"Exit, pursued by a bear." - William Shakespeare
"Exit, pursued by a bear" is a stage direction from Shakespeare’s "The Winter’s Tale" that is infamous for its hilarity and difficulty to stage. It's one of the best literary inside jokes (welcome to the club!).
Generally, Shakespeare limited his stage directions to the most basic instructions - [Exit Hamlet], [Enter Ophelia], [Dies] - simple enough. But in this particular direction, a lot of things happen at once without any warning or supporting dialogue. Antigonus has been tasked with abandoning the baby Perdita in a desolate place, but he's having second thoughts. Suddenly a storm wrecks his ship, and then… he "exits, pursued by a bear."
Wait WHAT? So, apparently there’s a bear in the woods, and it has entered. Hungry. Without so much as an “O help!” he is chased off stage and dispatched. How can this sudden deluge of violence and fur not be funny? How do you stage it without destroying the tone of the scene? Do you embrace the surprise and have a little fun?
We went with “a little fun” and for this illustration, a bear materializes out of the woods without warning and "just because."
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