Saturday, September 13, 2008

Black Marks, on Skin of Calf ...

Ambivalent Writes, Certain Deaths

A little ‘sub-text’ developing in the play is concerned with writing.

The written word has made a number of appearances so far – too many to be accidental?

Each of the occasions has also shown a degree of falsehood and/or innate disaster.

The play starts with a written contract – the marriage contract; the petitioners try to present written petitions; Eleanor’s questions and the spirits answers are inscribed and recorded.

It is not hard to see the reaction of Cade to lawyers (hang all of them) and writing as potentially justified in the light of these documents.

The marriage contract is seen as disastrous – Gloucester has a fainting fit when he first reads it and it sets off the whole chain of events of the play. As I mentioned earlier, it is a contract binding unequal partners in a ‘til-death-do-us-part’ union.

The petitioners rightful grievances, once written, are either taken and used as a weapon against someone not concerned in the original petition (York) or are simply ripped up and prove impotent – although costly, for a scribe will have had to have been paid, and a lawyer consulted. Can we say it is the written word that ultimately causes the battle between the apprentice and his master – and the death of one of them?

In this last scene of the first act we have the written word associated with evil – it is used to write down the words of a Devil, and York, even though he knows the seriously ambivalent nature of what is written, still holds on to it. Again, the written words will be used in a court to condemn people – and whilst Eleanor gets sent to the Isle of Man (a living death) the others are killed. It is noticeable that the one person really responsible for the getting together of the condemned ( Hume – truly a devil’s advocate) escapes the power of the words to entrap.

For a playwright, written words are ambivalent – she or he puts into the written form meaning and intent - but the performance of any play will never equal the intent.

Shakespeare, as an actor and playwright was well aware of this. Indeed, all three of the plays he has so far written have shown considerable propensity to ‘interpretation’ – the words do not pin down to a single meaning, the actor has scope to interpret and almost completely invert the meanings.

There is a strong belief held by many (meaning me) that Shakespeare didn’t want his play texts published – that he didn’t want them read – precisely because they are not complete on the page – that as writing they are open to the evil of distortion and misjudgment – used to make a trap for fools – and, until in the mouth of the actor, they are incomplete.

Did Shakespeare play Cade? Did he want all the lawyers and dealers in written words, the teachers and those who can read, executed – Academics and readers of Shakespeare as literature, beware!

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