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Anonymous postscript


So, it’s been a little while. Last post was my review of a fairly bad movie, Anonymous. I expected some kind of reaction – but not what I got. I did not expect the childish name-calling and wrong-headed abusiveness that resulted from the two anti-Stratfordians who showed up. To be perfectly honest, the nasty childishness of it put me off till now; it’s the first time I’ve encountered such ugliness as a result of this blog. Ah well.

Ehren Ziegler said in a recent episode of Chop Bard “Neither historic facts or the fundamental physics of the universe are that important when compared to the story.” And that’s true. Facts were flexible in the plays; the only truth that counted was the truth of the narrative. Shakespeare had no overriding agenda other than to tell a great tale. If he needed a historical to be alive when according to record she was actually dead, then he revivified at will (so to speak).

The producers (by which I mean not just the filmmaking term but everyone responsible for the movie, from writers through directors through publicists) did very much have an agenda; any claims otherwise, given the slander perpetrated in the film and the way the thing was marketed, are specious. It puzzles me how they think it furthers this agenda to fill their movie with inaccuracies and outright lies. If their aim is truly to try to convince people that Devere wrote Shakespeare it seems strange; if so much of it was false, a logical assumption can be that it all was. Not the best way to change minds or win hearts.

Neither is name-calling.

Who’d have thought? Topics to be avoided in polite conversation include sex, politics, religion, and the authorship question. It’s a sad world.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in movies, Shakespeare

 

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The most tragicall comedie or comicall tragedie of Anonymous

Globe interior - gorgeous

I’m a Stratfordian, which means that I have no doubt that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare: Occam’s Razor – there is no reason to question it. But I have to say, some time back there was a PBS presentation outlining the claim that Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, actually wrote the works attributed to one William Shakespeare, and that said Will was merely an actor plucked from the ranks to provide a face, an embodiment for the noble who had to remain (wait for it -) anonymous. It was most diverting. I enjoyed the argument – it was fun. It was all hooey, but it was fun. People have devoted years, if not lifetimes, to winnowing out references in the plays and poems which tie directly to Edward, and there’s an impressive dossier.

Of course, people have also devoted years, if not lifetimes, to “proving” that the plays and poems were actually written by Ben Jonson. Or Queen Elizabeth. Or, for all I know, the same aliens which built the pyramids.

As I said, though, the Oxfordian theory as presented there was very entertaining.

This flick had little to do with the Oxfordian theory. Truly, not a single piece of evidence that actually made me think was in evidence here. And, in fact, this was not an example of Oxfordian theory, I was surprised to discover. Apparently, within the discredited fringe group of Oxfordians there is a sect that is fringe to the fringe, discredited among even Oxfordians, who espouse something called the Tudor Prince – or Tudor Rose – theory. That was what this was. It leapfrogged directly over eccentric into lunatic.

I will say in all fairness that it was beautifully filmed. The long shots of London – the Globe, London Bridge, Elizabeth’s funeral – were stunning; that would have been worth seeing on the big screen if I’d been willing to pay money to see this. The costumes were wonderful; the sets were gorgeous; many of the actors were excellent. I did enjoy the depiction of the plays being first seen by an audience; whoever those behind the film think actually was the Bard, Bardolatry is alive and well in this movie.

Cinematography, costuming, art direction, Sebastian Armesto, Bardolatry … Yes, I think that’s all the good I have to say about this. For the rest, I have the notes I made as I was watching it.

He wrote. Midsummer. At the age. Of 12.

Bol – er. The word I actually used at the time is considered pretty rude, especially in England (which was why I used it at the time), so I will look to the late great Colonel Sherman T. Potter for help. So: Horse hockey.

“One of Elizabeth’s bastards” – “We must do as we have done before” …

Buffalo chips.

De Vere pulls Henry V off his shelf, then Julius Caesar, and Macbeth (!), and finally decides to give Jonson Romeo & Juliet as the first play – he has just finished Twelfth Night.

Bull cookies. (There is ample evidence that Macbeth was written specifically for James I.)

A Tudor mosh pit?

Sweet Nefertiti. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to cry or vomit at that moment…

A death behind the arras.

Pony pucks.

Will. Shakespeare. Killed. Kit. Marlowe.

That’s the funniest, most outrageously silly thing this piece of … work has propounded yet.

And at the end of the film the audience for the bookending production departs without a single pair of hands meeting in applause. Appropriate.

As an aside: I am extremely disappointed in Sir Derek Jacobi. The man who gave the world, among many others, my favorite Hamlet should not have deigned to be involved in this mess. And, too, if the complete lack of respect he was shown backstage is remotely realistic I’m appalled.

There are so many avenues I could chase down to demolish this movie – the fact that Ben Jonson wasn’t spending all his time hanging out at the Globe trying to sell Heminges his work, that there never was a slaughter of civilians on London Bridge (afaik), and – most glaring to me – that Kit Marlowe was not found in an alley … There are, in fact, so many that it’s hardly even worth it (but you know I’m going to touch on a few anyhow). That this was going to be a mare’s nest I knew going in. That in addition to a feeble attempt to discredit the historical Shakespeare it was going to be such a hash of misinformation about – to use their word – irrefutable history … I just don’t understand the intention behind the movie. It wasn’t historical. It wasn’t an exposé. It was, in some ways, a political drama, but about some alternate world – does that make it a fantasy movie? How can this be taken seriously as anything but pure comedy when it is so very wrong about so very many things (and when it goes so far over the top in depicting the actor Shakespeare as a stupid greedy sot)? I’m not even remotely a Shakespeare or Renaissance scholar, merely an enthusiast – I prefer the title “geek” (A, not The).  And all I can think is … if I knew as I watched that so many things were dead wrong and within an hour of the movie’s ending through very basic research that so many more were off, how must actual scholars have felt? There must have been heads exploding in theatres internationally – not because of the nutty “Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare” nonsense, but because of things like seeing de Vere’s wife Anne, nee Cecil, throwing Ben Jonson out of their house after de Vere’s death – when Anne died sixteen years before de Vere.

A few more, which I either knew or found out within about an hour’s light research (meaning mostly Wikipedia):

It’s highly doubtful that de Vere was spending so much time hanging out watching the Lord Chamberlain’s Men when he had his own company of players, Oxford’s Men.

It’s highly doubtful that Ben Jonson was spending so much time hanging out watching the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, as he was usually writing for – and occasionally acting for – the Admiral’s Men at the Rose.

Thomas Nashe (here seen as the stout mug-bearing companion of Ben Jonson) might still have been alive to be hanging out at the Globe to see this purported Richard III, but probably not, since he died in 1601 at the latest and Essex (who did not, by the way, surrender in the palace courtyard) was executed in February of 1601.

Henry V - Bard-love

It’s highly doubtful that Thomas Dekker (here seen as the skinny red-headed companion of Jonson) was hanging out watching the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, especially later since he and Jonson hated each other, and he also was mostly working with the Lord Admiral’s Men.

Kit Marlowe, wherever he was hanging out before his death, was not found in an alley. He was killed, irrefutably by Ingram Frizer, irrefutably in a house in Deptford, and was not ever dumped in an alley for the peasantry to find, buzzing with flies. The background of his murder is in dispute, but the facts, for once, are not.

Oh, and that fellow Essex killed through the arras? From a thoroughly documented and well-written article on Wikipedia:

On 23 July 1567 the seventeen-year-old Oxford killed Thomas Brincknell, an under-cook in the Cecil household, while practising fencing with Edward Baynham, a Westminster tailor, in the backyard of Cecil House in the Strand. At the coroner’s inquest held the following day, the 17 jurymen, one of whom was Oxford’s servant, and another identified as Cecil’s protégé the future historian Raphael Holinshed, found that Brincknell was drunk and instigated by the devil when he ran upon de Vere’s foil, causing his own death. Cecil later recalled that he attempted to have the jury find for Oxford as acting in self-defence rather than Brincknell committing suicide.

Also, ” Under Cecil’s supervision Oxford studied French, Latin, writing, drawing, cosmography, dancing, riding and shooting.”

Oh, and as for being forced to marry Cecil’s daughter:

Oxford declared an interest in Cecil’s eldest daughter, Anne, aged 14, and received the queen’s consent to the marriage. She had been pledged to Philip Sidney in August 1569, and others had apparently sought her hand. Cecil was displeased with the arrangement, apparently having entertained the idea of her marrying the earl of Rutland instead. Oxford’s rank, however, trumped all else…

Midsummer - clearly the work of a pre-teen

And that’s as much time as I’m going to spend on correction.

If, as is posited here, some of the plays of Edward DeVere had already been performed at court (true) and then were later performed under “Anonymous” or “Shakespeare” – am I expected to believe that no one ever saw both? Hey – that Oxford kid wrote that fairy play when he was 12 – what are they doing showing it at the Globe as Shakespeare’s?

In Derek Jacobi’s Prologue – which was an interesting conceit, bookending the movie in the present, but underscored the artificiality – the point is hammered home that William Shakespeare’s father, wife, and the two daughters who survived him were all illiterate.  The point being, apparently that obviously he must be as well. Which is spurious logic; it’s a little akin to saying that because my father couldn’t type and neither can my mother and brother, why then I must not be able to either (she typed).

All I can say in conclusion is that it was a beautifully filmed movie and deserved not only the Oscar nomination for costume but one for art direction. If it was being watched with the sound off, it would be a treat. With sound on?

Bollocks.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2012 in movies, Shakespeare

 

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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 – 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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Sir Patrick Stewart: Macbeth

Last Wednesday night, Great Performances aired a film version of Rupert Goold’s production of Macbeth, which ran first  in the West End of London and then in Brooklyn, I believe?  starring Sir Patrick Stewart.  I was excited – I love the play, I love him … And Shakespeare!  I wanted desperately for there to be a Shakespeare production somewhere in the city when I went on Friday, but in all the city there wasn’t a thee or thou to be had … I had a few moments of palpitations when I discovered that the staging of The Merchant of Venice from Shakespeare in the Park was going to a formal stage – but then discovered it doesn’t open for almost two weeks.  So – Shakespeare!  Patrick Stewart!  Oh, yay.  I was anticipating that almost as much as going to New York.

Thinking about it afterward – and it got a lot of thought that night – I can’t entirely say I enjoyed it.  My first inclination is to say that one doesn’t enjoy Macbeth - but then, there are those who watch Saw and the Halloween movies and true crime shows on A&E for entertainment, so I won’t say that.  But “steeped in gore” is an accurate description of both Macbeth the man and Macbeth the play – it was horrific.  Not that there was so very much blood, really.  It was a judicious use of a relatively small volume of gore which made it effective.  I admire the play, love the words, love the actor, admired the performance – performances – and the production values and the decisions made with the show … enjoy?  No.

This was a contemporary-ish production, set in what looks very much like a stand-in for Lenin’s USSR in the 30’s: black and white televisions showing footage of parades and big guns firing, small badges with black eagles, and the overall feel of an impoverished communist state.  The settings themselves looked black and white: walls with either gray tile or gray paint peeling from the walls.  There seemed to be a sink in every room.  It was bleak, and minimalist, and dark, and uncomfortable …. except where it wasn’t: the Macbeths’ royal suite was plush.  There were long leather coats for the thanes, and rich jewel-tones for Lady Macbeth’s gowns (the red one being alarmingly low-cut on one breast.  Alarmingly).  And furry hats – mustn’t forget the furry hats.  It was black and white and red,  and uneasy.  Brilliant: the story jives amazingly well with the horror that was the 1930’s Soviet Union.  (I hadn’t even noticed the title they used – perfect.)

Actually, the setting was so pervasive, so very well done, so convincingly 30’s Russia, that when we joined Malcolm in England it actually crossed my mind in a half-formed thought that it was odd that England would commit 10,000 troops to aid Russia… When they spoke of Scotland there was a moment of disconnection, of being bumped out of the play for just an instant.  I don’t know what my reaction would have been if they’d have quietly edited out all references to Scotland, but it would have been interesting to try it … The Scottish Play, with the Scottish removed?

It begins in a hospital, the sort of hospital you would fight very hard to avoid being taken to (especially in view of what happens there in a minute), cold and moldering like the rest of the settings.  The soldier telling of Macbeth’s exploits is horribly wounded, but he needs to make sure the king hears what he has to tell.  And he does – Macbeth (and Banquo) saved the day, all over the place, against all odds, and he was wonderful.  The king sends him off to be treated, and goes to see to it that Macbeth is rewarded – and the three masked nurses surrounding the gurney roll the soldier away … and give him an injection … and he dies, clapping his hand to his neck where the needle went in.  The lightbulb started to go off about there – and sure enough, one of the “nurses” sticks a hand into the man’s belly wound and reaches in and removes his heart.  Hello, witches.

If nothing else had been done right in this staging, the use made of the Witches would have still salvaged this film.  Played by Sophie Hunter, Polly Frame, and Niamh McGrady, they were, quite simply, as creepy as hell.  Their scenes were filmed with jerky start-and-stop effects, and their motions were jerky and angular, and they chanted.  Death-bed makeup and intense eyes – just stunningly eerie.  When Macbeth and Banquo discover them, they are standing spaced out in a large room (no meeting on the blasted heath here, but in an empty ward), and behind the central Witch was a mannequin made out of the soldier’s coat, with a blood bag in place of a head wearing the glasses belonging to one of them.  Banquo tries to communicate with them, and the response is creepy in the text – but gruesome in the film:

…You seem to understand me,
By each at once her chappy finger laying
Upon her skinny lips…

The Witch on the left in that picture (the centrally placed one) has fingers to her (possibly skinny behind the mask) lips … they just aren’t her fingers.  That’s something else I didn’t pick up on first viewing; I am torn between fascinated and horrified delight and … just horror at finding that bit.  *shudder*

One of the worst things (in terms of great, I’ll need a teddy bear tonight) they did was this, though:

First Witch: All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!
Second Witch:  All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!
Third Witch: All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!

Just the head tilt on the Third Witch (on the left) was enough to have me glad I was watching with the lights on.  (There once was a poster on The Board Which Shall Etc. called Third Orc on the Left…)

I won’t delve too deeply into themes and the storyline of the play here; one day I will take it on, but not now – apart from making note that “double”, “fair and foul”, and “heart” are words often repeated that I’ll want to pay attention to.  But I will say … once the Witches have planted the idea in Macbeth’s mind, and abruptly it is supported by the arrival of Ross and Angus to proclaim him Thane of Cawdor.  He was already Glamis, and now is Cawdor … so … why not?  But when the King brings the thanes together he names his son, Malcolm, his heir – and Stewart’s reaction as Macbeth to this announcement was excellent – surprised dismay and anger, quickly concealed.

We meet Lady Macbeth, played by Kate Fleetwood, reading the letter her husband has sent her, apprising her of the whole tale so far.  Macbeth, I think, without the Witches, would have gone along pleased at the honors done him for his accomplishments in the war, and possibly going on to earn more.  But once the concept that he might become king is planted in his brain, he can’t help but work out how it could be made to come to pass – and where he would back off, his wife … will not.

The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry ‘Hold, hold!’

This is delivered as a spell, and she jerks as though it seizes her and physically does as the says, tearing the softness out of her.  A shadow splits her angular face as she speaks, and by the time she has finished she is steady and solid (and scary) and ready for what’s to come.

One of the only wrong notes in the production was how the two Macbeths come together.  He discovers her wearing a white satiny robe, mostly open, and rubber gloves, scrubbing the tiles of the wall.  It’s an odd occupation for the wife of the Thane of Glamis, even when Glamis is adjacent to Communist Moscow.  There is a great deal of push and pull in the scene, as he tries to revert to What Might Have Been, normalcy, safety, and she tries to steel him to what they have decided Must Be Done.   Again, left to himself he might stay on the straight and narrow, possibly toying with ideas of overthrow and other unorthodox ways of achieving upward mobility.  He has ambition – but it is a candle next to the gas giant of Lady M’s ambition.

It was a passionate reunion, that; I thought he was going to take her there on the kitchen table.

It was also odd, I thought, that King Duncan is brought into the kitchen (which, if now clean, didn’t really show it) amidst all the preparations for dinner, to be met by the couple, Lady Macbeth in her apron.  But the setting allows for a glimpse of three unusual kitchen maids – the Witches again.  Food was used almost as a weapon here – the chopping and plucking of fowl was sharp and almost angry – dangerous.  Not a pleasant kitchen, any more than the hospital was a healing sort of a place.

Again, as dinner progresses and the time is approaching that they plan to do something about these ambitions, Macbeth has second – or, by now, third and fourth thoughts as he decants the wine.  Is this a dagger I see before me?  – There is a heartbeat thrum under his soliloquy.  Lady M comes in to fetch the cake for dessert, and finds him vacillating (he stutters over the “d-deep damnation of his taking off”), and impugns his manhood until he sways back to the plan.  And then, hands joined, he with the decanter and she with the cake (chocolate?), they return to the party.

Lady M drugs the King’s servingmen’s drinks, and “Had he not resembled My father as he slept, I had done’t.”  And Macbeth goes in to do the deed.  But he’s rattled, and carries the servingmen’s daggers away with him – and they’re needed on the scene to frame the men.  But Macbeth can’t make himself go back in – so she has to man up.

In the interview with Paula Zahn that aired right after the play, Sir Patrick said “There were times onstage when she scared me witless.  Her re-entrance…”  He never got used to it, he said.  Yes, yes indeed.  In killing the King he wound up with a tenth the gallon of blood she comes out wearing.

Meanwhile, a car pulls up – a big old sedan – and a man (who turns out to be Macduff, Michael Feast) pounds at the door.  This terrifies the Macbeths, who were just a little on edge already, but they pull themselves together enough – or she pulls them together enough – to go pretend to be woken up from a peaceful sleep.  The next scene is usually played for laughs, a welcome scene of ridiculousness in the midst of the grimness as the Porter drunkenly reacts to the knocking at the door.

Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ the name of
Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer, that hanged
himself on the expectation of plenty: come in
time; have napkins enow about you; here
you’ll sweat for’t.

Well, it’s not funny here.  The Porter here is aiming to be as creepy as the Witches.  There isn’t a shred of humor in this – instead it’s ugly and alarming.  This was a somewhat wrong note in the staging for me, not as off as the tile scrubbing, but – there’s a reason that Shakespeare put a scene in right there which could bring a laugh.  For the nastiness to be unrelieved is a difficult thing; even nervous laughter would have been welcome there, but Christopher Patrick Nolan as the Porter was. Not. Funny.

The murder is discovered, the servingmen killed “in the heat of passion” – and Lady M fakes a faint so that her husband won’t be questioned, because she senses that, rattled as he is, he might spill something.  And Duncan’s two sons (Scott Handy as Malcolm, Ben Carpenter as Donalbain) run for it in fear for their lives.  Which, of course, makes them look guilty – an unexpected bonus for Macbeth.

Macbeth, of course, starts off by taking the prophecy for guidance – but then begins to think about who will benefit.  The Witches also said that Banquo would not be king, but his son would, and his line would be kings … Why should Macbeth have gone through all of this only to gift the throne to Banquo’s get?  No, that part of the prophecy must be changed – and he determines that Banquo must go, and his son Fleance, last seen trying to filch the last of that cake from the pantry.  Two men are brought in who apparently had some grievance against Banquo already, and … Macbeth proceeds to slice bread, spread butter, fish pickles from a jar … as he calmly, coolly talks about what they’re there for, he makes a sandwich, and cuts it in half, and cuts half in half again.  Half he keeps, and a quarter goes to each of the other men – and the feeling is that as soon as they eat it they’re sealed to him and the evil he is doing.  It’s a thoroughly banal action – but the context makes it part of a ritual.  Stewart said in the interview that the scene was originally just the three of them standing talking, and he needed some piece of business to be doing during it.  This was a marvelous idea: cool, calm, and somehow all the more threatening for all of that.

Macbeth has his feet under him now – the taste of blood is in his mouth, and he’s past the fears and qualms he started out with.  Now it’s Lady Macbeth who is growing afraid – she has lost control of him, and knew nothing about the plans against Banquo.  It’s an interesting echo of Hamlet when they discuss “terrible dreams that shake us nightly” …

It’s on a perfectly period-looking train that the murderers – joined by a third, one of Macbeth’s men – go after Banquo.  First they poison him through coffee from the coffee cart – and then there are knives and guns and panic and terror … and Banquo falls.  And he rises.  He has a banquet to attend.

