Wednesday, July 22, 2009

RE: As You Like It - Rare Triumphs

Ernst writes:

A third, curiously interesting play is the anonymous romance, The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune (1582). If more such plays from this period had survived, says P. P. Wilson, "the gap between Greene and the young Shakespeare and their predecessors might not seem so striking. If Damon and Pythias and Three Ladies of London show a growing concern among playwrights over the dangers of corruption, parasitism and Machiavellian intrigue in the court and in the city, The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune supplies an early dramatic example of the melancholic posing and attitudinizing that has such a profound influence on the malcontent strain.

The Rare Triumphs is essentially a play-within-a-debate. Venus and Fortune begin the debate by arguing over which has more power. Finally, Jupiter suggests that the two put their debate to the test by comparing their abilities to influence a "real" situation involving a pair of lovers he has been watching. Thus the story itself begins with Act II, and the immortals step back to watch. Venus and Fortune reappear briefly, alternately claiming that the ensuing events prove one or the other superior and ultimately stepping in at the end to bring the whole business to a happy close, counseling that "Wisdom ruleth Love and Fortune both" (Rare Triumphs, p. 243).

The romance involves a young man, Hermione, who loves Fidelia but is scorned by Duke Phizanties, her father, and Armenio, her brother. Hermione's father, Bomelio (a distant ancestor of Prospero), is also a duke, but has been banished by Phizanties' father, become a hermit in the forest, and taken up magic. Bomelio finds and reveals himself to his son and sets out to help Hermione win Fidelia by using his magic to strike Armenio dumb, presumably with the idea that he will be able to trade his ability to cure Armenio for Phizanties’ acceptance of Hermione as a son-in-law.

Bomelio immediately catches one's eye. He has clearly spent most of his time sitting in his cave and brooding:

He that hath lost his hope, and yet desires to live,
He that is overwhelm'd with woe, and yet would counsel give;
He that delights to sigh, to walk abroad alone,
To drive away the weary time with his lamenting moan;
He that in his distress despaireth of relief,
Let him begin to tell his tale, to 'rip up all his grief,
And if that wretched man can more than I recite
Of fickle fortune's froward check and her continual spite,
Of her inconstant change, of her discourtesy,
I will be partner with that man to live in misery. (173-174)
Indeed, not only does he bewail his "dainty dish … of fretting melancholy" (175) for nearly fifty lines (making this initial speech twice as long as any other in the play), even his rascally servant, Lontulo, laughs at his posing:

He'll do nothing all day long but sit on his arse, as my mother did when she made pouts:
And then a’ looks at this fashion, and thus and thus again; and then, what do ye?
By my troth, I stand even thus at him, and laugh at his simplicity. (177)

One would suspect that Lentulo crosses his arms or makes some such characteristic gesture when he says "and thus and thus," for he seems to have studied his master’s melancholia thoroughly.

Lentulo is a great imitator, and he soon falls under the influence of Penulo, Phizanties' parasite-servant, who is so proud of his ability as an informer that, before he tells Armenio about his discovering a secret meeting between Fidelia and Hermione, he gloats:

This is a step that first we use to climb:
We that, forsooth, take hold on every time.
Men of all hours, whose credit such as spites,
In heat forsooth hath called us parasites. (172)
Ever eager to serve his own best interest, Lentulo so prefers Penulo's courtly ways to his own austere life with Bomelio that he soon deserts his master and accepts Penulo’s promise that he will "prefer" him to "a service in the Court presently" (182). Lentulo next steals a set of fancy clothes and begins to ape the manners of the court. Indeed, he decides to fall in love and ape the melancholia to which courtiers are prone as well:

Thy love with a woman! Are you in love, sir, then, with your leave?
What an ass art thou: couldst thou not all this time perceive,
That I never sleep but when I am not awake,
And I eat and I eat till my belly would ache?
And I fall away like a gammon of bacon.
Am I not in love when I am in this tacon?
Call'st thou this the court? would I had ne’er come thither
To be caught in Cupido. I faint, I faint!
0h gather me, gather me! [Pretends to swoon]
Come up, and be hanged. Alack, poor Lentulo! [Aside]
Tell me with whom thou art in love so.
You kill me, and you make me tell her name. No, no.
0 terrible torments, that trounce in my toe!
Love, my masters, is a parlous matter! how it runs out of my nose!
It's now in my back, now in my belly; O, now in the bottom of my hose. (196-197)

Not only does Lentulo make fun of Bomelio’s melancholy, he suffers from pseudo-melancholy himself. Clearly, the author of The Rare Triumphs is totally familiar with the conventions of melancholia: indeed, he is one of the first dramatists to bring these conventions so richly into play.

