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What are You?': The Staging of Messenger-Function in Antony and Cleopatra.

Parergon 2008, Jan, 25, 1

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Antony and Cleopatra is the Shakespeare play in which messengers of various kinds are most vital to theatrical and dramatic communication. Not only has it the two most celebrated messenger scenes in all Renaissance drama, but among a total of some thirty-five messenger scenes (depending on how the counting is done), (1) several others are crucial to the drama. It is not surprising in an epic drama of this nature, marked by its geo-political oscillation, that the reporting of events is necessary, nor perhaps that messengers are the chosen means. But the frequency of messenger moments raises some important questions. Have the play's messengers an extra-literal function, and does their use differ from the norm in early modern drama? To attempt to answer these questions is to engage with some significant staging and performance issues. Counting the messenger scenes depends on a clear conception of what a messenger is, which the plays themselves resist. The theatrical difference between messengers (or 'couriers', as they are sometimes called) (2) and attendants, and between full-time and occasional messengers is not as clear-cut as it may seem, and this is not without its broader significance. Anthony Brennan goes as far as to see the stage as 'a sort of newsroom where accounts of actions far and near are delivered', (3) and, whether or not we pay attention to the Renaissance habit of reading emblematically, it is fairly clear that in one sense or another all dramatic characters are messengers. Frederick Turner claims that the messengers of Antony and Cleopatra are functionaries of the process of knowing in the play, 'natural symbols of knowing and what is known'. (4) This is helpful as far as their extra-literal significance is concerned--but what distinguishes functional messengers from the other characters, both literally and functionally? The first issue to be investigated will be the way in which messengers are generally recognized as such by characters (and presumably were by the play's first audiences), since this is important to meaning as well as to the drama of the moment. Did messengers on Shakespeare's stage wear denotative, or recognizable, costume? One might expect this in a period when clothes were supposedly indicative of class and occupation in life and on the stage. (5) Alternatively, was their messengerhood signalled by an accessory, or merely by manner? This matter of recognition also raises issues of agency in message and truth-giving and the lot in life of those who are nameless messengers by trade and whose messages may be resisted by their recipients. Other matters for consideration are the different classes of person (usually, but not always, male characters) used for special messenger purposes; and the opportunity for training afforded to the apprentice actors by messenger roles--which, however exalted, are usually bit parts.

What are You?': The Staging of Messenger-Function in Antony and Cleopatra.
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  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: 01 January 2008
  • Publisher: Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies
  • Print Length: 39 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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