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"Teaching Shakespeare Through the Theatrical Practice of Doubling"

By Prof. Arlynda Boyer, University of Toronto

(June 2018 Issue / PDF)

The practice of close reading teaches students to see parallels between characters; to discover thematic, rhetorical, or moral themes in the text; and to understand how an author structures a text to achieve their goals. Early undergraduate students, however, are frequently nervous about their ability to close read—when a professor reveals insights that can be found through close reading, students understand and appreciate them, but they doubt their ability to make similar discoveries on their own. I use the theatrical practice of doubling and doubling charts as a way of breaking through this anxiety, to give students an imaginatively engaging “back door” of sorts into discovering thematic and structural parallels within Shakespeare’s plays.

It is now standard critical practice among teachers of Shakespeare to emphasize that the work is primarily theatrical as opposed to purely poetic or literary, as earlier eras had taught. But that insight is usually, at best, used in the service of having students act out scenes. Lifting the curtain, as it were, on backstage production strategies such as doubling performs the same function for students as it does for audiences – that is, it “serve[s] as an invitation to a ‘game,’ [which] connects the spectators with the stage and gets them truly ‘involved’ in the stage business” (Hilberdink-Sakamoto 108). Using production strategies as teaching tools—asking students to become directors rather than actors—invites students to see the plays’ dramaturgy. They begin to appreciate not only what Shakespeare did but how he did it—poetically, structurally, thematically, and theatrically.

David Bevington traces doubling practices back to medieval morality plays and interludes, observing that actors frequently doubled across moral lines, playing both a good character and an evil one, and writing that doubling was “one of the more important techniques inherited by Marlowe and Shakespeare from the native tradition” (89). Bevington carefully explicates doubling practices in several mid-sixteenth-century plays and calls their doubling strategies “flawless,” adding that in some cases, “it is nearly impossible to contrive any other arrangement of the parts that would work” (54). He cites, among others, Thomas Preston’s 1569 Cambyses, the title page of which includes a doubling chart laying out how eight men (or six men and two boys) could play all thirty-eight roles (Fig. 1).

The Cambyses doubling chart is a particularly good example for students, in that it demonstrates (without necessitating a reading of the play) several different types of doubling. At the least interesting but most practical level, there is the sort of doubling that A.C. Sprague and Ralph Berry term “deficiency” doubling, also called functional, incidental, or practical doubling (or, in Skiles Howard’s term, “indiscriminate” doubling), in which actors portraying named characters also play minor characters such as unnamed lords or gentlemen, messengers, servants, or soldiers, adding only a few lines at most to their total number of lines. In such casting, no thematic or structural parallels are intended, or are minor if they appear at all. In Cambyses, there are several small parts such as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Lords, and the trio of Huf, Ruf, and Snuf. These are divided among three players who play more important characters as their main roles, and this practice saves the acting company the expense and logistical difficulty of hiring and managing six more people to utter only a handful of lines apiece. The Cambyses chart also shows that one player takes all the women’s roles, which provides an opening to introduce the subject of younger actors—boys and apprentices—taking women’s roles in early modern plays.

But there is a much more thematically important double in Cambyses. Thematic or conceptual doubling, as Stephen Booth puts it in a much-quoted line, works “adjectivally—to

Fig. 1. Cambyses, title page with doubling chart

inform, comment on, and, perhaps, augment the events enacted” (qtd. in Hilberdink-Sakamoto 105). Tom Berger writes, “[A]n audience could see an actor in one role, could see him in a second role, and could make connections—thematic, ironic, comic, aesthetic—between the two roles” (89). In Cambyses, the drunken king shoots a child through the heart with an arrow, killing him. Later in the play, the king falls in love, at which point Cupid appears—portrayed traditionally as a child with a bow and arrow—and shoots Cambyses in the heart with his arrow, setting in motion a series of events that eventually leads to the king’s downfall and death. It is hard to imagine a staging where the dead child and Cupid are not doubled, because it makes so much thematic and dramatic sense. Indeed, the early modern title page shows exactly that: “six men may play,” it says, and one of the men/boys plays only two roles, the child and Cupid.

