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Twelfth Night – Viola

VIOLA
A lady, sir, though it was said she much resembled
me, was yet of many accounted beautiful: but,
though I could not with such estimable wonder
overfar believe that, yet thus far I will boldly
publish her; she bore a mind that envy could not but
call fair. She is drowned already, sir, with salt
water, though I seem to drown her remembrance again with more.

I think for many the character of Viola, who becomes Cesario, puts Twelfth Night into the realm of fantasy as much as the fairies do for Midsummer.  Not for me.  Sure, it is far-fetched for a well-bred young lady to dress like a boy and convince everyone around her that she is, basically, her brother… but I feel Shakespeare takes care of the reasons for not suspending disbelief.  Yes, she’s a young gentlewoman – but since their father died (some four years ago, perhaps?) she and her twin brother have been much on their own.  (There’s a fan-fiction there.)  She knows him better than she knows anyone else.  And, since they’ve been alone together since the age of thirteen, she will have had a close view of his process of learning to become a man.  Additionally, there’s never a mention of their mother, so the presumption can be that she’s been gone for a long time, and that for a while before he died their father was raising them alone; she’s had masculine companionship all her life.  If you really wanted to go fan-ficty and conjecture, it’s not so far-fetched that her father and brother have taught her things, like the basics of fencing, which no girl should know.  It’s obvious she’s intelligent, and it’s believable she has had the closest thing to firsthand experience of boyhood a girl can have; she would know how to make excellent use of all of that.  Plus, she says that she is in a way keeping her brother alive by becoming his image –

VIOLA
He named Sebastian: I my brother know
Yet living in my glass; even such and so
In favour was my brother, and he went
Still in this fashion, colour, ornament,
For him I imitate: O, if it prove,
Tempests are kind and salt waves fresh in love.

And while such a thing may never have happened, I don’t think it’s my steady diet of fantasies and gothics that make the whole charade a reasonable response for her situation.  The Trevor Nunn film pads the story, making the threat to her bigger and darker, but I don’t think it’s necessary.  I know a bit about how impossible would be the position of a, say, seventeen-year old girl, completely alone in a strange land with only the clothes and possessions salvaged from a sinking ship and what money she had on her

I found a nice little examination of the names used in the play (somewhere): the viola, for example, is also a musical instrument with a deeper tone than a violin, so perhaps our Viola has (or affects) a lower voice than other girls.


BBC (1980): Felicity Kendal‘s Viola is composed and calm, much like the rest of the production.  She does not begin shaken by grief, and continues largely unperturbed by circumstances.  She loves Orsino, and gazes longingly, and seems to quietly enjoy thinking about him while quietly sorrowing that she cannot at the moment have him.  She does not love Olivia, and shows some frustration there at not being able to shake her off; it is only toward the end that any passion breaks through, when Orsino announces he will kill Cesario – passion to allow her beloved to do whatever he thinks he needs to do to ease his heart.  Which is not to say it isn’t a lovely performance – it is; Felicity Kendal isn’t speaking lines, she’s speaking her character’s thoughts, inhabiting her “poor monster”, softly rueful there.  This Cesario is a young lad, although a bit feminine possibly convincing to someone who doesn’t look at “him” and say “oh, look, it’s Felicity Kendal”.  She does something the others don’t, standing like a boy with feet apart and hands behind back, and putting a boot up on Olivia’s bench and leaning on that knee to address the lady – not like a woman pretending to be a girl pretending to be a boy, but naturally and unaffectedly, as she delivers her lines.  Naturalistic body language.

The costume of the period helps Viola in this masquerade – it’s a very clever period to set 12 in.  The flowing hair and swags of lace and big swaggering boots are both feminine enough (to modern eyes) and ostentatious enough that it can all be hidden behind.  And all of that – the big droopy feather on the hat and the swashbuckling sword on the hip (man, what a great period for costume) – is the first thing someone is going to be seeing.  It’s wonderful camouflage.

This Viola is a cool-headed, logical, calm girl, with a great sense of humor.  She took on the role of Cesario for self-preservation, and is finding herself to be quite enjoying it, and being amused by a great deal of what goes on.

She, Michael Thomas as her brother, and the wardrobe and makeup departments (but especially she) did a good enough job that upon one of Sebastian’s entrances I was near-sightedly startled when he spoke that it wasn’t Felicity.  That’s the only time that’s happened.  Same long, feathered hair – Cavalier style; same clothes, of course; but most of all they coordinated on manner of walking and carriage, and that made what would have been a total lack of resemblance (in face, voice – and height) much, much less ridiculous.  She put on Cesario like a second skin, and played a relaxed, sharp young lad with perfect ease.  There were things I missed – but overall I loved her Viola.


Trevor Nunn (1996): Imogen Stubbs – cut hair, bound breasts; she has a deeper voice, and husky, so passes as a boy well in that area.  And she’s the only Viola among the versions I watched who pasted on a mustache.  I don’t remember any incidents with it, which, if that memory is accurate, is remarkable: a director passing up the easy laugh.  Good on him.

This is also the only Viola (almost) who follows up on “for I can sing And speak to him in many sorts of music” – we meet Cesario playing Orsino’s piano.

This Viola is bold – she makes the leap of cutting off all that hair.  I know from experience that this is a huge move, and there’s no going back, not quickly.  It’s smart – when men’s fashion is short hair, it would be dangerous to try to hide long hair – and in the setting of this production especially it’s a big deal.  She is physical: she gamely makes an attempt in a fencing salle (which of course gave Trevor Nunn the opportunity to have the fencing master put a hand squarely on her breast), and practices spitting and other such masculine arts.  She plays pool with Orsino (very well), and cards – it’s very much an Edwardian sort of man’s world here, and this Viola fits in as well as could be expected.


No image is available as pre-Cesario Helen Hunt in L@LC

L@LC (1998): Helen Hunt – wonderful.  I have the suspicion that it’s not fashionable to love Helen Hunt, but when have I ever cared about that?  I loved her in this.  It’s a totally different animal from the Trevor Nunn, this play, a straight-forward on-stage production rather than a full cinematic event.  Helen Hunt has lovely comic timing, and perfect reactions – broad, but appropriate for the stage.  She pulled off a very good impersonation of a young man or teenager, slightly older than many of the Cesarios appear to be – an attractive woman who can be an attractive boy.  The costume and hair made it almost perfect: hair in a sleek ponytail, as is Sebastian’s of course, and a white suit just like his (of course).  The resemblance was the best here,   Great reactions, great comic timing – all the right notes perhaps slightly overplayed for the stage, and sometimes played to the audience.  Viola here is a woman in transition, trying to get her feet under her, and suddenly set upon by love from two angles – here, the everywoman thrown into a thoroughly extraordinary situation.  A viola-like voice, low for a woman, and just right for a young man: perfect.  I still want to see the rest.  Stupid PBS.


HVSF (2008): Katie Hartke – wonderful.  She pulls off her impersonation nicely (though there’s not so much of a resemblance to Sebastian) – could be a young boy, young enough to make it squicky – but mature for “his” age.  Her hair gathered under her hat.  She’s on edge, emotional – as a woman would be in her place.  There is a wonderful immediacy to this performance: this Viola is absolutely present in the moment, every moment, sharply aware and intent on each line, each scene.


ATV British TV (1969): Joan Plowright – Not immensely convincing as a girl playing a boy.  It was, in a way, a nice choice to have her witness the end of Orsino’s scene and decide she will serve him.  It explains the decision nicely- because it is a drastic decision … but then it weakens the scene.  She leaves the scene with backward glances (except for the hair, he’s handsome, nice legs, and nice voice).  She is devoid of feeling for much of it, very still, with many soulful upward gazes – not the passion required for some scenes.  She also plays Sebastian, with a hint of facial hair – which solves the mistaken identity casting problem, but …


Branagh (1988): Frances Barber is sweet, smart, good as a fifteen-year-old boy; lovely emotion.  She is a relief in a mean-spirited production – and it’s a horrible shame: if the whole thing had lived up to her, it would be one of my favorite versions instead of my far and away least favorite.


Tim Supple (2003): Parminder Nagra


Lucie Höflich played Viola in a German version...

Image via Wikipedia

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2011 in Geekery, Shakespeare, Theatre

 

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Twelfth Night – Branagh/Thames Shakespeare

Branagh (1988) (Thames Shakespeare Collection)

Made for television?
VIOLA: Frances Barber
FESTE: Anton Lesser
DUKE ORSINO: Christopher Ravenscroft
MALVOLIO: Richard Briers
SIR TOBY BELCH: James Saxon
OLIVIA: Caroline Langrishe
SIR ANDREW AGUECHEEK: James Simmons
MARIA: Abigail McKern
ANTONIO: Stuart McCreery
SEBASTIAN: Sebastian/Curio: Christopher Hollis
DIRECTOR: Paul Kafno; Producers: Paul Kafno, Ian Martin
OTHER: Paul Williams

The music for this staging is (as in Branagh’s other Shakespeares) by Patrick Doyle, except the Shakespearean ballad performed by Feste – “Come Away Death” – borrows an adapted melody from Paul McCartney’s song “Once Upon A Long Ago”. McCartney donated the melody for Kenneth Branagh’s original stage production of Twelfth Night, performed by the Renaissance Theatre Company, and allowed the melody to be used in the film version.

