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Sunday, May 9, 2010

When Burbage Played

Read a very interesting post today over at shakespearegeek blog, put up by a poster named "Ed". It reminded me of something I came across in my reading recently. It's a poem by Austin Dobson on Shakespeare's leading actor and a shareholder in the company, Richard Burbage. Burbage was the first to play some recognizable names in Shakespeare's list of characters: Richard III, Hamlet, Othello, Lear, and according to some scholarship, in all probability Romeo, Bassanio, Brutus, Macbeth, Antony and Coriolanus, among others. Quite a list. Not anything close to the "matinee idol"-- what we know of as a "leading actor" today, Burbage was ill-equipped physically for most of the roles he played. So Shakespeare would "cast against type" continually. But unlike today's actors, Burbage assumed the character, less interested in bringing more of himself to the role than the role to himself. Anyone who could successfully play the great range of characters in the list above didn't do it with smoke and mirrors, or makeup and special effects. Anyway, after you read Dobson's poem, read Ed's post http://blog.shakespearegeek.com/2010/05/quote-something.html
I think you'll see why it inspired the thoughts in me that it did. JM

When Burbage Played

When Burbage played, the stage was bare
Of fount and temple, tower and stair,
Two broadswords eked a battle out;
Two supers made a rabble rout;
The throne of Denmark was a chair!

And yet, no less the audience there
Thrilled through all changes of Despair,
Hope, Anger, Fear, Delight and Doubt,
When Burbage played.

This is the Actor's gift; to share
All moods, all passions, nor to care
One whit for scene, so he without
Can lead men's minds the roundabout.
Stirred as of old these hearers were
When Burbage played.
Austin Dobson

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