In lecturing on Shakespeare to second-year undergraduates, I focus on the plays as theatrical texts and talk a great deal about theatre history and early modern staging practices. While I sprinkle mentions of doubling throughout my discussion of all the plays on the syllabus, I focus on it particularly with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. At first, students—most of whom have little live theatre experience, and even fewer of whom have seen live theatre with a small-cast company that uses doubling—have trouble picturing exactly how doubling works in practice. The problem is solved by referencing an extended and complex act of doubling that they’ve all seen. Perhaps surprisingly in 2018, the answer to “How many of you have seen The Wizard of Oz?” is still virtually a unanimous affirmative. One only has to quote Dorothy near the end of the movie—“But it wasn’t a dream. It was a place. And you, and you, and you, and you were there”—and suddenly the entire class lights up with understanding and pleasure. They get that the frame story of The Wizard of Oz sets up the doubling of the Kansas characters with the ones Dorothy meets in Oz. From that moment of recognition, they begin to see that in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the entire scene in which the rude mechanicals meet for rehearsal is full of meta-theatrical jokes, many of them about doubling. Bottom’s “Let me play the lion, too,” is precisely a joke about doubling: as with his desire a few lines earlier to play Thisbe, Bottom fails to understand that he cannot double characters who are onstage at the same time as (and who interact with) his assigned character of Pyramus.

As the doubling chart for Cambyses helps to prove that early modern dramatists practiced thematic doubling, A Midsummer Night’s Dream allows one to illustrate many of the typical “rules” of doubling as well as to show students the little textual tricks and clues that it leaves behind. For example, Shakespeare’s plays are frequently broken down into separate “worlds”—the court versus the forest of Arden; Orsino’s household versus Olivia’s household; and in Midsummer, Athens versus the woods and thus the human world versus the fairy world. Some characters by necessity must move between worlds, in order to keep the play’s multiple threads weaving into a cohesive whole, and those characters are very difficult to double, because they speak to many other characters. In Hamlet, Horatio is one such character, nearly impossible to double except in the most inconsequential ways (i.e., as a single-line messenger or soldier). In Midsummer, Puck and Bottom are difficult to double because they move between worlds: Bottom appears with the rude mechanicals, with the fairies, and, in his crowning performance, before the Athenian nobles and the set of young lovers. Likewise, Puck interacts with fairies, lovers, and mechanicals. But other than Puck and Bottom, the world of the fairies never intersects with the world of the mechanicals. Other than Bottom and director Peter Quince, there are four mechanicals: Flute, Snout, Snug, and Starveling. Other than Puck, there are four fairies: Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed. When Bottom emerges from the hawthorn brake with the head of an ass, his friends run away in fright and Bottom says, “I see their knavery. This is to make an ass of me” (3.1.115).[1] While this is obviously a joke about his new condition, it is also potentially a joke—and a textual clue—about the fact that the mechanicals and the fairies can be a group double. Bottom assumes the other workers are playing some sort of joke on him, but when the fairies enter he doesn’t suspect at all that they’re his co-workers. That’s theatre magic—the same actors’ bodies, and even a line to alert you to the possibility that this will happen, but no recognition on stage of that fact. The line is purely a joke for the audience, something to give a spectator the pleasure of knowing that they are seeing theatre being made.

In talking about a moment like this, one can point out another rule of doubling: the double must allow time for a costume change between an actor’s exit as one character and his re-entrance as a different character. In modern companies that practice doubling, such as the American Shakespeare Center in Virginia, the rule of thumb is that twenty lines, or roughly one minute of stage time, is sufficient for a costume change (which also brings up the point that Elizabethan costumes tended to be rather simple affairs, as Henry Peacham’s sketch of Titus Andronicus reveals). The frightened mechanicals flee Bottom at 3.1.115, and the fairies enter at 3.1.156—a difference of forty-one lines, more than enough time for a quick costume change. What does the doubling of the mechanicals and the fairies do for the play? The two groups are opposites who are also similar: the mechanicals are “hard-handed,” probably burly, rough, and earthy—but those are all acting choices rather than inherent qualities. Fairies are light, fluttery, delicate, and airy (also acting choices, and delightful when one can see the same actors offering both in quick succession). They are also the two groups who bring a sense of playfulness, lightness, and joy to the play. Neither the fairies nor the mechanicals are there to sort out life-or-death love quadrangles and marriage ultimatums, nor are they there to worry about their respective nobles’ relationship problems. They’re just there to have fun.

Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania are another pair of potential doubles frequently pointed out by editors, and while editors discuss the structural and thematic resonances of doubling the fairy and the human royalty (such as allowing the actors playing each to maintain the same relationship with one another), they rarely discuss the practicalities of doing so, but again, such practicalities may have left a mark on the text. At first, such a doubling might seem impossible: one of the cardinal rules of doubling is that a character cannot exit the stage as one character and immediately re-enter as a different one, because audiences will fail to register a difference between the two and will read it as the same character re-entering, even truer because it precludes the time needed for a costume change. Yet at 4.1.100-3, that is exactly what happens: in rhyming couplets, Oberon and Titania reconcile and then exit, leaving the lovers sleeping on stage as Titania requests an explanation of events. Titania’s lines

Come, my lord, and in our flight,
Tell me how it came this night
That I sleeping here was found
With these mortals on the ground.

are followed by the stage direction, “Exeunt. Wind horns. Enter Theseus, Egeus, Hippolyta, and all his train,” leaving a zero-line break between Oberon/Titania’s exit and Theseus/Hippolyta’s entrance. I ask students, “How long does the music of wind horns tend to last?” Students look around in confusion, and a few venture, “Thirty seconds? A minute?” After a moment, though, a student will blurt out excitedly, “As long as it needs to!” And that, of course, is the right answer. Theatre works by sleight-of-hand: be entertained by these musicians so that you don’t think about actors backstage frantically flinging off one costume and grabbing another, and when the same actors re-enter as Theseus and Hippolyta, the audience enjoys another moment of consciously appreciating that they are experiencing theatre magic. The same thing happens again at 5.1.363-383. Theseus and Hippolyta exit, Puck comes on, speaks a soliloquy, and Oberon and Titania enter. Puck’s soliloquy does nothing to drive the plot forward. But it does last exactly twenty lines, the amount used by modern companies to cover a costume change.

There are a number of other famous doubles, some with considerable history behind them: Cordelia/Fool in King Lear, of course, is another one that may have a textual clue in Lear’s anguished line, “And my poor Fool is hanged.” In The Winter’s Tale, Mamillius/Perdita and Antigonus/Camillo are common doubles, the latter with lines that seemingly suggest the double. Early in the final act, Paulina reminds Leontes of the prophecy that the kingdom would not have an heir until “that which was lost is found.” She says

Is’t not the tenor of his oracle
That King Leontes shall not have an heir
Till his lost child be found? Which that it shall
Is all as monstrous to our human reason
As my Antigonus to break his grave
And come again to me...         (5.1.38-43)

But that which is lost is found. Perdita returns in the next scene. So Paulina’s Antigonus could come again to her. Moreover, the audience has already seen both Camillo and Antigonus at earlier moments. If the two are both contained in one actor’s body, then an alert viewer has been given a hint not only that Perdita will soon be found but that Paulina and Camillo will wind up together. Ralph Berry notes that the Polonius/First Gravedigger double dates from at least as early as 1730 (204), and his article “Hamlet’s Doubles” traces the many characters in Hamlet who appear in only the early stages (Bernardo, Marcellus, Francisco, Voltemand, Cornelius, and Reynaldo), the middle stages (Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the players’ troupe), and late stages of the play (the Gravediggers, Osric, Fortinbras, and a handful of minor characters like the Priest who buries Ophelia). Romeo and Juliet receives a good deal of attention from scholars interested in doubling. John C. Meagher suggests a Paris/Mercutio double, which explains why Paris does not seem to attend the Capulets’ ball, even though it was ostensibly called in order to introduce Paris to Juliet (13). June Schlueter agrees with Meagher’s Paris/Mercutio double, and adds, following Stephen Booth’s musings about the Prince and his “brace of kinsmen,” a triple role with the Prince as well—which creates an unresolved difficulty in how Paris’s dead body might “exit” the final scene so that the Prince can enter and wrap the play up (3-4). Giorgio Melchiori suggests instead a Paris/Tybalt double, observing that both serve as major obstacles to Romeo and Juliet’s relationship and that Romeo kills both of them (791-2). Ultimately, thinking about doubling is both structural analysis and close reading. It requires close reading to pick up on meta-theatrical jokes and lines that might hint toward doubles. But the doubles themselves suggest structural parallels between characters. In King Lear, Cordelia and the Fool speak truths to Lear that he’d rather not hear. This is why I use doubling and doubling charts (both early modern and modern, discussed below) as a teaching tool: because I hope to demystify the act of close reading and give students an imaginatively engaging way into it.

My final essay assignment to students is that they must find a workable double (or triple, if they like) from any play on the syllabus and explain to me why it is theatrically practical and what resonances/parallels/contrasts it suggests between characters. I exclude A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the assignment because throughout the semester it has been my go-to example for doubling, so I’ve already explained in some depth virtually every possible double in it. I find that the assignment helps break students free of the high-school-driven focus on plot (and plot summary) that plagues so many undergraduate papers. As they learn to close read, looking both for textual clues to potential doubles and also for parallels or contrasts between their chosen doubles, I tell them that simply dropping the language of staging gives them a solid instance of close reading. Rather than saying to a future professor, “X and Y would make a good double,” they can say, “X and Y have the following resonances between them” (earlier work in the class has taught them how to close-read the language of Shakespeare’s poetry, including rhetorical figures as well as poetic structure).

Besides being a low-stress, highly-playful introduction to close reading (students seem unanimously charmed by the notion of the rude mechanicals and the fairies as a group double), the assignment has other useful qualities. Far be it from any of our students, but the task of finding a theatrical double is virtually cheating-proof. Any themed essay on Shakespeare—love or death in Romeo and Juliet, time in Othello, prejudice in Merchant of Venice, what have you—is liable to be found in the innumerable essays-for-sale sites on the internet. None of those sites at my last check offered any euphemistic “templates” for discussing doubling. Rather, if a student begins their assignment by Googling, as they are wont to do despite our best efforts to introduce them to the university library, they will find:

The alternatives are JSTOR or Project Muse, where they can find peer-reviewed articles, and the “past productions” sections of theatre websites, once they’ve determined whether a theatre practices doubling. I am happy with either: JSTOR is a model for exemplary undergraduate research, and I know from experience that digging into theatre websites requires a considerable level of engagement and research skill. Of course, I prefer for students to envision the doubles on their own, but I am satisfied that the alternatives for those seeking an “easy” way out are at least as educational as the assignment as designed.

To help students find a double, one must teach them how theatres do the same—that is, they need to understand the backstage document called the doubling chart. When a production plans to double roles, the director or stage manager will create a spreadsheet as seen in Fig. 2, with character names as rows and scenes as columns. The version below is greatly simplified: in theatre, Shakespeare scenes as traditionally demarcated by literary editors are broken down further into “French scenes,” which begin and end at any major entrance and exit. Doing so offers a finer-grained analysis and ensures that a doubling scheme does not founder on the shoals

Doubling Chart, Antony and Cleopatra


Fig 2. Doubling Chart, Antony and Cleopatra

of a mid-scene entrance or exit that may leave an actor too little time to change costumes or may require him[3] to be in two places at once (or rather, onstage as two people at once). Thus, for example, Othello’s lengthy 3.3 would be broken down into 3.3a, from the opening to the entrance of Othello and Iago at line 28, 3.3b to the exit of Cassio, 3.3c up to the exits of Desdemona and Emilia at line 100, leaving Iago and Othello alone, and so on. I deemed French scenes too complicated for my purposes and instead used the scene breaks as given in our class text, the Orgel/Braunmuller Complete Pelican Shakespeare.

Completion of a doubling chart is simple if tedious: one begins with 1.1, and—checking speech headings and all entrances, including those mid-scene—puts an X in the column for every character who appears in the scene, including mute characters like attendants in a royal train, whose number can be flexible. When finished, the chart allows students (and directors) to see at a glance who appears in each scene, which scenes any given character appears in, and long gaps of time where an actor might be off-stage and thus potentially available to double. I ask students to complete a doubling chart for their chosen play so that once they had decided on a double, they could check to ensure that those two characters never appeared in the same scene—or if they did, that there was absolutely a clear exit and enough time to change costumes before re-entrance, at least twenty lines. In practice, I have found that most students simply choose their doubles and eyeball the play quickly. When that works, it works; but when they come up with an impossible or implausibly tricky double, I have the doubling chart to fall back on as a kind of rubric, sometimes writing on papers, “If you had checked your doubling chart, you would have seen this was a problem.” One could require students to turn in a completed doubling chart with their assignment, but in my experience the problem arises rarely enough that I find such a measure unnecessary.

