Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Grey-eyed morn and Titan's fiery wheels

There is a moment in the morning, in summer, before the sun heaves himself up over the horizon, that is quite magical.
Many people living today never experience this time. Locked away under the tyrany of the alarm clock, and the so called fredom of electric light, they happily sleep through it, secure in the knowledge that they can control their days.
Living on the farm in Romania, I usually wake with the light - frequently there is so much noise from the birds (a dawn chorus is much more than a gentle twitter - it is loud, it is agressive, it is testosterone in full drive) you can't help it. Or the dog gets into full barking mode as the village hounds respond to the first movements of the people down there in the valley.
On the days it is cloudless, there is a distict line moves across the great arch of the sky - it isn't blue, it is a sort of grey white. The stars go out (or fade into the lightening), the moon either holds its own - or isn't there at all.
Always it takes forever - there is an anxiety: Knowledge that the sun will rise - but that rise is agony - tearing itself from its bed almost.
Shakespeare hasn't got a totally clear sky though - there are clouds, ready to be checkered and to fleck. There will be a glorious sunrise - the colours will briefly flash and the sense of awe you get from its magnificence unmatched by anything else in the daily cycle. There is a difference from the sunset - There is a shift from light to dark, an ultimate sinking (good after a day of labour); now is a shift from dark to light - uplifting and inspiring. Energy is coming.
But there is also the English adage to consider: Red sky at night, shepherd's delight, red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning.
The sky goes red when there are rain clouds coming from the east.
I think Shakespeare is tuning into all this with these four lines.
Too often they are treated as just decoration or just a time indicator for the audience to know when it is. Simple mechanics. But I believe his audience associated very quickly with their reality of the natural world.
We are moving from the time of night - with its dreams and confusions, to day. But there are clouds on the horizon.

Monday, January 30, 2006

I really shouldn't . . .

speculate on the plays based on the biography, but:

One of those moments of 'click' happened when I was watching el Woods t.v. programme, 'In Search of Shakespeare,' a week or so ago.


Mr (can't see the trees for the) Wood pointed out a couple of facts about the man who performed the marriage service, and the reason for the service happening so quickly.

What went 'doying' (bells to you lot) was the little detail he provided about Mr John Frith, the vicar, being know (Elizabeth's spies) as "skilled in cures" and having a reputation for knowing how to cure wounded hawks. He was also 'reported' for performing weddings out of season and without the necessary 'bands' being read three times in church. And he was a little 'old fashioned' in his ways (Catholic tendencies).

Well, Friar Lawrence or what?

Herbs, cures and bending the rules.

Now the unsaintly Greer (blessed be her knicker elastic) does lend a little support to the essentials (so it must be true), and I have since done a google and got some of the information confirmed.

Old Willie is desperate, he wants a quick marriage, needed a special licence and a vicar who would bend the rules. There's a local character with a bit of a reputation for being a medicine man and doing dodgy weddings - but keep it secret, the authorities don't like it.

If that ain't going to spring to mind in Shakespeare's head when he is writing Romeo and Juliet, I'm a Dutchman. But did he make use of it? This is the spec...

Did the old man keep Willie waiting?

You can just imagine the scene, Willie the Impatient, desperate for a wedding, (another day and he'd have to wait for over 6 weeks - and the baby was going to kick up a fuss about that), popping into the garden of the old priest, the only one likely to do the business for him, and faced with a very knowledgable old man, who knows exactly what is going on but is setting other prorites - collecting herbs for a wounded hawk.

Playwrites and actors do hitch their scripts and performances onto real life - but one really shouldn't speculate back. (I can still see it though - and what I wouldn't do to film it.)

What this does for me is give the scene in Romeo and Juliet a little extra zing: There is an emotional and personal tinge which 'person alises' what is frequently analysed to death. Yes the extra meanings and all that is important, but it is a play, not a script.

Which brings me to another of the questions which intrique me: What did Shakespeare's audience think of the man (Friar L.)?

I bet they all knew someone very like him. Every community needs someone who will shift the rules a little, especially in the Elizabethan world of marriage and baby making. If he is a religious man, is comfortable doing a bit of the 'old way' and can cure too . . will people forgive the little excesses, and occassional mistake?

