7 April 2013
First-thing “Angel” workout on arising (cycling legs and arms lying down), reasonable congee not overly watery, and I finished Hamlet in the Grand High Shakespeare Re-read. Next: Othello in this sub-sequence, which shall comprise the “great” tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and the sublime Lear.
Discovered that Wells and Taylor, the editors of my edition of the complete works (Oxford University Press), using the Folio text exclusively and not the Q2 (“good” quarto) text, omitted a lyrical speech by Horatio and what to me now is a fulcrum of the play on which the action turns.
Horatio’s speech, on the night when he discovers the Ghost with the others, recommends itself merely through its eldritch quality:
A mote it is to trouble the mind’s eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets:
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune’s empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse:
And even the like precurse of fierce events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen.–
But soft, behold! lo, where it comes again!
The speech advances Horatio’s characterization as a scholar and in common with the rest of the scene, which takes place just before day-break, evokes a feeling of supernatural dread that we share with Horatio and the watchmen.
Branagh made sure, it seems, that Act IV Sc 4 stayed in in full perhaps because he wished to deliver this grand, and in comparison to “to be or not to be” or “that this too too solid flesh would melt” critical speech, critical in that it is in light of Hamlet’s decisiveness in Act 5 immediately following IV.4, Hamlet is never again “irresolute”:
How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.
Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused.
I feel rather strongly that “cutting” Shakespeare is less a responsible assertion of directorial authority meant to make the play more comprehensible and compact (wasn’t that Shakespeare’s job, and didn’t we just stand in awe at his ability to do things like that?) or relieve the audience of “boredom”, than an assertion of directorial power even over S. himself. We resent as well as love our cultural monuments insofar as cultural monuments act as gatekeepers to our advancement so the game becomes to get to the point where we can like dogs, run up to the Shakespaherean text and take out chunks and gobbets.
I was supposed to be “Escalus” in a production a few years back of Measure for Measure but in rehearsal, I was perturbed at several things and managed to get ejected from the production in a profoundly discourteous way (email to me while I was vacationing in Australia).
One was the way in which the director would so freely cut S’s words while saying “blah, blah, blah” which on the face of it showed a lack of respect for the text. Perhaps this lack of respect is but fashionable in our demotic age.
More seriously, when I found it difficult to act opposite an “Angelo” who insisted on not learning lines and who didn’t connect at all with me, acting as if I was not a member of the company of players at all for some reason, perhaps because it was (mostly) English and I was American in a year in which “Shakespeare” was being re-absorbed by “Britain” as a “cultural treasure”: something that for me disregarded the uses of Shakespeare in the USA in the 19th century (notably Lincoln’s) and in India during and after the Raj.
When I spoke to “Angelo” was in fact just before I went to Australia to find a discourteous email terminating me. I’d already shown an out of scale, beyond-expectation commitment to the production and knowledge of the text. I’d memorized the lines suggested for the audition and found differences in the text including Escalus’ ceremonious little quatrain:
Well, heaven forgive him! and forgive us all!
Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall:
Some run from brakes of ice, and answer none:
And some condemned for a fault alone.
“Brakes of ice”, although it appears in the Folio, is an obvious typo whereas “brakes of vice” (laws stopping vice) makes perfect sense.
My input on this change was accepted. I was also able to “stage” the delivery of the quatrain by walking downstage to deliver this aside in a ceremonious fashion.
But far more seriously, a major scene (the remainder of II.1) was brutally cut: this was “Escalus and the riff raff” in which I’d proposed to show that Escalus linked the classes into a unity, where the tight, almost claustrophobic sense we get of “Vienna” is part of the drama: everyone knows everyone, and the lower sort have long expected privilege as a result. This cut damaged the sense of the play..
But once again (I must say with a sigh) I find myself “the man who fell to earth” whose erudition is confused with his vanity because he has both in excess. Both I have in roughly equal measure, but erudition has to do with the truth. Butchering Shakespeare to get butts in seats must have a stop. Instead, we can present pastiche (such as my own pastiche-play, The Well Hung Election) using Shakespeare’s dramatic techniques to keep those techniques alive and recognizable when audiences go to real Shakespeare performances.
This is almost good as pastiche:
Again (I say with sigh) I am the man
Who fell to earth a circuitous freak show
“Deform’d, unfinished sent half before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up”
But unlike the crookback monarch, whose flaws
Innumerous were rightly condemn’d, there are those
Whose virtue makes them warp,
And not fit in.
But that’s an old story press’d between papers
Away pedantic virtue: we must cut our capers.
Real high-class pastiche Shakespeare appropriates his quibbles (as they were known to Johnson) and his tics.