When Burbage Played

[ Twice now in the last couple days another Shakespeare blog has linked me first while simultaneously offering something of independent value that I want to link back.  We are not all ganging up to play link exchange, it’s just kinda working out that way. ]

When I was in college writing for the theatre group known as New Voices, I had no theatre experience.  I didn’t know how to format a script.  I’m pretty sure that for my very first play I messed up “stage left” and “house left”.  What they gave us to work with was a bare stage.  Your walls were black, and your only objects were black wooden boxes.  Anything else you carried on and off with you.  If you put something on a box it was a table, if you sat on it it was a chair, if you put two together and lie down it was a bed.  That’s how I learned to write, and one of the ways that I learned to love the idea of telling your story entirely in what the characters say.

With that I point you to JM’s discovery, When Burbage Played:

When Burbage played, the stage was bare
Of fount and temple, tower and stair,

Two broadswords eked a battle out;

Two supers made a rabble rout;

The throne of Denmark was a chair!

4 thoughts on “When Burbage Played

  1. Something related to your experience.
    I co-produced a summer season of "Shakespeare in the Park", three plays for Riverside, and played my first title role, Macbeth, under much the same circumstances. A thematic costuming scheme, essential props, a few benches, a "castle wall" (already "there", 3 broadswords, and an audience of about a couple of hundred who sat on amphitheatre-type steps. It began to lightly, but steadily rain during one of the performances (not the only time it would happen during the series). The audience members put up their umbrellas but didn't move–their signal for us to go on.

    Words, words, words–especially when they're Shakespeare's–they're really all you need to tell the tale.
    Thanks for the linkback 🙂

  2. Long as we're talking verses about Burbage, this short elegy is from Thomas Middleton:

    Astronomers and star-gazers this year,
    Write but of four eclipses—five appear:
    Death interposing Burbage, and their staying,
    Hath made a visible eclipse of playing.

  3. –and from Anonymous:
    What a wide world was in that little space,
    Thyself a world, the Globe thy fittest place!
    Thy stature small, but every thought and mood
    Might thoroughly from thy face be understood.
    And his whole action he could change with ease
    From ancient Lear to youthful Pericles.

    Which Bernard Grebanier in "Then Came Each Actor" follows with: "Which is as good as a treatise on Burbage's distance from the present tendency to rearrange the character of a play to suit the personality of the actor!"

  4. Anonymous says:

    And don't forget Ben Jonson's critique of Shakespeare's stagecraft. For instance, Henry VI plays: "or, with three rusty swords / And help of some few foot and half-foot words, / Fight over York and Lancaster's long jars, / And in the tiring-house bring wounds to scars".  

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