The gloomy, morose Bomelio, who is at once a part of this world and alienated from it, is thus an intriguing figure. Not only is he a melancholic, he shares other characteristics with malcontents to come. He is also (like Hamlet) a revenger, who sees his plotting against the corrupt Phizanties as part of a "Just revenge that here I undertake" (208). He wears disguises masquerading both as a hermit and (shades of Malevole's "virtuous Machiavellianism") as an Italian doctor who claims he can cure Armenio’s dumbness. He is a manipulator, having magically caused this dumbness himself―a fact which Armenio senses, suggesting in sign language that his affliction was caused by "some old man, that threatened to be revenged on him" (208).

Finally, after a capricious fit of righteousness causes Hermione to destroy his father's magic books, the apparently overwrought Bomelio plunges into a fit of madness:

What can'st thou tell me? tell me of a turd. What, and a’ come? I conjure thee, foul spirit, down to hell! Ho. ho. ho! the devil, the devil! A-comes. A-comes, a-comes upon me, and I lack my books. Help! Help! Help! Lend me a sword, a sword! 0, I am gone! [He raves.] (226)
Indeed, like the distracted Hamlet's, Bomelio’s raving turns to anti-feminism. When Fidelia tries to comfort him, he rails:
Hark the whore! See what an impudent whore it is. Sleep, you whore? I’ll sleep with you anon. Gog’s blood, you whore, I'll hang you up! [He threatens her.] (231)

Although no dramatic character would be so labeled for two years, I would argue that Bomelio its, indeed, an early “Malcontent.” The melancholy, disguise, tendency for virtuous intrigue, madness, railing against women and hermit-like reclusiveness which comprise his character are all attributes of malcontents to come. In addition, he represents a bit of the scholar—although his romanticized scholarly abilities (magic) are for him a source of power rather than a source of frustration—and he moves in a milieu where flattery and parasitism abound—although, unlike his descendant Malevole, he refuses to indulge in either.

In the final analysis, as far as literary history is concerned, it is perhaps melancholy—derived from the novels of men like Sidney, Lodge, Greene, and Lyly, and found in plays like The Rare Triumphs—which, aided to the other characteristics we have delineated, produced the earliest stage malcontents, of which Bomelio is one.

This literary phenomenon may well reflect contemporary cultural trends. The eighties were the period in which the so-called "Elizabethan younger generation," the sons of Elizabeth's older courtiers were coming of age. Frustrated in their attempts to supplant their elders, angered by the growth of flattery and parasitism at Elizabeth's court, and discouraged by the aging Queen's growing conservatism and their own parents' distrust of ambition, various members of this generation turned to romantic fiction as a means of reasserting the idealism they found lacking in the increasingly materialistic court. They thus established escapist realms into which their frustrated imaginations could move, and cultivated literary melancholy as a means of reflecting their own (frequently university-bred) melancholy at not obtaining the preferments formerly given their elders.

In a play such as The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune these concerns enter the world of the drama. In a sense, the early malcontent can be seen as representing both the frustrated melancholy of the younger generation and a romanticized version of their suppressed ambition, desire for power and eagerness to revenge themselves upon the flatterers they felt to be swarming about the court.

Potentially “Malcontent” themselves, members of this younger generation allowed their personal melancholy fuller range in their literary works and produced surrogates like Bomelio, who, drunk with melancholy, seeks a reordering of priorities which would produce, at least in the idealized world of the play, a kind of contentedness. Thus it is that the author of The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune allows his hero's melancholy to push Bomelios desire for revenge to the extreme:

Eternal gods, that know my true Intent,
And how unjustly wrongéd I have been,
Vouchsafe all secret dangers to prevent,
And further me, as yet you do begin.
Sufficeth you my travail heretofore,
My hungers cold, and all my former pain.
Here make an end, and plague me now no more:
Contented [italics mine], then, at rest I will remain. (206)


As You Like It - Rare Triumphs

Ernst writes (from Northport, Maine):

Ladies and Gentlepods,

My special interest in As You Like It is, of course, how the play fits in to the development of the stage malcontent, of which Jacques is a major part.

I believe the stage malcontent developed out of romances—both written (Sidney’s Arcadia, Lyly’s Euphues, Greene’s Romances, etc.), and dramatic (Lodge’s and Lyly’s plays—primarily). I include my dissertation discussion of a relatively early play (1582) that seems to me to contain an important "malcontent"— although he is never named as such (the first dramatic use of the word "malcontent" comes in a Lyly play of 1584, in which two minor characters banter: "Are you a male-content? No, I’m a fe-male content."

The term "malcontent" was pretty frequently used during the ‘80s. Greene writes of having toured Europe and come home to "Ruffle out my silks as a malcontent," a use of the term suggestive of what I take as a vogue among University and law-school students, not unlike the "punks" or "Goths" of our own time. These young men wore black, brooded publicly, felt quietly superior, read satirical or philosophical books, had often traveled, had a liking for bitter satire—often attacking women—and dressed sloppily, often crossing their arms and wearing black.

