uncomfortable and artificial, far from the sensations of everyday
movement that the term ‘natural’ conjures up. Taijiquan movement is
described by kinesiology as voluntary movement, or movement governed
by learned motor programmes. Motor programmes are represented in the
brain as ‘an abstract plan (as opposed to a series of joint movements and
muscle contractions)’ (Yang: 111). Thus, in learning taolu, students
adopt a motor programme designed to maximise their movement effi-
ciency. The effects of this adoption are seen in several areas. Increased
endurance strength in the legs results in improved balance. The repeated
practice of sophisticated movements yields improvement in the attribute
of coordination. Because of the coordination of the legs with the move-
ment of the torso, an apparent increase in absolute strength is also an
effect of training. Sustained taolu training also produces a phenomenon
known as relaxation response, wherein the activity of the sympathetic
nervous system is reduced and the activity of the parasympathetic
nervous system increases (Yang: 68). The sympathetic nervous system is
dominant during perceived emergencies and ‘helps mediate vigilance,
arousal, activation and mobilization’, while the parasympathetic nervous
system mediates ‘growth, energy storage and other optimistic activities’
(Sapolsky: 22–3). What is especially significant about taolu training is
that it appears to balance the relationship between the two systems, offer-
ing practitioners the ability to remain alert, responsive, rational and
relaxed without entering a static, motionless and vegetative state or a
hyper-aroused one dominated by fear.
Yang continues by explaining how tuishou functions in contemporary

Maintaining central equilibrium and effortless motor control is dependent

upon a continuous flow of sensory information (visual, somatic, sensory and
vestibular). Posture and movement are controlled by the brain’s motor
system in two ways:
1. The nervous system monitors sensory signals and uses this informa-
tion to act directly on a limb. This responsive action is called feedback.

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2. Using sensory input and experience, the mind adopts a pro-active

strategy and contracts muscles that will be necessary to maintain balance
during an imminent disturbance. This anticipatory response is called feed-
(Yang: 136)

Yang goes on to argue that sustained practice of tuishou hones the effi-
ciency of the feedforward and feedback functions of the motor system.
Thus, while the practice of taijiquan taolu can provide a certain amount
of coordination balance and nervous-system straining, in order to fully
enjoy the potential benefits of taijquan, coordination, balance and psy-
chophysical equilibrium need to be actively challenged. Actors need to
work on the spontaneous and improvised partner exercises of tuishou.
Tuishou teaches what the taolu is for. It brings a strong dose of objectivity
to training: testing and applying one’s movements with a partner in
tuishou allows one to check if the taolu practice is producing any verifiable
concentration, control, balance, freedom and mental flexibility. In the
absence of partner-practice, one’s sensations of centring, power, creativ-
ity, and fulfilment remain subjective, fleeting and personal. Tuishou offers
the opportunity to correlate subjective impressions with reality in order
to create a repeatable change of skill level, rather than merely an
ephemeral change of state.

Figure 1: Chen Zhonghua and Daniel Mroz practising Chen-style Taijiquan

Tuishou on Daqingshan Mountain, Shandong, China. (Photo by Scot Jorgenson)

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Figure 2: Chen Zhonghua uses his advantageous position to lock Daniel Mroz in
an arm-bar during the training. (Photo by Scot Jorgenson)

Concrete applications of Taijiquan in actor training

Over time, actors training in taijiquan can reduce their reaction time to
sudden stressors in order to act proactively and appropriately due to increased
sensory input (Yang: 138). Tuishou is an incremental protocol for reducing
the degree of the stress-response, the nervous and hormonal activation
that makes the heart pound, shrinks the field of vision and inhibits fine
motor control (Sapolsky: 6–8).
Much of actor training is directly concerned with de-conditioning the
stress-response. Actors’ lack of physical ease, vocal projection and ability
to respond creatively to their fellow players are all caused by habituated
over-reaction to actual or anticipated stressors. This in itself is enough to
recommend traditional taijiquan to any actor-training programme.
Furthermore, taolu teaches stage actors to be able to repeat a precise
choreography of actions that, due to their martial nature, contain very
clear force vectors. These not only render a body trained in their execution
more dynamic, but also the specific breathing protocols used in taijiquan
allow the moving actor to support vocalisation with movement in a highly
efficient manner. Having learned the classical choreography of the taolu,
actors can apply themselves to composing posture and movement when
acting in self-consciously theatrical genres. Actors creating devised physical
theatre or interpreting classical, late-modern and post-dramatic repertoire
all have need of strong compositional skills. For actors working in these
forms, tuishou training converts into the skill of being able to respond

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appropriately, compositionally and without stress to other actors and to

the performance environment.

Sustained versus terminating training

The major limitation on taijiquan’s usefulness to actors is the institutional
context in which it is typically provided. Actor-training in North America is
characterised by terminating training programs that move graduates into the
cultural industry after three or four years of schooling. Taijiquan, by contrast,
was originally conceived as a sustained training activity, involving daily work
over a lifetime in order to maintain the mature fighting form of a rural militia
with a strong, pre-existing background in martial movement. Although a
high level of competence could be achieved by novices who devoted them-
selves to its daily practice exclusively for three or four years, when practised
for only a few hours a week as part of a larger, varied curriculum, basic skill
in taijiquan – the growing ability to maintain physical balance and mental
calm when wrestling with another – may never have a chance to manifest.

Solutions in terminating training programmes

The need for intense practice has led acting teacher Phillip Zarrilli to make
taijiquan practice more central to the performance programmes he has
directed. Formerly the head of the Asian/Experimental Theatre Programme
at the University of Madison-Wisconsin and currently Professor of
Performance Practice in the Drama Department of the University of Exeter
(UK), Zarrilli has shared a shortened form of the Wu style of taijiquan with
graduate and undergraduate students in England and America since
1980. Zarrilli’s programmes are not only restricted to taijiquan, but also
include training in kalarippayattu, a martial discipline from South India,
and hatha yoga (Zarrilli in Zarrilli 1995: 183).
What I find most significant about Zarrilli’s curriculum is his attempt
to offer students in terminating training programmes a maximum number
of hours of physical practice by placing it at the centre of their work. The
training programme he instituted at the University of Madison-Wisconsin’s
Asian/Experimental Theatre Programme, which he inherited from A.C. Scott
in 1980, proceeded as follows. For the first six months of their time in the pro-
gramme, both graduate and undergraduate students would meet five days a
week to practice taijiquan, kalarippayattu and hatha yoga for 90–120 minutes.
Following the six-month introductory period, daily training was reduced to a
60-minute period that served as an intensive preparation for the acting that
was a part of the students’ course of work (Zarrilli 1995: 183–4).
Zarrilli has maintained his commitment to training intensity in his
more recent work at Exeter, where students in the Physical Performance and
Actor Training MA and MFA degrees receive at least 150 hours of guided
instruction each semester in physical training that includes taijiquan, in
addition to the hundreds of hours of personal practice that are expected of
them during their one- or two-year programmes (Online Source: University
of Exeter Course Descriptions).

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The ultimate test of a programme set up along these lines is found

in the post-graduation choices of its students and in Zarrilli’s availability
to them for ongoing training. A two-year period can provide students
with a decent introduction to taijiquan, or to any martial discipline, but it
does not provide them with the experience they need to continue devel-
oping their fighting or movement skills without further instruction. For
students in terminating programmes to fully assimilate skill in taijiquan
they will not only have to develop a personal solo and partner practice,
but also seek further instruction – in other words, they will have to
use the foundation they acquired in terminating training to fuel a life-
time of sustained training. Given the specificity of Zarrilli’s programme,
the commitment that students must have going in to such a course of
studies must be considerable. As a result, I feel optimistic about the
possibility of this course of terminating training planting the seed of sus-
tained practice.

Solutions in sustained training programs

Although there are probably many professional actors who take taijiquan
classes for the purpose of general self-maintenance, the number of theatre
artists using taijiquan as the physical basis of their creative process is small,
restricted to companies creating devised physical theatre or postdramatic
works that blur the distinctions between theatre, dance and performance art.
Furthermore, it would be misleading to describe their work as pure sustained
training. The possibilities for sustained training by contemporary performing
artists are constrained, in Canada where I live and work, by arts-funding
structures and union regulations. Theatre companies in Canada are funded
by public and private agencies at national, provincial and municipal levels.
Grants are either offered for the creation and performance of an individual
work or for the administration of a more established company over several
years. Neither project-based funding nor operating funding has in mind a
stable ensemble of performers who base their creative life in a shared physical
practice. Funding theatre artists to develop their technique on a daily basis,
without a pre-determined, terminating goal in sight, is viewed as a risky
investment, and is not sanctioned. Thus, contemporary theatre artists in
Canada attempting to base their work around taijiquan training are con-
fronted with two realities: training is periodic as opposed to constant, and the
group of performers being trained is not necessarily constant.
Two Canadian groups whose attempts to create a signature style of
performance are based on taijiquan training are Battery Opera, led by Lee
Su-Feh and David McIntosh, and One Reed Theatre Ensemble, directed by
myself. Battery Opera is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, in Western
Canada while One Reed is based in Toronto, Ontario in the east. I have
chosen to present the work of these two groups as I am personally
acquainted, albeit to different degrees, with their work, and thus feel able
to link my direct practical experiences of them with the historical and the-
oretical material I have presented above.

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3. While living in Battery Opera

Montréal I saw
Reptile Diva at Espace
Battery Opera’s founding members, Lee Su-Feh and McIntosh, both trained in
Tangente (1999), Chinese martial arts under Xu Gong Wei (b. 1915), a teacher who exposed
Spektator at the them to numerous styles including chaquan, xingyiquan, baguazhang and of
Festival International
de Nouvelle Danse course, taijiquan. In addition to their work with Xu, they have benefited
(2002) and took from the strong Asian presence in Vancouver, and have trained in Chinese
a short martial
movement for and other martial arts with a wide variety of teachers, as well as such
performers workshop Asian systems of physical culture as hatha yoga and qigong. Their descrip-
led by McIntosh and
Lee at Studio 303, tion of the role of martial arts in their process is lucid and inspiring:
a training and
creation centre for
A large part of the development process in any of our work involves the train-
performance and ing of the performers (ourselves included) to a point where they have the
dance (2000). appropriate skills and fluency in the language of our physical worldview. The
basis of this language is not only aesthetic (a certain kind of gestural lan-
guage or dynamic) but also has to do with a specific use of focus, breath and
mindfulness. In this state, the performer is highly in tune with her breath and
how it connects with her eyes, with her internal and external impulses. She
also becomes highly aware of the space around her, the shape of it and the
lines of energy that run through it. Often, the work requires that performers
improvise from this state. In order to arrive at this state, the company trains
in a class that is based on a number of disciplines; qigong, yoga, voice, basic
martial arts (wushu) and, particularly, Chinese internal martial arts.
(Online Souce: Battery Opera Website)

Battery Opera offers an example of a successful, if periodic, approach to

sustained training. Although the two core members, Lee and McIntosh,
have a sustained practice of taijiquan, they do not work with a completely
stable ensemble. Their three current performances, Cyclops, Spektator and
Reptile Diva, use some of the same performers, but the ensemble is not exactly
the same from work to work (Online Source: Battery Opera Website). And
as the description above reveals, training for the company as a whole is
part of the preparation of an individual project, and not the daily practice
of an ensemble.
Despite the constraints that periodic training with a shifting group
imposes, I believe that Battery Opera has successfully created a signature
style of performance, anchored in and revealed by a way of moving that
distinguishes them from other physical theatre and dance companies. To
the trained observer, this way of moving clearly derives from the Chinese
martial arts, including taijiquan. The actualisation of this way of moving is
likely to be dependent on the constant presence of Lee and McIntosh from
project to project, and to their own ongoing martial training.3

One Reed Theatre Ensemble

One Reed Theatre Ensemble is a group that I co-founded with four gradu-
ating students of the English Acting Section of the National Theatre School
of Canada. Under its current artistic director Sherrie Bie, the English

142 Daniel Mroz

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Acting Section has been encouraging its students to become independent

artists who create their own aesthetically diverse works. As such, Canadian
devised physical theatre artists Ker Wells and Karin Randoja give a class
each year at the National Theatre School. I studied with Wells and Randoja
myself when they were members of Primus Theatre, a major Canadian
contemporary theatre ensemble active in the 1990s, directed by former
Odin Teatret actor Richard Fowler. I met the four actors of One Reed,
Frank Cox-O’Connell, Megan Flynn, Marc Tellez and Evan Webber, when
they were students of Wells and Randoja. Upon their graduation in 2005,
we began to work together and created what would become One Reed
Theatre, and our first performance, Nor The Cavaliers Who Come With Us.
During their work with Wells and Randoja, the actors had been exposed
to some of the same physical training that I had learned from Richard
Fowler, the Pre-Expressive Training developed by the actors of Eugenio
Barba’s Odin Teatret, where Fowler had worked for over a decade. They
had also been taught the approach to performance composition that I
had experienced with Fowler and Primus. However, given my interest in
martial arts training, in my work as a performer and director I had largely
replaced the physical exercises of Fowler’s Pre-Expressive Training with my
own repertoire of exercises. Added to this was the fact that, while I had
trained with Fowler and Primus periodically but intensively for four years,
the actors of One Reed had worked with Wells and Randoja for only six
weeks. Thus, while we were all content to use the approach to perfor-
mance composition we had inherited from Primus, I didn’t feel that any of
us had enough experience with Fowler’s Pre-Expressive Training to con-
tinue with it. We were also faced with time constraints – we had secured
funding for only nine weeks of full-time work. A common physical training
was essential to the way in which we had elected to make a performance,
but I also knew that nine weeks work on taijiquan taolu, even at three
hours per day, six days per week, would yield only minimal results and
take away from the time needed to compose the performance. I decided to
break with tradition and concentrate only on partner exercises. I shared
various approaches to taijiquan tui shou with the actors, in addition to
partner-training games from such contemporary approaches to combat
sport as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Chinese sanshou. To borrow Lee Su-Feh and
David McIntosh’s words:

We are interested in the martial body as a body that always works in relation-
ship to an immediate opponent or partner, where the space around the body
has weight, shape, is ‘sentient’. . . . The martial artist’s relationship to an oppo-
nent with close range provides us with clues about how to address the audience
in an intimate space and how to relate to the performer’s scene partners.
(Online Source: Battery Opera Website)

This reflects my preoccupations exactly, and I felt that, by privileging partner

work, I would be hopefully optimising my collaborators’ imaginations and

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STP-28-2-03-Mroz 4/18/08 2:39 PM Page 144

4. Nor The Cavaliers group complicity by amplifying their feedforward and feedback responses
Who Come With Us,
devised by One Reed,
to movement.
performed by Frank It is difficult to give any kind of reasonable evaluation of one’s own work.
Cox-O’Connell, Megan Nevertheless, I believe that, as a short-term solution, the choice to concen-
Flynn, Marc Tellez
and Evan Webber and trate on free-form, improvised fighting drills created excellent responsiveness
directed by Daniel and complicity in the performers. The performance Nor The Cavaliers Who
Mroz had its
Canadian Premiere Come With Us, which deals with the consequences of the sixteenth-century
at the 2006 conquest of Mexico today, has been a popular and critical success.4
Festival in Toronto. Nevertheless, I feel that, if we are to surpass ourselves for our next outing,
After a very we must now concentrate on taolu. While interpersonal response has been
favourable review,
the production went
honed, it is not supported by sufficient physical coherence. Raised scapular
on to win the girdles, necks transposed forwards and excessively loose stops, the bane of
Summerworks all stage performers, need to be trained out of existence through the metic-
Festival Spotlight
Award. The ulous application of classical technique. Classical technique also prepares
performance was the performer’s body in a global and uniform fashion that improvised
cited for Outstanding
Production, partner-work, which privileges personal idiosyncrasies, cannot. Without
Outstanding Direction the objective standard for movement quality that taolu training imposes, I
and Outstanding
Ensemble by Toronto’s do not feel we will be able to grow in our ability to innovate formally and
arts-weekly Now challenge ourselves. We have yet to find an ideal solution to our theoreti-
Magazine which
subsequently declared
cal commitment to sustained training, yet I am inspired by the success of
One Reed to be Battery Opera to attempt a periodic approach to training as we begin to
Toronto’s Best work on our next creation.
Young Ensemble.

Taijiquan is an exercise complex that has captured the imaginations and
cultural agenda of a surprisingly wide variety of groups. I have endeav-
oured to provide a history of its uses, both in China and North America, as
well as a systemic description of its training activities. I have discussed its
potential impact in the context of both terminating and sustained
approaches to training. Finally, I should like to suggest that, as taijiquan
enters the twenty-first century, theatre practitioners who would avail
themselves of its benefits would do well to look back to its martial roots
and emphasise tui shou in their study and practice.

