SHAKESPEARE ALOUD

Two Gents Act 1, Scene 3 – at the RSC, Stratford

Wow what a gorgeous day today beside the Avon.  I realize when we pan to the river you actually can’t see a drop of it, but google images would do a far better job than we could to show how charming it is there on a warm lightly breezy spring day.

It’s now 6:30pm on the train back from Stratford – I arrived at 3:00.   It was a rush of a visit in so many ways.  I met Nick right when I got to Henley St and we got to catch up.  This is Dr. Nicholas Walton of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust for those just joining us – he films this scene as well as the previous two.  I met Nick in 2009 while preparing to direct Timon of Athens.  This most obscure of Shakespeare’s tragedies is Nick’s specialty and it would appear he has plumbed the depths of its production history more than any other scholar.  Actors’ Shakespeare Project in Boston, producing Timon, won a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant to bring him over and lead a week’s worth of events in Boston surrounding the play.  Nick’s knowledge and passion for the work, and for all things Shakespeare, is extraordinary, and I’m so grateful to have his help today.  

After discussing many topics, including Shakespeare and the Digital Age, we shot the first two videos and bipedaled down to the Royal Shakespeare Company, newly renovated, seated on the idyllic bank of the Avon.  Nick showed me the innards, though the big theatre was closed.  I saw pictures.  And got a very interesting tour of the new lobby galleries that looked completely different from when I had visited the theatre back in 2001.  Nick used to tend the bar there before earning his phD.  There is a very amusing interactive insult throne, and a beautiful piece of paper sculpture; out of the complete works book on the shelf come flying out all the papers attached in various threads.  It’s very beautiful.

 

Now the Scene.

Antonio begins with a choriamb – what we’ve called the Rach Rhythm in the I;ii posting – the same rhythm as the first four syllables of the play – ‘Cease to persuade’ – ‘Tell me, Pantino.’  It’s not that it’s nearly as strong as ‘Cease to persuade’ but certainly comes closer if everyone in Verona and Milan are speaking with Italian accents!  Either way it’s a trochee followed by an iamb to start a big idea, which is what we’ve been informally tracking here.

The overview is that we’re going into a third duet, in a row, between like-minded people of the same gender.  The first scene was 2 horns, then 2 flutes, and now 2 bassoons.  Actors here have to keep the verse flowing but sorting out just a few lines that could through a monkey wrench in the musiclarity [See ABOUT].

First, the name ‘Proteus’ is so far always a 3-syllable experience.  The modern tendency (American) is to perhaps speak the word too fast.  Enjoy all three syllables – they make the verse much smoother.  More broadly, there is a limitation to the traditional stressed/unstressed dichotomy of examining poetry.  Someone must have come up with a finer way to indicate that many words of three or more syllables (and phrases in their own way) have dominant and secondary stresses.

I hereby call upon someone to invent or show me a better system of scanning Shakespeare.  I’m looking for a way to indicate the dominant syllable in a word and the dominant word in the line as well as the secondary syllable in a larger word.  And the second most important word in the line would also be nice.  Lastly Santa, for Christmas, I want a way to indicate the most unstressed of syllables, ones that operate like grace notes.  The super unstressed syllables.  And not – again – to prescribe.  To start a conversation that will hopefully lead to unique and masterful musiclarity,

There are 3 feminine endings in the first 6 lines.  Another on line 11.

It’s important for Pantino to follow through to the end of the thought on line 7 ‘Put forth their sons to seek preferment out – ‘ modern editors put a hyphen here – in the folio it’s a full stop, but the next three lines are his examples for where father’s are putting forth their songs into the world, and here we have the first noticeable verse irregularities coming in the form of 3 Rach Rhythms.

Some to the wars to try their fortune there;

Some to discover islands far away;

Some to the studious universities.

I will add that it would help the music of these 3 equally irregular phrases if the first syllable of ‘universities’ was given a more-than-commonly-given stress.