It was a popular pose—so much so that when Hamlet asks his friends not to let on to his post-Ghost disguise, his audience knew that he was going to cross his arms, start reading a philosophical book, and unlace his black clothes a bit.

The romances of the '80s and early '90s very often consisted of a court that retires to the pastoral world, where things change and odd characters appear, who eventually solve their various problems and return to civilization. The play I discuss herewith is a fine example of how this sort of arrangement could play out on the stage—complete with its own proto-malcontent.
There was increasing bitterness about the regime as Elizabeth’s reign drew toward a close. Sure, the victory over the Armada brightened things up a bit; but, on the other hand, the death of Elizabeth’s most admired "Renaissance Man," Sir Philip Sidney, in 1586 seemed a waste. Crops were often bad. Too many were graduating from the law schools and the universities for the jobs open to them (hence, a number turned to writing), and even older sons found making their way into the Elizabethan establishment difficult (think of Orlando’s problems with his brother).

As a result, the urge for satire grew increasingly during the late 1580s and '90s. Marlowe’s plays were actually quite satirical (or, at least, filled with political advice) as were Kyd’s. Lyly got himself fired around 1586—probably for coming too close to "advising" the Queen in his romances (which were all variants on Elizabeth’s court).

Indeed, a group of satirical writers including George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and John Marston (Marston = "mar stone" = castrator = kinser (a castrator of sheep) = kin to a satyr = kinsader (also a castrator), which is the pen name Marston used in his satires. There was a wild outpouring of verse and prose satires in the late '90s—so much that satire writing was banned—with the partial result the above-mentioned three satirists turned to (generally satirical) playwriting—mostly for boys’companies, popular with the educated and upper classes.

The satires these three wrote never directly attacked the Elizabethan establishment, but they readily attacked many of the types the satirists saw moving about their world. In one such satire, Marston established the character of Bruto, the malcontent, whom he describes at some length.

This, then, was the world for which Shakespeare wrote As You Like It. And, of course, he seems unable to have avoided putting a malcontent satirist into the middle of it. Thus the conversation between Jacques and Duke Senior is similar to the discussions going on at the time, and the "All the world’s a stage" set-piece was similar to some of Bruto’s (and others’) spoutings, only a heck of a lot better.

One thing that is remarkable to me is that this is the first instance (I think) in which Shakespeare pulled a voguish (somewhat literary) contemporary character into his play—specifically. I might note that, as the above-mentioned satirists turned to playwrights they were—at this very moment—moving in the direction of "Humors" play, plays containing a number of "humorous" (i.e. "type,") flat characters.

Chapman was the first one to do this; however, Jonson took over the idea and wrote a number of plays containing such characters. The notion was that such characters were "in their humor" and the play’s dramatic action revolved around their being got "out" of their various "humors." Jonson usually did this by creating a central, righteously noble, character (quite like himself), who helped arrange things so that the humors characters would be made fools of or suffer some sort of miserable defeat that shook them into reforming themselves. After a while, other playwrights grew a bit tired of Jonson’s personal self-pride (and that of his central characters)—so that they started to make fun of him. This led to the "War of the Theaters," but that is another story.

Shakespeare is said to have "put Jonson down" at some point. If such a thing occurred in any of his plays, I wonder whether or not the self-imporant, judgmental, and humorless Malvolio was not taken as an attack on Jonson by some.

So one could argue that Shakespeare went, in As You Like It, from borrowing one "humors" character from the world and writers about him to, in Twelfth Night, borrowing a whole raft of flat humors characters to be "got out of their humor" in the course of the play—a play whose title suggests 12 days of bingeing, after which period most of us would probably be very likely to change our ways. (One could carry this a step further by suggesting that Hamlet is also a "humors" play—as Hamlet is, like Viola, surrounded by a bunch of relatively flat characters who, like all the narrow-minded, stupidly stubborn obsessives we encounter daily, are especially difficult to deal with.)

Both Jacques and Malvolio go off at the end of their plays—although one feels Malvolio as a far more dangerous person in a far more dangerous world. More on this when we get to Twelfth Night. I also sometimes wonder if, at one point while As You Like It was a-making, Shakespeare didn’t consider making the OTHER Jacques, Orlando’s and Oliver’s third brother, into his malcontent/satirist. He was, after all, a "student," and, as I have suggested above, too much education can produce a malcontent’s world view. Fortunately, Shakespeare didn’t follow through on this. It would probably have pushed the DeBoys family complications over the edge.

