Saturday, July 27, 2013

Shakespeare Study: Sir Thomas More

Oh yes, I'm getting close to the end of my Shakespeare Study. July 2013 was month number forty-three. I had started this study by reading the thirty-seven plays, then moved on to the poems and sonnets before tackling the apocryphal plays. In July I read Sir Thomas More.

Sir Thomas More is a play in which many writers had a hand. What has been labeled as “Hand D” has been identified as that of William Shakespeare. Another hand, which added marginal notes and marks, was identified as that of Edmund Tilney, Master of the Revels from 1579 to 1610.
I started this month by reading the version released as a volume in The Revel Plays series. Its title page identifies the play as: “Sir Thomas More A play by Anthony Munday and others. Revised by Henry Chettle, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Heywood and William Shakespeare.”  This volume was edited by Vittorio Gabrieli and Giorgio Mechiori. This volume has a 53-page introduction, and plenty of notes. From the introduction: “To comply with Tilney’s strongly worded request to abolish altogether the first scene and begin with the second would have rendered nonsensical this very careful social and political ‘setting’ of the play. It is therefore unthinkable that the revisers should have started their work on it after Tilney’s injunction” (page 29). This volume provides notes on what Tilney censored. For example, In Act I Scene i, Lincoln’s line “It is hard when Englishmen’s patience must be thus jetted on by strangers, and they not dare to revenge their own wrongs” prompts this footnote: “Significantly, this is the first speech in the play that Tilney censored for its seditious character” (page 61). Another example is in Act I Scene iii, when Palmer says, “That if he had the Mayor of London’s wife/He would keep her in despite of any English.” A footnote on the word “English” reads “Tilney crossed out the word, replacing it with ‘man’, so as to tone down the offence to national feeling that could justify a violent reaction” (page 80). A third example is in Act IV Scene iii, regarding the line “Ubi turpis est medicina, sanari piget,” a line that More speaks to his son-in-law. The line’s note: “’When the medicine is disgusting one is loath to be healed’, Seneca, Oedipus, 517. It is significant that this quotation, implying that it is better to die than submit, was crossed out by Tilney himself” (page 172).  Regarding Act II Scene iii, a note tells us, “The spelling ‘scilens’ of MS, found also eighteen times in 2H4, and nowhere else in Elizabethan texts, has been taken as evidence of Shakespeare’s authorship of this scene” (page 98). Also, regarding the word “devil” in the same scene: “spelt ‘deule’ in MS, an unusual spelling found also in the Quartos of Rom. and Ham. which were printed from Shakespeare’s holographs, supporting the suggestion that hand D is Shakespeare’s” (page 99). Published in 1990.

Related Books

 - Sir Thomas More by Anthony Munday and others – This is a volume by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the text was prepared for performance. It includes a short piece by Martin White on the authorship and censorship of the play. White writes, “While it seems evident that the additional passages post-date Tilney’s censorship (the revisions do address, but don’t fully meet, his objections) there are differing views on whether they date from the early 1590s or some ten years later for a revival. In fact, there is no conclusive evidence that the play was ever staged in the Elizabethan or Jacobean playhouse” (page xvi). This volume also includes an introduction by Ann Pasternak Slater. Some lines are missing from the original manuscript, and it’s interesting to see what the Royal Shakespeare Company places in those spots. For example, in Act II Scene iii, there is a line missing from More’s speech after his line “Though I depart for court my love shall rest.” The Royal Shakespeare Company’s next line is “With you, as heretofore, a faithful guest” (page 31). Also, in Act II Scene iv, there is, due to damage to the bottom of the leaf, a line missing after Lincoln says “I likewise crave they would forgive me too.” The Royal Shakespeare Company includes the line, “As freely as I do forgive their wrongs” (page 34), and interestingly puts this line in parentheses. Later in Act II Scene iv, a portion of Doll’s line is missing. The line is given as “Praise More whose [   ] falls [   ].” The Royal Shakespeare Company simply shortens the line to “Praise More” (page 36). In Act III Scene ii, part of More’s speech is missing, after the line “That can our love from London separate.” The end of the second missing line reads “nought but pride.”  The Royal Shakespeare Company has the lines as, “True, upstart fools, by sudden fortune tried/Regard their former mates with naught but pride” (page 50).  In Act V Scene iv, the beginning of More’s speech is missing. The line is “[   ] wench. Faith, my lord the King.” The Royal Shakespeare Company cuts the first part of the line, and begins with “Faith.” Interestingly, an ellipsis is included before the word “Faith.” Published in 2005.

- Shakespeare’s Problems: Shakespeare’s Fight With The Pirates and Shakespeare’s Hand In Sir Thomas More  by A.W. Pollard & J. Dover Wilson  -  This volume is actually two books: Shakespeare’s Fight With The Pirates And The Problems Of The Transmission Of His Text by Alfred W. Pollard, and Shakespeare’s Hand In The Play Of Sir Thomas More, papers by Alfred W. Pollard, W.W. Greg, E. Maunde Thompson, J. Dover Wilson and R.W. Chambers. The first was originally published in 1920, the second in 1923. And this volume was published in 1967. The numbering of the pages starts over again with the second book. The first book lists as the pirated plays Romeo And Juliet, Henry The Fifth, The Merry Wives Of Windsor, and Hamlet, Prince Of Denmark. “To which may be added as a bad text, though excluded from the First Folio, Pericles, Prince Of Tyre, printed for Henry Gosson, 1609” (page 46). About the line “we have scarce received from him a blot on his papers,” Pollard writes: “The importance of this statement, the justification for calling it remarkable, is that, if it has any meaning at all, it implies two things: first, that the Folio editors, as members of Shakespeare’s Company, had received from him ‘his papers,’ i.e. autograph manuscripts of at least some of his plays; and secondly, that these autograph manuscripts were not ‘fair copies,’ such as Daborne and other authors were in the habit of delivering, but the text of the plays as he first wrote them down. Unless the papers were first drafts the claim made on Shakespeare’s behalf on the ground of the absence of blots becomes ridiculous. The absence of blots from a scrivener’s copy would prove nothing at all; therefore the papers must have been autograph” (pages 59-60). Regarding the punctuation of Shakespeare’s plays, Pollard writes, “But when we find this notably light punctuation in editions of several different plays, set up by several different printers, it seems a fair bibliographical deduction that this light punctuation, though the printers may have corrupted it grossly, yet reflects a light punctuation in their copy, and so, immediately or by one or more removes, suggests what was Shakespeare’s own habit” (page 93).
The second book compares what has been noted as Hand D in Sir Thomas More with the six known autographs of William Shakespeare. In the piece on handwriting by E. Maunde Thompson, Thompson writes, “The Addition is written entirely by one hand, in the native cursive handwriting which was still the common character, taught in the schools and generally used in Shakespeare’s time, and not yet superseded by the encroaching Italian cursive, which however was making its way in England as an alternative current hand” (page 68). And then Thompson writes, “There is a marked distinction between the writing of the first two pages of the Addition and that of the third page; the text of the former is evidently written with speed, the rapid action of the hand being indicated, for example, by the unusual length of the long-shafted descending letters and by a certain dash in the formation of others. These signs of speed generally slacken in the course of the second page, in which a more deliberate and heavier style supervenes – a change which seems to be coincident with the change in the character of the composition – the change from the noisy tumult of the insurgents to the intervention of More with his persuasive speeches requiring greater thought and choice of language” (pages 68-68). Thompson adds, “This liability to change of character under the transient influence of greater or less mental effort constitutes the most remarkable feature in the handwriting of the Addition” (page 69). Regarding Shakespeare’s signatures, Thompson writes: “The first letter in Shakespeare’s hand which satisfies the condition of possessing a peculiarity which may be regarded as personal is the open a, linked with the h, in the surname of signature No. 1. This letter…is remarkable in being formed with a spur at the back, which is no essential part of it but seems to be a personal mark of this hand. And when we turn to the Addition and find therein instances of the open a formed with the spur, we may regard its occurrence both in the Signatures and in the Addition as significant evidence of identity” (page 72). J. Dover Wilson writes, “Not a single noteworthy spelling in the Addition but has its parallel, one way or another, in the quartos” (page 130). R.W. Chambers writes: “What is peculiar about Shakespeare is not that he can see where the crowd goes wrong, but that he can see where it goes right: and above and beyond all, what is characteristic of him and of the author of the ‘147 lines’ is the ability to see both things together. It is not so with his contemporaries. Before they draw a mob-scene, they make up their minds whether they are in sympathy with the mob, or out of sympathy. If they are out of sympathy, we get mob-scenes like those in Jack Straw, or Heywood’s Edward IV, in which the bad qualities of the mob are depicted without relief. If they are in sympathy, then we have such a picture as that given in the other mob-scenes of Sir Thomas More, where the playwrights treat with respect not only the general attitude of the rioters, but for the most part the actual words in which they explain themselves” (page 182).