In the first 12 lines, there are only 4 regular lines.  This wouldn’t be strange for King Lear, but it’s a little odd with Two Gents.  What does this mean?  Actors could use that to support a real sense of urgency to the scene, to counteract the low blood pressure the scene might normally display.  Anything to make it faster and higher stakes – almost always.  More to our point, what it means is that the lines that are perfect iambic pentameter stick out, and these are like pleasurable lily pads from which thought pivoting is possible to pads of more variety.  Here are the lines:

3 ‘Twas of his nephew, Proteus your son

5 Would suffer him to spend his youth at home

12 He said that Proteus your son was meet

The next line – ‘And did request me to importune you’ really begs for imPORtune you, instead of the typical imporTUNE.  Evidence of this is clear on Antonio’s repost on line 17 “Nor need’st thou much importune me to that’

The next line is the big one in this first section:

14 To let him spend his time no more at home.

It’s the whole point of the first argument AND it’s a beautifully monosyllabic one.  Monosyllabic lines have a uniquely spirited musicality.  Often a nice effect can be when the actor emphasizes all the syllables but crescendos to the last word – if the last word is most powerful.  Here it is.  Try this whole sequence and see if you can really convince Antonio to get Proteus out of the house:

ANTONIO

3 Why? What of him?

PANTINO

4 He wondered that your lordship

5 Would suffer him to spend his youth at home

6 While other men, of slender reputation,

7 Put forth their sons to seek preferment out –

8 Some to the wars to try their fortune there;

9 Some to discover islands far away;

10 Some to the studious universities.

11 For any or for all these exercises

12 He said that Proteus your son was meet,

13 And did request me to importune you

14 To let him spend his time no more at home.

Perfect early Shakespeare example in musiclarity.  Sort of like Haydn or Mozart, knowing the Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Berg are to follow.  This stuff has to be scanned folks – if you can sight read it naturally with clarity of thought and a musicality all your own I tip my hat to you.

In the video I totally miss the landing power of Antonio’s response:

17 Nor need’st thou much importune me to that

18 Whereon this month I have been hammering.

Antonio is a pretty regular guy.  We may assume much of his daily life is pretty regular.   Find his regular rhythm in lines that look irregular and you’ve much of the way there.

21 Not being tried and tutored in the world.

Could be a cool idea to emphasize ‘Not’ here given how that rings the line out, even though it’s a bit unconventional.  How, ‘not BEing TRIED and’ is a little tough.

22 ExpERience IS by INdustry achIEved.

This is actually regular if ‘experience’ is a 3 syllable word – stress IS and we suddenly may feel that this is a platitude past on from generations – and it may ring to the audience as out of touch.  Also pops an assonance in the scene that we’ll see is a recurring motif.  Good colors.  Remember that ‘industry’ is the most important word in the line.

The next line is a bogey.

23 And perfected by the swift course of time.

Trochaic line with ‘Swift’ getting two syllables of stress maybe? If so it’s kind of cool in context.

Rach’s on lines 30 and 33:

30 There shall he practise tilts and tournaments

31 Hear sweet discourse, converse with noblemen

32 And be in eye of every exercise

33 Worthy his youth and nobleness of birth.

Check out the assonance on line 32 – very similar to line 22.  It has a third sister in line 37: ‘Even with the speediest expedition’ which is obviously the trump card to the trope – it’s a powerful trochaic line.

WEIRDLY, line 36 for Antonio needs a stress on the word ‘of’ to make the line flow in context:

35 And that thou mayst perceive how well I like it,

36 The execution of it shall make known;

37 Even with the speediest expedition…

42 And to commend their service to his will – also a potential Rach Rhythm, if we’re using these the production.  We’re really rolling now!  This horse is has just broken into a light gallop.

Proteus enters on line 45 and drops three Rachs in the first four lines.

45 Sweet love, sweet lines, sweet life!

46 Here is her hand, the agent of her heart;

47 Here is her oath for love, her honour’s pawn.

48 O, that our fathers would applaud our loves (maybe no Rach)

49 To seal our happiness with their consents

50 O heavenly Julia!

Dad/Son scene blah blah blah

Just to Antonio’s line 75 – a monosyllabic feel might be helpful here.

75 Look what thou want’st shall be sent after thee.

I think doing it in strict iambic pentameter gets the point across best.  That probably means stressing BE instead of SHALL.

Love Proteus’s ‘Thus have I shunned the fire for fear of burning’ after Lucetta’s ‘Fire that’s closest kept burns most of all’ from the previous scene.  ‘Fire for fear’ is also musically very cool indeed.

One line, 89, with a musical metaphor

Why this it is: my heart accords thereto.

 

BB

 

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