Nonetheless, repeated emphasis must be laid on one of the most crucial rules of doubling: their two characters (that is, their one actor’s body) may not end one scene and begin the next, a rule called the law of re-entry. Even with a costume change, having the two characters in such close proximity causes audience confusion and often causes audiences to “read” the second character as the first character re-entering. Nevertheless, each semester I wind up with one or two papers which suggest doubles doing exactly that, and as a result, I’ve put the point in bold in my assignment sheet (see Appendix). Yes, I concede, Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania breaks this rule, but I remind students that Shakespeare could break the rule because he knew it well and fully understood how to manage problems that might arise from breaking it. He’s allowed to break it; they’re not. Most often, it seems, the character who causes this problem is Benvolio; I tell students that in some ways, finding a double is like solving a logic puzzle with clues like “Benvolio cannot be Friar Laurence” and “Benvolio cannot be Paris.” They must cross out the options that are impossible until they find the ones that work.

I tell students not to worry about age, race, or gender, in order to simplify the assignment for them and as a promise that I will not lower their grade in an argument over how old a character may be. That does potentially create some doubles that might not be Shakespearean—although it is a popular suggestion with editors, some scholars push back against the Fool/Cordelia double in King Lear, arguing that Robert Armin, the King’s Men’s fool, was far too old to play Lear’s youngest daughter.[4] But I am not asking them to reproduce early modern doubling accurately—I am asking them to see the plays as texts that are theatrically alive.

The results I have gotten from this assignment have been pleasingly imaginative and effective. In Shakespeare’s four-hundred-year stage history, most workable doubles have already been found and exploited by theatre companies, and the doubles my students find are generally among them: the witches as Macbeth’s household servants, or as the three murderers, for example. Several students have taken on the Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet—an excellent potential double in that with the exceptions of Romeo himself, Friar John, and Friar Laurence (whose entry for 5.2 is fewer than ten lines after the Apothecary’s final lines in 5.1), everyone in Romeo and Juliet can double the Apothecary. As it turns out, there are a lot of people who might have a motive, ironic or otherwise, to help Romeo poison himself.

Some of the best results I have gotten offer highly thematic doubles and creative stagings, whether or not they are “authentically” Shakespearean. One student doubled Isabella and Mistress Overdone in Measure for Measure, arguing first that such a double had comic potential and offered another way to pose the play’s key question of who is truly moral; and second that in 1.2 we’ve seen Mistress Overdone lament Angelo’s strictness and lack of mercy, so when Isabella/Mistress Overdone meets Angelo in 2.2, we’re already prepared for his inflexibility and his sexual response comes as even more of a surprise. He concluded that his double also offers an acting challenge most actresses would love. Another student considered Time’s soliloquy in The Winter’s Tale, focusing on the lines “And remember well, / I mentioned a son o'th'king's, which Florizel / I now name to you…” (4.1.21-3). She noted that of course, Time had never “mentioned” anyone before, because Time appears only once. Therefore, she reasoned, Time’s double must be a character who has mentioned Florizel earlier in the play. That narrowed her choices down to Polixenes, Hermione, and Leontes. Polixenes cannot double Time, because Time’s soliloquy is the entirety of 4.1, and Polixenes and Camillo enter at the top of 4.2, leaving my student with Hermione and Leontes, and she argued that Hermione, who spends the sixteen years that Time alludes to in a mysterious stasis, has by far the stronger connection to Time. Moreover, a Hermione/Time double makes the more poignant Time’s focus on Perdita, as Time says, “A shepherd's daughter / And what to her adheres, which follows after, / Is th'argument of Time” (4.1.27-9).

