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Posts Tagged ‘Renaissance’

Set
The evocative set

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Richard and Stanley right behind him

Dear friends and readers,

This is to add to a chorus of praise for the production of Richard III playing this month through early March of Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Folger. Izzy and I saw it tonight and by the time we were into the second half, enjoyed it enormously, were thoroughly absorbed.

As might be seen by my comparative qualification, I don’t quite agree with the estatic insights some reviewers have been attributing to the play. I’ve seen it so many times, and Izzy almost as many, and we agreed we’ve seen many a superior one: to name just a few, Ian McKellen as Richard III as a Hitler type in the film (and Jim and I also saw it on stage); Laurence Oliver’s film (where Ralph Richardson as Buckingham managed to steal the show); the Washington Shakespeare’s great version (a parable about politicians) a few years ago now at the Arlington theater; one I saw years ago with Stacey Keach as Richard III. The play is popular — it is just deliciously over-the-top for an ensemble cast and rich for a great actor) and frequently done in part or as a whole. This production was disappointing during the first half. The declaiming style used throughout could not accommodate the black and nervy humor of the first half: many jokes just thrown away and lost. Richard’s “We are not safe” to Clarence as Clarence is taken off to be murdered at Richard’s instigation fell flat.

There is something effeminate (a fine thing to be by the way) in Richard III (as there is Richard II) and this was erased utterly — can’t have that in this macho male world of long leather coats, and heavy armor and weapons. In fact the costumes recalled the way we see police dressed in the US when they attack crowds (say Occupy groups) or shut down and swarm all over a city (say Boston). Cortese was superb

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Drew Cortese as Richard III,

but he also seemed unwilling to unbend and the worst scene of the play (though it was effective as Shakespeare’s scene is striking) was the one where Richard wooes Lady Anne (Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan) in front of her husband’s bleeding corpse.

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Cortese kept his distance and his dignity; what he should have done is sidled up to her, and engaged physically with her, alluring and luring. They didn’t even obey the stage directions which include a comment about how she had thrown the sword he gave her to push through his heart on the ground: they kept the line, but she didn’t throw the sword until well after he uttered the line.

The nervousness of the usual scenes in the first half often leads to cutting the second half where the mood become direct and hard-hitting and this is where this production came into its own. What it had to add to the all the productions I’ve seen before was it was utterly traditional — as we might imagine it. In fact they risked slight parody (a la Beyond the Fringe) as they marched on and off the stage, declaiming at one another at the top of their voices with their bodies just writhing and just standing in place. No lines were left out, no scenes cut.

Cast

The reviews I’ve read have strangely left out two important themes of the production: the way characters were killed was in imitation of Sweeney Todd, that modern neurotic nightmare of slaughter. There were squares and triangles in the floor which would open up and the assassin would come along and slit the person’s throat, or pull them down and we’d hear some sort of thump, clang; the repetition of this was effective. These holes in the ground allowed for continual allusions to the finding of the much decayed corpse of Richard III in 2012 in a parking lot in Leicester, England. The program notes were all about this, and this corpse & parking lot were continually evoked on stage. The lights underground were parking lot lights. The corpse of Anne’s husband was wrapped like a mummy one finds in a excavation of a site where savage rituals were performed.

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A contemporary gothic all right.

This evocation may have been meant (the program notes suggest this) to remind the audience that although this version of Richard III as malign and deformed may be a Tudor myth, based on More’s biography intended to please Henry VIII; nonetheless, a terrible reality gave rise to this fascinating dramatization of the criminal and desperate behavior of the aristocrats of the UK in the 15th century. The women were the desperate mourners (Nanna Ingvarsson came through as a great actress once again as the Duchess of York in her set-tos with her vile son, Richard) or worked upon to give in in order to salvage something or appear too. Richard’s seducing of Queen Elizabeth (Jula Motyka) paralleled his seducing of Anne:

Elizabeth

He is offering her a replacement of a possible future and safety if she will allow him to marry her daughter, Princess Elizabeth (Jenna Berk). I liked especially that the production conveyed by costumes and gestures that when Henry VII took over and the Princess is brought by her mother to stand by his side, that we not having any improvement. This man is such another perhaps as Richard was — whose death has a certain desperate pathos – throat slit just as he goes down the hole and cries “a horse, my horse … my kingdom for a horse … “. A parable for our time, and depiction of how the real corpse that was found got there.