Works cited
Aronson, Arnold (2000), American Avant-Garde Theatre: A History, New York:
Blau, Herbert (1982), Take Up the Bodies: Theater at the Vanishing Point, Champaign:
University of Illinois Press.
Bompa, Tudor and Michael Carrera (2005), Periodization Training for Sports,
Champaign: Human Kinetics.
Huang, Chungliang (1973), Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain, Berkeley: Celestial Arts.
——— (1989), Essential Tai Ji, Berkeley: Celestial Arts.
Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2007), Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
Mitter, Shomit and Maria Shevtsova (2005), Fifty Key Directors, London: Routledge.

144 Daniel Mroz

STP-28-2-03-Mroz 4/18/08 2:39 PM Page 145

Sapolsky, Robert (1998), Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, New York: W.H. Freeman.
Siff, Mel (2003), Supertraining, Denver: Supertraining Institute.
Sim, Davidine and David Gaffney (2002), Chen Style Taijiquan, Berkeley: North
Smith, Robert (1995), ‘Zheng Manqing and taijiquan – a clarification of role’, Journal
of Asian Martial Arts, 4:1.
——— (1999), Martial Musings, Erie: Via Media.
Wilber, Ken (1998), The Eye of Spirit, Boston: Shambhala.
Wile, Douglas (ed. and trans.) (1996), Lost T’ai Chi Classics from the Late Ch’ing
Dynasty, Albany: State University of New York.
Wilson, Edwin (2004), The Theater Experience, Columbus: McGraw-Hill.
Yang, Yang (2005), Taijiquan: The Art of Nurturing, The Science of Power, Champagne:
Zhen Wu.
Yao, Haihsing (2001), ‘Martial-acrobatic arts in Peking Opera’, Journal of Asian
Martial Arts, 10: 1.
Zarrilli, Phillip (1995), ‘On the edge of a breath, looking’, in Phillip Zarrilli (ed.),
Acting(Re)Considered, London: Routledge.

Online Sources
http://www.batteryopera.com/website.html. Accessed 5 November 2006.
Dillon, Robert, ‘Asian martial arts in actor training: an enthusiast’s critique’, in Journal
of Martial Combatives, Deborah Klens-Bigman (ed.), http://ejmas.com/jtc/
jtcart_dillon_1299.html. Accessed 24 May 2001.
Meehan, J. Justin, ‘A comparative study between traditional Yang style of Yang
Chengfu and Cheng Manching’s style’, http://www.stltaiji.com/documents/
articlecomparingyang.pdf. Accessed 11 September 2006.
Rodell, Scott, M., ‘The martial and the civil in Yang style Taijiquan’, http://
www.grtc.org/articles/martialcivil.html. Accessed 25 May 2006.
University of Exeter Course Descriptions, http://www.spa.ex.ac.uk/drama/pg/
theatrepractice/welcome.html, http://www.spa.ex.ac.uk/drama/pg/modules/
dram034.pdf, http://www.spa.ex.ac.uk/drama/pg/modules/dram035.pdf, http://
www.spa.ex.ac.uk/drama/pg/modules/dram037.pdf. Accessed 31 October 2006.
Zarrilli, Phillip, ‘Phillip Zarrilli and kalarippayattu/martial arts/performance’,
www.spa.ex.ac.uk/drama/staff/kalari/zarrilli.html. Accessed 24 May 2006.

Suggested citation
Mroz, D. (2008), ‘Technique in exile: The changing perception of taijiquan, from Ming
dynasty military exercise to twentieth-century actor training protocol’, Studies
in Theatre and Performance 28: 2, pp. 127–145, doi: 10.1386/stap.28.2.127/1

Contributor details
Daniel Mroz teaches in the Theatre Department of the University of Ottawa. A
long-term student of Chinese martial arts and physical culture, he is currently
studying Hong Junsheng’s Practical Method of Chen Taijiquan under the guidance
of nineteenth-generation lineage holder, Chen Zhonghua. He is the director of One
Reed Theatre Ensemble, a Canadian company devoted to the creation of devised
physical theatre.
E-mail: dmroz@uottawa.ca

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Studies in Theatre and Performance Volume 28 Number 2 © 2008 Intellect Ltd

Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/stap.28.2.147/1

‘Your sincere friend and humble servant’:

Evidence of managerial aspirations in
Susannah Cibber’s letters
Helen Brooks

Abstract Keywords
This article explores both the text and some of the sub-texts of Susannah Cibber’s David Garrick
correspondence with David Garrick from 1745 to 1747, when she was an estab- Drury Lane
lished leading actress and he was contemplating entering into the management of theatre management
the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. It considers the strategies Cibber adopted in her
James Lacy
attempts to persuade Garrick into co-management and speculates on the ‘real’
reason for the ultimate dashing of her hopes. women’s rights
Theophilus Cibber
From July 1745 to January 1747 Susannah Cibber, leading actress on the
Drury Lane stage wrote a series of letters to her ‘stage lover’ David Garrick.
These letters form just a small part of the extensive private correspondence
of David Garrick compiled by the noted biographer, critic, essayist and his-
torian John Forster (1812–1876) and held at the National Art Library. Yet
while these letters are just one piece in the jigsaw of David Garrick’s story
they are invaluable for the insight they provide into one of the leading
actresses of her day. With Susannah Cibber’s long-term partner William
Sloper having destroyed part of her correspondence after her death, and
his widow Catherine Sloper having finished the job after her estranged
husband’s death, these letters are some of the few extant sources through
which we can directly access Susannah Cibber’s own ‘voice’. Moreover
with the main focus of these letters being Susannah’s attempts to convince
Garrick to join her in various theatrical ventures, they offer us a valuable
perspective on this actress’s managerial aspirations and more significantly,
how she sought to achieve them.
At the point at which Susannah began this correspondence with
Garrick, the London theatre scene was feeling the impact of political insta-
bilities threatening the country. With Charles Edward Stuart’s Scottish
uprising causing national economic unrest, and runs on the Bank of England
unsettling the London market, the bank which held the patent of Drury
Lane was in a tenuous position. The partnership of the bankers and paten-
tees, Green and Amber, was known to be at the point of breaking, and the
impact on the Drury Lane theatre under the management of James Lacy
was not going unnoticed. Lacy had already had difficulty in paying his
actors the previous season, and in mid-July 1745, with a number of salaries
still outstanding, he was attempting to negotiate salary cuts with his leading

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actors. It was within this context, in which both Susannah Cibber and David
Garrick were negotiating hard with Lacy to renew their contracts at their
current rates that Susannah wrote the series of letters in which she sought
to gain Garrick’s support in an independent managerial venture. The first
letter of the series was sent by Susannah on 18 July 1745, and she began
it by dramatically informing Garrick of the current state of their salary

I must write what comes uppermost; so, without father [sic] ceremony, I
must tell you that I hear we are both to be turned out of Drury Lane play-
house, to breath [sic] our faithful souls out where we please. But as Mr Lacy
suspects you are so great a favourite with the ladies that they will resent it,
he has enlisted two swinging Irishmen of six feet high to silence that battery.
As to me, I am to be brought to capitulate another way, and he is to send a
certain hussar of our acquaintance to plunder me.
(Garrick 1835: 1.34)

Warning Garrick foremost that Lacy was unprepared to capitulate to their

salary demands, Susannah also paints a vivid picture of how Lacy
intended to resolve his predicament. In Garrick’s case this meant bringing
in the ‘two swinging Irishmen’, whom Garrick would have known to be
the popular actors Thomas Sheridan (1719–1788) and Spranger Barry
(1717–1777), as replacements. Spranger Barry in particular was Garrick’s
closest rival, the difference in their style being best exemplified by
Mrs. Pritchard who wrote that of the two actors’ performances in Romeo
and Juliet, Garrick’s was:

so ardent and impassioned [. . .] I should have expected he would have

come up to me in the balcony; but had I been Juliet to Barry’s Romeo – so
tender, so eloquent, and so seductive was he, I should certainly have gone
down to him.
(Highfill: 1.330)

Whilst the threat Susannah presented tapped into Garrick’s greatest inse-
curity, in relation to herself Lacy’s intentions appear to have been far more
menacing. Asserting that the manager intended to force her to work by
encouraging her estranged husband Theophilus Cibber, that ‘certain
hussar’, to ‘plunder’ her property and income as he had throughout the
last ten years, Susannah presented herself to Garrick as the threatened,
powerless victim of Lacy’s schemes.
Yet although the threats Susannah described might well have been
real, her reason for painting such a bleak picture of the ‘terrifying resolu-
tions’ (Garrick 1835: 1.34) which faced them was not selfless. Moreover it
soon becomes clear that Susannah actively emphasised the ‘melancholy’
nature of their situation specifically in order to lay the foundations for the
suggestion that she was about to put to Garrick. In fact, the situation she

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described did not present a substantial risk to either herself or Garrick. In 1. In 1733, one year
after buying out his
Garrick’s case he was already well-established as the leading London actor, father’s share in
and while for Susannah there was always the potential that Theophilus Drury Lane’s
would decide to involve himself in her career, her financial position was management patent,
Theophilus Cibber
now far more secure than when she had been subject to her husband’s had fallen out with
matrimonial rights. Now that she was co-habiting with and had had a the principle patent
holder at Drury Lane,
daughter by William Sloper, whose substantial inheritance had consolidated John Highmore. As a
his social and financial position in 1743, the threat of being ‘plundered’ is result Theophilus
had been banned
unlikely to have been a great concern to Susannah. Rather, therefore, than from participation
aiming to warn Garrick, the ‘melancholy’ picture Susannah painted func- in the theatre’s
management. In
tioned primarily to provoke Garrick’s hostility towards Lacy, to encourage response he had led a
him to view Susannah as his ally, and ultimately to make him more likely group of disaffected
to respond positively to her following suggestion that they join together in actors away from
Drury Lane, to join
rebelling against Lacy’s management: him in a new
company which he
established at the
What think you of setting up a strolling company? Had you given me timely Haymarket theatre.
notice of your going to Buxton, I am sure the landlord of the Hall Place The following year
Highmore had been
would have lent us a barn, and with the advantage of your little wife’s bankrupted, in part
first appearance in the character of Lady Townly [in Colley Cibber’s The Pro- because of the
competition from the
voked Husband], I don’t doubt but we could have pick’d up some odd pence:
rebel company, and
this might have given a great turn to affairs, and, when Lacy found we could Theophilus had been
get our bread without him, it might possibly have altered these terrifying invited back to Drury
Lane as a leading
resolutions. actor–manager. Even
(Garrick 1835: 1.34) earlier, in 1695,
following the ‘petition
of the players’, a
While Susannah quickly made light of this idea, continuing ‘but joking group of eight
‘rebels’ had gained a
aside, I long till you come that we may consult together’ (Garrick 1835: licence to set up
1.34), the suggestion that she and Garrick lead a theatrical rebellion to independently from
the United Company,
prove their professional worth is significant. With its overt echoes of the a move which had
1733 rebellion against Drury Lane’s management, and the 1695 seces- resulted in Ann
sion from the United Company,1 Susannah’s suggestion located her within Bracegirdle and
Elizabeth Barry
a tradition of leading players who had rebelled against the management becoming the
and subsequently become actor–managers in their own right. Provoked by first female
actor-managers of
Lacy’s refusal to recognise what she perceived as her own commercial a London theatre
value, Susannah revealed not only the extent to which she would fight to company.
retain her professional value, but for the first time, her belief in her own
managerial capabilities.
While Susannah’s idea was certainly interesting, we can gather
from her subsequent letter just over three months later, on 24 October,
that Garrick had not responded enthusiastically to this strategy for chal-
lenging Lacy’s management. With a clear rebuttal from Garrick,
Susannah therefore quickly backtracked, brushing her idea aside and
asserting that ‘I am partly of your opinion, that the masters would refuse
our proposal: the thing came into my head as I was writing to you, so I
mentioned it without father [sic] reflection’ (Garrick 1835: 1.37). Almost
immediately, however, Susannah developed her second idea for becoming

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2. One month earlier, an actor manager, and this one she told Garrick was ‘a much better
in September 1745,
Charles Edward
Stuart had marched
on Edinburgh with There will be no operas this year; so if you, Mr Quin, and I, agree to play
his Highland army
and defeated the without any salary, and pick up some of the best actors and actresses that
Hanoverian force led are disengaged, at what salary you both think proper, I make no doubt we
by Sir John Cope at
the Battle of shall get a licence to play therefore fifty, sixty, or any number of nights you
Prestonpans. In agree upon. Mr Heidegger shall pay scenes, & c. and pay those that receive
October they were
continuing to march wages; and deliver the overplus to some proper person to enlist men to serve
south. Publicly in any of the regiments of guards, at five pounds per man; – this is the
locating herself as a
service [th]at St Martin’s parish puts the money to that they collect, – and I
supporter of the
Hanoverian throne mention it, because it is thought the most serviceable to the government, of
would be a any scheme yet proposed [. . .] if we succeed, which I have very little doubt
particularly valuable
move for Susannah, of, I desire nothing better than us three playing at the head of any company
since in religious of actors we can get together. I believe we shall convince the whole town that
terms, as a Roman
Catholic, her we have not been unreasonable in the salaries we have demanded.
allegiance might be (Garrick 1835: 1.37)
assumed to be to the
Jacobite cause.
Unlike her previous plan, which ‘came into my head as I was writing to
you’, Susannah appears to have thought this new scheme through in some
practical detail before she committed it to article. It is not, however, solely
in the fact that she laid out a clear, practical and ultimately achievable
strategy that this letter marks a significant progression in Susannah’s
managerial aspirations, nor in the fact that she used a far more assertive,
definitive tone in proposing the idea. Rather, the significance of this letter
is the extent to which Susannah had re-figured her scheme within the
broader political context. In her earlier proposal Susannah had sought to
achieve her managerial aspirations with a direct move in competition with
Lacy, proving to him that they could ‘get our bread without him’. Now,
however, while her goal of setting up an independent company remained
essentially the same, Susannah sought to achieve it by framing her aspira-
tions not as a rebellion but as a patriotic endeavour, a move which would
effectively mask her fundamental desire to manage a company in opposition
to Lacy beneath a philanthropic and seemingly selfless display of national
support. Moreover, by presenting the endeavour as a nationalist enterprise
and giving the profits directly to the regiment of guards, Susannah’s plan
would publicly and valuably locate both herself and Garrick as active par-
ticipants in the national fight against the Young Pretender who had only
one month earlier defeated the English forces in the first major battle of the
Jacobite uprising.2 It was a sophisticated strategy, and as such presented an
interesting dilemma to Garrick who, immediately on receiving Susannah’s
letter, wrote to his friend and confidant Somerset Draper saying:

I should not have troubled you so soon again, was it not to tell you I have
received a letter from Mrs Cibber, who proposes a scheme for our acting with
Mr Quin, gratis, in the Haymarket; in order to raise a sum of money to enlist

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men for his Majesty’s service. Now although I imagine this proposal merely 3. Susannah begins her
letter of 30 October
chimerical and womanish; yet, as I would not give my opinion too hastily
by telling Garrick that
upon such an affair, I must desire you to wait upon her; and to be sure if I ‘yesterday Mr Draper
can, in any way, contribute to the general good, I shall be ready upon the called upon me’
(Garrick 1835: 1.38).
first notice, to come and give my assistance.
4. In her letter of
(Little and Kahrl 1963: 1.66) 9 November 1745
Susannah tells
Garrick that she
Garrick was torn. On the one hand he perceived the idea to be ‘womanish’ wants to speak to
and ‘chimerical’, yet on the other he recognised that he might ‘turn this’ him about ‘a letter
to his own advantage with Lacy since, in Susannah’s words, ‘to break this sent me a fortnight
ago’, suggesting that
scheme he will give you any terms you will demand (Garrick 1835: 1.37). when she wrote to
Additionally, perhaps he also recognised the significant risk of the venture Garrick on
30 October she might
going ahead without him, and of the public finding out that he had refused already have received
to take part in a philanthropic and patriotic endeavour. Turning to his most this letter regarding
the patent.
trusted advisor, Garrick therefore asked Somerset Draper to visit Susannah
Cibber ‘as soon as possible, and give me your opinion on it’, making it
clear that ‘if I can, in any way, contribute to the general good, I shall be
ready upon the first notice’(Little and Kahrl 1963: 1.66).
Three days later Susannah received a visit from Somerset Draper,3 who
swiftly resolved Garrick’s dilemma by convincing her ‘that it was best to drop
the affair I mentioned to you’ (Garrick 1835: 1.38). The means by which
Draper succeeded in quelling Susannah’s scheme are unfortunately lost,
although we can speculate that the news that Garrick intended to depart
shortly for Ireland may have played some part. At the same time, Susannah’s
recently received letter regarding the potential sale of the Drury Lane patent
may also have encouraged her to put the present scheme to one side in
favour of the greater potential ahead.4 Yet, whatever the reason, when
Susannah next wrote to Garrick, on 30 October, her tone was notably
cooler and even resentful of Garrick’s abandoning her at this time of change
and uncertainty. ‘I am sorry to hear you propose going to Ireland without
calling at London’, she wrote:

I should think it would be right to see your friends here first. You don’t know
what events may happen in your absence; as I have no notion the theatre
can go on in the way it now is. I should have been very glad to have had two
or three hours conversation with you before your journey; but if I have not
that pleasure, I heartily wish you your health.
(Garrick 1835: 1.38)

Having now attempted twice to gain Garrick’s professional collaboration

on two separate managerial projects, and having been clearly rebutted by
him and even abandoned for another country, it would not be surprising
to see Susannah give up on her attempts to further her ambition with
her stage lover. Yet only ten days later, on 9 November 1745, Susannah
appears to have re-evaluated her strategy. She wrote once more to Garrick,
putting forward her third and final proposal, and suggesting that she and

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Garrick join together in purchasing the patent for Drury Lane. As in her
first letter, Susannah opened by carefully setting the tone and laying the
groundwork for the revelation of her plan. She began:

Sir, I had a thousand pretty things to say to you, but you go to Ireland
without seeing me [. . .] You assure me also you want sadly to make love to
me; and I assure you, very seriously, I will never engage upon the same
theatre again with you, without you make more love to me than you did last
year. I am ashamed that the audience should see me break the least rule of
decency (even upon the stage) for the wretched lovers I had last winter. I
desire you always to be my lover upon the stage, and my friend off it.
(Garrick 1835: 1.38–39)

This wonderfully flirtatious opening paragraph was a new strategy for

Susannah. Up until this point her propositions of commercial ventures had
been businesslike in tone, focussing primarily upon the situation, laying
out plans and strategies and, perhaps most of all, being overtly enthusias-
tic about the ventures proposed. Now, however, Susannah began by show-
ering Garrick with praise, pandering to his ego and conversing in what
must have seemed, from its flirtatious tone, a much more ‘feminine’ way.
Whether in part simply an attempt to make up for the distant tone in her
previous letter or out of recognition that her more ‘masculine’ style of con-
versing had not previously been successful in furthering her ambitions,
the main function of this flirtatious opening was to reaffirm and re-estab-
lish Susannah’s alliance with Garrick. Throughout this paragraph the key
points that Susannah asserted were her professional loyalty and her per-
sonal affection for Garrick. Asserting that no other actor compared as a
‘lover upon the stage’, Susannah located herself as Garrick’s primary stage
partner, a relationship which would be key if she was to convince Garrick
to join her as co-manager of Drury Lane. Having laid the groundwork
through flattery and encouragement – notably the exact reverse of the
strategy Susannah had used in July when attempting to gain Garrick’s
support with the threat of the ‘terrifying resolutions’ – Susannah then
came to reveal her final and ultimate aspiration:

What I wanted to speak to you about was, a letter sent me a fortnight ago.
The purport of it was, supposing the remainder of the patent was to be sold,
would you and Mr Garrick buy it, provided you could get promise of its being
renewed for ten or twenty years? As I was desired to keep this a strict secret,
I did not care to trust it in a letter, but your going to Ireland obliges me to it.
After this, it is needless to beg you not to mention it to any body; but let me
know what you think of it, because I must return an answer.
(Garrick 1835: 1.39)

Having asked the key question, Susannah quickly drew the letter to a close,
and the reader is left with the sense that she had neither a particular interest

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in purchasing the patent nor in hearing Garrick’s opinion on the venture. 5. As well as being
inherently masculine,
Whilst in both earlier proposals Susannah had overtly stated her proposal, in the current
laying out her case assertively and detailing key aspects, here her approach political climate, with
was almost the exact opposite. By spending only these three sentences on the Catholic Charles
Stuart about to cross
the topic of the patent, Susannah appeared to simply drop it into the letter, into England,
giving no sense of her own opinion on the venture and only asking of Susannah’s military
references would have
Garrick’s because ‘I must return an answer’. From her following letters, resonated strongly,
however, it becomes clear that, rather than reflecting Susannah’s real feel- also reiterating her
earlier alignment of
ings, this superficial disinterest was part of a sophisticated strategy to win stage and politics.
Garrick over. By presenting herself as a passive, reactive, and therefore Again, as a Roman
Catholic herself, the
fundamentally more ‘feminine’ figure, Susannah effaced any threat Garrick refusal to lead a
might have previously felt from her assertive, dominant approach and ‘rebel’ company also
effectively assured him that in any partnership he would be able to take a located her as a
supporter of the
more active and ‘masculine’ role. national forces, and
The sophistication of Susannah’s strategy, however, lay not in her directly in opposition
to the Stuart forces.
‘feminising’ of her role. More significant in fact was the way in which she
balanced this with a clear demonstration of those ‘masculine’ traits which
would be essential to Garrick’s acceptance of her as a potential actor–
manager. Sandwiched in between her flirtatious opening and her passive
reference to the patent, Susannah included two sentences which served
exactly this purpose. She wrote:

I have given over all thoughts of playing this season; nor is it in the power of
Mr Lacy, with all his eloquence, to enlist me in his ragged regiment. I should
be very glad to command a body of regular troops, but I have no ambition to
head the drury-lane militia.
(Garrick 1835: 1.39)

In this short announcement Susannah made a profound statement. Not

only did she overtly and proudly assert her ambition to lead the Drury
Lane company but she also demonstrated that she had the skill to do so.
Switching on an instant from the flirtatious, ‘feminine’ style of her opening,
through which she had sought to put Garrick at ease, Susannah used a
notably different, and essentially ‘masculine’ tone. With her assertive, con-
fident statement of her managerial ambitions, her resistance to Lacy and
her use of military terms with their inherently masculine associations,
Susannah emphasised to Garrick that she had the traits needed to take on
this role successfully.5 By slipping this ambitious statement into a letter
distinguished by its feminine and passive tone, Susannah appears to have
been attempting overall to negotiate a balance between ‘masculine’ and
‘feminine’ roles, a task which would be essential to any successful partner-
ship with Garrick. On one hand she appears to have recognised that to
work with Garrick she would need to be the more passive and dependent
partner, while on the other she also appears to have been aware of the
implicit risk that such an approach presented. As a partner, Susannah
therefore offered herself in feminine terms, whereas as a manager she

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6. The Veterans Scheme made it clear that she would play an equal and assertive role in the busi-
had been set up as a
charitable institution
ness of managing the company.
to support English Unfortunately, with Garrick’s reply to this letter being lost, we have no
soldiers. idea how he responded to Susannah’s carefully crafted attempt to gain his
7. In Private partnership in co-managing Drury Lane. What we do know, however, is
Correspondence the
year put to this letter that Susannah’s next step in her strategy was to take action which would
and the subsequent practically demonstrate to Garrick both her ability as a manager and her
letter of 19 December
is 1746. However
professional value as a partner. On 7 December 1745 she published a notice
this is a clear mistake in the Daily Advertiser offering to play Polly in The Beggar’s Opera for the
since both letters benefit of the Veterans’ Scheme, an offer which bore remarkable similarities
directly refer to
Susannah’s to her earlier scheme of performing gratis for the regiment of guards.6 The
production of The way that Susannah planned and enacted this venture is rarely recognised
Beggar’s Opera at
Covent Garden, a as a key moment in her career, and yet, within the context of her attempts
production which to purchase the patent of Drury Lane, this solo staging of The Beggar’s Opera
took place in
December 1745. was effectively Susannah’s public and most overt demonstration to Garrick
of her ability and acumen. From her choice of a controversial and provoca-
tive play, to her negotiations with the theatre managers and her indepen-
dent management of public opinion with her confident puffing in the
papers, Susannah ensured that every element of this production would give
her the full opportunity to demonstrate to Garrick her significant value as a
partner in the management of Drury Lane.
In offering to play Polly in The Beggar’s Opera, Susannah would have
known she was making a highly political and provocative move. Just under
ten years before, in 1736, she and Kitty Clive had become embroiled in
what had been popularly known as the Polly War, a very public confronta-
tion over which of the two actresses would be allowed to play the part
of Polly in a production at Drury Lane. With Kitty Clive having won the
original battle, Susannah’s statement was a clear provocation to her rival.
Moreover, with Clive being a member of the Drury Lane company,
Susannah’s choice of play was also a direct challenge to Lacy, forcing him
to choose between his leading actress that season and the significant ben-
efits to be gained from supporting Susannah’s venture. The option of
working at Covent Garden, however, was no less controversial, and in a
similar way forced that theatre’s manager to choose between the value
Susannah would bring and the ongoing value offered by her estranged
husband who was already a member of the Covent Garden company.
In this context, and by choosing both this role and play, Susannah was
clearly setting herself up to succeed under even the most difficult circum-
stances. Deliberately provocative, Susannah’s choice prompted an immedi-
ate theatrical and public tumult. As she wrote in a later letter to Garrick,
on 11 December 1745:7

The morning my first advertisement came out, I wrote lacy a very civil letter,
desiring to know if he consented to my proposal [. . .] I heard that night that
the green room was in an uproar: I was cursed with all the elegance of
phrase that reigns behind the scenes, and Mrs Clive swore she would not

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play the part of Lucy. The next morning Mr Rich sent me an offer of his 8. The Beggar’s Opera
was performed on 14,
house, that he would give the whole receipts to the Veteran scheme, and that
16 and 17 December
he should always esteem it a great obligation done to him; that he had sent 1745.
to Mr Cibber, who promised that he would never come near the house
during the rehearsals, or performances and that Mr Rich would answer with
his life he should keep his word: so I concluded it the same day, which was
Sunday. The next morning came out the advertisement of my being a rigid
roman catholic, &c. The answer I made to it might have been much better
wrote, but I had nobody to consult but myself [. . .] I send you inclosed the
true copy of it as it was published in the London Courant.
(Garrick 1835: 1.45–46)

In the longest letter of this series, Susannah ensured that Garrick was fully
aware of all the details surrounding her venture, and, more importantly, of
the extent to which she was acting independently and successfully in spite
of being subject to both personal and professional attacks. Enclosing the
letter she had published in the London Courant as well as cutting out and
including ‘all the advertisements for you that I could find’ (Garrick 1835:
1.47), Susannah made sure that Garrick had all the information he needed
readily to hand to judge her value and skill as a potential partner. Moreover,
just in case Garrick had failed to recognise her value from the fact that
Theophilus Cibber had been forced to stay away from his own theatre on
her account, Susannah ensured it was overtly stated, light-heartedly men-
tioning that ‘I had a letter on Monday from Lacy, in which he made fresh
offers of engaging me’. Although Susannah commented disparagingly
that ‘it is a long silly letter’ and asserted that she ‘should never engage at
any theatre which he had the direction of ’ (Garrick 1835: 1.46), the implicit
message was not only that she was in demand, but that her offer to Garrick
would not be indefinite.
Having set the scene in terms of her managerial skill and ambition, her
professional value, her continuing allegiance to Garrick and her refusal to
work at Drury Lane, Susannah finally made her move. For the first time,
in the most overt and assertive terms, Susannah informed Garrick of her
intention to join with him as joint-patentee of Drury Lane:

I have had a visit from Mr Rich, who says, he sent you word when the patent
was to be sold, and wonders we did not buy it; it appears to me it must soon
change hands again. I wish you would let me know your intention about it;
I am ready to join with you in any undertaking of that sort, and am sure, if
it can be worth any body’s buying, it must be worth ours.
(Garrick 1835: 1.46)

Garrick’s immediate response to this forthright statement is unknown, but

only eight days later, at ‘the first opportunity’ (Garrick 1835: 1.47), and
after having experienced unreserved success in her venture, Susannah
wrote to him again.8 Like her letter prior to the performances of The Beggar’s

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Opera, in this letter of 19 December 1745 Susannah’s overriding aim was

to ‘sell’ herself to Garrick as a co-manager. With an air of barely suppressed
excitement, she therefore began by informing Garrick that she had played
‘to the fullest houses that were ever seen’, and that as a result ‘Mr Rich
has pressed me of all things to engage there this year’ (Garrick 1835: 1.47).
Consistent with her previous assertions of loyalty, Susannah of course
assured Garrick that her response had been ‘as there is no Tancred, I am
resolved they shall have no Sigismunda’ (Garrick 1835: 1.47). Yet while
appreciating this apparently selfless demonstration of loyalty, Garrick
could not have failed to note the fact that, as a result of her independent
success, Susannah was now being courted, not only by Drury Lane, but
also by Covent Garden.
In her previous lengthy letter Susannah had already made Garrick
aware of the managerial negotiations upon which her success had been
based. Having asserted her success, she then took a further step in seeking
Garrick’s partnership, offering now to put her proven skills to use for his
benefit. In the face of a pamphlet which Susannah informed Garrick was
being written against both their ‘honour’, and in response to which
Susannah insisted ‘it will be absolutely necessary to write an answer to it
as soon as possible’ (Garrick 1835: 1.47), she suggested the following

As you are not now upon the spot to defend yourself, I should think it proper
that you should send over a short account of the real matters of fact [. . .] and
in case there are any falsehoods inserted against you in the pamphlet, which
I imagine will shortly appear, you may desire Mr Draper to come to me, and
we will consult together about what is necessary to be said relating to you;
and you may depend upon it, I shall not take the liberty of mentioning any
thing concerning you without his approbation.
(Garrick 1835: 1.47)

Not only was Susannah offering to defend Garrick publicly, but with this
course of action she would effectively place herself alongside Somerset
Draper as Garrick’s close confidant. Clearly by this point Susannah had
recognised Draper’s crucial role in Garrick’s decision making and had
determined that, if she could work closely with him for Garrick’s benefit,
their joint possession of the patent would become almost a certainty. It cer-
tainly was an astute idea, and it was following this letter, in which
Susannah concluded by informing Garrick that she meant ‘to commence
from the end of this season, and only for the remainder of the patent’
(Garrick 1835: 1.48), that for the first time we have evidence of Garrick
seriously considering joining with Susannah as co-patentee.
In response to Susannah’s demand to ‘know your real sentiments [. . .]
upon what terms you were offered the patent, and how far you would care
to go if it was now to be sold’ (Garrick 1835: 1.48) Garrick wrote to
Somerset Draper:

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Mrs Cibber [. . .] talks much of buying the patent, and thinks we may purchase it
immediately; for she is certain Drury Lane cannot possibly go on with the
present set of actors [. . .] if anything should happen which would require my
presence, I can be in town time enough to take the benefit of a theatrical revo-
lution [. . .] Mrs Cibber is a most sensible, and I believe sincerely, a well-
meaning woman; pray go and see her, and I beg you will do what you please to
hinder the villainy of these people taking effect. I am most heartily rejoiced at
her success; and although it is intimated to me that she was not so excellent in
the character, yet I cannot think but three crammed houses are certain proofs
to the contrary. I should be glad of your opinion. As to the patent, what can I
say to her? Mure, you know, is the person I have hopes of joining with; and yet,
if she can procure it (as I believe he is very slow in his motions) why should not
I (upon a good agreement and easy terms) be concerned with her? We ought
always to play together; and I could wish we both settled at the same house.
Pray think of this affair; and, as I know you are so much more cool and judi-
cious than myself, I shall follow your advice in every thing.
(Little and Kahrl 1963: 1.71–72)