McCartney or no McCartney – I honestly hated this.  Once again I wanted to love it.  Come on – Kenneth Branagh and Shakespeare are like peanut butter and chocolate.  Patrick Doyle!  And Richard Briers!  And I loved the concept of Anton Lesser’s Feste.  And … But dear lord…

It’s kind of funny (funny strange, very definitely not funny … ha ha) that this was the only one – I think – in which there were references to the time of year of the title: instead of dodging about hedges the tricksters here kept a Christmas tree between them and Malvolio.

The only reason I might watch any of this again is that I just saw on imdb that Paul Williams played Curio.  That Paul Williams?  Really?  That’s just bizarre enough to bring me back – briefly.


Actually, funnily enough, it seems that this was probably relabeled for DVD sales, with Branagh’s name writ larger all over it than back in ’88; he was not as prominent in the production of it, based on some places I’ve looked, as the big letters would have one think.  I like the idea that he wasn’t – his Much Ado is one of my favorite things in the world, and did a wonderful job of capturing the joy of the story, where this … did not.

This production, like Tim Supple’s, sucked every drop of joy out of the play.  There’s a quote I saved from the Cambridge University Press, via a very messy article on archive.org: “Another feature is the genial spirit that pervades the piece . . . its tone of pure kindliness and pleasure.”  Not here.  None of the above.  Every scene takes place out of doors, in the courtyard and garden outside Olivia’s home or Orsino’s garden – despite the fact that the Twelfth Night part is taken seriously and everyone is bundled up, and in several scenes it snows.

And the weather is not the only chilly thing about it.  Olivia (Caroline Langrishe) is a stone cold bitch, with the tiniest of soft spots for Feste – not to be relied upon, because my impression of this Olivia is that she might yank her support again at any moment.  Malvolio (Richard Briers) is spiteful and vicious, and deserves what he gets – almost.  Uncle Toby (James Saxon) is just a drunk, Sir Andrew (James Simmons) is a young moron being fleeced for every cent he has, Orsino (Christopher Ravenscroft) is depressed and depressing, and Sebastian (Christopher Hollis) was such a non-entity that the actor did double duty as Curio.  I’d love to punch Maria in the face.

And Feste (Anton Lesser) … Oh my, Feste.  He looks great.  I love the long and wild hair and the costume.  He sounds great – he has an excellent voice and delivery.  But this Feste is depressed and angry and violent – outright scary in several scenes.  This is a Feste you don’t want to piss off, in plain American; this is a Feste whose life is screwed up, who should be in rehab and on antidepressants, and could use a couple of back-to-back courses on anger management.  There is, par for the course in this film, no joy in Feste, no fooling around in the Fool.

This all lends extra pain to the torture and release of Malvolio.  In other productions, Toby and company play their tricks to get revenge on a pompous twit who has wronged them and belittled them and just annoyed the hell out of them.  It starts out in high spirits – and in distilled spirits – and goes further than they meant.  In the “Branagh” version it starts out mean-spirited and only gets worse.  And when Briars as Malvolio is let out of his tiny cell, it’s one of the most horrifying things I’ve seen in a while: he’s bent, because there was not room to stand straight; he’s blinded by the winter daylight, because he was in the dark for so long; he’s filthy.  And he’s obviously injured.  This isn’t funny.  This isn’t a practical joke.  This is reason to call the police in and prosecute.  If there was any sign of remorse at any point in the film, I don’t remember it; that’s one more thing the Supple version had that this didn’t – Maria bursts into bitter tears toward the end.  To channel Kristin Chenoweth’s intro to HVSF: brightly – “It’s a comedy!”

The closest thing to a saving grace about the whole thing was Frances Barber as Viola.  I liked her a lot.  She was lovely; she was a lovely actor; she was the sole source of warmth in the thing.  She had a sparkle in her eyes, and inhabited Viola nicely – and made a natty Cesario: she made one of the best boys.  Unfortunately, she just wasn’t enough to remotely save this nasty mess.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2011 in Geekery, Shakespeare, Theatre

 

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Twelfth Night – ATV, British TV

ATV British TV (1969) – Made for television

VIOLA: Joan Plowright
FESTE: Tommy Steele
DUKE ORSINO: Gary Raymond
MALVOLIO:  Alec Guinness (not yet “Sir”)
SIR TOBY BELCH: Sir Ralph Richardson
OLIVIA: Adrienne Corri
SIR ANDREW AGUECHEEK: John Moffatt
MARIA: Sheila Reid
ANTONIO: Kelsey Olson
SEBASTIAN: Joan Plowright
DIRECTOR: John Sichel (John Dexter’s production)
OTHER: Christopher Timothy

This was probably the first version I ever saw, long long ago on a tv station far, far away from what it is now (probably A&E, which used to take the “A” part of its name seriously) (I saw Baryshnikov on A&E, for heaven’s sake.  I know, I know, I rant every time I bring up the network – but from Balanchine’s Firebird to Dog the Bounty Hunter?  Really?).  I loved Tommy Steele already from Finian’s Rainbow – I love, love that musical (and need to Netflix it), the music is a joy, and his Og the leprechaun is darlin’.  Internet searches in the course of this project have shown that he’s a love-hate kind of guy – either people adore him as I do, or hate the sight of him.  Me, I think he’s perfect for Feste.  I only wish they had used him better.  He could have been amazing.  Yes, he sings, and sings wonderfully – but my personal preference would have been for a Feste a little closer to Og – not quite human.  Fey.  Unpredictable.  For me, the performances of the Fool that take the character to a few steps outside the ordinary – Maia Guest, of course, and David Patrick Kelly (and this is one reason Anton Lesser was a disappointment) – are the most successful, the ones that play him as fey and not quite domesticated.

I mention natural body language elsewhere (BBC) – that’s nowhere to be seen here.  This is perilously close to Shakespeare as parodied by Robin Williams’s John Keating: “Aow, Titus, bring your sword hithah!”  – the kind of Shakespeare that makes teenaged boys cringe.  It’s Performed rather than performed, and from Joan Plowright’s soulful upward gaze to the seriously and truly horrendous Dutch-boy wigs – nightmare-inducing on Sir Andrew Aguecheek, particularly – it’s not conducive to settling in for a good time with the Bard.  All part of the time in which it was made, I suppose – pity.

Christopher Timothy

Actually, Joan Plowright’s soulful upward gazes got right on my nerves.  All of them.  Hers was a passive Viola, not exactly the girl I’m used to seeing from most of the other productions; it’s amazing how with the same words and same (albeit limited) stage direction a character’s personality can vary so wildly.  This Viola is reactive – and actually one of the things that was changed in this production which I liked bolsters that.  I made the note that it was a “nice choice to have her witness the end of Orsino’s scene and decide she will serve him (explains the decision nicely)”, but where the usual placement of this decision – on the beach after the Captain has told her about where they are and who Orsino is – gives her the appearance of swift and active (proactive) decisiveness, Joan Plowright’s Viola sees him first, and, presumably, falls in love at first sight.  Ordinarily she makes the decision to save her own skin, sight unseen: she’s just washed ashore in an alien place, and she remembers her father talking about this Duke – she’s heard good things, she can’t serve Olivia, so she’ll disguise herself and go to him.  Then she falls in love with him.  Joan Plowright’s V drifts into town, sees Orsino’s first scene, either falls for him or gains enough first-hand evidence, and, with him all but right in front of her, decides that’s what she’ll do.  To me, it actually weakens the character, now that I’ve thought about it in a wider context.

Alec Guinness – here not yet knighted, even though it feels funny not to say “Sir Alec” – is a properly sniffy Malvolio; Sir Ralph Richardson is a completely different sort of Sir Toby from the rest, a tall and lanky Don Quixote figure.  Gary Raymond is Orsino here, memorable primarily, I’m afraid, for that wig and … those tights.  My goodness.  Adrienne Corri is languid and gorgeous, in contrast to the pert and vivacious (and much younger) Mary.  Sir Andrew, played by John Moffatt, is every bit as effete as he ought to be – on him the wig is appropriate.  Overall, the production does its best to be family-friendly, minimizing the bawdiness as much as possible – though Sir Ralph Richardson pushes the envelope.  Unfortunately, much of the rest of the humor is deadened too, and the rest of the emotions.  It begins with Viola and the sailors coming in from the purported shipwreck, dry and calm and pristine, not a wrinkle or a tear or a water stain to be found.  And so it proceeds, until at the very end Feste is shut out – the door literally shut in his face as the rest of the celebrants go into Olivia’s house, and he sings his closing song mournfully.  A sad way to end a comedy …

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2011 in Shakespeare

 

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Twelfth Night – Live at Lincoln Center

Good grief, tonight is Twelfth Night! I so intended to have all my posts done!  (And my book finished!  And … stuff.  Woops.) 

However, in honor of the Lord of Misrule and all that, let’s see what I can accomplish.  I’ve Netflixed the BBC 12th, which for some reason I bought in VHS (!), and also the Supple one again because I shot it back so fast I didn’t take any screencaps.  I also do want to take another look at parts of the latter because, really, it can’t be as bad as I thought.  And I flat out don’t remember Feste.  Which is just weird.   

