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‘Is this the promised end?’ ( King Lear, 5.3.238): The Stagecraft of Shakespeare’s Endings 14.10.13.

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Presentation on theme: "‘Is this the promised end?’ ( King Lear, 5.3.238): The Stagecraft of Shakespeare’s Endings 14.10.13."— Presentation transcript:

1 ‘Is this the promised end?’ ( King Lear, 5.3.238): The Stagecraft of Shakespeare’s Endings 14.10.13

2 Prologue: Hamlet gets jiggy Why, let the stricken deer go weep, The hart ungalled play, For some must watch, while some must sleep, So runs the world away. (3.2.234-237)

3 Would not this [his performance of the song], sir, and a forest of feathers, if the rest of my fortunes turn Turk with me, with two Provencal roses on my razed shoes, get me a fellowship in a cry of players, sir?

4 The Eschatology of Endings (eschatology = a. The department of theological science concerned with ‘the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell’.) ‘I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say a made a good end ’. Ophelia, 4.5.182

5 The Eschatology of Endings ‘The world is a stage, life is the play: we come on, look about us, and go off again’. Democritus (4thC BC) God is the ‘Author of all our Tragedies,’ a playwright who ‘hath written out and appointed what every Man must play’. ‘Death is the end of the Play, and takes from all’. Sir Walter Ralegh, History of the World (pub.1614)

6 Hardwiring? Birth, copulation and death That’s all the facts when you come to brass tacks Birth, copulation and death ‘Sweeney Agonistes’, T.S. Eliot 19 of Shakespeare’s plays feature the death of a major character within the last seven minutes or so of stage action. Most of the other half end in the prospect of marriage and/or some form of reunion or reconciliation

7 A Theory of Endings? Our composition must be more accurate in the beginning and end, than in the midst; and in the end more, than in the beginning; for through the midst the stream bears us. Ben Jonson, Discoveries (pub.1641) Accurate = 1. Executed with care; careful.

8 Shakespeare’s Careless Endings? In many of his plays the latter part is evidently neglected. When he found himself near the end of his work, and in view of his reward, he shortened the labour to snatch the profit. He therefore remits his efforts where he should most vigorously exert them, and his catastrophe is improbably produced or imperfectly represented. Samuel Johnson, 1765

9 Theatre as durational art form Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, So do our minutes hasten to their end; Each changing place with that which goes before, In sequent toil all forwards do contend. Sonnet 60

10 The Craft of Endings: some questions and tentative answers 1) How long does an ending last? Final scene average: 240 lines or c.16 minutes (working on assumption that it takes roughly one hour to speak 900 lines at pace) 2) What is the average length of the closing speech act? 9.25 lines Contrast genre; compare Macbeth and Richard III: final scenes are the shortest in the canon and are near-identical – the tyrant has been slain and his successor defines the terms of the regime change; as Malcolm says, ‘We shall not spend a large expense of time’ and neither he nor Richmond do – 41 lines to be exact. Detailed example: The Taming of the Shrew…

11 The Ending of the Shrew

12 EPILOGUE TO TAMING OF A SHREW Then enter two bearing of Sly in his own apparel again, and leave him where they found him, and then go out. Then enter the Tapster. Tapster. Now that the darksome night is overpassed, And dawning day appears in crystal sky, Now must I haste abroad. But soft, who's this? What, Sly? oh wondrous, hath he lain here all night? I'll wake him; I think he's starved by this, But that his belly was so stuffed with ale. What, ho, Sly? Awake for shame! Sly. Gi's some more wine! What's all the players gone? Am not I a lord? Tapster. A lord, with a murrain! Come, art thou drunken still? Sly. Who's this? Tapster? Oh, lord, sirrah, I have had The bravest dream to-night, that ever thou Heardest in all thy life! Tapster. Ay, marry, but you had best get you home, For your wife will course you for dreaming here to- night. Sly. Will she? I know now how to tame a shrew! I dreamt upon it all this night till now, And thou hast waked me out of the best dream That ever I had in my life. But I'll to my wife presently And tame her too, and if she anger me. Tapster. Nay, tarry, Sly, for I’ll go home with thee, And hear the rest that thou hast dreamt to-night. Exeunt Omnes.

