And What Happened Next
By Michael J. Cummings..© 2003
Revised in 2006.
1. Preparing a Manuscript
Whenever place or time mattered [in a Shakespeare play], some references to them could be introduced into the dialogue, and if special atmospheric or dramatic effects were needed, they could be created by the poet's pen. Hence, it is to the Elizabethan stage that we are indebted in great measure for the exquisite descriptive poetry of Shakespeare. Such conditions, moreover, encouraged a greater imaginative cooperation on the part of the audience in the production of a play, and this active participation was further increased by the informality of the platform stage. With such intimacy, soliloquies, asides, and long set speeches are natural and not absurd as they are in modern theatre.Watt, Homer A., and Karl J. Holzknecht. Outlines of Shakespeare's Plays. New York: Barnes, 1947 (Page 8).Drafts of Plays and Censorship:..Shakespeare's manuscripts had to be submitted for approval. After writing out a manuscript, Shakespeare (or a professional scribe) made a copy of it in which obvious errors were corrected. The two versions had special names: the original manuscript was the "foul papers" because of the blots and crossouts on it. The new version was called a fair copy. It was submitted to the Master of Revels, a government censor who examined it for material offensive to the crown. If approved, the fair copy became known as a prompt copy, which the actors used to memorize their lines. The acting company bought the prompt copy, gaining sole possession of it, after paying the writer. The company then wrote in the stage directions (exit, enter, etc.). John Russell Brown, author of Shakespeare and His Theatre (New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, 1982, Page 31) discusses the circumstances under which the censor forbade the staging of one of Shakespeare's plays:
At a time of unrest, when the Earl of Essex was challenging the Queen's [Elizabeth's] authority and armed bands terrorized the streets of London, the Chamberlain's Men [Shakespeare's company] were forbidden to perform Richard II, a play already licensed and performed, because it contains a scene in which a king is compelled to renounce his crown; in 1601, the queen's counsellors believed that this might encourage her enemies and spark off a revolution. The theatre was taken very seriously by the authorities and was allowed to deal with political issues only if they did not refer too obviously to current affairs or seditious ideas, but were set, safely, in an earlier century or, better still, in ancient Rome or foreign countries.Alteration of the Copy:..An acting company could alter the manuscript. With or without a playwright's approval, an acting company could change the script as it saw fit. It is possible that editors improved some of Shakespeare's manuscripts. It is also possible that they weakened the manuscripts.
No Shakespeare manuscript is in existence. This is not surprising: they were not collectors' items. Printers would have thrown them away after setting type from them; almost twenty years passed in the Commonwealth with no public performances of plays, and the manuscripts of the disbanded theatrical companies were completely dispersed; the Great Fire of London must have destroyed some. Indeed, only a relative handful of the hundreds and hundreds of Elizabethan plays have come down to us in manuscript form, and it is our bad luck that so few of these are by major dramatists. None is Shakespeare's if we except the good possibility that one scene in the manuscript of the unacted Sir Thomas More is in his hand.Bowers, Fredson. ''What Shakespeare Wrote.'' Approaches to Shakespeare, by Norma Rabkin. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964 (Page 266).
2. Writing Format: Verse, Prose, and Poetry
.......Shakespeare wrote his plays partly in verse and partly in prose, freely alternating between the two in the same acts and scenes. It is not unusual, in fact, for one character to address a second character in verse while the second character responds in prose. Sometimes, the same
characterHamlet or King Lear, for examplespeaks in verse in one moment and in prose in another.
Verse Passage Spoken by Hamlet (Act III, Scene I):To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocksProse Passage Spoken by Hamlet (Act II, Scene II):Slanders, sir. For the satirical rogue says here that old men have gray beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes
purging thick amber and plum-tree gum, and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams. All which, sir, though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down; for yourself, sir, should be old as I am if like a crab you could go backward.......Now, then, what about single linesthose spoken in conversation as questions, replies, or ripostes? They are in prose if one line has no paired rhyming line or is too abrupt to contain a metric scheme. The following exchange between Hamlet and Guildenstern in Act III, Scene III, of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark contains such short lines absent of meter and rhyme. The exchange begins when Hamlet asks Guildenstern to play a wind instrument called a recorder, which resembles a flute:HAMLET:..Will you play upon this pipe?
GUILDENSTERN:..My lord, I cannot.
HAMLET:..I pray you.
