Friday, August 27, 2004
As always, before I head to Stratford, I re-read the plays we're going to see, or at least the Shakespeare. Dream is, of course, a marvel. I hope the production lives up to the play's potential; they rarely do. Macbeth I have never loved, but I think Harold Bloom's take on the play (that it is about the horror of the imagination, a force that overwhelms Macbeth against what he knows to be right) is correct, and the best way to understand its strengths. But it will never be my favorite tragedy. My favorite production is Kurosawa's adaptation in the film, Throne of Blood, which if you haven't seen you should definitely rent.
Cymbeline is an oddity. The plot makes almost no sense at all, and most of the characters are cartoons. Imogen is, of course, the luminous exception, but the tougher roles to get a handle on are Iachimo, Posthumus and Belarius, each of which hovers between two and three dimensions. The only production I've ever seen was a travesty by Joanne Akalitis at Joe Papp's Public Theater in New York. But I don't know how I'd stage the play. It is too equivocal to be a simple adventure tale like Pericles, or a profound romance like The Winter's Tale. It has some affinity for All's Well that Ends Well in its absurdity, but it is not, as All's Well is, a character study in a very equivocal heroine, but a perplexing and equivocal world into which an amalgam of Shakespeare's young victim/heroines - now Cordelia, now Desdemona, now Isabella, now Helena, now Viola, now Marina - is plopped. I can't say I exactly like the play, but I'm curious to see what they do with it.
Henry VIII I found quite moving, but it has no plot, which might be a rather serious problem. I had a vision, reading it, that it would work better as an opera than as a play - a John Adams opera, I think, with lots of pageantry. I also thought, here's a play about an absolute monarch and his scheming court, all terrified of his power but exhilarated by proximity to same. This is not, I think, what we take home from the Tudor era as its most interesting or enlightening aspect. I wondered, reading the play, whether it wouldn't be interesting to set the play not in Henry VIII's England but, say, in Josef Stalin's Russia. The fall of Cardinal Wolsey for corruption (and, more important, for scheming behind the King's back), the rise of Anne Bullen (which the play suggests was at least in part driven by the King's lust, which is surely historically correct but must have been dangerous to put on the stage at the time), the execution of Buckingham on dubious charges of treason, the general air of terror and the sense that the King floats above it all, both the source of the terror and strangely without responsibility - all this would work wonderfully better, in some ways, set in a more familiar period of absolute power than in Henry VIII's court. Of course, the last act - the birth of Elizabeth specifically - wouldn't really translate at all. But it was a thought.