Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

These blogs were originally posted on my personal blog in 2012 when USP directed The Two Gentlemen of Verona and A Midsommer Nights Dreame for UnSeam'd Shakespeare Company. I think they represent my feelings and thoughts about the play.

As I set out to direct The Two Gentlemen of Verona, one characteristic of the play becomes undeniable: this is not one of Shakespeare’s better plays.  However, it is better than usually given credit for.

The play is obscured by attempts to improve upon it or by digging for deeper meanings than the play contains.  The characters themselves are treated either much more loftily than written, or not given the respect they deserve.  Violence and homosexual overtones are added making the plot and action more implausible than it already is to modern sensibilities.  These improvements still often leave the audience unsatisfied.

The play was not meant to disappoint, but to entertain.  Shakespeare wrote the play by the dramatic rules governing comedy.  When he wrote this play he had not yet the tools to break the rules as he would later.  Modern critics believe that Shakespeare hatched fully developed in his powers and it is the playwright of Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello that they credit, or fault, with The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  We cannot blame William Shakespeare of the late 1580’s for not being the playwright he would later become.

Any writing on The Two Gentlemen of Verona must begin with its conclusion, probably the most criticized and problematic element of the play.  When taken as the only acceptable outcome given the style and rules Shakespeare followed in its construction, the ending is logical and believable.  The conclusion is awkward enough to our modern sensibilities and expectations, but it is truthful to the world of the play and in no way violates the rules.

The end of the play begins with the attempted rape of Silvia by Proteus. 

Proteus            Nay, if gentle spirit of moving words
                        Can no way change you to a milder forme;
                        Ile woo you like a Souldier, at armes end,
                        And love you ‘gainst the nature of Love: force ye.

Silvia               Oh heaven.

Proteus            Ile force thee yeeld to my desire.

This is all that is given us textually, because Valentine, who was listening nearby immediately jumps into the scene.  But what is he breaking up? 

The line, ‘Ile woo you like a Souldier, at armes end,’ can be taken a couple of ways.  Either Proteus could mean: ‘I will love you at the end of a weapon,’ or ‘I will lay my hands upon you.’  Given the imagery of ‘Souldier’ and the different meanings of the word ‘armes,’ either could be acceptable and a valid point for the use of violence in this scene.  However, Silvia’s response is: ‘Oh heaven.’ (emphasis mine).  There is no exclamation.  Given everything that has happened in the play up to this point: Proteus’ use of guile instead of force in his dealings, Silvia’s ability to handle men with her charms, the fact that they are not alone – Julia (dressed as Sebastian) is present; all of these factors, when reinforced by strong characterizations by the actors, go to alleviate any possible danger in the exchange.  If anything Proteus is biting off more than he can chew, and it is quite plausible that the ‘armes end’ that Proteus’ speaks of are Silvia’s and she may actually be holding him at bay.

Also within the rules of the comedy, there must be reconciliation.  Valentine must discover Proteus’ betrayal and he must forgive him.  For that reason, Proteus must make a big show, believable or not, for Valentine to witness.  Modern interpretations make more out of this attempted rape in an attempt to make the play more exciting than it is, but by doing so what comes after is hindered and made awkward.

Only 15 lines later comes this exchange:

Proteus            My shame and guilt confounds me:
                        Forgive me Valentine: if hearty sorrow
                        Be a sufficient Ransome for offence,
                        I tender’t heere: I doe as truly suffer,
                        As ere I did commit.

Valentine         Then I am paid:
                        And once again, I doe receive thee honest;
                        Who by Repentance is not satisfied,
                        Is nor of heaven, nor earth; for these are pleas’d:
                        By Penitence th’Eternalls wrath’s appeas’d:
                        And that my love may appeare plaine and free,
                        All that was mine, in Silvia, I give thee.

In making the rape dangerous, this forgiveness becomes impossible to accept.  Nothing in The Two Gentlemen of Verona is dangerous.  From the outset of this comedy we know that the friends will end friends, that the lovers will be together, and protagonists’ reputations will be intact.  The introduction of a real danger shatters this, and should be avoided for the unity of the piece.

On the heels of Valentine’s forgiveness comes the most troubling line in the play: ‘All that was mine, in Silvia, I give thee.’  Much of what people feel about The Two Gentlemen of Verona hinge on the interpretation of this line.  What are we supposed to think?

Many believe that the line is a show of absolute sacrifice on behalf of Valentine to prove that his friendship with Proteus has been thoroughly healed.  Here male friendship is paramount in the range of human emotion and the throwing aside of one’s hard-earned beloved is seen as a fitting demonstration of this ideal.  Is this what happens?

It is widely commented on that after Silvia’s utterance of ‘Oh heaven,’ during the attempted rape, she is silent for the rest of the play.  Why?  If she is given to Proteus as a token of supreme friendship, it is supposed that she is passively accepting of her fate, or that she is angered into silence.  The audience is not given an insight into what she is thinking because as soon as Valentine says this line, Julia (still disguised as Sebastian) faints, and the next 36 lines are devoted to the discovery of her true identity and the happy reunion and reconciliation of her and Proteus.  Silvia does not break this moment with any sign of protestation, nor does she say anything when Valentine declares his love for her, openly defying her father the Duke and Thurio, nor anything when her father consents.  Already in the play she has demonstrated that she is willing to defy her father, spurn the advances of unwanted suitors and run away risking her life to be with Valentine.  Silvia is no wilting flower, bowing to the whims of men.  But in this interpretation of the line, the entirety of her character’s actions have been forgotten, and she is made a complacent mute.