On the As You Like It we watched at the Globe. It was a solid production, much praised in the press. We sat way to the side, and so it was hard to get the perspective from the front. Both Jacques and Touchstone appeared to be relatively young—in their early thirties, I would say. Jacques seemed much less a grumpf than I might have expected (never having seen the play); rather he acted benevolent and friendly throughout. Touchstone was a lusty young man. He didn’t pronounce the gloriously dirty "Hour to hour" speech as broadly in the direction of "whore to whore" as I would have expected, but the audience seemed to get it. I thought the Rosalind character was a bit TOO boyish. She was played by a quite boyish actress. I had little sense of the woman underneath the disguise. One of the most enjoyable characters, one we might barely notice on the written page was Amiens, the singer, who was about fifty (although thin and fit) and had a lovely tenor voice. He drew out the songs a bit—moving back and forth along the apron of the stage as he sang. Delightful.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

RE: As You Like It - No Evil Shall Escape My Sight

Derek writes:

Brief reply: I read Lodge's "Rosalynde" a few years ago, and was struck mainly by how straightforwardly Lodge recapitulates the forms and standards of classical comedy, with much more weight given to eclogues between shepherds, and so on. I also remember being entirely underwhelmed by the title character of the play, who bears little resemblance to the one that eventually emerges in Shakespeare's version. I don't remember a thing, really, about the villains in the story, sadly.

But it turns out that I misquoted Bloom, and so please allow me to correct myself. He in fact writes, "Rosalind's high good fortune ― which exalts her over Falstaff, Hamlet, and Cleopatra ― is to stand at the center of a play in which no authentic harm can come to anyone… The glory of Rosalind, and of her play, is her confidence, and ours, that all things will go well."

Bloom spends considerable time in the passage leading into the one I quoted above talking about why scholars have focused for a long time on Falstaff and Hamlet, and what the nature of their deaths have had to teach us. I guess I did a little inferring and came up with the idea that although…

Oh WAIT! He DOES say what I thought he said, only a few pages later! Quoth Harold Bloom: "I have been urging us to see Rosalind in sequence, between Falstaff and Hamlet, just as witty and as wise but trapped neither in history with Falstaff nor in tragedy with Hamlet, and yet larger in her drama even as they cannot be confined to theirs." ― compliment, right? But no! ― "The invention of freedom must be measured against what encloses or threatens freedom: time and the state for Falstaff, the past and the enemy within for Hamlet. Rosalind's freedom may seem less consequential because As You Like It brushes aside time and the state, and Rosalind has no tragic sorrows, no Prince Hal, and no Gertrude or Ghost. Rosalind is her own context, unchallenged save for the melancholy Jaques and the rancid Touchstone." And that's the end of the paragraph ― in fact, of the whole section. Although he says that Rosalind's freedom "may SEEM less consequential," which implies that it really isn't any less consequential, he sure doesn't do a thing to make the reader think that the way her freedom seems is any different from the way it truly is.

That's the passage wherein Bloom dismisses the presence of evil ― that which encloses or threatens freedom. And my contention remains. That Rosalind doesn't take it seriously, or that she behaves MOST of the time like she doesn't take it seriously, does NOT mean that the play as a whole "brushes aside" evil. It's Rosalind who brushes it aside. That was my point, I think.

Thank goodness I hadn't packed up the Bloom yet, as I'm filling box after box with books. And I have a tiny collection compared to certain others of this group. Randall, never move.


As You Like It - No Evil Shall Escape My Sight

Randall writes:

Arden-t readers,

Derek started us off by stating that one of As You Like It's great points "is that, for once, there really is evil." I've been thinking about evil and Shakespeare for some time, and evil itself fascinates me in all its literary incarnations.

For example, I taught a class today in which students are writing an analytical essay on Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' Green Lantern, issue 76 (1970), and they are trying to discern what is remarkable about the comic's story. One idea that emerges pretty quickly is that, as a student named Conor put it in the last session, "evil doesn't always have to don a costume and have super powers; normal evil people have fairly similar goals to normal people, only with more devious ways of achieving them." Today, I noticed a couple students were throwing the "evil" word around somewhat carelessly, so I asked them to make sure the explained what they meant by "evil" if it was going to be a focus of their essays.

Over on the Shakespeare Geek blog, Duane is asking readers to consider which Shakespeare villains suffer no guilt for their actions. He writes:

"It’s easy to find ways in which Shakespeare’s villains feel guilt for their actions, whether it’s Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking, or Claudius’ outright 'My offense is rank, it smells to heaven' prayer. Should we count Edmund’s last minute redemption, too?

"What I’m interested in is bad guys who feel no guilt at all. I was trying to explain to my boss last week why Iago is such a nasty son-of-a-gun, and I realized that when it comes to his actual crimes, there are other bad guys that did far worse. It’s just something about him. I think it has a great deal to do with the fact that, as far as I can tell, he never feels a shred of anything for his victim, right up until the last words we hear. That’s what’s so scary."

I think Duane's question gets to the heart of evil, that to be evil, not just to do evil, demands that one knowingly act to the detriment of others without remorse. In the golden and silver ages of the comic book world, stories are full of villains bent on world domination, the destruction of the human race, theft of various items for no other purpose than to perpetrate the theft, etc. Just evil. Frequently, a character in a comic will refer to the villain as an "evil-doer," a term few outside the comic book world actually use (except our former president who once said, "My administration has a job to do and we're going to do it. We will rid the world of evil-doers.").