In the meantime, here’s my take on one of my favorite productions.  As much as is possible, at least.

L@LC (1998)
Filmed stage production
VIOLA: Helen Hunt
FESTE: David Patrick Kelly
DUKE ORSINO: Paul Rudd
MALVOLIO: Philip Bosco
SIR TOBY BELCH: Brian Murray
OLIVIA: Kyra Sedgwick
SIR ANDREW AGUECHEEK: Max Wright
MARIA: Amy Hill
ANTONIO: Julio Monge
SEBASTIAN: Rick Stear
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Hytner
COSTUME: Catherine Zuber
MUSIC/SCORE: Jeanine Tesori

 I saw this when it was first on PBS, and I loved it; I taped it, but I haven’t ever been able to find the tape.  (Unfortunately, I taped a lot of things, and therein lies the problem.)  There are bits and pieces on YouTube, and that’s all I’ve found so far – I’ll have to remember to put in a search for it on eBay now and then.  Never know.  Based on memory and what’s available, here’s L@LC.

I remembered the pools onstage, and the sexiness of it, and just enjoying the heck out of it – and based on the excerpts I’ve gotten my hands on the memories were accurate.  The setting was modernish, with minimal sets: gates (though no walls), paths and distant views, those pools, benches around the pools.  I thought it was an interesting choice to use pools when furniture is so minimal.  Also interesting: in hunting for Twelfth Night video and pictures I’ve found references to other productions (including one with John Lithgow as Malvolio – that I would have loved to see) which used pools.  I wouldn’t have thought that a natural progression of ideas.  But they are used very well indeed here; wet clothes are the next best thing to nudity (insert smiley face here).  Feste has some fun splashing through toward the end, and I’m fairly sure that Orsino has one of the obligatory bath scenes in one of them.   Best of all was Act II, scene iv:

Orsino:
Come hither, boy: if ever thou shalt love,
In the sweet pangs of it remember me;
For such as I am all true lovers are,
Unstaid and skittish in all motions else,
Save in the constant image of the creature
That is beloved …

Wonderfully, Orsino rolls over onto his chest and stares into the water as he says those last words.  And then splashes the image away.  Brilliant. 

The hedge scene is not one of those available, sadly, so I don’t know how they handled that.  My impression of the costuming by Catherine Zuber is a fusion of 1900-ish (in Sir Toby and Sir Andrew), the late 1700′s (the feel of Cesario and Sebastian feels Revolutionary War era to me), and, in Orsino’s costume and that of his court, Arabian Nights.  After a severe button shortage.  (Nigel Lythgoe has ruined me with all of his post-ballroom-routine comments about men having misplaced all their buttons.)

Like the clothing, Jeanine Tesori’s music is eclectic – a bit of many styles.  And it’s strong.  It is woven throughout rather than just in the scenes where Shakespeare said there was a song; the opening to Act III, which is Part I after the intermission, is a marvelously fun jam.  This production has I think my second favorite Feste (my second favorites in several roles, but I’ll come back to them): David Patrick Kelly has a wonderful look, and a wonderful voice.  The Fool should march to an irregular drumbeat no one else can hear, and Kelly makes him a 60′s Fool: he has turned on, tuned in, and dropped way out, man.  He has a separate wisdom, a sense and sensibility of humor that is Other – and that is exactly as it should be.  He was brilliantly cast, and and played it brilliantly.  I’d buy the CD if there was one.  (And PBS?  I’d buy the DVD if there was one…)

I love Helen Hunt as Viola/Cesario.  I have the feeling it’s unfashionable to love her, but that’s never stopped me before.  She’s fantastic.  She has lovely comic timing, and perfect reactions; she draws the audience into her befuddlement, and her facial expression and gesture broadens to fit the stage.  I do believe Helen Hunt is my second favorite Viola, a very close second to Katie Hartke’s.  And this set of twins is far and away the best.  I won’t count the set of twins both played by Joan Plowright – that just wasn’t right.  I would love to see more of Rick Stear’s performance as Sebastian; what there is of him is very nice, and when he comes together with his “sister” at the end it’s phenomenal.  There’s a little gag which I believe has been used elsewhere, but which was nice here, where Orsino reaches out to stroke his bride-to-be’s face and touches Sebastian’s instead.  Well played, and here almost believable. 


Malvolio here (Philip Bosco) is Dignity, Always Dignity, coming down to upbraid the revelers in his nightcap and chain of office.  “Go, sir, rub your chain with crumbs” is perfect here – he’s ready for bed, but he’s either put his chain back on to come down and throw his weight around, or he’s never taken it off.  I can’t decide which I prefer.  His final scene is the only one of the L@LC ones I can watch that really gives me qualms (apart from all of Olivia’s); he emerges from his captivity battered and tattered, missing his glasses – and bloody.  The blood bothers me – it has no place there.  It’s hard enough to keep the froth bubbly with his fury and humiliation; when he emerges with blood under his ear, the bubbles deflate much faster. 

Sirs Toby and Andrew are a wonderful pair here.  Brian Murray is Toby – a familiar face – and Max Wright is Andrew – even more familiar: he was, among many other roles, Mr. Tanner from ALF.  This Toby has a morose edge to him, breaking down during “O mistress mine”.  He’s a depressed drunk (and very much a drunk), and with what I have to go by it seems like as he’s leading Sir Andrew around he will in turn be led by Maria – she’s hard as nails.  I want so badly to say Max Wright’s Sir Andrew, with his magnificently whiny voice and forlorn aspect, is my favorite, but I just can’t. 

Paul Rudd’s Orsino is … well, really.  This is one of the productions where my response to “she fell in love with him in three days or less?” is “sure”.  He is the sexiest Orsino, even taking into account the insanely tight tights in the ATV (largely canceled out by the Dutch Boy hair).  But that isn’t part of his self-centeredness; my impression is that he dresses that way because he can dress any way he pleases, and this pleases him; if it also happens to accentuate his positives, he pays little attention.  He is very much enamored of himself, as witness the scene with the pool, but it’s his passion he is wallowing in.  He is wringing every drop out of Being In Love, and, more, having his love go Unrequited.  He is miserable, and making the most of it.  But there’s a human being in there amid all the angst and emo; the “died thy sister of her love, boy?” scene reaches him through his own pain, which while theatric is still pain.  He just needs to do some growing up, hopefully.  There are some productions where I worry for poor Viola, marrying an overgrown, overly emotional yet emotionally shallow boy full of hot air.  Here I think he’ll turn out all right.  It isn’t a great performance, but it is a good performance, and Paul Rudd provides an Orsino that doesn’t make me question Viola’s sanity.

Not so positive is Kyra Sedgwick.  Well, I will start with what positive there is: she looks glorious.  As I can accept Viola falling very quickly for this Orsino, I can see Orsino clinging to his love for this Olivia.  She is scornful in her black, and when her infatuation catches fire she bursts onstage in a spring pink dress, all rose and flowing curls and parasol.  She looks marvelous.  But.  When she is onstage there is not a stick of scenery left unmasticated.  She overdoes everything – every gesture, every facial expression, every line, every step across the stage.  She flounces and stamps and cavorts and swirls her skirts.  She doesn’t frown – she scowls.  She doesn’t smile – she grins.  There’s broad emoting for stage, and then there’s massive overacting.  Particularly playing against Helen Hunt, who is, despite broad expressions and reactions, still a natural actress, playing what feels like a comparatively realistic character, Sedgwick comes across as a caricature.  Pity. 

Again, I’m hoping to get hold of the whole production; maybe I’ll do another hunt (so to speak) through the many many videotapes I still have dragging around.  If I strike it lucky, I will update.  Who knows?  Maybe PBS will be kind and release a dvd.  Maybe?  I really, really enjoyed most of what I saw, and I’d love to fill in the blanks.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2011 in Geekery, Shakespeare, Theatre

 

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Twelfth Night – by Tim Supple

Theatrical release
VIOLA: Parminder Nagra
FESTE: Zubin Varla
DUKE ORSINO: Chiwetel Ejiofor
MALVOLIO: Michael Maloney
SIR TOBY BELCH: David Troughton
OLIVIA: Claire Price
SIR ANDREW AGUECHEEK: Richard Bremner
MARIA: Maureen Beattie
ANTONIO: Andrew Kazamia
SEBASTIAN: Ronny Jhutti
DIRECTOR: Tim Supple

OK, it’s more than time I got back to Twelfth Night.  In a couple of weeks my blog is going to start to languish even more than it has been, as NaNoWriMo sets in – so. 

The Anglo-Indian Twelfth Night directed by Tim Supple (2006) made some really, really … interesting choices.  Abstractly, I like some of them … concretely, I don’t think I like more than one or two, and those don’t balance the scales.  It’s beautiful to look at – Netflixing it again I’ve taken a ridiculous number of screencaps – but.  
 
