Cutting Shakespeare

August 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm (Asides, Live Performances) (, , , , , )

The Washington Post ran an article yesterday that I found fascinating: Editing Shakespeare? You need guts to make the kindest cuts of all. The subtitle is: Subtle art of reshaping makes Bard’s plays more audience-friendly.

In a Bard-happy town like Washington, the subtle art of cutting Shakespeare is on near-constant display. The craft requires nerve, stage savvy and scholarship. And time.

“Dozens and dozens of hours,” says Muse, a former STC associate artistic director who now runs the Studio Theatre. The job can involve rearranging scenes, prioritizing story lines, combining multiple minor figures into a single character, changing line assignments and wrangling with the magnificent but sometimes elusive language.

I love seeing the plays, but as my blog project here of “reading Shakespeare” implies, I like reading them and mulling them over even more. Still, it’s fascinating for me to think about the intricacies of staging these plays for modern audiences.

I really enjoyed seeing the British TV series Playing Shakespeare and watching the Royal Shakespeare Company director John Barton and the wonderful actors discussing and playing with the texts as they made them come alive. The complexities and nuances of performance amaze me.

So, it is fascinating for me to consider how much must be cut. I had not really thought about it before, but here it is, bluntly (from the Post article):

For Cam Magee, a dramaturge who has cut 24 of the 37 plays, a running time of 2 1 / 2 hours has been a typical goal at the Washington Shakespeare Company.

“You’re losing an hour to an hour and a half of material,” says Magee, whose cuts also have been seen at the Folger Theatre.

Wow. That’s a huge chunk that they have to cut. I just had never considered that reality. I guess I realized they did it, but hadn’t thought about how much they really have to cut to keep the performances a reasonable length.

And not just the length, but the impenetrability of a lot of the wordplay/puns/references. I know this from reading the plays. Some of it, you just must yada, yada through, as I was tempted back when I discussed Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. From the Post article, again:

Then there are punch lines that slayed ’em 400 years ago but can be impenetrable now. “It can take half an hour to figure out one joke,” Muse says. Kahn mentions a long comic exchange in “All’s Well That Ends Well” between the Countess of Rousillon and the clown Lavatch that frequently sounds alien to modern ears. The gags are bogged down by topical references and ancient words. “If you can’t follow at all why something’s funny, then I’m going to cut it,” Posner says, “because I’m not interested in the theory of why it’s funny.”

Right? This makes total sense from a practical standpoint and I love how bluntly it’s stated. “I’m not interested in the theory of why it’s funny.”

The article goes on about cutting for storytelling clarity and adaptations that make them work and fresh for audiences. I realize these are all issues for modern productions.

I keep thinking, though, about, “I’m not interested in the theory of why it’s funny.” Because I really do get that. And yet, I find myself thinking about wanting to yada, yada through Mercutio and being ready to give up on Love’s Labour’s Lost as soon as I began. Yikes, it was difficult.

Yet I found that sticking with it, and giving it more time was worthwhile for me in both cases. I really enjoyed the puns, and found the seeming impenetrability dissipate with some work.

Work. I guess that’s why I’m reading them and not just seeing them in performance. It is not reasonable (maybe not really possible) to ask an audience to work at understanding what’s happening or being said. I get that, too. The play in performance is a fleeting thing. It brings clarity to the words, in some cases (the facial expressions, staging choices that can clarify meaning), but in other cases, the words can simply get in the way of the flow on the stage. From the Post:

And all, in their various ways, pledge ultimate fidelity to the Bard. They refer to folios and quartos, and sometimes have half a dozen published editions open during rehearsals to consult.

Yet they have to cut. They have to cut a lot. I get that. So, I will keep reading the plays (and going to see them and watching the videos). But I find reading them brings a different depth of enjoyment.