In the Green Lantern issue, a slumlord named Jubal Slade is evicting impoverished, elderly, immigrant residents so he can convert the property to a profitable parking lot. He asks Green Lantern, "You expect me to pass [up] a fat profit 'cause a lot of worthless old geeks are gonna get rained on?" The question is rhetorical, and if we focus on his use of the word "worthless" we can see that Slade is more than just an uncaring businessman, he's a misanthropist. The story is entitled "No Evil Shall Escape My Sight!" (comic books are all about exclamation points), and O'Neil's scenario connects Slade with the title's "evil"; he is the remorseless villain. And an actual criminal ― he tries to have Green Lantern's pal Green Arrow assassinated. I'm sure you visual pun lovers would enjoy the story's final scene in which Green Lantern, who can make the green beam that emanates from his power ring take any shape he wants, transports Slade to prison pinned in a giant rat trap.

We've previously noted the presence of dark undercurrents in Shakespeare's comedies ― Duke Solinus's death sentence for Egeon at the beginning of Comedy of Errors, Egeus's demand that Hermia either marry Demetrius or be put to death in Midsummer Night's Dream, Shylock's determination to kill Antonio if his bond is not paid in Merchant of Venice, Don John's parthenogenic villainy in Much Ado About Nothing. Derek's claim ― that the villainy in As You Like It achieves the level of evil, that this evil outweighs the villainy of Shakespeare's other comedies, and that in threatening the power of goodness and virtue, evil carries the play closer to tragedy than we expect comedy to go ― relies on a fairly severe assessment of Duke Frederick and Orlando's brother, Oliver. This assessment is not as simple as it might sound. Ernst has suggested that one of the great qualities of Shakespeare is that he has endowed his characters, no matter how small, with clear motivation. And motivation, especially if it relies on a connection to some moral or legal foundation, to my mind, is the enemy of evil.

Solinus must obey the law, which forbids that Syracusians caught in Ephesus, die. What's more the law has a twin in Syracuse. What's more Solinus clearly feels conflicted about the law. His decision, then, to condemn Egeon is not evil, although it is misguided.

Egeus also has the law ("the ancient privilege of Athens") to rely on and one might argue he has no intention of having Hermia put to death, that rather he expects his appeal to Theseus will result in Hermia's obedience. What's more to Egeus, it is Hermia's disobedience that is the transgression. As Thesus explains to Hermia, "to you, your father should be as a god," and gods must be obeyed.

Shylock also has the law (do we detect a theme here), his bond, and it takes some pretty semantic slight of hand by Portia to free Antonio of its stipulation. Shylock cannot be evil unless we see him as deliberately undermining the legal system in order to kill Antonio, and while that may have been the way one saw him in the 17th century when his Vice characteristics would have highlighted his villainy, it's hard to look past Shylock's explanations for the fatal consequence of forfeiture ― that he and his people are spit upon by the likes of Antonio and that those who make the laws do not see jews as people ("if you prick us…") or respect their traditions (i.e. lending). There is righteousness as well as cleverness in his revenge (the kind of thing Europeans have celebrated in folk tales for centuries, I might add).

Setting aside, for the time being, Don John, we come to As You Like It. In the three previous examples, none of the "evil-doers" thinks he is doing evil. But in Duke Frederick and Oliver, as Derek suggests, we find both the logic and the evasiveness of villainy. One might argue that Oliver is a lot like Egeus. Despite his brutish treatment of Orlando, he has the law, of primogeniture, on his side. His father's will works against Oliver's behavior somewhat, but he is the inheritor of the estate and has near absolute power over it. But Oliver goes outside the law's power and plots to have Orlando killed. To do so, he lies to Charles the wrestler, claiming that Orlando is "a secret and villainous contriver against me, his natural brother," a calumny more true of Oliver than Orlando. What's more, Oliver knows what he is doing is morally wrong:

"I hope I shall see an en end of [Orlando], for my soul ― yet I know not why ― hates nothing more than he. Yet he's gentle, never schooled and yet learned, full of noble device, of all sorts enchantingly beloved, and indeed so much in the heart of the world, and especially of my own people, who best know him, that I am altogether misprized" (1.1.161-168).

This recognition of Orlando's qualities is extraordinary and, coupled with Oliver's confusion about his hate's source, indicates the older brother's awareness of his own turpitude. Neither Shylock, nor Solinus, nor Egeus ever claim to not understand why he wanted something that might result in the death of another.

