William Shakespeare (1564-1616) Tudor actor/writer/share-holder in The ‘Globe’ Theatre.
THE SPIRIT LIVES ON...
I'm very excited by the fact that the Royal Shakespeare (that's me) Theatre is putting on my Complete Works in Stratford-on-Avon, England over 2006-7.
I've taken up residence in Stratford and am reviewing each of my plays, Sonnets and poems being performed, and (linking to other Web pages) will flesh out the text, sub-text, history and a few previously unknown facts that surround my work.
A rolling diary on a year of theatre indulgence! THE ROYAL (well nothing changed there, I had Royal patrons over 400 years ago – Liz and Jamey-boy, though I did not call them that at the time!) SHAKESPEARE (Ah! ‘twas merely called The Globe all those years ago. Ah, to have a theatre named after one…) COMPANY are performing all my plays. What a compliment. What a treat for the public.
As I am to be here watching all the plays over the next twelve months I have decided to take up residence at an address I can remember (Stratford has changed beyond all my remembrance). I now reside, in spirit, at number
1 Shakespeare Street…
Let my FESTIVAL COMMENCE…
20th April 2006. (A wet Thursday night, a portent of the show to come…) The opening play was a less than an auspicious start to my retrospective - Romeo and Juliet (Synopsis of play: http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~anthony/Shake2.html - Oh, I just love these new inventions – web pages. Amazing! All the information you might want, at the touch of a ‘mouse’ (?) – as you call it...). This was a production full of left over late-50's and early-60's (1950,1960 not 1550 or 1560) theatre techniques. For example, actors sitting round the edge of the stage waiting to ‘enter’, and as a character dies his jacket was removed and hung above the stage which, at best looked a tired concept, at worst just looked plain silly and brought the production to a standstill.
(And for all those who want to know how I know about Theatre through the ages – remember, as an actor/director/manager, I was, and have continued to be, keenly interested in the development of the theatre as a form of communicating ideas and airing issues. I regard myself as an impartial facilitator – I blame my education in Stratford!) (‘The Globe’ - My theatre –
http://www.bl.uk/treasures/shakespeare/theatre.html and for my education (and much more) see: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/ ).
However, I digress - this production of R & J lacked 'passion' - an essential ingredient for a play about young uncontrollable (and uncontrolled) love. For example, the cast went into slow-motion as the lovers met at the party (another tired theatrical technique) thus breaking up any concept of the heat of the Italian night, the joy of the ball, and the surging hormones pulsating through Romeo’s body driving him (IN SLOW MOTION, I think not) into acts of emotional folly, contributing to the ridiculous, but theatrical, concept of ‘love at first sight’, as he throws over Rosaline and picks-up Juliet. (Character Analysis of R & J - http://absoluteshakespeare.com/guides/romeo_and_juliet/characters/romeo_and_juliet_characters_essay.htm)
Through the ages I always have problems with some updating directorial choices (though I have no problems with adapting my play and ‘transporting’ it to another place, like West Side Story did). In this production the Montague and Capulet families fought with wooden staves (a stylistic choice sometime used, which always has ramifications. It really is difficult to kill any one with a stave-to-the-heart) – whilst fighting the cast looked like a cross between Morris men and Samurai warriors - confusion upon confusion. And to compound the problem further - having made such a directorial choice the musicians accompanied the fights with Spanish music (a strange choice, to say the least, for a play clearly set in Italy! I did open the play with the line, ‘In fair Verona, where we lay our scene’ - one can hardly re-place it in Seville and still include that afore mentioned line!).
And as for the balcony scene – it was certainly the first time I have visited a production where the balcony scene started in the basement! (You know we had trap doors in my day too – but we did not use them irresponsibly. They were mainly used for the appearance of a Devil character – singularly inappropriate for our chaste heroine, Juliet) (For information on the stage of my Globe theatre –
The sight of poor Juliet, or the actress playing her, climbing a ladder to act out this most passionate of lines - “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefor art thou Romeo?” and the lusty, “Take all myself” - clinging precariously to this travesty of a ‘balcony’ made me want to cry out, “Shame! Shame” – but then no one would have heard me, such being the limitations of being over four hundred years and not-of-this-earth. (Picture Link: http://www.rsc.org.uk/picturesandexhibitions/jsp/index.jsp and http://www.rsc.org.uk)
All in all - not the worst, but not the best production I have ever visited – in truth there was more dampness from the weather outside than from the sadness felt about the two misguided families being acted out on stage.
When finally the Montague and Capulets’ realise that their hatred was responsible for the deaths of their children, and when they were final reconcile, “O brother Monatgue give me thy hand” - I have, in my past, seen the audience weep buckets. That is what I meant them to do - for there is nothing sadder than the way man treats his fellow man, the sooner that we realise that two people, two families, two towns, two cities, two nations can and should ‘get on’ the better the future of this world would be. (You see, it takes little to get me to ‘make a point’.)
The Prince, at the end of my play, acknowledges that even Global Nature is in mourning over the suicide of the two children. As he says - “The sun for sorrow will not show his head”. And he leaves that tomb of “sorrow” and of “woe”.
No - there weren’t many tears that night at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Just a lot of rain! Sad, but true…
(Links to other reviews in 21st Century news papers - http://arts.guardian.co.uk/reviews/story/0,,1756613,00.html and http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/theatre/reviews/article359710.ece)
The diary continues…. The RSC’s (as it is familiarly known) ‘Complete Works of me (William Shakspere – never could spell my name) Festival’ - Onwards – number 2 of 37 (not to mention the many collaborations)…
April 21st 2006. (A fine Friday night, and a treat, in waiting.) I would have been kinder to R & J if I had known how wonderful Antony and Cleopatra was going to be (Synopsis of play http://www.ability.org.uk/shakespeare.html). A stellar cast, a stellar (unfussy) production, Harriet Walter and Patrick Stewart - sooooooo in love and lustful, I felt, as did the audience, that we were voyeurs at times, as she dragged him (thankfully off stage) for more lusty sexual activity (Ah, reminded me of my youth…but there lies another story, and fortunately there are no kiss-and-sell records to haunt my reputation.) (My life on the Net (‘cos I’m famous) - http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-biography.htm (and regrettably) http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-illegitimate-son-william-davenant.htm )
What was so wonderful about the central perfs’, as they say in ‘show-business’, was that they had understood that all pervading lust and passion clouds reason (a fact singularly lacking in last nights production of Romeo and Juliet – but enough said on that production). The entangling of private passion impacting on public politics (O, how I love alliteration!) was clear for all to see, as Antony says, “Egypt (meaning Cleopatra), thou knew'st too well / My heart was to thy rudder tied by th' strings, / And thou shouldst tow me after.” (History of Cleopatra - http://ce.eng.usf.edu/pharos/Alexandria/History/cleo.html and of Antony http://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/cleopatra.html .)
This director, and all the cast, had understood why Anthony lost all concept of his Roman duty and had given his heart to Egypt(ian) lust. But that he, Antony, did so without demeaning his general (excuse the pun, but then I always did love ‘puns’) abilities. This is just what I wanted my audience to see – a great general slowly loosing his objectivity, which by the time he runs after Cleopatra, during the sea battle, he surely has done. (Antony analysed - http://www.gradesaver.com/classicnotes/titles/cleopatra/section10.html)
Thus, earlier in my play we both admire (and shudder) at the political ploy and a cruel deception Antony perpetrates, when agreeing to marry Octavia. It bound Caesar and Anthony together, and is a cruel miss-use of an innocent miss (I’m at it again!).
I know that this play can, at times, try the audiences patience by the shear number of locations visited, Rome, Egypt, barges, battles etc. and my text does not always spell out where my dialogue is located (unlike R & J). But this production, without long scene changes, effortlessly set the location. (Picture Link: http://www.rsc.org.uk/picturesandexhibitions/jsp/index.jsp and http://www.rsc.org.uk)
We always knew where we were, both physically and emotionally!
Magnificent theatre. (By the way I love the ‘Swan Theatre’ – it reminded me of the ‘Blackfriars’ theatre that Burbage purchased. (See the original ‘Swan’ theatre on - http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/elizabethan-amphitheatre.htm .)
Clear story telling. (As I got Hamlet to say, “Speak the speech, I prey you, as I pronounced it to you.” In other words – play my text! It is all in my lines.)
A moving portrayal of Antony’s miss-adventure (a third pun – I’m on a roll) and his legacy within history, as Caesar says at the end of my play, “A pair so famous […] and their story is no less in pity than his glory”.
A privilege to have visited this production!
(By the by - I can’t place the lead actor, Patrick Stewart? I’m sure I’ve seen him in that small-box-in-the-corner of most of your living rooms? http://www.patrickstewart.org/ ).
And now for the first foreign offering…the RSC, as I now know it, were not able to produce all my plays themselves. I had to laugh – I remember rehearsing, learning and getting to first perf’ in under a week when I was an actor. Now the directors and actors seem to need weeks of rehearsals. Say the lines boys and girls, tell my stories – read Hamlet’s instructions to the players for only directorial notes you’ll need…. (Documentation on my life is scarce. It is not that I meant to be enigmatic – but that records were not kept on we lowly ‘actors’. But what facts there are can be found on my web page - http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-facts.htm , and my portrait on http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-pictures.htm )
28th February 2006, Othello – a German, modern day version. Two hours of non-stop power. First let it be stated that I did plagiarise most of my plots. That is what you did then. My Othello was based on Cinthio’s Hecatommithi (Synopsis of my play at http://www.ability.org.uk/shakespeare.html and for notes on ‘sources’ see http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sources/othellosources.html ). So I could raise little objection to the first non-British production being in German and using my (plagiarised) play as a starting point for their (plagiarised) play - though I was amused and gratified to hear lines from my text make their way into their text, as well as sticking to certain plot lines (the handkerchief for example) and scene structure which I developed in my 1604 production at the ‘Globe’.
However - a white Othello brought me up with a start (much is made of the ‘moor’ being the outsider in my text, like in the title – ‘THE TRAGEDY OF OTHELLO, MOOR OF VENICE’, and IAGO telling Desdemona’s farther, “ I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the / Moor are now making the beast with two backs.”) (Is my play racist? I don’t think so! Remember when I was writing this play my Queen Elizabeth was being the biggest racist in all English history -http://www.irespect.net/Untold%20Stories/Caribbean/Community%20History.htm , and see http://www.field-of-themes.com/shakespeare/essays/Eothello1.htm for a discussion on racism in my play.
Actually I was being very brave making the ‘hero’ of this play black. Remember what happened to John Stubbs… http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUDstubbsJ.htm )
But, to return to this German production - in truth, it made not one iota of difference to the impact of my story that Othello was acted by a white thespian. And the idea of an older Othello and a besotted girl-child, Desdemona, worked a treat - she loved her daddy-figure, she wanted to ‘play’ with him (a direct echo of the lustful scenes in Anthony & Cleo - and Desdemona too could not keep her hands off Othello. There was a particularly touching piece of ‘business’ when Desdemona was walked off stage standing on Othello’s feet, I played the same game with my son Hamnet (God rest his soul) and daughter, Susanna (Life in Stratford - http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-biography-stratford.htm , my wife Anne http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-anne-hathaway.htm and children and grandchildren - http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-children-and-grandchildren.htm ).
In this production strong, direct, white lighting cast harsh moody shadows over the proceedings and an apparently improvised on-stage piano accompaniment, created both the set and a continuous sound track - finely tuned to the performers.
My play is about the distortion of truth – about the corrosive power of spreading rumours. (I had touched on this theme in the prologue of The Second Part of Henry IV when Rumour says, “Upon my tongues continual slanders ride, / The which in every language I pronounce, / Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.” But in Othello it becomes my core theme.)
Othello is also about an innocence (for Othello is an innocent abroad) being poisoned because of Iago’s jealousy, “'Tis the curse of service, / Preferment goes by letter and affection, / And not by old gradation”. Also I think I wrote Iago as an innately evil and satanic character (For other analysis of Iago see - http://www.field-of-themes.com/shakespeare/essays/Eothelloiago.htm and I can honestly say that down through the ages I have never visited a more foul mouthed Iago, spewing poison wherever and whenever he can, as in this production. He made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end – he’d have had a job to make the hair on my head stand up! (See my picture - http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-pictures.htm ).
If there was any criticism of this production it was that the final image was of Othello strangling Desdemona, not of the revelation of Iago’s treachery and Othello’s ‘redemption’ by playing the Roman soldier and killing himself, “ I pray you, in your letters, / When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, / Speak of me as I am; […] Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away / Richer than all his tribe;” – but, as the Director of this German production said, in the after show talk, “I like to make my audience suffer”.
(One small technical difficulty to note – as I do not speak German, French yes but not German, I too was forced to read the translation which was situated on screens at both the extremities of the wide RST stage. It was like watching a ball game being played, as my attention moved between the two screens, and the actors in the middle. (The games I watched in my youth – but alas, never played - http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/tudor_sports_and_pastimes.htm ).
I know I missed a lot of both the visual and linguistic elements in this production because of the positioning of the translation. Pity to spoil a perfect theatrical tour-de-force, you see I might not speak German, but I do know a little French!)
Monday 1st May. Time for Hamlet. Another foreign offering from the ‘Baxter Theatre Centre’, Cape Town, South African. Directed, not very well, by a Janet Suzman. (Synopsis: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Hamlet/0.html and sources http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sources/hamletsources.html )
I have always thought of this play as one of my best pieces of writing. (For misplaced critiques which refute my claim see: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sources/hamletsources.html
It seemed, even at the time, to have all the components of great Drama and my great-experiment in realism – ‘suit the action to the words, words to the action.’
But it was also a great populist Drama - a ghost and a revelation (but how reliable is that ghost’s tale of fraternal murder?), sexual dalliances by Gertrude (did she, did she not, know how husband number one had died? Ah, there’s the rub.), and indecisiveness to the point of inertia by Hamlet. Unrequited love (both for Ophelia by Hamlet, and from Ophelia of Hamlet), and, as Mr. Freud made much off many centuries later, Hamlet’s love for his mother, which - even I decided in my darkest and most mischievous moments - was not to be reciprocated by Gertrude (Freud on my Hamlet -http://arts.ucsc.edu/faculty/bierman/Elsinore/Freud/freudSphinx.html ).
Friends betraying, and my thesis on ‘performance’ (a sly and unnecessary dig at some of my fellow actors ongoing desire to embellish my work. I’m all in favour of the company contributing to the rehearsal process – but sometimes Will Kemp and Richard Burbage ganged up on me and their contributions just went too far!) (Portraits of said actors, and others, http://www.onlineshakespeare.com/actors.htm and http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/stage/burbage.html and a load of stuff on my life and the actors I worked with on http://shakespeare-online.com/biography/ - it really does save me having to write out all this stiff out for you - click and find. Easy!)
My play poses the question: Is Hamlet mad? Or does he develop his moroseness and play mad, as a cover for his detection work?
Did I write a play in my late years (1601) (which actually turned out to be more my ‘middle years’) that helped me look over the abyss towards death? (Ah, I was certainly tired when I wrote the play - the twenty-first play written in my career to date, and the sixth in two years leading up to the 1601 performance (Chronology: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/keydates/playchron.html ). (I got a second wind though, then up and wrote another sixteen plays, Some in collaboration of course, as was the mode at the time. And Some good, and some not so good.) But I digress…
Is Hamlet a ‘revenger’s tragedy’, so famously plagiarised by young Thomas Middleton in 1606 (just check my facts http://www.tech.org/~cleary/middhome.html). Or is it a play that just rolls along, as many of mine do– full of comedy, tragedy, pathos, vitality, diversity, sentimentality, the grotesque, farce, and a goodly dollop of violence at the climax of the play. In other words – that’s entertainment…
Well not the night I went to the ‘Swan’ theatre in Stratford. Entertaining – no! Pedestrian – yes!
(Other reviews (and the first is so wrong, and I am right) http://arts.guardian.co.uk/shakespeareyear/story/0,,1767144,00.html and in contrast http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/theatre/reviews/article362605.ece ).
With John Kani (Ghost and Claudius), Dorothy ann Gould (Gertrude) and Vaneshran Arumugam (Hamlet) all (overacting and speaking the speech very ‘non-trippingly’, in fact completely ignoring my specific instructions to the Players – Oh thesbs’, say my words, hear my words – the rest will happen) - and a company ‘doing’ barrel full of acting, with a capital ‘A’. I felt really disappointed.
I quite liked the innocence of Ophelia, especially at the start of the play.
But old Queeny was never on the stage for me – she was in another Drama of her own. (“Where am I?” – I remember acting in a production of my Macbeth and coming out with lines from As You Like It – embarrassing to say the least http://www.william-shakespeare.org.uk/william-shakespeare-actor.htm).
I had a feeling the cast were trying to ‘do’ my play. They never got to grips with all, or any, of the issues I aired (see above) and they never tried to give my 1601 play meaning for 2006. There were a few SA references - when Claudius preys in the chapel for redemption, the actor went into local dialect (‘clicking’ and all, very attractive) and the costumes had South African resonance, I believe. A nice touch was that in the Ophelia mad scene (always a winner in my day) she gave out ‘rubbish wrappings’ as herbs, as an echo of the shantytowns.
But overall there was no vision relating to the ‘rainbow state’s struggle’. (You see I have been keeping abreast of the times down the ages – and the South African struggle was no less, and no more intense than the many struggles ‘for recognition and acceptance’ that were going on in my day. (I’ll say little on this subject on my own behalf but drop in to http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/arts/al0147.html for an eye opener…)
So the show was - not boring. But not exciting. The actors, I suspect were better than the production.
I certainly don’t blame the writer.
I suspect the Director did not serve the cast well.
(You know I do not feel suffering as a result of struggle, as South Africans certainly did, automatically merit a ‘standing ovation’. Political sympathy seemed to override critical objectivity!)
AND ON…. 18th May. A fine evening and Julius Caesar to look forward to – (synopsis: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Julius_Caesar/0.html ). Good clean (bloody) play this one. Steeped in subtext in the 1599 turmoil that was surrounding me as I wrote the play. (My source was Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans: http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/town/parade/abj76/PG/pieces/julius_caesar_essay.shtml)
Elizabeth was getting old (66 years old - though because she covered her face with all that make up she ‘looked ageless’. http://www.marileecody.com/eliz1-older.jpg ) There was, nor would there be, an heir. There was not, nor was there declared, a successor. Spain threatened – again - and with it the threat of Catholicism remerging as the state religion.
In Ireland Essex marched and fought and made little inroads in quashing the rebellion.
There had been several attempts on the Queen’s life. The Queen had responded with harsh, draconian action. Parliament was marginalized by her. Her favourites were appointed to positions of power. Many heads were displayed on The Tower’s battlements. (Torture in Tudor times stems from Henry VIII’s time, the early 1500’s: http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/tower_london_2.htm – and, not for the faint hearted, http://phoenixandturtle.net/excerptmill/langbein.htm .) English men were in a certain amount of turmoil.
I wrote Julius Caesar to try and work out some puzzlements for myself. Questions burned in my mind as I felt the pressures of London life. Remember - though I had contact with the Court, I was never of the Court. An actor was always the reviled outsider. My plays were commissioned and appreciated, but I was never loved, nor respected for my craft. I was as much an outsider as the merchant class or the peasants.
And so at that time I struggled with these questions: Are citizens allowed to take matters into their own hands – to defend the laws by attacking those who become extralegal? Where does loyalty stop and a citizen’s responsibility take over? When does the ‘future’ of a society suppress individual’s choice of action, and recognise that the status quo is a better way forward?
I had to be careful – remember Stubbs - (http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUDstubbsJ.htm). A lost hand is ruin to a writer – death to my career. Instant poverty - though by 1599 I was ‘comfortable’ I had no desire to sacrifice myself - willingly,
Brutus: Cassius, Be not deceived; if I have veil'd my look, / I turn the trouble of my countenance / Merely upon myself.)
Perhaps I was Brutus, and Anne, my long-suffering wife - was Portia. (About my wife, Anne Hathaway: http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/players/player23.html .)
Perhaps, unknowingly, Julius Caesar was my play of struggle – political, personal, and religious. And I had questions of history, of posterity embedded in my thoughts - who was I? Would these plays live on?
(Cassius: ‘How many ages hence / Shall this lofty scene be acted over (these lofty scenes - more likely), / In states unborn and accents yet unknown!’)
In this production there was thunder & lightning effects on stage.
A great Band played wild music.
Caesar was v/good – bold, strong, and authoritarian – Mr. James Hayes.
The cast were uniformly good – especially Brutus & Cassius – Mrs. John Light and Finbar Lynch.)
