Stratford, 8/9 July 2011
Some additional insights gained from a second look at three of the RSC’s current productions.
The Merchant of Venice
The stunning opening Elvis number was great fun, its impact undiminished on a repeat view.
But at the other end of the production, the puzzling finale gained in clarity a second time around.
A conscious search for the meaning of Portia’s mad dance focused attention on a brief series of gestures that unlocked the mystery of the closing sequence.
Portia sat between the Antonio and Bassanio and glanced down as their hands clasped across her lap. She wrinkled her nose in disgust as she realised the true nature of their relationship.
The fact that it took two views to see this properly points to a problem with the production. Other audience members have found the ending of this Merchant confusing. This appears to have been a widespread problem.
The screenplay origins of the production could be to blame. Rupert Goold originally intended to make a film version of the Merchant set in Las Vegas, but ended up presenting this intriguing take on the story in the theatre.
The detail of the denouement could have been easily portrayed on film through close-up. But things work differently on stage and adapting this idea for the theatre proved problematic. On a thrust, with many looking sideways on, the crucial moment would have been difficult to see from all parts of the auditorium.
The need for significant staging elements to be immediately obvious and clearly visible throughout the theatre is something that should be considered by future RST productions.
Gregory Doran’s re-imagining of the Shakespeare/Fletcher “lost” play was well worth seeing again.
Regardless of the debate surrounding the play’s provenance, it worked extremely well in the theatre.
The Saturday 9 July matinee was recorded for V&A theatre archive. Three cameras occupied the back of the centre stalls to capture the action.
I managed to resist the temptation to send Greg Doran a postcard purporting to come from Lewis Theobald in reply to Greg’s open letter to the dramatist at the end of the published text of this production.
No additional clarity resulted from another exposure to this production’s quirky decision to have Ross as a priestly choric figure, prompting Malcolm’s opening and closing speeches, commenting on events, with all this amid what looked like a Reformation setting.
Untroubled by futile attempts at working out the rationale behind the cutting and rearrangement of the text to accommodate the revamped Ross, it was possible to appreciate the pressure and tension in the staging. This made Jonathan Slinger’s Macbeth more prominent.
There were gasps from the audience when Macduff’s children were murdered, which demonstrated the power of the story and its ability to affect profoundly first-time viewers of the play.
The shock of seeing the child witches hanging in mid-air lost no force the second time around. This simple yet most arresting image had a high degree of traction.
For some reason, possibly the result of ruminating on this production’s avenging ghost army, Macduff’s line about his wife and children’s ghosts haunting him stood out particularly. And of course at this point his family were actually trailing behind him, making his conjecture literally true.
London transfers of productions designed specifically for the new RST will not be able to replicate fully the precise stagings of the originals. Consequently it makes more sense to get a second glimpse of these productions in Stratford instead of waiting for a London performance that compromises on the directorial vision.
A deeper question is why two of the current productions require second views to appreciate them fully. A repeat look should be a luxury and not a necessity.
The search for innovation, for “original” stagings of classic plays, risks going beyond the audience’s capacity to register what has been done.
Cardenio, Swan Theatre Stratford, 14 May 2011
Greg Doran’s re-imagined production of Cardenio had the boldness to treat the play with the lack of reverence that is routinely dished out to the rest of the canon.
Instead of pickling the play in some imagined historical authenticity, he toyed with it and had the nerve to follow up original ideas offered by the process of re-imagining.
The result was a production that felt beautifully alive rather than carefully curated.
The play text was published by Nick Hern Books near the start of the run, enabling anyone interested to study at their leisure the precise changes and additions to Double Falsehood.
The key to Greg Doran’s thinking about reconstituting Cardenio is suggested on p.6 of the introduction to the play. He describes a 2007 visit to Spain where he met Antonio Álamo: a writer, director and “Cervantes nut”. Doran became aware of how much Theobald had removed from the original, its “psychological complexities and rigour”, leading him to the conclusion that “We would need to replace Cardenio’s ‘cojones’!”
Several drafts of the text were produced as the result of further discussions in Spain, as well as work with the cast of the RSC’s 2008 Hamlet. An RSC residency in Michigan where the text was workshopped by Hispanic-American actors provided further input.
Having identified the need to replace missing scenes, Doran decided to source lines from “only those Jacobean plays in which John Fletcher had drawn on Cervantes”.
There was also a considerable amount of rearrangement and rewriting of established scenes which made some radical alterations to the trajectory of the story, thereby altering the nature of some of its principal characters.
The set consisted of metal railings across the back of the Swan’s thrust stage. A central gateway with a large lock provided access to an area behind, used to represent the interior of some locations.
At the start of the performance a coffin with its lid at one side stood centre stage and two tall candle sticks behind provided solemn lighting. The sound of chanting came from behind the railings.
Fernando, played by Factory Theatre founder Alex Hassell, entered via the stage left walkway and gingerly approached the coffin. Checking the coast was clear, he climbed inside the coffin and lay down with his hands folded in front of his chest like a corpse. He quickly arose and snuck out when he heard the sound of jangling keys.
This prologue immediately brought Fernando to our attention and prefigured his abduction of Luscinda at the nunnery.
Pedro entered along with his father, the Duke, who was comparing different crucifix ornaments that were to be placed on what was now obviously his coffin. This provided a visual context for his remark that “Making my death familiar to my tongue digs not my grave one jot before the date.”
In the final speech of the scene (1.1) where the Duke asked Pedro to get Cardenio to spy on Fernando, the text was altered slightly so that the Duke said that he had already sent for Cardenio to come to court, rather than instructing Pedro to make arrangements. This fitted better with the fact that Don Camillo was about to receive a letter from the Duke himself and not his son.
