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Shakespeare’s Bear

In the play Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare, we see a stage direction that has caused mouths to drop open since the 17th century: “Exit, pursued by bear.” Those who wrote about it mostly assumed he meant an actor in a bear costume. But Tom Levenson found an intriguing footnote in the book Verdi’s Shakespeare, by Garry Wills that throws a different light on the subject.

It used to be thought that the “bear’ was a man in costume.  But scholars have now focused on the fact that two polar bear cubs were brought back from the waters off Greenland in 1609, that they were turned over to Philip Henslowe’s bear collection (hard by the Globe theater), and that polar bears show up in three productions of the 1610-1611 theatrical season….Polar bears become fierce at pubescence and were relegated to bear baiting, but the cubs were apparently still trainable in their  young state.”

Read more in the post In Praise of Footnotes. You might even start reading the fine print in your books! Link -via Improbable Research

(Image credit: Flickr user Rainer Hungershausen)

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January 12th, 2012

Stranger to the World


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