The production whizzed along. (Other reviews: http://arts.guardian.co.uk/shakespeareyear/story/0,,1777067,00.html and various other http://www.britishshakespeare.ws/rsc.php .)
The set was plain but effective - a pit of sand (to mop up the rain and blood).
An epic backdrop depicted either a day or night skyline - boldly.
A ramp stretched up from the ‘posh’ groundlings in the stalls onto the stage - sweeping the actors from amongst us into the limelight (‘Groundlings’, my main audience: http://shakespeare.about.com/cs/homeworkhelp/a/audience.htm .)
It was a good production – but sadly, it did not fire me.
Because, like the Hamlet two weeks earlier, the Director had not contextualise the production. If you people only knew what I went through as I wrote those plays, if you could only try and relate those tensions I experienced to the tensions you live through now in 2006…
My plays live on because they hold ‘the mirror up to nature’ – whatever that ‘nature’ happens to be at the time of that performance! (Ben Jonson was so right… http://shakespeare.about.com/od/shakespearesbiograph1/f/jonson.htm .)
Are not your political leaders today as responsible for their actions as Elizabeth was in 1599?
When do the people say enough to their leaders who do ‘things’ in their name?
When do citizens take responsibility for their leader’s actions - and act upon them when their leaders loose their way?
Brutus: But 'tis a common proof
That lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend.
Bring pack people power. We, groundlings, stand up and be counted.
Sunday 21st May. The Two Noble Kinsmen (and The Knight’s Tale).
First let me say that I never get used to seeing a play on the Lord’s day. Sunday always was a day of rest for actors and for the theatre. We would have had the wrath of the clergy, the censors, and the Queen! If we had played on Sunday. How times have changed.
This was a very interesting exercise, if not, ultimately a tad depressing!
First we had a performance by a troop of actors of The Knight’s Tale by Chaucer (‘The Canterbury Tales’ - the first tale after the very long prologue). This, needless to say, came as a surprise to me. But was highly entertaining and polished. A faultless company clearly revelling in their performance. (Reviews: http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/theatre/reviews/article1180624.ece and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2006/07/23/svtheatre23.xml&sSheet=/arts/2006/07/23/ixsevenmain.html for synopsis and more reviews see: http://www.rsc.org.uk/onstage/plays/3414.aspx .) Then there was the ‘Interval’ – a concept unknown in my time, when we actors had an ongoing battle for the audience’s concentration as we fought against the sellers, pick pockets and prostitutes. (That is why I developed my writing style to include many ‘repetitions’ of plot development– the groundling’s attention span was limited to say the least… (Theatre in my time: http://www.elizabethi.org/us/essays/theater.htm and see http://www.bardweb.net/globe.html for a good insight to ‘The Globe’.)
After the ‘Interval’ there was a ‘play reading’ of The Two Noble Kinsmen which I had unashamedly based on Chaucer’s story. (Source: http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=9449 .) which was unashamedly based on Boccaccio’s Tesseida – an epic poem in the tradition of Virgil’s mighty Aeneid. (Synopsis of The Two Noble Kinsmen: http://www.bardweb.net/plays/kinsmen.html .)
I was very upset at ‘The Swan’ when I heard two groundlings talking after the play reading – “The first half was very good, wasn’t it?” Yes it was more exciting, more polished, more of a performance - the actors of The Two Noble Kinsmen had not even learned their lines. They’d learned Chaucer’s! Look this is my retrospective – not ‘C’s’ !! Any way these two groundlings were saying that “Certainly not one of Shakespeare’s best, was it? You can see why it is seldom performed. Wonder how much he wrote and how much Fletcher (who ever he is?)” (The latter remark did help my black cloud dissipate a little.)
And as I listened on - those two amateur-critics had developed a theory which was closer to the truth than they thought. They surmised that (John) Fletcher, who had taken my place as playwright of the King’s Men on my retirement to Stratford in 1611 (Biography: http://www.bardweb.net/man.html ), got a commission in London from King James. And he panicked. He had writers block brought on from excess wenching, excess writing (forty-two plays he is reputed to have written), and extreme vanity - if he had not stayed to make a new set of cloths he would not have caught the dreaded plague and lived longer. A lesson there for all of us – though, thankfully, you do not have the plague any more. (Biog: http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/fletcher/fletchbio.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Fletcher_%28playwright%29)
So what did the young pretender to my throne do – run to Stratford, cap in hand, and ask if I had any plots that I hadn’t used. Fletcher decided to co-write his commission with the great playwright, moi, William Shakpare (retired):
Fletcher: “Give us some help” Quoth he.
“I’m retired” Quoth I – “However, for a percentage of your fee we could recycle some of my plays – Ophelia’s madness and her singing of the willow song (always got the audience a weeping), the rude mechanicals (always good for a laugh), and wandering around a dense forest (always gets the imagination going). Throw in bits of Pericles, The Winter’s Tale, Cymberline, and The Tempest. Re-cycle, Palamon and Arcite’s resignation in prison - Richard II, the conflict with Emilia - The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Emilia’s comparison of pictures – Hamlet. Use my love of spectacle and ceremony, the argument of balancing innocence in the midst of corruption, self-mastery - as the lead protagonists learn the need to transcend self-interest, and John - you have a play! It’ll be like one of those ‘retrospectives’ they give famous people just before a big award, or before they die”. (An all too prophetic statement as I take up residence in Stratford some 400 years after that conversation on my having a ‘retrospective’!)
And so Fletcher wrote all but the opening and closing Scenes of The Two Noble Kinsmen – which, in my retrospective opinion, is a rag-tag and bob-tail (whatever that means) of a play. It is ‘full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing’. (For a piece of twentieth century detective work see: http://www.geocities.com/katacheson/fletcherhorton.html - it gave me a laugh!)
Personally, and depressingly, I thought Chaucer’s The Knights Tale was more ‘Noble’ than The Two Noble Kinsmen, which can only mean that my faculty for self-criticism has developed over the years. Not all my plays are good plays!
(But I did receive a third of John’s royalties which paid for the house I bought in Blackfriars, London… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare)
On Monday 12th June 2006 I had a ‘Dream’. In 1595 when I wrote, A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the stage I knew that this was a piece of dark froth, like that on the ail I drank too much of. It is a play that twinkles with laughter, bracketed by the threat of, at best - Hermia’s incarcerated in a nunnery. At worst – her death. It is a play of the duelling sexes as Theseus and Hippolyta, Oberon and Titania fight it out for rights and recognition. It is a play of fools making mistakes, whether Puck or Bottom, the lovers, Theseus or Oberon, Hippolyta or Titania. It is a play of hate, love, and reconciliation.
It is my most perfectly rounded production.
And down the centuries I have seen many productions that have pleased, amused, and satisfied the audience - but never captured that WOW factor that I had felt after I had written it.
I just knew it was perfect.
I have wandered through the ages waiting and wanting to see a perfect production!
And I did on 12th June 2006.
(Synopsis: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/A_Midsummer_Night's_Dream/0.html .)
(A digression – that is apposite: Through the last century young people have often said that my plays are difficult to understand. The language is “foreign” to them. Well language is not static – I myself am credited with creating hundreds of new words and groupings which had to be made up, either to create the scan of the lines, or because there were no words in existence which said what I needed to say. Even today new words are being created – the word ‘blog’ is a perfect example!
So when I hear students struggling to understand me I want to shout out, in the modern vernacular, (but no one will hear me of course) “Just chill out, go with the flow, you don’t have to understand every one of my words – just the sense (or non-sense) of what my characters are saying.”
Enjoy the situations I invented for them.
Laugh at their stupidity, their tenacity, their strength of character, their weaknesses. Laugh at them as you would laugh at yourself – if only you could see yourself, that is. For mankind (and womankind), in Elizabeth First’s reign were no different to those in Elizabeth Second’s.)
So I was very amused to see placed on every seat in the Swan Theatre a synopsis of my play… Why I thought? And the answer was very simple – this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was in Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, Gujurati, Sinhale, Marathi, Kannada, and a little English. Seven Indian Dialects and an odd line of mine thrown in – in English. (AND - No subtitles!)
And, surprise, surprise - the audience understood my play perfectly!!!!
The staging was not just visually exciting, with, for example, Theseus's princely court, carpeted in silver silk, transmogrifying into a tropical jungle as the fairies burst through a wall of paper to scamper like thieving monkeys round rope-lashed wooden scaffolding. Or Titania and Bottom asleep in their bower created from a silken hammock slung from the roof, or Oberon being transformed into Theseus, and Titania into Hippolyta – effortlessly, magically, majestically.
Never, ever, did Tim Supple, the Director/magician loose sight of the playfulness of my text, nor did his work detract from the oppression and fears engendered by the wild forest as he mis-directs the lovers through a ‘rubber band’ forest that the lovers bounce helplessly off.
Supple understood that this threatening place, the forest, is outside the protective boundary of the city. This forest springs, psychologically, from the anger of the court's marriage-arranging patriarchs and the rebelliousness of the young lovers. (Reviews: http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/theatre/reviews/article769277.ece and http://arts.guardian.co.uk/critic/feature/0,,1786497,00.html)
There is a real threat of rape or murder in the frenzied chase of the ‘lovers’ (and the ‘infatuated’) - especially from the sickle-wielding Demetrius as he attacks Helena.
And ‘sex’ is never far from my text (or my thoughts), for the whole play is a mere interlude before Theseus can bed Hippolyta – the Indian lingam at the front of stage represented the very essence of the play – sex, sex, SEX! (Tantric love: http://www.schoolofawakening.com/Tantra/TantraArticles.html)
Oberon's jealousy is all the more real and alive because Titania literally had a little Indian boy here on stage (I never wrote him in – we did not have a young enough boy-actor at the time in my company, and especially one who could climb a rope!). (Boy actors: http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/asguru/english/08shakespeare/42theatre/shaketheatre03.shtml) Titania maternally hugs the little boy before she tucks him up in her bower, weaving herself into a swinging cocoon of crimson cloth like an exotic, incubating moth – the same cocoon in which she later sleeps and fornicates (in reverse order) with Bottom.
And as for Bottom, what an ass - a hilarious and disturbing ass, with a swinging aubergine between his thighs and an angry grunting whinny. A groaning slave to sex. A man whose brain is in his crutch.
And at the end of the play the lovers, instead of leaving the stage as I had indicated - sat down on the sand covered floor. Titania and Oberon, again were magically transformed from Hippolita and Theseus, and all the fairies started a slow, gentle, magical dance accompanied by the hypnotic music of the sitar that had accompanied the play.
I swayed with all the audience as Oberon ‘blessed’ the house – both Theseus’s and ‘The Swan Theatre’.
I too felt ‘blessed’.
I was so proud of my play.
I was so pleased with this production.
If they had called “Author! Author” (as can happen) I would have replied “Actors! Actors! Director! Director!” – I was merely an ancient linguistic conduit.
They had weaved the magic.
(Other Reviews: http://arts.guardian.co.uk/shakespeareyear/story/0,,1823251,00.html , http://www.intermusica.co.uk/supple-dream , http://www.urban-fusion.info/newsandreviews/view/news/?article=73 .
June 19th. Titus Andronicus – 1592. Sometimes I watch my work and smile the smile of the mature looking at ones earlier self. Except Titus is not the product of a ‘young man’ - I had written four plays before this one and should have known better!
I mean – human sacrifice. Gang rape. Mutilation. Ritual butchery. Mother eating her son – baked in a pie! Where was my sense of dramatic restraint? Where my self-discipline? (Synopsis: http://www.onlineshakespeare.com/titussyn.htm)
Over the centuries people have called this play a ‘revenge tragedy’. This is partly true. I was influenced by Thomas Kyd’s work. (See: http://www.classic-literature.co.uk/british-authors/16th-century/thomas-kyd/) for his life and plays. They were good too. (And for a lively debate see: http://www.uni-tuebingen.de/uni/nec/TAYLOR62.HTM and links to various responses!)
But Titus, like Brutus, is an ‘honourable man’ - and in this Japanese production nothing was more clear that Titus’ sense of ‘honour’.
(Reviews: http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/theatre/reviews/article1096308.ece , http://arts.guardian.co.uk/shakespeareyear/story/0,,1803438,00.html and http://www.britishshakespeare.ws/rsc.php)
The actors, as actors, were warming up as I morphed into the Royal Shakespeare (that’s me folks) Theatre.
Regular announcements in Japanese gave a 5-minute countdown to the start of performance.
Costumes were collected by the actors and put on.
Helmets placed in position.
Weapons picked up and checked.
The ritual of ‘performance’ was visible to all.
The costume rails were wheeled off.
A disembodied voice called out: “Bring on the she wolf” (In Japanese, of course – but with sub-titles.)
A huge she-wolf statue, with suckling Romulus and Remus, was wheeled on – dominating the space. The present and past of Rome visible at the same time.
The back of the stage closed in leaving a small three-sided room in which to play my play…
The house lights went down (a luxury I never had) and on a gleaming white stage the story unfolded.
Honour was the core of this production. When Titus’s sons questioned his decision to turn down the ‘empery’ he scolded them. When they would not abase themselves to the new Emperor, Saturnine, he fought them, man to man and kills his son Mutius.
Honour has to be maintained – even when Saturnine throws over Titus’ daughter, Lavinia, for the captured Queen of the Goths, Tamora - Titus honours his new Emperor and consort.
Honour only turns to Revenge when evil is done to Lavinia. When Titus discovers the truth, when he knows not only who mutilated his child, but also who encouraged it – ‘Revenge’ becomes ‘Honour(able)’! And Titus schemes…
And is he mad, or is he not mad, in the scene with Tamora and her sons? Ah, now there’s a question.
And, in my most bloody of plays, not a drop of blood was spilled in the whole production. (At the ‘Rose’ we used to use a pigs bladder hidden in the actor’s costume (See http://www.shakespeare-online.com/theatre/therose.html for ‘The Rose’ Theatre, and note 7: http://shakespearean.org.uk/elizthea1.htm for theatre props.) In this production red silk streamers fell from cutthroats, lopped off hands, ripped out tongues, wounds in fight.
And, set against the stark white set – it looked horrific.
The power of the central performance by Kotaro Yoshida was, at times, just too painful to watch (especially as he comforted his disfigured daughter).
I wept for his struggle as he came to terms with an erosion of an ‘honourable’ world. When Titus says to Marcus: ‘Why, I have not another tear to shed’ – we, the audience (both visible and I the invisible) had no tear to shed either.
Honour, personified by Lavinia, follows Titus like a faithful dog. Even at the end of the ‘banquet’ scene, where Lavinia is dressed in a veil like a bride, a look passes between her and her father just before he strangles her – “father, do this deed” she looked – this look spoke volumes (without any need for words from me quill). “Go” she silently cried – “strangle my life away, father. Preserve my ‘good name’. Preserve my ‘honour’”.
And as for Aaron – he was a prototype for a much deeper creation many years later - Iago. The actors performance (Shun Oguri) was evil personified. I was, in writing this part, highly influenced by the Devil characters I saw portrayed by the Guilds in Stratford when I was a lad. (Mystery plays: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mystery_play). God alone knows what inspired the actors interpretation - I hate to think!
Ninagawa, the Director creating beautifully horrid pictures.
(So good, so thrilling a production had to be revisited - I drifted into see it again two days later. And this time I did not try to read the subtitles as well as look at the actors. (After all I know the text. I wrote it!) This time I just looked at the action and marvelled at the dramatic energy the company extracted from a play I regard as a bit of a folly- a ‘bit over the top’, as they say nowadays!)
11th July 2006. Henry IV Parts I and II. Starting in the afternoon and going on to the evening. This is (should be) a wonderful way to see these two plays – to see the journey that Hal takes from boyhood to manhood, from king-in-waiting to Kingship. (Synopses: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Henry_IV,_part_1/0.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_IV,_Part_2)
YES, dear reader, sow your wild seeds, go mad as a youngster – (http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/life/childhoodsubj.html and http://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/shakespeare_child_teenage_years.htm and on me as a ‘friend of poachers, on which, even after four hundred years I will make no comment… http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C07EFD81738F930A15752C0A9639C8B63&fta=y) - for most of your life you can not play in the ail houses in Eastcheap, responsibilities and respectability will sets in (be forced upon you!) We spend most of our lives being ‘grown up’ - and frankly, it is a bore. So when you are young, foot-loose and fancy-free find a Falstaff, a Bardolph, a Pistol, and a Poins - and if your lucky a mistress Quickley too!
These two plays, though written two years apart, 1598 and 1600, were meant to be seen as a case study for young people, male or female, on how to grow up slowly (though women in my day were not allowed the liberties you girls have today, see: http://tudors.crispen.org/tudor_women/). I said then, and say now - mix with all kinds of people, enjoy other’s company, relish and celebrate the differences in mankind – and then, enriched by other ways of being, go forth and work at whatever you are best at.
That is what Hall does.
The plays are set against Kingly matters, affairs of state (I wrote those bits in my finest poetry) – but the plays are really about the bawdy rituals of drink and play. Machiavelli taught rulers how to keep their power through a mix of scheming, warfare and force of character. He was a political pragmatist who believed too much in the fist rather than the mind (http://www.ctbw.com/lubman.htm). Hotspur is like that. Shame.
Life is a laugh! In life, whatever you are doing, it is better to ‘jaw, jaw – than war, war’. Talk is better than fighting, and a good sense of fun, laughter and the sheer ridiculousness of life is the perfect antidote to taking yourself (and others) too seriously.
Hall learns this with/from Falstaff, he learns to enjoy playing. But, alas, in Part II, Kingship takes him over and he looses his sense of fun - another lesson to learn and one I point to at the end of Part II where I give the clown the last laugh, and the last dance! (See notes on Robert Armin – what great clown he was (much less obtrusive than Kempe!) http://www.clown-ministry.com/History/robert-armin.html and http://www.clown-ministry.com/History/william-kempe.html )
And as for this production? (See Reviews: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/pkirwan/entry/henry_iv_part/ and http://arts.guardian.co.uk/shakespeareyear/story/0,,1823150,00.html) (Those reviews made me wonder if I had seen the same production as the reviewers!)
Where was the journey? Where was the growth? When (and how) did the boy become a man?
For me it was not the play I had written nor the journey I had explored. It was, to quote Macbeth, ‘Full of sound and fury – signifying nothing’ (especially from Jeffrey Carlson who played Hal).
The verse speaking was ponderous and clipped from all the cast – it did not trip ‘trippingly on the tongue’ there was too much of ‘the town crier’ about the performances (Hamlet). It was as if the American actors were in awe of my language – and, possibly, in awe of performing in Stratford-upon-Avon, my home town. Relax lads, I wanted to cry out, just play the play, ‘speak the speech’ – that is all you have to do!
And as for the false wigs, Ah! come on – they looked less silly in my day and we had limited resources! (See note 7 http://shakespearean.org.uk/elizthea1.htm ) This production was a case of a ‘bad wig day’ for most of the company. And the costumes too were characture of what I imagine American audiences ‘expect’ from ‘Ye Olde Englishland, Scotlandland and Irelandland!’
And when Kate sang her Welsh song – I meant it as a pleasing interlude in a poignant and moving scene – not an audition for a musical. (I have to admit that when Hotspur ‘joined in’ the song – I laughed out so loud that I was glad that, as an un-alive, the audience did not hear the sound of that laughter. I surely would have embarrassed myself, and annoyed the actors – who were, after all, doing there best. (I know what it is like to be an actor at an unruly performance – see 4 http://shakespearean.org.uk/elizthea1.htm ).
Over all this was not a bad production.
BUT not inspired - to put it politely!
I drifted back to my residence for this celebration year, Number 1 Shakespeare Street, and sighed deeply. As Hall says to Poins, ‘I feel me much to blame, So idly to profane the precious day.’
‘We’d burned day light’ into sealing night itself, as Mistress Ford says in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
- what a long day it had been.
10th August 2006 – KING JOHN. My very first ‘History play’. (For list of ‘History’ plays – by the way, not my categorisation, it’s all down to the First Folio in 1623. http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-plays.htm and see link to synopsis, for those who do know the story.)
A bit of a miss mash this play. The plot promises much and delivers little coherence. Looking at it down the centuries I think more and more that this was the product of a young writer.
Events in London were riddled with intrigue and rumour. The Court was a hot bed of censors and censure. I had lots to say about political shenanigans - but did not know how to say it.
(Reviews: http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/theatre/reviews/article1217717.ece and http://arts.guardian.co.uk/shakespeareyear/story/0,,1837241,00.html )
To be honest the ‘reversals’ of Hubert, Salisbury, Pembroke and Essex only remind me that I really did not know which way to approach this play - or how to say what I thought I wanted to say AND beat the Master of the Revels (see: http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1245681 ).
