As You Like It, 2015

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My first experience with As You Like It was in college at Denison University, freshman year, 1996.  We read the play, discussed it, watched the BBC version from the 1970s with Helen Mirren…and that was it.  It didn’t leave an indelible mark on me the way other Shakespeare plays did (except for two lines that have always remained with me: “Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love,” and the excellent insult, “Sell while you can: you are not for all markets.”).  I was exposed to Measure for Measure at the same time, and that one became a quick favorite that I would read several times in the ensuing decades and see performed in a variety of productions.  Somehow the hijinks in the Forest of Arden didn’t touch me in the same way.

wpid-20150719_204940.jpgA year or so later the Denison Singers performed a setting of Shakespeare’s songs by a Welsh composer whose name escapes me, but the work included “Under the Greenwood Tree” and “It was a Lover and his Lass” from AYLI.  These stuck.  I’ve been singing them in my head periodically ever since, and, in fact, I attempted to keep a Shakespeare blog called “Under the Greenwood Tree” once upon a time.  In any case, despite loving these two songs, I never returned to Arden myself until a few months ago when I learned it would be one of the plays we’d be studying here.

Before I actually reread the play, I read a few essays from Harold Bloom’s very large Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. They weren’t even about AYLI, but in everything I read he found an excuse to talk about Hamlet, Falstaff and Rosalind (AYLI’s heroine) again and again, and in the most unlikely of places (The Bastard in King John, for example, is an early sketch of a character that approaches the complexity of a Hamlet, a Falstaff, or a Rosalind…).  I knew that Rosalind was one of Shakespeare’s major female roles, but I certainly didn’t remember her as being so well-developed and complex.

The production here at the Globe, then, was a revelation.  The plot is still the plot, and it is (endearingly) bizarre, but the staging and the acting made the show uproariously funny — and everyone in our programme agreed.  The scenery, as is the custom here at the Globe, was minimal.  Shakespeare gives the audience the scenery with his words, and unless you can do better than he does, you’re better not to try.  The result is that there is very little stuff to get in the actors’ way, and the emptiness of the huge stage gives them the freedom to play.  And they do!  Touchstone, the cynical clown, had some moments of great physical slapstick that was complimented by his quick tongue.  Our scene director, Pieter Lawman, pointed out that Touchstone is a difficult role to play because much of what he says isn’t very funny on the surface of it.  Finding his humor is a real challenge, but Daniel Crossley spit out his words with a venom and speed accompanied by apt gesticulation: we were in stitches!

Dear Globe and photographer Simon Kane: Please don't sue me for using this photo of the amazingly talented and wonderful Michelle Terry from your excellent playbill.

Dear Globe and photographer Simon Kane: Please don’t sue me for using this photo of the amazingly talented and wonderful Michelle Terry from your excellent playbill.

As for Rosalind, all I can say is that I’m now a lifelong fan of Michelle Terry and I will go to see her in anything she does for the rest of her career.  It was magical.  In her first scene we see her banter with Celia (Ellie Piercy, equally excellent, but whose character plays the straight-man, somewhat, to Rosalind’s unbound trickster).  She’s girlish — and churlish — and then, as her uncle, Celia’s father, banishes her from the land she is so utterly and convincingly strong and independent.  If you were to take Terry’s Rosalind to a karaoke bar, she could sing “I am Woman (Hear Me Roar)” and follow it up immediately with a flirtatious rendition of “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” and the combination would not have seemed ironic.  She was powerful and playful, and, of course, this depiction is not contrived, it’s exactly how Shakespeare wrote her to be.  But somehow I missed it in the reading.

I don’t know how many more times this production of AYLI will be performed, but I don’t think it’s very many as the season is wrapping up on September 5th.  But if you read this in time, and if you are able, you must (MUST!) see it!

(And if you can’t make it….well, mayhaps you can come see me take my turn as Rosalind on the Globe stage on July 24th.  Michelle Terry needs some competition.  Just sayin’…)

 

 

 

Justice & Mercy

Well, we’re a week into Teaching Shakespeare Through Performance and all I can say is, “Wow!”

(Actually, that’s not true — I’ve got a bit more to say…)

I didn’t realize how much I needed this experience.  I’m definitely not burnt out after twelve years of teaching, but I have gotten set in my ways.  I’d change texts from one semester to the next, true, but not always tactics.  When I consider all the things I’ve learned in this week, how much more engaging my lessons will be in September, I feel guilty: I could have been doing such a better job for years now.  I let myself stop growing as a teacher.

But, as Richard II so callously says in the two-and-a-half lines he takes to eulogize his uncle, John of Gaunt, immediately after hearing of his death, “So much for that.”  Not that I mean to be callous, but where will bemoaning my faults get us?  Nowhere.  Let’s move on.

I’ll get into the details of the programme and what I’ve learned, but the first thing I want to do is write about the plays we’ve seen.  At this point, we’ve attended all of the Globe-produced plays that we’re going to experience (still have Richard III tomorrow, but it’s a Chinese touring company — should be amazing, but it isn’t a part of the Globe’s repertoire this season).

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These are the Globe programs. They’re so thorough; excellent teaching resources. British theatres don’t provide programs for free the way American ones do — they cost four pounds — but they’re far more substantial in terms of information. If your brain is still playing over the performance long after the final bow, these will help you as you continue to think about it all. I highly recommend them.

The current offerings are united thematically by the concepts of justice and mercy.  They include:

  • A duke who has allowed the laws to become lax, so he leaves town and empowers a regent who decides it’s high time the laws be enforced as written, even if it means executing anyone caught having sex outside of wedlock.
  • A king, divinely appointed, who has used his land and people as his personal bank account, living extravagantly on the country’s dime until he is called out and punished for it — and learns the true value of his life.
  • A princess banished for the supposed sins of her father, who finds the power in banishment to arrange people, events and outcomes as she likes them to be.

I’ve got quite a bit to say about each one, but I’ll take them one at a time (along with the additional performances I’ve been privileged to see here: The Death of King Arthur, The Beaux Stratagem, and, hopefully, Everyman).  

Let’s get started!