Category Archives: Musing

Theobald’s Baobab Theatre

A Madagascan Baobab tree, which I suspect Theobald refers to when he says ‘Baricot’.

Almost a decade ago now, I spent two months of my summer holidays teaching English in Madagascar as a volunteer for The Dodwell Trust. I worked in the capital Antananarivo, in the cattle town of Tsiromandidy and in Vatomandry on the eastern seaboard. Wherever I went, I met so many extraordinary people and learnt so much. These days, I think of Madagascar often, but content myself with following the – often sad and always sparse – news that comes out of the country, and with hoping one day to go back. There is no place for Madagascar in my thesis.

Imagine my surprise, however, when I stumble across an article, written by Lewis Theobald in his journal The Censor for May 25th 1717, which caps its critique of English audience ignorance with a description of Madagascan theatre. Needless to say, this description bears a far greater resemblance to Gulliver’s Travels than to my own experience of life on one of the world’s largest islands. In all its oddity, though, it is worth copying out here for what it tells us about both eighteenth-century prejudice, and the period’s love of strange (and satirical) tales.

…without Regard either to Action or Emphasis, we take a particular Spleen to a Person, and hiss him, as oft as he appears, from no other Cause but our own idle Antipathy. It were well in this Case if we were obliged to the same Punishment, to shew the Injustice of our Prejudice, as I have read is frequent among a People in Madagascar.

The Jaribots are a Nation of Dwarfs, the Tallest of whom exceed not eighteen Inches: and the chief of their Recreation, is that kind of Drama which we understand by the Word Farce. They holllow the Trunks of their Baricot-Trees, which are of a stupendous Height and Circumference, to make their Theatres, where they pla their Comedies, which consist in merry Expressions and antick Gestures. ‘Tis remarkable that all the Spectators bring with them a Sort of Whistle made of a Reed, to hiss the Players when they perform not their Part well, or take a Liberty of Lewd Talk, or unseemly Postures. But no Man is permitted to hiss without Cause: If any do, the Audience force him to get upon the Stage, and if he can play the Part better than the Actor he hiss’d, he is receiv’d to be an Actor himself: But if he play it worse, they drive him with Shame out of the Theatre, and forbid him from that Time to make his Appearance there.

Lead Weights on Rubber Sheets

A page of Thomas More written by Hand D, supposedly Shakespeare.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve written a summary of my PhD. When I created this blog, I had five chapters (on editors, theorists, actors, illusionists, and ambassadors), and instituted blog post categories accordingly: the way they have fallen into disuse is but one symptom of the gradual evolution of this project.

The thing is, every new chapter draft I write, like a lead weight on a rubber sheet, changes the contours of everything around it. What follows at the end of this post is my current thinking, based on the current form of the thesis, drafted as three, twenty-thousand-word chapters. Continue reading Lead Weights on Rubber Sheets

Monsters

This post is so far out of the Christmas spirit that I’ve decided to put this warning at the head of it. Apologies. Continue only if you’re feeling Scroogish.

Continuing my sideline of reading whatever roughly contemporary anecdotal accounts of acting and performance I find in secondhand bookshops (e.g. Sher’s, and Brook’s), I’ve just finished volume two of Actors Talk About Acting. It was first published in 1961, and contains seven interviews with the luminaries of the American theatre of that time: Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, José Ferrer, Maureen Stapleton, Katharine Cornell, Paul Muni and Anne Bancroft. I enjoyed going through it, and shall try and get hold of volume one. Continue reading Monsters

Doing things with style

I hesitate to admit this, but it’s quite rare for me to find an academic book that I enjoy reading. Maybe it’s because I’m picking the wrong authors, or maybe it’s because I always come to these volumes with such a utilitarian mindset that I make myself capable of taking pleasure in them. Sometimes, however, I do read books of this nature as recreation, and this post is dedicated to one such text: Joseph Roach‘s It, which came out in 2007 and, to quote the blurb, travels between the long eighteenth and twentieth centuries in a discussion of “the easily perceived by hard-to-define quality possessed by abnormally interesting people”: in other words, “It”.
Continue reading Doing things with style