The parallels I could see between King John and good queen Bess were all too clear to me (and my audience). John’s claim to the throne were based on the questionable will of Richard I – Elizabeth’s will from her father, Henry VIII, was also ‘questionable’. Second, King John was accused of being a bastard and excommunicated by the pope – so too was Elizabeth, on both accounts afore mentioned. Third, King John’s rival was Arthur, the older brother, and by the laws of primogenitary– the rightful heir to the throne (see: http://www.webster-dictionary.net/definition/Primogeniture). So too was Mary, Queen of Scots over Elizabeth I.
Too many ‘hot potatoes’, as you say now – too many contentious issues as they said then! I was lucky to get away with having written King John. It is not surprising that my play had few performances, and only re-appeared after Elizabeth’s death in the First Folio (http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-first-folio.htm)
I wanted to write about political power being undermined by ‘a lack of ideological uncertainty’. Politicians drift into situations because either they lack moral backbone, or, worse still, have a sense of ‘certainty’ that counters both facts and advice - war with Spain went on and on and on… ‘Rumour’ was ever present in London, troupes ever mustered ‘in case of attack’, tithes ever levied to ‘pay the brave troops’ (http://britannia.com/history/reftime.html) - it was very wearing, to say the least.
I drifted into the thirteenth century for my muse, to try and re-move the contemporary context of my drama - make it less threatening. But by so doing, I last my way. I ended up with a play with little to add to the ongoing debate in sixteenth century England, an ongoing debate on the Queen and her sister, Mary - who had been executed two years earlier, 8th February 1587, I remember it so well, like it was yesterday.
King John was written, I though at the time, as a result of, and inspired by, that execution - a death steeped in anti Catholic sentiments and xenophobic fear. But I now think it had more to do with my personal life at the time than my desire to explore issues of primogenitary. My father, back home, was having a hard time in the 1590. He had been fined for not going to the protestant church in Stratford, and publicly shamed. These cruelties were to have further disastrous ramifications to his standing socially and for his business dealings in Stratford for the next seven long years. (http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-biography-mother-and-father.htm)
But, enough of my history – let me return to comments on this production at the RST.
King John was very entertaining (a Mr. Richard McCabe) - but a buffoon. I neither believed he was, or could have been, a King. I liked how he crumbled after his mother died, we chaps do that, but there was no spunk in him to start with. This was not the King who had, reportedly, killed off Arthur, his older brother, which, in turn, led to the rebellion and conquest of France. This was a mincing Jester – Kemp would, in his more extreme moments, have felt very at home with this performance - that is why Kemp had to GO! (See: http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/players/player41.html)
And as for the Bastard, Philip, (Mr. Joseph Millson) he too was nothing like the Bastards I was aiming towards - no Margarelon in Troilus and Cressida, no Edmund in Lear, nor Don John in Much Ado about Nothing. HE too was playing it for laughs. On his first entry he (intentionally or not) tripped over the steps on stage – he paused, and, God forgive him, looked long and hard at the offending step – he played his fall for laughs. Well it really is difficult to hate a bastard-jester!
Was it entertaining? Yes.
But not the play I wrote – or, more to the point, was trying to write.
At worst one can say King John is/was a failed experiment.
But this production did not help matters.
(Back home to think how I would re-write it for today’s history...)
25th August 2006. Love’s Labour’s Lost. What is it about American actors and directors – why do they have to be so unsubtle? Why do the have to OVER ACT and SPELL OUT the meaning or the jokes? Why do they underestimate the intelligence of the audience – or – are American audiences actually incapable of understanding my text without these, in the main, excessively physical pointers?
I do not know any Americans. There were none in my day roaming the streets of London (see: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~CAP/COLUMBUS/col3.html and for a brief look at Tudor England and our attitudes towards foreigners see: http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/H/history/guide16/part12.html#top and http://www.history.ac.uk/ihr/Focus/Elizabeth/revcramsie.html). And those Americans I have brushed against more recently seem, on the whole genial, intelligent, and able to understand and enjoy my plays. Perhaps they are different ‘back home’?
Love’s Labour’s Lost is a linguistic tour de force – though I say it myself. The plot is simplicity itself (Synopsis: http://www.onlineshakespeare.com/loveslaboursyn.htm) – three men agree to study for three years with the King of Navarre, renouncing the company of women, fasting when ordered to etc. etc. Feed into the brew the Princess of France, and two ladies in waiting, to settle a property disagreement with the King on behalf of her father…and the boys are tempted by the girls, each falls in love – without telling the others, each hides his feelings behind bushes, up trees etc. And all pretence, eventually, is revealed, admitted to, and the quest for knowledge is superseded by the strength of male hormones!
I added a death (the King of France’s) to the story at the end – because there was a great danger of this little bit of comedic froth just turning into a total load of silliness. So the girls said yes to the chaps BUT they had to wait a mourning-year before they could wed and bed them.
Now is that a silly story or not? AND IT WAS ALL MINE (I’m ashamed to say!)
(Reviews: http://arts.guardian.co.uk/shakespeareyear/story/0,,1855123,00.html and http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/theatre/reviews/article1221429.ece )
One reviewer says a creaking, another an ‘inspired’ interpretation. This Washington (wherever that might be) Company transfer the setting to an Indian Yogi, the lords as his would be disciples from a ‘rock band’ and the girls fetching scooter driving ‘chicks’ from France. OK fun and frolics all round. Palm trees and drum kits as the hiding places. Hip and stoned messengers delivering the wrong envelope to the wrong lover. BUT how come this ‘abstinence’ loving Guru owned come to owe ‘A hundred thousand crowns’, being half of the two hundred thousand which he originally owed, though he had given Aquitaine as collateral for the debt. What is a guru doing with all this property?
Scene 2.1 and the foundations of the interpretation already are proving unsafe, to say the least.
I think that my plays have lasted down the ages because I can be reinvented and reinterpreted to the ‘now’ of the date of the production. I wrote about universal issues that seem never to change. I have no problem with the German production of Othello or the Indian A Midsummer Night’s Dream they took my story and made the ‘issues’ their own, either by using my text or be mainly ignoring it. But they made sense of it.
This production was, as I new it, preoccupied with ‘clowning’ (and if you’ve read my other observations on previous productions seen at Stratford - you will know what I think of excessive clowning.) In American terms, the production was ‘vaudevillian’ (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~MA02/easton/vaudeville/vaudevillemain.html ).
The cast were uniformly crass in the presentation of the comedy. They were playing in a commedia dell’arte style – all physical demonstration rather than movement from language (See: http://www.theatrehistory.com/italian/commedia_dell_arte_001.html) Every line, every joke was made physical. They did not trust their audience to understand my jokes without adding a body bump, a head collision, an inane explanatory gesture, a fart, a stutter, funny costumes, silly wigs, thick glasses, a rolled up joint (that was explained to me during the interval as I listened in on some youngsters), scooter bikes, space suits (that too was illuminated for me after the end of the show) etc. etc. etc…
The actors, rather than searching for the essence of the characters were merely interested in, and satisfied with, comedy business as a pretence for characterisation. Thus the end product was a soap bubble – amusing to look for a fleeting moment, but within seconds, pops - leaving no lasting memory of any substance.
I had a lot of fun writing the linguistic juggling in Love’s Labour’s Lost in 1594 – who can not enjoy such verbal bantering, such linguistic fireworks as these…
COSTARD. The matter is to me, sir, as concerning Jaquenetta.
The manner of it is, I was taken with the manner.
BEROWNE. In what manner?
COSTARD: In manner and form following, sir; all those three: I was
seen with her in the manor-house, sitting with her upon the form,
and taken following her into the park; which, put together, is in
manner and form following. Now, sir, for the manner- it is the
manner of a man to speak to a woman. For the form- in some form.
Let the words make the laughter. Enjoy the sounds I created, the linguistic patterns. My enjoyment of alliteration and repetition will become the audience’s enjoyment too. Actors, Directors – there is no need to mime the whole speech out with a ‘form’ on the stage.
THEY WILL GET THE JOKE – I promise you. They have over the four hundred years the play has been in existence.
Despite myself I acknowledge that the comedy business was funny. The energy on the stage was high. But - why the Director could not have channelled that creativity into performing my play, God alone knows?
The set was brash and shallow, the acting obvious and shallow, the directing unsubtle and shallow…a production which played into the hands of those with a stereotypical perception of America as – brash, obvious, unsubtle and…
Please, please, stop underestimating the intelligence of your audiences! Stop being frightened of my words. There is nothing exceptional about the text (remember the majority of my audience were groundlings – the uneducated masses… see: http://www.elizabethi.org/us/essays/theater.htm )
I went back to my temporary residence depressed.
- an after thought in the wee small hours…the joy of this Festival is seeing my plays being performed by very different and differing companies. A celebration of my global appeal is, to say the least, gratifying. But what is most amazing is that, though we should not caricature nationalities, national traits will out. Compare the German, South African, American and Japanese productions seen. Are not the clichés about national traits, clichés because they have validity? A cliché is only a cliché because it speaks truth. Food for thought. Now – back to sleep…
FAITH RESTORED – 27th August 2006 – (my first play) The Two Gentlemen of Verona. (For a good synopsis of a complicated play see: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Two_Gentlemen_of_Verona/0.html)
To be honest this is the play of a young immature writer. I had a few original ideas in my mind – none of them developed in any depth. I had offered to write a play to Lord Strange at the ‘Rose Theatre’ (See ‘Time Line of theatre companies: http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/dramatimeline.htm) during the period that it was closed because of the 1593 plague (http://www.rsc.org.uk/verona/about/source.html) and, much to my surprise, my offer accepted. To say that I was afeared would be an understatement. I was petrified. Here was my big chance to move from bit actor to Writer. Here was a dream opportunity. So, of course, where did I look for insertion – back to my school books (‘plagiarism’ was not a word that I ever knew). (My Classic teacher had been a great inspiration to me, I loved his lessons. I longed for them. He is the nameless, unsung hero who kicked this apathetic mind of mine into creativity – H.A. I still salute you. http://elizabethan.org/compendium/54.html for a look at my school time table and links to my ‘Classics’ syllabus.)
I always loved the story of ‘Titus and Gisippus’ in Boccaccio’s The Decameron (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summary_of_Decameron_tales) and Ovid’s the Metamorphoses also led me towards The Two Gentlemen of Verona (http://larryavisbrown.homestead.com/files/xeno.ovid1.htm). Those were my inspirations, my muse - where I was drawn to for source material - though Speed and Launce and the dog, Crab, were my creations.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a story (a precursor of many of my plays to come over the next twenty-five years) about the tensions between lovers – male-female, male-male, female-female, that occupied my writing for the next fickle lovers, honest lovers, thwarted passions, disguise, cross dressing, treachery of friends, banishment, and of course, reconciliation in a forest – always in a forest…(In retrospect, subconsciously, the city of London frightened me - I longed for the countryside round Stratford. I think the safety I felt in the forests of Arden always consumed and pacified my mind when the plot of my life and my plays got too tense, too harsh, too based in the reality of my live in the Capital. Being close to the court excited me, as it would any young man, but the political game which could so easily lead to life or death was a knife edged existence which took its toll on my piece of mind. See http://elizabethan.org/compendium/index.html for a guide to the issues I have alluded to in my last little ramble.)
But to return to the production I saw on Sunday (the Lords Day – ah, the sermons that would have been preached in my day if the theatres had dared to play on Sunday. See Stubbs on ‘the play’ in http://heresiarch.org/theatre/part_two.php) – ‘Nos do Morro’ are a Brazilian theatre company - (See website and link to blog of their trip to my Festival: http://www.britishcouncil.org/brasil-arts-dance-drama-liveart-nosdomorro.htm and of the collaboration with young actors from Birmingham’s ‘Gallery 37’ (a group set up for challenging youth to work with professional artists) http://www.rsc.org.uk/press/420_2883.aspx) - made up of young actors (of the age I was when I wrote this play) who have had a hard start to life. They showed an interest in acting and their Director, Guti Fraga, told them to leave their ‘drugs and their problems’ at the door and enter the space created by the play. Over the years the amateurs have become professional in the most constructive way possible – from the use of their life-experiences to feed into my texts.
There was so much life, honesty, music, love, happiness, emotion, togetherness, simplicity, directness, imagination, enthusiasm, clarity of emotions, audience interaction, and ‘story telling’ on the stage that though most of the text was spoken in Portuguese – the emotions within the story were clear. This is an ensemble of actors who believe that ‘the story’ is the thing – props, costume, fancy add on’s are unnecessary - a piece of material is a cloak, a canopy, a letter, and a mask. No need for elaborate gaudy sets and costumes – we never had any need for them in my day, that is why my script contains all the pointers the audience require to understand the context of my text. (See: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/theatres_in_tudor_england.htm and http://www.elizabethi.org/us/essays/theater.htm)
“Be honest.” “Be true to the characters.” Find out what they feel – and then play those emotions. The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a comedy. The laughs came because the audience saw themselves on the stage – yes, all of us were there with our human ineptness, with our personal foibles, with our weaknesses. When, at the end of my play, Valentine scolds Proteus – we feel for both of them. The former for his friend’s betrayal. The latter for his inability to control his hormones. They are just human – they are every-man (and, I’m glad to say, every woman too).
What touched me, especially after the production of Love’s Labour’s Lost two nights previously, was that though this is a poor example of my writing ‘Nos do Morro’ made it into a great piece of theatre. By being true to what the character’s felt the creakiness in plot line, inconsistencies (both plot and geographic – travel by ‘sea’ from Verona to Milan, oops!), and textual anomalies – were all glossed over by the controlled exuberance of the cast on the new ‘Court Yard’ stage - and being delivered in Portuguese helped a lot too.
As I said the cast, were an ensemble, and were uniformly superb – and only, yes only because I was particularly amused by a tour de force by Brito Sales will I single out ‘Crab’ the dog. Truly he was ‘the sourest-natured dog that (ever) lived’ - and the rudest too, as he made love to various actors’ legs on stage! Hilarious, the groundlings would have loved him. (‘Groundlings’: http://www.elizabethi.org/us/essays/theater.htm)
‘Nos do Morro’ is Portuguese for ‘Us From The Hillside’. Thank you for coming down from your Hill to play with us in the vale of Stratford-on-Avon.
We appreciated it immensely. You touched our hearts. You brought love and life back to my retrospective - I am grateful for that.
Safe journey home.
28th August – I have had a very out of body experience… I watched a production of Henry VIII just adjacent to where my grave is – in the chancel of my local Church in Stratford. They were performing the most dangerous, most politically inflammatory, play I wrote, next to my grave in Holy trinity Church (See: http://www.enotes.com/william-shakespeare/where-shakespeare-buried).
What a clear production it was too (Synopsis: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Henry_VIII/0.html). How it brought out the disappointment I, and many others, felt at the time with the politics in London, and especially the lack of political focus James showed and the control over the Queen, Anne of Denmark (http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/stuart.htm). They were more interested in revels, in French fashions, in the rules of sport rather than the rule of law. We all knew that James’ debts were ever growing – he had no control on his own, nor the countries spending – and all knew who would have to bail him out, we would. And the Court was riven with factionalism and nepotism. I subtitled this play All is True because it was. Though I paralleled what was going on in 1612 with Henry VIII’s own story, all I wrote was true. James was out of control as Henry VIII had been. Both were excellent at attempting to justify their actions - and both were lying to themselves. (Antony Byrne who acted Henry VIII brought out this sense of legitimisation of his actions, however blatantly self –motivated, they might be.)
I had to tread carefully when I wrote this play. I wanted to comment on James’ shortcomings – but without loosing my head (not to mention other parts of my body on route to death). (Punishment in my day: http://www.william-shakespeare.info/elizabethan-crime-punishment.htm ) I had to praise James I at the same time critique his current actions. That is why I chose to write on Henry – James’ grandfather. By making him a decent goodly King I was flattering the royal line that led to James but at the same time… It was a balancing act, like those travelling acrobats I have seen that walk on rope on high. I could so easily have fallen.
Perhaps I got away with it because of my reputation and because I had been under the King’s patronage. (More details: http://www.shakespeare.org.uk/content/view/12/12/) Perhaps because I had removed myself from London and was now living quietly in Stratford. Perhaps I got away with it by the force of my passionate (and listening to this performance subtle – who am I kidding) sycophantic last speech by Cranmer extolling the glory of the reigns yet to come of ‘the Virgin queen’ and ‘phoenix like’ rising from her ashes – James I. Or. perhaps because John Fletcher was the front man for this production, he after all collaborated with me on this play, and it was he who presented it to the censor, the Master of the Revels, for performance at ‘The Globe’ ( (Master of Revels: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9063346 and ‘Globe’ Theatre see: http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-old-globe-theatre-picture.htm).
(By the way, this play, unlike The Two Noble Kinsmen was my idea. I had ‘things’ to say, ‘issues’ to air – Fletcher just helped me - a tired old man. ) Henry VIII was a warning – just as Macbeth had been, James wake up to your responsibility – fear the ‘loud rebellion’ and the ‘unruly rabble’ – your friends are those there at the end of the play, at Elizabeth’s christening, ‘your faithful friends o’th suburbs’.
I wanted to point out that what goes up can come down – whether you are a King or a Commoner. Whether you are a Buckingham, a Katherine, or a Cardinal (Wolsey), not to mention the near-fall of Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. All man’ are vulnerable. All mankind are prone to vanities, which can lead to misjudgements. (I noted, yet again, how many times the word ‘conscience’ was given by me to various characters.)
This production was beautifully staged in my church. The audience was arranged down the nave, leaving a tight ‘corridor of power’ for the actors to play in. This worked well, though at times I felt I was at a ball game as my head swung from end to end. There were sublime moments at the end of part one and on Anne Boleyn’s death when the actors were in silhouette as the walked into the chancel area. The singing and music reverberated round the building, as it used to when I attended church as a child. The weaving of the actors up and down the nave was so that all the audience could see the actors faces, but also added an air of ‘history’ being weaved in front of us, and, more important, my argument that ‘peace, plenty, love, truth, terror’ can forge a ‘new nation’ was being unravelled before us. (Reviews: http://arts.guardian.co.uk/critic/review/0,,1858823,00.html and http://americantheaterweb.com/News/newsinframe.asp?id=140650)
And at this performance the fireworks did not burn the church down …unlike in 1613 when the ‘Globe’ burned down during a perf’ of Henry VIII (http://www.onlineshakespeare.com/globe1.htm).
Henry – you added to the agony of the English people. By serving your own pathological desire to father a boy you brought religious instability to a whole nation for near on a century – and in the final analysis was not Elizabeth I a ruler to reckon with, comparable to any ‘man’?
James – you took your eye off the ball in the political game God had ordained you play out in London. You never reconciled the nation, though you had the opportunity to do so. As King of Scotland you could have brought the disparate parts of this great nation together. But you failed – your concept of ‘divine right of kings’ was too narrow, too exclusive (http://www.wwnorton.com/college/history/ralph/workbook/ralprs20.htm). Just as Henry evoked God’s will to annul his marriages – you evoked God’s will so that whatever you did was also ‘ordained’ – as the state of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth. Kings, you thought, are not only God's lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon God's throne, but even by God himself are called gods.
But not by we mere mortal groundlings…
This production illustrated my arguments clearly as we marvelled at the hypocrisy of Cardinal Wolsey (Anthony O’Donnell) and Henry VIII as they twisted and distorted ‘right’ for their own aims, ambitions, desires, greed, but not for the general good. Religion is used by Henry for his own ends and he played Catholic against Protestant doctrine as and when it suited him. I made Katherine of Aragon (Corinne Jaber) and Cranmer (Jem Wall) both out as saints. Religion is best when, as John Donne wrote, ‘she’ is a whore – ‘she’s embraced and open to most men’.
I took no sides. I tried to please all and please none (see my Prologue and Epilogue, ‘’Tis ten to one this play can never please All that are here.’) – I remained, even as I wrote this last play, the consummate impartial facilitator. I pose questions and answer none.
2nd September, Troilus and Cressida. Director, (former, ‘enfant terrible’) Peter Stein. (Biography: http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,11710,1014968,00.html)
(Synopsis Troilus and Cressida: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Troilus_and_Cressida/0.html)
(Reviews of Troilus and Cressida: http://arts.guardian.co.uk/edinburgh2006/story/0,,1850946,00.html and http://www.reviewsgate.com/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=2990 and http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117931344?categoryid=33&cs=1 and http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/theatre/reviews/article1219834.ece)
So what is this play about? Is it a pro or anti-war polemic? Is it about love, the power of women over men, women as the causes of strife, emasculation of man, the Hero disillusioned, the epic tradition debunked, the cuckold, woman as commodity, sexual politics, cynicism, perverse (and irrational) idealism, lechery, military ineptness, the value of women (as Hector says, ‘She [Helen] is not worth what she doth cost The holding’), hetro versus homoerotic love, public enmity versus private relationships, self versus society, victims - both male and female? Power – Power – Power!
