Tuesday, January 04, 2022

A Thought About Youths (and then perception)

I would there were no age between sixteen and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting. (Shepherd in "The Winter's Tale," Act 3, Scene 3.) 

The play is otherwise notorious for the amazing stage direction in this scene "Exit, pursued by a bear." There is endless discussion whether there was an actual bear used in earlier productions.  This is unlikely but not impossible.  Though it seems an improbable request from a playwright, my own thought is that Shakespeare was humorously challenging his friends directly. See what you can do with this, John! (Heh)"  This was not Shakespeare's first rodeo. I found a few scholars suggesting that Will had a particular producer/director in mind that he was irritated with and wanted to punish with plausible deniability. Sounds possible, but it's just speculation.

Yet in the context of the play it makes good sense. Until that moment, the play has been serious, even threatening to be tragic. Then it is suddenly comic, fanciful - a whole different mood. This stage direction is the pivot point, a suddenly jarring moment when the audience is jerked awake asking themselves "What is going on?  Have I missed something important up to this point?" It's another one of Shakespeare's "Hold my beer" moments. 

It reminded me of about half of Tom Stoppard's plays, come to think of it. There is often a moment when the audience thinks (and this is intentional) "Wait.  I thought I knew what was going on here. Now I am at sea. Which part is the play and which is the reality? Whose side is she on? Is he her stage husband or her real husband?  Or maybe...both? Is this just comic, or is this person about to die? Okay, this has got to be comedy, except..." 

While I am just pursuing idle thoughts in this vein I think someone should write the play "Exit, Pursued By a Bear." Stoppard himself, preferably. Maybe it has been done.


Grim said...

Just yesterday I encountered a Jimmy Buffet song I'd never heard before. It is about a fellow, not usually given to drinking, who was asked to check on a mountainside whiskey still and chose to imbibe a bit of the contents. He was soon filled with a divine love for every being in creation, walking or crawling, animate or inanimate.

"And that," he says, "is when I first saw the bear."

james said...

In Titus 2 Paul has a list of things the old men are to be, another for the old women, and another for the young women. For the young men he throws up his hands and says they are to be sensible. That's probably enough of a challenge.

The Globe Theater doesn't look all that huge. You could bring a bear aboard, but I'm not sure the actors would be happy about it, especially if one of them tried to tease the bear.

engineerlite said...

"Exit, pursued by a bear" pairs nicely with your previous post on Term Limits.

Mike Guenther said...

"God's Own Drunk."

I'm Gods own drunk and a fearless man.

The Mad Soprano said...

The name of the play is *The* Winter's Tale.

I remember seeing the Shakespeare: The Animated Tales adaptation a while back. They have a magnificent bear puppet for that scene with Antigonus.

james said...


james said...

BTW, does an autobiography count? David Howath: Pursued by a Bear. I don't see a lot of reviews for it online.

My wife's inclination was towards a story about wildlife photographers; mine towards a drawing room comedy in Alaska.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Mad Soprano - correct. And thanks.