Scene 1.2 was entirely rearranged. Don Camillo’s part, which opens this scene in Double Falsehood, was shunted off to 1.3. What remained was the latter part of the argument between Cardenio and Luscinda interrupted by the appearance of her father Don Bernardo. A specific location was provided for the action: the town of Almodovar in Andalucía.
Luscinda entered in a hurry, pursued a short distance behind by a pleading Cardenio. She walked off the stage right walkway and circled back to reappear on the stage right side entrance still with her lover in tow. Her frustration was caused by her unhappiness at Cardenio’s delay in telling his father of his marriage plans.
A Duenna was in attendance on Luscinda upstage left who kept a beady eye on this meeting between the sexes.
But Luscinda seemed quite capable of holding her own. She deployed a rolling-eyed sarcasm at Cardenio’s protestations. He tried to impress her with some florid praise including such stuff as “a face would make a frozen hermit leap from his cell”, but she just goggled at him and mouthed “What?!?”
A line spoken by Cardenio about his love in soliloquy in Theobald’s play was reworked and spoken directly to Luscinda. He began “I do not see that fervour in thee now…” and slowly sneaked closer to Luscinda, keeping one eye on the momentarily inattentive Duenna. But when he got to the words “While mine… burns with one constant heat” and was close enough to Luscinda for her to feel his constant heat, the Duenna looked up and with a few sharp taps of her stick sent Cardenio reeling back.
Don Bernardo stormed in and, after angrily complaining of Cardenio’s delays, chased him away. The poor lad tried to heap more praise on his “virtuous Luscinda” as he left but was shooed off. He came back for a final “Once more adieu…” before once again being chased off by Don Bernardo.
It was already possible at this early stage to see a stark contrast between the daring of Fernando displayed in the prologue and the timidity of Cardenio towards Luscinda, her Duenna and her father.
As Don Bernardo put his trust in “That power, which rules in these conjunction” he, Luscinda and the Duenna crossed themselves.
Don Camillo appeared with a letter at the start of 1.3, a sequence transposed from the start of Double Falsehood’s 1.2. He showed the Duke’s letter to Cardenio and informed him that he had been summoned to court. Some inserted lines determined that Duke Ricardo was “a grandee of Spain, his Dukedom is the best part of all Andalucía.”
Cardenio then sought out Luscinda to explain his sudden summons. She appeared behind the grill and was anxious that her lover’s departure would divert his interest away from her. Her sarcastic imitation of him saying “So please you, Father, I have chosen this mistress of my own” was quite cutting.
Cardenio reassured her that he would return “with swiftest wing of time”. The reference to Fernando plying Cardenio’s suit during his absence was cut, but deployed later.
The first proper appearance of Fernando began comically (1.4). He crept onto the stage closely followed by a band and splashed himself with some perfume. He strutted up and down as if practising his address to the balcony, represented by the upper stage left gallery.
In the mood
He ordered the band to strike up. A loud, brash sound was produced. He admonished them to “but touch the strings with a religious softness”. They tried again, but only slightly more temperate than before. Fernando then gave them a long, poetically framed instruction to make “sound to languish thro’ the night’s dull ear” etc. after which something approaching romantic mood music came forth.
Fernando stamped impetuously in his ardour for Dorotea who soon appeared at the balcony. Unlike in Double Falsehood, Fernando completed his line with “watches the starless night” himself, without the ending being supplied in sarcastic mode by his love.
Fernando became almost comically anxious in the face of Dorotea’s rebuttal and eventually climbed up to just below the balcony only to be told that what he sung was “most absonant and harsh”. She sniffed the air and detecting the strong whiff of something unpleasant, told Fernando that his pungent perfume “cheers not my sense”.
She went back inside leaving her lover to tell us, via some interposed lines, that he would gain admittance to Dorotea by bribing her maid.
Up to this point Fernando had been portrayed as wilful, splenetic, but mostly harmless. Only those familiar with the story could really detect at this stage a hint of the badness underlying his determination to gain access to Dorotea at any cost.
Scene 1.5 was wholly invented. Its overall purpose was to dramatise the growing bond between Cardenio and Fernando so that subsequent developments in their relationship would occur within an established context. All this guaranteed that we would feel the story, not just comprehend it.
Cardenio was now at the Duke’s court. Pedro told him that people were beginning to remark on the Duke’s favours towards him. As if to underline this point, two others passed by them before standing around and pointing at Cardenio. Pedro reminded his friend of the Duke’s request that he should find out what Fernando was up to.
Fernando arrived fresh from riding and carrying a saddle. He raved in his exuberant manner about the joy of breaking in horses. From Fernando, this was a barely concealed metaphor for womanising and particularly the conquering of virgins such as Dorotea.
Fernando praised Cardenio’s horsemanship to his brother. Once Pedro had gone, Fernando, who now had removed his shirt and placed the saddle on a bench, asked his friend to talk about his love Luscinda.
Cardenio explained how they had been childhood sweethearts, but her father had banned him from seeing her. They had continued to pursue a feverish romance through the exchange of love letters.
Fernando hugged and kissed Cardenio declaring that the “familiarity” he had for him had now turned “to love” and he required Cardenio’s advice on his affairs of the heart. Sat astride the saddle on the bench and accompanied by rocking movements, Fernando explained his love for Dorotea and how he intended to “conquer her integrity”. He made explicit the fact that Dorotea was a farmer’s daughter and her family was wealthy, as indicated in the Cardenio text list of characters.
But when Cardenio advised Fernando to be cautious and seek his father, the Duke’s, approval first, the fiery young man got angry. He pushed the saddle from the bench onto the ground. The ensuing argument had them talking over each other so that Fernando’s “A mare must first receive you on her back” was spoken simultaneously as Cardenio’s key phrase “Love for the most part is not love but lust”.
The closing couplet of lines spoken by the two at the end of the scene were spoken separately so that we could clearly distinguish between Cardenio’s reminder that maids are not toys and Fernando’s disputing that “love” had any meaning.
The scene of Dorotea’s ravishment (1.6) was also an invention of this production. A fiesta broke onto the downstage area to cover the installation of Dorotea’s chamber. A grill with a crucifix on top and paintings of relatives below was flown in to represent the back of her chamber. Chairs and other items were brought in to furnish the miniature set. The sound of a fiesta could be heard in the distance.
After her maid departed, she sat for a moment in silence. Fernando appeared from behind the back of the chamber and smiled disarmingly. He creeped up behind Dorotea and placed his hands over her eyes. She realised who it was and addressed him by name.
This looked quite harmless until the point that Fernando, pleading of the pain engendered by his love for her, pushed her in her chair so that it was almost tipped completely backwards. He pinned her arms to her sides, causing her to refer being “between a lion’s paws”. He then pushed the chair onto its back so that he was on top of her. But Dorotea managed to escape, reminding him that she was his “vassal, not your slave”.
Fernando persisted, saying “I give thee here my hand to be but thine” as he offered her a ring. At times he picked Dorotea up from the floor and held her aloft. He also offered to swear by the statue of Our Lady close by in the room. She again resisted, at which point Fernando threatened to turn violent, and taking a leaf out of Tarquin’s book, reminded her that no one would believe he had gained access to her without her consent.
Dorotea relented, calling in her maid to witness the handfasting ceremony and her acceptance of Fernando’s ring.
The sequence was completed as the world of the fiesta literally exploded onto the stage. Fireworks ignited and the set was plunged into darkness, as the couple kissed. Large mannequin figures circled the stage, crude depictions of a man and woman with enlarged genitalia were paraded round.
Fernando entered as these figures departed for the post-rape scene (2.1). He questioned “Ha! Is it come to this?” and suddenly a devil figure danced past him. He stared at it stuttering “Oh, the Devil, the Devil, the Devil!” before laughing and continuing with his soliloquy of self doubt. At times he slapped himself in the face.
“Was it rape then?” he queried. A woman in the audience laughed. Fernando located the origin of the laugh and approached the front of the stage to stare at her before delivering his one-word “No” as a riposte.
In a crucial piece of rewriting, Fernando claimed that Dorotea did consent to his advances, unlike in Double Falsehood where he admits that she did not. But in the final analysis, Fernando’s opinion about her consent did not change the significance of the rest of his description of her resistance and possible future recourse to action against him.
This scene also removed the choric figures of Fabian and Lopez in Double Falsehood, to provide yet more substance to Fernando’s close bond of friendship with Cardenio.
Speaking of an unspecific malaise, Fernando quoted back at Cardenio his maxim that “Love for the most part is not love but lust”. They reaffirmed their mutual friendship and embraced. Fernando told Cardenio that they were to travel to Almodovar, which offered his friend the tantalising prospect of seeing Luscinda again.
Dorotea entered alone, dressed in red, for the start of 2.2. She examined the ring on her finger when speaking of her dilemma and the difficulty of pleading her lack of consent to Fernando’s actions.
Gerardo brought in the letter from Fernando. Having read it and realising that she had been abandoned, Dorotea began her wailing with a newly written line “O, O, bitten and flung away!” simultaneously throwing the letter to the ground. She picked it up again soon after.
Her farewells and adieus ended with a mournful “Sorrow be my guide”.
Love at first sight
Another partially invented scene (2.3) set in Almodovar saw Cardenio and Fernando arrive outside Luscinda’s house just as she returned from church with her family. She dropped a book which Fernando recovered, giving him an opportunity to see her up close.
Fernando half giggled in excitement at seeing how beautiful she was. This seemed to prompt his next suggestion. When Cardenio explained his difficulty with Luscinda’s father, Fernando said he would speak to him on Cardenio’s behalf. He ordered Cardenio back to court.
Cardenio spoke to Luscinda through the grill, while Fernando addressed the audience to speak of this “Fair Luscinda”. He faced in her direction and prostrated himself on the ground declaring that she “reigns confessed the tyrant queen of my revolted heart”.
After Fernando exited, the scene closed with an exchange between Luscinda and Cardenio adapted from scene 1.2 of Double Falsehood. Cardenio explained that Fernando would act on his behalf and Luscinda wondered if there was any “instance of a friend turned false?” Her final cry of “My father” referred to her being called back inside the house and not, as in Double Falsehood, to her father’s imminent arrival.
The Duke sat inside the gate in a dark room for a very brief scene at court (2.4). It borrowed some of Pedro’s lines from Double Falsehood 1.1 referring to Fernando’s “letters of a modern date” requesting gold to buy horses and how he had sent Cardenio back to court.
As Pedro solemnly wondered “into what dangers are you coursing now?” Fernando appeared on the main body of the stage, as if in Pedro’s imagination
Scene 2.5 was basically scene 2.3 of Double Falsehood minus the first nine lines. Fernando remained onstage from 2.4. He stood outside Luscinda’s house and her father brought her out to meet him. She looked unhappy at what was being arranged and rolled her eyes in disbelief at Fernando’s love rhetoric, but her father countered her objections with bluster and sarcasm, partly directed at Cardenio’s lack of resolve.
Don Bernardo became very angry and shouted at his daughter to marry Fernando. This railing was so loud that it attracted members of the household staff to appear upstage to witness the confrontation. Luscinda wept and Fernando tried to calm Don Bernando down.
