How did they (rehearse) for Merry Wives of Windsor

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The Swan Theatre

We know relatively little about rehearsal practice in Shakespeare’s theatre. The drawing of The Swan Theatre made by De Witt which I have show above tantalisingly shows no audience so one is tempted to imagine we see a dress rehearsal which De Witt was watching. However unfortunately historically speaking it is just as lightly that De Witt simply left out the audience as it was too much trouble to draw them all in – besides his interest lay in the theatre not the people who frequented it.

We do know that – like in A Midsummer Night’s Dream each actor was given a so called ‘cue script’ so that rather than having the whole play to read each actor only had is cue line and his own lines. Thus the actor playing Sir Hugh Evans in The Merry Wives of Windsor would have been given something a bit like this for his opening scene

 

                                      It is an old coat.

SIR HUGH EVANS

The dozen white louses do become an old coat well;
it agrees well, passant; it is a familiar beast to
man, and signifies love.

You may, by marrying.

SIR HUGH EVANS

It is marring indeed, if he quarter it.

Not a whit.

SIR HUGH EVANS

Yes, py’r lady; if he has a quarter of your coat,
there is but three skirts for yourself, in my
simple conjectures: but that is all one. If Sir
John Falstaff have committed disparagements unto
you, I am of the church, and will be glad to do my
benevolence to make atonements and compremises
between you.

it is a riot.

SIR HUGH EVANS

It is not meet the council hear a riot; there is no
fear of Got in a riot: the council, look you, shall
desire to hear the fear of Got, and not to hear a
riot; take your vizaments in that.

 

It must have been strange learning your lines in the absence of the rest of the story but it did mean that when the actors came together to rehearse they would have had to listen very carefully for their cue lines. They must have worked hard because we think they had about 2 weeks from getting their scripts to the first performance….

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Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT

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