From this thoughtful letter it becomes apparent that Garrick had been
effectively persuaded by the strategies Susannah had employed. From his
comments on the ‘crammed houses’, and his recognition that ‘we ought
always to play together’, to his commendation that ‘Mrs Cibber is a most
sensible [. . . .] woman’, Garrick has clearly been affected by the points
Susannah had ensured were reiterated throughout her letters. Finally
therefore, having proven her practical abilities in a venture Garrick had
turned down, and having demonstrated her intentions towards Garrick
through offering to defend him in public, Susannah appeared to be right
on the cusp of achieving her goal.
Over the next month events progressed apace. By 26 December 1745
Green and Amber were bankrupt and Garrick was writing urgently to
Draper that ‘something must happen in the theatrical state, that may turn
to my advantage’ and requesting that his friend visit Susannah to discuss
the patent (Little and Kahrl 1963: 1.74). By the end of January, and fol-
lowing that meeting, Susannah and Garrick’s partnership appeared to
have been affirmed, and it had further been proposed that ‘Mr Quin should
be one of the triumvirate’, an idea which gave Susannah, who was a close
friend of Quin’s, ‘great pleasure’ (Garrick 1835: 1.48). In this letter to
Garrick in January, and as a result of her sense of the verbal agreement to
purchase the patent together, Susannah’s tone had noticeably changed.
No longer promoting her own value or shifting tones from paragraph to
paragraph, now Susannah wrote to Garrick in the tone of a co-manager.
When considering the idea of Quin as co-patentee, Susannah’s opinion
was therefore also inflected by her sense of her managerial position, and
she noted that ‘besides being a great actor’ Quin ‘is a very useful one, and
will make the under actors mind their business’ (Garrick 1835: 1.49).
Yet it is her comment that ‘I shall take Mr Draper’s advice in every thing

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9. These remaining relating to the scheme we have in hand’ (Garrick 1835: 1.50 my italics) which
letters are dated
26 February 1746,
is most suggestive. With this one phrase it becomes apparent that by January
8 April 1746, 8 June 1746 Susannah felt that she had won her battle to convince Garrick to
and 29 June 1746 join with her as co-patentee of Drury Lane, and that the only battle left
and are notably
different in tone from was that of actually winning the patent.
Susannah’s earlier As this is the last correspondence relating to the patent, it would be
dealing mainly with lovely to close the matter on this positive note and leave Susannah looking
non-theatrical ahead excitedly to the purchase of the patent with her close friends and
business. In February
Susannah sent colleagues, David Garrick and James Quin. Unfortunately, however, as we
Garrick a glove and know, fifteen months later, on 9 April 1747, Garrick did purchase the patent
asked him to bring
her back ‘ten dozen
but by this time it was not Susannah Cibber but James Lacy – the same
made exactly of the manager who had attacked both Susannah and Garrick the previous year –
same size [. . .] as a who was his partner and co-patentee. What happened in the intervening
particular favour’,
also mentioning her months has been lost. We can never know at what point Susannah
‘love to Ireland’ and became aware of Garrick’s negotiations with Lacy, or how Garrick broke
the fact that her
desire to return there this news to Susannah. Over this period there are only four letters sent
was sadly prohibited from Susannah to Garrick which exist in the collection, and significantly
by her being unable
to ‘muster up courage none of these letters references either the patent or Susannah’s ambitions.9
enough even to think In September 1746 Garrick even stayed with Susannah and William
of crossing the sea’
(Garrick 1835:
Sloper for a month on his return from Dublin, a stay during which he
1.39–40). In the final described himself as ‘never in better spirits or more nonsensical in my life’
two letters of this year (Little and Kahrl 1963: 1.86). Yet whether the matter of the patent had
the correspondence
focussed primarily on been resolved by this date, or was even brought up in discussion, we can
Garrick’s upcoming never know. Moreover, with a substantial gap in Garrick’s private corre-
visit to Woodhay,
Susannah and spondence following 1747, the consequences of Garrick’s rejection of
William’s country Susannah after her long-fought attempt to convince him will never be
retreat. On 8 June
1746 Susannah known.10 Perhaps all we can say with some degree of certainty is that
wrote to Garrick with Susannah’s unique contract, when she joined the Drury Lane company
the arrangements,
informing him that
under Garrick and Lacy, must have been to some extent recompense by
‘the chaise shall meet Garrick for his treatment of her over the period.11
you at Reading or The final piece in the story comes in the form of a question put to
Newbury, whichever
you choose’ and Somerset Draper by Garrick in December 1745, and gives us the only evi-
asking him to ‘bring dence we have as to why Garrick ultimately chose to join with James Lacy
fine weather, health
and spirits with you, rather than Susannah Cibber. On 26 December 1745, only a few days
and stay a good while after he had written to Draper about the potential of joining with
when you are hear
[sic]’ (Garrick 1835: Susannah on ‘easy terms’, Garrick had written to Draper again:
1.43). On 29 June,
having clearly
I should be glad of your visiting Mrs Cibber, she certainly has had proposals
received a letter in
which Garrick made to her; but how can she be a joint patentee? Her husband will inter-
proposed only to stay fere, or somebody must act for her, which would be equally disagreeable.
for a short period
Susannah responded (Garrick 1835: 1.74)
irritably, ‘if you are
serious about staying
here but a few days In this one short phrase Garrick highlighted the most fundamental problem
only, I desire you that Susannah encountered, and the one reason we have for why she ulti-
will not come [. . .]
the farmer [Sloper] mately failed in her bid to become a patentee. While she might have had the
bids me tell you the skills and abilities to manage Drury Lane with Garrick, and she certainly

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had the ambition and drive, as a married woman Susannah Cibber had same: the only
amends I think you
no legal identity. At best therefore, she could only be a de facto partner. can make for
Ultimately, for Garrick this was too much of a risk, laying him open to the disappointing us last
interference of Susannah’s estranged husband, her brother Thomas Arne, year, is the staying a
good while now, and
or any other male in her life. The fact that Garrick had little time for either I desire you will
of these two male figures made it even less likely that he would take the bring your servant,
and what other
risk of joining with Susannah. With Theophilus being, by all accounts, an conveniences you
unpleasant, greedy and morally corrupt man and Thomas Arne an over- think proper’ (Garrick
1835: 1.43).
bearing figure, Garrick’s reluctance to join with Susannah and give these
men access to the patent is hardly surprising. Ultimately, however, whilst 10. In 1749 there are
only two letters
Susannah had striven to negotiate her gender identity in her letters, had published, and
proved her managerial abilities and had almost succeeded in convincing following this there
is a substantial gap
Garrick to join with her, it was the one unchangeable aspect of her identity, until the next letter
her sex, and the consequences of it, which prevented her from achieving her which is in 1754.
ambition and becoming the first female manager of Drury Lane theatre. 11. When Susannah
Cibber joined Garrick
and Lacy at Drury
Works cited Lane, her contract
Garrick, David (1835), The Private Correspondence of David Garrick, With the Most had some unique
Celebrated Persons of His Time, Now First Published From the Originals and Illus- clauses. As well as
being allowed to read
trated With Notes, and a New Biographical Memoir of Garrick, London: H. Colburn by all new plays and
R. Bentley. claim any female role
Highfill, Philip, Kalman Burnim and Edward Langhans (eds.) (1973), A Biographical she wanted, the costs
of both Susannah’s
Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers & other Stage Personnel dresser and stage
in London, 1660–1800, 16 vols, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. wardrobe, including
Little, David M. and George M. Kahrl (eds.) (1963), The Letters of David Garrick, jewels, were paid for
3 Vol., London: Oxford University Press. by the company.

Suggested citation
Brooks, H. (2008), ‘“Your sincere friend and humble servant”: Evidence of managerial
aspirations in Susannah Cibber’s letters’, Studies in Theatre and Performance 28: 2,
pp. 147–159, doi: 10.1386/stap.28.2.147/1

Contributor details
Having completed her PhD on the changing construction of the eighteenth-century
actress, Helen Brooks now teaches Drama at the University of Nottingham.
E-mail: Helen.Brooks@nottingham.ac.uk

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Notes and Queries

Studies in Theatre and Performance Volume 28 Number 2 © 2008 Intellect Ltd
Notes and Queries. English language. doi: 10.1386/stap.28.2.161/3

Stage directions: Valuable clues

in the exploration of Elizabethan
performance practice
Kay Savage

Abstract Keywords
There is no clear consensus regarding the importance of early modern stage direc- Robert Greene
tions in the writing, reading, or, arguably more importantly, the acting of six- Elizabethan staging
teenth-century plays. It is an area of study that has been dominated, well into the evidence from stage
twentieth-century, by literary critics of drama. As a result, the stage directions in directions
this early drama have been (and, it may be argued, still are) treated as sub-liter- theatrical conventions
ary, often beneath notice or remark. But no theatrically minded critic can ignore
audience expectation
the importance of these stage directions to the actual staging of a play. The signif-
icance of these stage directions is that they date from an early, no-holds-barred publishing conventions
stage in the development of the English dramatic repertoire, and the plays of the
often overlooked ‘Jack of all trades’ Robert Greene (1558–1592) provide us with
a rich and provocative source. Although Greene was, in many ways, a highly
sophisticated Renaissance writer, he was, in other ways, a ‘primitive’ (just as
Marlowe was), because he was writing for a theatre that had not yet learned to
smooth its rough edges. Greene’s ‘texts’ provide an extreme example of the textual
instability of much surviving early modern drama. The plays I treat are indis-
putably ‘early’ in the evolution of Elizabethan drama, and that is important here.
They offer a provocative insight into Elizabethan stage practices during the forma-
tive years of the newly professional theatre. Greene was writing drama before the
professional theatre had learned its limitations, and while it was establishing its
conventions. This gives Greene’s published texts a special value: conventions were
still being formed, rather than, as was largely the case when Shakespeare’s plays
came to be published, and wholly by the seventeenth century, fully established.

Robert Greene was not a company writer; he was not in control of his
plays’ performances and so could not have used any form of shorthand
in his playwriting. His plays were written to be attractive to whoever had
the money to buy them. Like Marlowe’s and Peele’s, Greene’s is an early
‘canon’, and there is a fanciful element to the stage directions in his plays
which is shared only with some of the later – and highly fanciful – plays of
Dekker and Heywood. He challenged what the stage could do, and much of
my concern is with the Elizabethan audience’s willingness to share in the

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theatrical magic suggested by the stage directions. This article identifies

some of the questions that these stage directions raise in relation to the first
performances of these plays and offers answers or informed speculation
regarding what might have actually happened on the Elizabethan stage.
Greene was writing when the professional theatre was in formation,
before the decisive creation of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The stage direc-
tions in his plays reflect a theatre that did not yet know what it could not
(or could) do. If the printers were grappling with manuscripts from men
like Marlowe and Greene, so were the theatre companies. To some extent,
then, Marlowe and Greene were setting standards. But, probably because he
was a much lesser theatre poet than Marlowe, Greene relied more on theatri-
cal magic and spectacle than Marlowe did. What I have in mind are the first
and early performances of these plays, not later revivals. When Greene
was writing, the Rose (pre-1592 alterations) was the most sophisticated of
the London playhouses, and that the early professional companies had to
be adaptable is well known. A play performed last week in one of London’s
open-air theatres must be performed this week in a provincial guildhall,
the upper room of an inn and the great hall of a Tudor grandee’s mansion.
Stage directions in extant early modern plays offer unique access to the
kinds of staging decision that companies made ‘at home’ or ‘on the road’.
And it is arguable that Greene’s ‘canon’, however frayed and ‘car-booted’,
provides supreme evidence, through its stage directions, of the on-the-spot
resourcefulness of the fast-learning professional companies.
During the course of this research, in order to give shape to my findings,
I have attempted to categorise the disparate stage directions found in Greene’s
work. There are two tiers to these categories, primary and secondary. The
primary categories are; ‘battlefield’, ‘convention led’, ‘combative’, ‘instruc-
tional’, ‘retrospective’ and ‘spectacular’, whilst ‘actorly’, ‘disguise’, ‘permis-
sive’, ‘property led’ and ‘tiring-house’ are secondary categories. This division
is used when stage directions cross over categories, the primary taking
precedence. What follows below is a description of each type of stage direc-
tion in the taxonomy, accompanied by an example. The reference for all of
Greene’s stage directions is Churton Collins’s edition of the plays.

Actorly directions
Stage directions of this type inform the actor’s performance in terms of
portraying character and/or emotions. They are the closest stage direc-
tions to directorial comments. They do not refer to physical instructions,
such as kneeling, nor to conventions of staging such as talking aside, but
rather to how the actor should be performing. ‘Actorly’ directions, however
concise, impart information not otherwise immediately obvious from the
text. They may say what the actor does (his ‘stage business’), or they may
indicate what he is (his character ‘type’). Questions regarding provenance
arise: do they represent authorial advice to the player? Or are they there to
help the reader visualise performance?

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Enter the King of Paphlagonia, malcontent. (A Looking Glass for London and 1. I draw your attention
to the play The
England, 2:1) Malcontent (1604)
by Martson.
It is interesting that Dessen and Thomson (p. 139) list only two examples
of ‘malcontent’, both of which are from Greene’s canon, the other being,
‘Enter Edward the First, malcontented’ (Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, 1:1:0).
It is therefore arguable that this description was a favourite of Greene’s
to express his intent to actors. Malcontent suggests a whole manner of
behaviour, signalled by costume and posture. It is a type rather than an
adverb/adjective.1 Malcontent suggests a form of melancholy which is
different from the more common mad, particularly with reference to the
performance of such conditions on stage. The 1580s saw the beginning of
a growth of interest in, and attempts to understand, mental illness; in
1586 Timothy Bright published his Treatise on Melancholy and in 1621 the
more widely known Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton was printed.
Dessen and Thomson’s dictionary (p. 143) provides fourteen examples of
melancholy characters, but also mentions that there are no clues as to how
this state of mind was portrayed. We should therefore look for clues in the
contemporary beliefs. Melancholy was thought to be an intellectual condi-
tion, one which preyed upon man’s inner fears and sorrows and was
passive in its manifestation. Melancholy was associated with Italy in partic-
ular, and English travellers returning from Italy, silent, morose and preoc-
cupied, were described as malcontents. It is not unreasonable to suppose
that the actor would try to recreate the accepted image of a melancholic
man, that is, lean, hard skinned with dusky colouring, and with charac-
teristics including insomnia, timidity and anxiety (Overholser: 343). We
may also look for clues towards the ‘Romantic Melancholy’ trend, which
emerged in portrait painting from 1590s onwards. These paintings often
depicted young gentlemen staring out at us from behind their self-inflicted
despair, in poses captured by the figures on the 1628 title-page of Burton’s
Anatomy of Melancholy (see Figure 1). Burton supports these ideas and
images with his description of the ‘inamorato’, which seems particularly
relevant to Greene’s Paphlagonian king:

I’ th’under Columne there doth stand,

Inamorato with folded hande.
Downe hanges his head, terse and polite
Some Dittie sure he doth endite.
His lute and bookes about him lye,
As symptomes of his vanity.
If this doe not enough disclose,
To paint him, take thy selfe by th’nose.

Also indicative is ‘Tamburlaine all in black, and very melancholy’ (I Tamburlaine,


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2. See, for example,

articles such as
‘Shakespeare and the
battlefield’ (MacIntyre)
and ‘Battle scenes in
the Queen’s Men
repertoire’ (Calore).

Figure 1: Images of melancholy – An unknown young man by Isaac Oliver

(Strong: 1969b: 36) and details from the 1628 title-page of Burton’s
Anatomy of Melancholy (Neely: 5).

Battlefield directions
It is difficult to contest the idea that there are stage directions that belong
to and adhere to the conventions of staging battles.2 Such directions are
categorised here as ‘battlefield’. They are stage directions that either recre-
ate visually or suggest aurally large-scale fights or that involve aggressive
intentions displayed by an army or two opposing armies. ‘Battlefield’ direc-
tions, then, are not concerned with pugnacious individuals, but warring
countries, states or factions. They imply conventions; of the staging of march-
ing armies, as seen in the notorious ‘marching over the stage’, of entering onto
the stage in mid-battle, of exiting the stage to join an unseen battle and
of creating the sound of a battle taking place in the offstage world.
‘Battlefield’ directions raise questions concerning the use of the stage, the
blocking and movement of a large number of characters, fight choreogra-
phy, the use of properties and the role of the tiring-house.

Enter Orlando, the Duke of Aquitaine, the Count Rossilion with soldiers.
Sound a parle and one comes upon the walls. Exeunt omnes. (Orlando
Furioso, 1:2)
Alarums. Rodamant and Brandemart fly. (Orlando Furioso, 1:3)

Sound a parle is a common stage direction which occurs when a city is

under siege and either the attackers or defenders sound a parle/parley as a
signal to converse with the enemy: for example, ‘They sound a parley: Enter
two Senators with others on the walls of Corioles’ (Coriolanus, 1:4:13). It is
one of the aural directions belonging to the convention of staging such
scenes. In this example, Orlando, with his French troops, is about to attack
Rodamant’s castle, and the dialogue suggests the threat of, rather than
actual, violence. This still requires a significant number of men onstage
with Orlando who are armed and ready to fight. Such stage directions also
pose the question of where the sound comes from and what form it takes.