Or is it about the over-riding need for ‘order’ in the universe, and what happens if She takes ‘order’ away and lets ‘inconsistency’ reign?
Ulysses: Take but degree away, untune that string,
And hark what discord follows! Each thing melts
In mere oppugnancy: the bounded waters
Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores,
And make a sop of all this solid globe;
Strength should be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son should strike his father dead;
Force should be right; or, rather, right and wrong-
Between whose endless jar justice resides-
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then everything includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last eat up himself.
Why did I write Troilus and Cressida? Because I needed to. The Court, in 1601, was rife with plotting, intrigue, scheming. Factionalism ruled, chivalric behaviour had been quashed by the Queen. The Court was eating itself from within, a kind of self-cannibalising (no wonder there are so many references to eating in the play – I did not realise that at the time of writing it though but Ulysses, Agamemnon, Thersites all speak of those who have self-pride ‘eats up himself’). Elizabeth had been on the throne too long. She was old, frail, and stubbornly refused to name, or even point toward, a successor. Her reasoning in the affairs of state was irrational. Essex was much loved by the people - remember how the whole city came out to salute him as he marched off to Ireland. She should not have had him executed. He died a Hero. She refused to die.
Troilus and Cressida is about the death of the Hero – Troilus/Essex.
Troilus and Cressida is about the fickle inconsistencies of woman – Cressida/Elizabeth.
(Elizabeth: http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/elizabio.htm ) (Essex: http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/people/A0817720.html and http://www.bl.uk/treasures/shakespeare/troilus.html and http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/earl-of-essex.htm)
Is it a tragedy or a comedy - is it satiric, romantic, heroic, ironic? Before John Dryden got his red ink on my text in 1679 and removed, “that heap of rubbish” that prevented it being a proper tragedy (in other words all my comedy scenes) it was a comedy. It can be found under the ‘Comedies’ in the Quarto of 1609, in fact there was a clear front page that emphasised the comedic element of Pandarus. (See: http://www.bl.uk/treasures/shakespeare/troilus.html) Dryden went further, he rewrote huge sections, he totally re-emphasised the plot and had Cressida remain true to Troilus and commit suicide in remorse, and Troilus killed by Achilles . Dryden, me thinks you interfered too much! (Dryden: http://www.nndb.com/people/324/000085069/)
And as for this production – I would like to comment on the performances but in truth ‘the play’ mesmerically became about ‘the set’. The set about a floating bed, a dancing tent and an ode to a WALL - a vast, lumbering wall that set the tone and pace for the whole production. A good forty minutes was added to my script by slow, laborious scene changes. Every change of location became a full-stop to the action. And inappropriate music helped not one iota. (If my production at ‘The Globe’ had lasted so long I would have had to play the last third by torchlight - especially in the winter months.) (See Theatres: http://www.bl.uk/treasures/shakespeare/playhouses.html)
I was reminded of another ‘ode’ to a WALL - which, forgive me, I have adapted:
In this same interlude it doth befall
That I, one Peter Stein by name, present a wall;
And such a wall as I would have you lilt
Can, “freely glide and muscularly tilt
So battles can be won and lost on Trojan land -
Heroic Hector dies, at effete Achilles’ hand.”
And how do our lovers, Troilus and Cressid, fare?
They seem to die in one, last, petulant dare.
This copper, this lumbering-set, this stopper, doth show
That text is all; this truth is so;
And when this wall did lumber right and sinister,
My roaring words were lost, my sense became a whisper.
Admittedly this is not my best play.
But this was not the best production I have visited since my death - though those visitations have been few and far between.
It is little wonder the play was relatively unsuccessful at ‘The Globe’, performed rarely, in fact not at all, between 1734 and 1898. (See ‘Reputation’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troilus_and_Cressida#Reputation) and seldom after that.
I think it is probably the last time I will put my immortal soul through the experience.
September 4th 2006. A slow, ponderous, abridged, and young, ALL’s WELL THAT ENDS WELL – a comedy (though you might not have guessed that from this production) performed by the ‘Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama’ acting school.
(Synopsis of the whole play, and scene by scene break down - as I wrote it: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/All's_Well_That_Ends_Well/0.html)
The first point to note is that comedy is a tricky art form to write and perform. I am not naturally a funny man, as Will Kemp or Robert Armin were (http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/players/player41.html and http://www.clown-ministry.com/History/robert-armin.html). I only had to look at those two (yes even Will who drove me crazy with his ad-libs) to start to laugh. The just were funny people. But the secret of comedy is the build up.
There is a rule I follow called ‘the rule of three’. Analyse most comedy and you will find the presentation goes in a progression of three:
- First the banana skin is seen by the audience - and I mean both a literal banana skin (as in slapstick), or a metaphoric one (as in jokes within the plot). In other words, that which is going to trip up the victim - the threatening obstacle (a letter, a ring, a scarf, a ‘drum’ etc.)
- Second the stooge or victim is set up walking physically/moving emotionally towards the ‘banana skin’.
- Third the audience are reminded of the potential ‘fall’ of the victim by referring again to the dangerous obstacle to be avoided – the banana skin (or the ‘bait’ in All’s Well’s case).
Then we writers play the joke as the victim slides on the banana skin, and we, the audience, laugh because, “there but for the Grace of God go we!” (See: http://www.clown-ministry.com/Articles/the-rule-of-three.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_three_(writing).)
So, in All’s Well That Ends Well (III.6) I set up the import’ of ‘the drum’:
BERTRAM. Some dishonour we had in the loss of that drum; but it is not to
PAROLLES. It might have been recovered.
BERTRAM. It might, but it is not now
- the bait is established. Next I focused in on the victim in (IV.1):
PAROLLES. What the devil should move me to undertake the recovery
of this drum, being not ignorant of the impossibility, and
knowing I had no such purpose? I must give myself some hurts, and
say I got them in exploit. Yet slight ones will not carry it.
They will say 'Came you off with so little?' And great ones I
dare not give.
who, being established as a coward and a schemer, makes the audience want him to slip on the ‘banana skin’ even more. Then, using the rule of three – back to re-establish the banana skin as an object to be avoided:
PAROLLES. I would I had any drum of the enemy's; I would swear I
SECOND LORD. You shall hear one anon. [Alarum within]
PAROLLES. A drum now of the enemy's!
PAROLLES. O, ransom, ransom! Do not hide mine eyes.
[They blindfold him]
and back to Paroles as he slips, is trapped, captured and blindfolded – ready to become the personification of a traitor as he discloses all his own troop strength to, what he thinks are the ‘enemy’:
PAROLLES. O, let me live,
And all the secrets of our camp I'll show,
Their force, their purposes. Nay, I'll speak that
Which you will wonder at.
(For fun you can try the rule of three out on the ‘ring’ gag with which I set up BERTRAM.)
But the rule of three needs time and space to develop. In this production of All’s Well That Ends Well my text had been so abridged by Katie Douglas that my pacing had been truncated - the comedy lost.
All was not well with this All’s Well. (Neat, hu?)
However, what was nice to see was young, eager, actors acting out my text. (I was transported back to 1575, as an eleven year old, standing next to my father, looking on in awe, wonder and excitement at the revels at Kenilworth Castle. I know I caught the ‘acting bug’ that day.) (See: http://www.celcat.com/kworth/castle.html)
In my travels over the past two hundred years I have visited many young people’s productions of my plays. Sometimes I am shocked that my texts are performed as ‘poetry’ rather than as ‘plays’ - far too much reverence for a Stratford-boy-made-good. (AND as for ‘teaching’ a mere Act or two of my plays, as they do in schools now – how do they expect the students to understand (let alone enjoy) my writing? This approach to my plays seems to me the height of folly – would you read a chapter or two of a novel and expect to understand the whole book?)
Of course I wrote for the Court, the Queen and then the King were my ‘patrons du intelligence’ - but I also wrote for my theatre public at The Globe (For a tour of elements of my world of theatre see: http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/stage/stagesubj.html). The groundlings were my people – my plays were ‘entertainments’ just as, The Boy Players or, at the other extreme, the bear bating at the Beargarden. (Tudor ‘entertainment’ see: http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-biography-elizabethan-theatre-playhouse-inn-yards.htm) and the boy theatre at Burbidge’s’ Blackfriars Theatre were (http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/james-burbage.htm).
Ah, the ‘boy’s theatre’, though a rival for my audience, they were such irreverent fun. I used to creep in to the Blackfriars Theatre to watch the young lads’ productions of Marston’s Antonio and Mellida, Jonson’s Cynthia’s Revels, Daniel’s Philotas and the infamous Eastward Ho! (which saw some of the boys of the company, and two of its authors, end in prison for performing and writing that satirical comedy for the Court gallants - at the expense of the King’s ineptitudes.)
I am sure that you, dear reader, need no reminding that women were not allowed to act on my, or any other stage - other than some of the Court ladies (Regal inconsistency – a hallmark of a self-ordained philosophy of ‘the divine right of Kings’) but we did have, much to the Puritan’s horror (See: http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/stage/childactors.html), some excellent ‘boy actors’ at The Globe (Salamon Pavy, Nicholas Burt and Richard Robinson to name but three) who played all the roles of women and children, up to the time their voices broke. (See: http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/stage/childactors.html for further reading on boy actors and the non-acceptance of women on stage).
And the young actors in this production, fresh faced, keen, relieved when the performance was over? ‘Twas ever thus - young people drawn, as bees to pollen, to the liberation of inhabiting another character’s persona, the intoxication of performance before an audience, and the exhilarating beat of ones heart at the sound of applause. (You see – rule of three…I find I write thus without even thinking.) But remember, all you would-be thespians out there; there is, and ever was, overwhelming unemployment. There are too many would-be-actors and alas too-few-parts. Only if you have a burning ambition to be on the stage (an ambition close to a death wish) do not even contemplate ‘acting’ as future employment.
(For a stupid summery of my ‘lost years’ see: http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/life/lostyears.html - in fact I was ‘on the road’ touring with several lesser ‘theatrical’ (I use that word with great reservation) companies, whose contribution to the ‘arts’ was such that I would rather forget my having worked with/for them. But I was learning my craft… For a slightly more accurate introduction to my life in London see: http://www.theatredatabase.com/16th_century/william_shakespeare_001.html For my acting Curriculum Vitae see: http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/stage/burbage.html and, in brief, http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/life/london.html and, some reference to my ‘late performances’ (well as a ‘share holder’ at The Globe I was duty bound to save money and wherever possible, increase our profits. So my ‘old man perfs’ became both a challenge and a fiscal imperative – saved hiring an elderly actor) http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/life/shactor.html.)
So in generous spirit (or as a generous spirit) I say “Well done the ‘Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama’ - you had a fine attempt at my All’s Well That Ends Well with the truncated material you were given.” (Though a little more attack and commitment from you would have helped speed the performance along and paper over the cracks in the adaptation.)
All of you will have personally benefited from your time at your drama school - you will have grown as people...
Some of you might make it professionally…
But only a very small number of your merry band will be acting in ten years time!
Why not think about becoming a solicitor, accountant, a financial advisor – those are today’s pillars of society? (My father in Stratford wanted me to become a glover, an ail-taster, an alderman – those were my pillars of society.) (See my life on the excellent web page (you know - there are NO END TO THE WEB PAGES ON MY LIFE – I am overwhelmed at the interest!): http://www.twbookmark.com/books/64/0316518492/chapter_excerpt10046.html )
September 10th THE RAPE OF LUCRECE – OH DEAR! WHAT WENT WRONG WITH THIS PRODUCTION?
Let’s start at the beginning – my beginning. As has already been alluded to in previous Blogs, my education was steeped in Greek and Latin literature. As a child at school I was fed, Ovid and Senica, Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Suetonius and Livy. I devoured Roman history and Greek myths. I learned verbal patterns such as metaphor, paradox, alliteration, and antithesis used by the great poets, historians, orators, and essayists. My citizenry sensibilities were awakened by the revelation of historical truths, my imagination fired by fantastical fictions.
When I started writing I was for ever returning to the source of my literary endeavour, the comedies of Plautus, the tragedies of Seneca, the epic poetry of Ovid (which freely I admit plagiarising for The Rape Of Lucrece – Ovid’s ‘Fasti’).
At my school in Stratford we learned of the great Greek Gods (An amusing site: http://www.mythweb.com/gods/index.html ), of Greek heroes (See: http://www.mythweb.com/heroes/heroes.html ), sons who killed their father and married their mother (http://www.mythweb.com/encyc/entries/oedipus.html). We learned of heroes and despots, monsters and giants (See: http://www.mythweb.com/encyc/contents.html#o ).
My mind was filled with image upon image - the stories were psychotherapeutic, healing, cathartic – which is Latin from the Greek ‘katharsis’:
- A technique used to relieve tension and anxiety by bringing repressed feelings and fears to consciousness.
- The therapeutic result of this process; abreaction.
From this background I was steeped in high drama. Drama that thrilled, shocked, stimulated the mind AND satisfied the soul – without the audience having to ‘perform’ the acts they witnessed. This was what was meant by cathartic drama (is there any other kind? Discuss…) – by proxy our darkest thoughts are satiated.
Readers - enough analysis. In short – you do not have to be/become a rapist – just read, or listen to The Rape of Lucrece. Be amazed, shocked, horrified as Prince Tarquin justifies raping Lucrece. And be amazed, shocked, horrified as Lucrece justifies killing herself.
In 1594, having had a great deal of success (both recognition and fiscal) with Venus and Adonis I promised my patron, my very good friend, that there would be ‘graver labour’ with my next epic poem – The Rape of Lucrece. (NO dear reader I WILL NOT COMMENT ON OUR RELATIONSHIP. I have held my silence for four hundred years – I am NOT going to break it now (DO NOT LOOK UP: http://www.britannica.com/shakespeare/article-9068901 or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Wriothesley,_3rd_Earl_of_Southampton).
Remember, the theatres were all closed by edict because of the plague of 1592. It was a terrifying time, 15,000 people died in London alone. (See: http://www.william-shakespeare.org.uk/bubonic-plague-shakespeare.htm and http://www.enotes.com/william-shakespeare/shakespeare-london ) I had only recently arrived from touring with small, insignificant, acting groups – I was impoverished. I had to make money to live.
That is why I owed a great dept to the Earl of Southampton, who paid me handsomely for both poems.
But remember where my muse was rooted. I was a young writer steeped in ancient, classical, populist and ‘cathartic’ literature – not socio-political tracts (though admittedly as I grew as a writer I leaned towards such literature).
This romp through my early influences leads me to why the performance today was so far from the mark.
FIRST – The Rape of Lucrece is a poem to be read or read aloud – not performed.
SECOND - The Rape of Lucrece looses credibility if Lucrece is old enough to be the mother of Tarquin. (That would call on quite different source material. See: http://www.mythweb.com/encyc/entries/oedipus.html ) Even when I closed my eyes (trying not to fall asleep) and just listened to my poem the ‘voice’ was still too old. SO - bad casting mister director.
THIRD – Just like the American Companies that I have moaned on about (See July 11th. Henry IV (Parts I and II) and (25th August) Love’s Labour’s Lost), this company of “RSC actors”, as the Director Gregory Doran introduced them, took my cathartic romp TOO seriously.
Long before I wrote my Hamlet I wanted my actors to be like the Greek actors in the great amphitheatres of Delphi, Epidauros, and Philippi. Large in gesture. Sonorous in tone. (Only later as ‘The Globe’ theatre introduced all us young actor/writers to the compression of gesture and voice needed in an enclosed theatre did we change our style dramatique. We were trained in the need to attract, project and hold the attention of the peripatetic masses outdoors – ‘But if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as live the town crier spoke my lines’, only with time and experience (which the RSC actors at this perf’ should have had) did Hamlet’s instructions to the Players need to be modified - ‘Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc'd it to you, trippingly on the tongue […] Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently’.
There was too much sawing at the air, which was ‘Full of sound and fury’ and moved me not one iota. The company (or the Director) missed the central fact that, long before the Jacobean theatrical extremism of Middleton, Webster and Hadfield (See: http://members.fortunecity.es/fabianvillegas/drama/jacobean.htm if you can tolerate the crass music under this Web page!), this poem was essentially an old fashioned entertainment from the tradition of ‘Greek tragedy’. (You see, put like that – I was ahead of the ‘Jacobean tragedy’ genre. I sometimes surprise myself with my foresight!)
In retrospect there were issues that subconsciously I was exploring in this poem, and which I returned to in later plays, the link between sex, death/suicide in Much Ado About Nothing, and sex and honour in Titus Andronicus (June 19th Blog). But those plays were away away – yet to be scribed.
This ‘production’ missed the point.
The Rape of Lucrece was written as an entertainment – this production, mercifully short as it was - was just not entertaining.
September 13th 2006, A Comedy of Errors. Now this was a better student offering (the Royal welsh College of Music and Drama). Compared to All’s Well That Ends Well (September 8th) a much more polished performance. Half the cast understood how to do comedy. Now I do not want to be, as you say now, ‘sexist’ – but the girls just did not get it. More about this anon….
A Comedy of Errors was first performed in Gray’s Inn on December 28th 1594. (See: http://www.william-shakespeare.info/shakespeare-play-comedy-of-errors.htm for Synopsis and First Perf. Notes.) I remember it so well – it was a riot, literally. There was such pushing and shoving that I believe only the front half of the audience saw the play at all. However the buzz from that performance enhanced (if not created) my reputation as a playwright. It made me – set me on the path I had longed for from the moment I left Stratford. (See: http://www.shakespeareidentity.co.uk/early-years.htm and http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-lost-years-1585-1592.htm)
People, over the years since I wrote my plays have ‘dated’ them as if they dropped from my quill with the ease of wine pouring from a flagon. Sometimes that was true. Usually not - it was torture to my brain. Sometimes my pen skimmed across the parchment as if possessed by other than me, my ‘muse’…usually I stared at the blank page in fear and terror. Remember you are only as good as your last product. If you act – it is the last performance which is remembered. If you write – it is your last play that the public note. Pressure! Unbelievable pressure! It is a process as close as a man can get to giving birth. I hated it. And I had to do it.
But the other myth about my life is that I was ‘dropping my babies’ (my plays) two or three times a year. This is false. In later life, true, but my writing of The Comedy Of Errors, my first comedy (See: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/keydates/playchron.html for a not very reliable chronology of my plays), was a drawn out affair. I wrote The Comedy of Errors, and re-wrote it again and again and again, during my so called ‘lost years’ (See Blog, Sept. 8th. All’s Well That Ends Well. http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/life/lostyears.html) Only in 1593 was it ready to be shown to my fellow actors, and only in 1594, as already stated, performed.
It was, perhaps, my most perfect comedy, possibly because it was the most honed. (And that had a lot to do with the Plague (See Sept. 10th Blog) closing the theatres so that Comedy Of Errors was not ‘born prematurely’, to continue my birth analogy.)
Drawn from the ‘Menaechmi’ by Plautus, which I had read at school, I elaborated the plot in the most inventive of ways – instead of having one ‘banana skin’ (See September 8th’s Blog), I created two! A master stroke! Two Antipholus and two Dromios - bracketed, as was Plautus’ comedy, by the dark threat of death. The perfect mix, balance and counter-balance for full comedic effect.
Sub-textually, for I was far too young to ‘knowingly’ have written on these topics, I was exploring my self, my decision to leave Stratford (See http://shakespeare.palomar.edu/timeline/lostyears.htm which might be a true story or might not…) - leaving my wife, weighed heavily on my mind. In The Comedy Of Errors I ask questions such as “What is the self?”, “Who am I?”, Who owns a name?”, “What’s in a name?”. I explore questions of individuality, and how is it secured? Perhaps I was asking myself these questions through my writing? Perhaps I was prompted to write this play because of my need to ‘find’ myself – find out ‘who I was’?
What this production clearly illustrated was the darker side to this play. The threat of death was graphically demonstrated at the opening of the play as the whole cast about to assassinate poor Egeon by firing squad. Because all the characters in the play were in this firing squad it was as if ALL were responsible for the inequities of death for being ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’. You see xenophobia existed in my day too… (See http://www.history.ac.uk/ihr/Focus/Elizabeth/revcramsie.html) there was fear of the ‘other’ especially in London, for as our ships went further and further across the seas trading English goods, inevitably, more and more foreigners came to our land to trade their produce - herbs, spices, cloths, and to find work.
And the threat, dread, anarchy, that ripples under The Comedy of Errors was there in all the boy’s characters. That is why they got their laughs. The audience, who were in the know about the ‘doubling up – the two ‘banana skins’ - were laughing from the relief of ‘there but for the grace of God go we’ as they enjoyed the plausibility of the situation and resultant chaos. BUT the girl actors had a lot of work to do. They did not tell their side of the story well at all. And so did not get their laughs – we did not empathise with their predicament – their being, as it appeared, left at home as the men philandered. And why did they not amuse us – well partly because we could not hear them, and partly because they had no sense (and joy) of my poetry.
ONE - Projection is all. We are, after all – in the ‘communication businesses.
In my early years as an actor I was given a great tip that, after four hundred years, I will pass on – “Speak to the people in the back row”. ‘Projection’ is as simple as that. If you are trying to attract the attention of those furthest away from you – the rest will hear you. (Now it did not help that in this production the Director too many times had his actors facing up-stage (away from we the audience) but even so – if the girls had had the image of the back row in their heads they would have reached us but they did not. And we did not hear my lines! I was actually lurking at the back of the upper tear so heard little of what the girls said – fortunately, as I wrote the play, I remembered most of the missing lines but other members of the audience missed the jokes - unforgivable.)
TWO - My second tip is about my writing - of which much has been written. Reader, and any ‘would-be-actors’ out there, why make speaking my lines such a hard and fearful task. It is easy, honestly! I wrote in a ten beat rhythm: “Suppose you take your damn feet off my chair!” Say it – go on – aloud. TEN BEATS. Just as we talk. Nothing special. “So foul and fair a day I have not seen” Say it – go on – aloud. TEN BEATS!
First, read and understand. Your language is not mine – but it is close enough to make the job of ‘comprehending’ my plays less of a chore than most schools I have drifted in/out of over the years make of ‘studying’ my plays. (By the way – I NEVER WROTE THE PLAYS TO BE STUDIED. ACTED, ‘yes’. ENJOYED, ‘yes’. BUT NOT STUDIED!!!!!)
Next, when you understand most of the text – say the lines. Some are in a strict beat; some are in a poetic form (have a rhythm) MOST are in blank verse – ORDINARY SPEECH! So no need to fear my text. Say the lines and the meaning will become clear. Honestly. I’m not an academic – I was no star student in my Stratford school, I just loved writing my stories - and I did have ‘things’ to say about my here and now.
Which seems to coincide with you’re here and now too.
You see – Nothing changes!
(See: http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/educators/performance/lessonplan.html (especially see very useful Handouts in ‘Materials’ section.) and http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/educators/language/indepth.html for understanding my words, and http://www.holycross.edu/departments/theatre/projects/isp/measure/teachguide/teaching_meter.html for teaching my meter.)
I enjoyed this student offer. There were faults but the spirit of my play shone through. ‘Nimble Jugglers’, ‘Dark-working sorcerers’ and ‘Soul killing witches’ were ever present – for our entertainment.
Friday, 15th September. Measure for Measure. A comedy. (Synopsis: http://www.onlineshakespeare.com/measuresyn.htm and sources: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sources/measuresources.html) I wrote this play in 1603 – the year James II of Scotland processed from Edinburgh to London to become James I of Britain. Elizabeth had died, and with her death was the end of uncertainty as to who would succeed her. But with James’ succession came the uncertainty of how he was going to treat we English – after all Mary Queen of Scots had been his mother – and Elizabeth had had her executed in 1587. This was a time of transition. A time when the roll of the new Ruler was as yet undefined - an open Question.
Consciously, or subconsciously, these issued weighed on my mind. Little surprise then that I wrote Measure for Measure with the three central characters as equivocal as any I wrote. I had too many questions preoccupying my thoughts to create uncomplicated dramatic persona.
Worries became Questions…
What is the Duke doing abdicating responsibility? And why to Angelo? If he trusted Angelo why stay around, spying on him disguised as a Friar? How can the Duke prostitute Angelo’s fiancé? How could he insist on Isabella pleading for Angelo’s life – the man who had ‘raped’ her and executed her brother? And how can the Duke trifle with Isabella’s emotional turmoil for such a long time before revealing that her brother is not dead? Is he a guardian angel or a meddling puppeteer – thrilling at the power of manipulating those around him? A moralist or a moralizer?
How can Angelo be so hypocritical? So intransigent? How can he be so wicked – first for condemning Claudio for a sin that was not a sin in my day – if you were betrothed the Church would turn a blind eye to pre-marital sex, after all, for the majority saving-up for a place in which to live as ‘man and wife’ took money and time. (See: http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/H/history/guide16/part10.html and http://tudors.crispen.org/tudor_women/) But also Angelo was prepared to condemn Claudio to a slow death if Isabella does not yield up her virginity? (See http://www.middle-ages.org.uk/hung-drawn-and-quartered.htm for full details of what that might mean.) And then, having had his way (as he thinks) he orders Claudio’s execution anyway and gloatingly wants to witness the fruits of his labour – by seeing the head of the accused. And all his motives from a puritanical base?
And Isabella too – righteous and puritanical, virginal and unstained – as she proclaims that the purity of her body is more worthy than her brother’s life. But is life less worthy than the womb that gives life? And though she refuses to prostitute herself for her brother’s stay of execution – she is quite willing for Mariana to take her place. Religion or religionism?
All three proclaimed moralists.
NO! Rather - puritan hypocrites!
The plague of 1592 (See: http://www.history.ac.uk/cmh/epiheal.html) and the Puritans had closed the theatres (See: http://www.theatredatabase.com/17th_century/closure_of_the_theaters_001.html), ‘for the cause of sin are plays: therefore the cause of plagues are plays’ as Thomas White had preached at Pawles Crosse during the plague of 1587. The Puritan faction, supported by strong lobby within the City Authorities, condemned the theatre as places from ‘Hell, where you will learn to contemn God and all his laws, to care for neither Heaven nor Hell, and to commit all kinds of sins and mischief’ as Philip Stubbes wrote in 1583 in ‘The Anatomie of Abuses’. I remember those words so well – This Was My Livelihood He Attacked. My life, my soul, my muse, my breath, my food, my sustenance – my reason for being. (See: http://mb-soft.com/believe/txc/puritani.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puritans for more on the ‘puritan’ ethos.)
I laughed at these sad puritanicals who professed Christian ideals, but spat hate at all they came across who disagreed with them. Do they ‘Turn the other cheek’? ‘Love thy neighbour’? When Mark said, ‘He that ears to hear, let him hear’ falls on deaf Puritanical ears. Hypocrites, all of them!
O, what may man within him hide,
Though angel on the outward side!
How may likeness, made in crimes,
Make a practice on the times,
To draw with idle spiders' strings
Most ponderous and substantial things!
Craft against vice I must apply. (the Duke)
And I did - that is why this production of Measure For Measure, dressed in Puritan costumes; surrounded by a semi circular set of cold, stark, steel; sparse of props and harsh of white lighting all contributed to creating exactly the right mood for my ‘dark’, ‘problem’ comedy. (See: http://search.eb.com.au/shakespeare/article-232325 for a discussion on my three ‘problem’ plays – I do not see them in that light but…)
The cast were clear (and ambiguous) in intention, cold and clinical in character, morally flawed throughout… ‘Lord, what fools these mortals be!’ (As Puck says to Oberon.) James Laurenson (the Duke), Richard Dormer (Angelo) and Andrea Riseborough (Isabella) hit the lines - text and sub-text - perfectly. Faultless performances. (And, just to reinforce the comedy credentials of my play, Michael Mears, as Lucio, gave a comic tour-de-force – best I have seen in over three hundred years. Bravo!)
(Just one moan – standing at the back in the new Courtyard Theatre the dialogue gets very muffled when the actors turn up-stage – and these were professionals, they knew how to project - but the ‘theatre design’ beat them (See Sept. 13th for my tips on projection, but I know nothing about modern theatre architecture. One just wonders how the Greeks built amphitheatres with pin-drop acoustics and today, with all your technical wizardry, you can not achieve half of what the ancients did?)
25th September 2006 – CYMBELINE.
If I was writing my plays today this is possibly how I would write them.
(Synopsis of my play goes like this: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Cymbeline/0.html
My sources: Boccaccio’s The Decameron, two anonomous story I read (no authour attached) Frederyke and Jennen and The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune and, of course, my constant companion, Ralphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (second edition, 1587) see: http://www.richard111.com/raphael_holinshed.htm for the oft used ‘source of my stream of consciousness’.
Reviews of this production vary from: http://arts.guardian.co.uk/reviews/observer/story/0,,1879561,00.html to http://stratford.observertoday.co.uk/ents.tvt?_ticket=4MTEDWX263RGUU4GLOMAAQ4S7AKACK5IURXFRQTCAQ2FGKLAFSEQ6QRFL1NA9NTGNMO9CHUTWRQFIQ0EAMTECYZHBHSI7ZZEIOQL456DALONHGSGX2L24NNAD0SEARM9CHZJTRRMLNNAGSSEASP9CHVRH456363R3&_Scope=Flow/Websites/stratford/Ents )
This production by the creative beyond-all-superlatives company called ‘Kneehigh’ (See: http://www.kneehigh.co.uk/ ) alchemized the madness of the nightmare that is Cymbeline with twenty-first century sensibilities – the production hit the mark so contemporaneously in one magical encapsulation spoken by Imogen:
“I’m to meet my love in Milford Haven – WHERE IS MILFORD HAVEN?”
My audience were familiar with the fact that the Roman invasion landed at Milford Haven, and that in 1485 it was the place where Henry Richmond began his assault on Richard III and was crowned Henry VII - the king ‘of renewal’ - uniting Scotland and England as the first Tudor King. James I thought of himself in those terms too – uniter of two great countries. But does that subtext matter now, today? NO.
My audience would have (and did) laugh aloud at my choice of England taking on the Roman tribunes – James I was crazy about all thing Roman - he even had coins minted with his profile stamped on them (fine) - but wearing a laurel wreath (not so fine). But does this joke matter today? NO.
And my audience knew all about the on going battle with the ‘Prince of Rome’, the Pope and applauded both Elizabeth’s and James’ fight to emulate Rome’s (Italy’s) greatness – both war like and peace loving - and at the same time maintain its freedom as an island kingdom. NO MORE oscillating violently between Catholicism and Protestantism, no more (See: http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/Page11.asp ). But do my audience’s fears resonate today. NO.
What matters today is that Cymbeline is a drama about a depressed King (Cymbeline) who has a great loss weighing him down and clouding his judgement (WE ALL KNOW THAT KIND OF MAN).
There is a vicious scheming second wife (the Queen – unnamed, as was my want when I wrote horrific characters) whose desire in life is not for her husband well being, but for her thick-minded mummy’s boy (Cloten) (WE ALL KNOW THAT KIND OF RELATIONSHIP).
There is a daughter of great goodness and honesty (Imogen) (by the way I did mean her to be called Imogen – ‘Innogen’ it is a printer’s error) who the Queen wants Clotten to marry, but who has already committed to her childhood friend and love (Posthumus) (WE ALL WANT TO KNOW THAT KIND OF WOMAN).
And finally two lost children (Guiderius and Arviragus) who knows deep love from another (Belarius) greater than any love the King, their natural father, would have given them (WE ALL KNOW CHILDREN OF ‘BUSY’ PARENTS).
As Emma Rice wrote in the programme (I managed, long after the public had left The Swan theatre, to find one under a seat – I carried it back to my home-for-a-year, Number 1 Shakespeare Street, and fortunately no one noticed this floating programme drifting through the streets of Stratford. I read it cover to cover…) ‘Cymbeline is a fairy tale. It is about where we come from, who we are and how we find our way home’ through the nightmare of this thing called ‘life’.
How does Cymbeline regain his vision and see life clearly again?
How will Imogen be reunited with Posthumus?
How will the two sons be reunited with their father?
How will the queen and Clotten get their comeuppance?
And how will England survive, as Hamlet says: ‘The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ – all that Rome can throw at it?
In a fairy tale all things are possible.
Kings can learn ‘through hardship to be independent, fair, fearless and compassionate’ and become a father.
Imogen can find her true love, ‘and much more, her brothers, her origins, herself’.
And evil - the Queen, Clotten, Giacomo (the liar, manipulator and ‘Iago’ in the play) - does not succeed. Good will triumph.
In fairy tales all things are possible.
Bringing the production into the ‘now’ is central to my writing. I wrote for ‘then’ – but the ‘now’, down the centuries, re-invents and contemporises the ‘then’ into ‘now’. (Work through that last sentence – it does make sense!)
In this production - the Queen ‘doping’ the King up to relieve his pain, the brothers living with Belarius in a ‘squat’, Clotten trying to ‘date rape’ Imogen, Giacomo ‘pimping’ in an Italian brothel – all had twenty-first century resonances.
The ‘now’ coming full circle as a ‘man as a woman’ acting as the narrator/commentator – in this production as a pantomime dame – amused me, for as you know – in my day all my ‘women’ were ‘men’ (See: http://www.globe-theatre.org.uk/globe-theatre-female-roles.htm).
Contemporary references to flowers being pinned to scenes of accidents, the use of puppets, models, war enacted on a games board all gave this production a ‘now’ feel. And the hard (as my Tudor ears thought) unmelodic music crashed trough the nightmare of ‘fears, dreams and memories’ led the audience towards a realisation of ‘who you are and who you might become. Of getting lost and being found, to dads and mums and families in all their wondrous, cracked, comforting glory!’ and I would add to Emma Rice’s notes - to dads and mums and families in all their wondrous, cracked, comforting gory!
The Kneehigh ensemble produced a response to my play that was set here and now – all that I missed was some of my rich language. I toiled hard over it – I was tired, I had written over thirty-five plays by then – as you say, “My head hurt”. So one final thought – perhaps writers, producers, and directors should think carefully about one issue when updating my plays – do they need to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ (An image I am sure Kneehigh would have a lot of fun with?) and contemporise my text as well?
September 27th 2006. THE TEMPEST. At the risk of being boringly repetitive – Hamlet: ‘Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc'd it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as live the town crier spoke my lines. (At times Prospero sounded like a town crier.) Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently; for in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) whirlwind of your passion, (there were many occasions where Prospero shouted at another character without any reason to so do) you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow (Ah, the actor was bald as a coot) tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who (for the most part) are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise. (I think, in retrospect, I underestimated my groundlings. However, at the start of this performance I saw there was so much noise from the very young groundlings that the message to “turn off your phones” – whatever that might mean - was totally lost under the melee).
Having seen Mr.Patrick Stewart give such a fine rendering of Antony (see Blog of 21st April 2006) I was full of anticipation for his Prospero. Ah – the greater the anticipation the greater the dissolution when it is not realised.
This was a production, and central performance, ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ (Macbeth)
(Synopsis: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/The_Tempest/0.html and Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tempest_(play))
From the moment I drifted into the crowded theatre and saw a huge front cloth of a modern radio the warning bells started. I, as you will appreciate from my last Blog, am not a purest. I am not precious about my plays. I do not mind them being re-invented, in some cases totally re-written. But what I hate is pretentiousness – speak the lines, ‘as I pronounc'd it to you, trippingly on the tongue’. Put the pauses in the right places to communicate the character’s feelings through the text.
If, you do not, put the – pauses…in-the-right-place all, will. Not go well. Meaning will, not be clear and. Communication. Will not happen.
I have never heard the last speech of this play so cut up, disjointed and tossed aside by an actor more enamoured of his own voice than the text. Mr. Stewart was more a Bully Bottom than the rightful Duke of Milan (and why pronounce it Milun?)
Directorial choices made little sense either – Caliban (Trinculo: ‘What have we here? a man or a fish?’) was neither very savage nor very deformed. The cold, snowy waste land made no sense of GONZALO: ‘How lush and lusty the grass looks! how green!’. Black drapes swirling in a snow effect slowed the production down (not as much as ‘the wall’ in Troilus and Cressida (see Blog of September 1st. 2006) – and God knows my plays are long enough as they are. And Ariel, that ‘airy spirit’, was so earth bound that all his movements were done at a pace positioned between next-to-slow and full-stop.
This all made little sense to me, but that which made me angrier than all these trivial egocentricities from the actors and director was that they had completely missed the point of the play. The Tempest has no sources because it is about me.
READ THE LAST SPEECH WHICH I GIVE (for the only time in my collected work) TO THE LEAD CHARACTER.
That speech is about how I wanted to stop writing after thirty-five plays, two epic poems and more Sonnets than I cared to count - I had wanted, ‘my project (not to) fails (but) to please (my) art to enchant’. But I was tired of weaving and dodging around the censors, as I wrote in the Epilogue of Henry IV, ‘My fear is your displeasure, my curtsy, my duty’. I was nerve-jangled from appeasing my Royal mistress/master. I wanted to be ‘released from my bands’.
I wanted to, ‘break my staff, Bury it certain fathoms in the earth. ‘And deeper than did ever plummet sound (I wanted to) drown my book(s).’
I wanted you – my audience ‘With the help of your good hands (to) gentle breath (into) my sails’ so that I could get out of London.
I wanted you to blow me gently back to Stratford. I was forty-eight years old – the average life expectancy in London was thirty-three years. My brother Gilbert was very ill (he died a year later, God rest his soul) and he was only forty-five years old. Tempus fugit – ‘devouring time’ (Sonnet 19) was eating me from within, dulling my spirit, draining my energy. I had an overwhelming sense of my mortality.
I wanted my liberty, as did Ariel, Caliban, and I – Prospero.
I wanted to see my wife. My children.
I wanted to go home.
(See: http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/plays/tempestmagus.html and http://www.shakespeare.nowheres.com/queries/display.php?id=4514&replies=1 and http://www.peterlevine.ws/mt/archives/000803.html)
But none of this came over to the audience. It was nothing, as Macbeth says, but ‘a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.’
THAT WAS NOT WHAT I WANTED YOU TO HEAR FROM MY LAST PLAY.
It made me sad…
(For reviews see: http://www.whatsonstage.com/dl/page.php?chan=wos&page=greenroom&story=E8821155213661&PHPSESSID=24cbecde74738d and http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/theatre/reviews/article1218965.ece and http://arts.guardian.co.uk/shakespeareyear/story/0,,1841168,00.html - none of which I agree with!)
October 6th 2006 MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Plot synopsis: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plots/muchadops.html ). I wrote this play in the autumn of 1598 and completed it in early 1599. It had been a cold winter, the Thames had frozen over. And our hearts were turned to ice – there would be no deviation from the plan we (my fellow actor-shareholders) had schemed up.
To avoid the pressure from the censors, who in turn were pressurised by the proselytising Puritans (St. Paul’s Cross was the location of many of these ‘sermons’ See: http://www.britainexpress.com/London/st-pauls.htm), we planned to physically move our Theatre in Shoreditch, the oldest in the land (built in 1576), out of the city limits (where playhouses were not subject to the often hostile city fathers) to Southwark.
I was tired of running the gauntlet of those tampering censors. I wanted to write what I wanted to write, and, more significantly, what I hoped my public wanted me to write. “Bums on seats” is not a new concept. We - John Heminges, Augustine Phillips, Thomas Pope and Will Kemp – all had a living to make (See: http://www.enotes.com/william-shakespeare/shakespeares-globe-theater).
The ongoing hypocrisy of puritan teachings, rumours and insinuations had seeped into my psyche. They blamed the Theatre for all the ills of the nation, and in particular the Capital. “The cause if sin are plays: therefore the cause of plagues are plays”, “What should I speak of bestly plays, against which out of this place every man cries out”, “Are they not rather plain devouers of maidenly virginity and chastity?”
I wrote Much Ado About Nothing because I wanted to vent my spleen on this kind of systematic undermining of the freedoms of speech that bigoted Puritanical thinking was leading to. Oh the hypocrisy - Hero’s ‘virginity’ is more dear to Claudio than her life!
Note: language in life can be a force for good and/or a force for evil. Language is for loving or for violence. Hero and Claudio at first woe with words of ‘love’, contrasted, as I, the ‘impartial facilitator’, always wrote, by Beatrice and Benedick’s continual ‘violent’ use of language. So, I suggest that, in retrospect, the two lead protagonists (pointing the way to my sub-textual message in this drama – ‘freedom of speech’) are Hero and Claudio - not Beatrice and Benedick.
Hero the bright innocent child is brought to near death:
Benedick. How doth the lady?
Beatrice. Dead, I think. Help, uncle!
And as for the Uncle (Leonato) - he is of little comfort, he too believes ‘rumour’ over his own child’s purity. He too wishes her dead:
Leonato. O Fate, take not away thy heavy hand!