It has a modern-day setting, or perhaps the end of the British Raj, or a combination of eras (a classic car, but cd’s, and 60′s-style rock).  It begins with “If music be the food etc.”; a young woman is singing for Orsino (something operatic and, as far as I know, non-Shakespearean).  And it’s right here, right away, that the strange choice of atmosphere begins to become evident: the singer looks afraid.  Jumping ahead in the film, I don’t think there was reason provided for her to be apprehensive, as Orsino never got violent, including when he doubled back on himself with “‘Tis not so sweet as it was before” – but she still looked very unhappy when he stopped her.  (And then she is never seen again.  Which could be ominous, if you want to look at it like that.)  The scene is filled with close-ups and cuts and flashes of other people and times - it couldn’t be more clear that this is going to be Different.  

They cut the first scenes of Act I into each other somewhat, and I didn’t keep track of what went where, but we see the rather alarming Orsino emoting against a lurid sunset.  As he speaks of Olivia, we see a portrait shot of her, sitting cool and gorgeous against a dark background.  And then we see a house somewhere, the family being rousted from it in the night, a young Indian man and woman escaping through a window.  The pair either stow away on a ship or buy an escape aboard it (I have no idea if they were supposed to be there), and then the ship apparently sinks (which I think was represented by a flare of light – like a 60′s low-budget TV show, and yes I mean Doctor Who) and then Viola is aboard a fishing boat being leered at by a handful of sailors.  Not the captain, though; he is the good and true captain he ought to be – although he is lightning fast at pocketing the handful of gold bangles she takes from her arm at “For saying so, here’s gold”.  (Maybe those three sailors were eyeing the rest of the bangles, and not so much her.  Or, more likely, both.)
The Captain
The captain helps Viola in her transformation: we see him negotiating with a salesman in a men’s clothing store, gesticulating over a picture of Viola and Sebastian together (in order to duplicate Sebastian’s outfit), while Viola sits bereft among the suit jackets.  She cuts her hair and binds her breasts and goes off to serve the Duke – which, as seen in other productions (Nunn, at least) involves washing his back – although this scene involves oil, and I haven’t seen another production that features a full rear nude scene for Orsino (Chiwetel Ejiofor).  That may have been part of the case for Viola’s falling in love with him so quickly … and it is compelling evidence, along with the gratuitous archery sequence (“rich golden shaft”, indeed).  Other than that,  I  was after the first time I watched hard pressed to recall many of his scenes.  (Or Sir Andrew’s (Richard Bremner), for the matter of that.)

 
As the captain speaks of Olivia, there she is again, as Orsino pictured her – and then images of her father, who fades as the captain tells of his death, and then the brother – the first time these two were ever shown in any of these adaptations.  (That would be a fun credit on one’s CV – “I played Olivia’s brother in Twelfth Night.”  “But -?”)  Then follows the image of a car, big and expensive (I would guess a Rolls Royce – I think there’s a hood ornament – but I’m probably wrong) and with horrific damage to the front end – evidently what took the brother’s life. I don’t mind the glimpses of the dead, here and of the twins’ father, but I don’t see that they’re necessary or helpful.  The waking dream Olivia falls into at one point – in which she hears a piano being played, and finds her brother at the keyboard – combined with her breakdown later just makes her very unbalanced: Sebastian isn’t going to have it easy. 

David TroughtonWe meet Sir Toby for the first time slumped facedown on a photo album opened to photos of his dead nephew.  Maria chides him for coming in late – which feels odd, since he’s obviously been unconscious where he is for a little while.  Mary is Scots, and by moments passionate with Sir Toby; for what it’s worth Olivia and all of her household – and Sir Andrew – are white while the rest of the cast is Indian (though I can’t say that was played as a Romeo-and-Juliet factor, or indeed played up at all; it felt kind of incidental).  In fact, Sir Toby is played by David Troughton, son of Patrick and father of Sam.  I love that family. 
 
I do not, however, love this Sir Toby.  Or anyone else, for that matter.  Or the production.  At all.  Most of the, to me, unfortunate choices in the film add up to the mood of a grim thriller, a gritty picture about the Indian mafia with a grafting of screwball comedy.  Without changing a word of the script (as far as I could tell – though many, many words were cut and some Latin prayers were added to give Olivia more of a fanatically grieving air) (coals to Newcastle), it managed to come off like a cable underworld drama.  Nearly every drop of humor or joy was sucked out of it by the lighting (very dark, little daylight), the pitch, the tone – even the costumes.  I think I smiled a couple of times at Michael Maloney’s really very good Malvolio, but in truth the comedy of that scene and what little was added by the use of modern technology (I’ll come back to that) made the scene an aberration in the middle of the movie, the only scene played for humor – - for the rest I was a little horrified.  
 

All the performances were good, and some were very good – that’s one thing I absolutely cannot fault.  Parminder Nagra was a natural with the language and a pleasure to watch (almost the only real pleasure); Claire Prince played a lovely, distracted Olivia; Maureen Beattie’s Maria was a spitfire, although … not a nice person, shall we say.   Ronny Jhutti played a sympathetic, if somewhat shady, Sebastian – although his joyous reunion with his sister was undermined for me not only by the muted delivery of the lines but even more by their vastly different profiles: maybe this Olivia really was mad, if she was able to mistake Sebastian for Cesario with that nose.  Or maybe it was meant to be a truly icky they-all-look-alike-to-me thing. 
 
I kind of liked the conceit that Viola and Sebastian were on the run when the ship they were fleeing on sank (or was sunk); one of the quick flashes Supple used throughout showed Sebastian Sr. as Viola’s brother was talking about him to Antonio, and that instant, Ronny Jhutti’s tone of voice, and Andrew Kazamia’s reaction were all that were needed to paint the picture: Father Sebastian was a despotic general, with a great many enemies even years after his death.  It was nice that this was conveyed with line reading and one image.  However, the main impact of this idea was to further propel the movie out of the realm of “comedy” and into “independent gritty drama”.  

Feste and OliviaOne thing I liked unreservedly is that in the “Take away the fool” scene Olivia slaps Feste, hard; I always feel like he has it coming there, and it rarely happens.  Although, again, it’s a choice that adds to the violent side of the scale. 
 
Another interesting choice, not necessarily bad but perhaps odd, was emphasizing that Antonio (Andrew Kazamia) and Sebastian – and, later, Viola – weren’t From Around Here by having their dialogue lapse into – what I’m assuming was Hindi.  It’s something that doesn’t usually get much attention, their foreignness in Illyria, even in Trevor Nunn’s film in which Illyria and Messina are at war – but the problem is that except for Viola’s initial ignorance about the locals and, here, the lapses into their own language, the twins otherwise fit in just fine.  I’d love to see a staging in which Messina really is Other, and any lapses in Viola’s Cesario can be put down to her imported status.  (I don’t believe this Antonio was in love with Sebastian; their scenes had an odd dynamic, but I don’t recall that being a factor.)  
 
What I very much did like was the use of modern techonology – hot tubs – - I mean, er, closed circuit television, especially.  Fabian here was the security officer, manning a station that controlled entry into Olivia’s compound and filled with monitors picking up feed from security cameras all over the place.  Part of Maria’s preparation for the ambush of Malvolio was to plant a new camera and microphone in the tiny garden – which was much more sensible for a realistic film than three people lurking in the shrubberies, however much fun the latter is.  It made solid sense: Maria planted the camera, spoke her lines into it to Fabian, Andrew, and Toby, and scurried off as Malvolio was about to enter – and the exclamations of the three conspirators were out loud and perfectly natural, like those of three men watching a football game.  Er, match.  And then Maria arrives in the control room after it’s all over, simply because it took her that long to get there from the garden; she always hurries away after planting the letter, not hiding with the boys, missing all the fun, and this is the only version that really gives an explanation for that. 
 

The continuation of the Malvolio-bashing, though, pushes the envelope.  He arrives before Olivia in a kilt and the requisite stockings (with matching tie – oh, and a sgian dhu), and the scene provides some smiles, because Michael Maloney is very good - but then when Toby and Maria and Fabian close in on him it’s creepy.  Fabian has a rope.  Toby has a cricket bat and a demented look in his eye.  She pounces on Malvolio and puts a bag over his head.  He fights.  And his imprisonment is horrifying, as he throws himself about the small room (the locked wine … cage) they’ve shut him into, tied up and still with the bag over his head.  The abuse Malvolio undergoes is always extreme to modern eyes (not to contemporary, I suppose), but especially given that Michael Maloney provided the only real glint of humor in the whole thing and that his Malvolio came off proud and arrogant at worst, this was far beyond the pale, grim and unsettling.  At least in more standard productions there isYellow stockings, cross-garteredan inkling of why the others hate him so much.  Here, he was in the right – the drunkards’ rock concert was, pound for pound, a good bit louder than the usual party (with an electric guitar and full stereo sound system).  The others were at least as awful as he was – and he wasn’t even that pompous; he’s younger and more attractive than the usual Malvolio, serving a beautiful, rich woman whose uncle is a pain in the ass – who can blame him for daydreaming about marrying the one and putting down the other?  Usually at least Sir Toby among the conspirators has a charm that allows the viewer to forgive extreme trespasses, and usually Malvolio is dreadful enough that there’s no quesion about who you’re going to side with.  Not here.  In this version I was entirely on Mal’s side.  