I could see the audience was not gone on the production until the second half either. The actors brought the audience in as if they were London citizens and the audience at one point obliged by clapping. People like to be amused and there was laughter at the some obvious stage business like jokes during Richard’s hypocritical refusal of the crown. Some of the best secondary male performances came out here. Richard Sheridan Willis as Stanley in dark-colored glasses with his sheaf of papers and fear for his son but determined betrayal of Richard III evoked a modern day powerful minister backing up whoever is in power by whatever means necessary.

Stanley

So don’t miss it; it’s another winner for this new Shakespeare all the time group at the Folger. As to our personal experience, see Under the Sign of Sylvia.

Ellen

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Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedict (Alexis Denisof)

Dear friends and readers,

This is heartily to recommend seeing Josh Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. It makes sense of Shakespeare’s play. All the disparate groups of characters are filmed using the same mood of intense eroticism and sinister insinuation, so that the evil guys (Don John and his entourage of violent crooks, seducers and sluts); good but dumb clown-policemen who act as spies (Dogberry and Verges) for a larger power (a silent but effective policewoman); witty antagonistic lovers (Beatrice and Benedict) and sensual yet earnestly chaste ones (Hero and Claudio); not to omit servants, friends, hangers-on, all belong to one world. ‘

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Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) and Verges (Tom Lenk)

Just about every other MAAN I’ve ever seen did not know what to do about the villains; here they are central because if their insinuation, spying, seethingness, menace pervades all the couples. For the villains it’s on behalf of hurting others (of ruthless sex, solopistic drug-taking) as opposed to everyone else who are there on behalf of love, pleasure, friendship, just wandering about the large multi-level beautiful landscaped grounds of Mr Whedon, eating, dancing, drinking, protecting as police-watchers. But this distrustful feel, combativeness, sense of inexplicable alienation is everywhere. It’s aided by the black-and-white or grey colors.

An air of mystery is worked up — and fits. It is inexplicable why all the characters approach each other in these indirect spying ways. Why do Beatrice and Benedict have to be deceived into recognizing they love one another and admitting it? It’s inexplicable really why Hero’s father forgives Claudio for publicly humiliating his daughter at the wedding ceremony.

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Trustful father Leonato (Clark Gregg), Claudio (Fran Krantz), and Hero (Jillian Morgese)

It makes no sense that Claudio should be forgiven, or that he should have believed Hero sexually promiscuous on such slight evidence he didn’t bother to investigate. Dogberry and Verger make no sense at all — they stumble into revealing the villains. Shakespeare’s play has many problems. The way to get past them is to present them to us in our faces: everyone is wandering about in rooms that sometimes just feel wrong (like a bedroom with stuffed dolls in it). Everybody is drinking away (champagne, tall goblet glasses of wines).

Most productions of MAAN, don’t blend together all the seemingly disparate groups of characters and their moods, into one. The same holds true of Twelfth Night. Whedon’s production of MAAN reminded me of a production of Twelfth Night, I saw as A Play of the Week when I was 13 or 14 on the older NYC Channel 13 (predecessor to PBS): it too blended all the character types and moods of the play into one – how so? by refusing to make simple merriment anywhere, by making the comedy feel saturnine, bleak, more than melancholy, it was downright bitter. And it was not false for all the words came from Twelfth Night and were not belied. The perspective was that of Jacques, and everything fell into place. So here for MAAN, the perspective is eventually that of Benedict (wary), Beatrice (anti-marriage) and after them, the disillusioned Don Pedro, Claudio’s friend (Reed Diamond) whose line when Pedro learns how Hero has been shamed and killed remains in the memory once you’ve read it or heard it say resonatingly aloud:

Runs not this speech like iron through your blood?

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Reed Diamond as Don Pedro, as not a very good adviser, advising someone else

In the production of MAAN with Sam Waterson in the later 1970s in Central Park, the previous good version of MAAN I’ve seen, the above line seemed not to fit: there the play was set in the 1920s (rah, rah, rah, a college atmosphere), all innocents, a sort of escapees from Booth Tarkington’s Penrod. The famous 1990s movie MAAN (in color be it said) with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson I’ve thought one of their rare poor efforts: they make the mistake of trying to be swashbuckling, downplaying the Hero story and end up with something shallow.

It is better for the viewer to have read the play as the lines are pronounced in quick-style naturalism, just like talk and yet there are throw-away profound at moments — oddly bitter, and then again whacky, desperate, prideful. If not read the play, at least read about it. If you do, you are in for an aesthetic treat. It’s allusive, self-reflexive of Whedon’s other films, and makes fun of iconic scenes.

