Shakespeare Quarterly 54.4 (2004) 467-468
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Shakespearean Entrances. By Mariko Ichikawa. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. Illus. Pp. xii + 198. $69.95 cloth.
Mariko Ichikawa's book covers exits as well as entrances. Jaques put exits first, as he put men before women, but his bawdy figures ("one man in his time plays many parts") have no place in a serious study such as this, which attempts to establish a scientific [End Page 467] model of theatrical movement on the Shakespearean stage. If it does not get much further than earlier, similar attempts, the fault lies in the basic science. We cannot say with any precision what the tiring house was like or what the area of the stage was at the Theatre, at the two versions of the Globe, or at the Blackfriars, for all that we can make informed and intelligent guesses at their likely character and common features. Expert archaeological opinion since 1989 has thrown in doubt the proposition that the large stage at the rebuilt Globe on Bankside has things somewhere near right, handsome though that building may be. On the textual side, theories about the copy behind printed dramatic texts are at the very best conjectural, while surviving dramatic manuscripts and theatrical scripts from Shakespeare's time show a puzzling range of notational practices, usually not internally consistent.
In my judgment, Ichikawa writes too little about other contemporary theatrical conditions beyond the playhouse stage and the playbook. By the early 1590s, Shakespeare is likely to have learned two things: first the perennial and inexhaustible inventiveness of actors and, second, the variable circumstances of early modern staging. If his first job was indeed with Pembroke's Men, he would have been thoroughly immersed in the work of theatrical touring, under the terms of which the size, character, and acoustics of stage and auditorium change from one week to the next. When playing Leicester Guildhall, the gravedigger scene gets cut or simplified: there certainly was no grotesque struggle with Laertes in the Hamlet acted there. The Globe probably had doors in the tiring-house wall, perhaps just like or quite like those at the modern Globe. But actual doors, doorways, or "portals," to use a Hamlet word, were far from absolutely necessary, nor was their number of determinate significance. Entry points are frequently symmetrically opposed in dramaturgy of the Shakespearean period, but even with only one entry through a permanent wall, players can invent multiple entrances through a curtain line hung a couple of feet downstage. When is a door not a door? When it's a hawthorn brake, or a gap in the hangings.
Similarly, the precise effect of entries and exits, whatever the mechanics and scoring laid down in the written text may be, can vary greatly with the grace notes added to them by performers through gesture, movement, and vocal emphasis. A slight pause, a turn of the head, a particular intensity of gaze, and the moment takes fire (or looks indulgent). A strong exit can overpower a weak entrance, as York reminds us in Richard II (5.2.23-26), in lines that indicate successive, rather than simultaneous, movement off and on to the playing space. It is the spirit of the text, we hope, which leads to these actorly interventions, but we cannot find them written down.
If one is dealing with speculative possibilities, then—Ichikawa's text is peppered with "might well," "if," "it may be that," "it is possible that"—the range displayed here is rather limited. Similar attempts to reanimate Shakespeare's stage in his own terms—by Bernard Beckerman, J. L. Styan, and Peter Thomson, for example—have wider coverage and a freer style. Ichikawa's writing has the comprehensive yet tentative flavor of the graduate thesis still about it. There is indeed much virtue in if, skillfully handled, when considering early staging; in reading this book I frequently wanted to hear rather more about rather less.
John H. Astington, Professor of English and Director of the Graduate Centre for Study of Drama, University of Toronto, is the author...