Death is the fairest cover for her shame.
And as for the shallow Claudio (who was so susceptible to rumour and insinuation by that ‘plain-dealing villain’ - the bastard Don John):
Claudio. …fare thee well, most foul, most fair! Farewell,
Thou pure impiety and impious purity!
For thee I'll lock up all the gates of love,
And on my eyelids shall conjecture hang,
To turn all beauty into thoughts of harm,
And never shall it more be gracious.
Self, Self, Self! I am still amazed that Claudio is not howled off the stage when, on realising his fault, on hearing the truth of the plot to ruin the marriage, when regretting his part in the ‘death’ of his former love he declares: ‘Sweet Hero, now thy image doth appear In the same semblance that I loved it first’. I did not write ‘Oh Lord, forgive me for the murder of the purest of the pure’ or as Othello preys on his suicide bed, ‘Lord, Blow me about in the winds, roast me in sulphur, Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire’. No - Claudio fails to redeem himself, despite Rumour being proved to be in Satan’s keep, not our Lord’s.
When I wrote this play there was a convention that prose was reserved for holy scripture, learned arguments, and legal documents – but not suited to the stage. That is why I broke the conventions – as a challenge to Puritan sensibilities. My style made the point – medieval romance was dead – long live true love. Claudio woos in verse – and his love is shallow. Benedick woes in prose – he is prepared to fight a duel for his love, ‘…I am engag'd, I will challenge him’ and his love is true.
(Now guess which characters in this drama represents the Puritan faction which I was ‘challenging’?)
But the production in ‘The Swan’ failed to get to the underbelly of my comedy, and decided to make Beatrice and Benedick (good actors as they were – Tamsin Greig and Joseph Millson) the core of the play. Slick comedy business - trees falling over, actors slipping and falling, motorbike alarms going off (I had to overhear about that joke in the interval, we did not have motorbikes in the 1600’s), chase round the theatre, re-setting it in a Cuban village with very bouncy live music etc. etc. - all worked a treat, made me laugh a lot, BUT at the expense of my text. The sub-textual story line became the text. My play, balanced between longing, pain and laughter, was tipped toward laughter – and left me unsatisfied.
(And, finally – I thought I wrote way back in 1599 some very funny dialogue for Dogbury. But I have no idea what he and Verges were up to but it slowed the play down, distracted from my comedy lines, in fact - brought the production (which in the main had been moving along speedily) to a grinding halt. Directors – why let this happen. Play the jokes I wrote – they are still funny, even after 400 years. There is no need for all that over-acting - and that applied to other members of the cast too who were over egging their comic business.
Control and discipline!)
(Reviews: http://www.reviewsgate.com/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=2872 and http://arts.guardian.co.uk/shakespeareyear/story/0,,1780574,00.html (see last paragraph)
October 14 & 15th 2006. HENRY VI (Parts I, II, III) – a magnificent production that filled ‘The Courtyard Theatre’. Abseiling actors; ladders leading up to the Gods; ladders leading down into the pit of Hell; trap doors belching smoke; the dead rising and walking again; the aggressive crash of metal against metal, sword against sword (Oh how the young men in my time loved our sword play); blood belching from wounded bodies (the young men loved that too – as did John Smyth the East Cheep butcher who provided the pigs bladders and blood to the ‘Admiral’s Men’ at the ‘Rose Theatre’ in 1589, 92 and 93. (See: http://search.eb.com/shakespeare/article-9003760 and http://search.eb.com/shakespeare/article-9064093) Also (See (7): http://shakespearean.org.uk/elizthea1.htm); limbs torn off prisoners; decapitations and mutilations by the score; and the chilling sight of a ladder decked with red and white roses - ah, what repercussions for those who plucked those roses. (See: http://militaryhistory.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?zi=1/XJ&sdn=militaryhistory&zu=http%3A%2F%2Fhomepages.shu.ac.uk%2F%7Econseal%2Fhistory.htm)
Ah the pain of seeing England, my England, self-destructs.
I had to write these plays, the first ‘History’ Plays for everyman in my time - I was glad they were categorised as such in the First Folio (1623). ‘History’ as a warning against the increased politicking in Elizabeth’s reign. (See: http://search.eb.com/shakespeare/article-44846)
…power corrupts; the lust for power destroys not only the self but all those around. Whether you are a feisty witch like Joan La Pucelle (Joan of Arc – as you know her now) or Queen Margaret (both parts cleverly played by the same actress in Parts I and II), or a scheming Warwick turning from allegiance to allegiance at whim and for personal aggrandisement, or a straightforward murderer such as Richard, Duke of York – the Bible warns all - ‘those who live by the sword shall die by the sword’. And they do – horribly, brutally, painfully.
The image, in Part III, of poor innocent Henry VI, - a fish out of water, an innocent abroad - being butchered by Richard (now Duke of Gloucester) - his blood spilling out, and slowly spreading onto the stage will stay with me a long, long, time. As King Edward IV parades his new wife (Lady Elizabeth Grey) round the stage his ermine fringed white gown trails (literally) in Henry’s blood – ‘they say blood will have blood’ (Macbeth).
This image of stained, murderous usurping was chillingly superseded by the final image of the trilogy – Richard, Duke of Gloucester, cradling his brother’s baby in his arms, and, in preparation of murders yet to come, he playfully taps the baby’s nose, smiled and said: “Now…” (BLACKOUT) leading us to the opening line of the play I wrote next - ‘King Richard III’ - ‘Now is the winter of our discontent’.
If Part I has an international context, Part II returns to domestic strife – family fighting family. And Part III progressively concentrates on the individual struggle within a family – Richard Plantagenet’s malfunctioning family.
In Part I, I dealt with the ongoing tussle of war with France, in Part II I explored how warmongering breaks down the moral fibre of those who take part, so that even returning ‘victorious’ does not give satisfaction to the soul which is clearly demonstrated by the warring brothers in Part III.
Unlike the animals in the wild who kill for food, the smell of blood for we humans seems to keen the desire for more killings, for more blood. And like the animals in the wild we too are territorial beasts – our home is our castle - we crave land for land means supremacy.
We are no better than the animal, despite our ability to talk and the gifts given us of oracy and advocacy. Our reality is that the fist is the first resort – all else comes as an after-thought.
The boy King, with the wisdom of the innocent, says to the quarrelling nobles, Gloucester and Winchester:
‘Believe me, lords, my tender years can tell Civil dissension is a viperous worm That gnaws the bowels of the commonwealth.’
Are these plays just about those involved in politics and power or are they about everyman? Does a break down in society ripple down to the people, to the ‘common’ wealth of the land, those that work to produce – is that is why I wrote of the Jack Cade rebellion in Part II? (See: http://www.britainexpress.com/History/medieval/cade.htm).
All men, Everyman, are affected by the gratuitous spilling of blood.
Dear reader - you know I pose ‘questions’ but seldom answer them - definitively.
I was, and will remain, the ‘impartial facilitator’.
As always I cite my source for these three plays as Raphael Holinshed (See plot summary, sources and more: Henry VI (Part I) http://www.william-shakespeare.info/shakespeare-play-king-henry-vi-part-1.htm , (Part II) http://www.william-shakespeare.info/shakespeare-play-king-henry-vi-part-2.htm , and (Part III) http://www.william-shakespeare.info/shakespeare-play-king-henry-vi-part-3.htm)
For reviews of this wonderful production (for which I will be eternally grateful) see: http://arts.guardian.co.uk/shakespeareyear/story/0,,1842407,00.html and http://observer.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,412303,00.html and http://www.musicomh.com/theatre/henry6_0806.htm etc.)
Are these plays about a lack of ‘loyalty’: ‘O where is loyalty?’ King Henry VI cries out. What are the repercussions of a loss of this attribute? - in the ‘good old days’ of ‘good Queen Bess’, people would literally ‘stab you in the back’ (as the plays all too clearly demonstrate).
My perception now, in the twenty-first century, is that they ‘literary’ do the same - through printed ‘memoir’.
Kiss and sell – Judas revisited.
A different form of stabbing, but one which has the same intent…?
As for this mammoth production –
A collaboration that did my plays greater justice than ever I could have hoped for in those early, heady, years as a new writer in London.
October 26th. 2006 The Life of Timon of Athens. Why, oh why, is this play not performed more often? I am so fed up of all the conjecture, rumour and academic discourse that surround this play. Reader it is very simple – between 1604 and 1608 I had written Measure for Measure, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus and Timon of Athens. (See: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/keydates/playchron.html for chronology of my plays) I was completely exhausted so I recruited a new writer, Thomas Middleton (See: http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/middleton/), to collaborate on this play with me. It was never performed. Why? Because the Master of the Revels, Edmund Tilney, (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Tilney ) got wind of it and, in his usual delicate way warned me off completing it - it was, “too contentious and seditious”.
(See: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Timon_of_Athens/0.html for an excellent Synopsis of my play.)
What is Timon of Athens about? Money. Greed. Insecurity. Foolishness and Innocence. Buying favours, love and admiration from ones fellow man. Borrowing with the right hand and giving with the left - often to the same people who lent you the money in the first place. An endless cycle leading to a depressing spiral which, inevitably, can only lead one way – into irreconcilable penury and homelessness. And with ‘homelessness’ comes rootlessness, a loss of being grounded – both physically and mentally. So Timon loose both his inner and outer stability. By the end of the play he is a raving mad-man, ranting at all who cross his path, decentred and detached, thrashing around in a fog of bitterness and contempt for all mankind.
And all because he valued consumerism over socialism.
Timon sees virtue in ‘artefacts’ - paintings, poetry, jewels, textiles, clothes (See Act I.2) - rather than virtue in the ‘honesty’ of his servant Flavius. Blinded by artificiality and surface recognition Timon looses sight of the reality, and fiscal suicide of, giving ‘great gifts [to his friends], And all out of an empty coffer’ (Flavius. I.2.191-2).
I was very proud that the great philosopher Carl Marx was inspired to write that his thinking that money acts as ‘the universal whore […] the alienation of human capacity’ was inspired by this play - but he failed to recognise that in the end we are masters of our own destiny – Titus’ perversity keeps him poor at the latter stages of the play. Having found gold in the woods HE chooses to give it away, devalue its real worth and use. Pride, stubbornness, and his own alienation from his own self, acts as the continuance of the condition he has chosen to live in.
‘Self-determination’ is a theme I continually return to in my work.
But I digress a little – why did Master Tilney warn me off finishing this play? The answer is very simple. By 1607-8, when Middleton and I were working on this play, the English aristocracy (and King James and his wife in particular) were on this downward spiral, heading towards fiscal ruin, and if their world collapsed so too would our world - just like Flavius.
As England became an international trading power, luxuries became available and, those who could afford them, bought and out-bought, goods to be abreast, if not ahead, of the latest fashion accessory-loving neighbour. As tastes grew more sophisticated, noblemen who wished to impress peers and subordinates with the splendour of their “bounty” were forced into the cycle of greater spending, and greater borrowing. The court masques, introduced by Queen Anne, became more and more expensive and elaborate, baroque and ritualistic, symbolising, as they thought, Anne and James’ power and majesty. (See: http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/james/jamesbio.htm)
James foolishly, blindly (despite advise from Parliament) led the field (See ‘Conflicts with Parliament’ in: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_I_of_England#Continuing_problems_with_Parliament ) I think that our ‘good’ King James' love, and fiscal support, of the arts, and literature in particular (for which I was at that time grateful) was two edged. He was a literary patron but he also saw that ‘literature’ was a shrewd form of propaganda. He realised that books, masques, sermons, and plays could all be employed in His service, that they were the means through which could best distribute his views of kingship and impress upon a large number of people His power and majesty (See: Divine Right of Kings: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_Right_of_Kings#Stuarts).
When the Master of the Revels heard of my blatant critique of James he warned me off. He called me into the Lord Chamberlain’s office, Thomas Howard was there (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Howard%2C_1st_Earl_of_Suffolk) and I was ‘subtly’, yet persuasively’ threatened. Parliament was giving the King a hard time – “We do not need a writer of popular plays, who, need we remind you, is under the largess of his Royal Highness, to write critical polemics. Too contentious, too seditious. Stick to comedies or distant historical tragedies. Contemporary issues are not for contemporary consideration. Let history judge the now - anon.”
Their position was clear. My career, nay my life, was in danger. I abandoned Timon to posterity and wrote a magical fantasy Pericles, Prince of Tyre – and no one could object to that play.
But returning to this recent experience - what particularly moved me about the production (besides seeing a forgotten play produced) was that it was performed by a troop of actors called ‘Cardboard Citizens’ (See: http://www.cardboardcitizens.org.uk/about.php and http://www.cardboardcitizens.org.uk/professional_theatre.php?id=32 ). The cast were all people who at some time in their lives have, like Timon, lost their money, lost their homes – and as a result have become rootless - and lost their way in life. They too had been punched by the ‘quick blows of fortune’, but their involvement with ‘Cardboard Citizens’ had given them a focus again, grounded them. Truly some of the ‘concepts’ (like starting the evening as a ‘Management training’ exercise were not carried through, nor were they were not the best actors I have seen - but that mattered little. They understood my play. They understood where Timon was coming from – and where he went to (both physically and, more importantly, mentally). They had been there. They had returned – unlike Timon who, arguably, chooses out of his own character weaknesses, not to.
However there was added poignancy injected into this production, with the occasional interruption to my drama, from film footage of people, today in 2006, who were on the same downward spiral that I wrote about four hundred years ago.
November 10th 2006, The Taming of the Shrew – a COMEDY!
First let me say that I have a cold. Yes - spirits from the other side can get colds. This damp, warm weather does not suit me – I much preferred those cold winters when the Thames froze over in 1607 (See: http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/locations/location154.html). Now I am not playing for sympathy, nor am I in any way suggesting that my ‘condition’ affected my critical facilities – but this performance of The Taming of the Shrew was deadly boring!
How can any production of this play NOT raise a laugh?
Well – this production stoically bored their audience, delivered my lines at a dull pace, resorted to pantomime rather than presenting the situation I had created, gave us badly played music, men half-dressed as women - without a single attempt to capture female sensibilities (yes this was an all male cast – just like in my day), and failed to raise a laugh other than by crude exposition, encapsulated by Petruchio’s appearance at his wedding in a costume that reveals his bare bottom, who then proceeds to urinate into his large hat. And if that wasn’t ‘funny’ enough (and I use the word ‘funny’ with all the irony I can muster) – Petruchio then, yes you guessed it – puts his hat on his head! Laugh – I nearly cried – at what this company were doing to my COMEDY! (See: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/The_Taming_of_the_Shrew/0.html for synopsis - which has more humour in it than this production!)
Reader I am all in favour of bawdiness, I am not a prude – I pandered to the groundlings (Excellent essay on: http://www.elizabethi.org/us/essays/theater.htm ) humour (and those in the Court too) ‘many a time and oft’ - but really I always surrounded the bawdiness with poetic incites.
This production failed dismally to portray the beauty of the conflict between the two sisters - which in reality is the heart of my play. Kate and Bianca are two sides of the same coin, bless them. They both want/need love (in their own ways) and were both being thwarted by the demands of their father and society – remember, Kate had to marry first! (For a great overview of my England see: http://forums.canadiancontent.net/history/49884-time-travellers-guide-tudor-england.html and for how women were treated see: http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/H/history/guide16/part10.html)
The Taming of the Shrew was my second comedy (after The Comedy of Errors) but my seventh play (See: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/keydates/playchron.html). I was not a newcomer to writing. I knew what worked and what did not. My patron (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Chamberlain%27s_Men) trusted me and my writing. Clearly Mr. Edward Hall (the director of this travesty at the ‘Courtyard Theatre’) did not!
(I was amused to read in a programme I stole that this company, ‘Propeller’, and I quote, ‘want to rediscover Shakespeare simply by doing the plays as we believe they should be done: with great clarity, speed and full of as much imagination in the staging as possible.’ Unpacking that mission –
Question: Why ‘rediscover’ that which is already both in the public domain and already proved to work if actors ‘do the play’?
Question: Why does this company think they know better than 400 years of performances of The Taming of the Shrew?
Question: How can there be ‘clarity’ if the delivery is confused and dreary? This effects audience perception of…
Question: ‘Speed’? See previous question.
Question: ‘Imagination’? See previous, previous question!
Sadly the company just did not trust my play or their egos are bigger than mine?
I used as my inspiration Ariosto’s comedy The Counterfeits (See: http://www.wayneturney.20m.com/commediaerudita.htm ) - no mean writer of comedy. Admittedly an amateur, but a scholarly who typically wrote with a precise five-act structure which followed, as I did, the "classical pattern" of exposition (protasis), complication (epitasis), resolution (catastrophe); and commedia erudita utilized a small cast. Ariosto knew his comedy.
There was one, and only one, point of interest in this production. Most productions give a nod only to the opening interlude with Sly. Mr Hall integrated well this prequel with the play by having the actor playing Sly also play Petruchio. What this did was highlight was my themes of disguise and transformation that surrounds the two strands to my play – that of Kate (who is transformed by a man) and the disguised suitors of Bianca (who are transformed by a woman). This was eloquent.
BUT NOT ENOUGH TO MAKE ME STAY FOR THE SECOND HALF!
My cold! Remember my cold? My spirits were in depression – my humours were truly out of balance. (See: http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~wesmith/214materials.html#Humors) I went back to Number 1 Shakespeare Street. Read the programme I had taken - threw it in a corner, turned over and went fitfully to sleep.
[Post Script: Please note that The Taming of A Shrew (which academics discovered many years later lodged in 1594 at the Stationers’ Register) was in fact a foul copy (See: http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/literature/manuscripts.html ) that had been doing the rounds. It was a ‘version’ of my play – but remembered by actors who had stolen it for their own productions. (I never did find out which company – but I have my suspicion.) Well that’s cleared up that mystery.]
November 17th 2006 Richard II – the play that nearly cost my life! (Housekeeping: Synopsis: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Richard_II/0.html and Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_II_(play) )
This was a stupid act of mine. I was just too too sure of myself. Eleven plays into my career. Success with a blood bath with Titus, comedy and laughter with The Taming of the Shrew and The Comedy of Errors, Tragedy with the oh so sad Romeo and Juliet. But it was in the history plays that my politics, my socialist ideals came to the fore - the three parts of Henry VI, Richard III and, emboldened by those plays – Richard II... History plays were not the ones through which to air my issues. History is for observing not for talking or, God forbid, writing about. The ‘then’ informing the ‘now’ can be a real threat to those who ‘now’ do not want to remember ‘then’ and learn…
as WARWICK says in my Henry IV: There is a history in all men's lives, Figuring the natures of the times deceas'd; The which observ'd, a man may prophesy, With a near aim, of the main chance of things As yet not come to life.
That History can be a threat had been all to readily illustrated in 1600 when at the treason trial of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex - amongst the evidence was presented the historian John Hayward’s history of ‘Henry IV’ – dedicated to Essex in 1599 which sold a thousand copies even though he was a renowned plagiarist! Hayward was committed to prison for his “treasonous writings”, and languished there till January 1601 before being released. A year wasted. A year of examination and fear for his life. I sweat at the thought of it… (even though I despised the man). (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hayward )
I was a fool!
I was flattered when Essex’s men - Essex a man I admired, a man who was much maligned by the Queen - came to me and asked my company to perform Richard II on February 7th 1601. That date is etched on my memory. I did not know – as God is my witness – that a rebellion was planned by Essex on the 8th February. Truly – I DID NOT KNOW! I still curse Charles and Joclyn Percy for paying us forty shillings for this private performance. A Judas – they nearly sold our lives for forty shillings! Perhaps I should have realised when only eleven of Essex's supporters attended the Saturday performance – but hindsight is a great ‘I told you so’ - after an event! (See: http://www.engl.uvic.ca/Faculty/MBHomePage/ISShakespeare/Resources/Essex/default.html)
Elizabeth new my play - she, surprisingly, aligned herself with the named character, and was reputed to say (though not in my hearing), “I am Richard I. Know you not that?” She complained to the ‘Keeper of the Records’, William Lombarde (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Lambarde ), that the play was performed forty times in "open streets and houses." I can tell you it was not – but she was not above spreading false Rumor…. for ‘Rumor is a pipe Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures, And of so easy and so plain a stop That the blunt monster with uncounted heads, The still-discordant wav'ring multitude, Can play upon it.’ (Rumor, Henry IV Part II)
We were hauled, on mass - as a Company - to be interrogated. And, as all know – the Court believed our story. We knew nothing. The Chamberlain's Men survived (which was more than poor Essex did). We performed, ironies of ironies, Love’s Labour’s Lost - for the Queen, on Shrove Tuesday 1601 - the day before Essex's execution.