Duke Frederick, as we often find in Shakespeare, echoes Oliver's experience. He also has a brother he hates and has found a way to drive him out. He does not, though, have the law on his side; he is a usurper, so he's already off the moral path. After the wrestling match, when he explains his animosity toward Orlando, his rationalization directly parallels Oliver's about Orlando: "The world esteemed thy father honorable,/ But I did find him still my enemy" (1.2.220-221). Evil, here, is that which willfully does wrong against the innocent, even in the face of general recognition of the victim's virtue. To fully compare As You Like It to Comedy of Errors, Midsummer, and Merchant, we might also look at the virtue of Egeon, Hermia, and Antonio, but I suspect that none of them are as spotless as Orlando and Duke Senior.

So I think Derek is right, that As You Like It opposes its heroes and heroines with something closer to evil than most of Shakespeare's previous comedies. I would argue that Two Gentlemen of Verona, specifically Proteus's machinations against Valentine and Julia, approaches the level of evil we find here. And then there's Don John, who for me is not a three-dimensional character as the others we've discussed are. Instead he's more of a stock character, malcontent or vice or what have you, and I guess I would ask if that qualifies his evil, which is every bit as repugnant as that we see in Duke Frederick and Oliver. Don John would be at home in a Green Lantern comic book.

I'm not sure what Harold Bloom means by "suffers," and specifically I'm confused by his application of the term to Rosalind (although I haven't read the article which Derek quotes). Is her expulsion from the court her burden? I'd agree that it doesn't seem that evil, but again, it's not what one does but what one is, that invokes the evil. Oliver's suggestion that it is his soul that hates Orlando is provocative. But it suggests that evil comes from deep within and is subject to no external law.

What accounts, if anything, for this difference in seriousness of Shakespeare's comedies? What has happened to the concerns about law? As we move on, does this growing presence of evil in non-tragic story suggest an evolving way of looking at comedy, at the world? Does any one know Lodge's "Rosalynde" and what it makes of these characters?

Not looking for any trouble,

Monday, July 13, 2009

As You Like It - Performance Log (July 2009)

As You Like It
The Strange Capers
directed by Randy Reyes
Boom Island, Minneapolis
July 12, 2009

At dinner on Sunday, Maren, my 10-year-old, asks me, "What was your favorite part of the play, dad?" It takes me five minutes to come up with an answer.

Is it when Orlando (Max Polski) and Charles the wrestler (Josh Fazeli) face off in their death match, slap hands together, then simultaneously chant "1-2-3-4, I declare a thumb war!" (which is, I notice, pentameter if not iambic)? Or when Orlando subsequently defeats Charles by tickling him until he passes out?

Is it when, at the end of Act I and the last scene in Duke Frederick's court which as been staged in a sweltering, concrete clearing lacking comfortable seating, the entire audience is asked to get up and walk a hundred yards to a grassy, shaded clearing (the Forest of Arden) for the remainder in the play?

Is it when Celia (Christian Bardin), groping for an alias, stumbles over the name she chooses, pronouncing it "alien … uh," and then it becomes a running gag and that's what she gets called for the rest of the play?

Is it that 19 characters are played by nine actors, providing us with a variety of interesting, often cross-dressed parallels and juxtapositions? Audrey, for example, played by the same actor who played Charles, in a skimpy dress and a ridiculous set of blond braids and a little girl voice belying his six-foot, 200 pound frame. Or Duke Frederick and Duke Senior, played by the same woman (Sigrid Sutter), one dressed all in black, the other all in white.

Or is it the playful rendering of the play's songs, as the upbeat ones Amiens (Julie Kurtz) sings, accompanying herself on the ukulele?

It's hard to pick out a stand-out moment, and in a way it's hard to put one's finger on the moment when this production of As You Like It really comes together. In The Rake, a local magazine, Kate Iverson asked director Randy Reyes what one might expect from his production. "First of all," he said, "it won't be a 'puffy pants' production. I've never understood companies that do outdoor theater in heavy costumes." And so there are no puffy pants in the show. Instead there are funny hats ― sombreros, fedoras, baseball caps on backwards ― and one character wearing a funny nose and glasses. I think this is a good metaphor for the production; everyone's trying on something humorous and playful, and some of it fits and some of it doesn't. Why, for example, does Corin seem so devoted to Bocce?

What works best for me are a few images that emerged naturally from the setting. It is this particular theatrical space itself ― the park ― that Reyes' production celebrates and from which it gets its energy. In the court, for example, the audience sits on either side of the square. The actors perform between us moving back and forth on the grid-like concrete (or should I say grid-dle) in straight lines. Moving to the "Forest," the audience arranges itself in a wide semi-circle and the actors tend to move in circular patterns, sometimes running in circles around the entire periphery of the clearing. This spatial delineation of court and pastoral setting, I thought, was very moving. And I would add to that the simple experience of sitting under a tree on the grass watching this celebration of rural life with the tall reminders of city life in the form of downtown Minneapolis starkly visible across the Mississippi River.