It has been suggested that ‘All that was mine, in Silvia, I give thee,’ is meant to say that ‘all the love that was for Silvia, I give to thee as well.’  This interpretation still begs the question: why is Silvia silent?  At this point, she has been reunited with Valentine, in the next she is witnessing Julia and Proteus together (as she has been advocating for), she sees Valentine stand up to Thurio and the Duke and ultimately gets what she wants: to marry Valentine.  What words can express such happiness?

Any anger, spite or vengefulness at her situation at the conclusion of the play violates the laws of the comedy.  It puts a strain on the plausibility of the action, and Shakespeare strains his audience enough with the devices he uses to reach the pre-destined happy ending.  Modern directors and critics should not add more.

Homosexual overtones are often added to The Two Gentlemen of Verona to absolutely no purpose whatsoever.  Harold Bloom says of Valentine that he ‘becomes worth consideration only when we take his perverseness seriously, since it appears to go considerably beyond a mere repressed bisexuality.’  It would be a feat for Mr. Bloom to show any example of bisexuality in Valentine, or indeed any character in the play, or to demonstrate anything even approaching perversity in the text.  Yes, Valentine and Proteus have a strong filial affection for each other, but there is no hint of attraction.  Their conversations revolve around their travels and being in love with women.

Could all this talk of travel and women cover deeply repressed homosexuality?  Yes, if the play were written by Tenneessee Williams, but it is not.  It is written by an Elizabethan playwright who did not write psychology, but only action for the stage.

The only chance here for any homoerotic themes or action is when Julia arrives disguised as Sebastian.  Unlike Viola in Twelfth Night, she does not make half-veiled advances towards her lover.  She only comments on her situation when she is with strangers or alone on stage with a sympathetic audience.  Unlike Olivia in Twelfth Night, Silvia does not fall in love with the woman dressed in drag.  Unlike Rosalind in As You Like It, Julia does not try to trick Proteus into seeing the girl beneath the boy.  This type of play is out of bounds in The Two Gentlemen of Verona

By making Valentine and Proteus secret wishful lovers, Mr. Bloom and others add a level of complexity to the characters and meaning to the play that does not exist.  Giving sexual tension to Proteus and ‘Sebastian’ would do the same.  It would be just as easy for an American to understand Cricket by applying the rules of Baseball.

As with the homosexuality and violence, some try to find a deep meaning in this admittedly shallow play.  Andrew Dickson thinks ‘The Two Gentlemen seems to ask, at the very least, whether ideals purchased at this kind of price are worth their cost.  Is Valentine’s ideal of friendship worth abandoning the woman he is engaged to marry?  Can Proteus’s [sic] ever be trusted again?’

The Two Gentlemen of Verona asks no such questions.  The play asks nothing of its audience.  This perhaps is the hardest thing to grasp.  We think that this play must be something other than it is because Shakespeare wrote it, but it is not very good.  We must be missing something. 

What is missing is its simplicity.  Valentine is named so because he proves to be a true lover.  Proteus is named so because he is as changeable as his namesake.  The play is a comedy, therefore the friends must remain friends and lovers must be together in the end.  There is a bit with a dog and witty servants.  There is a woman dressing as a boy, outlaws and music.  What else should be expected of a comedy?

The play shows how love changes us.  Proteus changes from a lover to a kind of tyrant.  Valentine, from an adventurer to a lover.  Julia, from a woman to man.  Silvia, from a clever woman to a mute.  The Duke, in his story of love, from an old father to a young man.  The only person who is not changed is Launce, who loves his dog.  Of course, everyone else is turned into a clown by love, and that is Launce’s natural position.  Perhaps it renders him immune.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona, as a play, is what it is.  It is not up to us to make the characters more interesting than they are.  It is not up to us to make the story funnier or more exciting.  It is our job to bring the story that is there to life, not to fight it, but to work with it.  So what is there in the play?

Mark Van Doren points out that ‘Friendship is one of the gods here.’  The other god must be Love.  This is a play about two young friends on the cusp of growing up and dealing with these two deities.  Making it about anything else does a disservice to the play.  It may be a harbinger of things to come when compared to the rest of Shakespeare’s cannon, but on the stage The Two Gentlemen of Verona must be allowed to stand on its own.  It may not be one of Shakespeare’s better plays, but it can do that just fine.
 
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. © 1998 Harold Bloom
Dickson, Andrew. The Rough Guide to Shakespeare. © 2005 Andrew Dickson
Van Doren, Mark. Shakespeare. © 1939 Mark Van Doren
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Much is made of Launce in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Some critics believe that he was added later to spice up the unpopular play.  But why go back to add this one character rather then rewrite them all?  More likely Launce was Shakespeare’s most inspired invention in this apprentice play, and it may just be due to the originality of Launce that Shakespeare’s career went further.

