Saturday, August 24, 2013

Independent Shakespeare Co.’s 2013 Production of As You Like It

The Independent Shakespeare Company always impresses me. On August 23, I went to see the group’s production of As You Like It. It was a completely enjoyable experience, and I was laughing out loud through quite a lot of it. When this play is done right, it is a lot of fun. And The Independent Shakespeare Company does it right. Sure, there are a couple of inherent weaknesses in the play, mainly Duke Frederick’s sudden and convenient religious conversion at the end. But that’s of little matter, and by the time it happens, we’re ready to accept it. The entire cast is strong, but the two stand-outs for me are Melissa Chalsma as Rosalind and Luis Galindo as Jacques. Sean Pritchett also does a wonderful job as Orlando. Joseph Culliton plays both Duke Frederick and the banished Duke Senior, calling for a few very quick changes, and providing a few laughs in the process – mostly astonished laughter at how quickly he was able to change.

They set up the sort of sibling rivalry between Orlando and Oliver right away, but having Oliver kick over a bucket of apples while Orlando is sweeping up. That leads directly to Orlando’s opening speech to Adam.  On “my education,” he indicates his broom.

The production uses somewhat contemporary clothing. For example, the wrestler wears a grey hooded sweatshirt with a zipper down the front. Mixed with the modern clothing are several timeless pieces. Rosalind and Celia are both in red dresses when we first meet them. Touchstone wears a traditional jester hat.

Orlando is masked for his wrestling match with just a strip of cloth across his face, but with holes for the eyes, of course. Charles wears a gold wrestling costume with a silver lightning bolt. At the beginning of each round, men flock around the wrestlers, so we actually see very little of the match. This totally works, however, and is done in such a way that is quite funny.

Le Beau’s line is changed in this production when Orlando asks him which girl is the Duke’s daughter. He says “the brunette is his daughter,” rather than “the taller is his daughter.”

On Rosalind’s “my child’s father,” she picks up Orlando’s shirt. She then uses it when she gets the idea of dressing as a man (though she doesn’t actually wear it when dressed as Ganymede). The cast is able to often make good use out of certain wardrobe pieces. Particularly David Melville as Touchstone who, when threatening William, turns his fool’s cap into two horns to frighten him. There’s more play a bit later with Touchstone’s hat with Audrey. And when Jacques says that he wants a motley coat, he takes off his jacket and turns it inside out, and puts it back on.

There are a few songs in this production, and the singer and instruments are actually miked, so everything is audible. There is some silliness, like a running gag of Touchstone getting poo on his shoe out in the country. He breaks out of the text for a moment and wipes it with a tissue, which he then hands to an audience member. The second time, he hands it to the same audience member. I’ve always had mixed feelings about straying from the text. But of course that stuff always gets a laugh from many of the audience members. For example, Touchstone, in explaining “civit” to the shepherd (and to the audience), says, “Google it.” He later makes a joke about the bad quartos, which actually was quite funny.

As I said, Luis Galindo does a great job as Jacques. When he delivers the famous speech, he says, “All the world’s a stage” as if it just occurred to him, which is great. He really gave new life to this famous speech. And at the end, on “sans everything,” he points sadly at Adam, who is carried in at that moment. It’s perfect and heartbreaking.

The play has one intermission, which comes after Orlando agrees to Rosalind’s plan to woo her (Act III Scene ii). The second act begins with Act III Scene iii, the scene with Touchstone and Audrey, with Jacques delivering his lines from the audience.

If you haven’t yet seen this production, you have two more chances – August 29th and September 1st. I highly recommend attending one of those performances if it is at possible for you to do so.

Shakespeare Study: The Birth Of Merlin or The Childe Hath Found His Father

I’m deep into the apocryphal plays at this point, really getting down to the end of my three and a half years of Shakespeare study. In fact, this month is month number forty-four in my study, and basically concludes the study (though I’m already thinking of going back to certain plays again). I’m reading a couple of the doubtful plays this month. The first was Edmund Ironside. The second is The Birth Of Merlin.

The Birth Of Merlin or The Childe Hath Found His Father is a play that was first published in 1662, and was attributed to William Shakespeare and William Rowley. Most folks at this point think that Shakespeare had nothing to do with the play, and that his name was used simply to sell copies. Some people think Shakespeare may have had the original idea, and that William Rowley then later wrote the play. The play was likely written in 1620, four years after Shakespeare’s death.

The edition that I read was published by Element Books in 1989, and includes a foreword by Harold F. Brooks, as well as chapters by R.J. Stewart, Denise Coffey and Roy Hudd. Unfortunately, it is not annotated at all (though it is illustrated). The foreword is not well written, but Brooks does state he believes “Rowley is imitating Shakespeare” (page x). 

