Amphitheater Staging: In-the-Round or to the Front (and What About Asides)?


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

l A ]hen the existence in Utrecht of the DeWitt/Van Buchel drawing V V of the Swan Theater became known in 1888, William Poel was already seven years into his inquiries into the best means of staging the public amphitheater and great hall plays of the English Renaissance.1 I mention this to emphasize that the discourse came before the fact: the belief that Shakespeare's plays are best staged as it was then imprecisely imagined they had once been staged-simply, without elaborate settings or time-consuming scene changes, with direct actor-audience address, "in-the-round"-had as much to do with reactions against the late nineteenth-century stage's pictorialism, with its set-changing interruptions and cut-and-paste revisions to Shakespeare's texts, as it had to do with presenting the Bard "authentically." We might note a similar phenomenon today: the decisions to build imitation Globe Theaters in the United States, in Tokyo, and in London long predated the 1989-1990 Rose and Globe excavations, which have modified but not essentially altered a phenomenon driven by cultural ideology, not discovered fact. If DeWitt had not been copied and that copy located nearly three hundred years later, it would have been necessary to draw the Swan for him, and indeed from Poel's time through John Quincy Adams in 1920 to C. Walter Hodges and those involved in the recent "Shakespeare's Globe" reconstruction in London, scholars have speculated visually in just this way, claiming DeWitt and the other contemporary pictorial evidence as authority when it agrees with their preconceptions, arguing away whatever does not. Interestingly Adams's long-discredited designs are in many respects closer than anyone else's to what the plan of the Rose turned out to look like (only Adams thought he was drawing the Globe). This may be some comfort to those responsible for the theaters, based on Adams's work at the Folger Shakespeare Library and at least six other places in the United States.2


1 Poel's work is usually dated from his staging of the first quarto Hamlet at St. George's Hall in 1881, while the existence of the DeWitt drawing became known when it was reproduced in K. T. Gaedertz, Zur Kenntnis der altenischen Buhne (1888).

2 Andrew Gurr, "The Shakespearean Stages, Forty Years On," Shakespeare Survey 41 (1989): 1.

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