The longing for Launce to be a time-traveler is a symptom of a larger sickness often mis-diagnosed inThe Two Gentlemen of Verona, and that is that while there is humor in the play, it is not very funny.  This criticism is wrong-headed and stems from a belief that the lovers are much loftier than they are; that they are older than they are; that because they are capable of such reasoned arguments that they are much more mature than they are.  It is this view, and this characterization on the part of the actors, that the back-and-forths in the text somehow become parlor room tennis matches of wit written by Oscar Wilde.  They are not.  Shakespeare’s verse and rhetorical devices are the vehicles that he uses for expression in all his plays.  Any character at any time is capable of speaking in verse, that does not mean that character is elevated, educated or elite.  At their very cores, Silvia and Julia are maids and Valentine and Proteus are at the age when young men

‘seeke preferment out.
Some to the warres, to try their fortune there;
Some, to discover Islands farre away,
Some, to the studious Universities.’

The characters are young and playful.  They are not standing on opposite sides of the stage, kegs turned out, three quarters to the audience declaring verbal backhands.  There is horseplay, intimacy, alternating shyness and bravado.  They are vibrant and over-the-top in their emotions.  But that is only part of their humor.

The other part is in their behavior.  Yes, Proteus does terrible things to his friends, but always remember that this is comedy, this is farce, and there is never any danger of things ending badly for these characters.  Does that diffuse the drama and remove the tension of the play?  The short answer is: Yes.  But the play is not meant to be dramatic or filled with tension.  Any tension in the play has been imposed upon it and violates the world of the play.  The results are usually unsatisfying productions of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Think of ‘a very special episode of [insert prime-time sitcom here].’  Everything starts out as expected: stock characters going through the motions, audience laughter punctuating expected jokes, the same conventions being exploited that you saw last week.  Then there is an accident, someone gets hurt in a drunk-driving accident, or a friend has overdosed on cocaine.  They die, and there is an attempt at gravitas at the close, which is without the theme music and laughter that always ends the show.  Then, the cast appears backstage, sitting in folding director chairs to give you a heartfelt message expressing the very real-life dangers that have entered the make-believe world of their characters.  It is all so unbelievable, because it violates your expectations, your assumptions, and the world of the comedy.  The ending is disappointing and unfulfilling.  The next week, the show continues as if nothing happened, because to dwell on the event would be to change the show completely.  This is what happens when tension and danger is added to The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and when the characters are treated as something other than they are.

This may be a simplistic view, but this is a simplistic play.  To treat it as anything else hurts the play and bores the audience.  The Two Gentlemen of Verona should not be taken seriously.

As far as Launce is concerned, he is a wonderful creation.  He is often the second favorite in the play, behind his dog Crab.  We will leave Crab alone because we cannot conjecture on what was meant to happen with the unwritten role of the dog.  If it obeys, it is funny.  If it does not listen to its master, it is funny.  Had Launce been an interlopation, and on top of that the crowd favorite that he has become, most likely Shakespeare would have found a better exit for him from the play rather than have him disappear to find Proteus’ dog only never to return.  One expects that had he been added later, or improved upon, he would appear once the lovers had been united to tell us about his adventure with Crab.  Instead he fades away.  The actor who originally played Launce probably also played another important character in the last scene, but even so his absence is not commented on, letting us believe that he should not be missed in the first place.

While entertaining, the servants’ stories are not important to the plot of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Their absence only becomes worth comment because they are treated more honestly and truthfully than the lovers.  The servants are allowed to be human, physical and emotional, while the lovers are almost always treated as ‘gentlemen and ladies.’  They are allowed to be witty but are restricted from being as humorous as Shakespeare wrote them.  Their actions are treated with more seriousness and gravity than they deserve or is called upon in the script.  When they are given that liberty to be played as written, much of the play falls into place in ways from which it is usually restricted and the humor of the servants no longer eclipses the play.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

How do you Solve a Problem like a Bully, Shakespeare-Style?

Whenever I tell people that I am currently directing The Taming of the Shrew, I inevitably get asked “What’s your vision?”  Then I tell them that I’m using the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique and spend several minutes explaining what that is.  However, that’s not what a lot of people want to know.  With today’s political climate, the various hate crimes, and stories of violence that we are bombarded with every day, there is the concern that this play’s title alone will cause an uproar.  I blame that on previous productions where the ‘vision’ turns it into a story about an abusive marriage or where the director puts their own spin on the words that Shakespeare wrote and completely changes the meaning of the text.  But, honestly, if you look at ALL of the text from beginning to end – it’s really a play about a bully who uses her fists instead of her words and how the one man who’s not afraid to stand up to her helps her to realize how to use her brilliant mind, and shows her what it means to be a true partner in a romantic relationship.  And it all starts with that often deleted introduction scene involving Christopher Sly.