Luscinda reminded her father of his own wilfulness in marrying her mother. After Luscinda and Fernando had left him alone, Don Bernardo admitted she was right, to much audience amusement.
Cardenio’s father, Don Camillo, entered and broached the subject of his son’s marriage to his daughter, stressing his own personal wealth. He produced a physical document when referring to the marriage contract. But he became angry on discovering that he had been left out of the discussions.
He tried to get inside the house to see Luscinda. Don Bernardo held him back and eventually distracted his attention before rushing back behind the grill, swiftly locking it. The frustrated Don Camillo struck at the grill with his sword.
Scene 2.6 was the same as Double Falsehood 2.4. Luscinda appeared in spotlight at the grill stage right. She caught the attention of the passing Citizen and gave him a letter and a purse as a reward. The stage went dark and then was immediately relit to show the Citizen having handed the letter to Cardenio at the start of 3.1.
The Citizen’s lines were altered so that he described Luscinda as “Beblubbered all with tears” and Cardenio’s outrage at Fernando’s perfidy in pursuing Luscinda in his absence included references to horses and goats not in Double Falsehood.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the anguished tone of the scene, the audience found humour in Cardenio’s description of the story as being unbelievable if presented as fiction. The Citizen’s offer of his mule as transport and his wish it were like Pegasus likewise provoked titters from the auditorium.
Luscinda appeared in her wedding dress for 3.2 and became hysterical when talking of Cardenio’s presumed “plotted purpose” in not responding to her letter. Right from the start she showed the dagger she had hidden in her dress and remarked ominously how “life shall empty itself in death”.
Cardenio entered disguised under a hood, at which point Luscinda hid her dagger. After their joyous reunion the sound of the wedding music obliged Cardenio to hide “behind yon arras”: this was staged by Cardenio standing just offstage on the stage right walkway, which by theatre convention rendered him invisible. Just before Cardenio hid, Luscinda showed him the dagger and explained that she was armed.
An exchange was added in which Fernando asked Don Bernardo whether Luscinda was ready to be married. The intended couple argued, with Luscinda pointing out that Fernando would be marrying Cardenio’s love, wedding her body but not her heart.
When Cardenio caught sight of Fernando he drew his sword as if preparing to strike him, but remained hidden just offstage.
Don Bernardo dragged Luscinda in front of the Priest, who had lines to initiate the marriage ceremony. When questioned about her willingness to marry Fernando she did not answer. Cardenio willed her to maintain her silence, but with one “Yea” she finally submitted.
But the trauma of the moment caused her to faint and fall directly on top of Fernando. The following commotion saw the entire wedding party depart, leaving Cardenio alone for a newly-written soliloquy.
He bewailed the falsity of both Fernando and Luscinda for giving in to him. Some of Cardenio’s lines from Double Falsehood spoken in anger to Fernando after the interrupted wedding were used: some were spoken at the offstage Fernando and others were self-consciously quoted as things he should have said to him before.
He castigated his own cowardice in not intervening to save Luscinda. Indeed, his dramatic “Mine is the elder claim” entry is one of the dramatic highlights of the Double Falsehood version of the story. Cardenio’s weakness was again demonstrated by his failure to act.
His speech contained a clever phrase “And I a coward…” which sounded almost identical to fellow irresolute Hamlet’s “Am I a coward?” A subtle link was thereby created between the two characters.
Luscinda was carried into the garden of Don Bernardo’s house for a new scene 3.3, which contained a version of the final moments of Double Falsehood’s 3.2. Fernando found the letter indicating Luscinda’s prior betrothal and her intention to use her dagger.
Unlike in Double Falsehood, Fernando’s reaction to this was to fly into a temper, exclaiming “What, flout me?” and then run at Luscinda trying to stab her with her own dagger. He was restrained by Don Bernardo and his attendants and screamed “Dogs!” at them.
Crucially, the line in Double Falsehood given to Fernando “But tend her as you would the world’s best treasure” was transferred here to Don Bernardo.
Scene 3.4 was Double Falsehood’s 3.3. Pedro came across Don Camillo outside his house. Understandably, the father of Cardenio was angry at Pedro on basis of his close relation to Fernando.
Dorotea observed the pair from just offstage upstage left without referring to her loitering servant. She recognised Pedro, and not Don Camillo as in Double Falsehood, which corrected for her more likely familiarity with the Duke’s family.
The Citizen brought news that Cardenio had “left the city raging mad” and referred to the “cursed marriage”.
Don Bernardo appeared at the grill in spotlight. He was distraught and repentant for “forcing women where they hate”. He was given two extra lines “Oh, I could eat my heart and fling away my soul for anguish”.
An additional exchange between him and Don Camillo told us that Don Bernardo had not cried as much in thirty years.
Don Camillo and Don Bernardo almost came to blows, but were separated by Pedro. The three left in order to seek their relatives.
Dorotea came forward. She had been able to deduce from these conversations that Fernando was still available and, once more glancing at the ring Fernando had given her, she vowed to follow after him.
The lines in Double Falsehood spoken with her servant were cut, so that she told us herself that her father was offering a reward to anyone that brought her back home.
The interval came after her exit here. During this time the set was dressed with a general scattering of straw and two straw bales. The metal grill was stowed away to create a feeling of openness.
At the start of 4.1 the shepherds appeared along with Dorotea dressed as a boy, singing a love song in Spanish. Talking of Cardenio, one of the shepherds mentioned finding the carcass of dead mule, which was obviously the one lent to Cardenio by the Citizen.
