The movement in the part of Malvolio (a character produced around half-way through Shakespeare's writing life) from contemptible butt, to pathetic victim, to implacable accuser, is a triumph of affective and technical sophistication — and an achievement to which repeated cues make an important contribution. But how did Shakespeare arrive at such effects? In particular, where or when did Shakespeare recognize that the repeated cue could be used to facilitate much more than comic ascendancy or chaotic cross-purposes? Certainly Shakespeare must have long identified in the technique the thrilling, perhaps dangerous licence it gives to the actors; he will have seen how it takes the fiction to the edge, and often blurs the boundaries between one mode or mind and another; how it can bring both actor and character unusually close to the audience; how it allows for all kinds of spatial rearrangements and doubled-up perspectives. Above all, perhaps, he must have recognized a dramatic instrument of rare mobility and instantaneity, in which the experience of the actor, and the decisions he makes in the moment, can suddenly be exposed, and thereby mobilized, as never before. Seen in this way, the repeated cue offers almost an epitome of living theatre. This chapter returns to early in Shakespeare's writing life to see whether it can identify the evolution of this promise-crammed technique.
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