Miscellaneous Shakespeare Film:

- Shakespeare High (2011) with Kevin Spacey, Richard Dreyfuss, Mare Winningham; directed by Alex Rotaru. This documentary follows several groups of high school drama students as they prepare scenes for a Shakespeare competition. We’re first introduced to a drama class at Los Angeles County High School For The Arts. And we learn a little about the Shakespeare competition, including that current stars were involved in this when they were students – folks like Kevin Spacey, Val Kilmer and Mare Winningham. The students aren’t allowed costumes, props or sets except for four chairs. The second school is PUC Charter School, and the documentary focuses on some of the students there, growing up in and around gangs. At each of the schools, we meet the students, the drama teacher and some of the parents. The differences in the schools are incredible, but the similarities perhaps even more interesting. One of the schools is Notre Dame Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school. (The drama teacher there is a total lunatic. Right away she points out that she’s the only Jewish teacher in the school, and that’s the sanest bit out of her.) At Chatsworth High, Kevin Spacey and Mare Winningham (who both attended the school) visit the drama class, while the students rehearse a scene from Macbeth. The final school we meet is Hesperia High School, in the middle of nowhere. This school has the reputation of being the one to beat. The documentary then follows each of these schools the day of the actual competition. There are fifty-one schools competing, and the scenes come from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth and Othello. We see quick bits of several of the Round One performances (in small rooms), and of many of the Semi-Finals too. For the finals, we see some of the performances of the schools we’ve been following. And we learn the results. But this documentary isn’t really about who wins. It shows what students could do if the arts were properly funded. And it shows how vibrant are the works of Shakespeare (even though a lot of the students veer from the texts), and how they still speak strongly to young folks.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Independent Shakespeare Co.’s 2013 Production Of Macbeth

For me, summer in Los Angeles means free Shakespeare. The Independent Shakespeare Co.’s Griffith Park productions are what excite me the most about summer. This summer they’re putting on Macbeth, As You Like It, and one non-Shakespeare play, She Stoops To Conquer, written by Oliver Goldsmith.

Last night I caught their production of Macbeth, and it was fantastic. I was seriously impressed by this show, and that’s even with having gone with high expectations. The cast is excellent all around, particularly Luis Galindo, who is phenomenal as Macbeth. Also, there were moments when Lady Macbeth had me spellbound, and that I think is a difficult role.

The three witches have a strong presence in this production, appearing in several scenes, sometimes taking on the supporting roles of attendants and such. They’re dressed in white, in great contrast to the rest of the cast, who are in dark, somber colors. In the first scene they repeat “Fair is foul and foul is fair” to a drum beat. The rest of the company joins in, marching in place, and this leads directly to the second scene, where the Captain tells Duncan of the battle. The witches and others remain on stage until the Captain’s wounds make him faint.

In Act I Scene iv, when Duncan says, “O worthiest cousin,” one of the witches stands upstage, watching. It’s interesting, because you could take it that the witches are sort of controlling things behind the scenes, or that they just enjoy watching their predictions come true. Either way, you get the sense that they are part of a destiny that is inescapable. When Banquo embraces Duncan, he actually lifts him.

Lady Macbeth seems ambitious from the start. Also, interestingly, there is an air of magic about her. In Act I Scene v, she creates a circle on the floor with small stones. And it is one of the witches who acts as messenger, telling her the king is coming. Lady Macbeth then steps into the circle for “Come, you spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here.” When Macbeth enters, he embraces her within the circle, which is great, symbolically binding them.