© All Content, Copyright 2011 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

 Bookmark and Share

Permalink Leave a Comment

Remuneration

August 5, 2011 at 9:17 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , )

remuneration (plural remunerations)

  1. something given in exchange for goods or services rendered
  2. a payment for work done; wages, salary, emolument
  3. a recompense for a loss; compensation

Source: Wiktionary

Words, words, words, and more words! Love’s Labour’s Lost is filled with word play… words for the sake of words. Once you get used to the silliness and utter farce of this play, the wordiness becomes enjoyable. To be honest, I have trouble explaining this to myself.

The play was nearly unreadable for me the first time around, and watching the BBC TV version was trying (the first time). But a year has passed since my first foray into this play, and on second reading (and multiple viewings of the BBC show and the other videos)… I find the wordiness no longer bothers me at all. In fact, I like it. It all felt so pedantic and annoying and snooty to me the first time around, but no longer. I cannot explain.

I can make some recommendations, though, so that you don’t repeat my mistakes. I highly recommend beginning with the Globe Theatre production of the play. Start here (maybe end here!), then read it. Then, watch the Kenneth Branagh musical. Then, if you feel like it, try the BBC version. I have to admit that even subsequent viewings of the BBC version sent me into an almost immediate coma-like sleep. It takes me a while to get through, but I like it now. (I cannot explain.)

I have not seen a live performance of this yet, but I think clearly, this is a play that is better savored in performance than as literature. There is no doubt that the physical comedy, really slapstick silliness, and the comic timing of the lines, the facial expressions… you really need this in order to enjoy the play. It is hard to read.

So, I stuck with this play, and there’s my remuneration… a big pay off in laughs. And words! One of the episodes of the British TV series Playing Shakespeare that I watched last fall (where Royal Shakespeare Company actors and the director John Barton show how they work with a text to put it on the stage) describes the Elizabethan love affair with language. The elasticity of the language, the beauty of words… Shakespeare was a product of the culture that loved wordplay and punning: they loved words! His plays were popular with the mass audiences because these people “got” the wordplay. They loved it!

An example of this in the Playing Shakespeare series was a bit from Love’s Labour’s Lost where Costard (the “rustic clown”… in other words, the lowbrow foil to all the highfalutin characters in this play) plays with the word “remuneration.”

Don Armado asks Costard to deliver a love letter to Jaquenetta and flips him a coin in payment, calling it a remuneration. Costard is disappointed at Armado’s cheapness and wraps this up with the meaning of the word remuneration. Then, Berowne asks Costard to deliver a love letter to Rosaline and flips him a coin, calling it a guerdon (a reward… pretty much a synonym for remuneration), and Costard goes off on the difference between “remuneration” and “guerdon.” It is wordplay extraordinaire! Again, realizing that this is better seen in performance than reading it (Costard’s tone of voice, facial expressions, etc. make a huge difference), I hope the fun here shines through.

I will let Shakespeare speak:

ADRIANO DE ARMADO
I give thee thy liberty, set thee from durance; and,
in lieu thereof, impose on thee nothing but this:
bear this significant
Giving a letter

to the country maid Jaquenetta:
there is remuneration; for the best ward of mine
honour is rewarding my dependents. Moth, follow.
Exit

MOTH
Like the sequel, I. Signior Costard, adieu.

COSTARD
My sweet ounce of man’s flesh! my incony Jew!
Exit MOTH

Now will I look to his remuneration. Remuneration!
O, that’s the Latin word for three farthings: three
farthings–remuneration.–‘What’s the price of this
inkle?’–‘One penny.’–‘No, I’ll give you a
remuneration:’ why, it carries it. Remuneration!
why, it is a fairer name than French crown. I will
never buy and sell out of this word.
Enter BIRON

BIRON
O, my good knave Costard! exceedingly well met.

COSTARD
Pray you, sir, how much carnation ribbon may a man
buy for a remuneration?

BIRON
What is a remuneration?

COSTARD
Marry, sir, halfpenny farthing.

BIRON
Why, then, three-farthing worth of silk.

COSTARD
I thank your worship: God be wi’ you!

BIRON
Stay, slave; I must employ thee:
As thou wilt win my favour, good my knave,
Do one thing for me that I shall entreat.

COSTARD
When would you have it done, sir?

BIRON
This afternoon.

COSTARD
Well, I will do it, sir: fare you well.

BIRON
Thou knowest not what it is.

COSTARD
I shall know, sir, when I have done it.

BIRON
Why, villain, thou must know first.

COSTARD
I will come to your worship to-morrow morning.

BIRON
It must be done this afternoon.
Hark, slave, it is but this:
The princess comes to hunt here in the park,
And in her train there is a gentle lady;
When tongues speak sweetly, then they name her name,
And Rosaline they call her: ask for her;
And to her white hand see thou do commend
This seal’d-up counsel. There’s thy guerdon; go.
Giving him a shilling

COSTARD
Gardon, O sweet gardon! better than remuneration,
a’leven-pence farthing better: most sweet gardon! I
will do it sir, in print. Gardon! Remuneration!
Exit

III.1.888-935

Anyway. I find Costard a really fun character. He mashes up and mixes up words like Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, but then he shows his wordy finesse here and when he uses the longest word in the Shakespearean canon: honorificabilitudinitatibus (the state of being able to achieve honors). Ha ha!

I know I am not alone in liking Costard. I was watching (semi-dozing) the new Winnie the Pooh movie and guess what I heard? I think it must be Owl that says: Remuneration! And then another character (as I say, I wasn’t watching too closely and was taken a bit by surprise by it coming up) echos Berowne and says “What is a remuneration?”

Made my day.

© All Content, Copyright 2011 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

Bookmark and Share

Permalink Leave a Comment

Playing Shakespeare

October 4, 2010 at 2:41 pm (Asides, Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays, The Merchant of Venice) (, , , , , , , , )

I’ve had to take a little hiatus from my Shakespeare project, but I intend to return to my discussion of Love’s Labour’s Lost when I can. In the meantime, I have recently been enjoying a 1984 British TV series called Playing Shakespeare featuring founding director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, John Barton, and an array of RSC actors including Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, Ben Kingsley, and Judi Dench. 

I studied English literature in college, so even though I knew intellectually that Shakespeare did not intend his plays to be read as literature, it’s how I naturally approach his work. Watching the plays is a profoundly different experience for me than reading them. I like both ways of enjoying a play, but have always felt I understand more when I read/analyze/mull them over as literature. The experience of watching a play is so fleeting. You have to be so completely present in the moment and it is more of a challenge for me personally to feel like I “get it.”

So, it is with great interest that I approach this TV series where a great Shakespearean director discusses the challenges and nuances of bringing Shakespeare’s text to life for modern audiences. The actors discuss their viewpoints on various issues and then demonstrate scenes using rehearsal props. It is amazing. It is such a different viewpoint and I am really mesmerized by it.

I have only watched three of the 9 episodes so far. The first episode examines the need to marry the Elizabethan acting tradition to the modern acting tradition, acknowledging everything in between. The second episode focuses on Shakespeare’s use of blank verse as a means of helping the actors learn their lines and present them correctly. This was an amazing episode to me, as I had never thought about this purpose for the verse, but the actors were all in agreement that the verse helps them immensely when they go with it and let the rhythms lead the way.

The third episode on language and character focuses on different ways of portraying Shylock and it blew me away even more than the other episodes I’ve seen. Here, actors Patrick Stewart and David Suchet, who both portrayed Shylock in RSC productions under John Barton’s direction, demonstrate their takes on various scenes from The Merchant of Venice. They are so completely different, yet Barton points out that both work with the text and that every actor brings his or her own personality and proclivities to each role. Amazing to watch.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. John Barton is absolutely amazing to listen to. He obviously has lived and breathed these plays for many years. The remaining episodes include Set Speeches and Soliloquy, Irony and Ambiguity, Passion and Coolness, Rehearsing the Text, Exploring a Character, and Poetry and Hidden Poetry. The series is available on Netflix and I highly recommend it!

© All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

Bookmark and Share

Permalink 7 Comments