The Fourth Book I've Read in 2020.

Books Via internet purchases and library lending, I now have complete set of Arden 3s so that's me set for reading material for the next few months. Already patterns are emerging at least in terms of my interest. The sections of these books I'm finding easier to approach investigate the textual origins and editing of the plays, sources, production histories and dating.  The pure literary criticism is hard to take, although this edition resourcefully reflects it by providing performance examples.

This edition's editor Juliet Dusinberre offers a very persuasive argument that As You Like It was originally performed at court on Shrove Tuesday in 1599 based, amongst other things, on Touchstone's line about pancakes and mustard which she argues would only have been even half funny if the crowd were eating exactly that and a contemporaneous epilogue jotted down by an audience member which offers a logical replacement for the usual if they were addressing the Queen.

There's also a fascinating discussion in the appendices about which actor in the original company played each role. Shakespeare was writing them with a particular actor n mind so it's possible to extrapolate casting based on external evidence from other play texts and role calls in other publications.  Depending on where you fall with the dating, Touchstone was either played by Will Kemp or Robert Armin.  The former was more clownish and slapstick, the latter droll.

It's still sobering to reflect that Rosalind, who has the largest number of lines in the play and more than most female roles across Shakespeare was played by a fifteen year old boy.  The introduction also reflects on how they would have had to cope with the complexity of being a boy actor playing a woman or pretends to be a man who then pretends to be a woman.  Whoever that was must have been very gifted indeed.

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