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There are three possibilities; that a noise, most likely a trumpet call, is 3. Calore’s article
highlights some of the
made offstage in the tiring-house, that a musician positioned close to the conventions of staging
stage is responsible or that it is made onstage by an actor. If the latter, battles in plays of the
which is more likely, then this convention required an actor to produce a 1580s and 1590s.

sound which was recognised by the audience as a request for conference, 4. The two parts of
Marlowe’s Tamburlaine
whilst also signalling intent. contain a variety of
The walls are ‘strictly speaking a fictional designation for the level comparable
‘battlefield’ directions.
above the main platform, . . . a technical term, usually used in the
context of battle’ (Dessen and Thomson: 245). So the instruction that one
comes upon the walls simply means that the entrance for this character is
onto the gallery, above the stage. As this scene is relatively short, 57 lines,
such an entrance is both practical and effective. Hodges illustrates, if a
little fancifully, how the playhouse may have looked for such scenes (see
Figure 2).
Another example may be found in George a Greene (2:1:274), Enter
Jane a Barley upon the walls. Together with the preceding spoken line,
‘Johnie, knock at that gate’, this stage direction represents a typical scene
in Elizabethan drama. The back wall of the stage represents a fictional
location, the outer walls or gates of a town or building, which is approached
by various characters, often in a battle or situation of conflict. Here Sir
John a Barley’s castle is approached by the King of Scots and his soldiers
who make threats to besiege the castle. The characters who enter on the
walls appear either to negotiate or defend themselves. The knock at the
gates is the cue for Jane a Barley to enter. Where does the actor knock?
The possibilities include one of the stage pillars, on the stage floor or on
the back wall itself. It is logical for Jane to appear in the gallery above the
back wall if a door on the back wall is knocked upon.
The convention of such scenes often includes a call to battle: ‘The trum-
pets sound without, and an answer within; then a flourish, King Richard
appeareth on the walls’ (Richard II, 3:3:61). This is no exception, as Jane a
Barley defends her home, shouting defiantly ‘I am armed’ (2:1:330), after
which comes the direction Alarum within. As Calore (p. 396) points out, it
is the direction in 1:3 of Orlando Furioso, ‘Alarums. Rodamant and Brandemart
fly’, that confirms that this set of directions belongs to the category of ‘bat-
tlefield’.3 After Orlando has spoken to the soldier on the walls, he gives the
order to his soldiers, ‘lets to the fight’ (1:2:417), and they exit. The battle
is conducted offstage. Apart from the alarums that sound as Rodamant and
Brandemart flee, defeated, there would have been other aural indicators to
convey the battle to the audience. Vocal cries and the clashing of weapons
would have needed to be effective indicators of the progress of the battle in
order to justify the flight. One way of portraying this would be by having
the actors simply enter through one door, traverse the stage and then exit
through the other door, whilst all the time the noise of the battle rages on.
The defeat of Mycetes is comparably signalled by Marlowe in I Tamburlaine
(2:4): ‘To the battle, and Mycetes comes out alone’. Convention allows that
even offstage battles have a fixed location.4

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Figure 2: Hodges’s interpretation of the evolution of the tiring-house façade in

order to stage ‘on the walls’. There are token gestures towards creating the
illusion of battlements. However, it is difficult to imagine that these were a
permanent fixture, although there may be a case for employing such detail for
military plays, where much of the action involved the walls, for example the
three parts of Henry VI. The important, and perhaps necessary feature, is simply
the space above, which could be occupied by the actors when they were required
to come upon the walls. (Hodges 1999: 62–5)

Convention led directions

This heading covers the broadest range of stage directions. ‘Convention led’
directions are often phrased with a certain economy, implying that the actors
and company knew what to do, what was expected from such directions. As

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such, these directions were features of both staging and performance that 5. Munkelt’s essay
argues in favour of
were recognised by theatre companies and audiences alike. This may be the significance of
illustrated by the use of the phrase ‘as you know’ which appears in the stage directions as
stage directions of John of Bordeaux – for example, ‘Exeunt Bacon to bring in an integral part of
the dramatic text.
the showes as you know’ ( l:446–7). She makes some
The broad spectrum of ‘convention led’ directions encompasses many interesting comments
regarding this
aspects of Elizabethan performance. It addresses the contentious issues of convention and
what resources the Elizabethan stage offered, the use of a gallery and how how it often mirrors
not only the plot of
the actors reached it, how curtains were employed and where they hung, the play, but also
and the use of stage doors. It raises questions about how the actors used the sub-plots.
the stage; for example, when characters are directed to ‘walk up and down’,
to ‘knock’ or ‘stand aloof ’. Many entrances and exits fall into the category of
‘convention led’ directions, especially those involving royal characters.
These entrances rely on protocol, the convention of a definite order in
which the characters entered the stage (Munkelt: 254).5 Other entrances
and exits that are ‘convention led’ include ‘offering’ to exit, ‘entering’ at
some form of work or place (in a bed or study) and the transition of locale
onstage denoted by the phrase ‘goes into’. One means of defining a stage
direction as ‘convention led’ is simply through its recurrence throughout
this period of dramatic history. For example, both actors and readers knew
what was meant by references to ‘conjuring’ or ‘banquets’; and visual
signals would also guide the performance of ‘ghosts’ and ‘madness’. In a
sense, of course, all stage directions are ‘convention led’, but my interest
here is in those which take for granted the familiarity (of both actors and
readers) with certain modes of behaviour.

Medea does ceremonies belonging to conjuring and says (Alphonsus King

of Aragon, 3:2)

I would like to suggest that ‘convention led’ directions like this one, ceremonies
belonging to conjuring, demonstrate that both the actors, and to some extent
the audience, know what these are, as no further elaboration is provided. This
is black magic, not trickery, and is distinct from white magic. Invariably asso-
ciated with acts of the supernatural, in this instance to raise up Calchas, it
was a commonplace effect; compare ‘Here do the ceremonies belonging, and make
the circle. Southwell reads “Conjuro te”, etc. It thunders and Lightens terribly: then
the spirit Asnath riseth’ (2 Henry VI, 1.4.22). (See Figure 3)
Was there some sort of set routine? Was there any way of emphasising
what type of magic it was, perhaps involving the drawing of or making a
circle (Dessen and Thomson: 42)? What was Medea’s costume? Such
magicians were stock characters who not only behaved in a certain way
but were dressed a particular way too; for example, ‘One in the habit of a
Conjurer’ (The White Devil, 2:2).
Convention also leads more commonplace stage directions, too:

Bacon and Edward goes in to the study (Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, 2:3)

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6. Seltzer (p.31) suggests

that the actors walk
across the stage, and
that there is no
specific area that
denotes the study.
However, such a
notion renders these
stage directions
virtually meaningless.

Figure 3: Hodges’s vision of the staging of ‘do the ceremonies belonging, and
make the circle. Southwell reads ‘Conjuro te’, etc. It thunders and lightens
terribly, then the spirit Asnath rises’ – 2 Henry VI, 1:4:23.
Source: Hodges: 1999, p. 117.

Enter Friar Bacon with Friar Bungay to his cell (Friar Bacon and Friar
Bungay, 4:3)

There are five scenes set in Friar Bacon’s study or cell, 1:2, 2:3, 4:1, 4:3 and
5:2. These two stage directions regarding the entry to this location are the
simplest, and also occur for scenes in which the mirror is used (this ‘magic’
mirror is central to the plot and allows characters to watch what is hap-
pening in various different locations of the play without being seen). Were
these scenes always played in the same onstage location? As a starting
point, let us suppose that they were.
If Friar Bacon’s study was located consistently in the same place, then it
would have to have been on the main stage, because, in 4:3, the spectacular
event of the talking brazen head takes place there. Indicative factors, such as
Lambert’s and Serlsby’s sons knocking to enter the study (4:3), suggest that
the downstage area represented the study. This also makes sense of the
instructions to go to the study. Much depends upon the actors indicating this
motion of going in to. If the actors enter upstage then pause or indeed knock
on the pillar, before going in to, which is perhaps signalled by a gesture of
‘motion towards’ with a head and/or an arm, then the downstage area of
the stage is established as the study.6 This idea is supported by the difference
between goes in to and the more frequent ‘enter in his study’, or simply ‘in his
study’ (Dessen and Thomson: 220). For example, compare ‘Enter devils with
covered dishes; Mephostophilis leads them in to Faustus’ study’ (Doctor Faustus,
[1616], 5:1) which employs the same staging device as that under discus-
sion here, with ‘Enter Soranzo in his study’ (‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, 2:2) which
suggests that the character is in the study as soon as he enters the stage.
With regard to events that take place through the magic mirror, the
characters in the study could simply move further downstage, either left or

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right. This would not inhibit the use of the main stage for the playing of 7. Lavin (p. xviii)
discusses the
the ‘transposed’ scene. This also fits with the exits and entrances, as, in implications of
both scenes, it is the characters in the study who leave the stage last, and setting these scenes
so they are able to move back to downstage centre to finish the scene. in the gallery.

However, it has been suggested that these entrances refer to the study 8. See Dessen and
being placed in the gallery above the stage.7 The main reason for such a pp. 265–266. The
theory appears to be the pleasing visual effect it produces as Bacon ‘magi- Dictionary provides
a useful list of terms
cally’ displays the distant action to his visitors through the mirror. But that relate to
there are no signals in the stage directions that the gallery was used, and, ‘combative’ directions
as already pointed out, the main stage could have accommodated both in a list of terms
under ‘violence’ and
sets of characters. Using the main stage for all of the scenes set in Friar ‘weapons’.
Bacon’s study is not only consistent, but also gives the actors more room
to execute the action called for in the subsequent stage directions: Bacon
smashes the mirror and Lambert and Serlsby kill each other. Elizabethan
players would not have confined such events to a small gallery.

Combative directions
‘Combative’ directions are those involving fighting or, more accurately, vio-
lence, that do not fall into the category of ‘battlefield’ directions. They
usually involve individuals who either engage in a one-to-one duel or
deliver self-contained, singular blows to another character without
response. ‘Combative’ directions may or may not require weapons. They
range from the spectacular rapier and dagger fights between two characters
to the simple but effective, and often comic, ‘box on the ears’. ‘Combative’
directions are identified by both action and lexical choices, for example
‘stab’ and ‘beat’.8

He fights first with one, and then with another and overcomes them both
(Orlando Furioso, 5:2)

Orlando Furioso is a visual feast which centres on both combat and disguise;
discounting straightforward exits and entrances, stage directions involving
violence and disguise/costume account for almost half the total number.
This is one such example, which, along with the following ‘They fight a good
while and then breathe’, raises questions about the conventions of Elizabethan
stage fighting. Edelman (p. 19) describes the scene as one of ‘colourful
combat’, but does not discuss how it might have been executed. No weapons
are specified, but the scene is part of the climax of the play, and a duel with
swords between these characters of high status would be appropriate, espe-
cially as hand-to-hand combat has already featured during the play.
How was this fight choreographed? The stage direction insists that
Orlando fights with only one character at a time. Elizabethan audiences
contrasted with the realism-seeking audiences of today, hungry for com-
puter-generated images, as it was accepted that characters watched fights,
waiting for their turn, rather than engaging in the more realistic mass
punch-up. But what this provided was the spectacle of the duel, full of

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energy and excitement. If these two fights are considered together with
‘They fight a good while then breathe’, which occurs seven lines later, then
what is presented is two quick duels followed by a longer, more evenly
matched contest. This prolongs the thrill for the audience, and it is not
unreasonable to suggest that the actors would have made the most of
these opportunities for sensational action. Oliver and Turpin are the char-
acters whom Orlando overcomes, and, as they speak later in the scene, they
cannot be seriously injured. There is no direction indicating that either of
the characters is wounded, so that overcomes must simply mean that a
better swordsman beats them, and that they submit to that.

Disguise directions
Stage directions which fall into the category of ‘disguise’ directions are those
that refer solely to the disguise, costume or appearance of the character.
Along with ‘property led’ directions, ‘disguise’ directions highlight the sig-
nificance of visual signals on the relatively bare Elizabethan stage. In the
case of straightforward disguises it is necessary to consider the purpose of
the disguise and to question what the disguise’s connotations are for the
audience. However small or insignificant a change of hat or coat may seem
to a twenty-first-century audience, in the sixteenth century it meant some-
thing to the audience and players. Disguise plots are announced and
explained in plays in order to clarify for the reader what was already
apparent to the spectator, that it is a disguise and not a new character.
Costume was indicative of character. ‘Disguise’ directions often have
implications for the actor’s performance, suggesting a type of behaviour,
for example ‘enter dressed like a madman’.
Changes in a character’s appearance could also signal a change in
time, circumstance or status. ‘The dependence of the Elizabethan stage on
the meanings that clothes give to social groupings, setting out at a glance
the structure and potential of what we see, helps to explain the obsession
with disguise plots’ (Hunter: 36).

Enter King Edward and King James disguised, with two staves (George a
Greene, 5:1)

The two kings conceal their identity in order to travel up to Bradford and
observe George a Greene, about whom they have heard many good things.
The disguise could be as simple as a change in coats, which is enhanced by
descriptions such as ‘yeomans weedes’ (1041). The title-page of A quip for
an upstart courtier illustrates the difference ‘between velvet breeches and
cloth breeches’, and shows us the difference in the clothes that the actors
may have worn for portraying ‘gentlemen’ and ‘peasants’ (see Figure 4).

Instructional directions
Put simply, ‘instructional’ directions are stage directions that provide
instructions for the actor. There is somewhat of a blurred line between

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Figure 4: Title-page of Greene’s A Quip for an Upstart Courtier, 1592.

Source: Foakes, p. 70.

‘convention led’, ‘instructional’ and ‘actorly’ directions, but ‘instructional’

directions occupy the middle ground between ‘convention led’ and
‘actorly’. Where ‘convention led’ directions allude concisely to an accepted
and established way of executing a complex action, ‘instructional’ direc-
tions call for specific stage business. And where ‘actorly’ directions inform
the actor’s performance on an emotional level, ‘instructional’ directions
use neutral vocabulary and refer to physical actions, for example ‘knocking’
and ‘kneeling’. ‘Instructional’ directions also fulfil another function, that of
exposition, and, as such, longer ‘instructional’ directions are often found
at the beginning of scenes.

He breaks the glass (Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, 4:3)

Remarkably, despite the importance of the mirror to the play’s action, this
stage direction is the only one that explicitly mentions Bacon’s magical

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mirror. This crucial property, along with

the brazen head, raises questions regard-
ing not only the nature of the properties
themselves, but also the staging of them.
The two scenes in which the mirror is
used begin with similar stage directions;
‘Bacon and Edward goes into the study’
(2:3), and for this scene (4:3), ‘Enter
Friar Bacon with Friar Bungay to his cell’.
Relevant to discussing ‘He breaks the
glass’ are the possibilities that this scene
Figure 5: Detail from a French takes place either on the main stage or
publication of 1539 showing a in the gallery. If the scene were played
mirror, about the size of a human on the main stage, it would lend itself to
head, on a stand. using a larger mirror than a scene in
Source: Melchior-Bonnet, p. 25. the gallery. However, as the mirror is
smashed it is unlikely that it would be
of any considerable size. Lavin’s assertion that a hand mirror is used is the
logical solution, and not just because of practical reasons of staging
(Lavin: xvii). A mirror that could be easily carried could be brought on
and off the stage by Friar Bacon, and would not raise further problems of
setting. If the mirror is broken, a new one would be required for each per-
formance, and glass was an expensive material. Perhaps a substitute was
used, such as steel glass. From what I can gather, it is unlikely that large
mirrors were a feature of houses at this time, and the biggest mirrors I can
find reference to are about the size of a head (see Figure 5 – perhaps some-
thing similar is used by Richard II in Shakespeare’s play: ‘Richard takes the
glass and looks in it’, then ‘He shatters the glass’, 4:1:266 and 279). Another
possibility is that it was not made of glass at all and that nothing actually
breaks. If Friar Bacon throws and stamps on the ‘mirror’, that, together
with Bungay’s line ‘What means learned Bacon thus to breake his glasse?’,
would be enough to carry out the instruction ‘He breaks the glass’.