The scene before the feast was frightening.  The roles have reversed: Lady Macbeth is no longer in any form of control whatsoever.  She led – but the unsuspected successes so far have given him an infusion of confidence and he has leap-frogged over her.  And she is terrified – of him, of the situation.  One murder, planned together and pulled off in tandem, was one thing – but he never consulted her about Banquo and Fleance, and there is more going on …

The feast has a strange jollity to it – not a nice strange, but tense and laugh-or-die strange.  The Porter was either never a simple Porter, or he was given a rise, because he’s in uniform at the table.  None of them seem quite sure when is the proper time to laugh, or how to react, and Macbeth is erratic.  There was one conceit I loved about this scene, and one I hated … What I loved was the use, once more, of the Witches.  They served at table … When they beg Macbeth to be seated, he replies that the table is full.

Lennox: Here is a place reserved, sir.
Macbeth: Where?
Lennox: Here, my good lord.

Normally, this is where Banquo’s ghost is introduced, sitting in that chair.  Not here – no, it’s one of the Witches there.  She and Macbeth lock eyes as she vacates the seat and he takes her place, and she and the other two leave.  And then comes Banquo, stepping up onto the table just past an oblivious Lady M, striding silently down the center of the table, and standing over Macbeth until he looks up from his soup.  And no one else can see him, making Macbeth’s reaction hard to explain.

Things calm – the ghost disappears for the moment – and they proceed to the part I hated.  Someone puts on a gramophone record – very Russian sounding … and someone gets a mop … and they dance.  And apparently it’s a bit like musical chairs, only with cleaning implements – whoever is caught without a partner when the music is stopped has to dance with the mop.  It was  Ross with the glasses, who seemed unduly alarmed at being caught with the mop.  I missed something here …

Again Lady Macbeth is afraid of what her husband will say – he’s already let out a great deal in his terror – and tries to pass the whole thing off as a long-term affliction.  Better to have him deemed as a bit unhinged than to have him give away everything.  “Question enrages him!”  They manage to get rid of the guests – stand not upon the order of your going - and he goes back to his soup.  “I am in blood steeped so deep” … Not that it troubles him so very unduly; the soup has more of his attention.  He is tired, though; again as in Hamlet, sleep is an issue here.  They agree that sleep would be good – and he decides he needs to seek out the Witches again.

And there are some of the most famous lines in the play – “By the pricking of my thumbs” … and, of course, “Double double”, which raised the bar on creepy, particularly effective in its cadences.  Corpses (animated), and blood – just enough to make it horrible (who knew that faint and muted bloodstains would be worse than bright red dripping ones?)  And here is where Macbeth is given news that makes him virtual king of the world: the new prophecies, no man of woman born and Birnam Wood, give him every confidence that he is invincible – nothing can stop him now.

The sequence with Macduff’s family is awful – proceeding from one horror to the next – and it highlights one of the major strong points of this production: it gives minor characters tremendous personality.  Here, one of Macduff’s daughters is given quite the obnoxious persona – sitting on a cot with a book (which should have endeared her to me), she delivered her lines with a snottiness that slanted the scene in a whole new way.

Strangely, two of the murderers of the family here were the elevated Porter and Macbeth himself.  The effect of the scene made it seem that they might have been hallucinations; the whole scene was bleached of color, and bleak.

And then followed the finest scene in the film.  Ross arrives in England to provide intelligence for Malcolm … and though he dodges the issue (“No; they were well at peace when I did leave ‘em”) has no choice in the end but to tell Macduff about the murder of his family.  Once again the characterizations were brilliant: Malcolm, calm though shaken, a leader and a good one; Ross, cowardly and frightened, and snapping because he’s frightened and ashamed, because though he was tortured for the location of the family they didn’t have to torture him for all that long, and he failed to get them away before the killers got there; and Macduff, eviscerated.  Extraordinary performances by Feast, Handy, and Tim Treloar as Ross.

Meanwhile, it has all proven to be too much for Lady Macbeth.  She’s sleeping – but it’s not what you might call restful sleep.  Because based on the pattern of her behavior, a gentlewoman has asked a doctor to join her in vigil – and sure enough Lady Macbeth rises and walks, though still asleep.  And she talks – in her unconscious state she spills everything that she was so afraid her husband would let slip.  It’s a masterful performance – and, unsurprisingly, frightening.  Here’s another instance of personality injected into a minor character: the gentlewoman was terrific.  Scots (the only brogue in the film), and sarcastic – she was exasperated by the ineffectuality of the doctor, and showed it.  (Lady Macbeth gives a heart-rending shriek, at which he exclaims “Oh, what a sigh” … The lady was right, he’s an idiot.)  “Goodnight, good doctor!”

The Porter, who was so spectacularly unfunny during the “Knock knock” scene (who was it who said Macbeth is basically one morbid knock-knock joke?), was here near the end revealed to be Seyton.  I have no idea how most productions have it pronounced, but here it was “Satan” … Yeah, that worked.   And I believe he is usually the faithful servant, good and true … Not so much here.  He was rude, arrogant, and insolent.  It was so nice to see him killed … There is an outcry offstage, and Macbeth sends him to see what goes on; Macbeth stays where he is musing on how hardened, or jaded, or hollowed out he has become.  And Seyton returns with the callously delivered news that “the queen, my lord, is dead” …

I’ve heard the story now a couple of times, about Sir Ian McKellen’s advice to Sir Patrick Stewart on the delivery of this soliloquy.  (“The important word is ‘and'”.)  And this is different from how I’ve heard it elsewhere, certainly.  It is remarkable how that one shift in emphasis tightens the meaning, makes the weight of the long years ahead seem so much greater. Because at this point in the play Macbeth is confident that he will not be defeated.  He is the King anointed, albeit by something quite a lot darker than God, and he is meant to be here, and by the prophecies he can’t be beaten by anyone – he thinks.  There will be long lonely life – and he’s still realizing that having is not so fine a thing as the wanting made it seem.  The lack of sleep comes back again here – he’s exhausted, and a shell of what he was when the whole thing began.  There’s a tinge of what Geoffrey Tennant spoke of in the episode of Slings and Arrows – his better half is dead, and now he faces long years alone.  And they will be long years, because he truly cannot imagine himself losing.  Birnam Wood’s not going anywhere, after all.

Except it does.  Though – and I need to watch this scene again (not the whole thing, I don’t think I can do that yet) – they didn’t seem to do this in the film.  Though Malcolm delivers the line, I didn’t see any greenery either carried or thrown down.

All right, so the forest is coming to the castle – still, Macbeth cannot be killed by any man of woman born.  He is so confident that as the battle rages on in the castle he winds up back at the banquet table, getting drunk.  Why not?  Macduff finds him there – comes at him much as Banquo did, over the table – and drunk though he may be Macbeth shoots him. I saw an article that mentioned that at least one line they cut from the stage performance made its way back for the film: “Before my body I throw my warlike shield” … And that shield, given a complete lack of actual shields, is wine, poured over his head.  “This great clatter” isn’t swordplay here, but gunfire; the blades Macduff and Macbeth wield are not swords either, but knives.  Macbeth is winning, with the help of that bullet wound, until he reveals the source of his confidence.  And Macduff informs him that he was “from his mother’s womb Untimely ripp’d”.  Macbeth has him at knifepoint – but at this news he gives up.

Macduff must have used his knife to sever the tyrant’s head …  (*pause for reflection on all that means*)  He brings it to Malcolm, and it was hard to look away from it in Macduff’s blood-soaked hands.  Now, in most cases I believe the head is carried by the hair: not an option here, obviously.  Which made a grisly scene just that much more grisly …

It was a strong film – in many ways.  The performances were powerful; the staging was weird (wyrd, even) and unsettling.  And it was strong like a good whiskey – not for the faint of heart.   Excellent, excellent stuff.

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2010 in Shakespeare

 

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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.

 
2 Comments

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.

 
6 Comments

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

 

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