Guess the only thing to do is marry her
 
And Feste …Usually Feste is the beating heart of the play, the barometer for the production’s tone, and probably the most memorable character.  Here, though … He seems to be a rock star lingering about the homes of the rich.  He has a good voice, but the music is – unsurprisingly – not exactly upbeat, ever.  Feste's albumOrsino has his CD’s, which takes the character’s place in one scene, and Sir Toby his record (Feste: “The Fool”), which ramps up the noise at the pre-party party, indicating a pattern of turning the stereo up to max in the middle of the night.  This Feste does seem fairly light-hearted, initially, which fights against the rest of the cast and setting, but in the end he comes off as even more mean-spirited than the others.  Not in the least likeable.

It’s the culmination of the Malvolio-bashing that tears it, though. Toby and Maria are depressed by the whole thing as they wish themselves quit of the enterprise – Maria to the extent that she breaks down and sobs in Toby’s arms (which makes Feste’s fooling about, “bringing back” Sir Topas and such, more inappropriate even than usual).  Things don’t pick up from there; yes, Olivia is thrilled that Cesario is, apparently, abruptly receptive, but that leads to Orsino’s discovery of his apparent betrayal by Cesario, uglier here than usual. 
And so HAPPY!And yes, Viola and Sebastian are thrilled to be reunited – but their reaction is solemn and tear-filled.  And then Olivia, who should be on top of the world, casts a glance at the altar to her brother at which she’s been drooping all movie long – which she despoiled to “return” Cesario’s ring and to give him the locket with her image – and bursts into tears, fleeing from the room (to be followed and comforted by, interestingly, Orsino).  This just a little while after the drunkenly violent kidnapping of Malvolio, and capped by Malvolio’s furious and vengeful re-emergence – it was a grim ending.  Olivia in tears, Viola and Sebastian (bruised and battered) near it, Maria last seen in tears and Sir Toby none too happy himself, and covered in blood when he goes off – he tries to kill Sir Andrew, or give a good appearance of it, and Andrew’s already bloody; Fabian uncomfortable, Feste cold and hard and alone – the only one remotely amused by any of it is Orsino, as the trick played on Malvolio is revealed.  He’s just in there trying to deal with it all; he takes command to a small degree.  Dark and gloomy and violent and threatening – the whole thing wasn’t any fun at all.

So happy

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2010 in Geekery, Shakespeare, Theatre

 

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Twelfth Night: Give me some music!

It struck me while watching the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival production again (yet again) that as the music used in the play goes, so goes the play.  Not too groundbreaking an observation, as it has to be a goal of production to fit any music used in a play to the rest of the staging – but the corollary of this, in my opinion, is: the more music there is in a production of 12th, the better it is.  

Not all directors see it this way, but music really is an essential part of Twelfth Night.  The first line, after all, is the oft-quoted “If music be the food of love, play on” – Duke Orsino is both soothing and exacerbating his passion, his unrequitedness, through music.  It is the most perfect expression of what he is feeling – until it isn’t any longer.  He’s a little like a heartsick teenager who lies on his bed wallowing in emo songs, or a cowboy who’s broken up with his girl and drowns his sorrow in beer and country songs – the sadder the better.  The songs he demands are not cheery jigs (“I am slain by a fair cruel maid”).  My overall take is that Orsino really thinks he really loves Olivia – but he is in fact enjoying the ride, enjoying the heck out of the emotions and the quest.  (The exceptions to that being the versions in which no one enjoys anything.) 

He has musicians as part of his court, and often the Lady Olivia’s Fool, a masterful singer – and when the Fool expects a tip from him he gets it, usually twofold: Orsino is a true Renaissance man, and patron of the arts.  (Art, anyway.)  Viola, fresh from her rescue, seems to sense this:  her plan is to disguise herself to join his household, and is confident that he’ll hire her because “I can sing And speak to him in many sorts of music” … It’s a pity that aspect isn’t followed through in more productions, but the lines are cut in many, and Cesario never sings a note.  In HVSF (though the line is cut) s/he sings her first lines as Cesario, and in Nunn s/he plays the piano for Orsino – and that’s it.  This is where I start having delusions of direction: in any production I put on I would want that bit in.  (‘Course, given all that I would want to do, my production would be two and a half days long.  Which is one reason I’ll never be a director.) 

Part of Sir Toby’s damning with faint praise of Sir Andrew includes the note that “he plays o’ the viol-de-gamboys”, though given how hollow his other accomplishments are I wonder if he could pick a viol-de-gamboys out of a lineup.  (It’s very tempting to add an “e” to that and make it a 21st century kind of skill: Gameboys… But I won’t.) He can dance, however – especially in HVSF – or at least put on such a performance that Sir Toby is mightily amused. 

Music also plays a part in the birth of Olivia’s infatuation for Cesario, for Viola tells her what she would do with a love like her master’s – surely thinking of her own love for her master:

OLIVIA
Why, what would you?
VIOLA
Make me a willow cabin at your gate,
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemned love
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Halloo your name to the reverberate hills
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out ‘Olivia!’ O, You should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth,
But you should pity me!

This is usually the placement for Cupid’s dart getting its bull’s-eye – Olivia’s response “You might do much” is usually delivered as gobsmacked – and rightly so.  Done well this is a goosebump-worthy speech.  (Gentlemen, take note.)  (loyal cantons of contemned love = verses on the subject of spurned love)

So – music has the power to express deep emotion, and is considered an accomplishment (think of Lord Darcy’s accomplished lady) and something positive on one’s resume.  And it has the power to wake the dead … the dead asleep, any rate, as Maria and Malvolio in their own ways try to explain to Toby, Andrew, and the Fool when they have their party in the middle of the night. 

Clown
Would you have a love-song, or a song of good life?
SIR TOBY BELCH
A love-song, a love-song.
SIR ANDREW
Ay, ay: I care not for good life.

Heh.  The love song is “O mistress mine, where are you roaming”, which can be jolly, or can be heart-breaking; HVSF does it up thoroughly merry, but both Nunn and Live @ Lincoln Center use it to reduce Sirs Toby and Andrew to tears.  “Youth’s a stuff will not endure” … “Very sweet and contagious”. 

Which is an interesting choice, bringing Sir Toby up in a strange and fey mood to change the tenor of the evening drastically, shattering the sweet intensity of “O Mistress Mine” and setting them to “make the welkin dance indeed”.  (“Welkin: the sky, the upper air, the firmament, the heavens or the Celestial sphere” – Wikipedia.  That’s not what I thought it was.)  They begin a catch, something like a round, “Hold thy peace thy knave” (I shall never begin if I hold my peace), which caterwauling is what drags Maria down to warn them.  Her chastisement of Sir Toby sends him off into another song, solo, of which Feste comments “Beshrew me, the knight’s in admirable fooling.”  Toby’s a witty drunk.

One of my favorite lines in the play – and one of the biggest disappointments when it’s underplayed – is Toby’s response to Malvolio’s chiding “Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in you?”:

“We did keep time, sir – in our catches. Sneck up!” 

 One of my favorite puns.  (It’s only a matter of time before I tell someone to sneck up…) (Oh: to sneck – To fasten by a hatch; to latch, as a door.  Button it!)

Sir Toby pushes it further, mockingly bursting into song again as Malvolio continues to threaten him, and this time the Fool backs him up.  The scene should be one in which Malvolio, whom I have to admit is after all in the right, undermines himself by standing on his dignity and trying to throw his weight about.  (Behold the mixed metaphor.)  (L@LC has him come down in a dressing gown, nightcap – and his steward’s chain: either he put it on before going down to try and emphasize his importance … or he sleeps with it on.  I love that.)  And as the exchanges continue, the best of them show Toby winding himself up to fury and contempt, until he’s a little dangerous at the point he tells Malvolio to “Art no more than a steward? … Go, sir, rub your chain with crumbs.”

Scene IV begins with, again, Orsino calling for music.&nbsp (the post title – “Give me some music!”); He wants a specific song, one he heard last night, and he wants Cesario to listen to it – “Methought it did relieve my passion much”.  Curio, the Duke’s man, says that he is not here who should sing it: Feste, the jester – which is the only time in the entire play that the Fool’s name is given … which is one up on Lear’s Fool, I believe. The music is played while the jester is sought, and Orsino asks: “How dost thou like this tune?”

VIOLA
It gives a very echo to the seat Where Love is throned.

- Which leads to another of my favorite scenes.

Then Curio brings the clown back, and Orsino directs him to sing “the song we had last night” … and there is “Come Away Death.”  

An aside here is that one website I’ve referenced for Twelfth Night shook its head at Orsino’s line “The spinsters and the knitters in the sun And the free maids that weave their thread with bones Do use to chant it”  – Because it is of course impossible that women sang the song since it’s about a young man betrayed by a fair cruel maid.  Which leads me to believe that whoever wrote that has no experience of folk music, in which women sing men’s parts and men women’s all the time.  I can list a dozen recordings off the top of my head that are men singing the part of poor wretched girls or women singing the part of a man.  It’s not not done. 

 My favorite thing in any production of Twelfth Night I’ve seen, to say the least, is this song and what follows in the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival production.  Maia Guest as Feste stands alone, backed at some distance by the Count’s musicians, and sings the most gorgeous setting of this song in the most lovely voice.  Unfortunately the song is abridged, at least in the recording… As he listens, Orsino is sitting at the edge of the stage circle with Cesario – and halfway through he shifts to lie flat with his head in “the boy’s” lap.  That goes into my production too – with a camera on Viola’s face, and no overblown reaction.  Then Feste finishes, and without a word Orsino gets up, walks up to her, drops to his knees, and kisses her sneakers. Viola fell for him a while back – that’s when he wins me over.  And Feste’s reaction?  Gently, very gently the mood is shattered as she holds out her hat.  Just superb.

The song whips up Orsino’s passion, and he tells Cesario – usually with a decisive air – he’s sending him one more time to bear his love to Olivia.  This is it, he’s not taking no for a proxy answer.  But the music has touched Viola to the quick as well, and – depending on how the scene is handled – she comes within an inch of spilling her secret.  Instead, she tells Orsino that she knows well that a woman’s love is at least as deep as a man’s – “My father had a daughter loved a man” … Yet another powerful scene.  

Another of the lovely, and more timeless, puns in the play follows Viola’s “Dost thou live by thy tabor?” to the Fool.  It’s a fun scene – it shows (usually) that Viola is capable of holding her own in a battle of wits with the Fool, and where her buttons are: the Fool knows their location, and pushes them, every one. 

Music soothes, inspires, exacerbates, and is a handy skill when job- or wife-hunting – and it is also a standard of wonder and joy: Olivia angles for Cesario to undertake his own suit with her instead of his master’s: “I had rather hear you to solicit that Than music from the spheres.”  Which is: the celestial music supposed by Pythagoras to be produced by the regular movements of the stars and planets: heavenly music.  She’s in love, all right.  

The Fool has a few more songs allotted to him, and two of them are in the “madhouse” scene.  One is how he announces himself (as himself) to Malvolio, sitting in his dark cell. 

‘Hey, Robin, jolly Robin,
Tell me how thy lady does.’

Which is just mean, because this not-so-jolly Robin’s lady loves another. 

The other, longer song in the scene is just odd:

I am gone, sir,
And anon, sir,
I’ll be with you again,
In a trice,
Like to the old Vice,
Your need to sustain;
Who, with dagger of lath,
In his rage and his wrath,
Cries, ah, ha! to the devil:
Like a mad lad,
Pare thy nails, dad;
Adieu, good man devil.

 I got nothin’. 

Olivia is one for the musical metaphors; toward the end, when Orsino finally comes to her himself, her exasperated – and somewhat smug, given her extremely recent nuptials – challenge to him is basically “Oh, what do you want NOW?”

If it be aught to the old tune, my lord,
It is as fat and fulsome to mine ear
As howling after music.

Poor Orsino – after all his wallowing in music, in the end his suit is the old tune that is harsh and ugly, while Cesario – that is, Sebastian – provides the music Olivia dances to.  

A good many of Shakespeare’s plays end in a long verse (“If we shadows have offended…”); here, it closes with a song.  Again, this can be merry or melancholy – the stage direction is “Exeunt all, except Clown”, and this is used in some to mean that the Fool is shut out. 

Clown
[Sings]
When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.
But when I came to man’s estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
‘Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day.
But when I came, alas! to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.
But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
For the rain it raineth every day.
A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,
And we’ll strive to please you every day.

Strangely for what is usually labeled a comedy, the L@LC production used this song to showcase the flip side of the happy endings.  While the two happy couples sit, beautiful and absorbed in each other and spotlit in the center of the rear stage, the Fool is upstage in low light singing.  He watches as, for each verse, some less happily disposed character or pair of characters exits, matched to the verses.  Kenneth Branagh’s version and the BBC do something very similar.  Tommy Steele’s Feste in the ITV production is one who is shut out, literally – the gate to Olivia’s house shuts in his face: it’s like seeing the Happily Ever After ending from the point of view of the scullery maid who used to work next to Cinderella.  (Ooh, look, a plotbunny.) 


The main reason the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival performance is my favorite is the music.  The band is, in a word, awesome – and Maia Guest?  Her husband, the producer of the production, said something about the innate goodness in her which lit her performance as Feste.  And it’s the same spirit that makes the music of this production the most sweet and contagious (taking contagious to mean catchy and lingering, not some reference to bad breath as I’ve seen listed), and the most out-and-out enjoyable.  Oh, and Maia’s voice – did I mention the gorgeous voice?  She’s perfect for Feste in a gender-bent production of a gender-bent story … But more on that anon.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2010 in Geekery, Shakespeare, Theatre

 

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Twelfth Night: Money matters

It really does …


Through the play money crops up over and over.  It’s a factor in the plot, to a surprising – to me at least - extent.

The Captain tells Viola he saw Sebastian riding the waves clinging to a mast, so maybe, just maybe he survived; and Viola’s response:  “For saying so, there’s gold”.

To me that says a few things.  First, Viola is well off, being used to tipping those who have done her service.  And she was clever enough to keep hold of her purse in a shipwreck.  And unless, as some directors have it, she was washed ashore with a chest of her brother’s clothes, she has to bankroll her new disguise – plus, of course, “I prithee, and I’ll pay thee bounteously, Conceal me what I am”: she will have the Captain on retainer as well.  Sebastian didn’t fare so well, as Antonio feels it necessary to give the lad his purse in case he sees some trinket in the marketplace.  “…Your store, I think, is not for idle markets, sir” – you need to be saving your money for necessities. 

Sir Andrew Aguecheek is only present because he’s nicely rich.  It is the second defense of him that Sir Toby puts up when Mary snipes about him.  First is “He’s as tall a man as any’s in Illyria” – which can mean just what it says, that, well, hey, look: he’s … tall.  Yeah.  That’s something, isn’t it?  I have also seen that “tall” can mean “upstanding”, but I like the simple what-you-think-it-is version.  Maria doesn’t care, though, so Toby tries a bigger gun: “Why, he has three thousand ducats a year.”  A Venetian ducat is about equivalent to a crown, worth five shillings.  Let’s see …   If 12 pennies … sorry, pence – 12 pence make a shilling and 20 shillings make a pound, and a household servant would earn something like 2 – 5 pounds a year, then that would be 1200 pence per annum for a well-paid household servant, or 480 pence minimum wage.  (I’m sure this is absurd, but reducing the amounts to the lowest common denominator helps for comparison purposes.  Me, at least.)  Sir Andrew’s fortune converted to pence per annum would be 180,000 pence.  Oh.  This website lists the “wages” of a nobleman at being L 1,500 – 3K…. Three thousand ducats equals L 750.  Hm.  That’s not so impressive.  Wait – “Country gentleman: L 50 – L 150.  Well, there you go.  Sort of.

Regardless.  He’s got a few pence, and Sir Toby is happy to help him spend as much of that as humanly possible.  He tells Fabian, “I have been dear to him, lad, some two thousand strong, or so” – oh.  That kind of dear: he’s been an expensive friend.  And indeed, Andrew says plaintively “If I cannot recover your niece, I am a foul way out.” “Send for more money” is Toby’s response.  Twice Andrew shows a flicker of common sense and states his intention to leave … and twice he is talked back into staying.  Maria was right – he’s going to go through his fortune in no time, with Toby’s help, at this rate.

From the Trevor Nunn film:

Chez Olivia

Chez Olivia

Chez Orsino

Chez Orsino

Olivia is wealthy – she has a household, etc, affairs and their dispatch to take and give back – including a fool on her payroll.  She has enough wealth of her own that she is unfazed by two wealthy suitors; she has no need to sacrifice her principles in order to get by.  She  tells Sebastian-as-Cesario and then Orsino that their wedding(s) will be celebrated more elaborately later, as fitting her birth and “Here at my house and at my proper cost”.  She is wealthy – but Orsino is more so (along with older and better educated): “she’ll not match above her degree, neither in estate, years, nor wit”.  Where she has a full household, he has an estate.  And in the beginning he lets it be known he wants her more than his money – he tells Cesario “Prosper well in this, And thou shalt live as freely as thy lord, To call his fortunes thine.”  In case Olivia thinks he’s courting her to add her riches to his, he sends:

Tell her, my love, more noble than the world,
Prizes not quantity of dirty lands;
The parts that fortune hath bestow’d upon her,
Tell her, I hold as giddily as fortune;
But ’tis that miracle and queen of gems
That nature pranks her in attracts my soul.

He may be self-centered, but he’s not greedy.  Maybe that’s another small point toward the plausibility of Viola’s falling in love with him in three days.

In fact, Twelfth Night is something of a situation of them as has, doesn’t want, and them as doesn’t does.  (Heh – Microsoft had no problem with that sentence.  So much for spell check.) 

Olivia tries to tip Cesario for the first message-bearing: “I thank you for your pains: spend this for me”, and that angers Viola (a little in some productions, and quite a lot in others).  The line sounds like “I am no feed-post, lady” – summoning images of something like a post-box, only for insertion of coins.  It’s actually “fee’d post”: lackey paid a fee.  Oh.  Right.  Olivia can’t be blamed, though, really, as Cesario just got finished saying that his parentage is above his fortunes – yet his state is well (he is content) – he doesn’t have a great deal of money, but he was born to better.  “I am a gentleman” – that would be why she should not have deigned to tip him. 

