From the Globe Theatre to the World Wide Web
Edited By Stefani Brusberg-Kiermeier and Jörg Helbig
Carol Banks (Lancashire): Picturing Shakespeare's plays - 73
CAROL BANKS Picturing Shakespeare's Plays Shakespeare, although revered as a poet and playwright, was also a contributor to the visual arts, for his primary medium – the audio-visual art of drama – conveys meaning by sight and sound; in performance the play-text becomes a continuous talking picture which is both seen and heard by the listening viewers, an "audience" of "spectators". The visual and verbal components in drama can operate almost independently of each other: at times words alone seem all important, whilst at others meaning may be conveyed purely by sight. Interestingly, for Hamlet (arguably the most famous of all Shakespeare's characters) "the purpose of playing" was to visualise rather than verbalise morality: "to hold as 'twer the Mirrour vp to Nature; to shew Vertue her owne Feature, Scorne her owne Image" (Hamlet 1868-71, my emphases).47 Thus, Hamlet's dramatic production, The Murder of Gonzago, is a dumb show, a visual display without words. The power of sight over sound was similarly recognised by contemporary audiences. Henry Jackson, a spectator at a production of Othello in 1610, registered the superiority of the silent visual image over the spoken word when he observed that although Desdemona pleaded her cause superbly throughout, nevertheless she moved [us] more after she had been murdered, when, lying upon her bed, her face itself implored pity from the onlookers. (Norton Shakespeare 1997: 3336) Shakespeare's consciousness of the power of the image is further demonstrated when, in situations where it is impossible to show a particular scene on...
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