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Fangs Of Malice

Hypocrisy, Sincerity, and Acting

Matthew H. Wikander

Publication Year: 2002

The idea that actors are hypocrites and fakes and therefore dangerous to society was widespread in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Fangs of Malice examines the equation between the vice of hypocrisy and the craft of acting as it appears in antitheatrical tracts, in popular and high culture, and especially in plays of the period. Rousseau and others argue that actors, expert at seeming other than they are, pose a threat to society; yet dissembling seems also to be an inevitable consequence of human social intercourse. The “antitheatrical prejudice” offers a unique perspective on the high value that modern western culture places on sincerity, on being true to one's own self.

Taking a cue from the antitheatrical critics themselves, Matthew Wikander structures his book in acts and scenes, each based on a particular slander against actors. A prologue introduces his main issues. Act One deals with the proposition “They Dress Up”: foppish slavery to fashion, cross-dressing, and dressing as clergy. Act Two treats the proposition “They Lie” by focusing on social dissembling and the phenomenon of the self-deceiving hypocrite and the public, princely hypocrite. Act Three, “They Drink,” examines a wide range of antisocial behavior ascribed to actors, such as drinking, gambling, and whoring. An epilogue ties the ancient ideas of possession and the panic that actors inspire to contemporary anxieties about representation not only in theatre but also in the visual and literary arts.

Fangs of Malice will be of great interest to scholars and students of drama as well as to theatre professionals and buffs.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

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pp. ix-x

Thanks are especially due to the librarians of the libraries where I have been made welcome: the University of Michigan Graduate Library, the University of Toledo Libraries, the Williams College Library, and the Cambridge University Library. The Newberry Library made an extended visit possible with a Short Term Fellowship in the ...

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Prologue. The Actor as Hypocrite

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pp. xi-xxii

“Are you a comedian?” Olivia asks the disguised Viola in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. “No, my profound heart,” she replies; “and yet, by the very fangs of malice I swear I am not that I play” (1.5.178–80).1 Swearing, as Juliet reminds Romeo, requires a constant term to swear by: “O, swear not by the moon, th’inconstant moon,”...

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Act One. They Dress Up

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pp. 1-3

Theophilus Lucas, in his Memoirs of 1714, recounts the story of how Major Clancy, an Irish “sharper” or confidence man, came to discover his true occupation. Clancy began as a valet, a “sort of page to Monsieur Mancy in Paris”: ...

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Scene One. As Secret As Madenhead

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pp. 4-23

Modern audiences immediately understand what is happening here: the duke is unconsciously responding to the sexual potentiality visually represented to us by a sexually mature actress wearing boy’s clothes. The key to Viola’s virgin mystery (she describes her history as “[a] blank, my lord” [2.4.110]) lies in visualizing the woman’s body wrapped ...

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Scene Two. Putting on The Cloth

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pp. 24-45

“Art thou a churchman?” Viola asks Feste (Twelfth Night, 3.1.3); “I would I were the first that ever dissembled in such a gown,” Feste says as he costumes himself for his baiting of Malvolio (4.2.5). In an utterly different context, Søren Kierkegaard also points to the way that preaching and acting tend to blur into each other. “To be appropriate ...

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Scene Three. Humanizing The Fop

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pp. 46-66

“Seest thou not what a deformed thief this fashion is?” Borachio marvels at the ease by which Claudio can mistake Margaret for Hero in Much Ado about Nothing; “I know that Deformed,” mutters Seacoal of the watch (3.3.123). Like the watchmen who arrest Sir John Brute in either of his disguises, as priest or as lady of fashion, these ...

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Act Two. They Lie

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pp. 67-69

“Is it possible there should be no Sincerity in the World, and that we dare not confide in anybody?” queries Jean Bellegarde at the beginning of his chapter “Of Imposture” in Reflections upon Ridicule. Bellegarde’s treatise, published in France in 1696 and translated into English shortly thereafter, raises the specter of a society infiltrated and ...

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Scene One. Rousseau and the Cult of Sincerity

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pp. 70-78

The most eloquent exponent of the desire to be simple, integrated, pure, virtuous, and sincere is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose Letter to M. D’Alembert is a key document in eighteenth-century anti-theatrical polemic. Allan Bloom, who translated and edited Rousseau’s letter for Agora Editions under the title of Politics and the Arts, identifies ...

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Scene Two. Playing Joseph Surface

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pp. 79-89

In his discussion of the acting style of John (“Plausible Jack”) Palmer, Charles Lamb raises a question that lurks in the drama rather than in ethical tracts: if hypocrisy consists in the transposition of the theatrical into everyday life, how is hypocrisy then to be represented on the stage? Lamb avers that “Jack had two voices—both plausible, ...

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Scene Three. Ibsen's Small Stage of Fools

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pp. 90-99

There is no playwright in the drama more notorious for exposing self-delusion than Ibsen, whose assaults upon bourgeois pieties combine a strategy of ruthless comic exposure with a full sense of the human cost exacted when the call of the sincere ideal clashes with the lies that make life possible. And Ibsen most frequently characterizes ...

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Scene Four. Princely Hypocrite

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pp. 100-124

Introducing the modern politician to the world stage, Niccolò Machiavelli debunked the traditional—classical and Christian—idea that the good ruler should first be a good man. He catalogs the virtues and then steps back: “A prince, therefore, need not have all of the good qualities mentioned above,” he declares, “but he should certainly ap-...

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Act Three. They Drink

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pp. 125-129

They’re hard to miss—Charles Surface, Ejlert Løvborg, Jack Falstaff. These three drunks play their roles in the second act with extravagance and theatricality, if not with vine leaves in their hair. Ever since its association with Dionysus, acting has always been seen as a kind of intoxication, and the preachers and moralists who despised ...

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Scene One. The Tavern

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pp. 130-145

“O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains!” Cassio exclaims after his drunken brawl. “That we should, with joy, pleasure, revel, and applause transform ourselves into beasts!” (Othello, 2.3.283–86). The language of transformation, revel, and applause that seeps into his complaint provides an echo of ...

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Scene Two. Liberty Hall

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pp. 146-157

In the British Magazine (February, March, and April 1760) Oliver Goldsmith published an essay that placed him in Shakespeare's most famous site of drinking, "the Boar's-head tavern, still kept at Eastcheap": . . . Here, by a pleasant fire, in the very room where old Sir John Falstaff cracked his jokes, in the very chair which was sometimes honoured ...

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Scene Three. Harry Hope's Saloon

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pp. 158-180

“The fresh air of out-of-doors sweeps through the windows of the Hardcastle mansion,” effuses George Henry Nettleton.46 Nettleton embraces Goldsmith’s claim that his laughing comedy is an attack upon the lifeless sentimental stage. But Raymond Williams, in his astute reading of Goldsmith’s essay on sentimental and laughing comedy, ...

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Scene Four. Contested Sites

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pp. 181-193

“It is frequently suggested by psychoanalysts and critics that performers are neurotics engaged in a programme of self-treatment,” writes Glenn D. Wilson in a study of the psychology of performing artists. He cites a 1972 psychoanalytical study of professional actors, which found they had “poorly integrated, largely hysteric and schizoid ...

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pp. 194-200

Icarius was the first mortal to whom Dionysus gave the gift of wine. The god urged him to share the secret with others, so Icarius brought wine to a group of shepherds, who drank hard and fell asleep. As Roberto Calasso tells the story, when they awoke, “The shepherds began to suspect Icarius was up to something.” They struck him with ...


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pp. 201-230


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pp. 231-238

Studies in Theatre History and Culture

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pp. 239-240

E-ISBN-13: 9781587294174

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2002