Permissive directions
This is a particularly intriguing category, and one that is in direct contrast
with the specific nature of ‘instructional’ directions. ‘Permissive’ directions,
although relatively rare, are still discernible and reflect the need for flexi-
bility in Elizabethan staging. The significance of this category is confirmed
by its inclusion as an entry in its own right in Dessen and Thomson’s Dic-
tionary (pp. 161–2), where the definition states that ‘permissive’ directions
‘leave key details indeterminate’. They are used most frequently for
entrances, where an indefinite number of actors are required (e.g. the entry
of a leading character ‘with others’). ‘Permissive’ directions are also employed
for actions, usually musical – ‘he plays and sings any odd toy’ – where either
the playwright has left the choice to the actors or the printer/compositor
has deemed it superfluous to be more specific. ‘Permissive’ directions

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occur as a result of the adaptability necessary for touring plays beyond the 9. Dessen and Thomson
(p. 263) provide a
purpose-built London playhouses, when companies could not be certain of useful list of
the number of actors, or the staging resources available to them. They are permissive terms.
identified by the use of permissive terms.9 Consistently remarkable is the
nature of the stage directions in James IV, which provides my example for
this category.

Enter Slipper with a companion, boy or wench, dancing a hornpipe, and

dance out again (James IV – Chorus 2)

This immediately hints at a clown’s solo act, a chance for the performer to
show off his talents and please the crowd (a recurring feature of the play).
The direction is specific about the dance and music, a hornpipe, but it seems
as if there is definite intent to vary the song-and-dance routines as much as
possible. If boy or wench is to be read literally, the suggestion that anyone will
do to play the clown’s stooge, even a girl, contains a fascinating flexibility.
The obvious interpretation of this stage direction is that a young boy in the
company joins the clown, dressed either as a boy or girl. However, European
companies toured England at this time with female actors, a novelty that
some London audiences found offensive. But was this ever more than a vocal
minority? And was the growth of Puritanism as rapid in the provinces as it
was in London? Provincial playgoers, accustomed to seasonal festivities,
might have been more complacent than their metropolitan counterparts.
When on tour, is it possible that the clown picked out a member of the audi-
ence to join him, whoever caught his eye, boy or wench? The actor has had
enough time to do some scouting. This stage direction, with its invitation to
female involvement, may have been penned with touring in mind. We
should be wary of assuming that London spoke for the nation.

Property led directions

‘Property led’ directions, as the term suggests, are stage directions that
centre upon the deployment of a property, used either by actors or placed
onstage. Like ‘disguise’ directions, ‘property led’ directions highlight the
fact that the Elizabethan stage was a visual as well as an aural experience.
Properties often supply information about the character, setting or situa-
tion, and this is reflected in the attention to detail often afforded to ‘prop-
erty led’ directions.

Enter the Emperor with a pointless sword; next the King of Castile carry-
ing a sword with a point; Lacy carrying the globe, Edward Warren carry-
ing a rod of gold with a dove on it; Ermsby with a crown and sceptre; the
Queen with the fair maid of Fresingfield on her left hand, Henry, Bacon,
with other Lords attending (Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, 5:3)

This is a precise and elaborate example of a ‘property led’ direction. It is

necessary to consider the significance of these various properties.

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10. It is possible that

Greene had learnt to
exploit the dramatic
potential of
processions, which
McMillin and
MacLean (p. 130)
list as an established
feature of the Queen’s
Men’s plays. There
is another one in
James IV (5:2).
11. Seltzer (p. 94)
claims that the dove
represents the Holy

Figure 6: Portrait of Elizabeth I by an unknown artist; note the globe under her
right hand.
Source: Strong: 1969a, plate 206.

Dessen and Thomson (p. 167) cite this stage direction as the only example
of a pointless sword used in a ceremony. The dialogue seems to confirm the
obvious assumption; that the instruction for a pointless/pointed sword signi-
fies the power wielded by the characters. This demonstrates that the visual
symbolism of characters’ status was indeed an important element of
Elizabethan staging, and the phrasing of the stage direction seems to indicate
that this was also portrayed through the movements on stage. How was the
effect of a pointed and pointless sword achieved? It is worth pointing out that
‘buttons’ on practice swords were often big enough to be clearly visible. The
implication is that the sword is safe, harmless. The entrance is staggered: the
humbled character enters first, perhaps in an appropriate way with head
bowed, paving the way for the next character’s entrance.
It is interesting that the globe is identified by a definite article. Looking
at the final speech of the play, with its three explicit references to England,
it is difficult to resist the notion that it alludes to the power of the state
under Elizabeth I. Henslowe’s inventory of properties includes a globe (See
Figure 6).
Rod of gold with a dove on it: rods are associated with the supernatural,
which would fit with the mood of the play, and adds to the status of the
procession.10 Why is it necessary that the rod is gold? It is another visual
statement denoting wealth, royalty and power. The dove surely has reli-
gious overtones,11 thereby commenting on the divine nature of royalty.
But what is the significance of the ‘fair maid’ Margaret’s being on the
Queen’s left hand? Was it court etiquette? It would seem that status may
be the reason behind this particular instruction. Normally, one would
expect Margaret to enter behind the Queen, but the Queen is deliberately

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defying hierarchy, and by entering with Margaret beside her, she makes a 12. Ben Jonson originally
omitted stage
statement of equality. This is a very precise stage direction that demon- directions from his
strates the clarity of movement involved in such entrances. It indicates a scripts, adding them
definite order in which the characters enter, finishing with unnamed later to be included in
the printed versions
courtiers. These lords perform the staging convention of attending, which for the benefit of his
helps establish the atmosphere of a royal court. This direction is clear and readers.
precise regarding the entrance of characters, especially when compared to
a similar processional style entrance in James IV: ‘After a solemn service,
enter from the Countess of Arran’s house a service, musical songs of marriage, or
a masque, or what pretty triumph you list; to them Ateukin and Jaques’ (5:2).
Both are scenes in the final act of the play, both are scenes of marriage.

Retrospective directions
This is without doubt the most contentious category in the taxonomy that
I have devised, as it encompasses all the problems and questions raised when
discussing the provenance of a stage direction. ‘Retrospective’ directions are
stage directions that, I suggest, may have been added to the play-text after
initial performances. This does not, however, make their provenance any
clearer than stage directions under other headings. They may originate
from the playhouse, the printing process, or even the playwright for the
benefit of readers.12 In their introduction to the Oxford Complete Works
of Shakespeare (p. xxxiii), Wells and Taylor highlight the significance of
‘retrospective’ directions in terms of recovering aspects of a play’s original
‘Retrospective’ directions are examples of descriptions of what has
already happened in performance; they have a narrative quality. An identi-
fying feature of ‘retrospective’ directions is the way in which they story-
board the action, as when a disproportionately large number of stage
directions occur over a relatively short number of lines. ‘Retrospective’
directions are usually superfluous to strict requirements, as the content of
the stage direction is overtly suggested in the dialogue. They are exact,
explicit and creative, often narrating the physical relationship between
people, properties and the sequence of action to the readers. There is also
often a pattern of repetition.
Another indicative feature of ‘retrospective’ directions is the use of
certain terms; ‘say’, ‘says’, ‘speaks’, ‘and so’, ‘so’ and ‘here’. ‘Here’ is particularly
interesting. It appears quite often in the margins of the annotated quarto
of A Looking Glass for London and England, and has perhaps slipped acciden-
tally into the printing of some stage directions, a slippage that would
support the argument for its being indicative of a ‘retrospective’ direction.
‘Here’ signals a precision of timing in performance, or clarification of when
an action happens in the printed text.
The variations of ‘say’ may be a reflection of the inexperience of both
the playwright and/or compositor (see Alphonsus, King of Aragon for
numerous examples), whereas the phrase ‘and so’ provides reasoning and
justification for the actions taking place in the dramatic narrative.

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Albinius spies out Alphonsus and shows him Belinus.

Belinus and Albinius go towards Alphonsus.
Belinus say to Alphonsus.
Shows Belinus Flaminius, who lies all this while dead at his feet.
Alphonsus sit in the chair; Belinus takes the crown off Flaminius’ head
and puts it on that of Alphonsus.
Sound trumpets and drums within. (Alphonsus, King of Aragon, 2:1)

Without our even looking at the accompanying dialogue these stage direc-
tions are clear and informative enough to allow the reader to visualise the
action on stage. They occur over just thirty-nine lines of dialogue. It is like
a storyboard, and typical of the stage directions throughout Alphonsus, King
of Aragon. Such stage directions provide us with an idea of how the play
actually looked and was performed. As readers we are able to picture the
manner in which Albinius notices Alphonsus and then points him out to
Belinus. We can imagine the gestures made during their exchanges, the
atmosphere and mood created by the revelation of Flaminius’s dead body
and the crowning of Alphonsus, heralded by fanfares. This happens, and
indeed would happen regardless of our understanding or knowledge of
Elizabethan performance practice.
The use of spies out is very specific; why is sees/finds/looks at not used?
The audience was familiar with ideas of observers and spies. But this situ-
ation suggests that spies out refers to the fact that Albinius and Belinus
do not see Alphonsus at first, but then Albinius suddenly spots him and
points him out to Belinus. Other examples in James IV and Orlando Furioso
suggest that there may be a theatrical convention involved here. Interestingly
there is no entry for spy in Dessen and Thomson’s dictionary, but there are
further examples in Orlando Furioso: ‘They spy Orlando’ (3:1) and ‘He spies
the roundelays’ (2:1). There is a difference between spying objects and
spying other characters. The former is an instruction to the actor, the
latter a convention of acting and staging. Orlando is alone onstage in this
scene when two clowns enter, and the clowns are already in dialogue
before they see Orlando. The actor playing Orlando could be anywhere on
stage, as the emphasis of action and realisation is upon the two clown
characters. As with the example of spying in James IV, the stage direction
suggests characters seeing another onstage without his realising he has
been seen. This implies a gesture or movement that lets the audience in on
their discovery. Is Shakespeare using a similar convention when Polonius
spies on Hamlet, and how does that famous scene relate to ‘Lady Anderson
overhears’ in James IV (5:1)? There is an important historical resonance at
work here. The Elizabethan audience was familiar with the idea of the
dangerous observer. This stage direction alludes to the audience’s appetite
and expectations, including topical allusions to court behaviour.
Shows him is a frequently used action (Dessen and Thomson: 197–8).
But it is unusual to show a person to another, especially as Alphonsus is
not hiding. However, there are several actors on stage, so that it would be

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easy to stage the scene with Alphonsus not immediately visible to Albinius 13. See Dessen and
Thomson (p. 236)
and Belinus; the pillars may also be used. The question of how the scene and Habicht
was blocked is also raised by the direction Belinus and Albinius go towards (pp. 69–92).
Alphonsus. It suggests that Alphonsus is downstage, perhaps to the side, Although Habicht’s
article is an extensive
and that Belinus and Albinius move down to join him. Show Belinus, and useful discussion
Flaminius, who lies all this while dead at his feet is another very precise stage of the use and
meaning of trees on
direction. To have the corpse lying at Alphonsus’s feet perhaps emphasises the Elizabethan stage,
his triumph. The essence of the stage direction, however, is an instruction he does not cite this
example in his study.
to the actor playing Flaminius, who has to lie dead for 86 lines before this Also see Reynolds
stage direction appears. Does this suggest that, unless otherwise instructed, (pp. 153–68).
Although his article is
it would have been customary for an actor who has been killed upon the a little dated, it argues
stage to move or be moved soon after his death? Logically, the character an interesting case for
lies dead for the entire length of the scene. It is also indicative of the con- the use of tree scenery
on the Elizabethan
vention of characters not seeing what is literally under their nose, until stage.
required to. The audience accepted this.
Alphonsus sit in the chair – but the puzzle is how the chair gets on stage. A
lot of action and several characters are involved in this scene, and it is
unlikely that the chair is pre-set. Perhaps one of the soldiers brings the chair
on at an opportune moment so as not to be too noticeable; when Flaminius’s
dead body is revealed to Belinus would be convenient. This moment of reve-
lation is happening downstage, and takes six lines of dialogue, during which
a soldier slips offstage unnoticed, brings the chair on and places it centre
stage. I suggest that not being noticed whilst scene setting is a modern pre-
occupation, and, as Kiernan points out (p. 123), taking properties on and off
stage during scenes at the New Globe has proved unproblematical.

Spectacular directions
Invariably ‘spectacular’ directions are the most exciting in a play. They
reinforce Greene’s position as an exponent of the visual theatre. They are
the Elizabethan equivalent of the computer-generated images that excite
cinema audiences today. ‘Spectacular’ directions call for the special effects
available in Elizabethan playhouses, although some ‘spectacular’ events
would also have been performable in touring venues. They involve
pyrotechnics, wondrous and grandiose properties, the use of the trap and
machinery in the ‘heavens’.

Here Bungay conjures and the tree appears with the dragon shooting fire
(Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, 3:2)

As we have seen, there is a theatrical convention regarding the instruction

to conjure, but it is interesting that tree has a definite article here; perhaps
a familiar tree property was to be used. Trees were often used in dumb
shows and for special effects;13 for example, ‘Hereupon did rise a tree of gold
laden with diadems and crowns of gold’ (The Arraignment of Paris, 2:2), or the
apparition presented to Macbeth. Henslowe’s diary lists three trees; a bay,
golden apple and ‘Tantelouse tree’.

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14. See also Meredith and The pivotal word in this stage direction is appears, suggesting a sudden
Tailby, p. 102.
or unexpected event. The key question is, from where do the tree and
15. See Butterworth, dragon appear? The description, using the word with, implies that they
p. 86. Although
Butterworth’s main enter the stage from the same place. The possibilities are; from underneath
concern is the the stage via the trap, from above the stage via the heavens, from the back
pyrotechnic effect of
the dragon, he also of the stage via the doors. A descent from the heavens would be slow and
considers the manner cumbersome and is not in keeping with a supernatural act. More practical
of its entrance and
points out that the
is an entrance from the back. However, this does not really fit the unex-
dialogue suggests pected notion of appears, especially as they have been conjured by Bungay.
that the tree is A sudden and spectacular appearance of the tree and dragon would be
significantly larger
than the dragon. through the trap, and Lavin (p. xx) is not alone in supporting this idea,14
Depending upon the but it does present practical difficulties.
size of the trap, a
dragon coming up Henslowe records the existence of property dragons, so they were avail-
through it may not able as a resource, but the dragon also raises numerous questions. This is
have been large
enough to be where the use of the trap proves problematic. If both the tree and dragon
manned. If this was came up through the trap at the same time, then neither could have been
the case then a
firework would have
very big; yet the dragon, certainly large enough to accommodate a fire-
created the effect, but work, might well also have secreted a person – and the tree seems to have
how close could this been bigger than the dragon.15 If the dragon was manned, then perhaps it
come to creating the
effect of shooting fire? was constructed in a similar way to the dragons that were used in
pageants (see Figure 7).
Perhaps it is this type of dragon that the Elizabethan commentator
Stephen Gosson alluded to in Plays Confuted in Five Acts (1582): ‘Sometime
you shall see nothing but the adventures of an amorous knight, passing from
country to country for love of his lady, encountering many a terrible monster

Figure 7: A photograph of a dragon that took part in pageants in Norwich during

the eighteenth century, but the idea dates back to the middle-ages/.
Source: Hodges 1968, plate 57.

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16. Cited in Cook, p. 56.

17. Butterworth’s
conclusion (p. 86)
regarding this stage
direction is that the
fire effect had to be
timed to appear either
when or just before
the properties arrived
on stage.
18. Any suppositions
regarding the
audience reaction of
the seventeenth
century should be
placed within the
context of the
destruction of the
Globe in 1613, due
to cannon fire in a
performance of
Henry VIII.

Figure 8: Illustrations of ‘flying dragons’, which also shows how the placement
of fireworks may have created the ‘shooting fire’.
Source: Butterworth, p. 89.

made of brown paper’.16 Although the use of the trap is a logical solution, the
possibility of an entrance from the back should not be ruled out and does
have merits of its own. It allows the dragon to be manned with somebody
inside controlling the fireworks. It also makes possible the very spectacular
flying dragon described by Philip Butterworth (pp. 87–9) (See Figure 8).
It is unclear whether the fire comes out of the dragon’s mouth or not,
but the intention was surely to convince the audience that it did.
Whatever the manner of the appearance of the dragon, or the nature of
this shooting fire, the effect had to be timed.17 The spectacular and indeed
dangerous nature of such stage effects could not have failed to make an
impact upon the Elizabethan audience.18

Tiring-house directions
These are stage directions that are clearly aimed at the tiring-house. They
provide both instructions and cues ranging from special effects, such as
‘thunder and lightning’, to costume changes and the creation of offstage
sound effects like ‘alarum within’.