And now to the production I saw on Friday last…extraordinary. ‘The Berliner Ensemble’. White faced, white walled, non-realistic (I believe the word is ‘Brechtian’) production. The queen’s crown – small, perched precariously (like their future) on her head. Courtiers – decadent, playing a game called snooker in the court, caring little for the affairs of State or whether Richard had ordered the death of Thomas of Woodstock – little mattered to them so long as their protected world stayed in tact. Richard’s first entrance – starts as a dissolute, then returning to his thrown to pick up his crown before speaking his first line, Rumor abounds – mud slung - literally – till the world of my play (and the stage) became too slippery, to dangerous, to safely traverse.
My query is that Brechtian theatre alienates the audience in an attempt to make us, the audience, think for ourselves about the subtext of the play. All very well – but I want to engage them not remove my characters from them. I wanted to engage my audience in a dialogue – I too have issues I want to air. Am I too Brechtian – he did love adapting my plays…? (See: http://www.universalteacher.org.uk/drama/brecht.htm )
With Bolingbrook and Mowbray slugging it out the King feels threatened because either and both can tell the truth – that Richard did order Woodstock’s death. But my core issue is not with the lies rulers tell – we all know that politicians lie – but that those surrounding ‘power’ were threatened by Bolingbrook’s challenge to the ‘divine right’ to rule – this would shake the status quo of the realm, their security – the security of the elite. Oh, how do they in privileged position turn their backs on the ‘others’, the ‘lessers’, how they flaunt their wealth on conspicuous consumerism at the expense of those far, far less fortunate.
It was thus. It is thus.
But I want to engage my audience with this argument. I want the rich in my theatre – down through the 400 years since I wove my ‘mortal coil’ – to squirm as they see this play. They are the privileged. They are the courtiers.
There were images in the production that will stay a long time with me. But there are reservations too. That the actors, despite, or maybe because, they disengaged themselves from my characters - engaged me. This is the conundrum of Brecht’s style. I do not know how it works. It is alien to me – but this production got to the heart of my play.
I want to hate Richard II as he stole Bolingbrook’s inheritance to pay for yet another sortie in Ireland. And I also wanted my audience to feel sorry for him as he looses his name – his identity: ‘I have no name, no title - No, not that name was given me at the font - But 'tis usurp'd. Alack the heavy day, That I have worn so many winters out And know not now what name to call myself!’
I want to applaud Bolingbrook for challenging the divine right to rule and yet I despised him too for taking the throne – because he can take the throne. One despot superseding another.
There is no progress there. Or are ‘they’ all the same underneath – That which we call a rose By any other name will prick as well?
A thoughtful evening – despite my reservations on the style of the production…
(That’s TWO very interesting versions of my plays by German companies – see Blog on Othello February 28th 2006.)
December 1st 2006. PERICLES - my triumph! Why has this story been so neglected down the centuries? Why, when it is performed is it regarded as an anomaly, an aberration on my part? Sent up, over acted, over elaborated…
Fact: it was co-written (in 1609) (See: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/keydates/playchron.html ) with George Wilkins (See: http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/George_Wilkins ) whose own novel ‘The Painful Adventures of Pericles, Prince of Tyre’ was the acknowledged inspiration for my revisiting John Gower’s (See: http://www.luminarium.org/medlit/gower.htm ) fourteenth-century masterpiece ‘Confessio Amantis’ – his version of the classic story of Apollonius of Tyre’s epic voyage through life.
AND I make no apology for being so influenced by Wilkins and Gower – because there is the rub, there is the point of my life’s work – I was, and am – ‘A Story Teller’. Nothing more. And, I hope - nothing less. A Storyteller.
This was my 33 play. I wanted to go back to my roots – my original muse. The epics of Plato, Plutarch, Homer, Ovid – oh, Ovid! I needed to write a story in the mould of ‘The Odyssey’ – full of incidents, quests, battles, guile, evil and good, beauty and ugliness. In ‘Pericles’ the giant with two heads became King Antiochus ‘making the beast with two backs’ with his own daughter. Kalypso’s ‘lust’ for Odysseus is turned into Antiochus’s daughter poisonous seduction of Pericles,
‘Of all 'say'd yet, mayst thou prove prosperous! Of all 'say'd yet, I wish thee happiness!’
Even the games that Alkinoos threw in honour of Odysseus are mirrored in the games King Simonides throws for his daughter’s birthday.
Pericles is an Odyssey, an Iliad, a quest story in the honoured, vaunted ‘oral tradition’. I was in a way party to the death of that tradition – for which I express regret. The Guild plays, the Mystery plays, the travelling story tellers before the printed press were products of the oral tradition. Stories were handed down, not on the printed page, but word of mouth – father to son, mother to child, friend to friend. There was little elaboration, few ‘props’, no ‘costumes’, little music – just storytelling.
The listener listened – and he/she too became, as if by magic – part of that tradition, part of the perpetuation of the telling-of-the-story. They, by the very act of listening, join in the long history of the telling of that story – the listener stretches, at the same time, back into History and forward into the Future as they receive the story and are able to move the story on to another, yet to be discovered, listener-to-be.
My plays, the novels - all are too complex to be re-told in any way, other than crude synopsis, than by being read. That is why there were so many ‘variations’ of my texts – too many miss-memories of performances. An uncomfortable mix of the ‘oral tradition’ and the burgeoning ‘written’ one. But storytelling, by its very nature, is not to be remembered word-for-word but remembered for its essence – it is like being part way on a ladder which stretches down into the bowels of time and up into the unknown clouds above. The story, in its simplicity, is a joining of people throughout time.
“And they lived happily ever after” is the essence of the story, though the quest might at times be as close to death as death itself. Tossed by raging sees brings our Hero close to Death, ‘loosing’ a wife to Death in childbirth brings our Hero to the depths of despair, loosing a child to whoredome is a fate that would break the strongest father.
But the wife is re-bourn:
‘PERICLES. Reverend sir, The gods can have no mortal officer More like a god than you. Will you deliver How this dead queen re-lives?’
- the daughter is re-found:
‘MARINA. Is it no more to be your daughter than To say my mother's name was Thaisa? Thaisa was my mother, who did end The minute I began.
PERICLES. Now blessing on thee! Rise; thou art my child.’
- the family is re-joined:
PERICLES. This, this! No more, you gods! your present kindness Makes my past miseries sports. You shall do well That on the touching of her lips I may Melt and no more be seen. O, come, be buried A second time within these arms!
MARINA. My heart Leaps to be gone into my mother's bosom.
PERICLES. Look who kneels here! Flesh of thy flesh, Thaisa; Thy burden at the sea, and call'd Marina, For she was yielded there.
- and “they live happily ever after.”
Through strength of character Heroes can die and be re-borne many times. In the figure of the Hero we see that which frights us – and which can be overcome. The stories, the liberating magic of these fairy tales - were told by the storyteller down through the ages – but alas no more. There seems little call in your today for moral tales, in practical advice, in proverbs or maxims. In your today you do not want to be counselled by the storyteller - because the epic side of Truth, the wisdom imparted by the storyteller is feared. Yes feared. You want packaged ‘truth’. Packaged ‘information’ and ‘explanation’. Small accessible headlines that can be easily assimilated and believed – not lengthy universal discourses that you have to think about and make your own.
The most extraordinary things, the most marvellous things, are related with great accuracy by the storyteller – but the psychological connections are not forced on the listener. It is left for him/her to listen, interpret, assimilate, in a way that (s)he understands – thus, and only thus does the narration, the story, achieve a depth of recognition and understanding that will perpetuate it forward into the future (and back to the great chain of the past). This then is the nature of the web the storyteller creates – and today you intellectually shy from. Why?
In your today, you seem to be intellectually satisfied by watching small minded dramas on your box-in-the-corner of the room. Small bite sized dramas of little consequence, all nicely packaged with neat beginnings and predictable endings – and just in case you are frightened by ‘what you might see’ a storyteller, of sorts, tells you what you are about to see if you watch next time. No surprises. Thus no fear of the unknown. Thus no chance of learning anything (even if there was anything to learn from such dross) from the next uninspired and uninspiring part for all is predicted and predictable.
And in the production in the ‘Swan Theatre’ the magnificent story of Pericles’s odyssey was told by Joseph Mydell as ‘Gower’ (you see I freely acknowledged my source) with such stillness, intensity, clarity, humour (he even sent up my doggerel – which incidentally, and in my defence, faithfully mirrors Gower) that the audience were, as they should be, sucked into his adventures as he swims, sinks, and swims again through the epic we call ‘life’s journey’.
Bravo actors, bravo Mr. Dominic Cooke (the Director) for getting a group of sublime actors together who understood how to be part of a story. Bravo too for stripping all the seats out of the groundling area (See: http://shakespeare.about.com/cs/homeworkhelp/a/audience.htm ) and allowing the common man to be peripatetic.
It was just like the story tellers of my youth in Stratford who would entertain us in the market place. We would mill around entranced by him - being as much listeners as actors in the great sweep of the story as it was unfolded before us creating a chain of ‘memory’ which would pass from generation to generation in an ‘epic of remembrance’. (See: http://42explore.com/story.htm for more about the history and art of storytelling.)
December 1st 2006 - A magical evening in which the storyteller led (and let) the audience witness the ‘righteous man’ – Pericles – reflect the righteous (wo)man within ourselves - and he (and we) lived happy ever after –
Gower’s last line of my play: ‘New joy wait on you. Here our play has ending.’
(Reviews: http://www.whatsonstage.com/dl/page.php?page=greenroom&story=E8821164029419 and http://arts.guardian.co.uk/shakespeareyear/story/0,,1949407,00.html and http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,14936-2456977,00.html )
December 6th 2006. The Winter’s Tale. Very interesting seeing this play so soon after Pericles.
Written in 1609 and 1610.
Both about loss and death(s).
(Synopsis The Winter’s Tale see: http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/winterstale/
Synopsis Pericles see: http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/pericles/ )
Fact – both plays were presented in 1610 by the King’s Company at the Globe Theatre (See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/shakespeare_william.shtml and http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-globe-theatre.htm ).
Fact: In 1612 I gained permission to live in Stratford. I had, to all intense and purpose, retired. Mortality weighed heavily on me - ‘every third thought shall be my grave’ (The Tempest). I had lived in London, surrounded by the pressures of the Court; the crush of the people; the demands of my employers; the exertions of writing new plays, acting and running a company; the subliminal threat of the censor – not to mention the reality of the plague, pestilence, dirt, stench and decay that greeted and threatened my daily existence (See Paul Hentzner’s records of my time: (for the court) http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/hentzner.html and (for the countryside) http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/h/hentzner/paul/travels/index.html and (for London) http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext99/trvfg10.txt ). My younger brother Gilbert was ill (he died in 1612, God rest him). I was tired, no – exhausted. I had a longing to return home, back to the calm and cleanliness of sleepy Stratford. The glamour of the Capital, and glory I had received (earned), now palled.
Set me Free!
Look at the subject matter of the last five plays written in London: Timon of Athens (a man used and exploited); Pericles (a man who looses a wife to Death, his daughter to a life of abuse – a living death); Cymbeline (lost/dead children, poisoned daughter); The Tempest (my loudest cry to my employer (King James) to let me go to, ‘release me from my bands’) – all subconsciously about fatigue and death. I wrote in metaphors that thrived in ambiguity. I set my plays in the reality of the ‘Ancients’ – but meant them to be about the ‘Now’ of my reality in 1610.
What was interesting about this production I saw in the Swan Theatre was that the same company (as Pericles) used the same open set to tell The Winter’s Tale. In a strange way the set has never been important to me. I never used them. I wrote my settings into my text. I described the conditions of the scene through my words. All was there in auditory form. But having committed to such a dramatically open setting in Pericles, which I thought considerably aided the dramatic representation of Pericles’ journey, I felt that the progress of The Winter’s Tale was in fact hindered by the set.
The Winter’s Tale is a domestic tale. Jealousy leading to multiple Deaths is set in Courts of varying statures. The grand Courts of Sicilia and
Bohemia, and the smaller, more parochial Court of the Old Shepherd are the seats of this drama. There are personal journeys, but little physical ones of any testing (to the characters) significance - unlike in Pericles. The open sweep of the set does not match the internal claustrophobia of the plays. A case of one set not fitting all plays. Interesting – either do away with sets, as I did, or build sets to serve the individual play.
(Having said all that a special mention of the rain effect that greeted Antigonus, as he left the baby Perdita, bucketed down, soaking the actors but, miraculously, not the audience who were a mere arm’s length away from the rain on all sides. Well done Mr. Mike Briton – a triumph of special design. Oh yes, and what a bear…that frightened the children who were groundlings. You could not have done that in my day – we used a real bear!) (See: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/tudor_sports_and_pastimes.htm )
This is a play that is dark and sad. In my time a ‘winter’s tale’ was a tale that was unreal, fanciful, told by fire light in the chill of winter. Yes, some of the play stretches credulity - and certainly the clown’s scenes that surround the Old Shepherd’s sheep-sheering feast are long, long – VERY LONG! And stretch even my penitence - sorry, I should have pandered less to popularity and cheap laughs, but needs must when bills have to be paid... But overall I think this is a good play, tired, in the sense of sometimes unfocused, but still a good piece of work.
Wonderful performances. A great company of actors.
But seeing these two plays together just reminded me of how I felt as yet another decade of playwriting loomed ahead of me. As 1609 turned to 1610 I decided to work towards retiring home to my long neglected wife and grown up children in Stratford. In retrospect - was this a conscious decision – no; a sub-conscious one – most definitely yes.
(Reviews: http://www.reviewsgate.com/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=3152 and http://arts.guardian.co.uk/critic/review/0,,1949127,00.html and http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,14936-2456977,00.html )
And a final thought - as Hermione’s statue comes alive I watched the young ‘groundling’ children. Their mouths were gaping open in wonder. They had stood through my three-hour play in wrapt attention. They might not have understood every word – but they understood my story. The magic of the storyteller visibly enveloped the children – I felt proud of my work.
December 12th 2006. The Merry Wives of Windsor (the musical). This will be the shortest blog of all – for, ‘Nothing can come of nothing.’ (Lear – in another context.)
I stood at the back of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for three dreary hours with my mouth wide open. Aghast at the sheer waste of time, effort, money, AND most of all – wasted opportunity.
Opera has tapped into my plays for centuries, Othello, Macbeth and of course Falstaff have all inspired operatic composition. Musicals too abound - The Boys From Syracuse (based on The Comedy of Errors), Kiss Me Kate (based on The Taming of the Shrew), West Side Story (based on Romeo and Juliet), Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Return to the Forbidden Planet (based on The Tempest), (See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A2903609 ).
Yes The Merry Wives would make a good musical. But this was not it. It was - to be frank - a mess!
The set was fussy and over-elaborate.
The costumes – set in so many styles the production felt rootless (which it was).
The music by Paul English by derivative of numerous others – any (all) of Lloyd Webber’s musicals, Les Miserable, Sigmund Romberg’s The Desert Song, hoot-nanny country music, Stomp. (All shows that have had their day…)
The lyrics by Ranjit Bolt were trite, puerile doggerel. Unmemorable. Of no worth at all.
The Director (and adapter), Greg Doran, must have ‘had a laugh’ in rehearsals inventing sight gag after sight gag. Pity he forgot about the essence of my comedy – pathos. We must feel for Falstaff otherwise there is no empathy. And if there isn’t any empathy there is no connection with the poor bastard being done badly to – all be it that he deserves the retribution being heaped upon him. In short – we just could not care a damn for Falstaff’s plight.
And I didn’t.
I am proud to note that many critics have, down the ages, noted that this play was ‘one of the best farces ever written’. Farce = Funny. Not this production which relied on broken swords, nude bathing, corpsing (a habit I hated in the sixteenth century and like even less in the twenty-first) (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corpsing ), children bumping into the set, half hearted chases, bendy ‘wooden’ logs etc. etc. etc!
And the acting? What acting? Devoid of any truth as encapsulated by Falstaff as, in the denouement scene, he lay on the ground in the woods (dressed in the ridiculous costume of Herne the Hunter - antlers and all) showing not one ounce of fear or pain as he was attacked and tormented by the children dressed as fairies and sprites.
FAIRY QUEEN. Corrupt, corrupt, and tainted in desire! About him, fairies; sing a scornful rhyme; and, as you trip, still pinch him to your time.
THE SONG. Fie on sinful fantasy. Fie on lust and luxury! Lust is but a bloody fire! Kindled with unchaste desire, Fed in heart, whose flames aspire, as thoughts do blow them, higher and higher. Pinch him, fairies, mutually; Pinch him for his villainy; Pinch him and burn him and turn him about, Till candles and star-light and moonshine be out.
THE MESSAGE - ‘Villainy’. Did the actors not understand that this play was about a revolting, heroically ludicrous, roué? A desperate drunk, a bankrupt, the personification of faded Grandeur as a result of excess Excess. When he is tricked by Mistresses Ford and Page we should both applaud their cruelty and feel sympathy for him. Comedy is about feeling ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.
I felt nothing!
‘Nothing can come from nothing.’
Drama is about engendering feelings for the audience.
In the programme Greg Doran writes that ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ is, and I quote, ‘a romp’. It is much more than that. In my play there is redemption and universal reconciliation as a) the duper, having been duped, reforms, b) there is a reconciliation between Mistress Page and her husband as they accept their daughter’s marriage, and c) Mistress Ford is reconciled with her doubting husband.
No this play is much more than a romp. It contains social comment. It is a sexual-political thesis. You, dear Director, Composer, Lyricist and Actors might have had a ‘romp’ putting on this ‘musical’ BUT I had no such enjoyment watching it.
Went home to 1,
Shakespeare Street very depressed. I need a break from my retrospective. Roll on Christmas…
If you want to know what my play IS about see: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/The_Merry_Wives_of_Windsor/0.html
For reviews see: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/f825bf46-8abf-11db-8940-0000779e2340.html , http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml;jsessionid=CXUCA533PIAJNQFIQMFCFFWAVCBQYIV0?view=DETAILS&grid=&xml=/arts/2006/12/14/btwives114.xml , http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,14936-2501605,00.html , http://arts.guardian.co.uk/critic/review/0,,1970980,00.html etc. etc.
February 4th 2007 Henry V . I’m back. Had a great break. Got rid of my various colds. “Chilled out as you say, with my family…. I’m back - ready to see what twenty-first century mankind make of the remaining plays in my retrospective year here in foggy Stratford-upon-Avon.
Henry V - has been interpreted as a nationalistic play, a satire on political machinations and spin - and all polarities between.
I once saw a production which turned Henry’s speech in Act III. Scene 1:
‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead. In peace there's nothing so becomes a man As modest stillness and humility; But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Then imitate the action of the tiger: etc. etc. etc.’
into a rabble-rousing, jingoistic political cry for troops to fight for Queen and Country (both my century and yours) – influenced, as I was, by Good Queen Bess’s famous speech before the 1588 battle with the Spanish armada, ‘And therefore I am come amongst you at this time, not as for my recreation or sport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all; to lay down, for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honor and my blood, even the dust. Etc. etc. etc.’ (See; http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/elizabeth.htm )
Other productions have taken delight in, and focused the thrust of their production on, Act I Scene 1’s discourse on the divinity of the king, the supremacy of the ruler:
‘CANTERBURY. Hear him but reason in divinity, And, all-admiring, with an inward wish You would desire the King were made a prelate; Hear him debate of commonwealth affairs, You would say it hath been all in all his study; List his discourse of war, and you shall hear A fearful battle rend'red you in music.’
– how the political ‘mighty’ thinks they can not do wrong – they have ‘the divine right of kings (prime ministers, presidents etc. etc. etc.).
And the Italian production I saw at ‘The Swan’ theatre - chose to position itself between these two polarities.
In a fascinating exercise in studying the central theme in this play, Pippo Delbono’s company - using, text, movement, soundscape, dance, music, and movement stripped my play down to its bare bones. In Delbono’s hands the performance became a discourse about those-in-power; the responsibility-of-those-in-power; the fact that actions-by-those-in-power-have-consequences; the fact that actions-by-those-in-power-have-consequences-which-are-not-always-easy-to-live-with.
The ‘action’ of War produces one guaranteed ‘reaction’ - Deaths.
‘KING HENRY: This note doth tell me of ten thousand French That in the field lie slain; of princes in this number, And nobles bearing banners, there lie dead One hundred twenty-six; added to these, Of knights, esquires, and gallant gentlemen,’ (ActIV.8.86)
- and those who incite war are, and must take, responsible for those actions.