It is in money that we are given another clue to why Toby et alia hate Malvolio so very much:

Sir Toby:  Wouldst thou not be glad to have the niggardly rascally sheep-biter come by some notable shame?

So – perhaps he has the Lady’s purse-strings, and holds out on Toby.  Or is in charge of pay raises and won’t give them to those who get in trouble over bear-baitings.  Pinches pennies and doesn’t bring in the best wine?  (I don’t know what to make of sheep-biter (he eats mutton?  I hope?), and the internet is being of no help at the moment.  Hm.)

A little later, in his fantasy role-playing about his future as Olivia’s husband, Malvolio imagines himself enjoying his wealth: “I frown the while; and perchance wind up watch, or play with my–some rich jewel.”  I like the directors who choose to have him at that moment realize that he won’t need to fiddle with something so prosaic as a watch – he will have better trinkets to fondle.   (Considering that I wrote that a little while ago, and that I’ve just been doing a little research into the amulet in Roma, that line is very funny.)

Antonio explains to Sebastian that he’s risking death by coming to Illyria after him (“I have many enemies in Orsino’s court … danger shall seem sport, and I will go”); there was that sea battle against Orsino’s ships, you see, and his actions in that fight mean that any of the duke’s men coming upon him now would be a problem.  This is serious, and Sebastian comes to a logical conclusion.

Sebastian:
Belike you slew great number of his people.

But no. 

Antonio:
The offence is not of such a bloody nature;
Albeit the quality of the time and quarrel
Might well have given us bloody argument.
It might have since been answer’d in repaying
What we took from them; which, for traffic’s sake,
Most of our city did: only myself stood out;
For which, if I be lapsed in this place,
I shall pay dear.

Nope – it could be that no one died at all in the fight.  What it is, is – Antonio’s side lost, and were required to pay a fee, a fine, a forfeit.  And everyone paid up – except Antonio.  He doesn’t say why – whether he couldn’t or he wouldn’t – but he didn’t, and that’s why Orsino’s men would be very happy to see him, and Antonio not happy at all to be seen.  $$.  Pay dear – out of purse, not blood.

Depending on how Antonio’s affection for Sebastian is played, the scene in which he hands over his purse can be used as an awkward gesture of affection; he doesn’t know quite how else to show his fondness, so – here, go buy something pretty.

Sebastian:
Why I your purse?
Antonio:
Haply your eye shall light upon some toy
You have desire to purchase; and your store,
I think, is not for idle markets, sir.

(Something I just noticed: Antonio says “you” here, and and calls Sebastian sir – but when he talks to himself about whether he should follow to Illyria he calls him “thee”.  Interesting.)

So – Antonio gets caught, and, worse, feels he has been coldly, callously betrayed by his friend (or the man he loves, depending).  He is generally being held by a couple of officers at this point, or at least guarded.

Antonio:
This comes with seeking you:
But there’s no remedy; I shall answer it.
What will you do, now my necessity
Makes me to ask you for my purse? It grieves me
Much more for what I cannot do for you
Than what befalls myself. You stand amazed;
But be of comfort.
Viola:
What money, sir?
For the fair kindness you have show’d me here,
And, part, being prompted by your present trouble,
Out of my lean and low ability
I’ll lend you something: my having is not much;
I’ll make division of my present with you:
Hold, there’s half my coffer.

As said earlier, what ever Viola’s life has been like Cesario is not well off, so this is generous – she is grateful for his intervention, and is kind-hearted.   The purse is a vehicle for the confusion.

The subject of Feste and money is a section unto itself.

The fool and his money

Boy, what a sound. How I love hearing that old money clank. That beautiful sound of cold hard cash. That beautiful, beautiful sound, nickels, nickels, nickels.  That beautiful sound of clinking nickels.

Feste’s greed is played up more in some productions than others; the Fool likes the clink of coins, whether because he needs the money or simply enjoys it is up to the director.  With nearly his every appearance, and with every performance, he is paid for his trouble (or pleasure), and does his best with Orsino and his folk (though not Sir Toby and Sir Andrew) to enlarge each tip.  Olivia does not pay or tip Feste on his first appearance; she is his primary employer, and he is just doing his job.  Not that that stops anyone else in the world today expecting a tip. 

Sir Andrew: I sent thee sixpence for thy leman: hadst it?

- Whether the fool has a leman (mistress) is beside the point, I suppose …

Sir Toby: Come on; there is sixpence for you: let’s have a song. 
Sir Andrew: There’s a testril of me too: if one knight give a—

(- Feste interrupts, which is indicative of Andrew’s importance)

Testril: a sixpence.

- – Feste does not ever ask his lady’s kinsman or guest for money, I’m supposing due to the consanguinity Toby talks about; he’s on retainer.  Also, he seems to have been with the household a while, and is a playfellow of Toby’s; Feste doesn’t ask his friends for tips.

Rich dukes, on the other hand …

Duke Orsino:  There’s for thy pains.
Clown: No pains, sir: I take pleasure in singing, sir.
Duke Orsino:  I’ll pay thy pleasure then.
Clown: Truly, sir, and pleasure will be paid, one time or another.

And their servants …

Viola: Hold, there’s expenses for thee.
Is thy lady within?
Clown:  Would not a pair of these have bred, sir?
Viola: Yes, being kept together and put to use.
Clown: I would play Lord Pandarus of Phrygia, sir, to bring a Cressida to this Troilus.
Viola: I understand you, sir; ’tis well begged.

And those he thinks are their servants …

Sebastian:
I prithee, foolish Greek, depart from me: There’s
money for thee: if you tarry longer, I shall give
worse payment.
Clown:  By my troth, thou hast an open hand. These wise men
that give fools money get themselves a good
report–after fourteen years’ purchase.

Malvolio’s niggardliness does not survive the trauma of what is done to him:

Malvolio:
… Good fool, some ink, paper and light; and convey what I will set down to my lady: it shall advantage thee more than ever the bearing of letter did.

Desperation is a great purse-opener. 

The Duke is generous, and the fool pushes it:

Orsino:
Thou shalt not be the worse for me: there’s gold.
Clown: 
But that it would be double-dealing, sir, I would you could make it another.
Orsino:
O, you give me ill counsel.
Clown: 
Put your grace in your pocket, sir, for this once, and let your flesh and blood obey it.
Orsino:
Well, I will be so much a sinner, to be a double-dealer: there’s another.
Clown: 
Primo, secundo, tertio, is a good play; and the old
saying is, the third pays for all: the triplex,
sir, is a good tripping measure; or the bells of
Saint Bennet, sir, may put you in mind; one, two, three.
Orsino:
You can fool no more money out of me at this throw:
if you will let your lady know I am here to speak
with her, and bring her along with you, it may awake
my bounty further.
Clown: 
Marry, sir, lullaby to your bounty till I come
again. I go, sir; but I would not have you to think
that my desire of having is the sin of covetousness:
but, as you say, sir, let your bounty take a nap, I
will awake it anon.

Damn, he’s good.

ETA:  Sheep-biter – One who practices petty thefts.  Oh, okay.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2010 in Geekery, Shakespeare, Theatre

 

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Twelfth Night: Come away, come away, death

ETA: I’ve been a little surprised to see the number of hits on this post, and maybe it’s made me a little paranoid. But paranoid or not, I need to say: I’m hereby placing a curse on any homework this might be illicitly recycled into. May your paper shrivel; may your ink fade; may your dog suddenly be really, really hungry for a nice chunky essay, and may your teacher be perspicacious enough to catch you in the act. So mote it be. And shame on you.

Everybody else – welcome, and enjoy!

O Death, where is thy sting?

No, seriously, where is it?

DEATH

Death, dying, is mentioned twice in the first few lines of the play’s dialogue: “sicken and so die”, “It had a dying fall”.  Death’s ever-present, yet not a real spectre here …

Though Olivia’s father and brother are about a year dead (at least, that’s how I interpret the chronology given for their deaths: brother died shortly after father, who died a twelvemonth hence), and her mourning for them is genuine, events seem to prove that she is about ready to cast off her weeds and return to normal life, whether she wants to admit it or not.

Sebastian and Viola each presume the other dead in the shipwreck – and both are wrong.  Most of the others on the ship seem to have died indeed, but we don’t hear about them.

In Sir Toby’s midnight song with the Fool he warbles “But I will never die” (Fool: “Sir Toby, there you lie!” Which, as usual with a. Shakespeare and b. Feste, has a double meaning).

OLIVIA: What think you of this fool, Malvolio? doth he not mend?
MALVOLIO: Yes, and shall do till the pangs of death shake him:

- Age and infirmity increase foolishness, and so, logically, the Fool will grow more foolish as he ages until he dies.  Depending on the production, the delivery here can indicate that Malvolio rather hopes that that will be soon.

Feste’s song, “Come away death”, is about a man who dies for his uncaring love, and wants to be buried far away anonymously.

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.
Not a flower, not a flower sweet
On my black coffin let there be strown;
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!

Orsino’s assertion is that women die just when they to perfection grow – and their love dies sooner than a man’s.  “But died thy sister of her love, boy?”  Well … Kind of.   As the song said, love often does lead to death, at least in Shakespeare.