Denise Crosby points out that Shakespeare mentions Merlin in King Lear, in the Fool’s speech in Act III. Crosby writes, “Why did mention of Merlin turn up in the revision? Was the speech a parody of Poly-Olbion style? Or an actor’s addition? Or in response to some topical situation? Or…or, suppose that the two Wills, Shakespeare and Rowley, had a conversation in which Geoffrey of Monmouth’s works were discussed as a fruitful field for plots for plays” (page 34). Crosby then writes: “There’s certainly no hint of writing of the quality of Shakespeare in The Birth of Merlin, although two pieces of evidence (which I can only defend from an instinctive feeling) suggest that Shakespeare influenced the making of the play. The first example is one of the four strands of plot which weave their way through the play” (page 36). And then: “Suppose the Wills were discussing the strand of the play of which Modestia is part. The unusual idea in the scene is that a wedding procession is stopped by the sister of the bride, who has become so influenced by the Hermit that she has renounced the world. She in her turn influences the bride so that she too gets her to a nunnery. Could this perhaps have been suggested by the man who created the darkly comic-tragic wedding scene in Much Ado About Nothing?” (page 37). Crosby also writes, “The other moment in the play where I feel a Shakespearian influence is the transformation of Joan Go-too’t after the birth of Merlin” (page 37).

Roy Hudd’s piece includes a conversation with Bob Stewart, in which Bob says, “And of course the ghost in Hamlet does something very similar, appearing only to his son, invisible to everyone else” (page 61). That, of course, is completely wrong. In fact, the Ghost appears to at least three people before Hamlet ever sees it.

In the play itself, Caesar is mentioned in Act III Scene vi. Edol says, “Were the worlds Monarch, Caesar, living, he should hear me” (page 115). Caesar is someone to whom Shakespeare makes references often. Oddly, this is not mentioned in the argument that Shakespeare had a hand in this work.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Shakespeare Study: Edmund Ironside

I’m deep into the apocryphal plays at this point, really getting down to the end of my three and a half years of Shakespeare study. In fact, this month is month number forty-four in my study. I’m reading a couple of the doubtful plays this month. The first is Edmund Ironside.

Edmund Ironside is a play that William Shakespeare may have written around 1588 (which would possibly make it his first play). In Shakespeare’s Lost Play Edmund Ironside, Eric Sam makes a fairly compelling case for Shakespeare being the playwright. This volume includes the complete play, which is heavily annotated, as well as a 52-page introduction. Most of the book, however, is Eric Sams’ commentary, in which he argues his case.

In the introduction, Sams writes, of Edmund Ironside: “For example it contains some 260 words or usages which on the evidence of the Oxford English Dictionary were first used by Shakespeare himself, with the strong presumption that it was he who coined them. Further, it exhibits 635 instances of Shakespeare’s rare words including some 300 of the very rarest, and 700 clear parallels with the First Folio, including 350 phrases shared verbatim. All these features are found most frequently in the earliest canonical plays of circa 1590. So the young Shakespeare is an obvious suspect” (page 5). Also in the introduction, Sams mentions several similarities between Edmund Ironside and the first act of Titus Andronicus, listing several specific similarities in wording.

Regarding line 301, “how many treasons I have practiced,” Sams notes, “the relish of this self-condemnatory confession points forward to Aaron in Titus V.i.124f as well as Richard in 3H6 and Iago” (page 126). Regarding line 334 (the beginning of Act I Scene iii), Sams writes, “Edmund enters during a conversation begun off-stage, as often in Shakespeare” (page 127). Regarding line 1640 (from Act V Scene i) – “All hail unto my gracious sovereign!” – Sams writes: “as the following dialogue confirms, Edmund (i.e. the dramatist) hears ‘all hail’ as the words of Judas to Jesus at the betrayal, whereas in fact the Gospel phrase is allotted uniquely to the risen Christ who greets his disciples thus (Matthew 28.9). The phrase in this context is therefore a serious solecism, instantly recognisable as such to devout Bible-readers in the contemporary audience. This same mistake occurs in LLL V.ii.339, 3H6 V.vii.33-4, R2 IV.ii.169-70. Note too that all those Judas allusions are applied to a sovereign and that two of them are accompanied by a pun on ‘hail’ and ‘hale’, just as they are there (‘That’s hale indeed’, 1642)” (page 178). Regarding the word “lift” in line 1663 (“in vain have I lift up my wasting arm”), Sams writes, “Shakespeare often omits ‘-ed’ after ‘t’, cf Abbott p.242 and 1H6 I.i.16, ‘he ne’er lift up his hand but that he conquered’” (page 180).

In the commentary section, Sams writes: “To compare one’s own characters with Judas and Jesus, in deliberate reference to the Gospel account of the betrayal, to make amusing puns on the actual words used, and above all to put the words of Jesus into the mouth of Judas; these characteristics identify the young Shakespeare in three separate plays (3H6, R2, LLL) of the early 1590s. If there were any doubts about the authorship of 3 Henry VI for example those facts would serve as strong testimony. So they do, therefore, in the context of Edmund Ironside, where exactly those characteristics are first found, c. 1588, lines 1640 f. There King Edmund directly compares Edricus to Judas and himself to Christ, with the same mistaken attribution of the same phrase and a gratuitous pun on ‘hail’ and ‘hale’” (page 199). A little later Sams writes, “As commentators have noted, however, Judas does indeed greet Jesus thus in certain surviving texts of the mediaeval Mystery Play both at York (Schoenbaum, 1975, 48) and Chester (Milward, 1973, 33). There are strong independent grounds for supposing that Shakespeare had indeed seen such plays, already outmoded in his lifetime but still surviving in certain centres during his younger years; he refers to them in such phrases as ‘it out-Herods Herod’, ‘the old Vice’, and so on” (page 199).