And that brings me to what he says at the start of his role.

But i need to get down to printing off a version, and doing the dirty to it . . .

(To be continued.)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Wagner, Hamlet, and systems

Just before I set out on the train journey back to Hungary from Timisoara, I read through Bardseye on Hamlet ( bardseyeview: Hamlet: Act I, Scene 2 1/2 ) which set my poor brain ticking over. It is strange how a single word can do that - in this case the word was suits. I do recommend you go and read the blog.

All of the journey, which was through a very cold Europe, an issue developed with the idea we have of Hamlet. I have tried to comment on this at the original website - but goodness knows what has happened to it once it entered cyberspace.

Basically, what came into my head was the realisation that Hamlet, to an Elizabethan audience, would be considered very strange (the character, not the play).

He goes against conventions: Hamlet should not only expect his mother to be wearing suits of grief, but should be outraged if she didn't. He isn't: In fact, he seems to expect her to be doing something else.
And it was an arranged marriage: Diana and Charles all over again. Of course there was a very strong chance that Hamlet's mother didn't love hsi father (Elizabeth's own father's experiences are relivant here).
Why didn't Hamlet become King? I suspect Shakespeare's audience would instantly pick up on this point: There is something disfunctional about him. His family is relatively OK as Royal families go.

Then, when I got back to the appartment I slipped a DVD I have just bought of Wagner's Das Rhinegold (Stuttgard 2002, production) into the machine. Wonderful - it filters out most of the silliness (Giants become building contractors with a strong human thrust).

Here the focus was very much on one dynamic of the Ring Cycle - love renounced in favour of power. The production really does deal, just like the Shakespeare Hamlet, with intensified struggles over power and love.

Which gave me another session of over active brain.

That lot then linked in with a website I came across by accident yesterday - I must search and return to it - which was exploring the use of hyperlinks in literature - how it changes our perceptions of what a text is. That had me off on the idea that the Theatre has always functioned in this way.
When we see a production in a theatre, we are constantly aware of our surroundings. We link and connect not only with the characters, but with the real world, with other texts, with other people in the audience.
Shakespeare is very marked in his use of theatre references - and the abound in Hamlet.

Could it be that Hamlet is Hypertext?

Human beings like to think in simple terms - time is either linear or cyclical. We search for cause and effect, for logic, for order.

But we really exist in systems that are more than the sum of their parts and where a constraint applied in one area has complex and incalculable effects.

Does Shakespeare, by focussing on individuals as individuals give us a glimpse of this real world?
Or is it the Shakespearean World as a whole (Wittgenstein) which is the system.

Time for a lie down and a cup of tea I think.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

You have but slumbered


The start of the Shakespeare obsession. Yes, I am in there somewhere.
Fast approaching 50 and reflecting like mad. This production didn't only infect me with the Shakespeare bug, it introduced me to the music of Bartok: I now live in the part of the world he inhabited.

Theatre has been a major part of my life. Shakespeare fundamental to it.

This photograph captures almost the very moment all this happened. The people I now know little of but are echoing through my life.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Un Sex Me Here

or, 'Too much Freudship but not Jung enough'.

There seem to be a number of confused and confusing issues over the cross gender casting of characters in Shakespeare's plays. It is something of a Gordian knot - and I ain't no Alexander.
The first of these issues for me is a linguistic one, the second gender and the third, cultural.
A great deal of confused debate of the role of women comes, I believe (quite perversly some will say) from the misuse of the word sex.

Sex is a physical act, procreation/recreation.

To refer to a human being's sex, is going to reduce that being to a physical action: And define them by a very limited part of their activities (or their dangly bits).
Gender is the correct word for refering to a person's masculine or feminine identity. This is much more inclusive and incorperates aspects of personality which extend far beyond the physical.
Some of the people seem to be doing precisely that: Males are reduced to Homosexuals or Heterosexuals depending on the charater they are playing in a play. Those elements of themselves which they are using to illustrate female roles, which are held in common between male and female (after all, the word female contains male and there is a man in every woman - or a woman is 40% more extensive than a man) are ignored and the physical act of sex becomes the only issue.
It is worth remembering the Globe theatre wasn't a sex club in Amsterdam. One of the most famous scenes in Shakespere's works is the balcony scene in R and J: Have you ever thought why one of them is on a balcony and the other some distance away on the floor? I suspect it put a jolly good physical barrier between them which meant they could not do what a real pair of teenageers would do: You and me baby we ain't nothing but mammals.

