Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Come make him stand upon this molehill here ...

Oh friends ...  I had such a fantastic time yesterday working on the smart and sexy new adaptation of Henry VI by Ben Prusiner  (with Re:Verse Theatre) -- one of the brightest shining stars on the theatre horizon. Ben's done a fantastic adaptation of the trilogy of Henry VI (with a touch of Henry V) that heightens the strain of perpetual war, and I had the great privilege of playing Margaret! (Talk about a dream!). Ben assembled a cast the stuff that dreams are made of: talented, giving, and passionate about the work entrusted them. It was an absolute joy to be there -- in every regard. I woke up this morning, unable to shake Margaret, and so I thought I would share this fantastic speech with you. This is Margaret's 'molehill' speech: one of the best opportunities to "chew up the scenery" -- as they say! I also used my best actor's sense memory to channel the outstanding performance given by the of the Duke of York, who made it especially fun to speak these words. (His "she-wolf of France" speech that followed was absolutely amazing!) Ben will be hard at work continuing to refine his vision, and I can't wait for the next incarnation.

Brave warriors, Clifford and Northumberland,
Come, make him stand upon this molehill here,
That raught at mountains with outstretched arms,
Yet parted but the shadow with his hand.
What! was it you that would be England's king?
Was't you that revell'd in our parliament,
And made a preachment of your high descent?
Where are your mess of sons to back you now?
The wanton Edward, and the lusty George?
And where's that valiant crook-back prodigy,
Dicky your boy, that with his grumbling voice
Was wont to cheer his dad in mutinies?
Or, with the rest, where is your darling Rutland?
Look, York: I stain'd this napkin with the blood
That valiant Clifford, with his rapier's point,
Made issue from the bosom of the boy;
And if thine eyes can water for his death,
I give thee this to dry thy cheeks withal.
Alas poor York! but that I hate thee deadly,
I should lament thy miserable state.
I prithee, grieve, to make me merry, York.
What, hath thy fiery heart so parch'd thine entrails
That not a tear can fall for Rutland's death?
Why art thou patient, man? thou shouldst be mad;
And I, to make thee mad, do mock thee thus.
Stamp, rave, and fret, that I may sing and dance.
Thou wouldst be fee'd, I see, to make me sport:
York cannot speak, unless he wear a crown.
A crown for York! and, lords, bow low to him:
Hold you his hands, whilst I do set it on.

Putting a paper crown on his head
Ay, marry, sir, now looks he like a king!
Ay, this is he that took King Henry's chair,
And this is he was his adopted heir.
But how is it that great Plantagenet
Is crown'd so soon, and broke his solemn oath?
As I bethink me, you should not be king
Till our King Henry had shook hands with death.
And will you pale your head in Henry's glory,
And rob his temples of the diadem,
Now in his life, against your holy oath?
O, 'tis a fault too too unpardonable!
Off with the crown, and with the crown his head;
And, whilst we breathe, take time to do him dead.

Monday, August 13, 2012

what a piece of work is a man!

I have been absolutely riveted by the London 2012 Olympics, and if you are like me (in the wrong time zone, unfortunately) you have been forgoing precious sleep to watch. Even when I know the outcome (and it's really difficult not to these days, when your time zone is five hours behind the games), I still find that I can't pull myself from the screen -- I am so transfixed by what my fellow 'man' can accomplish. Who doesn't love an Olympic dream? I have always found the athlete's task similar to the actor's -- that sport and performance have much in common. 

What I really find awesome -- in the most literal sense of the word -- is simply what a fellow human being can accomplish; many times against all odds. When I watch these amazing athletes from all walks of life accomplish things that many of us can't even fathom, I always think of this speech. I am humbled that I am -- that each of us is -- capable of achieving my own moments that celebrate the wonder of the world around me. 

It reminds me of that 1980's film Vision Quest. There is a scene in it (and you can find it on You Tube, I'm sure) where the young wrestler visits his older friend and discovers that the man has taken the day off from work, just to watch him wrestle in the big match that he's been preparing for. The man is dressing in his Sunday best, which takes young Loudon by surprise. When Loudon asks him why he's taken the day off, he launches into a beautiful monologue about how amazing it is to watch Pele play soccer (futbol, I know) and how moved he is to be a part of a (human) race that can achieve such greatness -- to him, it's one of the reasons why life is worth living; how noble we are in our abilities. (Forgive me for paraphrasing badly, but this is how I remember it). I think of this speech then, too (and since Pele was featured in the Olympic closing ceremonies, I suspect that this is a truly fitting comparison).

I must confess outright, that it's also difficult for me NOT to hear in my mind's ear the sung version from the musical HAIR, which I had managed to perform in two separate productions in a three year period as I was on the cusp of adulthood. Once that music gets in your head, it's really (REALLY!) difficult to silence -- darn you, Galt MacDermot!