This production has many excellent moments. In Act I Scene vii, Lady Macbeth breaks a bit after “I have given suck,” as if the memory of their mysterious child is still difficult for her, and Macbeth holds her. This is such a wonderful moment, as it brings Macbeth to his wife, and this is after he has decided against their plan. But after this moment, he is once again ready to proceed. It’s interesting, because Lady Macbeth seems so honest and vulnerable in that moment, that Macbeth of course has to embrace her. But you could also wonder if she did this purposefully to bring Macbeth around again to the plan.

It is one of the witches to whom Macbeth says “Go bid thy mistress, when my drink is ready/She strike upon the bell” (in Act II Scene i). So again it is the witches that attend upon Lady Macbeth. In Act II Scene ii, there is the sound effect of an owl prompting Lady Macbeth’s line. It’s one of the few things that felt unnecessary. Later in that scene Lady Macbeth is excellent when making the decision to take the daggers. What an incredible moment.

In Act II Scene iii, the Porter comes from the audience to answer the knocking. He pees into a bucket, and then breaks out of Shakespeare for a bit to explain what the word “equivocate” means. I always have mixed feelings about adding modern jokes to Shakespeare’s works. In very small doses, it can work – like just a word or a look, a nod to the audience. In this production, this goes on a bit long, with him borrowing an iPhone from an audience member to look up the word, and then dropping it into the piss bucket. Of course, if you are going to throw in some modern humor, this is the scene for it (and I do love this actor – he was particularly wonderful as Falstaff in Merry Wives a couple of years ago). At the end of that scene, two of the witches bring suitcases on stage for Malcolm and Donalbain.

In Act III Scene ii, Macbeth frightens Lady Macbeth when he says his head is full of scorpions. This is another wonderful moment between these two, and they do a great job showing the changing dynamic of their relationship. (By the way, in Act III Scene ii, Macbeth says “scorch’d the snake,” not the emendation “scotch’d.”) In the next scene, it is the Porter who plays the third murderer.

A bit of color is added to the costumes when Lady Macbeth wears a green dress with a purplish fur for the banquet scene. Banquo does appear, rising from beneath the table, in this production. There is also a bit of interesting staging with his head appearing as a course.

There is an intermission, coming after the line “We are but young in deed” at the end of Act III Scene iv.

The second half begins with Act III Scene vi (Scene v being cut, as usual). The two men hold newspapers, those being the source of the information they share with each other, and with us.

In Act IV Scene i, the witches’ cauldron is a silver trash can. Rather than have the appearance of the apparitions, each witch drinks from the cauldron and then speaks the apparition’s lines, as if channeling the spirit. Then when the witches say “Come like shadows,” they give Macbeth a drink. The witches then circle him as the procession of kings that Macbeth sees.

There is another bit of color added, with Lady Macduff’s purple dress. The last lines from this scene are cut, when her son, having been stabbed, says, “He has killed me, mother.” I think Act IV Scene iii is a tough scene to do well, but this cast’s Macduff and Malcolm do a really good job with it. The three witches surround Malcolm when he talks about how he is worse than Macbeth. He then dismisses them with a small gesture when he’s ready to reveal his true intentions to Macduff. Macduff is absolutely perfect in the scene where he learns of his wife and children’s deaths.

In Act V Scene i, Lady Macbeth sleepwalks onto the stage from the audience. Interestingly, the Doctor embraces her before he says her malady is beyond him. She responds to his embrace, taking him to be Macbeth. This works to make her situation even more heartrending. And then, just before she says “What’s done cannot be undone,” she seems perhaps to come out of her spell, seeming to really see the Doctor and the Gentlewoman for who they are. Is she still asleep, or is she offering this truth from the safe guise of sleep? It’s a really wonderful moment.

Seyton is the Porter in this production, and after he tells Macbeth that Lady Macbeth is dead, there is a nice long moment before Macbeth gives that famous speech. (Though now that I think of it, Macbeth might have left out the first two lines and begun with “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.”)

The fight between Macbeth and Macduff is done really well, with lots of blood. In this production Macduff finally kills Macbeth far upstage and does not cut off his head. So when he has the line about Macbeth’s head, he indicates the body. The three witches are present at the end for Malcolm’s speech, and then remain on stage, one of the witches saying, “When shall we three meet again?” And that is the last line of this production, ending where it began, as if perhaps to suggest that the troubles are not over.

This was an excellent production. If you haven’t seen it, I believe there are ten more performances between now and August 31st.