GUILDENSTERN:..Believe me, I cannot.
HAMLET:..I do beseech you.......Obviously, these lines are too short to contain a pattern of meter or rhyme. Moreover, the content is mundane and prosaic. I pray you does not a poem make. For these reasons, the passage qualifies only as prose.
......But what of the multi-line passages? Why are some in verse and others in prose? The answer some Shakespeare commentators providean answer that is simplistic and not wholly accurateis that Shakespeare reserved verse for noble, highborn characters and prose for common, lowborn characters. It is true that royalty and nobility often speak in verse and that peasants and plebeiansor wine-swilling hooligans, like Falstaff (Henry IV Part I and Henry IV Part II)often speak in prose. But it is also true that noble characters, like Hamlet and Volumnia (Coriolanus), sometimes speak in prose and that lowborn characters, like the witches in Macbeth, often speak in verse. Even the lowest of the lowthe beast-man Caliban in The Tempestspeaks often in verse. In The Merchant of Venice, the characters associated with the dirty world of money speak frequently in verse, and the characters associated with the rarefied world of nobility and refinement speak often in prose. Shakespeare's comedy Much Ado About Nothing is almost entirely in prose, with highborn characters only occasionally speaking in verse.
......Why, then, does Shakespeare alternate between verse and prose?
Shakespeare used verse to do the following:
One: Express deep emotion requiring elevated language. Because nobles and commoners were both capable of experiencing profound emotion, both expressed their emotions in verse from time to time.
Shakespeare used prose to do the following:
One: Express ordinary, undistinguished observations coming from the surface of the mind rather than its active, ruminating interior.
......Under Writing Format: Verse, Prose, and Poetry, you read Shakespeare wrote his plays in verse, prose, and poetry and that he used a rhythm format called iambic pentamenter.
Ihaveforgot why I did call theeback. When a line has five iambs, it is in iambic pentameter. The prefix ''pent'' means ''five.'' (A figure with five sides is called a ''pentagon''; an athletic competition with five track-and-field events is called a ''pentathlon.'') The suffix ''meter'' (in ''pentameter'') refers to the recurrence of a rhythmic unit (also called a ''foot''). Thus, because the above lines contain iambs, they are ''iambic.'' Because they contain five iambs (five feet) they are said to be in iambic pentameter. Finally, because the words at the end of each line don't rhyme, the lines are said to be in unrhymed iambic pentameter, or blank verse.
Blank verse was modeled after ancient Greek and Latin verse. It was first used in 1514 in Renaissance Italy by Francesco Maria Molza. In 1539, Italian Giovanni Rucellai was the first poet to label the unrhymed iambic pentameter in his poetry as blank verse (versi sciolti in Italian). Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, first used blank verse in English in his translation of Vergil's epic Latin poem The Aeneid. The first English drama in blank verse was Gorboduc, or Ferrex and Porrex, staged in 1561, by Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton. It was about an early British king. Later in the same century, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare turned blank verse into high art when they used it in their plays. Marlowe used the verse form in Doctor Faustus, Tamburlaine, and Edward II. Shakespeare used it in all of his plays. In Germany, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) popularized blank verse in his poem "Nathan the Wise" ("Nathan der Weise"), published in 1779.
4. Stage Directions and Drama Terms
Act: One of the main divisions of a play. Shakespeare's plays each have five acts. Each act is subdivided into scenes. An act generally focuses on one major aspect of the plot or theme. Between acts, stagehands may change scenery, and the setting may shift to another locale.
Alarum: Stage direction indicating the coming of a battle; a call to arms
Arras: Tapestry hung on the stage to conceal scenery until the right moment. In Hamlet, an arras played a crucial role. Polonius hid behind one to eavesdrop on a conversation between Hamlet and his mother, Queen Gertrude. When Hamlet saw the tapestry move, he stabbed at it, thinking King Claudius was behind it, and killed Polonius.
Aside: Words an actor speaks to the audience which other actors on the stage cannot hear. Sometimes the actor cups his mouth toward the audience or turns away from the other actors. An aside serves to reveal a character's thoughts or concerns to the audience without revealing them to other characters in a play. Near the end of Hamlet, Queen Gertrude raises a cup of wine to her lips during the fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes. King Claudius had poisoned the wine and intended it for Hamlet. In an aside, Claudiusunwilling to warn Gertrude in an effort to preserve his innocencesays, "It is the poison'd cup: it is too late."
Catchword: In published Shakespeare plays in earlier times, a single word on the bottom of the right side of every page. This word was the first word appearing on the next page.
Chorus: The chorus was a single person who recited a prologue before Act I (and sometimes a passage between acts) in Henry V, Henry VIII, Troilus and Cressida, and Romeo and Juliet. Generally, the chorus informed the audience of action offstage or outside the time frame of the play.
Dramatis Personae: List of the characters in a play. Such a list is found at the beginning of each Shakespeare play.
Enter:Stage direction indicating the entrance onto the stage of a character or characters.
Epilogue: Short address spoken by an actor at the end of a play that comments on the meaning of the events in the play or looks ahead to expected events; an afterword in any literary work.
Excursion:Stage direction indicating that a military attack is taking place. The opening of Scene II in Act III of King John contains such a stage direction.
Exeunt: Stage direction indicating the departure of two or more characters from the stage.
Exit:Stage direction indicating the departure of a character from the stage.
Flourish: Music usually introducing the entrance or exit of a king or another important person. The music may consist of a short trumpet passage.
Fair Copy: Play manuscript after it has been edited.
Foul Papers: Original manuscript of a playwright which was later edited.
Gallery: Roofed seating area of a theatre, such as the Globe, that resembled the grandstand of a baseball park. The Globe had three galleries that could accommodate 2,000 to 3,000 playgoers.
Hautboys: Stage direction indicating that entering characters are playing hautboys (OH bwah), which are Elizabethan oboes
Induction: Preface or prelude to a play. The Taming of the Shrew contains an induction that precedes the main plot.
Master of Revels: Government censor who examined all plays for offensive material
Prologue: Introduction of a play. In Henry V, a chorus (one person) speaks a prologue that encourages the audience members to use their imaginations to create what an Elizabethan stage cannot: battlefields, clashing swords, the might of warriors. Shakespeare writes, "Think when we talk of horses, that you see them printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth."
Promptbook or Prompt Copy: Edited version of a play in which an acting company inserted stage directions.
Re-Enter: Stage direction indicating the re-entrance onto the stage of a character or characters.
Scene: (1) Time and place of the action in a play; (2) part of an act in a play that usually takes place in one location.
Sennet: Trumpet flourish to introduce the entrance of a character, such as King Lear (Act 1).
Soliloquy: Long passage in which a character reveals his thoughts to the audience but not to other characters. Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" speech is an example.
Solus: Stage direction indicating a character is alone on the stage.
Stationers' Register: Book in which the English government required printers to register the title of a play before the play was published. The full official name of the Stationers' Register was the Hall Book of the Worshipful Company of Stationers.
Tiring House: Dressing rooms of actors behind a wall at the back of the stage. To tire means to dressthat is, to attire oneself. Sometimes, the wall of the tiring house could stand as the wall of a fortress under siege.
Torches: Stage direction indicating that entering characters are carrying lit torches.
Within: Stage direction indicating that a person speaking or being spoken to is behind a door or inside a room.
........Shakespeare: a Guide to the Complete Works is now available in hardback and paperback. It incorporates virtually all of the information on this web site, including plot summaries of all the plays. It also gives dates and sources of each play, describes the setting and characters, discusses
imagery, identifies themes, points out the climax, and provides historical background wherever necessary. In addition, it discusses and analyzes the sonnets, as well as other poems written by Shakespeare.
5. Publication of a Play
........The publishing industry operated under the control of the Worshipful Company of Stationers, a trade organization which the government established and supervised in order to guard against printing subversive books or books unduly critical of the Crown. If a play met government standardsthat is, if it did not attempt to inflame the people against the crowna publisher could print and sell the play. Authors of plays often had misgivings about committing their work to print.
The plays of the first professional companies [in Shakespeare's day] were written mainly by actors themselves. . . . The players were reluctant to allow their dramas to be printed. They apparently thought that if a play could be read, few people would wish to see it acted. They may also have feared that their plays, if printed, would be appropriated for acting by rival companies. This reluctance explains the fact that only eighteen of Shakespeare's plays were printed during his lifetime. They were published in small pamphlets called quartos, which sold for only sixpence a piece.Alden, Raymond MacDonald. A Shakespeare Handbook. Revised and enlarged by Oscar James Campbell. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries, 1970 (Page 74).For a detailed discussion of publishing formatsin particular, folio and quarto textsclick here.
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