Words of incitement to courage, to revolt, words of fury, of fear, is my story of Henry V and of all the wars before and since. For all is vanity, all is politics, all is greed, all is colonisation - This Katherine - and all katherines - are to be wooed and won – for Katherine is France:
‘And, Kate, when France is mine and I am yours, then yours is France and you are mine.’ (Act V. 2. 172)
– and land is property, property possession, possession the need of consumerists throughout time.
And the last cry of anguish from Henry, by the impeccable actor Pippo Delbono, was filled with desperation at both the victory (victories) and loss (losses) - down the ages.
In one-and-a-half hours Delbono, and his brilliantly sensitive company, grabbed my play, turned it into a beautiful discourse on the fact that every action has consequences.
And now – overheard in the bar as I was going back to
No.1 Shakespeare Street to rest…. “And did you know that that huge chorus of dancers were all from Stratford schools, and schools in the area. Only the main four actors were from Italy. They had one week’s rehearsals. Fantastic – eh?”
Fantastic, indeed. I had watched the performance, spell bound - precision, solemnity, and dignity of the chorus portraying the living and the dead. They had such a deep understanding of the context of this interpretation. And all that had been understood in one week. I was/am amazed. I want to see more of this company.
(More on Delbono’s company on: http://www.emiliaraomagnateatro.com/produzione_en.asp?P_Spt_CID=110 )
If you want this information: my sources at: (http://www.william-shakespeare.info/shakespeare-play-king-henry-v.htm ) and a synopsis of the play, as I wrote it at; http://www.enotes.com/henryv
A Great start to 2007!
February 15th 2007 Richard III. Much vaunted. Much previewed. Much praised. The expectation was high – the same company that gave us the magnificent Henry VI Parts 1, 2 & 3 (see October 14-15 2006) were now exploring my Richard III.
Context, plot overview, character list and Synopsis all at: http://www.sparknotes.com/ahakespeare/richardiii/
Reviews at: http://www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/blog/archives/001366.php and http://www.reviewsgate.com/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=3249 and http://arts.guardian.co.uk/theatre/drama/reviews/story/0,,1997550,00.html and etc. etc. etc…..
Theatre: the ‘Courtyard’ http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,2003968,00.html
On March 24, 1603, Queen Elizabeth's forty-four year reign came to an end. After months of depression and failing health, she lost all will to live, refusing to eat and losing the ability to speak. She slipped into a coma and died at age 69. (See http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/life/elizabeth.html ) My patron had been dying since late 1602 when I wrote Richard III.
The City of London was more than ever before awash with rumour, positioning, factions and favours. Who would succeed, who could succeed?
James was the favourite. The consolidation of the parts of this ‘scept’red isle’, just as Henry (VIII) does at the end of this play: ‘We will unite the white rose and the red’, was a much desired politicking. Peace had, to all intense and purposes, reigned for forty-four years. Most people alive had only known one Queen – that was oh, so rare. We, in fear, hoped the succession would be peaceable. James – if it was to be he – must not become autocratic, dictatorial. He was Mary’s son. There were blood grudges to be paid for. James – you had choices – and we in London waited and wondered…
Richard III is about a dictatorship but it is also about social constructionism. We are all products of our past and our present. We are constructed out of those who are near to us, our family, our friends, our peers. If these influences are corrosive then our life- paths can become rocky and we mal-function. Richard is more than a nasty piece of work - ‘And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain And hate the idle pleasures of these days’ - he is a product of his mother, his grandmother and the times and tempest into which he was born.
Murder, destruction, greed, possession, wars, self-interest, disrespect, ignorance, tyranny - all thrived in the world into which distorted Richard was born. He was bullied, ignored, abused, made into a freak show – a freak-of-nature. He was not seen as a person but grew into his deformity in body, AND in mind. What he does in my play is his fault – because we all have free will. But what he did in the play is not just his fault.
All who brought him up were – are – responsible. You.
Me. They. All responsible. In the programme for this crystal clear production was a quote from something called ‘The Human Rights’ Act. It said: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’
It is clear today that this Declaration falls on deaf ears. Wars continue (there has not been a day without a war for nearly one hundred years). Bullying continues (parochially by commoners, globally by politicians). Murder (I read in your papers about three young people gunned down in the last 12 days in one area in London – never as bad in my day). Greed, possession (- rampant global consumerism). And self-interest at the expense of the others (Me, Me, ME! No time for US, the community, citizenry). I hear that ‘disrespect’ is a reason to kill (but how can there be ‘respect’ for those who share nothing of themselves, and with the society at large?)
My training came from the classics. I learned from the Greek and Roman philosophers who advocated that there is a need to educate the ‘One’ in order for the ‘On’ to recognize the rights of ‘All’. Ever since Aristotle wrote Politics it has been accepted that the make up of the State are villages, households and individuals. Start with the One to make the Citizen. (See; http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-biography-childhood-and-education.htm for my education).
All is Ignorance. No man can survive by him/her-self. ‘No man is an island unto himself’ as Donne wrote in 1624, eight years after my death. We are all in this shitty, beautiful, precious world together. We all need each other to survive. We must all, to miss-quote Henry VII at the end of my play (but surely a playwright is allowed to miss-quote his own work) - ‘unite in our dire divisions’, ‘And let our heirs, God, if thy will be so, Enrich the time to come with smooth-fac'd peace, With smiling plenty, and fair prosperous days!’ BUT if you do not ‘unite’ the ghosts of your past will, just as they do in this play, come to haunt not only you - but your family, your heirs, on and on, nothing changing, trapped in social inadequacy. ‘…visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation’ (Exodus).
In short - this was a superb production. To mention any member of the cast would be to do a mal-service to the ‘Company’. Of course Jonathan Slinger as Richard had all the ‘best laughs’ (and there were many of them – laughs that is) but so too did smaller parts in the grand scheme of the play – the two Murderers for example who did a very ‘dry’ double act as they psyched themselves up to dispatching poor Clarence. The blending of the new and old – guns and swords sat easily on this production. No one looked anomalous. All looked comfortably at home - with my text, my play, in Michael Boyd’s production,.
Another superb evening at the RSC.
I’m getting to be quite a groupie…..
February 22nd 2007 Macbeth Those who have been reading my blog will know that when I start my observations with web links (see I’m on top of the jargon now) there is going to be a ‘doomed’ report on the production.
Well – the play’s overview is on: http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/macbeth/summary.html and in scene by scene detail on: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Macbeth/0.html and the Source is on: http://www.io.com/~jlockett/Grist/English/macbethsources.html .
This ‘production’ - with a very small ‘p’ – was Work-in-Progress.
It was by a Polish group, highly influenced by Grotowski - see: http://www.culture.pl/en/culture/artykuly/os_grotowski_jerzy - a particularly ‘indulgent theatre practitioner!
The Director of ‘The Song of The Goat’ theatre company has three, YES – THREE, years rehearsal for my play. No wonder this workshop was such a mess. Their rehearsal schedule has no focus – and neither did what we were shown, extracts, noises, songs, bad acting, flag waving, meaningless jymnastics – all-in-all a WASTE OF TIME!
Rehearsals are for the rehearsal room.
I do not want to see the process - just the product (which will be ready (?) in mid-2008! (I just can’t waste!!!)
End of rant.
Mercifully it was a short presentation – just not short enough.
February 24th 2007, SONNETS An interesting idea – setting my love poems to music, singers and readers contributing to the very personal effect the poems still have on me. They also had a film backing the second half – which contributed little (or nothing) to the evening.
In the first half various composers wrote music for Sonnets 73, 40, 43, 27 and 130. In the second half one composer wrote for Sonnets 60, 102, 123, 146, 128, 55, 94, and 64. This, in my humble opinion, worked less well than part one. I enjoyed the variety of music and singing best.
See: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/ for all the sonnets with additional translation into modern English.
I’m going to remain enigmatic as to whom I wrote the sonets. This is, and will continue to be my secret. After all if I revealed all what would academics do for the next 400 years – See: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Troy/4081/Sonnets.html for details, history etc. of the Sonnet form and excellent critique of each sonnet.
And that dear reader is as far as will go…after all many of them are intensely personal, divulging my carnal interests and indulgences, while others are deeply emotional, disclosing my most private feelings and emotions. I say ‘things’ in them that the censor would NEVER have allowed me to include in my plays.
They are me. The ‘I’ is ever present. I really never intended them to be published – I just needed the money as the sand-of-time in London was running out. They were my linguistic doodles – their complexity settled my mind as I worked and worked to write play, after play, after play. They were your equivalent of a cross between the cross word, Sudoku, and diary keeping. Not a very elegant analogy – but think about it….
I thought the evening was a middling success. Worth doing. But, as my school reports always said – “Could do better”.
March 1st 2007 Twelfth Night. When a production is right – it is right. When it is good – it gives us an experience to savour and cherish. BUT when it is perfect – it takes to another place where visions are revealed.
This all male, all Russian production of Twelfth Night is perfect. I sat there with a smile on my face as my play was reborn…
The depth of understanding and feeling for my play thrilled me. The honesty of performance, the sensitivity to the plight of the characters has never been bettered. The cast and director understood the cruelty of ‘love’, the frustration of ‘loss’. Viola has lost her brother at sea and is mourning. Duke Orsino is in mourning for Olivia, who is all but dead to the world. Countess Olivia is in ‘mourning’ for her brother (though in this production she is possibly ‘playing’ the mourner and is rearing to get out of her mourning weeds, at the earliest opportunity). Sir Toby Belch is mourning his loss of position, Sir Andrew Aguecheek is mourning that his wealth seem to have little effect on his wooing. Sebastian is in mourning for the sister he lost at sea.
And Malvolio (mal volio - ill will), Olivia’s ‘gate-keeper’, is mourning the abuse of hospitality that permeates throughout the house he is so attached to - ‘Do ye make an ale-house of my lady's house, that ye squeak out your coziers' catches without any mitigation or remorse of voice? Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time, in you?’ – and in which lives the lady he adores, and who might, just might adore him - 'Tis but fortune; all is fortune. Maria once told me she did affect me; and I have heard herself come thus near, that, should she fancy, it should be one of my complexion. Besides, she uses me with a more exalted respect than any one else that follows her.’
The production colour is black in the first half and cream in the second. ‘Mourning’ turns slowly to afternoon… The possibility of life after death is ever present as the introduction of Sebastian is the catalyst for my usual plot lines of mistaken identity, resultant confusion, leading to reconciliation. (For plot line see: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Twelfth_Night/0.html , Sources at: http://www.io.com/~jlockett/Grist/English/12thnightsources.html ) No sets, few props, simple costumes as a boy actor (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boy_player ) was dressed as Viola at the start of the play – simple, simple, oh so simple – just say the words. It’s all in my words….
Never, never, never have I been so moved by the scene where Malvolio reads ‘Olivia’s’ letter. His tears of joy unbounded - ‘I do not now fool myself to let imagination jade me; for every reason excites to this, that my lady loves me’ - he is going to lie for ever in his true love’s arms. The balance between the nefarious watchers and the watched was so beautifully played in this scene – it summed up the sensitivity exhibited throughout the whole production.
Comedy and sadness go hand in hand. Laugh at Malvolio at your own risk. And we do, and the audience did - for he is our token whipping boy. He is our fool to be derided and beaten with our mirth.
At the end of the production the smiling Malvolio hands out drinks, accompanied by the joyful singing of ‘When that I was and a little tiny boy’, to all those happily reconciled - Orsino has found Viola; Olivia has married Sebastian, Maria has snared Sir Toby, Sir Andrew is reconciled, and in this production Fabian has found his pirate- the freed Antonio (well, same-sex desire ripples through this play – back reference to previous Blog – I’ll say no more). But just as I hoped, the Director, Declan Donnellan, packs a final knock-out punch to his audience as Malvolio makes his way down stage to the happy audience to deliver his last line - not to the characters who have taunted him - but at you, my audience -
MALVOLIO: ‘I'll be reveng'd on the whole pack of you.’
Ha! Got you! “He who laughs last might not laugh longest” for “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
A Brilliant ‘Coup de Grace’!
A Brilliant Production. Thank you….
Reviews: http://arts.guardian.co.uk/reviews/story/0,,1320451,00.html and a number of links on http://www.cheekbyjowl.com/productions/twelfthnight/reviews.html ALL justifiably wonderful reviews.
March 6th 2007, Coriolanus. More ‘set’ than ‘substance’! A huge, clunking, slow moving set, set the tone for this production of my last epic tragedy. If half the Directorial energy had been spent on interpretation rather than on set design there might have been a play to watch. I left at the interval – death is too short to sit through a boring and static production.
Synopsis: http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Coriolanus/0.html Source: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sources/coriolanussources.html .
My hero, in true Greek tradition, has a sudden and brutal reversal of fortune. This is a story of pride coming before a fall - MENENIUS. ‘It then remains That you do speak to the people. CORIOLANUS: I do beseech you Let me o'erleap that custom; for I cannot Put on the gown, stand naked, and entreat them For my wounds' sake to give their suffrage. Please you That I may pass this doing. SICINIUS: Sir, the people Must have their voices;’.
Of man(kind) developing aggression (becoming a fighting machine) before developing emotional citizenry (learning to interact with his fellow man) – VOLUMNIA: ‘Then his good report should have been my son; I therein would have found issue. Hear me profess sincerely: had I a dozen sons, each in my love alike, and none less dear than thine and me good Marcius, I had rather had eleven die nobly for their country than one voluptuously surfeit out of action’.
Of mothers taking pride in her son’s fighting-skills (Volumnia – one of my psychologically most distorted of characters – though you would not have know that from this production) rather than love for her son’s husband-skills – VOLUMNIA: I pray you, daughter, sing, or express yourself in a more comfortable sort. If my son were my husband, I should freelier rejoice in that absence wherein he won honour than in the embracements of his bed where he would show most love. When yet he was but tender-bodied, and the only son of my womb; when youth with comeliness pluck'd all gaze his way; when, for a day of kings' entreaties, a mother should not sell him an hour from her beholding; I, considering how honour would become such a person- that it was no better than picture-like to hang by th' wall, I renown made it not stir- was pleas'd to let him seek danger where he was to find fame. To a cruel war I sent him, from whence he return'd his brows bound with oak. I tell thee, daughter, I sprang not more in joy at first hearing he was a man-child than now in first seeing he had proved himself a man.’
It is a play about the distortion of truth for political gain – MENENIUS: ‘The senators of Rome are this good belly, And you the mutinous members; for, examine Their counsels and their cares, digest things rightly Touching the weal o' th' common, you shall find No public benefit which you receive But it proceeds or comes from them to you, And no way from yourselves’, (keeping the price of corn high by the few to the detriment of the many – see the ‘Midlands Riots’ of 1607, two years before I wrote this play. See: http://res.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/51/203/395 ).
But most of all it is the antidote to the concept of the epic Hero being socially superior, tall, handsome, and muscular - of a Hero, a ‘Basilees’ having ‘Time’ – A ‘ruling nobleman’ automatically having ‘Prestige’. Prestige, I wrote, has to be earned, by all men, in the market place… (See: http://athome.harvard.edu/programs/nagy/threads/concept_of_hero.html )
So with this wealth of topics to explore – what went wrong with this dull production?
Good reader I have no idea. Perhaps the Director is tired? Perhaps the cast were obstructive? Perhaps the RSC’s Artistic Director took his eye off the larger picture and let this production slip under, as you say, the radar?
I do not have any answers. Disgruntled, I went back to my temporary residence angry that my audience had been robbed of an experience where relevant contemporary issues were aired in my text.
In the end Coriolanus is a man alone. And yet man can not live alone. Independence never supersedes interdependence. Coriolanus is unable to pick up the mantle of citizenship (a core concept in Rome life, and still today a bit of a ‘buzz’ word). As he proclaims in the final scene: ‘Cut me to pieces, Volsces; men and lads, Stain all your edges on me. 'Boy'! False hound! If you have writ your annals true, 'tis there That, like an eagle in a dove-cote, I Flutter'd your Volscians in Corioli. Alone I did it. 'Boy'!’ we feel his arrogance. There is only one rout Coriolanus can take at the end of the play – as was the Roman way – fall on the sword, CONSPIRATORS: ‘Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill him!’ [The CONSPIRATORS draw and kill CORIOLANUS,who falls. And AUFIDIUS stands on him]
‘Alone I did it!’ ‘Alone’…’I’ - Solitude breading isolation. The death of the Hero.
This is my play. That production did not, to say the least, do it justice. When will directors learn that the set maketh not the play?
March 9th 2007. As You Like It. A concept production. OK – this play is playing with cross dressing concepts. I always thought the idea of boy-actors playing the girls parts was archaic - but that was the rule-of-the-game (See http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/stage/childactors.html for ‘boy-actors) and http://www.shakespearefellowship.org/virtualclassroom/Pattersonrev.html for censorship). We had no choice – except hanging, drawing and quartering (See (if you must) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drawing_and_quartering ) – and I felt that was not really a viable option.
So As You Like It was a bit of fun about a boy-actor, playing a girl disguised as a boy, pretending (as a boy) to be wooed by a boy who was pretending that the girl, as a boy, was Rosalind - the girl of his dreams. Confused – well that is the conceipt of the play…
But why have, in this production, this ‘sexual do-si-do’ between Rosalind and Orlando morphed onto other characters in my play? Why have Jaques in high heals? And Orlando with painted toe nails? Why have such a preoccupation though the play with ‘dressing up’ – hats as motives for transformation?
I know I’ve said this before, and before, and before – but the sense is in my words – just say my words ‘trippingly….’ My play is deliberately set in the Court and in the Country – the dangers of the City (well portrayed in the early Duke Senior scenes) compared and contrasted with the pastoral, (See Duke Senior’s first speech: ‘Are not these woods More free from peril than the envious court?’), a debate on ‘simplicity’ V ‘social hierarchies’? But it can be argued, as I do, that even ‘simplicity’ comes with its own set of rules. The Duke, as the outlaw, holds sway over the peasants, Audrey, Corrin, Silvius and Phebe. Within this Ardenne pastoral idyll games are played – for all seem to know that the outlaw is only pretending. And does Orlando know that Rosalind, as a man, is really a wo(man)?
But meaning is all in the words. At their first meeting in the woods - Orlando notes that: ‘Your accent is something finer than you could purchase in so removed a dwelling.’ Is Orlando blind with love – and exhausted by all his poetry writing? Or, does Orlando ‘go along’ with the pretence, for the sheer fun of the game, or out of shy ineptitude - after all at their very first meeting poor Orlando is, to say the least, smitten-shy and speechless: ORLANDO. ‘Can I not say 'I thank you'? My better parts Are all thrown down; and that which here stands up Is but a quintain, a mere lifeless block.’ Does Rosalind go along with Orlando’s pretence because it suits her sense of playfulness? Are both Orlando and Rosalind educating each other in a courtship dance?
And to contrast this love dance of passion I countered with other kinds/degrees of love - Silvius’ a-doting, Phebe’s misplaced, Touchstone’s seduduction, and Audrey’s simplistic love.
As You Like It is a fantasy underpinned by social reality. My ending is farcical. The coupling of the partners contrived – even by my standards. But deliberately so! The linguistic juggling in the woods, the day before the marriages, were such fun to write – ‘PHEBE. Good shepherd, tell this youth what 'tis to love. SILVIUS. It is to be all made of sighs and tears; And so am I for Phebe. PHEBE. And I for Ganymede. ORLANDO. And I for Rosalind. ROSALIND. And I for no woman. SILVIUS. It is to be all made of faith and service; And so am I for Phebe. PHEBE. And I for Ganymede. ORLANDO. And I for Rosalind. ROSALIND. And I for no woman. Etc.’
I was really proud of that little linguistic canter!
In the end As You like It turned out to be a romp on definitions of ‘love’, ‘sex’ and ‘sexuality’. What it is to be a man, a woman? What love (and hate) does to you? (Jaques chooses to go ‘from this world’ with Duke Frederick than live ‘in the world’ with Duke Senior.)
(As You Like It synopsis etc. at http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/asyoulikeit/ souce, dates etc. at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/As_You_Like_It )
This Production was a concept one – ‘all’ is there to be played through the lines, but ‘all’ was played on top of my script. Surface is not subtle. Directors do not underestimate the intelligence of my Groundlings (http://shakespeare.about.com/cs/homeworkhelp/a/audience.htm). Or do so at risk of being seen as egocentric and patronising.
Reviews of this production which first had an outing in Sheffield: http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/theatre/reviews/article2251331.ece and http://arts.guardian.co.uk/theatre/drama/reviews/story/0,,2008989,00.html and http://extra.shu.ac.uk/emls/12-3/revayli.htm .