Tuesday, June 10

empty vessels make the greatest sound

my original summer Shakespeare project was born in 2010. eight whole performances lined themselves up everso neatly into that year, one for each month from March to September, plus November (October went crazy, so I was obliged to do without proper theatre that month).

no summer since has quite matched up to that first one, though every once in a while I get it in my head to try beating its record. in 2011 I managed six or seven in a few months, but after that my summers have pretty much starved for Shakespeare. Lubbock, Texas, doesn't have lovely enough parks for any Shakespeare, or something. or maybe I wasn't paying attention in 2012.
last summer I did get to see The Tempest at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. this year I had hoped to revisit dear Cedar City for more (they are even performing some Sherlock Holmes this season! why can't I be in three places at once?), but alas, there is other traveling going on that prevents me. (naturally I will do my best to find out if and where Scotland might host any Shakespeare-in-the-park. let us cross our fingers for that.)

here in 2014, four years and five states away from that very first string of playgoing, we have begun the season of Shakespeare well enough. As You Like It in the park the other week, and just a few days ago Henry V in Chicago with my new friend Liz.
other than Richard III, I haven't seen any other of the bard's histories. they have their own feel--a little less crazy-fun than the comedies and a little less inescapably-fatalist than the tragedies.

the Chicago Shakespeare Company has a montage of the performance:
but it's not half as good as seeing the full thing. ah, the magic of lights and set and sound. the movement of actors across the stage and through the aisles. the pleading shining-eyed members of the chorus, painting out the scenes that wouldn't fit on stage... like this at the opening of act three:
Suppose that you have seen
The well-appointed king at [Hampton] pier
Embark his royalty, and his brave fleet
With silken streamers the young Phoebus fanning.
Play with your fancies; and in them behold
Upon the hempen tackle ship-boys climbing;
Hear the shrill whistle which doth order give
To sounds confus'd; behold the threaden sails,
Borne with the invisible and creeping wind,
Draw the huge bottoms through the furrow'd sea,
Breasting the lofty surge. O, do but think
You stand upon the rivage and behold
A city on the inconstant billows dancing;
For so appears this fleet majestical,
Holding due course to Harfleur.
I loved that. when they describe "the threaden sails, / Borne with the invisible and creeping wind," and then ask us to "stand upon the rivage and behold / A city on the inconstant billows dancing"--that's all the nudging my brain needs to wander off along a wide, sweeping, aerial view of some epic, imposing navy, its ships laden with so-called divine imperatives from the King.

act three, scene four was 99% in French, which was hilarious.

act four, scene one opens up all sorts of questions on the subject of those so-called divine imperatives, and how the costs and blame for the resulting war might fall when it ends. can each soldier fight with a clean conscience, knowing it is his king who'll be responsible if this war turns out to be unjust? does standing staunchly inside the lines of loyalty somehow absolve a man of whatever blood accrues on his own hands? for every soul that falls, will kings and generals be forced to make account at judgement day? King Henry, in disguise at this point, says no, since anyone could find some neat chain of excuses for their actions or ends if they tried hard enough.
"... you may call the business of the master the author of
the servant's damnation. But this is not so. The King is not
bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers, the father
of his son, nor the master of his servant; for they purpose not
their death, when they purpose their services. Besides, there is
no king, be his cause never so spotless, if it come to the
arbitrement of swords, can try it out with all unspotted soldiers."
the questions aren't really answered, but Harry does win France in the end, so we assume his cause was favored by heaven and all his soldiers honored for their parts in it, despite their spots.

I also noticed a theme of appearances vs. realities, surfaces against cores. (this might subtly show up on all Shakespeare's work--"all the world's a stage," etc.) what makes a true soldier when so many can play the outward part without actually risking their lives? do you need a truly fearsome army--do you need to fight at all--when lengthy, detailed lists of threats, thrown with wrath and spittle in your enemy's face, might subdue them just as successfully?

and speaking of love, is it enough to announce your desire and admiration? does giving your self to another aloud really mean you'll both be one? can love be made visible in these words, or even in actions? and if to love becomes politically expedient, does it still count as love?

does it matter, if or if not? some of Henry's last lines remind us that the victors get to make the rules (both written and unwritten rules):
"O Kate, nice customs curtsy to great kings. Dear Kate, you and I
cannot be confined within the weak list of a country's fashion.
We are the makers of manners, Kate; and the liberty that follows
our places stops the mouth of all find-faults..." 
so fashions and loyalties and rights and wrongs all change as power shifts from hand to hand, crown to crown, voice to voice. what love and truth and courage look like--what love and truth and courage are--might change, too, if we find the liberty of using a different frame.

1 comment:

Nic S said...

I'm seeing an outdoor performance of As You Like It at one of Oxford's colleges in a few weeks and saw The Merry Wives of Windsor at the same place last year. Trying to see at least one per annum!