So there's a new singing competition show on tv called The Voice. Did you watch? The concept is interesting to me for a very specific reason - the judges listen to the singers with their backs turned, and only after agreeing to have them "on their team" (whatever that means) does the judge's chair swing around so they can match a face to the voice.
It's an amusing gimmick for the most part, until the shows says "Now you play along at home" and proceeds to do the next singer without ever actually showing her face to us. So all we get to hear is her voice, and only when a judge picks her do we get to see her face.
I loved that. I think they should do that with all of them. You just don't have the opportunity in real life to divorce your senses like that. You can tell yourself all day long that looks don't matter, but you can't ever prove that until you take looks away.
So, then, what's this got to do with Shakespeare? We've talked before about Shakespeare as audio book, or as radio drama. The idea that people used to go "hear" a play, rather than see it. How it's all about the verse, and the delivery. So, is it? Ask yourself, honestly, when a character walks on stage in your favorite play and the first thing that you get to do is see him (or her) rather than hear her (or him), do you immediately match the visual to the character and think "Nope, he doesn't look like an Iago to me."
I'd like to think that I don't (though, I won't contradict myself from above - I'll admit that I'd never know for sure without an experiment). Iago walks on stage and I just think, "Ok, that's my Iago. Let's see what he brings to the text."
I wonder what sort of experiment we could do to test the idea. A singer might get 3 minutes of song for you to get a sampling of her voice, but an actor can't very well perform an entire scene without you seeing him. Or can he? How about a mask? Even with a mask, though, you still get a great deal of info about physical characteristics (depending, I suppose, on the extent of the costume).
Here's a question for the directors in the audience, while we're on the subject - would you ever audition people like this? Blind, so that your entire perception of them is on the quality of their delivery? If not, why not?