Friday, 11 August 2017

All the world's a stage

Carrying on with a very irregular series of posts relating to metaphors with a shared background (I've done card-games, war & weapons, transport, food, drink, sport... maybe more, – no time for research though), I've drawn up a list (far from comprehensive) of metaphors relating to the theatre.

All  singing all dancing


This is ASM shorthand for everyone: over the tannoy in the dressing rooms cast members are summoned by orders such as Beginners on stage. that is, any cast member who doesn't appear in Act I Scene 1 can carry on doing whatever the Health and Safety Executive allows; I was going to say smoking, but that's a fire risk.

Centre stage 

An obvious one: this is the place of most significance

Fiasco

The word is derived by a circuitous route from the Italian far fiasco, from the late Latin flasco [="bottle"]. The Italian expression means, says Etymonline, "suffer a complete breakdown in performance". I once heard a historian of popular theatre (Roy Hudd?) suggest that it might be related to the phrase used for the member of a street-theatre group who collects money (originally in a bottle – the bottle-man). This strikes me as interesting but improbable; in any case, it's unnecessary to an understanding of the original Italian.

[The] final act/curtain/curtains 

The expression "the final curtain" may have been popularized by Paul Anka, but certainly curtains (to mean death) was in use long before My Way came to prominence in the late '60s. The expression the final act opens the door to a range of other types of drama: comedy/tragedy/farce...

Limelight

Before electricity was used for theatrical lighting (see also the next item but one) lime was burnt to produce an intense flame, which could be focused by a mirror and used to pick someone out. As well as the commonly used general term limelight, actors' jargon still includes lime with the meaning spotlight.
<autobiographical_note>
(Quite possibly it's only used by people who want to impress: I have heard it used only once, in a student production, in the mouth of a primadonna (qv) who interrupted a  Technical Run-through with the complaint ''I THOUGHT I was going to have a lime here.' But he did go on to become an actor, so maybe he wasn't usinig the word  just for show.
</autobiographical_note>

Play a supporting/leading/crucial... role

Spoonfeed, moi? This one's so obvious it's easy to miss. (I'd been collecting theatrical metaphors for  several months before it struck me.)

"The play's [not] worth the candle"

Some time ago, blogging about the frugality of candle-use anywhere but Hollywood, I wrote this (and I've edited in the quote, which was originally in an update) about...
...the expression not to be worth the candle. In 1611, Randle Cotgrave published
A dictionarie of the French and English tongues, where the expression appears in the form Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle...
Cotgrave entry

..., but its first appearance in English was ca. 1690 in Sir William Temple's Works:
"Perhaps the Play is not worth the Candle."
Maybe Sir William was making a bilingual pun on jeu , as I believe he may have been talking about lighting a theatre; he didn't make enough in ticket receipts to pay for the lighting.  Lighting a theatre, like lighting a cathedral, required a significant outlay

Source

Play to the gallery

The gallery is where the cheap seats were. Someone playing to the gallery is catering for common tastes.

Primadonna

Obviously, this is the leading lady (but possibly a drama queen of any sex).

Steal someone's thunder

The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume IV tells of the 'peevish dramatist' (as Wikipedia calls the 18th-century dramatistt John Dennis):
Mr. Dennis happened once to go to the play, when a tragedy was acted, in which the machinery of thunder was introduced, a new artificial method of producing which he had formerly communicated to the managers. Incensed by this circumstance, he cried out in a transport of resentment, 'That is my thunder by G—d; the villains will play my thunder, but not my plays.'
Other accounts have neatened the story (not unusually), by making him say The villains have not simply <done_something (there are many variants)> they have stolen my thunder. The meaning 'take credit for someone else's idea' is a generalization from this very specific technological device (not unlike flash in the pan, which I mentioned here).
Flash in the pan – in a flint-lock, the trigger sparked off an explosion in a pan which itself set off the main explosion. Sometimes there was a flash in the pan, but the main charge was unaffected

[It's] showtime

This one needs no explanation (though I suspect some research would confirm my belief that it's a relatively new one – perhaps fom a film script).

Take a cue from someone

Nor this one.

Take a bow

Nor this one.

Upstage

Stage directions are back-to-front; for example, Exit stage left means Exit to the RIGHT as seen by the audience. The meaning of the verb upstage refers to a bit-part player, standing upstage of the main action, spoiling a dramatic moment by doing some business to distract the audience from the main action.



But, there is a horticultural biomass crisis in the back garden; so

Finita la commedia
b

 

PS: A couple of clues:

  • Soft-core sex allowed, and - hold on a tick - you can see everything! (8)
  • Renegotiating or browsing for loans. (10)

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