Hamlet also yields excellent thematic doubles, as theatre companies well know. Several of my students discovered theatrically common doubles such as Polonius/First Gravedigger and the ever-popular Ghost/Claudius. One student leaned in to Freud’s interpretation of the play and doubled Polonius/Ghost. Doing so, he argued, extends the incest theme from Gertrude and Claudius (and subconsciously Hamlet and Gertrude) to Hamlet and Ophelia as well, and since Hamlet cannot bring himself to Oedipally kill his father or his uncle-father, he kills instead his would-be father-in-law. Thinking very much as a director, this student offered two potential ways of staging the closet scene. If Polonius’s death takes place entirely behind the arras and Hamlet merely looks behind the arras to identify who he has killed, then Polonius’s body is never seen again—i.e., there is no re-entry for a dying Polonis after he is stabbed. This allows the actor to change into his Ghost costume and enter the same scene, having had plenty of time to do so between Polonius’s exit at 3.4.6 and the Ghost’s entrance at 3.4.101. Alternately, if Polonius falls onto the stage and is lying there “dead” between Hamlet and Gertrude, this could explain why Gertrude cannot see the Ghost when everyone could see it in its first appearance. Of course, in this alternative Polonius could not really utter the Ghost’s lines, so the student had them delivered via a booming, disembodied offstage voice (he suggested the actor playing Claudius), the invisible Ghost making Hamlet’s madness seem much realer and giving his imagined audience—at least those who recognized that the same actor was playing both Polonius and the Ghost—a brief, meta-theatrical thrill of “How are they going to handle this?” One might even suggest a horror-inflected staging in which Polonius rises from the dead, utters the Ghost’s lines as though possessed with his spirit, and collapses back dead again at Hamlet’s feet.

Finally, another student (a previously shy and underperforming one) discovered what may have been an authentically Shakespearean double. Act 4, scene 4 of Hamlet, notable for Hamlet’s final soliloquy “How all occasions do inform against me,” occurs in Q2 but not in the Folio. The revisions between Q2 and F are attributed to Shakespeare himself, but the excision of 4.4 has struck some critics as inexplicable—Amanda Mabillard on Shakespeare Online (a site frequently used by students who do not buy the class text and who hope for term-paper help from the site’s many pages of speech and character analysis) laments that “it is highly unlikely that Shakespeare would mutilate his own work by removing such an integral part of the play.” However, the excision of 4.4 permits a triple role that would otherwise have been impossible (and which still requires a bit of sleight-of-hand): Ghost/Claudius/Fortinbras. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The King is dead, long live the King.

Act 4, scene 3 ends with Claudius’ lines

The present death of Hamlet. Do it, England,
For like the hectic in my blood he rages,
And thou must cure me. Till I know 'tis done,
Howe'er my haps, my joys were ne'er begun. (4.3.64-7)

4.4 opens with the stage direction, “Enter Fortinbras with his Army [marching] over the stage.” According to the law of re-entry and the practical need for a costume change, this scene transition precludes one actor from being both Claudius and Fortinbras. But if 4.4 is cut, then Claudius has thirty lines and no need for a costume change between his closing of 4.3 and his entry into the middle of Ophelia’s mad scene in 4.5.

However, in most doubling schemes the final scene is the most difficult to manage because it is usually one of the fullest scenes in terms of characters onstage. Claudius dies in the middle of 5.2.310, a line split between Hamlet (“Follow my mother.”) and Laertes (“He is justly served.”). Fortinbras enters following 5.2.345, Horatio’s “Why does the drum come hither?” One would expect Claudius’s body to be lying on the stage along with those of Gertrude, Laertes, and Hamlet. My shy student made, and stood by, her bold directorial decision that Hamlet’s one act as king is a contemptuous gesture for Claudius’s body to be dragged offstage out of his sight. If it happens almost immediately on Claudius’s death, then the actor playing Claudius has thirty-five lines for his costume change into Fortinbras, and his triple role makes a bleak thematic statement about the futility of Hamlet’s efforts to keep this singular body off the throne, the pointlessness of regime change, and the inexorable continuance of petty politics after life-ending trauma. The triple role is possible if and only if 4.4 is cut, and that cut from Q2 to F may be Shakespeare’s own revision.

