Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Callback Jokes?

So I'm digging through the texts recently, and I always enjoy this because it gets my brain working on a different way, focusing on individual lines instead of entire scenes. When I do this I tend to spot things I'd never noticed before.

Like, for example, in Midsummer:

THESEUS I wonder if the lion be to speak.

DEMETRIUS No wonder, my lord: one lion may, when many asses do.
Despite the fact that Demetrius would have known nothing of Bottom's transformation, I expect this line would have garnered raucous laughter from the audience, no? Surely deliberate on Shakespeare's part.

Or, this one: (speaking presumably about actors)

The best in this kind are but shadows; and the worst
are no worse, if imagination amend them.
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.

Once I spotted that I could just picture Puck delivering his "shadows" in quotes as if to say, "Yeah, actors, that's us that Theseus was talking about a minute ago."

Am I imagining these? What about the epilogue from As You Like It, delivered by Rosalind?

It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue;
If I were a woman I
would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased
me, complexions that liked me and breaths that I
defied not: and, I am sure, as many as have good
beards or good faces or sweet breaths will, for my
kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.

If she were a woman?  If? So, basically, this is a written acknowledgement that Rosalind is speaking as the male actor who'd been performing a female role? 


Bill said...

In King Lear, during his "job interview" in Act I, Scene iv., the disguised Kent says "I can keep honest counsel, ride, run, mar a curious tale in telling it, and deliver a plain message bluntly; that which ordinary men are fit for, I am qualified in, and the best of me is diligence."

At the beginning of the next scene, Lear is sending Kent on an errand and says "Go you before to Gloucester with these letters. Acquaint my daughter no further with any thing you know than comes from her demand out of the letter. If your diligence be not speedy I shall be there before you."

I never noticed this until I saw a video of James Earl Jones playing Lear. His line delivery strongly emphasized the word "diligence" as if to say "Let's see if you are what you say you are." It's a very nice callback, and one that I now enjoy every time I return to the text.

Ed said...

Oh, yes, yes, to your question re Ros's epilogue. And without doubt we're supposed to hear the echo of the word "shadows" in Puck's speech, but not just from Theseus. Recall that Puck himself, just a few scenes before, addressed Oberon as "king of shadows," a beautiful epithet made all the more resonant because he is the dream version of Theseus and so often played by the same actor. Thus, ironically, Theseus, who disparages the best of these as mere shadows is their king.

In a recent "Dream" I saw, Puck appeared at the end of the play after a blackout, as from nowhere, and spoke those lines as he began to remove bits of her make-up and costume, further emphasizing the notion that he is/was an actor in this vision. All that with Oberon and company veiled in shadow behind her.

I've seen Rosalinds done similarly, played by women, with slight cuts to the script to preserve as much of its original spirit as possible.

Another interesting repetition I just noticed also occurs in "Dream." In Act 3, Bottom proposes a speech for Snug so that the ladies are not afear'd of the lion, he essentially dictates or thinks out loud about the speech and says, 'Fair-ladies--I would wish
You,'--or 'I would request you,'--or 'I would
entreat you,--not to fear, not to tremble...

Coincidentally -- or not-- two of these are the same verbs Quince uses in his proviso to the workmen.2: " I am to entreat you, request you and desire you, to con them by to-morrow night..."

Is this a way to show Bottom cribbing from Quince, the alleged leader of the workmen? Is he practicing new words, or trying to show Quince he has just as good a command of synonyms, or is it a way to show a link between these apparently disparate characters who are both somewhat insecure?

There's no answer, I guess, and if Will were here, he might say, "Bollocks! Somebody just remembered it wrong!" but these are the veins that an actor or director can mine in order to bring these wonderful characters to even richer life.

JM said...

One of my favorites--a triple. Bottom finally "dies" after many false starts on "ending it".

Bottom: Now die, die ,die, die,die.

Demetrius: No Die [2, or pair of dice], but an ace [snake eye] for him; for he is but one. ["ace" a play on "ass"]

Lysander: Less than an ace man. For he is dead, he is nothing.

Theseus: With the help of a Surgeon, he might yet recover, and prove an Asse.

Once again Elizabethan pronunciation would have been a factor in the success of the jokes. But as it stands today, Theseus can still get a big bang for the buck if he takes his pauses in the right places--exactly where they're written in the Folio punctuation.
What a coincidence.