Now what is going on with Hamlet is certainly more complex, but these are the moments in my life when I find these particular lines resonating with me. And after 17 days of sheer wonder, I can't keep myself from thinking "what a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty!" I've begun to speak this with these thoughts in mind

This speech is also listed in Sylvia Morris' greatest Shakespeare speeches.

Here it is: the voiced counterpart of what I've been thinking since the games began.

I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
and queen moult no feather. I have of late--but
wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.

I am including a second recording, in which I consider the lines that precede the speech and the thought that Hamlet knows his friends have been sent to find out what is going on. I'm not taking a vastly different interpretation, as I did in the two very different versions of Constance's speech (have I reason to be fond of grief?) but the moment before speech was informed differently -- version one right after I wrote the post, and version two right after I reread the preceding lines.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Is this a dagger ... ?

For my next 'hearing' I've selected another of Sylvia Morris' favorite Shakespeare speeches, this time from Macbeth. One of the reasons I'm most excited about offering this speech is that it gives me a chance to explore with you the inherent stage directions within the text.

Right at the very start, we know that Macbeth needs to spot an object: the dagger. We encounter our second piece of stage business in the second line: Macbeth needs to reach out to grasp it (or attempt to). In line three, we learn that he comes up empty handed, and looks again to the apparition. We have a progression as he questions the reliability of his senses, and he moves from feeling to sight to thought. He begins to reason with his senses as a sensible (or rather, sense-able) being. In lines eight and nine he sees the dagger as clearly as the actual dagger he draws (our next stage direction). Lines twenty-eight and twenty-nine conclude with a rhyming couplet, which may indicate an impending exit, and then we have a sound effect: the bell. Many editors include the stage directions "a bell rings", but even without their clarification we know he hears the bell for he follows with "... the bell invites me" -- the explanation offers a reason why he's remained onstage despite his rhyming couplet -- does the bell halt his exit -- already in progress?


Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o' the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There's no such thing:
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o'er the one halfworld
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain'd sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate's offerings, and wither'd murder,
Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace.
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives:
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.
I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.

I have been reading Tim Ingold's book Lines: a Brief History, in which he states, "Whether however a line is real or a ghost - whether, in other words, it is a phenomenon of experience or an apparition - cannot always be unequivocally determined, and I have to confess that the distinction is decidedly problematic" (Ingold 2007: 50). This quote is located at the precise juncture of this speech. The line drawn between Macbeth and the dagger exists; it's a palpable presence to Macbeth, but it's decidedly problematic for him in this soliloquy that he can't discern whether "it is a phenomenon of experience or an apparition". Personally, I love being able to draw my own 'lines' between the various things I'm working on, and I was delighted to read this as I've been thinking of this speech. Don't you love it when those things happen?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thou knowest ...

Recently, I had the good fortune of discovering Sylvia Morris' excellent blog: The Shakespeare Blog, to which I subscribed immediately (and you should, too, if you love Shakespeare!) In admiration, I decided I would record Sylvia's 10 favorite speeches, which you will find here (Greatest Shakespeare Speeches?) I'm not following any particular order, but I thought that I would begin with Juliet's 'mask of night' speech. In the recording of Jaques' 'Seven Ages of Man' speech, I asked you to consider the roles we play in our lives (and how those roles change throughout our lives) and the young lover is one we all hope to be fortunate enough to play (or to have played) -- although we hope for a much happier ending, don't we?

I love to use this speech as an example of complex language: "the mask of night is on my face" is complex language for "it's dark". Juliet is saying, "you know it's dark, or you would see me blushing right now", but she doesn't. The poetry is as heightened as the circumstance; the language is complex. An example of simple language: Viola asks, "What country, friends, is this?" (1.2.1). There is nothing complex about that; we certainly don't need to grab our lexicons to decipher what Viola is saying.

The First Folio printing lists line 99 (897 in the Folio) as 'behaviour' rather than the truncated 'haviour' that often appears in modern editions, and I much prefer this syntax. I like the fact that the line becomes an Alexandrine (12 beats), that it's not tidy. There is nothing tidy about what Juliet is going through at this particular moment, and I think modern editors do actors a disservice (and audiences, too) by trying to make the language fit within the regularized structure of iambic pentameter. Things are moving at light speed. Juliet's just been caught professing her love by the very object of her affection. What young lover would be rational enough to simplify her explanation in such circumstances? I know I'm not alone in admitting that I certainly wouldn't be so composed or collected.

Thou know'st the mask of night is on my face,
Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek
For that which thou hast heard me speak to-night
Fain would I dwell on form, fain, fain deny
What I have spoke: but farewell compliment!
Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say 'Ay,'
And I will take thy word: yet if thou swear'st,
Thou mayst prove false; at lovers' perjuries
Then say, Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo,
If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully:
Or if thou think'st I am too quickly won,
I'll frown and be perverse an say thee nay,
So thou wilt woo; but else, not for the world.
In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond,
And therefore thou mayst think my 'havior light:
But trust me, gentleman, I'll prove more true
Than those that have more cunning to be strange.
I should have been more strange, I must confess,
But that thou overheard'st, ere I was ware,
My true love's passion: therefore pardon me,
And not impute this yielding to light love,
Which the dark night hath so discovered.

