Academic journal article Shakespeare Bulletin

Crossbows and Ghosts, Promenades and Gurneys: Shakespeare Onstage in 2007

Academic journal article Shakespeare Bulletin

Crossbows and Ghosts, Promenades and Gurneys: Shakespeare Onstage in 2007

Article excerpt

Playgoing in 2007 yielded many surprises. I have seen a huge number of Twelfth Night productions, but I do not remember seeing Sir Toby best Sebastian in the 4.1 swordfight as staged at Chichester. In the Chichester Macbeth Banquo's description of "The temple-haunting [marlet]" (1.6.4) was triggered not by a to-be-imagined bird but by a carcass on a platter ready to be carved; for her line "Here I have a pilot's thumb" (1.3.28) the First Witch brandished not a single digit but a severed hand which she dropped in an onstage sink; and at the news of the deaths of his wife and children Macduff stood silent for a very long time, long enough to make one wonder if the actor had dried. (1) A significant silence is scripted at the moment of Coriolanus' capitulation to his mother where the Folio stage direction reads: "hold her by the hand, silent" (5.3.182). When I saw the RSC production at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., that silence lasted fifteen to twenty seconds, but I was told that at some earlier performances at the Swan it lasted a minute or more.

The three Globe productions also provided some distinctive moments. A property deer is occasionally seen in a Shakespeare production, especially in As You Like It ("Which is he that kill'd the deer?"--4.2.1), but the Globe Love's Labor's Lost provided a series of such appearances that started with a pre-show in which a male and female deer were carried onto separate runways by Dull and Jaquenetta and eventually moved together to nose each other. One deer then reappeared for the hunt scene, to be shot and carried off so as to be observed by Holofernes (Christopher Godwin) and set up his delightful rendition of the pricket speech (4.2.55-61). When watching The Merchant of Venice I have seen a variety of ways in which Bassanio has been clued in to the correct casket choice in 3.2; at the Globe he seemed prepared to choose the gold, at which point the singer and corps of musicians accosted him forcefully so as to generate his speech on ornament. This Bassanio, moreover, was very free with Antonio's money (purses were liberally distributed) and blanked on Portia's name in 1.1 (though she and Nerissa well remembered his). The signals for locale in this show struck me as unusual for a Globe production in that scenes of greenery were visible (at least for playgoers placed in the center) through the open doors to denote Belmont (and stayed in view for some Venice scenes), as did the caskets between 2.7 and 3.2, and a bust of Portia's father was onstage for 1.2.

Several choices in Wilson Milam's Globe Othello surprised me. One of the first items to disappear when a director streamlines this script is the clown who appears briefly in 3.1 and 3.4. Here not only were these passages included, but the role was beefed up by various additions: at the outset this all-purpose figure shooed away the musicians and gave a short peremptory warning about mobile phones and photographs, and positioned above he later delivered the 2.2 proclamation (with more comic interplay with a musician). Elsewhere, the central opening was used not for discoveries but for the display of visible offstage activity (at least visible from where I was sitting--one of my colleagues was less fortunate), as with the drinking and socializing by townspeople in Acts Two and Three, and Desdemona's bed was in view as early as 4.3, then out of sight during 5.1, and thrust forward in 5.2 by attendants who laid out four lanterns on the floor. As befits the resources available at the Globe, Roderigo's attempted murder of Cassio and its aftermath were played as if in total darkness (some playgoers did not get the point and laughed at the two figures groping around in the to-be-imagined night); then Lodovico and Gratiano entered through the yard carrying a torch, whereas Iago appeared without bearing any such light, despite Gratiano's line in the script: "Here's one comes in his shirt, with light and weapons" (5. …

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