Tuesday, July 29, 2008

One Step back - and then Two Steps forward:

The Arkangel on Earth!

I’m fairly new and naïve in the world of mp3 and the like – I think I’ve said it before, I actually pay for my downloads: Rewards however, are earthly – The Arkangel Complete Works of Shakespeare is buyable for download, one play at a time, and I’ve been able to indulge.

On Sunday I ‘Shrewed’’ – and a fine performance it was too.

We use the word audience too lightly. Shakespeare’s, and his contemporaries’, plays were appreciated primarily through the ear. With a different play every day there was no time or need for elaborate staging and people went to hear a play anyway.

I suppose performances were more like staged readings than anything else; the sort of thing that gets done nowadays on the radio in front of a live audience.

One of the ‘insights’ gained from the touring Globe’s fast Romeo and Juliet (which visited Timisoara earlier this month) was the difference in what you pick up through the ear when things are taken at speed – and I’ll add to that now, what you pick up through the ear when it is unsupported by the visual.

Recently I’ve read a couple of editions of The Taming of the Shrew (The Oxford School edition and The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, Second Edition, edition) and I’ve seen two performances on DVD – the BBC Shakespeare and the Zeffirelli; additionally I watched the Shakespeare, The Animated Tales version.

I gained something from all of these experiences (not the least being how essential it is to see the comedies – how the characters don’t read well, how the humour is essentially human and social).

Listening to the Arkangel ‘straight’ audio version gave an extra dimension (which is odd if you think about it – take away the images and gain something). I’ll have to use the word ‘connectivity’ – a nasty word; a technician’s stringy, sticky-old-cobweb of a word; a soulless word.

Nevertheless, use it I must, for it is the only one I can think of that describes the nexus created by the physical experience of certain sound repartitions.
Listening gave you connectivity – an awareness of links across the scenes and across the plays. I must have heard and seen and read, but never noticed the word ‘pink’ in ‘The Shrew’ several times – it took the audio version to make it register – and connect it to Romeo and Juliet – and shoes: It brought with it a degree of contempt for fashion and a memory of big loud Mercutio: Which is the wrong way round – it is Petruccio who is in Mercutio.

Sly, talking of dreams, echoed all the way to Bottom’s dream – for surely Sly is a proto-Bottom. And Petruccio also sent an echo to The Dream bouncing off the walls – his ‘poorest service is repaid with thanks’ is surely Theseus on taking kindly what is kindly meant. Biondello (why does that sound like bordello?) went back to Speed – now sidelined as we are dealing with a mature marriage as opposed to playful courtship.

Part of the reason is, unsurprisingly, the Arkangel version used the full text – both the BBC and the Film cut. The criminality of wrongful cutting shone out.
But it is something else too – an Elizabethan audience was more aural – when they went to church and listened to the sermon or the Homily for the day sound patterns were set down – Shakespeare and his kin exploit these patterns. I’ve argued before about the word wealth and the strange use of it made by Petruccio – what I’d not noticed ‘til I listened was his,

tis the mind that makes the body rich

– and

honour peereth in the meanest habit.

These are keys that open the vaults to a deeper concept of the play and tie it to a much wider and wealthier world of human bond-ship and bondage. It is the wealth of the homilies and Protestantism of his time. Looking at these words on the page doesn’t make them penetrate the way hearing them spoken does – even now, as I look back at this paragraph.

Another aural shift came with Katherina – she is as violent as Petruccio (if not more so) – and by taking away the stage business, you become aware of this. What is tied up in laughter and slapstick unravels to reveal not an innocent victim of male aggression, but a female aggressor equal to any man. She is remarkably nasty – and ‘deserves all she gets’ at the hands of Petruccio. Her treatment of her sister is far worse than anything Petruccio does to her. And she assaults at least two men in the play.

I’ve downloaded the next play – The First Part of the Contention (2 Henry VI) and will be listening to it soon. I’ll watch the BBC version first, and possibly read it.

But before that I’ll be going back a step – to The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I’m going to listen to that tonight – but I don’t intend blogging on it – it’s mine, and I’m gong to just enjoy the performance.

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