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Histories and Tragedies: The Audio tapes


As a part of this course you will receive a set of three tapes. In the detailed commentary to each module of the course, you will find suggestions about specific ways of using the audio tapes: passages where the tapes are mentioned are underlined to highlight them. The overall purpose of the tapes is to give you a sense of Shakespeare as theatre, as drama not just as words on the page.

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How to use the tapes

If you wish, you will be able to listen to the tapes several times: as you read the play for the first time, as you work through the specific scenes performed, and as you revise the plays in preparation for the final exam. Audio tapes are more useful for study than video for two reasons: Some of the scenes include samples of the discussion that preceded the actual recording of each scene. In order for the actors to interpret their lines, they had to have a thorough understanding of the text, and you will occasionally hear them talking about the parts they were to play, as they made certain that they understood more fully the implication of what was being said. The explication (the second assignment) is designed to help you learn to do the same thing.

One of the main reasons why Shakespeare's plays are still so frequently performed today is that actors love to play the great roles Shakespeare created. You will realize why they enjoy them so much as you listen to the performances; it is my hope that you will derive as much pleasure in listening as they had in performing.

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The Production

The tapes were specially prepared for this course, performed by a group of actors from the Vancouver Playhouse: Merrilyn Gann, Dana Still, and Chris Gaze; the producer (who took some minor parts) was Barbara Russell, and the consultant was Michael Best. You will hear some discussion of specific speeches during the performances.

As the rehearsals progressed, it became clear to us that both actors and audience were sharing an experience in some ways similar to that of Shakespeare's actors and the original audience in the Globe Theatre. Shakespeare's actors would have had to master many parts in many plays (and not just those plays by Shakespeare himself). Shakespeare's company was small enough that in those plays that required a large cast actors would have "doubled" parts, as you will hear our actors doing in some scenes, and it was not unusual for the London theatres of the time to offer three or even four different plays in one week. In a month as many as a dozen plays might have been presented by the same actors. Thus the audience would have been accustomed to seeing the actors in many different roles; Richard Burbage, the company's principal actor, created many of the roles taken by Chris and Dana in these performances. Even more remarkably, the great roles played here by Merrilyn would have been acted by the company's principal boy actor, since women did not appear on the English stage until the Restoration. The effect for Shakespeare's audience would have been rather like our modern experience in the movie theatre where we often experience a kind of double vision, seeing the film star as well as the character she or he is playing.

  After the performance, do you refer to the character or the star when you are recalling particular moments with a friend?

Audiotape Acknowledgements

English 366D: The Video performances

One assignment in the course may involve a critical review of one or two performances of a play on the syllabus. A list of performances that are available from the MacPherson Library for home use are included in the section of this Guide on your Assignments. You may also be able to get some videos from your local video store.
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This page last updated on 28 December 2002. © Internet Shakespeare Editions, 2002.