Florio was mentioned by name rather than simply being referred to as ‘boy’. This would then be consistent with her subsequent appearance under that name.
Cardenio appeared in the stage right gallery looking bedraggled and sunburnt. In a new line, one of the shepherds referred to his face as “toasted by the sun”. The young man the entered the main stage and ran around talking nonsense. This was commented on by the 2nd Shepherd in another new line “I think his skull’s as empty as a sucked egg”, which got a laugh from the audience.
Dorotea and Cardenio sat on the ground downstage and after discussing her song he realised that she was a woman. Seeking to avenge the wrongs she had suffered, Cardenio hit the 2nd Shepherd in the face mistaking him for Fernando.
A tug of war ensued with Cardenio holding the 2nd Shepherd in a horizontal position firmly by the nose, and the other shepherds pulling in the opposite direction on his lower body.
This ended with Cardenio tweaking the 2nd Shepherd’s already injured nose before running off. This tug of war staging was a full realisation of the description of Cardenio as dragging a bullock backward by the tail.
The other shepherds left, with some new lines having them resolve to find Cardenio and take him to Almodovar “but eight leagues hence” in order to have him cured of his condition.
The Master had overheard Cardenio mention that the “boy” was a woman and had fixed his gaze on Dorotea for the entire time after that. Now he began his lascivious pursuit of her. He placed his hand on her breast, declaring “’Tis certainly a woman” and soon had his trousers round his ankles.
This leant a double meaning to Dorotea’s “You’re strangely out”. She wanted to convince him that he was incorrect (out) about her being female, but at the same time “out” referred to his near naked self-exposure.
Pedro arrived in the nick of time to allow Dorotea to escape the Master’s clutches. The disappointed and detumescent leader of the shepherds was understandably curt in his replies to Pedro.
Pedro mentioned Luscinda by name when quoting from Fernando’s letters, which had instructed him to meet his brother at this spot. Fernando duly arrived and fell prostrate on the ground before his brother.
Unlike in Double Falsehood, Fernando had already devised a plan to rescue Luscinda and merely outlined the scheme to Pedro rather than working it out with him. His attendants entered with monks’ habits and tall, pointy hoods.
Fernando explained that they were going to pretend to be transporting a body to a funeral. His explanation of the convenient plot device of the vacant hearse passing by, was played self-consciously for laughs, which the audience obligingly supplied. To make it a past event, Fernando said “we hired” the hearse rather than Double Falsehood’s forward-looking “We’ll hire”.
This was another instance in which Fernando’s comic side was emphasised, making him a more likeable figure.
Scene 4.2 saw the shepherds catch up with Cardenio as they had earlier vowed, thereby replacing the ‘two gentlemen’ of the same scene in Double Falsehood. Cardenio had to be restrained as he almost jumped into the front row of the stalls crying “O Luscinda!”
Music was heard and Dorotea appeared at the top of the stage left gallery singing “Fond echo”. She descended to the middle level for the next section of her song beginning “Go, tell him…”
Cardenio and the shepherds hid offstage right as Dorotea entered at ground level onto the main stage. The 2nd Shepherd recognised her, and named her as Florio, once more reinforcing her assumed identity.
Still obsessed with Fernando, she gazed again at the ring he had given her saying “I cannot get this false man’s memory out of my mind”. She sat centre stage continuing her lament at being “Forsaken Dorotea” but drew a dagger when saying that her only prospect of comfort would be “a quiet grave”.
Seeing this, Cardenio rushed forward and disarmed her before engaging her in conversation. Each learnt of the other’s true identity.
This production invented a scene to show the abduction of Luscinda from the nunnery (4.3).
A procession of white-clad nuns passed across from the stage right walkway to the gateway in the centre of the newly repositioned grill. The main group passed through inside leaving one outside. She turned round revealing herself to be Luscinda.
She read a harshly-worded letter from Cardenio and despaired at losing his affection. Wondering if heaven, hope and justice were deaf to her pleas, she discarded her rosary beads.
She tried to convince herself that she had resisted Fernando until the last possible moment and that Cardenio therefore had no reason to be so harsh. But she also conceded that despite her rebuffs, she must have done something to encourage Fernando and so accepted her present condition as penance.
A bell tolled, prompting her to ask the Novice what it was announcing. She was told of the procession with the hearse and, from the vague description of the dead man inside the coffin, got the idea that he was Cardenio.
The coffin was brought in by the pretend monks. The sight of what she assumed to be Cardenio’s coffin caused her to pick up her beads again and pray to “blessed Mary”.
Fernando burst out of the coffin and grabbed Luscinda. He stuffed her still screaming down into the coffin and closed the lid firmly. The others came and carried out the coffin.
For the start of act five the coffin was carried back onto the stage, now representing somewhere outside the nunnery. The coffin was opened and Luscinda screamed in shock as she was released.
She asked where she was, and Pedro’s redundant reassurance that she was “Not in the nunnery” made the audience laugh. Luscinda was withering in her attack on Pedro for helping his brother.
Pedro called on Fernando to answer her accusations, and his brother duly prostrated himself on the ground. But his florid excuses about being spurred on by Luscinda’s “sacred beams” did not impress her. She castigated “this well-dissembled passion”. In a change to Double Falsehood, she specifically asked Fernando where Cardenio was. This meant that Pedro would later recognise the name when mentioned by Dorotea.
As Pedro escorted Luscinda away, Dorotea entered and explained her situation, also mentioning Cardenio by name. Pedro asked Dorotea to lead him to Cardenio.
The final scene (5.2) saw the fathers gather on stage at the inn, which was indicated by some tavern furnishings at the rear of the set. Don Bernardo was still mourning “like April” as we saw earlier.
Luscinda and Fernando were brought in by Pedro. Luscinda was greeted warmly by her father, while Fernando, seeing both his father and Cardenio’s, turned to face the audience to voice his anguish. Don Camillo, still separated from Cardenio, remained vocally unhappy.
Surprisingly, the Duke’s “The voice of parents is the voice of gods” speech was greeted with hoots of derision from some in the audience. It was not possible to determine if they were children protesting at this assertion of parental authority, or disaffected parents mocking its absurd optimism about the scope of that power.
This speech by the Duke was partly directed at Fernando, whom he rounded on when referring to the “wanton freight of youth”.
Don Camillo picked up on this accusative mood to praise Luscinda and imply that Don Bernardo “that snuff” was not her real father.
Prompted by the Duke spotting ‘Florio’ offstage, Pedro turned to Fernando to mention his page. Fernando responded with characteristic volatility to the accompanying accusations of stealing and then abandoning the page.
Dorotea entered still disguised as Florio. Her answers to the Duke’s questions prompted more furious denials from Fernando. Don Camillo’s outrage at Fernando was also comically excessive.
Pedro produced the letter that the page was supposed to have delivered and read from it. Fernando instantly recognised it as the one he had sent to Dorotea. He pleaded for forgiveness from his father, the Duke, but still denied knowing the page. Dorotea exited to fetch Cardenio at Pedro’s instructions.
Pedro announced the entry of Cardenio. The line by which Cardenio confronted Fernando in Double Falsehood “Now, sir, whose practice breaks?” was transferred here to Pedro. Dorotea did not re-enter with Cardenio.
Fernando’s response “Another rascal!” (which occurs before the “whose practice” line in Double Falsehood) was followed by an apparent reconciliation. Fernando knelt before Cardenio and then rose but instead of embracing his former friend he attacked him. After a brief scuffle, Cardenio threw Fernando to the ground at the back of the tavern.
Don Camillo had still not recognised his son because of his dishevelled condition. But on being told who he was, they embraced. Luscinda wept and was very emotional to see Cardenio again and they approached each other.
At this point Fernando returned downstage and snatched an attendant’s sword from its scabbard, grabbed Luscinda from Cardenio and held her close to him, fending off the others at sword point.
Dorotea, now with her hair down and recognisably a woman, ran onstage and stood before Fernando.
She spoke a long speech, pleading to Fernando as “Disasterous Dorotea, thy wife” and referring to her “matchless affections”. She offered to be his slave if he would not take her for what she was.
Fernando was moved. Dorotea invoked the various witnesses to the their union, including his owns words and “thine own hand” which was demonstrated by yet another display of the ring he had given her.
Fernando wept and spoke some of the lines from his reconciliation in Double Falsehood, kissing her repeatedly “thus, thus, thus and thus” (an extra kiss).
Don Camillo got an appropriate laugh with his line “Here’s a new change!”
Luscinda’s lines about what happens when “lovers swear true faith” were transferred to Don Bernardo.
Having been released by Fernando, Luscinda finally got to embrace Cardenio. The Duke enjoined Fernando to ask Cardenio forgiveness. Without taking his eyes off Luscinda, Cardenio responded “He has it, sir”.
The Duke’s reference to Dorotea’s father and the boar hunt were cut so that his elevation of her status was solely down to her own virtue. This boosted the significance of her character.
The couples went to the offstage ends of the side walkways with Cardenio and Luscinda stage right and Fernando and Dorotea stage left. The significant look from Fernando to Cardenio in the text stage directions was not acted.
The performance ended with a Globe-style jig.
Fernando’s sexual incontinence was made the comic heart of this production. His relations with Luscinda and Dorotea were the mainspring of its action. Cardenio, who no longer intervened at Luscinda’s forced wedding, was reduced to the sidelines. His problems were resolved partly by his brother and partly by Dorotea’s last-minute intervention to rescue Luscinda from Fernando’s clutches.
Compared with the Mokitagrit production of Double Falsehood, which staged quite a brutal violation of its Violante/Dorotea, this Cardenio was surprising for the way that it softened the edges of the crime. This might be thought to be consistent with restoring the play to performance conditions in the Jacobean era.
Whatever might be said about the merits of the production as an accurate re-imagining of Shakespeare’s ‘lost’ play, in performance this Cardenio was a thoroughly entertaining piece of theatre.
If audiences can be wowed by adaptations of Shakespeare/Fletcher collaborations as long as they are flagged with sufficient prominence as ‘Shakespeare’, then it offers the possibility of significantly expanding audience tastes, enabling them to appreciate other early modern plays.
Must have seemed like a good idea at the time. They needed to sell tickets for an obscure play few people have heard of. Royal Wedding weekend was coming up. Eureka! Let’s celebrate the union of Wills ‘n’ Kate by offering cut price tickets to the play!
And the theatrical work in question, Cardenio, contains a wedding scene. How appropriate!
Oops! The wedding in Cardenio is forced: the unhappily matched bride goes into the play’s pivotal scene equipped with a knife planning to kill herself. Her true love turns up and starts a fight with the cad her father is trying to marry her off to, at which point she faints before getting a chance to commit suicide.
All in all, a slightly incongruous piece of theatre to market in celebration of a royal wedding. Unless, that is, they know something we don’t…
Double Falsehood, Union Theatre Southwark, 5 February 2011
Mokitagrit’s Double Falsehood was advertised not just as a piece of theatre, but also as an historic event and an educational opportunity. We were invited by the production posters to “Discover a forgotten Shakespeare” in the “first professional revival since 1792”. The director’s note in the free programme engaged us to debate the play’s authenticity once we had seen “the play as published by Arden”.
All this was done in the name of wresting the piece from the clutches of the academics and giving the theatregoing public a chance to draw their own conclusions.
However, the programme made no mention of the fact that Double Falsehood was by his own admission Lewis Theobald’s adaptation of the various allegedly Shakespearean manuscripts he claimed to possess.
We were informed that the play had been “pilloried since the impresario Lewis Theobald presented it as a lost Shakespeare in 1727”, as if he had come across the manuscript, blown the dust off and then had it performed by a company of actors.
It would have been relatively simple, given the total word count of the programme, to have summarised the play’s history and the current state of debate as to its significance. Or the programme could at least have summarised the position of the editor of the text the production intended to present.
How can we engage in a debate about the authenticity of the play without an informed account of its provenance?
What does Brean Hammond, the editor of the Arden Shakespeare edition of Double Falsehood, actually say about the play in his introduction?
Taking account of various forms of evidence, he states that “… Double Falsehood is a palimpsest that contains elements dating back to c. 1611-12, elements dating to the mid-1660s, and elements first introduced in the mid-to-late 1720s.”
He restates this idea later in his introduction: “… the play is a radical adaptation of a Shakespeare-Fletcher collaboration probably already subjected to a layer of adaptive revision in the Restoration period.”
Brean Hammond also largely endorses and quotes the opinion of G. Harold Metz who wrote: “In essence, Double Falsehood is mainly Theobald, or Theobald and an earlier adapter, with a substantial admixture of Fletcher and a modicum of Shakespeare.”
This makes it difficult to justify the bold assertion made in the first eight words of the programme that we were about to see “Double Falsehood by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher”.
The other problematic claim is that the performance was an unembellished presentation of the play as published.
The director did admit to some changes including the gender switch of a secondary character and the location of the action near a monastery. But we were assured: “I’ve made no significant cuts or changes. This really is the play as published.”
But an account of some key elements of the performance should underline why this production was very much a unique interpretation, adding yet another layer of adaptation to those the play had already undergone.
Having seen the Union Theatre’s previous ‘premiere’ production of Double Falsehood by KDC back in September 2010, I was in a position to assess the impact of changing the gender of Leonora’s father Don Bernardo to her mother Donna Benita.
It worked very well. The male Don Bernardo was widowed and had taken to fussing over his daughter and becoming very emotional about her prospects in marriage. This meant that his words could be transposed almost seamlessly to a female character and work convincingly. This was particularly true later in the play when the character is criticised by the older male characters for crying too much.
However, if the play as written featured a fussing, tearful man taking on something of a motherly role, then the reassignment of the role to a woman normalised that behaviour rather than showing it in its original context.
But this was nothing compared with the main change to the play.
Fresh from dispatching Julio, his rival in love for Leonora, on an errand to court, the wayward brother Henriquez set about pursuing another woman called Violante. There are references to her lowly social origins throughout the play. This status was indicated here by making her a maid attending on Leonora. This was a valid and intelligent way of bringing out an aspect of her character and also explaining how she might have come to Henriquez’s attention.
The text of the play shows Henriquez courting Violante at her window. Having failed to impress her, she exits back into her room and Henriquez bewails his fate, bringing the first act to a close. At the beginning of the second act, he is observed by two other characters in a disturbed state mulling over the unseen rape he has perpetrated on Violante. In the following scene, Violante sits alone and describes the shame she feels at her violated condition. Her maid brings her a letter sent by Henriquez by way of a brush-off.
As expected, the production showed us the courting. Violante was quite sarcastic towards Henriquez when disputing the sincerity of his advances. His various entreaties did not succeed in winning her over and she exited to the side of the stage. Henriquez then whistled a signal to his servant who forcibly threw Violante back on stage. Henriquez then struck her in the face causing her to fall to the ground.
Henriquez soliloquy of demission then became a cruel verbal assault on Violante as he straddled her prone body, undid his trousers and engaged in a non-consensual sexual act right there in front of us. A couple of angry thrusts accompanied by some bitter words and he was done. The self-loathing of the original speech was transformed into a misogynistic diatribe.
Violante lay turned away from the audience as the action of the play moved immediately into Henriquez words in act two, but the observing characters Fabian and Lopez were cut so that it became a soliloquy.
Spitting on her body and getting his servant to supply some cash which he contemptuously threw at her in ‘payment’, he sat and discussed the morality of his actions with his victim lying motionless behind him.
Henriquez, instead of calmly assessing the situation at some remove, was plotting his shift in attention back to Julio’s lover Leonora and showing his lack of concern for Violante within her earshot.
After Henriquez exited, Violante recovered from her ordeal and, still sitting on the ground where she had been assaulted, discussed her shame with tear-stained eyes. A letter was dropped on her by Henriquez’s man informing her that she was now surplus to requirements.
Staging the rape in this manner changed nature of play, changed the nature of both characters and shifted the centre of the story so that it became Violante’s. The whole Julio/Leonora plot then took second place, whereas in the previous KDC production it was at the centre.
It also meant that when the Violante later encountered the priapic Master of the Flocks, we had the truly sickening experience of seeing the beginnings of another potential rape. The same situation arose with a man trying to overpower her. In the play as written, this unsuccessful ravishment is the first actual sexual aggression that we see. However, in this production it became an uncomfortable reminder of a brutal act we had already witnessed.
Although there is some leeway in interpreting how actions should be fitted to words, there can be no doubt that any Jacobean, Restoration or Georgian production would not have had a character appearing to pleasure himself on the public stage, as the Master of the Flocks did here when unable to control his desire for the girl.
Violante’s position at the centre of the story was then compounded at the conclusion of the play. The action came to a conclusion when Julio and Leonora, the couple that Henriquez tried to split, were reunited and Henriquez and Violante were reconciled. Various plot strands were tied up with Henriquez being persuaded and/or embarrassed into doing the honourable thing. A double wedding was in the offing.
But the director added a small scene without dialogue in which Henriquez unclasped his hand from Violante’s and scowled discontentedly at her. This clearly implied that the reconciliation as indicated in the text was a false one, making the ending of the play an unhappy one.
Despite protestations about not making significant changes, the final outcome of the play was effectively rewritten.
This kind of reworking happens in the theatre all the time. The National Theatre’s recent production of All’s Well That Ends Well undercut the happy ending enjoyed by Helena and Bertram by having the newlywed couple stare at each other in shock and disbelief at what they had one. But it is not acceptable in a production that claims to be putting forward the play as printed.
The interval came when Julio revealed himself at the wedding of Leonora and Henriquez. He pulled back his monk’s hood and the lights went down as he cried “Mine is the elder claim”. The second half began with a repeat of this line, continuing with the action. This seemed to be an idea borrowed from the David Tennant Hamlet where the interval was placed at the moment Hamlet was apparently poised to kill Claudius at prayer.
In the text as published, Roderick and Henriquez decide to gain access to the convent where Leonora is staying by pretending to transport a body to a funeral. Henriquez remarks that a cortege with a coffin has just passed by so they can hire the coffin from them. In performance, this lucky coincidence seems like an all too convenient plot device and can raise a chuckle.
In this production, the coffin was onstage throughout the performance up to that moment and the pair just pointed to it as if it had prompted the idea. This tidied up the story and made it more credible. But the comedy of the convenient plot device is part of the character of the original story and this staging removed it.
There was also one minor rearrangement of the text that produced a notable result. In the final scene of the play when order is being restored, the Duke has a long speech about parental authority that begins “The voice of parents is the voice of gods”. Coming at the dramatic conclusion of the play, it forms a stodgy moralistic piece of sermonising.
This production relocated it to just before Henriquez’s wooing of Violante. Removed from its context, the speech was rendered powerless and inconsequential. Rearranging the text to deemphasise unfashionable sentiments cannot be part of any production claiming fidelity to the original.
Taking all this into account, the production staged at the Union Theatre was therefore the director’s rearrangement of Brean Hammond’s edition of Lewis Theobald’s adaptation of a possible Restoration adaptation of a play co-written by Shakespeare and Fletcher.
Add to this the uncertainty as to Shakespeare’s precise contribution to the original, which was potentially only “a modicum”, and we are far, far away from discovering “a forgotten Shakespeare”.
On the plus side
Looked at on its own merits, this was a good production of an entertaining play with some pleasing features.
I liked the way that Adam Redmore’s Henriquez, as the villain of the piece, was portrayed as absolutely vile. He was so unpleasant that it almost begged the altered ending to the play in which he showed that his change of heart was insincere.
This villainy was neatly counterbalanced by Sam Hoare playing Henriquez’s good-guy brother Roderick. There were points in the performance where his appearance provided moments of calm amid the furore.
Jessie Lilley was required to play Violante at the dramatic and emotional heart of the production and succeeded in conveying the heartbreak and trauma the staging required with great skill.
Emily Plumtree’s Leonora was delicate and pretty, but whatever problems she encountered were vastly overshadowed by Violante’s story to the extent that she became an accessory to this more disturbing narrative. She was given the opportunity to slap Henriquez after being rescued from the nunnery, at which point she really had the audience on her side.
Stephen Boswell’s Camillo was bumbling to the point of being comical. But this was used to good effect when his jollity suddenly turned to anger when he realised in his conversation with Su Douglas’ Donna Benita, that he had been sidelined in the matter of Leonora’s wedding.
The frustration and madness of Julio was brought out by Gabriel Vick in the wilderness scene. Portraying madness on stage convincingly is never easy, but he was helped in this by the preceding brutality of Violante’s ravishment. The atmosphere of savagery this engendered, sanctioned the breakdown of civilisation in other respects, such as a character appearing besmeared with grime and in the grip of insanity.
Phil Willmott’s direction had some nice touches. Henriquez and Julio were shown at the side of the stage when the Duke and Roderick first discussed them, so that we could put faces to names. Julio gave Leonora a bracelet when he first assured her of his love, and she then returned this to him with her letter explaining her forthcoming marriage to Henriquez.
Once Leonora was called back inside the house by her mother, having handed her letter to Julio to the Citizen, we moved to the next scene in which Julio received the letter and discussed its contents. As this was happening, Leonora’s mother clothed her daughter in her wedding dress on the other side of the stage. This foreshadowed the impending wedding and also provided a good reason for her mother to have called her back in the first place.
Tickets for the production have been selling well and a West End transfer has been confirmed. It is likely that none of this would have occurred without the ‘forgotten Shakespeare’ label being attached to it.
But who can blame any theatre company for claiming Double Falsehood as a lost Shakespeare play when Arden started the ball rolling by publishing the play in their Shakespeare collection?
The recent revival in interest sparked by the Arden edition has, however, been valuable in raising awareness of Double Falsehood and the surrounding issues. This production was certainly grist to that particular mill.
For instance, are there scenes missing from the play published by Theobald that were included in the original Jacobean play? This production staged the rape and showed the aftermath of the coffin being used to abduct Leonora. It has been argued that a fuller staging of the abduction might have been part of the original Jacobean drama.
The RSC is due to attempt a full-scale reconstruction of the original Shakespeare/Fletcher Cardenio later this year. It will be interesting to compare that production with Mokitagrit’s and KDC’s Double Falsehoods.