Category Archives: Reprints

Even More Shakespearean Actors and Their Props

Over the past two weeks, we looked at images of Shakespearean actors with costumes and props (see part one and part two). The images come from a 1900 book called the Shakespeare Rare Print Collection, edited by Seymour Eaton. These images help give a sense of what kinds of props they may have used at the time. This week, I am posting the final assortment of these images. Continue reading Even More Shakespearean Actors and Their Props

More Shakespearean Actors and Their Props

Last week, we looked at some images of actors in costume for their roles in various Shakespeare plays. The images come from a 1900 book called the Shakespeare Rare Print Collection, edited by Seymour Eaton. These images help give a sense of what kinds of props they may have used at the time. This week, I have some more of these images. Continue reading More Shakespearean Actors and Their Props

Shakespearean Actors and Their Props

One of my many interests is how the props used in Shakespeare’s plays have evolved over time. One way to discover what props may have possibly appeared on stage is by looking at drawings and photographs of famous Shakespearean actors posing as their characters.

The following images come from a 1900 book called the Shakespeare Rare Print Collection, edited by Seymour Eaton. Most of these actors are from the 18th and 19th century. I cannot tell whether they are posing with actual props from their performances, or if they grabbed real items just to pose for these pictures, but at least it is a starting point. Continue reading Shakespearean Actors and Their Props

Supers Must Eat, 1907

The following comes from a 1907 news article:

The supers used in big stage productions have the appetites of elephants. No food or drink used on the stage is too mean for them to neglect—provided the property man isn’t looking. They drink the cold tea as though it was really wine instead of the fake vintage. They devour the ginger cake that passes for paté de foi gras. They have even known to attack realistic papier maché grapes and ices made of cotton batting.

The play on this particular night was “Romeo and Juliet” and the scene in Juliet’s garden the pièce de résistence. The stage was filled with apple trees in bloom. White petals were scattered thickly on the cocoa matting greensward. They were not really apple blossoms, but white, pulpy popcorn, substituted for muslin flowers after many experiments, because they looked just as well and lasted longer. The fake blossoms differed from the popcorn of the candy stores in one particular. The firemen thought the pulpy corn increased the danger from fire and ordered the manager to squirt a fireproofing mixture on them.

The prompt book had this stage direction at the climax of the third act: “Romeo fights Tybalt. Murmurs off L. changing to yells. All on.” On this evening there were no murmurs, no yells, no “all” to go on. As the curtain fell, Romeo went to the stage manager, beside himself with rage.

“What the—Beg pardon—Good—Ah—,” he yelled. “Where—was—that crowd?”

“Out of business,” replied the stage manager. “They’re lying in a row down in the cellar. They ate the popcorn.”

“Supers Must Eat.” The New York Times, 16 June 1907, p. 9. New York Times Archiveshttps://nyti.ms/2LIYL5x.

Tangible Tables and Chairs, 1916

The following comes from a 1916 book and describes the evolution of furniture on the theatrical stage:

When the modern play calls for an interior this interior now takes on the semblance of an actual room. Apparently the “box set,” as it is called, the closed-in room with its walls and its ceiling, was first seen in England in 1841, when ‘London Assurance’ was produced; but very likely it had earlier made its appearance in Paris at the Gymnase. To supply a room with walls of a seeming solidity, with doors and with windows, appears natural enough to us, but it was a startling innovation fourscore years ago. When the ‘School for Scandal’ had been originally produced at Drury Lane in 1775, the library of Joseph Surface, where Lady Teazle hides behind the screen, was represented by a drop at the back, on which a window was painted, and by wings set starkly parallel to this back-drop and painted to represent columns. There were no doors; and Joseph and Charles, Sir Peter and Lady Teazle, walked on thru the openings between the wings, very much as tho they were passing thru the non-existent walls. To us, this would be shocking; but it was perfectly acceptable to English playgoers then; and to them it seemed natural, since they were familiar with no other way of getting into a room on the stage.

School for Scandal, 1778

The invention of the box-set, of a room with walls and ceilings, doors and windows, led inevitably to the appropriate furnishing of this room with tangible tables and chairs. Even in the eighteenth century the stage had been very empty; it was adorned only with the furniture actually demanded by the action of the drama; and the rest of the furniture, bookcases and sideboards, chairs and tables, was frankly painted on the wings and on the back-drop by the side of the painted mantelpieces, the painted windows, and the painted doors. In the plays of the twentieth century characters sit down and change from seat to seat; but in the plays produced in England and in France before the first quarter of the nineteenth century all the actors stood all the time—or at least they were allowed to sit only under the stress of dramatic necessity—as in the fourth act of ‘Tartuffe,’ for instance. In all of Molière’s comedies there are scarcely half a dozen characters who have occasion to sit down; and this sitting-down is limited to three or four of his more than thirty pieces. Nowadays every effort is made to capture the external realities of life. Sardou was not more careful in composing his stage-settings in his fashion than was Ibsen in prescribing the scenic environment that he needed. The author’s minute descriptions of the scenes where the action of the ‘Doll’s House’ and of ‘Ghosts’ passes prove that Ibsen had visualized sharply the precise interior which was, in his mind, the only possible home for the creatures of his imagination. And Mr. Belasco has recently bestowed upon the winning personality of his ‘Peter Grimm’ the exact habitation to which that appealing creature would return in his desire to undo after death what in life he had rashly commanded.

The set of the 'Return of Peter Grimm'

“Evolution of Scene-Painting.” A Book About the Theater, by Brander Matthews, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916, pp. 144–146. Google Books, books.google.com/books?id=89gUAAAAYAAJ.