Now, this ‘Induction’ scene often gets cut out completely from modern productions to save time and because the characters in it aren’t really seen or heard from again, except for a few lines thrown in after a couple of more scenes.  However, I think this scene is vital to the set-up of Taming.  In this scene, we learn that the entire rest of this play is really a play-within-a-play just like in Hamlet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which takes the edge off of it a bit.  Also, the audience learns, along with Mr. Sly, that this play is “a kind of history”, which it is in more ways than one.  Four hundred years ago, women did not have equal rights and many were treated like property, so for Shakespeare to write back then that this is a ‘history’ reminds us how it’s even much more of a ‘history’ now.

Let’s cut in to the meat of Taming and why I think this is a play about dealing with a bully named Kate.  Kate is extremely unhappy and instead of dealing with her frustrations constructively, she lashes out with insults and hits.  She can’t be reasoned with, and she’s constantly finding fault or mocking others.  She threatens people, ties up her sister, and destroys a perfectly good lute over a guy’s head.  Nobody can get her to listen or make her see how unreasonable she’s being, which just makes everyone miserable.  Enter Petruchio, who thinks that he can help.

First, Petruchio and Kate only have one scene where they are truly alone, and that is the famous wooing scene in Act II Scene I.  They bandy about with words, Petruchio flatters Kate over and over again, and she insults him over again.  Then she hits him.  He does not hit her back.  In fact, he never hits her throughout the play.  But he abuses her in other ways, right?  Well, yes, but at his own expense and health.  Every time food is brought to them in the homecoming scene, he sends it away.  She doesn’t eat, and neither does he.  In Petruchio’s monologue from Act IV Scene I, he talks about how every time she tries to sleep that he makes a huge commotion so that she can’t:

Last night she slept not, nor to night she shall not:
As with the meate, some undeserved fault
Ile finde about the making of the bed,
And here Ile fling the pillow, there the boulster,
This way the Coverlet, another way the sheets:
I, and amid this hurlie I intend,
That all is done in reverend care of her,
And in conclusion, she shal watch all night,
And if she chance to nod, I’ll raile and brawle,
And with the clamor keepe her stil awake:

So, she’s not sleeping, but what’s more is that not only is Petruchio not sleeping – but he is running around the room throwing things and making a huge noise, so he must be utterly exhausted.  Even more exhausted than Kate.  Some actors play this monologue as if it’s a big brag, but where is that in the text?  At the beginning of the monologue he says:

And ‘tis my hope to end successefully:

He hope[s] that he is successful with all of this.  Not that he WILL be or that he is SURE of it, but he HOPES.  Then, at the end of this monologue he says:

He that knowes better how to tame a shrew,
Now let him speak, ‘tis charity to shew.

He is asking for help!  If anyone in the audience has any better ideas, then please share them for charity’s sake.  Again, not the words of someone bragging about their technique.  This is an honest account of a tired, hungry man who is doing his best with what he’s got.

Next, I want to mention the Sun/Moon scene in Act IV Scene V.  I was brought up in the South where we were taught to never fight with your spouse in public.  In a marriage, you two are one person, and you should always be on their side in front of other people.  However, when you get home and are in private – that’s another story!  Basically, that is kind-of what is going on with his scene.  Being in a relationship sometimes means compromise.  It’s not healthy to constantly contradict your partner in public per Petruchio’s line:

Evermore crost and crost, nothing but crost.

Petruchio is using an extreme way of demonstrating this to Kate with this Sun vs. Moon bit.  Kate has stopped using her fists finally (like she did in several of her previous scenes on everyone from Hortensio to Grumio) and is trying to make an argument on how he is wrong.  Even though we all know she is right in this scene, sometimes a spouse has to be the bigger person and let the other have their way.  It’s just not worth the argument in this case.   She eventually figures out the best way to deal with him verbally, and they are on their way.  No insults, no hits…just letting the other person have their way and showing them that you are on their side.  Even if it’s ridiculous.

Finally, we come to Act V Scene II with that endless monologue of Kate’s about how women should respect their husbands.  I believe that both spouses should respect each other, and this monologue should be taken from both sides.  Yes, it just says how wives should be more loving and obedient (16th Century, people!), but I am having the wonderful actresses who are taking turns playing Kate deliver this monologue honestly to everyone. 

Come, come, you forward and unable wormes,
My minde hath bin as bigge as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haplie more,
To bandie word for word, and frowne for frowne;

Both sides in a relationship should be more loving and kind.  If one half of you has had a hard day, then the other should not come at them with complaint upon complaint as soon as they walk through the door.  Love each other.  Respect each other.  Listen to each other.  Be on each other’s side.  Without these basic concepts in a relationship, you will be stuck with a shrew. An unhappy shrew.  And nobody wants that.

-Elizabeth Ruelas, Artistic Director, The New Renaissance Theatre Company

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Would Another Name Smell as Sweet?

‘Good name in Man, & woman (deere my Lord)
Is the immediate Jewell of their Soules;’
- The Tragedie of Othello, the Moore of Venice, III.iii

Naming something gives us power, a sense of ownership and relationship. A name is a definition and identity. That definition and relationship differs with everyone, but without a name there is no starting point. As an experiment, try to think of something for which there is no word, no name in your language. It is impossible. If a name does not exist, we invent one. Even if the name is a title. If someone is only a title, Prime Minister, then she is defined by her position and we have certain expectations. Lisa, however, is someone else completely different. Given our previous relationship with Lisa, we treat and define Lisa differently from Prime Minister Lisa, and even more so than the Prime Minister.