Strikes four o’clock (A Looking Glass for London and England, 1:3)

As the annotated quarto of the play illustrates with the inserted note
‘strike’ written beside this stage direction, this is a cue for someone in the

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tiring-house to produce a sound effect. How was it produced? Presumably

with a bell. Was it the responsibility of a tiring-hand or possibly a musician?
Numerous comparable examples show that it was a commonly employed,
and therefore an easily achievable, effect. (Compare ‘Clock strikes’ in Cym-
beline, 2:2:50.)

So what can be made of these observations? We know that Greene’s plays
were written at the end of the 1580s and the first years of the 1590s. As
such, they are among those that set the patterns for ambitious staging in
the Elizabethan theatre. The English drama dared to present on stage the
kind of action that the Greeks had contented themselves with reporting.
There is no clear reason why Elizabethan playwrights ignored the Greek
model. The University Wits, who worked hardest to establish the new
repertoire, were not entirely ignorant of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.
Why did the English drama develop so differently from that of seventeenth-
century France? The stories of Le Cid or Phèdre would not have been alien
to Greene, but he would have told them very differently from Corneille
and Racine. It is through recognition of the surprising path that English
drama took that the study of stage directions should begin. They provide
vivid evidence of an alternative way of envisioning a national drama.
Explorations of the stage directions in certain plays, or indeed of individual
stage directions in isolation, can reveal important clues about the play-
wright’s attitudes. There are puzzles to unravel and questions that may
never be answered. Often enough, we are left wondering who actually
wrote the stage directions – and for whom.
The growth of stage direction studies is indicative of the spread through
the academies of performative studies of Elizabethan drama. Literary scholars,
long before the end of the nineteenth century, had established the poetic
richness of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, against the best of whom
Greene struggles for recognition. But the professional actors, struggling to
establish their status in the busy city of London, were determined that their
playhouses would provide a visual feast. Stage directions, alongside the
well-known concern for costume, furnish some of the best evidence of that.

Works cited
Baskervill, Charles R. (1932–33), ‘A prompt copy of A Looking Glass for London and
England’, Modern Philology, 30, pp. 29–51.
Burton, Robert (1989 [1621]), The Anatomy of Melancholy, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Butterworth, Philip (1998), Theatre of Fire: Special Effects in Early English and Scot-
tish Theatre, London: Society for Theatre Research.
Calore, Michela (2003), ‘Battle scenes in the Queen’s Men repertoire’, Notes and
Queries, December issue, pp. 394–399.
Carson, Neil (1988), A Companion to Henslowe’s Diary, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Cook, Judith (1995), The Golden Age of English Theatre, London and New York:
Simon and Schuster.

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STP-28-2-05-Savage 4/18/08 2:40 PM Page 181

Dessen, Alan and Leslie Thomson (1999), A Dictionary of Stage Directions in English
Drama, 1580–1642, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Edelman, Charles (1992), Brawl Ridiculous: Sword Fighting in Shakespeare’s Plays,
Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Foakes, R.A. (1985), Illustrations of the English Stage, 1580–1642, London: Scolar
Habicht, Werner (1971), ‘Tree properties and tree scenes in Elizabethan theater’,
Renaissance Drama (New Series), IV, pp. 69–92.
Hodges, C. Walter (2nd edn. 1968), The Globe Restored: A Study of the Elizabethan Theatre,
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
——— (1999), Enter the Whole Army; A Pictorial Study of Shakespearean Staging,
1576–1616, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hunter, G.K. (1980), ‘Flatcaps and Bluecoats: Visual Signals on the Elizabethan
Stage’, Essays and Studies, 33, pp. 16–47.
Kiernan, Pauline (1999), Staging Shakespeare at the New Globe, London: Macmillan.
Lavin, J.A. (ed.) (1969), Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, London: Ernest Benn.
MacIntyre, Jean (1982), ‘Shakespeare and the battlefield’, Theatre Survey, 23,
pp. 31–44.
McMillin, Scott and Sally-Beth MacLean (1998), The Queen’s Men and Their Plays,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Melchior-Bonnet, Sabine (2001), The Mirror: A History (trans. K.H. Jewett), London:
Meredith, Peter and John Tailby (eds.) (1983), The Staging of Religious Drama in
Europe in the Later Middle Ages, Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications.
Munkelt, Marga (1987), ‘Stage directions as part of the text’, Shakespeare Studies,
19, pp. 253–272.
Neely, Carol T. (2004), Distracted Subjects: Madness and Gender in Shakespeare and
Early Modern Culture, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Overholser, Winifred (1959), ‘Shakespeare’s psychiatry – and after’, Shakespeare
Quarterly, 10, pp. 335–352.
Reynolds, George F. (1907–8), ‘Trees on the stage of Shakespeare’, Modern Philology,
5, pp. 153–168.
Seltzer, Daniel (ed.) (1963), Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, London: Edward Arnold.
Strong, Roy (1969a), Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, London: HM Stationery Office.
——— (1969b), The English Icon, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Plays and editions

Chettle, Henry and Robert Greene (1935–6), John of Bordeaux, in W.L. Renwick (ed.),
Oxford: Malone Society Reprints.
Ford, John (2003),’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, in Martin Wiggins (ed.), London: A & C
Greene, Robert (1905), The Plays and Poems of Robert Greene, 2 Vol., in J. Churton
Collins (ed.), Oxford: Clarendon Press. (See also Lavin and Seltzer above.)
Marlowe, Christopher (1993), Doctor Faustus, in David Bevington and Eric Rasmussen
(eds.), Manchester: Manchester University Press.
——— (1999), The Complete Plays of Christopher Marlowe, in M.T. Burnett (ed.),
London: J.M. Dent.
Marston, John (1965), The Malcontent, in Martin Wine (ed.), London: Edward Arnold.

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Peele, George (1910), The Arraignment of Paris, in H.H. Child (ed.), Oxford: Malone
Society Reprints.
Shakespeare, William (1988), Complete Works, in Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor
(eds.), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Webster, John (1995), The Works of John Webster, in David C. Gunby et al. (eds.),
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Suggested citation
Savage, K. (2008), ‘Stage directions: Valuable clues in the exploration of Elizabethan
performance practice’, Studies in Theatre and Performance 28: 2, pp. 161–182,
doi: 10.1386/stap.28.2.161/3

Contributor details
After teaching for several years, and then trying her luck as an eternal student on
the way to her PhD, Kay Savage has settled in West Cornwall. At Truro College,
she teaches Performance Arts and English and runs the higher education provi-
sion in Drama.
E-mail: kays@trurocollege.ac.uk

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Studies in Theatre and Performance Volume 28 Number 2 © 2008 Intellect Ltd

Notes and Queries. English language. doi: 10.1386/stap.28.2.183/3

Aesthetic realism
Robin Estill took this photograph in New York, assuming, as the Editors did
when they first saw it, that it was a joke. It’s not! ‘Aesthetic Realism’ is a cult,
founded by Eli Siegel, which offers its followers access to the beautiful life.
If you find George Herbert’s belief that ‘Who sweeps a room, as for [God’s]
laws/Makes that and the action fine’ a bit far-fetched, you should take a whiff
of Aesthetic Realism. It has its headquarters in New York, but no longer pub-
licises its capacity to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. Having googled
Aesthetic Realism (and Eli Siegel), the Editors were puzzled to find Edmund
Kean embroiled. Jim Jones and Jonestown would be better suited.

© Robin Estill

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Studies in Theatre and Performance Volume 28 Number 2 © 2008 Intellect Ltd
Reviews. English language. doi: 10.1386/stap.28.2.185/5

The Aesthetics of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal, translated

by Adrian Jackson (2006)
London and New York: Routledge, 133 pp. + 10 illus.,
ISBN 0-415-37177-5 (pbk), £16.99

A new publication from Augusto Boal is always something of an event.

Curiosity is naturally roused when a major artist produces a text promis-
ing to tell us how or why, but the Theatre of the Oppressed has instilled
such powerful loyalty and admiration in those inspired by it that any pro-
nouncements from its author are greeted with particular fervour. And The
Aesthetics of the Oppressed does offer some distinctly new arguments, as
well as seeking to consolidate ideas and methods Boal has developed over
the last four decades. His exemplification is equally up to date: Iraq, the
2004 Tsunami and reality TV are all included within Boal’s account of
how we process events local and global. The Aesthetics of the Oppressed is
largely a discursive, theoretical work – although it does contain a few prac-
tical exercises – and in this it has more in common with The Theatre of the
Oppressed than with later books.
The book’s central argument is that the aesthetic imagination is
supremely capable of envisioning an alternative ‘reality’ to that of conven-
tional appearances and entrenched ways of perceiving; hence it is this
capacity we must stimulate and expand in order to be creators of culture
rather than its passive recipients. If true, this would by implication substan-
tiate the Theatre of the Oppressed’s underlying premise: that, as ‘rehearsal
for revolution’, it leaves ‘spectactors’ productively unsatisfied by the the-
atrical process and correspondingly eager to change their own behaviour
and the ‘real’ world outside. The Aesthetics of the Oppressed outlines an
intriguing model of the way human minds (and bodies) work: essentially,
that the practice of creativity increases the capacity to imagine multiple
possibilities, and further that the encouragement of that practice stimulates
the desire to do it. Without such exercise, the communicative networks in
the brain are liable to ‘harden, becom(e) opaque and compacted – turning
into structures which [. . .] refuse dialogue with new circuits external to
themselves, impeding the arrival of new information which conflicts with
that already existing in their own classification’ (p. 28). Such limited, pre-
programmed ways of comprehending the world are reinforced by globali-
sation, Boal argues, a phenomenon whose laws and effects he examines
at length: ‘to globalise it is necessary to abolish dialogue, to isolate the

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individual [. . .] so that the very differences which make him unique may
disappear’ (p. 60). Unlike the excessively market-driven, depersonalised art
globalisation privileges, Boal’s Aesthetics of the Oppressed champions the
local and individual: this includes the rediscovery of indigenous culture, as
well as the requirement that we reject the clichés of ‘types’ to seek out
qualities unique and special to each person.
The tone of The Aesthetics of the Oppressed is familiarly that of Boal’s
other writings: it is lively and energetic, theoretical and anecdotal by turns.
At times it is difficult to be sure how literally Boal intends his principal
argument, although one never doubts the passion behind it. Significantly,
he quotes the Italian proverb ‘Si non é vero, é bene trovato! – Even if it’s not
true, it makes a good story!’ (p. 27) – and at one point acknowledges his
‘poetic interpretation’ rather than scientific fact (p. 29). Yet such asides
seem to conflict with the authoritative tone he adopts. For instance, a
reader might blench slightly at passages like this: ‘The aesthetic neurons are
those that process, jointly, ideas and emotions, memories and imagination,
senses and abstractions. When these neurons are activated by new stimuli,
the creation of Metaphor is activated’ (p. 26); such formulations are as
likely to put off as to persuade.
The Aesthetics of the Oppressed is a frustrating read in some respects. It is
unclear what the book as a whole seeks to achieve, as there is no introduc-
tion (or index) and the structuring principles are not always apparent. The
first half deals directly with the ‘Aesthetics of the Oppressed’, this divided into
‘Theoretical Foundation’ and ‘Practical Realisation’ – although misleadingly,
in the text itself, this second section appears under the chapter heading of
the first. (There are other, similar errors elsewhere that suggest that the
book was not as carefully proofread as it might have been.) It is also confus-
ing that the term ‘Aesthetics of the Oppressed’ turns out to refer both to
Boal’s general argument and to a specific project currently being carried out
by Brazil’s CTO-Rio, and disappointing that we are not given any contextual
information about the latter. The remainder of the book is comprised of a
number of essays dealing with ‘Theatre as a Martial Art’, ‘Globalisation,
Culture and Art’, ‘Theatre in Prisons’ and, finally, the text of a speech Boal
gave on his seventieth birthday. Some of these writings return to the theme
of the Aesthetics of the Oppressed; others don’t, or not explicitly. ‘Theatre in
Prisons’ is particularly engaging. Rather than an account of making theatre
in prisons – interesting as that would be – the essay reflects on Boal’s experi-
ence of incarceration, the roles and relationships of prisoner and guard,
freedom of action versus freedom of mind, and the possibilities theatre offers
in this context. This is the kind of moment where Boal is at his best as a
writer: at once personal and philosophical, witty and profound, he has the
ability to pull orthodoxies apart and clear the way to allow fresh and liberat-
ing alternatives. There is plenty in this book to relish. Equally, there is much
in its argument that is open to debate – would Boal want it any other way? –
but this is part of its strength, he certainly gets you thinking.
Reviewed by Frances Babbage, University of Leeds

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Harlequin Empire: Race, Ethnicity and the Drama of the

Popular Enlightenment, David Worrall, (2007)
London: Pickering & Chatto, 266 pp.,
ISBN 978-1-85196-851-0 (hbk), £60

Romantic period drama kicks off the Enlightenment World series of mono-
graphs from Pickering & Chatto in robust style in the shape of David
Worrall’s enthusiastic and detailed account of the representation of non-
British cultures on the British stage from roughly the mid-eighteenth
century to around 1840. It is a subject of central importance to both an
understanding of the theatre of the time and its place in the sweep of British
theatrical history. The sheer volume and diversity of dramatic material
portraying the ‘other’ is astonishing – as it is from the Elizabethan stage on –
and Worrall wisely warns against generalisation and the tendency to
read the past in terms of the present. He builds on the proselytising work he
displayed in Theatric Revolution: Drama, Censorship and Romantic Period Subcul-
tures, 1773–1832 (2006) and The Politics of Romantic Theatricality,
1787–1832: The Road to the Stage (2007) by consolidating his well-founded
argument that Georgian theatre has to be seen in a twin context: that of its
regulation and the vitality of the drama presented in the network of non-
patent theatres, which expanded in the face of this regulation.
Worrall identifies key texts, such as Colman’s Inkle and Yarico (1787),
which came to be seen as a major anti-slavery vehicle, against a backdrop
of chapters on particular stage versions of Islamic India, the North African
Islamic states as seen in British and American theatres, and the theatrical
appropriation of Captain Cook and Pacific encounters in general, including
those in and around Australia. Unfortunately, his chapter on Ira Aldridge,
the first black actor of note in Britain and, therefore, a pioneering figure
in the assertion of self-identity from a non-white perspective, is patchy and
argued from a mistaken belief that his first English performances were at
the Royal Coburg rather than the Royalty Theatre, as recent scholarship
has shown. Despite this, Worrall’s underlying point about Aldridge’s sig-
nificance stands.
Worrall’s insistence on the primacy of performance – analysing, for
example, the socio-political dimensions of the size and role of a venue, its
audience-stage relationship, and the prevailing production practices and
protocols – is a welcome corrective to the plethora of literary texts in this
field, and opens the book to a much wider audience than simply period
specialists. Given his subject and his approach, it is not surprising (but
none the less refreshing) that one of the key conventions he examines is
blackface. Without surrendering ground to imperial apologists, he empha-
sises the complexities of interpreting its meanings at such a historical
distance and underlines the lack of research in this area. Worrall makes
the connections between colour designation and class while underplaying
the connections of both to gender, and is at his strongest in describing and

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analysing individual productions and the nature of the theatres in which

they were performed.
Worrall’s account of the enactment of this plebeian Enlightenment
places the role of the British ‘illegitimate’ stage and its theatrical forms, like
burletta and pantomime, at the heart of the imperial cultural project but
he argues that they were challenging as well as promoting the project’s
defining ideologies.
Reviewed by Colin Chambers, Kingston University

The Incomparable Hester Santlow: A Dancer-Actress on the

Georgian Stage, Moira Goff (2007)
Aldershot: Ashgate, 180 pp. + 17 illus.,
ISBN 978-0-7546-5805-4 (hbk), £50

Hester Santlow left too faint a trace to allow the construction of a full-scale
biography. She is best known from the portrait which used to hang in the
Theatre Museum (when there was one), depicting her in a harlequin
dress, her right hand raised and her left hand caressing a slapstick. The
artist may have been John Ellys, and the image is said to derive from her
performance as Harlequin Woman (Harlequine) in John Thurmond’s
Drury Lane pantomime, The Escapes of Harlequin (1722). Any eighteenth-
century woman who allowed herself to be portrayed holding a phallic
object – in this case, a clearly tumescent one – was likely to draw scan-
dalous comment, and Santlow attracted her share of that. It would have
been extraordinary if, as a dancer on the public stage, she had not. She
made her Drury Lane debut in 1705/6 at the age of twelve or thirteen
(Goff has persuasively challenged the earlier assumption, preserved in the
new DNB, that she was born in 1690), and was an established member of
the company by 1712, when pregnancy forced her into temporary retire-
ment. The father of her illegitimate daughter was James Craggs, a diplo-
mat and, later, a prominent Whig politician. Interestingly, the birth did
no evident damage to Santlow’s career. On the contrary, it was through
her daughter, fully acknowledged by Craggs, that she was carried from
gentility into the fringes of the aristocracy. Goff does not elaborate on this
fascinating story of social progress – her focus is, properly, on Santlow’s
professional career – but it deserves to be noted. Actresses, even tainted
ones, were not necessarily outlawed from Hanoverian society. If Santlow
had been as profligate as green-room scandalmongers claimed, she would not
have been chosen as his second wife by the well connected actor-manager
Barton Booth (they married in 1719), nor accepted as a mother-in-law by
the genteel Richard Eliot in 1726. (As a conjugal footnote, Eliot was thirty-
two when he married the thirteen-year-old Harriot Santlow/Craggs, who
bore him the first of nine children when she was fourteen.) Having retired
from the stage in 1733, Santlow herself lived long enough (she died in