Also in the commentary, Sams writes, “On any analysis, Shakespeare at the time of Titus c. 1589 was steeped in Ovid, including Book I (banquet of Lycaon, story of Io) as well as III (Actaeon), XIII (Hecuba) and so probably X (Orpheus) as well. The same is true of the author of Ironside c. 1588. Unless it is safe to assume that two Tudor dramatists showed the same concentration on the same books of the same works of the same poet at the same time there is a good case for identification on those grounds alone” (page 206).

Regarding “copy-hold,” Sams writes: “The OED definition of ‘copy-hold’ is worth citing here to show what precisely is under discussion between the two kings. It is a technical legal term meaning ‘a kind of tenure in England of ancient origin: tenure of lands being parcel of a manor, at the will of the lord according to the custom of the manor, by copy of the manorial court-roll’, which is the only title the tenant holds. No doubt the tenure was often precarious and arbitrary. Canute grandly proclaims himself in effect lord of the manor of England, with Edmund just a tenant farmer who has let his leased land deteriorate and thus forfeited his title to it. The same idiosyncratic association of England with land tenure and legal documents recurs in Richard II II.i.59-64, ‘this dear dear land leased out like to a tenement or pelting farm…inky blots and rotten parchment bonds’” (page 218).

Sams finds many comparisons between Edricus (from Edmund Ironside) and Joan Of Arc (from 1H6).

Regarding Shakespeare’s attitude toward flattery, Sams writes, “Now, neither the OED nor common usage has ever considered flattery as a vile and sickening sin. But, on the plainest possible evidence, that was Shakespeare’s constant (if not conscious) association. Who else shares it, where else is it found in the whole of world literature of any epoch? So far as I can elicit, only in Edmund Ironside. There it recurs not only with the same striking insistence, but also with the same resonances” (page 251).

Toward the end of the commentary, Sams writes: “If Ironside precedes all the canonical plays, and if it also contains even a few locutions, or indeed just one, that Shakespeare demonstrably and definitely invented out of his own head, then that same head was also the source of Ironside, on any rational appraisal. The fact is that Ironside includes and anticipates not just one, and not just a handful, but over 260 examples of words, usages, locutions and ideas which the OED attributes to Shakespeare as his first coinsages” (pages 348-349).

Shakespeare’s Lost Play Edmund Ironside, edited by Eric Sams, was published in 1985.

Shakespeare References in Michael White’s Empty Seats

Michael White’s book Empty Seats has several references to Shakespeare and his works, which of course one might expect of a book about the theatre. When talking about Spike Milligan in the role of Oblomov, White writes, “Spike, on the other hand, saw the part as nothing short of Hamlet” (page 51). There is another Hamlet reference later in the book: “Immediately after Calcutta, I presented a season of Hamlet, directed by Jonathan Miller, at the Fortune Theatre – perhaps the smallest theatre in which Hamlet has ever been performed. It was fascinating to see it played in such intimacy. Hugh Thomas was Hamlet” (page 146).

He also talks about the play Macbird, which had landed him in trouble with the Lord Chamberlain: “The first, Macbird, was a brilliant lampoon based on Macbeth, written in rhyming couplets by Barbara Garson, a twenty-five-year-old Californian. It had trouble enough finding a stage in America but eventually was put on at the Village Gate in New York in January 1967…It had only just got under way in America when the Joint Select Committee appointed by Parliament in Britain began the hearings that were to lead to the Lord Chamberlain being relieved of his duties in regard to the theatre. The two star witnesses were Peter Hall, already director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Ken Tynan” (page 92).

Regarding the cast members of Oh! Calcultta!, White writes, “Dominic Blyth, who went on to become a very good and serious Shakespearean actress” (page 132).

Michael White also discusses a production of The Two Gentlemen Of Verona: “A very enjoyable musical we did together was the Joe Papp production of Two Gentlemen of Verona. This had music by the composer of Hair and had started life, like so many of Papp’s shows, in the Free Theatre in Central Park. It moved to Broadway, where I saw it, and we agreed to take it to London. We had a magnificent company, including Diane Langton, Bennie Lee, Michael Staniforth (who was later to appear in Chorus Line) and Derek Griffiths. John Guare, one of New York’s most amusing authors, wrote the book. But, although we got terrific reviews, we never actually sold out. I think the general public always felt it was true Shakespeare rather than a rock-and-roll musical. Moral: If you are going to adapt any classic to a musical find a totally new title” (pages 134-135). He mentions this play again a little later: “When we were doing Two Gentlemen of Verona I was sitting in a complete slump” (page 166).

There is also a reference to Titus Andronicus. White mentions that both Brian Thompson and Sue Blaine had trouble getting established. “They might be all right for The Rocky Horror Show, was the view sadly typical of British attitudes, but not for, say, Titus Andronicus” (page 156).

Empty Seats was published in 1984 by Hamish Hamilton Ltd.