Which brings me to Freud and Jung.

Freud smashed open the subconcious and ever since we have been stuck with it (Shakey didn't have to worry about all this). Essentially (short for over-simplification coming up) Freud saw sexuality in terms of suppression - of darkness of blindness. We repress and hide our physical urges (notice the focus) and this makes us all mad as hatters and in need of a very expensive analyst called Freud. It is interesting he uses Oedipus as his entry point: but that is all Greek to me.

Jung saw the subconcious heading on a journey to light: We ascend and try to comprehend; seek to see what life is for: To understand: This is the animus in all of us (male and female) and is a much stronger drive than the power drive or the sex drive (they do exist but are not dominant).

I find Freud useful some times, Jung most of the time in explaining why Shakespeare was so successful: he manages to hit patterns of behaviour which illustrate our basic drives.
Which brings me to the cultural dimension.

Shakey Baby lived in a world we can never know: No amount of reconstruction can return us to his world. Just think of the effect of now knowing Arabic numbers: We can never go back to a world where we do not know them, the world of Plato or Aristotle or St Paul (an aside, try turning 666 into Roman Numbers).
We are now living in a world of African States being run by elected women presidents. The USA might still be in the Dark Ages in this respect (executing blind old men sounds distinctly babarian to me) but much of the rest of the world recognises there is more to a woman than her sex.

Enough for now: Someone else wants to use the computer and I am getting off the point.

One last Question though: Shakespeare's acting troop is thought to consist of 16 males (12 "men" and 4 "boys"). Did the fact that he had an all male company to write for mean the roles he wrote for the female characters, by including the male elemnets, become fuller more rounded, greater than the sex? We shuld in fact be thankful the boys played the women.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Dreame.

Coming on the train to Romania yesterday I fell into a daydream.
I thought about the title of the play I have been spending so much time on. And had a very nasty thought.
So, I have just looked up the original printing of it: You can find it here:


That's the British Library for you - useful even on line.

What I notice is there is no punctuation. (Just what I suspected.)

Traditionally we add the apostrophe to night to make it look like it was one night and the dream belongs to that one night.

Why can't the s mean more than one night? A dream which takes place, not on Midsummer's Eve, but over several nights in midsummer.

Time has been causing me some problems recently so forgive the niggle I feel about this acceptance of a piece of additional punctuation which must be none sense.

At the start of the play Theseus talks about 4 nights - and his future missus repeats it.

When do we go into the forrest? The same day? Or does it take time for the lovers to sort out the escape?

And how long are they there?

The usual comment on all this is that Shakespeare didn't really take much notice of time: In which case, why did he mention it at all?
Or that he was careless: When we credit him with so much care in other areas?

There is a rather telling line in Henry 4, Part One (I think). Falstaff talks about being one of Dianne's servants: A thief of the night. This is just after Hal has asked about Falstaff's connection with time.
Could it be that, for Shakespeare, Time was only a phenomenon of the day light?

I shall be back on this one!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Forced Inertia

This seemingly throw away line has a whole lot of meaning behind it as far as I can see.
If you've lived on a farm in the more or less pre-industrialised, pre-enclosure world, one thing that happens each year is the re-walking of the paths you take. There are few fences or gates to get in the way and when people take a path, it is for a specific reason - and they go straight there, especially in the grazing areas.
The more elaborate the paths in an area, the greater the activity, the greater the movement.
If the paths have become indistinguishable, by early midsummer, then either there has been no growth of the vegetation, or no one has been moving. The word wanton would suggest the second of these - the green has run riot and overgrown. The green also suggest the village green where you would expect all sorts of comercial activity associated with the village.
When the weather is as bad as it was last summer in Romania, the paths were unworn. The feeling is one of tremendous imprisonment. Enforced inertia. Time stops, with the activity.
A note on the word quaint: