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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: February 2015

5 - The Staging



Print has a fixity that performance never presumes to. We suffer from reading Shakespeare and his contemporaries in editions that give an illusion of permanence to their words and their stage directions that the originals never had. The original staging of Shakespeare's plays lacked consistency even for the playhouses they were staged in, and the idea that each play on stage became perfectly fixed in the minds of the company playing it is a hopeful delusion. Plays were subject to constant change, not just in memory but in such transient features of the performance event as the mood of the audience and the condition of the day, whether the playhouse was outdoors or in. A playgoer struggling through inner London's crowds to get by coach to the Blackfriars, would, once seated in the playhouse, at the least have first to recover from the state of the narrow streets and greet his or her acquaintances in the crowd and slowly start to breathe more easily before he or she could focus their mind on the anticipated play, which perhaps or perhaps not they knew about from playbills or previous visits. Even the size of the playgoer in front with or her his tall hat and feather could become a nuisance, getting in the way of the gradual process of preparing oneself for the coming event.

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