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LESLIE THOMSON Shakespeare and the Art of Making an Exit The genius that marks Shakespeare's work is apparent not just in such large matters as plotting, characterization, and language; it is also to be found in the smaller details - such as exits. In Shakespeare's use of them, exits do not merely get characters offstage, but are a means of dramatizing and encapsulating the chief concerns of a play.) While I would not insist that he was the only playwright to capitalize on exits as he does, I believe one would be hard put to find the same subtle and ingenious use of them in the plays of his contemporaries. Even in Shakespeare's work, of course, not every exit can be related meaningfully to what the play is about: some are merely necessary, and are managed as simply as possib1e; but more often than not a character's departure from the stage is both itself a visual and verbal event which is directly pertinent to the issues at stake as well as one in a series of exits that highlights the tragic, comic, or tragicomic process of a play.2 And on the stage for which Shakespeare wrote, which had minimal scenery and no variable lighting, the potential significance of exits was doubtless more apparent, and perhaps more reaL than it is today for both the playwright and his audience. Entrances and exits are necessary in most kinds of drama. There is, however, an important difference between the two events, especiallyin the early modern theatre where stage management was minimal: while entrances are controlled from the tiring house, exits must be managed from the stage by the players.3 Every playwright of the period signals exits 1 Iwould like to thankMeredithSkura for encouragingme to write this paperand forpractica] ideas about its fonnat; thanks are also due to Kent Cartwright and one of this journal's anonymous readers for helpful suggestions which I have gratefully heeded when revising. :2 My focus here is admittedly narrow in that I do not consider other functions of exits, such as how they can initiate new action, mark the segments of a play, or be related to other structural elements. These are important aspects, which have been noted and studied by others, but my concern here is with the exits themselves and, in particular, with the visual effect and thematic significance of which character manages them. To my knowledge no studiesdealwithShakespeare'suse ofexitsas Ido here, and those which mentionthis aspect of a play's structure do so largely in passing, and a1ways in the context of other matters. See, for example, the discussion of the 'exit beat' in Hallett and Hallett, 68-79. 3 There was also a bookkeeper, who seems to have acted as a part-time prompter, but he could probably not be relied on, since so far as we know he was also responsible for organizing properties and business such as offstage sounds. For a detailed study of the bookkeeper at work see Bradley. UNIVERSITY OF TO.RONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 69, NUMBER 2, SPRING .2000 SHAKESPEARE AND THE ART OF MAKING AN EXIT 541 by means of some combination of dialogue, rhymed couplet, and stage direction. Of these three, the one least required and often absent from both printed and manuscript texts is, not surprisingly, exit or exeunt. Once on stage, players were necessarily directed by the words which they and other characters spoke, as well as by the rhyming note of departure. If we take 'exit' to mean simply the act ofleaving the stage, certainly the moment was itself short; the greater opportunities for emblematic and thematic implications lay in the business of motivating and cueing a departure, when the verbal and visual could work together to punctuate the action and emphasize issues, conflicts, and relationships. Furthermore, since exits occur regularly throughout a play, the opportunity for repetition with (or without) variationwas available to be exploited. The purpose of this study is, as I have said, to show that Shakespeare realized and capitalIzed on this opportunity, and did so to remarkably subtle effect. As elsewhere in his work, the relationship between form and content - how a governing idea permeates...


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