Reyes is clearly thinking about the differences between the two settings. In addition to audience location and character costuming (the court dress is dark and formal; the forest is white and/or casual), he calls attention to the difference by beginning and ending the play with very different dances. This As You Like It opens with a very structured dance, the actors moving back and forth and diagonally together in a block, taking stiff off-kilter mannequin-like poses. They freeze as Orlando begins his opening complaint. In the forest at the end, the actors form a line and sing the final verse of Hymen's "wedding song," but in as informal a style as possible, appending a sort of Hawaiian chorus to it. Why the wikki wacki stuff? I don't know. But it was light and frothy, a clear contrast to our impression of court life.

All the playfulness, even in the court where Charles and Orlando's fight (which ostensibly is supposed to end with Orlando's being maimed) becomes silly, tends to run roughshod over the play's darker themes. That seems fine with The Strange Capers. This production is comedy through and through, and one leaves with the impression there'll be no returning to the dreary and depressing court. Duke Frederick's repentance and conversion is edited out. Rosalind and Orlando are dressed in white and dancing in the park.

And I think, in the end, my favorite part of The Strange Capers' performance is its existence itself, that there are now, with Cromulent and Chameleon Theatre Circle, three free summer Shakespeare-in-the-park companies in the Twin Cities area. As long as The Strange Capers is devoted to finding entertaining ways to put Shakespeare on, something memorable will always emerge.

For Maren, it was the ukulele.

Logged by Randall

Photo: Emily Shain as Rosalind and Max Polski as Orlando in The Strange Capers's As You Like It. Photo from rehearsal by Amanda Hanson.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

As You Like It - Arden

Gilbert writes:

Dear Denizens of the Deep,

Back to the realm, literally, of Comedy and to The Plot: a young man meets and desires a young woman, but obstacles to their union arise, until these are resolved and a new society is formed, most often by marriage, or at least a new harmony as symbolized by a dance. The obstacles, from Menander onward, are most often a parental generation blocking the union, but it may be law, family enmity (Romeo and Juliet is such a comedy until Capulet takes a wrong turn in Act III), or perhaps the need for the young man to prove himself worthy. In As You Like It, it is the young woman more than the young man who is in pursuit, and the obstacles are placed by both a repressive society and the necessity of the young man to pass a test (which he does not know he is taking). The resolution seems to be brought about by place, the Forest of Arden, as catalyst.

The structure of As You Like It is similar to A Midsummer Night's Dream. The play starts at a court ruled over by a repressive autocrat. The usurper Duke Frederick is more villainous than Theseus, but both impose edicts that drive the young couple into exile, into the forest, under threat of death. As You Like It doubles the threat; Oliver de Boys has reduced his youngest brother, Orlando, to uneducated servitude. Among the entertainments at Duke Frederick's court is gladiatorial sport in which the house wrassler is charged with maiming or killing all comers, specifically Orlando, who, somehow beats him, and therefore must flee for his life. So into the woods we go, the Forest of Arden.

I first saw this referred to as "the green world" in Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism, though perhaps this term was already a commonplace. The Forest provides freedom, respite, space so the obstacles of the court society can be resolved. In Midsummer Night's Dream the forest is supranatural, conjured by magic, whereas Arden is pastoral, imbued with the innocence attributed to Nature. Here Duke Senior is free to discover his inner self, apart from the social and political strictures of court, playing like the old Robin Hood of England; Rosalind, disguised in breeches, can display her assertive imagination; naïve Orlando can practice expressing love. The pastoral is an artificial literary convention, shepherds and shepherdesses but no beshitten sheep nor wolves, so it is essentially innocent and charming. However, Shakespeare does not send the exiles into a hermetically sealed otherworld. Duke Senior introduces Arden with a conventional:

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The season's difference, as the icy fang
And churlish slicing of the winter's wind,
Which when it bites and blows upon my body
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say,
"This is no flattery: these are counselors
That feelingly persuade me what I am."
Sweet are the uses of adversity, (II.i.1-12);

that is, Arden is not court ("painted pomp"), and yet it is not prelapsarian Eden. Senior praises the winter wind because, somehow, it underscores his mortality. This is less the pastoral convention of Theocritus as anticipation of the Romanticism of Wordsworth, where the tongues of trees, the books of running brooks, and the sermons of stones teach essential good. Senior goes too far, into "green" sentimentality, when he considers harvesting some deer, and "yet it irks me the poor dappled fools,/ Being native burghers of this desert city, / Should in their own confines with forked heads/ Have their round haunches gor'd." I find it pretty difficult to assign idealism to someone salivating for venison burgers [sic]. But the ancient servant Adam (interesting name especially after the reference to Eden's old Adam) provides the key to the play as he and Orlando prepare to escape the court: "O, what a world is this, when what is comely/ Envenoms him that bears it!" (II.iii.14-15).

Soon Rosalind and Celia and Orlando and Adam will encounter the true denizens of Arden, not Oberon, Titania, and Puck, not Peaseblossom, Mustardseed or Moth, but the array of shepherds, from Corin ("I am a true laborer"), Sylvius, and the sweetly innocent William, to the anti-Rosalind Phoebe and the randy Audrey, and it is interesting that in this supposedly transformative world, only the court jester Touchstone is actually affected by interactions with them, and then it is more stones than trees and brooks that move him (sorry―strike that).

Thus, Arden is merely Not-Court rather than a green world, and when all the matches are made―Rosalind and Orlando, Celia and a miraculously repentant Oliver, Touchstone and Audrey (betimes finding an official blessing for their coupling), Phoebe and Silvius―and after Duke Frederick, though viciously determined to hunt down the merry folk in Arden, encounters some "old religious man" in a cave and is inexplicably converted to Saint Francis-like serenity, then we find that Duke Senior and Orlando and all the Merry folk except Jaques put venison and campfire songs behind them and repopulate the court with all deliberate haste.


PS: Time permitting (and if anyone is interested) I will review a survey of 400 years of production to see if the Forest of Arden has been set the way A Midsummer Night's Dream was, real trees and live rabbits. Or one of us might consider Rosalind in disguise, a boy actor cast as a woman disguised as a man pretending to be a woman so a man could practice courting her; or what happens if Maggie Smith is bitten in the face by her dog?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

As You Like It - Marlowe's Shadow

Randall writes:

Quiet friends,

Jonathan Bate tells us, in The Genius of Shakespeare, that Christopher Marlowe "is the only contemporary whom Shakespeare overtly alludes to rather than subliminally absorbs" (104). That overt allusion comes in As You Like It, Act 3, scene 5, when Phoebe, smitten by Rosalind dressed as Ganymede, says in an aside: "Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might:/ Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?" (86-87). (My Folger edition puts quotes around the second line, but they're not in the first Folio.)

The quote, be it Phoebe's or Marlowe's, comes from Marlowe's poem "Hero and Leander," in which Leander sees and falls instantly in love with Hero, a virginal devotee of the goddess Venus, and she, seeing his inspired ardor, falls instantly in love with him. I think this puts Phoebe in some pretty serious company, yet I never feel compelled in As You Like It to take Phoebe's love seriously. Does Shakespeare mock, as it seemed like he was having a bit of fun with John Lyly in Love's Labor's Lost? Let's look closer. In Marlowe, the protagonists' love springs from their sight ― Leander's of Hero,

There Hero sacrificing turtles' blood,
Veiled to the ground, veiling her eyelids close,
And modestly they opened as she rose;
Thence flew love's arrow with the golden head,
And thus Leander was enamored, (158-162)

and Hero's of Leander,

Stone still he stood, and evermore he gazed,
Till with the fire that from his countenance blazed,
Relenting Hero's gentle heart was strook. (163-165)

Phoebe, on the other hand, is dismantling the power of sight in her opening speech to Silvius:

Thou tell'st me there is murder in mine eye.
'Tis pretty, sure, and very probable
That eyes, that are the frail'st and softest things,
Who shut their coward gates on atomies,
Should be called tyrants, butchers, murderers.
Now I do frown on thee with all my heart,
And if mine eyes can wound, now let them kill thee.
… But now mine eyes,
Which I have darted at thee, hurt thee not;
Nor I am sure there is no force in eyes
That can do hurt. (3.5.11-17, 25-28)

If our Shakespeare, who has run a few rings around Petrarch and tweaked disingenuously complimentary poets with "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun," is not poking some fun here, I'll turn in my Historical Critic badge and decoder ring. What to make then of the subsequent irony, when Phoebe sees Ganymede (Rosalind), falls in love with her, and in her aside to the audience, suggests that Marlowe (dead shepherd) was right after all?

Well, first of all Ganymede is no Leander; in fact, he's Rosalind. So the audience is separated from the seriousness of worshipful, willing-to-die-for-it, Petrarchan love by the dramatic irony. We don't pity Phoebe; we laugh at her. Beneath this is a second, subtler irony. In Marlowe's poem Leander leaps into the Hellespont to swim over to Hero, only to be trapped by Neptune who thinks he is Ganymede, a beautiful boy abducted by Jove who has fallen in love with him. I don't believe in coincidences in literature, so it's provocative that Rosalind has chosen Ganymede as a pseudonym: "I'll have no worse a name than Jove's own page,/ And therefore look you call me Ganymede" (1.3.131-132). Clearly, Ganymede ― the idealized, most beautiful of men ― accounts for Rosalind's beauty in the guise of a boy. But is he not also a symbol of homoerotic love? So when we get to all the "And I for no woman" stuff, we find a wicked double entendre; Phoebe's out of luck both ways ― she won't get Rosalind (a woman) and she won't get Ganymede (he likes boys).

In Phoebe's line, Shakespeare's explicit reference to Marlowe may be homage, but that doesn't mean he's not inclined to play a jaunty tune on the "saw of might."