Stage Directions

During a rehearsal for Two Gentlemen of Verona, the actors became intrigued by the stage direction “exeunt” and its meaning. Research reveals that the word is a plural derived from the Latin of exire meaning “to go out” and is related to the more common singular word exit. The word is pronounced in three syllables: \EK-see-unt\. (Side note: “Exit” is part of Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction, “Exit pursued by a Beare.”) Here is a list of the sparse stage directions in Two Gentlemen of Verona:

Enter: indicates the entrance of a character or characters
Exeunt: indicates the departure of two or more characters
Exit: indicates a single character’s departure from the stage
Solus: indicates that a character is alone on stage
Song: indicates that a song will be sung

Shakespeare’s influence on world theatre is immeasurable. His plays have been performed, studied, researched, translated, analyzed, dissected, and reinvented countless times. Yet little is known, apart from minimal eyewitness documentation, about how a performance actually looked in Shakespeare’s day. Most of the stage directions from older manuscripts were most likely not penned by the Bard himself; rather, they were copied from early promptbooks (edited versions of the plays in which an actor might make his own notes, including stage directions). That’s the bad news; the good news is that today’s actors, directors, and designers are free to use their own imaginations as they recreate Shakespeare’s literature for modern audiences.

Do you think directors/designers should be limited by a playwright’s stage directions? Or should they be free to depart from them for the sake of the production?

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