chapter  3
27 Pages

Production Values

When in Coriolanus Volumnia urges her son to use visual language in pleading with the common people, she claims, 'Action is eloquence, and the eyes of th'ignorant / More learned than the ears' (IILii.78-9). In a similar vein Hamlet complains that the groundlings 'for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb-shows and noise' (IILii.11-12). Both speakers, condescendingly, give a social value to the kind of performance that emphasizes the visual language of theatre: it gives the vulgar something to look at. It is true that popular culture had a strong visual component; but it is also true that visual language is inherent in all theatre. Giving the audience something to look at can best be seen not as a reluctant concession to the groundlings but as a creative response to an important element in popular taste, an encouragement to use resources the theatre has in any case, and to use them as skilfully and eloquently as possible. The first of those resources, and the one I want to begin with, is the stage itself.