Sunday, April 27, 2008

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

"Exit, pursued by a bear." That's how Antigonus dies in The Winter's Tale. It's the most infamous stage direction in Shakespeare, and I have a story about it.

I took a Shakespearean Comedies class as an undergraduate English major, and The Winter's Tale was one of the plays we read. To kick off the discussion, the prof asked one of the students what she thought of it.

"It was too long!" she said. Think of a Valley Girl with a Southern accent. She kinda giggled when she said it.

"Well, that's a very insightful comment," the prof said with just the right touch of sarcasm. (I myself tend to pour sarcasm on my words like A-1 on a burnt steak; this was more of a light flavoring, just enough to let you know it was there. Magnifique!)

Then he went around the room and had every single student say something about the play. There were -- oh, I dunno, maybe 80 of us. Some of the comments were more insightful than others, but you can be damn sure nobody else said "it was too long." Hick/Valley Girl just sank deeper and deeper into her chair with each non-inane comment.

I was sitting in the back row, so by the time he got to me, most of what I wanted to say had been said. But I scrounged up something to say about that odd stage direction -- something to the effect that I didn't think a modern audience would buy it, but maybe it told us something about how Shakespeare's audiences differed from us in their expectations, in what they accepted as stage reality. (Or, I'd add now, maybe they just didn't care -- maybe they sorta accepted it as a bit of spectacle.) Hick/Valley Girl sank another notch and the prof moved on.

Nobody ever made another comment like that in that class.

No comments:

Post a Comment