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Title: Noble Imps : Shakespeare's Child Characters
Author: Knowles, Emily Katherine
ISNI:       0000 0004 2670 8226
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2008
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This thesis explores the presentation of the boy characters in Shakespeare's Richard III, King John and Macbeth, examining their performance history on stage and screen and considering the ways in which elements of their characterisation have been emphasised or suppressed at various moments in history in order to reflect the prevailing image of childhood. It has, therefore, three areas of focus: an evaluation of the boys as they appear in the playtext which re-assesses the complex and varied dramatic functions of these often over-looked characters; an extensive investigation of the performance history of the three plays from the eighteenth to the twentieth century; and an examination of the shifting historical attitudes towards children and childhood which have shaped the production and reception ofthe plays. There are striking similarities between these three plays: all present noble or royal boys whose political and dynastic significance is set in sharp contrast to their immaturity and physical vulnerability, and in each case the death of the child signals the tyranny of the protagonist and sets in motion his downfall. Yet despite such parallels, the plays present varied depictions of boyhood, and this variation is reflected in the plays' stage history: each drama has proved particularly popular, or of special interest, during one specific historical period, and the transformations the plays have undergone in performance are revelatory of that era's particular ideal of childhood. For example, Colley Cibber's popular eighteenth-century adaptation of Richard III transformed the characters of the princes in the tower, expunging their Shakespearean precocity and accentuating their vulnerability. These alterations reflect both the heightened sentimentality which began to be associated with childhood during this period and also the increased emphasis on the affection between parents and children that accompanied the rise ofthe nuclear family. Never very popular on stage before or since, King John was an established favourite of the nineteenth century and the child Arthur was at the centre of its popularity. This thesis argues that Arthur's mildness, meekness, innocence and docility resonated with the Victorian image of the ideal child, particularly as it came to be presented in the fiction of writers and novelists such as Charles Dickens. It also examines the Victorian appetite for fictional deaths of children and situates Arthur's popularity in relation to this trend. Twentieth-century productions of Macbeth, in contrast, are reflective of a growing fear of 'evil' or criminal children. Late twentieth century visions of the play have increasingly emphasised children's potential for evil: Polanski's 1971 film included a dream sequence in which Fleance attempts to murder Macbeth, Adrian Noble's 1986 production doubled the actors playing Macduffs children with the apparitions conjured by the witches, effectively tainting the innocence of the Macduff 'babes' and implicating them in the evil that pervades the play. Finally Penny Woolcock's 1996 TV film Macbeth on the Estate cast 'weird children' as the witches, placing childhood at the root of the destruction at work in Macbeth. Thus this study demonstrates that the children of Richard III, King John and Macbeth have been a crucial factor in the performance history ofthese plays over the centuries: prevailing ideals of childhood have influenced both the production and reception of these plays, and an examination of the history of these dramatic boys reveals the extent to which concerns about childhood and children have found expression, and continue to find expression, through the performance of these varied and fascinating characters.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available