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As I mentioned in last Tuesday’s post, I’m currently in a production of Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT. Which, of course, makes this the perfect time for me to go over John Philip Kemble’s version of the play — which was the version used at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden during the Regency, and was also published and sold (for eighteen pence a copy).

So, what changes did the great actor/manager/director (pictured here) make to Shakespeare’s text?

I was delighted to find that the answer is, very few!

Let’s start with what Kemble left in. The following are words and phrases that Kemble clearly thought acceptable for general audiences to hear and read: damn’d, damnation, bastard, foul, slut, puking, belly, stomach, body, bawdry, udders, country copulatives, virgin, maid

The most vulgar speech that I could find that he left in was said by Touchstone the Fool, who is pretending to scold a shepherd for the immorality of his profession:

That is another simple sin in you: to bring the ewes and the rams together, and to offer to get your living by the copulation of cattle: to be bawd to a bell-wether; and to betray a she-lamb of a twelvemonth, to a crooked-pated, old, cuckoldy ram, out of all reasonable match. If thou be’st not damn’d for this, the devil himself will have no shepherds…

Some of the cuts (most of them quite short — a line here or there) were, as far as I can tell, just for length, or occasionally to cut an obscure passage. Some, though, were probably for the indelicacy of the topic, or the vulgarity of the phrasing — but even this seems not to be invariable. Touchstone talks a fair amount about horns (a constant joke in Shakespeare’s plays, where all men seem to eternally fear being cuckolded), but a couple lines of Rosalind’s joking about horns was cut. Perhaps in this case, the jokes themselves were not too warm, but the character of Rosalind was now thought to be too refined to make such jokes?

And yet Rosalind did keep some of her suggestive lines. Kemble left in the passage which reads:

ROSALIND: … till you met your wife’s wit going to your neighbor’s bed.
ORLANDO: And what wit could wit have to excuse that?
ROSALIND: Marry, to say,–she came to seek you there.

On the other hand, Kemble cut the passage:

ROSALIND: I prithee take the cork out of thy mouth, that I may drink thy tidings.
CELIA: So you may put a man in your belly?

Other passages that were presumably cut for indelicacy include:

CELIA: You will cry in time, in despite of a fall. (This is a double joke, referring to both sex and childbirth)

TOUCHSTONE: He that sweetest rose will find, must find love’s prick and Rosalind.

Also cut was a longish passage in which Touchstone and the shepherd compare a shepherd’s greasy hands (due to handling ewes’ “fells”) and a courtier’s hands, perfumed with civet (“the very uncleanly flux of a cat.”)

Kemble invariably cut “God” (e.g. “I thank God” and “God save you”) and changed it to “heaven” (so: “I thank heaven” and “Heaven save you”) — so I presume this was consistently done on the Regency stage.

Well, that’s AS YOU LIKE IT as Kemble liked it! Hope you liked it too…

Cara King,
MY LADY GAMESTER — out now from Signet Regency!

Posted in Regency, Research | Tagged , | 4 Replies

My only real hobby — besides reading books, buying books, going to libraries, buying more books, wishing I had time to read them, trying to find room to store all my books (all of which is not a hobby, after all, but an obsession, or, if I stretch things a bit, a part of my career and therefore all of it quite necessary) — sorry, where was I? Oh yes . . .

As I was saying (or trying to say, before my book habit got in the way, as it always does) — as I was saying, my only real hobby is acting. I particularly love Shakespeare. At the moment, my husband and I are in a production of Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It at Caltech. I’m playing Celia, the Duke’s daughter who runs away to the Forest of Arden, and Todd plays Oliver, a villain who reforms and (coincidentally) falls in love with Celia.

Now that I have my lines memorized (and there are a lot of them — Celia is quite a nice role) — I can read John Philip Kemble’s version of the play and tell immediately which lines he cut, and which words he changed. Quite fun!

Kemble was in charge of the Theatre Royal Covent Garden before and during the Regency, and he was one of its top actors too. He was most respected as an actor when playing tragic roles, particularly noble Romans, but he also appeared in comedies. When he was young, he sometimes played Orlando — and when he got a bit older, he often played the melancholy Jaques (who has the famous speech “All the world’s a stage . . .”)

Mrs. Jordan, nowadays better known as the long-time mistress of the Duke of Clarence (one of King George III’s sons, who later became King William IV) and the mother of many of his children, was the most popular comedic actress of the time. She frequently played Rosalind, but by the Regency proper was too old — and too large — to play a young lady who disguised herself as a boy.

Then again, if you look at the engraving here by Bunbury, you will see that even when she was young, the lovely Mrs. Jordan did not possess what we would call a “boyish figure.” Indeed, one can tell from the way the artist drew her that seeing her curvaceous figure in men’s revealing clothing was something that the men found quite pleasing…and so few of the men would have likely complained that the delicious Rosalind would never have passed for a boy with that shape…

Next week, I’ll talk about Kemble’s version of the play — and which lines were too naughty (and which weren’t) for Regency audiences . . .

Cara King,
MY LADY GAMESTER — out now from Signet Regency!!!

Posted in Regency, Research | Tagged , | 7 Replies

I find Shakespeare fascinating. Shakespeare has been hugely popular on British stages almost non-stop since his own time, and the Regency was a high point for Shakespeare in many ways. Of course, the Regency Shakespeare wasn’t exactly like our Shakespeare….and certainly it wasn’t Shakespeare’s Shakespeare…

Here we have two pictures of the reconstructed Theatre Royal, Covent Garden — where John Philip Kemble produced and starred in many of Shakespeare’s greatest works. Kemble’s sister, Sarah Siddons, was one of the theatre’s biggest draws, and had a following so passionate it was almost religious. (After the theatre pictures, we have two pictures of Kemble, one of Siddons, and one of Kean.)

What fascinates me most are the differences in the Shakespeare plays in the different periods. When I researched my workshop “The Regency Joy of Sex (Drugs & Gaming Hells)” for this year’s Romance Writers of America national conference, I was most intrigued by the changes made to Shakespeare’s text in the period — and the changes that weren’t made. In other words, what parts of Shakespeare they found taboo (or, in Regency parlance, “indelicate”), and which were acceptable for a theatre audience comprising men, women, and children drawn from all classes.

So what was acceptable? When John Philip Kemble edited Shakespeare’s text, here are some words he left in: virgin, adultery, fornicatress, naked, damned incest, bosom, virgin-violator, bastard, deflowered maid. (However, in one passage, “virginity” was changed — implying the word “virginity” was more shocking than “virgin”, which at the time didn’t necessarily have the purely sexual meaning we attach to it.)

So what was taken out? The most common change I found was the invariable changing of the word “body” to the word “person.” It seems the Regency folk didn’t really mind sex, or talk about sex, but some words they found too gross, too vulgar, too indelicate — and “body” was one of them. (Versions of the Bible in this period also took out the word “body” and similar words.)

In one passage, “virginity” becomes “honour.” The word “lechery” becomes “wenching.” One passage from “Measure for Measure” was cut and rearranged thus:

SHAKESPEARE’S ORIGINAL: Why, what a ruthless thing is this in him, for the rebellion of a codpiece to take away the life of a man!
J. P. KEMBLE’S VERSION: Why, what a ruthless thing is this in him, to take away the life of a man for–

Ah, yes, the telling “trailing off” trick. (Too true!)

Is anyone else fascinated by Regency Shakespeare? Any questions? Comments? Favorite plays? Plays you wish you could see the Regency versions of? Or any comments on the topic of bowdlerism in general? (Though the term did not yet exist, and Bowdler was only getting started in our period…)

Cara King, MY LADY GAMESTER — out now!!!
for more info on Regency theatre, see
for more info on Regency private life, see

Good morning/afternoon everyone. I’m recycling a blog post from October 25, 2007 today, the anniversary of two major battles, neither of which have anything to do with the Regency period.

In 1415, Henry V won the Battle of Agincourt, one of the attempts by England to get a foothold in France (and am I the only person who prefers the Olivier version over the Branagh film?).

And in 1854, thanks to bungled orders, political infighting among officers, and the famed stiff upper lip, the Charge of the Light Brigade took place, when the 13th Hussars charged directly into enemy guns during the Crimean War. As a French general commented, “C’est magnifique mais ce ne pas la guerre.” (Roughly translated as: it’s magnificent, but not war. Well, it sounds better in French.)

I’d hazard a guess that we remember these events by the two poets who immortalized them rather by the history. Here’s an excerpt from the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech by Shakespeare:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Tennyson, another master of the soundbite, immortalized the Charge of the Light Brigade, a peom that, if you are an English person of a certain age, you had drummed into you at school, or at least the more quotable bits of it:

Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

I wonder if we would remember these two events–the English tried for a couple more centuries to claim bits of France, but failed; and the famous Charge was a tactical blunder of monumental stupidity–if it weren’t for the poets.

And a reminder that the contest to win one of my books about Jane Austen as a vampire is still open at Dark Jane Austen. Now I must go and write. What are you up to today?

Posted in Research | Tagged , , | 2 Replies

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Hope everyone’s weekend was good–I went on a writing retreat with a few friends, where we all sat down and worked on our WIPs during the day and went out to eat and gossip in the evening, which was wonderful fun and very productive besides. Sometimes at home it can be hard to concentrate, but when I’m accountable to people for my progress I tend to get more done. Plus spending time with friends–a bonus!

One aspect of writing that can be not-so-fun sometimes is reviews. Good, bad, wrong, right, whatever, if you’re a writer (even unpublished) you will get them. I’ve been reading a funny new book called How Shakespeare Changed Everything by Stephen Marche. It claims that “…Shakespeare permeates our everyday lives: from the words we speak to the teenage heartthrobs we worship to the political rhetoric spewed by the twenty-four-hour news cycle.” For instance–Shakespeare coined over 1700 words, including abstemious, accused, addiction, amazement, anchovy, assassination (and that’s just a few of the A words!). One chapter I found interesting talks about how Tolstoy hated Shakespeare, loathed him, and in fact wrote a whole book (Tolstoy on Shakespeare) about why Shakespeare was so horrible. See–everyone gets bad press sometimes….

It seems Tolstoy, when he met Chekhov (whose characters are rather Shakespearean in their complexity) “Shakespeare wrote badly, but you’re worse still!”. In his book, he had these main complaints about Shakespeare’s plays:

1) “Shakespeare’s bad technique. He finds the characters weak and spoiled. He finds the language overblown and exaggerated.”

2) “Shakespeare’s amorality.

3) “Shakespeare’s lack of religion.”

In other words, according to Marche: “Shakespeare is a messy writer in which virtue and vice are fluid and no definite conclusions about God emerge. And he is absolutely correct.” Just one of the reasons Shakespeare appeals in every time period and to all sorts of people, I suppose. “The reason we love such a messy writer, with a contingent sense of right and wrong and a vague attitude toward the ultimate meaning of the universe, is that we are messy, and the ultimate meaning of right and wrong is contingent…’It depends’ is the accurate answer to most questions…Tolstoy objected to the messiness of Shakespeare’s means and purposes.” Tolstoy also objected to the complicated endings of the plays and Shakespeare’s loose sense of time and place.

So even Shakespeare has people (even people as important as Tolstoy!) who don’t like their work. 🙂 But I definitely recommend Marche’s book, which is a lot of fun. (And I like to read both Shakespeare and Tolstoy…)

What have you been reading this week?? What are some of your favorite “messy” Shakespeare plays?

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