Swordplay on Shakespeare's Stage

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  • Topic: Duel, Fencing, Trial by combat
  • Pages : 4 (1491 words )
  • Download(s) : 847
  • Published : May 8, 2008
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Hamlet Act V scene ii (170)
Hamlet: Come on, sir.
Laertes: Come, my lord. (They play).
Hamlet: One.
Laertes: No!
Hamlet: Judgement?
Osric: A hit, a very palpable hit.

This first bit of action begins one of the most famous duels in Shakespearean drama. The "hit" is nothing more than a tap on the chest that marks 1 point in favor of Hamlet. Soon the exhibition is over and the two characters are fighting for their lives, culminating in both their deaths. In reality, the actors playing the roles cannot kill each other; they have four more performances at the Globe Theatre left before the run of the show ends. So they must set a choreographed sequence that can be safely repeated each night when the time comes to perform the scene. This scene is an example of stage violence or stage combat. Any sequence of events in a play that causes physical harm and/or death to a character must be presented in a way that is safe to the actor and visually believable to the audience. The Globe’s audience craved violence and its playwrights fulfilled the need by adding many scenes that were exceedingly "action packed". The actors in the sixteenth century would have to learn how to fight with rapiers as well as any well trained nobleman and then apply it to the stage. The way they would learn the art of fencing, is through fencing schools. Over the following pages we will look at the history of fencing schools, the importance of technique to the actors onstage, and consider some of the possibilities in the catastrophe scene from Hamlet.

A Master of Arms is more honourable than a Master of Arts ,for good fighting came before good writing. - Marston. The Mountebank’s Masque. Paradox XV. 1617. (Aylward 1)

The origin of fencing schools was in Italy and soon spread to Spain and France prior to arriving in England. At the beginning of the Italian Renaissance, Italy was a popular place to do battle. As the kingdoms tried to conquer more land and riches, soldiers became more...
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