13 The Ending of Shrew v The Ending of the Dream A Midsummer Night’s Dream : a play which doesn’t quite know how to stop, offering a superabundance of closural devices – bergamask, Theseus’s apparently concluding ‘off to bed’ speech; the dance of the fairies with Oberon and Titania… and, finally,… Puck’s epilogue.

14 The Craft of Endings: some questions and tentative answers 2) What is the average length of the closing speech act? 9.25 lines 3) Who speaks it? A male character not impossible that the same actor played Fortinbras, Edgar, Malcolm and Octavius Caesar – the last of whom closes both Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. The case is altered with the Romances – largely because the established authority figure and the lead actor has survived the plot: it was presumably Richard Burbage – as Pericles, Leontes and Prospero – who enjoyed the privilege of vocally closing those late plays.

15 The Craft of Endings: some questions and tentative answers 4) What time elapses between the death of a major character and the end of the play? Average = 64 lines In Shakespeare’s two earliest tragedies – Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet – more than twice the average length expires; notoriously in Romeo the Friar alone spends 31 lines telling the audience what it already knows: ‘I will be brief’! In mature tragedies Othello and King Lear, only 16 lines, roughly 1 minute, elapses between the death of the titular hero and the death of the play. The final tragedy Coriolanus is comparably terse and abbreviated. 5) How many plays end in rhyming couplets? Approx. 75% or three in four

16 The Craft of Endings: some questions and tentative answers 6) How many plays end with the promise of offstage discussion? At least 14 7) How many plays end with an epilogue or a jig ? Impossible to say, but 10 epilogues survive in print Thomas Platter: September 1599: went to ‘the house with the thatched roof’ and watched ‘the tragedy of the first emperor Julius Caesar’: “At the end of the comedy, according to their custom, they danced with exceeding elegance, two each in men’s and two in women’s clothes, wonderfully together.”

17 Plays within plays – various models of endings Henry IV, 1 : Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world. I do, I will. [ Knocking within ] Hamlet : Polonius: Give o’er the play Dream : Bottom: Will it please you to see the epilogue or to hear a bergamask dance between two of our company Theseus: No epilogue, I pray you; for your play needs no excuse.

18 The new puritanism? For a variety of reasons theatrical professionals continue to be unsatisfied with the closing moments of Shakespeare’s plays as scripted in the Folio and the Quartos, so that a playgoer is especially likely to encounter some form of rescripting in Act 5. (Alan Dessen, Rescripting Shakespeare, p.109)

19 Henry Irving’s end to Hamlet: Good night, sweet Prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest… Whiles I behind remain to tell the tale Which shall hereafter make the hearers pale.

20 The theatre’s defence against puritanism: A production is only correct at the moment of its correctness, and only good at the moment of its success. In its beginning is its beginning, and in its end its end. Peter Brook

21 UNEXPECTED ENDINGS…

22 Epilogue: Endings in the early modern theatre had a theological dimension Far from being careless, Shakespeare deliberately experimented with different forms of dramatic (non)closure throughout his career, sometimes providing more than one ending for the same play (e.g. Lear ) Shakespeare often embeds an interpretive (and post-performance community-building?) injunction at the end of his plays The playtext is a radically incomplete form of writing and the performance does not end with language This incompletion demands that theatrical practitioners exceed the text and shape their own endings

23 It’s hard to say exactly when the performance ends (applause; exiting the theatre; memory) In the modern theatre, the ending is one of the key moments in which the director asserts her authority / interpretive stamp on the production – watch closely tonight during the closing minutes of Titus… [All statistics should be treated with caution and require interpretation]

24 Offcuts

25 King Lear – Quarto (1608) Lear. And my poore foole is hangd, no, no life, why should a dog, a horse, a rat of life, and thou no breath at all, O thou wilt come no more, neuer, neuer, neuer, pray you vndo this button, thanke you sir, O, o, o o. Edg. He faints my Lord, my Lord. Lear. Breake hart, I prethe breake.

26 King Lear – Folio (1623)


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