The play features a deadly sword battle between two fierce opponents – which is all farce: neither opponent is at all fierce, and the sword battle is neither deadly nor a battle.

What made me take notice of the theme – toothless death – is that (as mentioned in the Money post) Antonio’s proscripture from Illyria wasn’t because he killed lots of Orsino’s men in a pitched sea battle.  There was a battle, and Antonio apparently was in the thick of the fighting (besmear’d / As black as Vulcan in the smoke of war), but no one was killed (though Orsino’s nephew Titus lost a leg).  No, the Issue for Antonio is that everyone else on the losing side paid a fee – and Antonio refused.  It’s not blood but money that makes him a wanted man in Illyria.  Antonio does, however, feel he risks death by following Sebastian to the court; in the event, he ends up free and fine, if possibly heartsore.

Orsino threatens to kill Cesario in order to hurt Olivia – and Viola … Well, she’s had a rough day.

And I, most jocund, apt and willingly,
To do you rest, a thousand deaths would die

Once the word “husband” is bandied about, interestingly, Orsino no longer feels like killing Cesario; he’s too angry.  He just wants him out of his sight.  Next time they crossed paths there might have been bloodshed, but for now his anger is … toothless.

And in the end Sebastian is alive, and has found Viola alive, and in fact everyone’s alive … Everyone, in fact, who started the play ends it.  It’s just Malvolio’s hopes and career, and Sir Toby’s bachelor existence, and Sir Andrew’s hopes and bankroll that are dead.

But I still don’t think it’s quite a comedy.

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2010 in Geekery, Shakespeare, Theatre

 

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Twelfth Night: put me into good fooling!

FOOL

The word in some form is used around eighty times in Twelfth Night.  Almost every one of the main characters is at some point called a fool, an ass, or mad.  There those who are born fools, those who achieve foolishness, and those who have foolishness thrust upon ‘em …

Feste, of course, is the Clown, the Fool, sometimes glancingly the madman: not someone to judge your sanity against.  He’s educated, and intelligent, and shows himself to be wiser than most of them, but: 

How dost thou?
Truly, sir, the better for my foes and the worse for my friends … Marry, sir, [my friends] praise me and make an ass of me; now my foes tell me plainly I am an ass, so that by my foes, sir, I profit in the knowledge of myself, and by my friends I am abused.

 (Sir Topas is called one of “such asses” by Malvolio, but he was meant to be so.)

 He has achieved foolishness.  

It is, in fact, his job.

Sir Andrew, also of course: “a very fool”, says Maria, and “many men do call me fool” he says himself.  He’s simply not very bright, poor fellow, and in most performances knows it, but tries to keep up.  Basically everyone that speaks of him calls him a fool.  He is a “natural fool” – brainless – as opposed to an allowed fool, someone whose job it is.  His own opinion is that he’s not such an ass he can’t keep his hand dry … I haven’t found such an interpretation of that phrase anywhere (it is given by at least one website as meaning that he knows to keep in out of the rain, basically), but my first thought on hearing the line was that he was capable of peeing without getting his hand wet – he had that much control.  *shrug*  Or not.  Depending on the interpretation, he’s quite the wit and urbane knight, in his own mind … or he knows full well that he’s … off. 

 He was born foolish.

 Malvolio, of course yet again: Feste reflects the term back at him.  And of course at the end, Olivia: “Alas, poor fool!” Maria calls him “an affectioned ass”.  He is what is usually called book-smart, sort of, though Mary says that’s a sham (though he is able to come back with Pythagoras’s theory about one’s grandam).  (Feste also calls him “goodman drivel”, which is kind of awesome.)

 He’s had foolishness thrust upon ‘im – partly.  He has the trifecta, though: he was also born foolish, and achieved foolishness …

Viola: Olivia’s will is pulling counter to Orsino’s, which is pulling counter to Viola’s and Olivia’s both; Olivia would make Viola/Cesario what she wants her/him to be.  Wouldn’t that be better?  “I wish it might, for now I am your fool.”   Thrust upon.

(In Olivia’s speaking to Cesario, it is at this point that s/he becomes “thou” from “you”)

Olivia: “Take away the fool” – Feste proves her a fool, and he’s not altogether wrong.  Also, “I’m as mad as [Malvolio], if sad and merry madness equal be!”  She’s scattered by a strong wind – she’s been thrust upon.  Thoroughly.

Sir Toby: also called a fool by Feste – a drunken man (which Toby very much always is) is like a fool, a madman, and a drowned man.  Toby is also a madman: “He is but mad yet”, not drowned.  And sparring against Malvolio is “in admirable fooling”.  Olivia: he “speaks nothing but madman”.  He achieves foolishness, largely in drink.

Orsino: obliquely, by Feste, a fool: “the Lady Olivia has no folly: she will keep no fool, sir, till she be married; and fools are as like husbands as pilchards are to herrings; the husband’s the bigger”.   He has the reputation of being “A noble duke, in nature as in name”, but lately he’s been … distracted.  He has achieved foolishness.

Antonio:  Orsino -  “What foolish boldness brought thee to their mercies?”  And he considers himself a fool for having been taken in by Sebastian.  Soldier: “The man grows mad.”  Orsino: “Thy words are madness.” Thrust upon.  Poor bugger.

Sebastian: Decides either he must be mad or Olivia is, and as Olivia does not appear to be it must be he.  Thrust upon. 

Maria:  One of the only ones not the direct recipient of a crazy tag.  But Malvolio includes her with Sirs Andrew and Toby, and Feste – “Are you mad, or what are you?”  Including her in his general censure was not entirely fair, but that’s Malvolio.  Achieved. 

And for whoever might have been left out in Illyria (Fabian, perhaps, and Maria who was not singled out elsewhere), Sebastian gave one all-encompassing cry: “Are all the people mad?”  Which, to him, they were.

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2010 in Geekery, Shakespeare, Theatre

 

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Twelfth Night – bits and bobs

As I said in the last Shakespeare post, part of my geekiness is that I love, I crave as many versions of each play as possible.  (I need to make nice with the library and start treating myself to massive doses of all of the plays so I don’t have to buy them all … I think the library has more than Netflix.  I think.) Right now, although Chop Bard has dealt with Romeo and Juliet and is now covering Hamlet, I am hip deep in Twelfth Night.

In the interest of keeping the posts to a humane length, herein be general thoughts on the play. Following will be posts specific to the different productions I’ve found, and … My intent for a couple of weeks now has been to take the character portrayals and a few key scenes and compare them across the … six? productions I have access to. Come to find out, there truly is nothing new under the sun:

Someone is even geekier than I am.  Well, still.  I’ll just have to try to avoid that site till after I’ve done Hamlet.

Better synopses of the play than I could create can be found all over the web, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel: I’ll just assume a certain amount of familiarity, and go from there, talking about what I need to talk about and leaving the rest. (For the play itself, I recommend Bartleby.com.) From Kristin Chenoweth’s introduction to the HVSF broadcast: (gravely) “William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is about the pain of unrequited love, the danger of hiding our true selves, and the constant nearness of madness and death. (grin) It’s a comedy!” I’ll come back to that.

Twelfth Night is January 5; I can’t help relating the shipwreck to the Titanic exhibition I just saw … Though at least the waters of the Adriatic would be rather warmer than the Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland. *search* Well, it can go lower than 7 degrees Celsius, which is 44.6 Fahrenheit … That’s hypothermia, that is. Depending on exactly when the shipwreck will have occurred … Antonio says he has known Sebastian for three months, so … Um.  Does the title have anything at all to do with the timing of the action, or is it more the date the play was performed, and a sort of prep for its original audience so they knew what was in store?

The introductions of the characters are, of course, masterful, a combination of other characters’ lines about them and their own appearances – showing and telling both. The two separate plots – joined mainly together by Feste – are woven about each other in such a way that it’s difficult to lose track of who’s where and why. 

I was relieved when I found discussion out in the ‘webs about whether Twelfth Night is truly a comedy.  (Told you I’d come back to it.) In the classic high school English definition it qualifies: no one dies, at all, and in the end everyone ends up married.  But in the end there is also Malvolio, released from his bonds and angry as hell.  

With Twelfth Night I always find myself doing a lot of justifying, because it feels like there is evidence missing from the text.  Toby, Mary, Fabian, Andrew, and Feste’s treatment of Malvolio seems over-harsh, even given that he’s a pain; he’s usually right, just nasty about it.  So there must have been past offenses, and many, and regular.  Fabian’s having gotten in trouble with Olivia couldn’t have been so very bad – he’s still there.  Unless his position is now less than it was?  But that is never said, so by Chop Bard Rules it isn’t so.  It’s hard to keep up a frothy feel to the story when there’s a man spewing fury and venom – or worse; the mood tends to deflate pretty thoroughly. It’s a funny play, very funny – but so are Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, in places. Chop Bard, in fact, makes a strong point that Romeo and Juliet is a bright summer comedy … until it isn’t. It’s bodies falling that make a tragedy, and the only bodies falling in Twelfth are from too much drink.

Yup – there’s another post there.

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2010 in Geekery, Shakespeare, Theatre

 

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