Friday, July 13, 2012

you never can be old ...

Last week I was celebrating a birthday with the fairest of my 'friends' and as I thought of how I might celebrate someone so dear to me, Sonnet 104 came to mind. The opening line always makes me think of birthday wishes ...

Monday, July 9, 2012

have I reason to be fond of grief?

The subject of grief is not one to be taken lightly.  In the face of grief, it seems that we can hardly find the words to express our loss, nor the words to comfort the bereaved. Often, we are met with cliches and the repetitive mantra of well-wishers hardly comforts as it should.

In Constance, Shakespeare offers us a glimpse of what it means to truly live with grief: to allow its presence into one's daily existence. I think this is one of the most extraordinary speeches ever written on the subject. In 1596, Shakespeare lost his young son, Hamnet, at age 11. We can imagine (or prefer not to) that a parent's loss of a child is perhaps one of the most profound forms of loss there is. Surely, it upsets the balance of what we believe to be the 'natural order' of things: parents should not bury their children. Even in the Sixteenth Century, when many children died before reaching adulthood, the loss must have been devastating. We do not know what the affect of Hamnet's death was upon Shakespeare, or upon his work. King John was likely to have been written in the mid 1590's, so it is unclear whether or not Constance's words echo Shakespeare's own sentiment about the loss of his son, although Bill Bryson argues this is the case. Undoubtedly, the presence of grief is so strong in this speech -- it is personified literally -- we can find ourselves swept up in the notion that this ought to be true.

Recently, I listened to the audio recording of Chris Cleave's Incendiary: an incredible look at the presence of grief in daily life. I'll tell anyone who'll listen how much I adore Cleave's writing; it haunts me and I felt all my breath expulse from my body, my chest heave, when I came to the line where the protagonist (a son-less mother and widow) states, "I'm going to write so you can look into my empty life and see what a human boy really is from the shape of the hole he leaves behind." She is writing to Osama bin Laden to implore him to "stop making boy-shaped holes in the world". I thought immediately of Constance, and I'm willing to admit that I spoke aloud in my car as much of this speech as I could remember. Then, I promptly replayed those passages to consider them again. I wonder if Chris Cleave considered this speech at all ...

I will offer you two very different readings of this speech, to help stir your imagination. In the first reading, I consider the fact that no one seems to really be listening to what Constance is saying; in essence, they dismiss her by commanding her to have patience, comfort (have you ever seen how someone in the heat of passion reacts to an outsider who says 'calm down'?). They reduce the complexity of her emotion to sheer madness. In the first reading, I offer a Constance who must make them understand that through her grief, her son lives still. Her grief keeps him alive, she relies upon it: she needs that grief or he'll fade away. In the second reading, I pay closer attention to Constance's lines (3.4.53-54):

For, being not mad but sensible of grief,
My reasonable part produces reason

In the second reading, I consider how Constance's appeals are being dismissed as being 'emotional' and see what will happen if Constance takes a different tactic in trying to get them to see her point. What if she tries to appeal to their sense of logic? If she can prove logically that her grief serves a purpose, perhaps they will stop dismissing her. If she can reason (she states she is capable of reason: literally, able to reason 'reason-able') then they will see that she "is not mad"; a statement she repeats four times in fifteen lines -- more if you consider other variations of the statement -- if she can switch from an argument steeped in pathos to one of logos, perhaps King Philip, Lewis, and Pandulph will understand what it is she wishes to impart.

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.
I will not keep this form upon my head,
When there is such disorder in my wit.
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows' cure!

Monday, July 2, 2012

All the world's a stage ...

Since I am looking to explore the idea that the blogosphere is a form of theatre, I thought that I would follow my last reading with Jaques' famous speech on the seven ages of man. As I look at this speech, I would like to consider how we role-play in life: how we become actors, or players if you will, in our own story. The idea that we adapt to our roles, our personas, based on where we are in our lives is of interest to me. We play different 'parts' even within the same 'age': student, lover, child, sibling, parent, employee, friend, leader. Shakespeare was not a stranger to this, nor were the Elizabethan players (and typesetters!) The typesetter (s) who set Shakespeare's First Folio in 1623 identified Lady Capulet's lines according to the 'role' she takes within each scene ("Wife", "Old Lady", "Capulet", "Lady", "Mother"). Maybe Shakespeare himself designated it that way, maybe Hemmings and Condell remembered it as such (you may recall that John Hemmings and Henry Condell were members of Shakespeare's company, The Lord Chamberlain's Men, later known as The King's Men, and were responsible for editing Shakespeare's First Folio 7 years after his death) or maybe the typesetter alone was responsible. We don't know. Does it matter? What we do know is that those titles reflect the relationship of that individual to the world around them, in this case the world of the play.

So as Jaques examines the seven ages of man, I invite you to consider your own relationship to your world, this current stage in your life. Are you the star in your own story?

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.