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Staging on the Road, 1586–1594: A New Look at Some Old Assumptions


The idea that playtexts were altered to produce shorter versions adapted to the poor conditions players supposedly found on the road was advanced by A. W. Pollard and J. Dover Wilson in 1919. Soon after, W. W. Greg expanded on their hypothesis, suggesting that traveling companies would have had to limit the “spectacular” and “elaborate” elements of their plays for provincial performance. Since then, many subsequent editors and critics have accepted this antiprovincial bias without testing its underlying assumptions. However, others have begun the process of revision, to which this study contributes by looking at the evidence provided by thirty-four plays linked to five companies of players known to have toured the provinces between 1586 and 1594. In particular, this survey shows that while some plays have only basic staging requirements, considerably more plays include just those elements that put most demands on a performance space—grand entrances, discovery scenes, action above, ascents to or descents from an upper level, and the appearance of large properties such as a throne or bed. If these staging requirements are representative of what was taken on the road by London companies, there is reason to believe that provincial performances were not quite so unsophisticated and that the places where plays were staged not necessarily so primitive as has often been claimed.

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