The power of names is important in theatre, often symbolic, and Shakespeare, whether or not he fully consciously understood their power (there is evidence enough to suggest he did) uses names to control, or at least influence, how his audience relates to his characters. We are going to look at four naming conventions Shakespeare used in his plays: full names, last names and titles, and first names. In a later blog, we will examine how this affects the feelings and definitions engendered in The Tragedie of Macbeth.

First off, let’s examine full names. Shakespeare’s audience would have been fully aware of the historical figures and their full names in his history plays. For this reason, here we will pass over the History Plays to examine his intentional use of full names. This is not to say that a character’s full name is always (if ever) used, but in some way or another, the audience is aware of the character’s full name. For example, in As You Like It, Orlando is the son of Roland du Boys. Ergo, his full name is Orlando du Boys. (This also means that we know his brothers’ full names as well). Nobody ever calls him Orlando du Boys. While there are interesting characters in the play, we follow the story of Orlando and Rosalind.

There are only a few examples that are given outright, or at least emphasized in the plays: Romeo Montague, Juliet Capulet, Titus Andronicus. Knowing a character’s full name gives the audience a more complete picture of the character. We know Romeo to be a Montague, and we hear a lot about ‘the Montagues’ throughout the play, leaving everyone with expectations. Then we meet Romeo, and while he is under the umbrella of ‘Montague’ we come to associate unique characteristics with him and he becomes a more rounded person. His friends Benvolio and Mercutio have no last names (although we know Mercutio to be related to the Capulets). Romeo’s father and mother are only Lord and Lady Montague. Who in this family do we care about? The same question can be asked of Juliet Capulet. Among those we see her with, with whom do we identify? Perhaps this is one reason this story has resounded so much, because we feel there is a possibility to know these characters better than most. Of all of Shakespeare’s characters, fans could say to be more emotional about these two characters than any others. Tourism has grown in Verona thank to this couple (and clever marketing) in a way that has not been inspired by any of Shakespeare’s other creations.

‘Retaine that deare perfection which he owes,
Without that title Romeo, doffe thy name…’
- The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet, II.ii


Although he does not have the following that the young lovers do, Titus Andronicus elicits a maximum of empathy from the audience for the pain and travails he suffers. We follow his journey on a visceral level that many modern sensibilities do not wish to recognize. The catharsis at the end comes only with a strong identification with the protagonist. We know his family are Andronici, and their suffering means more to us than other instances of cruelty in the play. Hardly anyone weeps for Aaron, Tamora or her sons. This cannot be explained away simply because they are the ‘baddies’ in this play. Richard III and the Macbeths do some awful things, but through their relationship with the audience, theirs are the stories we follow and on some level identify with. How they are named will influence the relationship we have with them.
           
Other instances of knowing a character’s full name allow the audience to draw a sketch or make assumptions of a character.  There is a long tradition of naming characters after their professions or other attributes, and Shakespeare was not immune to it: Nick Bottome, Peter Quince, Mistress Quickly, Mistress Overdone, Flute the Bellows-mender, Snout the Tinker, Snug the Joiner, Starveling the Tailor among others. These appellations tell us almost everything we need to know about the characters, drawing conclusions and snap judgments from clich├ęs. This kind of name puts a distance between the audience and the characters by not allowing the audience to think too much about them. The exception in this group is Nick Bottome, the Weaver. We know his name and his profession, and he is one of the most loved of Shakespeare’s creations.

Last names are used quite frequently. Sometimes place names or titles are substituted for last names. Gloucester, Albany, Clarence – as these usually come from titles the expectation is one of rank, or a ubiquitous knowledge of historical figures who held those titles, or of the person currently inhabiting that position. These titles engage groupthink, much like the professions of lower characters. This person is like everyone else with this name and we can reasonably project that others of his kind in the world would behave as he does.

Whereas titles can sometimes function as last names, also last names can also function as title. Fathers and heads of households often carry the family name and they are meant to define that family. These characters, however, never garner our affection. There is a distance. The position is one to be respected and familiarity between the character and the audience is held to a minimum. [This does not hold in the history plays because, again, a known historical figure would already be familiar to the audience and Shakespeare was canny enough to exploit those sentiments.]

First names are the most commonly used by Shakespeare. Many of the famous characters are known only by them: Hamlet, Ophelia, Othello, Iago, Rosalind, Prospero, Claudius, Gertrude, Benedick, Beatrice, Petruchio, Kate, Mercutio, Malvolio, Olivia, Viola, Orsino, Feste, Cordelia, Regan, Gonerill and on and on. First names offer the quickest familiarity, especially in a place and time when only close friends referred to each other by their given names. There is an immediate affinity between us and them because we feel like we are allowed to know them in an intimate way.