Using doubling charts and doubling practices in the classroom has turned out to be highly engaging for students, who express appreciation that they are seeing Shakespeare in ways they never did before, virtually from backstage, and they are eager to find parallels for their doubles that they might be far less confident about asserting as an act of literary criticism. According to their responses in evaluations, they leave the class feeling that the plays were opened up to them in an exciting way. They seem to agree that to double, double is no toil and trouble at all.

Works Cited and Further Reading

Berger, Tom. “Casting Henry V.” Shakespeare Studies, vol. 20 (1988), pp. 89-104.

Berry, Ralph. “Hamlet’s Doubles.” Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 2 (Summer 1986), pp. 204-12.

Bevington, David. From Mankind to Marlowe: Growth of Structure in the Popular Drama of Tudor England. Harvard University Press, 1962.

Hilberdink-Sakamoto, Kumiko. “Reconsidering ‘Doubling’: The Case of Globe on Tour's Comedy of Errors.Journal of Arts and Humanities (JAH), vol. 2, no. 6 (July 2013), pp. 105-115.

Mabillard, Amanda. “Hamlet Soliloquy Glossary.” Shakespeare Online. 15 Aug. 2008.

Meagher, John C. “Economy and Recognition: Thirteen Shakespearean Puzzles.” Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 1 (Spring 1984), pp. 7-21.

Melchiori, Giorgio. “Peter, Balthasar, and Shakespeare’s Art of Doubling.” Modern Language Review, vol. 78, no. 4 (October 1983), pp. 777-92.

Preston, Thomas. A lamentable tragedie, mixed full of plesant mirth, containing the life of Cambises king of Percia from the beginning of his kingdome, vnto his death, his one good deed of execution, after that many wicked deedes and tyrannous murders, committed by and through him, and last of all, his odious death by Gods iustice appointed. London, 1569. Early English Books Online. Durable URL:

Schlueter, June. “Tybalt in a Bloody Sheet, Paris in the Tomb: Speculations on Doubling and Staging in Romeo and Juliet.Shakespeare Yearbook, vol. 2 (Spring 1991), pp. 1-22.

Skiles, Howard. “Attendants and Others in Shakespeare’s Margins: Doubling in the Two Texts of King Lear.” Theatre Survey, vol. 32 (Spring 1991), pp. 187-213.

APPENDIX: Doubling Assignment

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

When you’re doubling, you want to think like a director, to think about characters not as names on a page, but as actor-inhabited bodies in time and space. You have a cast of twelve men and four boys. Your task is to choose a play and find one workable and interesting double (that is, a double that is possible in practical terms and that says something thematic about the play or about the characters).
First, a refresher on how to fill out a doubling chart:

Now, pro-tips on doubling:

Final, extra tip: Death is not an exit! Just because a character is dead does not mean that the actor can necessarily double another character later in the same scene, because in most cases he is lying there on the stage pretending to be dead. If a character dies and you want to use that actor again, make sure it’s in a different scene or that you are sure the body can be plausibly removed mid-scene. On the other hand, think about when a body might be just a prop. Ophelia’s body in Hamlet is brought onto the stage, but it’s shrouded. That is to say, there’s no reason for the actor playing Ophelia to be in this scene (and that is to say, they might be in the scene in a different role, if that’s what you want to do with them). That particular body in that particular moment is a prop, having no lines and no action. Ditto Tybalt in Juliet’s tomb – he’s supposed to be there, but even if a production chooses to build up a lavish set for the tomb, the actor need not be lying there pretending to be dead, when you could far more easily wrap a mannequin in a sheet and call it a day, thus freeing up the actor playing Tybalt to be someone else.

[1] All line numbers are from The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, gen. eds. Stephen Orgel and A.R. Braunmuller (Viking, 2002).

[2] It is pure coincidence, but convenient, that Smith’s article covers doubling in the same play I’ve excluded from my students’ options.

[3] I have used “he” and “him” to refer to actors in Shakespeare’s all-male company; for consistency, I will continue to do so here in this brief discussion of contemporary theatre.

[4] I find it plausible, however, that by 1608 Armin might have had a young apprentice, a clown-in-training, who could have doubled Cordelia and Fool, while Armin himself might have played Edgar/Poor Tom.

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