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1773) to see her great-granddaughter – the one who married the Earl of
Ely – into adulthood.
Moira Goff ’s beautifully measured book is the second in the Ashgate
series on ‘Performance in the Long Eighteenth Century’. Its background is
important. I haven’t ever sought access to the rare books at the British
Library, but Goff works with them. Not only that. She has also recon-
structed and danced some of Santlow’s dances. There can’t be many cura-
tors of rare books with that kind of double life, and it is an experience
which provides a unique authority to the book’s detailed descriptions of
dance notation in the early eighteenth century. I should confess that the
five plates recording contemporary notations – by Anthony L’Abbé, Le
Roussau and Mr Isaac – are, to me, as impenetrable and as decorative as
hieroglyphics, but they look appropriately purposeful. It was as a dancer
that the young Hester Santlow, still advertised as a pupil of René Charrier,
made her first public appearance, and her last recorded performance was
in a dancing role in The Country Revels, a ‘Grotesque Entertainment’, in
1732. She probably continued into 1733, but her husband’s illness com-
bined with the vicious disputes between Theophilus Cibber and John
Highmore at Drury Lane to precipitate her retirement. Goff has done full
justice to her extraordinary range, from the graceful sophistication of belle
dance to the robustly comic antics of commedia dell’arte. John Weaver,
whose opinions have to be taken seriously, called her ‘the most graceful,
most agreeable, and most correct Performer in the World’ (p. 114). Briefly
rivalled by Marie Sallé, Santlow was one of Drury Lane’s trump cards for
twenty-five years – the only woman, Goff suggests, to perform a full tour en
l’air, to dance a solo Harlequin and a solo ‘French Peasant’, and to risk
herself in a ‘Hussars’ duet (with John Shaw).
That is not, though, the whole story. From early in her career, Santlow
was employed as an actress as well, initially as a comic ingénue, but gradu-
ating to witty roles and pathetic heroines in tragedy. Ophelia may have
been just within her range. Uncharacteristically, James Thomson, nor-
mally the most inert of sedentary bachelor-poets, was so overwhelmed
that he couldn’t even find breath for a comma: ‘Mrs Booth acts some
things very well and particularly Ophelia’s madness in Hamlet inimitably
but then she dances so deliciously has such melting lascivious motions
airs and postures as indeed according to what you suspect almost throws
the material part of me into action too’ (pp. 122–3). Scopophilia was not
Thomson’s habitual mode, nor was his material part (whatever that was!)
normally much in evidence. No wonder the Drury Lane managers
favoured Santlow in breeches parts, even allowing her the privilege of an
occasional epilogue (‘For, while you watch my Legs, you lose my Wit’, p. 27).
One of the finest features of Goff ’s book is her chapter on pantomimes,
those mixtures of dance, song and acting that played into Santlow’s hands
during the 1720s, when rivalry between Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn
Fields was at its height. Her descriptions bring a dancer’s insights to bear
on a theatrical puzzle.

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It cannot have been easy to get the tactics right in composing a book
out of what must first have appeared slender material. Goff has managed
to maintain her focus on Santlow without disregarding the dancers she
worked with. There are brief pen-portraits of many of them: Cherrier,
L’Abbé, the mysterious Mr Isaac, John Shaw, the great innovator John
Weaver, John Thurmond, Michael Lally. Nor does she lose sight of the actors:
Robert Wilks, Colley Cibber, George Powell, Anne Oldfield and Mary Porter,
as well as Barton Booth. One of the things that emerges silently from this
thoughtfully composed book is the closeness of the theatrical community
in the early eighteenth century. Santlow married Booth; her dancing
partner, John Shaw, married Wilks’s step-daughter; before her marriage
Santlow lived with her mother opposite the coffee house opened by the
singer, Richard Leveridge, in Tavistock Street; the Booths lived next door to
Colley Cibber in 1721; their country house and estate, Cowley Grove, was
sold to John Rich. It was still within the theatrical community, though
variegated by her daughter’s wealthy relations, that Santlow lived out her
forty years of dignified retirement.
Reviewed by Peter Thomson, University of Exeter

Opera From the Greek: Studies in the Poetics of

Appropriation, Michael Ewans, (2007)
Aldershot: Ashgate, vii + 216 pp.,
ISBN 978-0-7546-6099-6 (hbk), £55

Most of us would have a dim sense that European opera has an intimate
connection to ancient Greek tragedy, but would be hard pressed to state
what precisely it was. In fact, the curious feature of the relationship is not
that opera came into being as an attempt to recreate Greek tragedy in the
Italian renaissance, but that it has repeatedly revisited a sense of Greek
tragic form over the centuries, far more regularly and with greater convic-
tion than European drama. So it is that while, on the one hand, Wagner is
associated in our minds with Teutonic myth-making and the assertion of a
national art-form, scholars have been at pains to trace an inescapable con-
nection with Hellenism and Greek tragedy in The Ring of the Nibelung.
Ewans was indeed one of those scholars, and his early work was pri-
marily on opera, with both Wagner and Janacek as the subjects of mono-
graphs. But his profile in recent decades has been clearly in the study and
production of ancient Greek tragedy, as a translator and director, and one
who has energetically pursued research through practice on ancient
Greek performance. In this book, he turns his expertise in Greek tragedy
back towards European opera, selecting eight operas from the Italian
renaissance forwards to the 1980s for an analysis of their relationship to
Greek sources. These sources include not only tragedies by Sophocles and
Euripides, but also the two surviving early Greek (Homeric) epics, Iliad and

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Odyssey. The principal subject is inevitably that of reworking, of the strategies

taken to create a new artwork from the old text, and the format of each
chapter gives a correspondingly major emphasis to issues of dramaturgy.
But the book and each chapter in turn also contain musicological analy-
sis, conducted through scored examples, of the interpretations finally lent
to the adaptation by the composer, to give that complex process and
achievement its simplest description.
The result is a very even treatment of disparate works through exploit-
ing their chosen relationship to an original source, not just in the struc-
ture of the book but also in the analytical and descriptive language that
Ewans deploys. We are, in other words, given a discourse that the author
keeps stable throughout, resisting the temptation to mark originality and
difference by the flamboyance of vocabulary, and so maintaining an
approach that permits a consistent research purpose. Ewans is at pains to
provide clear accounts of the dramatic action of the originals, and to clear
away obstructive but prevalent misconceptions where necessary. This he
does mostly by clarifying the meaning of key Greek concepts, but also by
removing the aura that can surround a play almost entirely. So he care-
fully argues against the idea of determinism on a number of occasions,
puncturing the appeal that words such as ‘fate’ and ‘destiny’ may have for
the careless reception of both Greek tragedy (e.g. Sophocles’ Oedipus the
King) and epic.
These preambles are supported by reference to a good range of classical
scholarship, and lead in each chapter to studies of the actualities and prin-
ciples of reworking adopted by the librettist. Gradually we are then led into
discussions of the substantiation of the libretto in music by the composer.
This in itself is not only very often a secondary or selective reworking of
the ‘appopriation’, which may reveal conflicts between librettist and com-
poser, but it is also a process in which an idiom is conceived that lifts the
original source beyond semantics and invests it with the belief-system of
the composer. That, at least, is a large part of Ewans’s contention – that
composers reveal in their musical appropriations a kind of bias in what
they wish the ‘Greekness’ of their opera to convey.
In that respect, one of the more consistent themes of the book is the
wrestling that goes on between varieties of Christian convictions, tenets, or
value-systems and the pagan qualities of the original sources, the ideas and
configurations of feeling and expectation that are embedded in even the
forms of epic and tragedy. Indeed, a different construction of this book
might have made that the thesis. But Ewans is also concerned with the
issue of successful transformation, the representation within later European
culture of the alarming but compelling excitement of tragedy at work. So in
a number of chapters this theme predominates, as librettists and composers
may discount or dispense with prevalent assumptions and get a grip on the
actual qualities of the original. In fact, Ewans is unusually clear about what
he is after in each case in the short but highly effective, final sub-section of
the Introduction called ‘The poetics of appropriation’.

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The composers and operas studied (with the sources here in brackets) in
the order they appear in the book are Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria
(the Homeric Odyssey); Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride (the tragedy by Euripides);
Cherubini’s Médée (Euripides); Strauss’s Elektra (Sophocles); Enesco’s Oedipe
(tragedies by Sophocles); Tippett’s King Priam (the Homeric Iliad); Henze’s
The Bassarids (Euripides’ Bacchae); and Turnage’s Greek (Sophocles’ Oedipus
the King). Ashgate’s production values are high, although there are one
or two minor typos and proofreading blemishes, notably ‘Biliography’ for
‘Bibliography’ (p. 203), which is an interesting coinage that suggests a genre
of certain kinds of reviewing instead of the helpful lists of recommended
recordings, published scores, and secondary reading on Greek tragedy, epic
and culture as well as on the composers and the operas.
Overall, the book is eminently readable without any attempt to simplify
what is complex, and rightly requires for full satisfaction some musical edu-
cation, not merely in reading short sections of scores but also in following
musical and musicological terms. Yet it has been wisely guided away from
being locked into exclusively musical studies, and so makes a contribution
to our sense of European theatre and what is increasingly (but mislead-
ingly) being called classical reception, which is more readily understood as
the classical tradition in European culture. There is a surge in interest in
this broad field, with some excellent studies in English (and notably on the
English theatre) coming from scholars such as Edith Hall, under the aus-
pices of the Archive of Greek and Roman Performances based in Oxford.
Ewans gives us close attention to dramaturgy in opera, while other studies
may concentrate on the theatrical climate and production circumstances.
Both are, in the broad picture, lively elements of performance history.
Reviewed by Graham Ley, University of Exeter

Intermediality in Theatre and Performance, Freda Chapple

and Chiel Kattenbelt, (2006)
Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 266 pp. + 53 illus.,
ISBN: 90-420-1629-9 (pbk), $68

It is this book’s stated intention to examine what is intermediality in theatre

and performance and it does so very successfully, combining well-formed
theoretical analysis with a wide range of examples. The book is a collabo-
ration between members of Theatre and Intermediality Research Working
Group in the IFTR and its particular strength is the resulting coherence of
argument across collected essays. It is an original contribution to the field
of performance research with an argument that breaks away from the
assumption that intermediality or multimedia performance must necessar-
ily include some form of digital technology. Although the inclusion of
digital and screen media in theatre performance is a constituent element
of intermediality, the concept is broadened to mean a territory constituted

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by the intermedial modes of perception across the arts, opening up a

useful examination of theatre as a medial and hypermedial form.
The book is split into three sections with each framed by a chapter pro-
viding a theoretical underpinning for analysis in the first two sections and
a historical overview in the third. In the first section, entitled ‘Performing
Intermediality’, its contributors examine how intermediality is staged in
the theatre, locating it in the process of remediation and in-between the
multiple media performed on a theatre stage. Kattenbelt provides a strong
introduction to this section, arguing that theatre is a hypermedium
capable of staging other media and making visible their apparatus.
The chapters that follow move forward from this point to examine the
actor as a site of intermedial expression shifting between stage and early
cinema (Remshardt); to examine simultaneity, immediacy and hypermedi-
acy in mixed-media theatre (Lavender); representations of time in interme-
dial performance (Merx); and digital opera as intermedial stage for education
(Chapple). Lavender’s chapter develops the argument particularly well, pro-
viding excellent case studies to support his emphasis on the mutual depen-
dency of immediacy and hypermediacy on the intermedial stage.
Section two, ‘Intermedial Perceptions’ goes on to argue a conception of
intermediality as performative territory on which multiple perceptual
frameworks play out their conflicts, collisions and disruptions to transpar-
ent and unified expression. This emphasis on the perceptual in the analy-
sis is absolutely key to the assertion that the intermedial functions outside
the mediatised versus live performance debate. It allows the authors to
address the influence of screen media and new technology upon percep-
tual frameworks, and also examine non-digital media as constituents of
that ‘matrix’ (Wagner, p. 125). This is, in my view, the strongest aspect of
their argument. Peter Boenisch’s chapter, introducing the section, pro-
vides an excellent theoretical underpinning, well grounded in discourses
of media theory, theatre and philosophy, and the subsequent chapters
draw on his analysis and refer back to it, giving the reader a strong sense
of coherent argument throughout this section.
Balme looks at ‘spatial metonymy’ (p. 123) as creating perceptual
intermediality where material and fictional space collide. Both Wagner
and Boenisch go on to examine corporeal mediality: the fracturing of
corporeal frameworks through the puppet body and the disruption of cor-
poreal codes of representation, respectively. Nelson in contrast, examines
the small screen in relation to spectator shifts between immediacy and
hypermediacy as modes of perception. Each of these chapters not only pro-
vides a convincing account as a discrete argument, but also weaves into
the overall threads running through the book and the section.
The final section, ‘From Adaptation to Intermediality’ attempts to move
chronologically through various discourses of adaptation and intermediality
and the first chapter by Kuchenbach does this successfully, presenting a
clear overview of twentieth century approaches to adaptation then reme-
diation between film and theatre. However, it seems very much a break

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from the approach set up in the first two parts of the book. The chapters
that follow go on to present snapshots from across the century. Klemens
Gruber explores the staging of writing in early twentieth century art. Callens
examines Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire as an example of a ‘theatrical
framing’ and thus remediation of Murnau’s Nosferatu (p. 203), and finally,
the last two chapters go on to explore intermediality in the construction of
hypertextual theatre experience made up of adapted or reinterpreted frag-
ments of classic texts. Hadassi Shani’s chapter on Me-Dea-Ex was the
highlight of this section for me, presenting a fascinating analysis of how a
modular structure is not only able to generate an intermedial performance
but also combine fragments of different cultures.
Overall, however, this third section did not have quite the coherence of
the first two. Although the chapters echoed and reflected back across themes
running throughout the book – intermediality in remediation, hypermedi-
ality and modularity – they did not have an overall argument underpin-
ning the examples across the section or as clear a relationship between
themselves as in the first and second sections. Nevertheless, the overall
structuring devices in the book are excellent, providing an unusual level of
coherence in a collection of this kind. Partly, this is because there are clear
arguments running through the book, but partly this is due to the clear
signposting of how these threads are being developed. Abstracts are
provided for each section and chapter, and Chapple and Kattenbelt’s intro-
duction outlines the key themes of the book in relation to established dis-
courses in media theory. Intermediality in Theatre Performance presents an
engaging analysis of intermediality as the territory ‘in-between realities’
(p. 11) and draws its reader to reconsider mediality and intermediality in
relation to perceptual experience of theatre performance.
Reviewed by Kate Adams, University of Hull

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Studies in

Volume Twenty Eight Number Two

ISSN 1468-2761

Studies in Theatre & Performance | Volume Twenty Eight Number Two

Theatre & Performance
Volume 28 Number 2 – 2008 28.2
91–110 Brecht and the disembodied actor
Roy Connolly and Richard Ralley
111–126 Following the dream/passing the meme: Shakespeare in ‘translation’
Mike Ingham
Studies in

Theatre &
127–145 Technique in exile: The changing perception of taijiquan, from Ming
dynasty military exercise to twentieth-century actor training protocol
Daniel Mroz
147–159 ‘Your sincere friend and humble servant’: Evidence of managerial

aspirations in Susannah Cibber’s letters
Helen Brooks

Notes and Queries

161–182 Stage directions: Valuable clues in the exploration of Elizabethan
performance practice
Kay Savage
183 Aesthetic realism

185–194 Reviews by Frances Babbage, Colin Chambers, Peter Thomson,
Graham Ley and Kate Adams

intellect Journals | Theatre & Performance

ISSN 1468-2761

9 771468 276009 www.intellectbooks.com