Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shakespeare's portrait, Shakespeare's thoughts

Oh boy, a new pic of my boy Bill! Count me among the skeptics (maybe it's a painting of the Earl of Essex?). Time Out's Helen Shaw has some smart thoughts on the subject.

Anyhow, it dovetails with my most recent reading material: Shakespeare: The Thinker, AD Nuttall's 2007 study. It's fairly accessible, despite being aimed at scholars & dramaturgs rather than audiences, directors, & actors. Nuttall was an Oxford don: erudite, dry even in when witty, fascinated by how Shak uses language for its own sake, and fond of terms for poetic devices. But he avoids academic jargon, & while he's very smart, he's also welcoming.

Nuttall's gist is that Shak's began his dramaturgic journey by exploring the conflict betw. male camaraderie & hetero love.* Soliloquies in Richard 3 and Richard 2 see the protags internalize the fraternal bond to reflect on themselves. So Shak's revolutionary development is when Richard 2 asks for a mirror, which provides a concrete device & onstage metaphor for the doubled self.

However, Nuttall gives short shrift to Shak's women. Billy-boy established his dramatic rep with forceful femmes: Jeanne la Pucelle & Margaret in the Henry 6 plays, Kate in Shrew, Tamara in Titus, & esp. Juliet are the most vital original characters of his early career.** Nuttall could plausibly argue that the crossdressing of Breech Roles (Rosaline, Viola et al) create a dramaturgic mirror for female self-reflection, but he fails to do so.

Still, he pays close attention to the fraternal bond, a theme I'm fond of. Since Freud, it's been hard to read that theme as anything but homoerotic (& that's frequently justified in Shak's work). But male camaraderie can exist apart from sexuality, & Nuttall makes that a key to Shak's dramaturgy: the conflict in a man's movement from fraternal to romantic love.

This shift, I now see, is essential to The Winter's Tale. In the first half, Leontes becomes doubly jealous of his wife's bond with his comrade. In the second half, the rage of the King of Bohemia stems, at least partly, from being replaced by his son's beloved. And Nuttall's mirror is there too: Leontes notes that the young couple resemble his wife & his (former) friend.*** I wish Mendes & co. had played with these relationships, as well as delivering Beale & Hawke's perfs, which were great in themselves but stood out from the rest of the pretty good production.

* Nuttall actually digs how the fraternal bond withstands the attempt of one gentleman of Verona to rape his buddy's girlfriend!

** Richard Crookback & Aaron the Moor are Marlovian, not Shakespearean chars. Nuttall's focus is the playwright's sheer originality, so in this sense that pair is secondary: Bill could synthesize damned well, but it's his innovations we're focusing on. And I'm just plain ignoring Henry 6 & Mercutio.

*** “I lost a couple, that ’twixt heaven and earth | Might thus have stood begetting wonder as | You, gracious couple, do.” (5.1.164-6)

No comments: