Alan Dessert samples about four hundred manuscripts and printed plays to record the original staging conventions of the age of Shakespeare. After studying the stage properties, movements and configurations implicit in recurrent phrases and stage directions, he concludes that Elizabethan spectators, less concerned with realism than later generations, were used to receiving a kind of theatrical shorthand transmitted by the actors from the playwright. Professor Dessert both describes this shorthand (e.g. the use of nightgowns, boots and dishevelled hair) and draws attention to the implications of his findings for modern interpreters, addressing not only critics and teachers but also editors, actors and directors.
'The work makes a useful contribution to both theatre history and dramatic criticism ... Dessen's kind of analysis offers an escape from the straitjacket of character criticism in particular for it will encourage the study of scenic form and thereby make students aware of all that is not 'personality'.' The Times Higher Education Supplement ' ... presented with vigorous clarity' his experience of modern productions demonstrates his concern with the continuing stage life of the plays he discusses.' The Times Literary Supplement