The SQM Doubling

The SQM doubling plots were largely driven by pragmatic concerns specific to our project and do not represent possible doublings used by the original company. Certain patterns discernable in the plays, however, are of historical interest. The lines of parts assigned to the master actors had a striking effect in performance. Paul Hopkins played romantic leads in each of the plays: the Gallian King in King Leir, Prince Henry in Famous Victories, and I had initially cast him as Friar Bacon but decided to cast him as Pince Edward in order to explore the effect of type casting within the company. The principle was also applied to the casting of Alon Nashman who took the line of clowns parts: Derrick in Famous Victories, Miles in Friar Bacon and Mumford and the Messenger/Murderer in King Leir, and to Don Allison who played King Leir and the two King Henries in the three plays. There was a real pleasure to be had from seeing the actors move from part to part and discovering ways in which the performance of one part informed the creation and development of the next and vice versa. The same effect was discernable in the performances of Julian DeZotti and is explored in detail in the Gender research module.

The casting of the clown as Mumford and the Messenger/Murderer is also of interest. Mumford is a Gallian aristocrat and therefore not an obvious choice for clowns who generally specialized in the performance of rustic characters. The term clown was initially used to denote working people from the country and only became part of theatrical language once such characters became a common feature of stage comedy. Casting a clown actor as an aristocratic character opens up comedic possibilities and it is suspected that Shakespeare wrote Falstaff for the company clown William Kempe 1. In King Leir, the character of Mumford alternates between verse and an earthy prose typical of stage clowns in the period. His points of reference are largely from the material world and his language contains many sexual puns and this makes his character a strong candidate for the clown in spite of his social class. Initially, I assigned this role alone to Alon but on further consideration I noticed that the character of the Messenger/Murderer is full of jokes, mixes high verse with colloquial and local references and, most importantly, when this character appears in the play, Mumford mysteriously disappears. Mumford is a constant companion to the prince in all scenes aside from Scene 16 where he is suddenly absent. The scene features a discussion between the Gallian King and Cordella on the subject of her father and this might be said to explain his absence. But Mumford engages in such conversations later in the play and his absence may also be due to the fact that the clown is now playing the Messenger/Murderer who appears in Scene 12 and then leaves the action for good in Scene 19. If we accept the theory that ‘dodging’ was more common in touring plays, it is interesting to look for moments where characters are unexpectedly absent and wonder if the actors were busy elsewhere playing another role.

The Adaptability of the Plays and the Company

As noted above King Leir was far easier to adapt than the other two plays and Friar Bacon presented enormous challenges that made the pressure of the first performance almost insurmountable. Our experience performing the plays with only four hours ensemble rehearsal suggests that a company would need more rehearsal time to prepare plays for performance with such complex doubling. The original company would have been more familiar with the process and maybe more adept at negotiating the first performances without much rehearsal, but the evidence of the extant plots suggest the general practice was to avoid such pressure in London. Our problems with recruitment forced us to make last minute changes to the casting of the plays, which proved relatively easy for the plays concerned although it increased the pressure on the actors.

The company proved increasingly adaptable as they became more familiar with the plays and the process. The adaptability of the SQM company to changing personnel was also facilitated by the actors' use of 'parts', a practice that effectively divides a play into constituent units. Changing the actor playing one 'part' did not change all the others, your acting partner may change, a line may be spoken by a different character, but your cues and your lines remain the same and, if the new actor is capable and knows his lines and cues, it is possible to run the scene without significant rehearsal, if any.  If more substantial changes were necessary and lines needed to be cut or added, the actor might do so on his part focusing his attention only on what pertains to him. The part is a device that keeps the actor focused on his own responsibilities alone and contains the effect of changes to company personnel.

David Wiles, Shakespeare’s Clown, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).