But Marjorie Garber's book Shakespeare After All
points out the we don't know this.
Neither the quarto nor the folio editions can be relied on.
The words in the plays as we know them are to a significant
extent not the words that were performed on Shakespeare's
stage, but instead reflect various corrections
and "improvements" made by subsequent editors
with a variety of purposes,
sometimes in order to make the language more
Shakespeare and Sitcoms
In a contemporary theatre, the audience sits in silence in
the dark, looking at an artfully lighted stage,
which most often gives the illusion of a room with one
The objective is to create an illusion of overheard conversation
at some fictional time and place remote from the theatre.
The drama is generally enacted under
the tacit assumption that there are no spectators present.
Shakespeare's stage was very different, jutting out into the audience with no proscenium or curtain and almost no scenery, more like a stage on which a rock and roll band might play in a stadium than like a modern theatrical stage. It fostered a style of performance in which there was ver little esthetic distance between audience and actors. This style of performance belongs to a tradition that survived in vaudeville and the English music halls, and which is much more like that of many sitcoms than of contemporary "serious" theatre.
Structurally, Shakespeare's plays also have more points of ressemblance with sitcoms (and also many movies) than with contemporary drama.
Blunder Alert! (July 2006)
On of the problems with my approach in these articles
is that it is based on close attention to the language
of the plays.
Consequently, it is based on the assumption that
we actually know, at least within a good approximation,
the texts of the plays as originally performed.
Shakespeare and the Problem
of Meaning (February, 2004)
There are two contradictory statements which one can make about
Shakespeare which I believe are equally true. One can claim on the
one hand that the thing that makes Shakespeare so difficult, and
interesting, to discuss is that there is no actual meaning inherent
Shakespeare's plays, at least if one uses that word in a fairly general
sense. One can say that meaning is purely something that comes
from the reader or
spectator of the plays. But on the other hand, one can claim that what
makes Shakespearean criticism so interesting and diverse and
controversial is that Shakespeare's plays are saturated with meaning
--- perhaps more meaning than any play could ever have the capacity to
Character and Motivation
in Shakespeare (November, 2002 & November, 2003)
Shakespeare's plays do not contain characters;
what they contain are lines of dialogue.
The characters exist only in our imagination,
due to a process of inference based on these lines of dialogue.
For the most part, Shakespeare's characters do not say the things they say because of the way they are. Instead, they are the way they are because of the things they say.
Thoughts on Hamlet
Hamlet was Shakespeare's greatest commercial success.
Since Shakespeare's audience did not come to his theatres
out of a sense of duty or in order to have an edifying
cultural experience, we must then conclude that Hamlet,
as originally performed, was entertaining.
In fact, in Acts 2 through 4, Shakespeare mostly forgot about the revenge tragedy he was supposedly writing and instead wrote a comedy about a man pretending to be crazy.
"To Be or Not to Be"
Books have been written about this, the most famous speech
in Shakespeare's plays.
There seems to be nothing about it
that critics can agree on.
In the beginning, rhythm and the style are those of oratory, not meditation. But gradually the tone becomes more and more subdued, until it finally ends with a whimper instead of a bang.
Thoughts on King Lear
King Lear was the aging parent from hell.
True, his two elder daughters weren't very nice,
but, damn it, somebody had to do something about
the old bastard.
Like Hamlet, King Lear is at least as much a comedy as a tragedy.
Shylock (Revised October, 2002)
The Merchant of Venice is a sitcom, a fairy tale,
and a Jewish joke, not at all good natured,
which gets lost on the way to its punchline.
Shylock is a villain and also a comic character
and also a victim of unfair discrimination.
No reading or performance can leave out any of these
characteristics without doing violence to the text.
It seems as though in the main plot of the Merchant, Shakespeare conflated two different stories. The first, which seems to have been the one Shakespeare felt really strongly about and which was perhaps suggested by the Roderigo Lopez case, was the story of an alien trying to survive in a society prejudiced against him. This, however, was not the sort of story that Shakespeare knew how to tell. And in any case, a story presenting a sympathetic view of heathens would have been unacceptable to many in Shakespeare's audience. So he simply mixed a little bit of this story into his primary source story about an evil usurer who tries to kill a good Christian. The fact that these stories are completely inconsistent doesn't seem to have bothered Shakespeare, who seems to have been little concerned with the things that critics have subsequently given so much attention to.
Shakespeare's Women in Drag
Shakespeare's Elizabethan audience found the idea of a woman
disguised as a male extremely entertaining.
But aside from the comedy value, there was also a homoerotic
element, as the actor playing the female role
took off his mask and gown and revealed himself
for the adolescent boy he really was.
Orsino is in love with the male disguise of Viola,
and Portia, disguised as a male, flirts with her
And everyone is in love with Rosalind,
whether she presents herself as a male or a female.
But Marjorie Garber's book Shakespeare After All points out the we don't know this. Neither the quarto nor the folio editions can be relied on. The words in the plays as we know them are to a significant extent not the words that were performed on Shakespeare's stage, but instead reflect various corrections and "improvements" made by subsequent editors with a variety of purposes, sometimes in order to make the language more "Shakespearean."