There is a difference between knowing someone’s full name, and using it. To know it is to have a fuller picture of that individual. To use it constantly is to create a personal distance. When you can only refer to a character by the first name, it gently forces a kind of intimacy. We feel a friendship with these characters and seek to replace empathy with sympathy. Even the antagonists become closer to the audience when we use their first names. We can find some kind of connection rather then pushing them away completely.

After reading his plays these conventions work on us in a subconscious way. In a later blog post, we will take a look at how this affects our relationships to the characters in The Tragedie of Macbeth.

- Andy Kirtland, Managing Director, The New Renaissance Theatre Company


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Secrets from an Unrehearsed Stage Manager

I have been a stage manager for several different things, including shows, musicals, conferences, dance shows, ballets, and yet nothing can compare to the excitement of working backstage of an unrehearsed show.  Between being outdoors, no rehearsals of lines,  and so many elements like dogs in the audience, an unrehearsed production is never boring and always the best.

This season I am beyond excited to work on Taming of the Shrew and MacB.  Each production we do provides its own set of complications. As a stage manager, I love being able to solve problems and work out solutions!  One of a Stage Manager’s largest fears is having something happen that is beyond their control, I know because it is a big fear of mine. During an unrehearsed production as soon as the whistle blows, the game is on and anything can happen. 

Last summer during our final production of Romeo and Juliet the weather decided to take part in our show.  Minutes before we were ready to go, after fight call and dance call and our stage walk thru, the heavens let loose.  I am not talking about a little bit of water, I am talking about a monsoon that came upon us, I think the gods thought we were doing The Tempest.  So we had to pick up our actors tent, our backstage tent, and all props and costumes to move under the giant yellow tent provided by the park.  When I say pick up the tent that is exactly what we did. Our wonderful tent crew took a corner of the tents and carried them under the large tent. While they were moving the tents the costume crew was trying to safely and dryly move the costumes under cover and the props crew was trying to safely move all props and armory under cover. While this was going on, the audience was trying to stay dry under the same tent. Once we were able to get everything moved under cover we had to begin sorting it all and resetting everything for pre-show.  Like we say during our curtain speech, during Shakespeare’s time there was no such thing as electricity or spot lights or house lighting, this is why we have our shows in the middle of the afternoon or the early evenings during the summer. This day however, the monsoon brought with it dark ominous clouds that covered the light. 

So lets recap – We had gallons of water coming from the sky, winds whipping, thunder and lightening, props to be saved, costumes to be saved, 2 tents to be moved, darkness taking over the sky, a full house, and the show must go on.  Our cast was made up of incredibly hard workers who all joined to get everything reset and in its correct place.  So the cast began to get redressed into their first costumes and recheck all their props, and one of them comes up to me “My costume has a large tear on it, can you help?”  Without skipping a beat I grab my emergency sewing kit from my stage managers kit and began to sew the tear. This is when I realized just how dark it had become, so I grabbed our emergency lanterns and hung one up back stage and then had my cellphone light set up so it was shining on my hands and the tear.  While this is going on, the wind began to pick up again. I don’t know how familiar those of you reading this might be with portable clothing racks but they are far from sturdy especially when about 25 costumes are hung up and it is windy.  The racks began to blow over, in the mud, with all our beautiful costumes hung up, and I had a needle and thread in my hands.  Our costume crew did their best to catch the costumes (we only ended up with a few casualties) our props crew was trying to catch our paper props from blowing all around and our tent crew was trying to stake the tents into the ground. It was mad chaos all around.  Backstage was like a beehive, everyone with a job, everyone rushing around, and everyone helping out.

After everything was set and we were ready to go, we realized that we needed to do another fight call in our new playing space, after the move we were a lot closer to the audience then before. So the audience was able to watch how smooth of a machine we really were.  A few things posed a problem at this point, one happened to be that the rain was so very loud that the actors had to shout to be heard. Projecting became an art form. We tried to hold off as long as we could in the hopes of being able to hear!  After what seemed like 45 minutes or so we only ended up starting the show 15 minutes late.  Only 15 minutes late, with everything that happened. It was incredible to see how wonderful our company worked to accomplish moving a mountain!

Each season and each tour I have been beyond blessed to work with amazing and talented people.  Between our wonderful production staff and our beyond talented actors, I have learned so much and I have been a part of incredible performances.  After working as a stage manager on an unrehearsed production, every other show is a piece of cake.  Having rehearsals for the entire show, tech rehearsals, inside facilities, technology, lack of bugs, a “normal” production of any show is just not as exciting!  I still love being a stage manager in every description of the word, but after falling in love working with this unrehearsed technique I will never love a stage show as much as I love working with the Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project. 

- Charlene Jacka, NRTC Company Stage  Manager
 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Who is Lady Macbeth?

Lady Macbeth is one of the most compelling and famous characters created by William Shakespeare. She has become a byword for a strong woman behind a man, pushing him towards nefarious ends. The Macbeths are often seen as a sexy, powerful couple, bonded by their evil plotting. To summarize an analysis given in an interview by Laurence Olivier, Lady Macbeth is on a downward track from power ending in tragedy, while her husband is on the rise and their journeys cross each other at Duncan’s murder. Something about these interpretations rings false when compared against the characters’ cue scripts.

