Stage Studies. An unsigned review of Pre-Restoration Stage Studies and The Physical Conditions of the Elizabethan Public Playhouse, by William J. Lawrence
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298 ] Stage Studies An unsigned review of Pre-Restoration Stage Studies, by William J. Lawrence Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP; London: Milford, 1927. Pp. 427. The Physical Conditions of the Elizabethan Public Playhouse, by William J. Lawrence Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP; London: Milford, 1927. Pp. viii + 129. The Times Literary Supplement, 1349 (8 Dec 1927) 927 The name of Mr. W. J. Lawrence stands very high in contemporary scholarship of Elizabethan drama.1 In the scholarship of textual criticism he has several equals, and a few superiors; but in the particular field of these two books he is easily ahead in learning, in fertility of conjecture, and in the variety and interest of his topics. He seems to have read, with great pains, a greater number of inferior sixteenth and seventeenth-century plays than anyone living; and out of this mass of matter, and from other sources, he has arrived nearer than anyone towards the reconstruction of the conditions under which Elizabethan plays were played. The Physical Conditions of the Elizabethan Public Playhouse, a small book, is an attempt to establish the structure of a typical public playhouse of the end of thesixteenth century. (The“public”theatrewaslargeandopen, the “private” theatre smaller and enclosed, otherwise both theatres were equally accessible to the public). Mr. Lawrence reminds us that there was no standard type of playhouse during his period; for along with a tendency towards uniformity there was also continuous development and change. Mr. Lawrence’s conclusions are not all of the same rank of validity, as he is quite well aware; but even when they are not convincing they are usually plausible. Among other popular fallacies he disposes of the belief (due to old prints of London) that the Elizabethan theatre was of great height. We feel sure that he is right in explaining the height given to playhouses on the plans of London by the desire of the mapmaker to show his customers clearly the situations of these popular places of resort. The dimensions of [ 299 Stage Studies the Fortune, according to Mr. Lawrence’s calculation, must have been about forty-one feet in height by eighty feet square.2 The book is full of interesting rectifications of this sort. Our only complaint against it is that it might have been provided with more diagrams; the reader is obliged to take paper and pencil in order to visualize some of the constructions described in the text. Pre-Restoration Stage Studies is an assemblage of various studies of Eliza­ bethan stage technique, and is a book both more interesting and more important than the other for the general student of the dramatic literature of that time. Whether we agree or disagree with Mr. Lawrence’s several conclusions and conjectures (and he has modestly admitted himself that “there are mysteries concerning the physical disposition and the customs of the old platform stage which obstinately refuse to yield their secrets”),3 he has at least successfully established the importance of this branch of study even for those readers who wish merely to understand Shakespeare as literature . It is impossible in the space of a review to discuss or even to sum up the contents of all these sixteen papers, but mention of two or three will serve to show the interest of all. Four of the most interesting of these studies are “The Practice of Doub­ ling,” “Hamlet as Shakespeare Staged It,” “Stage Traps,” and “Elizabethan Stage Realism.”4 It is, of course, well known that “doubling” of parts was pretty frequent – we are ourselves accustomed to see Polonius turn up again as the Gravedigger; but no one has driven home so neatly as Mr. Lawrence the essential nature of this doubling – the fact that plays, and the plays of Shakespeare as much as those of anybody else, had to be written to fit the number of the company. In fact the Elizabethan method of playwriting was very much the Crummles method: writing the play to use the pump.5 Mr. Lawrencegivesalistofplays,datingbetween1533(Heywood’sInterlude of the Wether) and 1598 (Mucedorus), for which the number of players available is recorded.6 In one case (Tyde Taryeth for No Man) no fewer than eighteen parts had to be taken by a troupe of four players.7 Obviously such conditions affected the dramatic plots of the Nicholas Nicklebys of the time.8 In another essay (“The Complex Disguise Play”) Mr. Lawrence puts forward,onexcellentgrounds,thetheorythattheplayerswhohadtoappear in several disguises during the course of a play did not...


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