Tuesday, August 14, 2007


This is another political cartoon from Victorian Punch, drawing, like "Exit Speech" (see post for August 8) on common knowledge of theatrical convention: here the stage henchmen lying in wait for an innocent victim. The stage brigands are recognizable portraits of government ministers. What interests theater historians are the poses and costumes.

These men are wearing a stage uniform of Romantic male gear, a mishmash of historic styles: fleshings (tights) on the legs, short trousers, 17th-century Musketeer boots, gauntlet gloves, and fancy hats with three plumes.

The attitude of ambush is stylized -- the body leans forward toward the victim, the feet are firmly planted, the arms are tightly held and bent into sharp angles with clenched fists (read determination and aggression); tension is taut in the limbs and neck. The last brigand signals a stage whisper by holding his left hand to the right side of his mouth -- not a natural pose, but certainly more visually dramatic to the audience. One is reminded of the old Disney movie Babes in Toyland where Mr. Barnaby's villains announce to each other, "Let us lurk!" before starching themselves into sinister postures and tiptoeing behind a tree.

The style is satirized here, but it tells us how audiences expected stage villains to signal plotting and violence.

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