Over a couple of blog posts, we will examine the cue scripts of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to dig into their relationship and their characters to better understand why these characters hold such a sway over our imagination. Today we begin with Lady Macbeth.

When we first meet Macbeth’s anonymous wife, her words are not her own. She reads a letter recounting events that we, the audience, already know. When we are introduced to a character, we see their true selves. If they are not as they appear, Shakespeare has them tell us. Deceptions in his plays occur between characters while the audience is always complicit in the lie. However, Shakespeare does not give us a true Lady Macbeth in her opening scene. Instead he gives a regurgitation of what we have already witnessed on stage. Lady Macebth is a parrot, exposition. Nothing about her is revealed.

Throughout Shakespeare’s work, language is character: how one speaks and the way one’s text works is how we truly know his creations. What do her first words, her first thoughts, tell us about Lady Macbeth? They offer an excellent example of how language can be used to shape character.

‘Glamys thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou are promis’d:’

Her first line is nine beats long (Glamys being pronounce ‘glamz’), and the thought runs into the next line of pentameter. What is interesting here is that there is one word that would fill the first line, making it a full 10-beat line, and completing the thought. Instead there is a one beat pause. She could say: ‘Glamys thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be king.

In this instance, we would see a woman in control saying what she means, but we do not. Instead, there is the impression that she cannot bring herself to say the word. There is a pause, trepidation. She continues to question her husband’s ability to do what needs to be done to reach the goal of which she herself cannot speak. There is never a consideration that he may be able to earn the crown legitimately, but that Macbeth must ‘catch the neerest way.’

The first action she takes, is to ask for supernatural, metaphysical help. At this point in the play, this choice does not indicate the strong woman that she is popularly portrayed to be (we cannot say that this is uncharacteristic of her, because we do not know that much about her):

‘…Come you Spirits,
That tend on mortall thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the Crowne to the Toe, top-full
Of direst Crueltie: make thick my blood,
Stop up th' accesse, and passage to Remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of Nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keepe peace betweene
Th' effect, and hit. Come to my Womans Brests,
And take my Milke for Gall, you murth'ring Ministers,
Where-ever, in your sightlesse substances,
You wait on Natures Mischiefe. Come thick Night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoake of Hell,
That my keene Knife see not the Wound it makes,
Nor Heaven peepe through the Blanket of the darke,
To cry, hold, hold.’

The language of Lady Macbeth’s request to darker powers may offer a glimpse of the person she was before taking this step because she asks for attributes she does not possess and to become something she is not. She would not ask to be unsexed unless she felt that her femininity was a liability. She begs to be filled completely with ‘direst Crueltie,’ an attribute she must not already have. ‘Stop up th’accesse, and passage to Remorse’ tells that she believes her conscience to be an obstacle. She prays that it becomes dark enough that she cannot witness her own actions and that Heaven, her religion, does not stop her. If this is what she wants, we can infer these are qualities she does not see in herself. She believes herself to be a woman without cruelty, filled with mother’s milk and full of remorse who is afraid to think that she is capable of the actions she considers.

Throughout her cue script, Lady Macbeth’s entrance cues give us information that contradicts the image of the strong demanding woman. Her first cue is ‘…a peerless Kinsman.’ She is not named here, and while the word ‘peerless’ does appear it describes a ‘Kinsman,’ not woman. This may be a reason why even before she asks for a transformation, Lady Macbeth is portrayed as sexless. If the emphasis is put on ‘peerless’ then she is the prime example of a Thane’s wife. Other words in the character’s cues include ‘delicate’ and ‘t’other.’ She is never named in her entrance stage directions other than ‘Lady.’ (Unbeknownst to an actor using cue scripts, no character ever states her name. Without a name there are psychological limits on how well the audience will ever be able to know Lady Macbeth.)

Over the next several scenes after Macbeth’s return we watch Lady Macbeth control, belittle, manipulate and berate her warrior husband:

‘…looke like th' innocent flower,
But be the Serpent under't.’

‘Was the hope drunke,
Wherein you drest your selfe? Hath it slept since?
And wakes it now to looke so greene, and pale,
At what it did so freely? From this time,
Such I account thy love. Art thou affear'd
To be the same in thine owne Act, and Valour,
As thou art in desire? Would'st thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the Ornament of Life,
And live a Coward in thine owne Esteeme?’

‘I have given Sucke, and know
How tender 'tis to love the Babe that milkes me,
I would, while it was smyling in my Face,
Have pluckt my Nipple from his Bonelesse Gummes,
And dasht the Braines out, had I so sworne
As you have done to this.’

‘But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And wee'le not fayle:’

‘Infirme of purpose:
Give me the Daggers: the sleeping, and the dead,
Are but as Pictures: 'tis the Eye of Childhood,
That feares a painted Devill.’

‘My Hands are of your colour: but I shame
To weare a Heart so white.’

All of this comes after Lady Macbeth seeks the aid of dark forces. Much is made of the metaphysical in this play as it pertains to Macbeth, but how does it affect his wife? At his point in the play Macbeth’s dealing with the witches was unsolicited, they came to him, but Lady Macbeth sought them out. Is her strength then a result of ‘Spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts?’

Once the murder of Duncan is concluded, this bullying aspect of Lady Macbeth dissolves, and where before she pushed Macbeth to bloody thoughts she now tries to pull him away from them. Given that the first several scenes of the play illustrate how bloody his acts are on the battlefield, this seems to be a more likely role for Lady Macbeth to play in her home life – but we never see them on a normal day.

‘Gentle my Lord, sleeke o're your rugged Lookes,
Be bright and Joviall among your Guests to Night.’

Keep in mind as well, her request to the dark forces concluded with the murder of Duncan. Once he is assassinated, the contract has ended. She is troubled by the influence she held over her husband. In a rare moment alone with her thoughts and the audience, Lady Macbeth slips into a rhyme, the first and only that she has for herself and the audience as she questions what she has done:

‘Nought's had, all's spent.
Where our desire is got without content:
'Tis safer, to be that which we destroy,
Then by destruction dwell in doubtfull joy.’

This is the only time she second-guesses what she and her husband have done.

It is often posited that the Macbeths are one of the only happily married couples in Shakespeare’s canon. But the language of her text does not reflect this supposition. When speaking to Macbeth, his wife uses ‘thou’ or ‘thine’ (a display of physical closeness) only eight times, and never after he goes off to kill Duncan. She says ‘we,’ ‘us’ or ‘our/s’ only five times. At one point when discussing the murder, she asks, ‘What cannot you and I performe upon / Th' unguarded Duncan?’ (emphasis mine). Her language separates herself from her husband even at the same time she is pushing him to commit a murder they planned together.

In none of her exchanges, most importantly those with her husband, does Lady Macbeth finish another person’s rhyme, and she only has five internal rhymes (two of which were touched upon above). Two of these are to her husband, but have the appearance of the theatrical convention of buttoning or highlighting an important thought:

‘Which shall to all our Nights, and Dayes to come,
Give solely soveraigne sway, and Masterdome.’

‘Onely looke up cleare:
To alter fauor, ever is to feare:
Leave all the rest to me.’

Both of these come at the time when she is convincing her husband that they should kill the king.

Lady Macbeth does have a number of short lines, the majority of which either begin or end her exchanges with other characters, or are single lines. This either means that she has action or pauses at the beginning of her lines, or she is completing someone else’s line, illustrating a dependence on other characters – dependence because the lack of rhyming shows no special affinity with those Lady Macbeth shares lines. One would expect more intimacy in the language expressing a happy marriage. The evidence of contented matrimony must reside in the interpretations of performers, because there is little evidence of it in the text.

Everyone familiar with The Tragedie of Macbeth remembers Lady Macbeth’s iconic sleep walking scene. The image of her in her nightgown with a candle, trying to rub bloodstains from her hands is indelibly stamped on the mind. The way that the scene is written makes it a theatrical coup (often in our unrehearsed cue script workshops The New Renaissance Theatre Company uses it to illustrate how well the rules of the technique work to block a scene in the moment and how a scene that many people think they know can be drastically different and new).

Sometimes it is referred to as her mad scene, only the word ‘mad’ is never used to describe her, although she does warn her husband ‘These deeds must not be thought / After these wayes: so, it will make us mad.’ Neither the Doctor nor the Gentle Woman who witness her sleep walking ever says that she is mad. The Doctor comments that walking in her sleep is a ‘great perturbation in Nature.’ Nobody else sleep walks in Shakespeare’s plays. Claudius and Gertrude, as guilty as they are never walk in their sleep. Lear and Ophelia both go mad, but never sleep walk. This particular characteristic seems to be reserved for special circumstances (possibly those marked by the supernatural?).

It is perhaps these special circumstances that foster interest in the character of Lady Macbeth. Many portrayals of her character show the audience a strong and demanding woman, the power behind the throne, the driving force or engine and something has always felt wrong about it. In some places she does push him, but given the manner of her introduction, she does not seem like the kind of character that would be so assertive towards a husband who is known for his battlefield brutality. In A Midsommer Nights Dreame, Theseus introduces us to his warrior wife, Hippolyta, with the phrase: ‘I won thy love doing thee injury.’ They met in conflict. There is no mention of such a relationship between the Macbeths, which would be an important dynamic for the playwright to set for the audience given the nature of the play.

Questions of supernatural influence on Macbeth must also be asked of his wife. Remember, the first thing that she does is ask for metaphysical help to aid her in making her husboand do what is necessary to become King, even to do it herself. We are never told (explicitly) if she gets that help. Perhaps she does, and that is why once murder is committed, we see a shift in her character as she comes back to her more normal state of being. But Shakespeare never lets us see what the Macbeths were like. It is the equivalent of listening to one half of a phone conversation. We have no definitive way to judge these characters, and therein lies the attractiveness of this play. If the Macbeths were like this, then they were always capable of their crimes. If the Macbeths were like that, then the witches and darkness have power in the play. Perhaps this couple was always on this track, but we can never know, and so these questions make this play and these characters dynamic and compelling.

-Andy Kirtland, Managing Director, The New Renaissance Theatre Company



















Lady Macbeth
Gabriel Cornelius von Max (1885)