The status of the evidence required to reconstruct performances depends on the success of two necessarily problematic procedures—spectating and tattling…Often the best hedge against amnesia is gossip.
Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead, 1996
The remembering I want to do begins with a performance memory from Othello, an image of two women, close together, talking. (In its way, the image is arresting because so unexpected. Nothing has prepared for it. Before now, men have been intimate, men have put their heads together and gossiped while women have kept aloof from each other, the one wary; the other, oblivious.) Now, one woman sits, undressed to her bodice, almost a child, ready for bed. Her head ‘hang[s] all at one side’, her chin pressing on to her bare shoulder, sagging dispiritedly. The other has helped her ‘unpin’, letting down her plaits, removing petticoat and corset, layer after layer of Victorian white lawn and linen, kind clothes for the heat of Cyprus. Now she stands behind her, erect, hands deft, brush-ing her hair. Their bodies seem suspended in the surrounding darkness, illuminated only by the oil lamp on the dressing table. One tells a story that the moaning wind in the background makes haunting, ghostly: ‘My mother had a maid call’d Barbary…’ Then she starts to sing, pum-melling her fist against her heart, almost in mockery of the song’s lament: ‘Willow, willow, willow.’
They share gossip: ‘This Lodovico is a proper man’; ‘I know a lady in Venice would have walk’d barefoot to Palestine for a touch of his nether lip.’ And with the gossip, they share other contraband, illicit information: