SHAKESPEARE ALOUD

Two Gents Act 1, Scene 2 – Stratford

We then went outside the gardens onto the public side of Henley St to do the second scene.  Behind me is the main entrance to Shakespeare’s birthplace.  Nick once again mans the camera and shows a nice little pan of Henley.  Although there are Shakespeare stores galore, I find it actually rather tasteful – it could easily be Disneyland – and yet it’s reserved and peaceful without a lot to steal your focus away from taking in the street that birthed the greatest poet and playwright who ever lived.  This is my third visit to Stratford-upon-Avon, and I like it more and more each time I see it.  The serenity of the place is cheerful and uplifting, and it retains an incredibly small-burgh energy in comparison to its fame around the world. 

Now the scene.  It’s a great scene.  Julia and Lucetta play out an incredibly musical duet that, for its transparently noticeable musical devices, seems more out of some Rossini opera than Shakespeare.  This is blank and rhymed verse at its frothiest, in a head-to-head, exposition-and-plot-driven scene that smacks of various kinds of symmetry.  There’s the obvious symmetry of two female friends following two male friends, there’s the symmetry between the Julia and Lucetta, and the symmetry that is uncovered in the text – rhymes, echoed feminine endings, and rhetorical devices like double antitheses that constantly send-up how equally matched at wits these two women are.

As far as advice to the actors go, it would seem, as in Proteus/Valentine, that all of these devices should be embraced.  What’s nice for the actor is that they are all in some kind of service to the task at hand – furthering the action vis a vis your scene partner – finding information through him/her, tempting him/her to reveal more, one-upsmanship or surprising one’s scene partner.  Rhyming, speaking in clear iambic pentameter, even making the most of the meter’s irregularities, can all be popped here as an accessory of fun or play.  So far, everyone in this play is playing, and the verse I find is perfectly amenable to this energy.

Musically speaking there are some things that deserve mention.  The first rhythm of the play, Cease to persuade, is what I’m going to call the RACH Rhythm.  Why…follow me on my nerdy path.  Many of Rachmaninoff’s great orchestral works end with this rhythm, or a variant.  The end of his Piano Concerto #2 is the best example, but the third piano concerto and the gorgeous Symphony #2 end this way as well.  Just speak the first 3 words of the play out loud:  “Cease to persuade.”  The natural rhythm of speaking, you may hopefully find, is to emphasize the first syllable “Cease” and give less stress to the next two syllables, finally landing on “suade” as another stress.  Technically, were we to call this one foot of poetry, it would be a choriamb.  But it really is two feet of poetry – one trochee (stress/unstress) followed by an iamb (unstress/stress).  What’s interesting is that Shakespeare begins a play that hews so closely to iambic pentameter with a rhythm that’s irregular.  He does this again with Richard III “NOW is the winter of our discontent,” known in some circles for starting off another play that celebrates the virtues of blank verse with the inescapable halting step of its deformed protagonist.  I like that example.

Note though that rhythmically, ‘Cease to persuade’ and ‘Cease to lament’ and ‘Now is the win-‘ is more specific than stress/unstress/unstress/stress.  It could be described, loosely, as a sort of triplet.   The famous four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony are not a triplet, but oftentimes (to the anguish of those who know better, see Gunther Schuller’s “The Complete Conductor”) are played that way anyway.  You can sing our Rach rhythms to Beethoven’s melody to get the point.  The middle syllables can be shorter, like 16th notes, or 8th notes, or triple 8ths or triplet 16ths.  Might a production decide?  It would be interesting to hear.

But Shakespeare doesn’t score rhythms, and because he doesn’t, really all we have here is the first syllable stressed in a phrase.  So, I’m hesitant to make too much out of it.  However, it appears in noticeable ways like a leit motif in Two Gents, and it’s all over this Julia/Lucetta scene – not in ways buried in a speech, but in the opening words of a new one.  To further corroborate my desire to illuminate an intentional motif on Shakespeare’s part, is the shoe-is-on-the-other-foot moment in III;i where it is Proteus who begins to Valentine:  “Cease to lament for that thou canst not help.”  Suddenly, if we’ve been ringing the Rach rhythm bells up through here, we may earn a feeling that we’re coming back around to a central theme in this play.  Interestingly, the end of this major Proteus speech from III;i is a wonderful place to take the interval, breaking up the scene proper between Proteus/Valentine dealing with the banishment, and Lance entering for his sideshow with Speed.

Here are our Rach rhythms in I;ii:

6            Please you repeat their names I’ll show my mind

13             Well of his wealth, but of himself, so-so.

17             Pardon, dear madam, ‘tis a passing shame.

26             Ay, if you thought your love not cast away.

All spoken by Lucetta here in the top of the scene.  It is a playful way to repost your partner.  And of course, the argument could be made that especially the last one, line 26, is not a Rach rhythm at all.  The point isn’t what should be done – the point is what could be done, and if done that way, what are the perks?

Julia enters in the Rach rhythm game on line 42:

Dare you presume to harbour wanton lines?

I find four others by the end of the scene.  For those keeping score, that’s 9 Rachs in 139 lines.

Other musical moments of note.  Let’s look at this fabulous section, lines 25 through 42

JULIA

25 And wouldst thou have me cast my love on him?

LUCETTA

26 Ay, if you thought your love not cast away.

JULIA

27 Why, he of all the rest hath never moved me.

LUCETTA

28 Yet he of all the rest I think best loves ye.

JULIA

29 His little speaking shows his love but small.

LUCETTA

30 Fire that’s closest kept burns most of all.

JULIA

31 They do not love that do not show their love.

LUCETTA

32 O, they love least that let men know their love.

JULIA

33 I would I knew his mind.

LUCETTA

34 Peruse this paper, madam.

JULIA

35 To Julia.  Say, from whom?

LUCETTA

36 That the contents will show

JULIA

37 Say, say, who gave it thee?

LUCETTA

38 Sir Valentine’s page; and sent, I think, from Proteus.

39 He would have given it you, but I, being in the way,

40 Did in your name receive it.  Pardon the fault I pray.

JULIA

41 Now, by my modesty, a goodly broker!

42 Dare you presume to harbour wanton lines?

Musical like Mozart.  Here’s what he’s doing.  25/26 – a monosyllabic question answered by a monosyllabic answer, with a possible Rach rhythm in the response.  27/28 A feminine ending (11 syllables, ending with an unstressed, weak extra half-foot) followed by a similar feminine ending.  Note the pattern he’s set up in these four lines – Lucetta will use Julia’s own language to convince her to love Proteus.  But suddenly Lucetta really arrives with something original and powerful to say.  Julia begins the third volley of the example with an insecure “His little speaking shows his love but small” and Lucetta bursts forth with the first completely trochaic pentameter example in the whole play – “Fire that’s closest kept burns most of all.”  Now, if ‘fire’ is to be taken as two syllables, it’s a regular line.  But I think the acting choice is obvious – FIRE that’s CLOsest KEPT burns MOST of ALL – because it can shift the beat and ratchet up the argument.  Plus, it’s a beautiful rhyme.

31/32 display a fabulous double antithesis – building the momentum, strength, and depth of the argument right into a void.  Suddenly we have all these short lines.  What’s the deal?  Well, suddenly there’s business here with the infamous letter, and we yield to it.  Strictly speaking, the business with the letter is its own ‘text’ in the form of action, and these are the missing feet of the verse.  Practically, the letter as the third character of the scene enters and becomes both women’s fixation.

But lines 38/40, in this light, become immensely curious in length.  Lucetta, who has spoken such clear iambic pentameter all along, now speaks 13, 14, and 13 syllable lines.  Stuttering?  Embarrassed?  Long lines typically indicate more emotion, and of course require more breath (the longest is Romeo “It is my lady, O it is my love, O that she knew she were!”n – 16 syllables).   The example is followed by Julia, aiming to get us back on track with a weak line (feminine, 11 syllables), followed by a Rach rhythm, admonishing Lucetta.  We’re back on track now, and the rest of her speech is almost entirely regular.

Other bits:

If anyone’s curious how to pronounce Lucetta’s name, check out line 60: “How churlishly I chid Lucetta hence” – fairly clear the ‘ch’ sound is going to get us farther here than the ‘s’ sound.

The two shared lines in a row (65-68) are really lovely.  There is a skipped heartbeat in the first, and in the second they share a trochaic line.

JULIA

What HO LuCEtta!

LUCETTA

What WOULD your LAdySHIP?

JULIA

IS’T near DINner TIME?

LUCETTA

i WOULD it WERE

Then we have another bit with the paper, which (ding ding ding!) gives us our first example of music-as-metaphor word play in the canon.  Starting on line 79 and going to line 98, they go back and forth with musical gags.  All of these are duly noted in the spreadsheet, noted with their musical meanings, and will be available to all – when I’m finished!

BB

 

 

 

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