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Whedon’s version of the “wet T-shirt” scene (begins with Colin Firth, 1995 P&P)

All the actors are very good, they seem up to the lines — understand what the lines mean and the situation. They are dressed in a old-fashioned way: the men are all in suits, long-sleeved shirts for the most part, ties. Shiny shoes. It’s something out of the 1950s. Or maybe we were to think of Clark Gable and his era or Cary Grant and his.

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Hero and Claudio during one of the garden dances with glittering masks

Or it’s they have holsters with guns as in 1930s “gangster” films:

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Dogberry and Verges trying (dimly) to figure out what to do next

The women are in dresses that when I was young most women wore to work in the US, and plain high heels, pumps not too high: a slightly dressed up style, the kind you could once buy in Lerner Shops, or if you were disposed to spend more money in a good department store (Macy’s, Orbach’s). This evokes another time and place, a sense of pastness without specifying which past. The feel though is one of elegance. Departures include a very sexy outfit for the actress playing Conrade (Riki Lindhomme) who is in modern style tights, very brief skin-tight skirt, boots, low cut top, hair in extreme page-boy (very blonde): she goes to bed with anyone and everyone of the Don John group; she is side-kick to Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) who differs from the others by having (it seems) taken his suit jacket off and left it somewhere.

There are servants everywhere, the women, e.g., Margaret (Ashley Johnson) in maid’s outfits (think The Philadelphia Story), and the men in waiters’ duds — rather like the servants of the 1930s US movie. I can’t find any stills of them, but here is a typical scene where we can see the costumes in the kitchen.

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Here is Beatrice listening to Hero and Margaret telling lies about how Benedick loves Beatrice

The play has good slapstick scenes, hiding scenes, emotional violence and (in this version) strongly erotic moments too. Nathan Fillion did stand out as a very funny Dogberry and yet the snobbery of the original was done away with. There is a problem with the demand for virginity from Hero (and use of a veiled bride as punishment for Claudio) but that’s a central given in the play and not to be done away with.

And in case you were wondering, Whedon’s has a very large and beautiful house, with lots of staircases, and grounds. Exquisite furniture. Gorgeous trees and bushes, all picturesquely arranged. And curiously shot sometimes in a highly stylized manner:

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Presented as the very edge of the property

Whedon is a very rich man, with many servants and (natch) many friends …

One might think about how a movie said to be “no budget” just reeks of money and why.

Ellen

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And she to me: ‘There is no greater sorrow
than thinking back upon a happy time
in misery …
One day, to pass the time away, we read
of Lancelot — how love had overcome him …
this one, who never shall be parted from me,
while all his body trembled, kissed my mouth …’ Dante, Inferno 5, translated Allen Mandelbaum

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Act One: the stage scene as a whole

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Act One: Francesca (Eva-Maria Westbrook) and Paolo (Marcello Giordani) meet: he pretends to be her bethrothed

Dear friends and readers,

The 1984 Pre-Raphaelite picturesque production of Riccardo Zandoni’s Francesca da Rimini (libretto Tito Ricordi) is wonderfully absorbing in its HD Met Opera format (conductor Marco Armiliato; production Pero Faggioni; set designer Ezio Frigerio; costume designer Frana Squarciapino, lighting Gil Wechsler). I had not expected to enjoy it so much. Breaking through the fussily-decorated elaborate Pre-Raphaelite picturesque and early 20th century art deco decor, its core and action are fuelled by primary passion: the coerced marriage of Francesca (Eva-Maria Westbrook) secured by trickery: Paolo (Marcello Giordnai), the youngest handsome brother of the groom allows himself to be presented as the groom); these desperate adulterous lovers driven passionate in the way of Cavalliero Rusticano or Il Pagliaccio; the violent brutish lame murderous anguished husband, Giancioot (Mark Delavan); the even more brutal vengeful one-eyed malacious younger brother, Malatsetino (Robert Brubaker).

It’s the stuff of a verismo tale except occurring among aristocrats of the 13th century, and first turned into literature by Dante who presents the lovers after death in fifth circle of hell,

… a place where every light is muted …
The hellish hurricane , which never rests,
drives on the spirits with its violence;
wheeling and pounding, it harasses them … (Inferno 5)

“damned because they sinned within the flesh … now here, now there, now down, now up, it drives them./There is no hope that ever comforts them — no hope for rest and none for lesser pain.”

The story has a basis in actual events, and before this 1914 opera after a play by Gabriele d’Annunzio whose language came through the modern English subtitles (“The stars are drowned in the sea” Paolo says), the story had been told in many versions, staged, sung, painted mostly (it seems in Pre-Raphaelite style). Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1855) tells the spiritual after-death Dante version:

Rossettiblog.

but Alexandre Cabanel (1870) prefers the theatrical murder (reminding me of Wallis’s Death of Chatterton, which is just now hanging at the National Gallery in DC, part of a Pre-Raphaelite exhibit):

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What distinguishes this opera is its highly dramatic play with effective vigorous scenes, sung to music said to be a mix of Strauss, Puccini and Debussy: the love duet at the close of the second act which in the required way the lovers are reading of Lancelot, let the book fall and then “read no more” is just sweepingly swayingly lush,

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It ended as swiftly as Cav and Pag; the words were simple and music felt sudden and elemental at the close: the lovers are stabbed to death and the bodies drop on the stairs, with the actors making sure they ended up flung over one another.

It was said the production was revived because Westbrook asked for this, and she sang and acted her part to perfection. She did carry the opera; she was hardly ever not there, and was endlessly singing. She got to wear the loveliest of embroidered costumes. In her interview she insisted the story was not just credible; coerced marriage happens still today. This is a big disingenuous since the motives given the lovers are hopelessly lachrymose and ethical, but the situation is given bite by ferocity of the behavior of the husband and his demented brother. Delvan was powerful, Brubaker memorable, especially when threatening Francesca and then going down below to behead a man in the midst of being tortured and screaming. Jim said Giordani sung weakly; I wished the lines about him had said she loved him for his goodness and kindness, for he’s not handsome, nothing like a Rufus Sewell.

The opera is fleshed out by Water Scott like happening: a comic minstrel opens the piece, offering to serenade Francesca’s ladies with the story of Tristan and Isolde (anticipating the story to come) — we are led to fear for his life because at the hands of these criminal males. Her ladies were characterized enough, her sister (a kind of Dido relationship):

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A supposed battle takes place in Act 2 which is not convincing as the production did not take advantage of modern screen computer techniques at all. It was grotesque, with a gold-layered siege ram set on fire (like something taken from an Aida set). In act three a bloody head is flung about in a pillow case.

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Delavan as Gianciotto in a Walter Scott-like knight-warrior outfit (aware he is a bad guy in the interview he asked our “hostess” what she had in her wallet)

And what a pleasure it was to see a new great grand opera. While I knew the story of course (the opera audience does not practice the inhibiting nonsense of no-spoilers), I had no idea how it would work out as an experience. The surprise element added to my experience.

Any flaws? well, yes. It just took too long between scenes which intervals sometimes seemed much longer than the acts. At one point the camera cut away far too quickly from a genuinely moving scene to Sondar Radvanovksy as “hostess” which her commercial blurb and hype. While we really enjoyed watching the behind-the-scenes setting up of the scenery and curtains, and painted flats, there was just too much of it, and it made the production feel as staid as some Victorian drawing-room. I’d love to see a new post-modern kind of production, with maybe a mimed scene of the woman raped by the husband, a far more effectively suggestive violence for the battles, and a mimed-coda added on where we see the lovers in hell. In Claus Guth fashion, it could critique even Dante for punishing those whom life had punished enough.

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Rodin’s The Kiss (1888), said to be originally titled Francesca da Rimini

As to the play itself, there was something funny to see the principles act out the love scene over a book, and wait for the book to drop. Everyone accepted this because it was in Dante. More seriously, while here was the inevitable falsifying of sexual life so that what was the real horror of this situation, marital rape, was obscured from view; as Izzy said, the “lesson” of the play was not that adultery was evil. The lovers are not evil. It was deceit and brutality that were the evils in this opera. So it had no trouble speaking to our time. As Maria Stuarda seems to have not been revived for decades and now is utterly a propos, so Francesca da Rimini, if revived for a diva, seemed to please the audience strongly for its fable and presentation, which (to refer to the Pre-Raphaelite exhibit’s comments on my blog), revealed a pseudo-medieval, literary highly sexually liberated (for the men) art fit the pre WW1 world.

Few women in the arts or as patrons have interested themselves in her story. Josephine Bonaparte bought a 19th century painting of the story; Gabriele d’Annunzio’s play was written for Eleanore Duse:

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Eleanore Duse as Francesca da Rimini (1901)

and Olga Gorelli, a 20th century Italian composer wrote some music.
Renata Scotto played the part with Placido Domingo as Paolo, and Cornell MacNeil as Gianciotti in 1984, the production now available as a DVD.

Ellen

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John Norris, soldier who with Francis Drake commanded expedition to the coast of Spain, 1589

The longer memory, of there being no peace in the world, of fear and danger outside and a limited safety within — Bk 1, Ch 1, p 10

Greatness is a condition of brain and marrow: it is in no way connected with virtue, which is a condition of the soul (invented flavor-Elizabethan English given Ralegh, Bk 4, Ch 4, p 185

A man at the centre of great events can often at the time see only the small ones which surround him and oppress him with their personal demands. Even an awareness that events have have moved past him and left him behind … Bk 5, Ch 1, p 389

Dear friends and readers,

The crux or impulse for writing this novel was an obscured historical record & betrayal. In his (unusual) note to readers at the close of his book, Graham shows that he was compelled by the very obscurity and enigmatic nature of the records which did nonetheless reveal their story to the thinking or candid mind; and that aim is what was lost. What he got was protests over his reporting the sordid, unheroic and treacherous desperate nature of what happened disguised as objections to his literal departures from history.

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I finished Groves of Eagles. I knew my blog written (see Graham’s other historical fiction &c) when I was more than half-way through lacked the necessary knowledge to be able to give a sense of the full shape of the book. Now I realize the ending (to be expected) throws a perspective on the whole book. In this instance it also gives the key to why the author wrote it, why (as Graham clearly planned), he didn’t go on with another. The ending also crystalized some central themes, linking it up with The Forgotten Story on the one hand (Cornwall, 1898, based on a newsprint shipwreck story) and the Poldark novels on the other (1783-1820, Cornwall but also by the time he’s done Paris, Belgium, and Portugal). And finally we learn who the hero’s mother was and that the true heroine of the book is the hero’s long-suffering step-mother, the effectively abject endlessly pregnant and sexually betrayed Dorothy Killigrew.

The book closes with the result of Graham’s character John Killigrew’s betrayal of his trust as the keeper of Pendennis castle: in desperate straits financially, Killigrew in the book accepted bribes from the Spanish to allow them to land; as in the previous Armada, the ships were far too unwieldly to make it through the Channel in storms, and fail to land and invade; they are further hindered by English ships coming back from the West Indies and the Atlantic where they had gone to plunder and invade others. He is taken before the Queen’s Council, and while not found guilty for sure, is imprisoned (more discreetly) as a debtor When the father has his “trial,” Elizabeth I (who appears) and her counselors appear to believe the man was not treacherous, but the next day he is hauled off to jail for debt and there does not seem any way of freeing him. The jail is a place where people sicken and die.

His son, our narrator-hero, Maughan, goes home to find his father’s house being emptied out by debtors, his stepmother giving birth again, helped once again by the physician-witch Katherine Footmarker; soldiers with an new Captain in charge of Pendennis Castle; debt collectors taking charge of everything else in sight. Maughan proceeds to eject everyone he can. Maughan has to make a much compromised way out for himself and do what he can to salvage his stepmother’s fate by accepting what he regards as bleak choices, which includes marriage to the female protagonist I had thought (but no longer do) was to be the main and idealized heroine, Sue, at the price (what she demands) of accepting a place from Henry Howard whom Maughan dislikes, and distrusts. Sue is no Demelza.

That this betrayal and the way it was treated in court and the historical record was central to the impulse to write his book (and perhaps a series of books set in Cornwall during the Renaissance) is revealed in Graham’s final note “to Purists” whose irritation I now understand. The purpose of the Note is to tell the readers that the story of the actual historical John Killigrew is close to that told of the fictional one in the book and was found by Graham in local Cornish and London records. So too that of his historically real “base” son, Maughan, who was also captured, kidnapped, imprisoned in Spain and then attached to the Spanish court. It may be that Graham took liberties (as all historical fiction writers must do), but the main thrust and most of the details of the lives of these Killigrews and Ralegh (including the climactic court case) remains close to the historical truth.

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Portuguese carracks off fortified coast

It seems that Graham was attacked by his readership on the grounds that he had not stayed true to literal history and pickayune fusses were made of places where he departed. From the way Graham writes it seems that he does not realize these attacks are stalking horses for the real objection: the readers did not like his exposure of the realities of betrayal by these English heroes; they didn’t like his unheroic treatment of war at sea (the senseless raid on Cadiz if what was wanted was any wealth or control) as a mess, awful, pointless much of it. And ironically (showing his distance from this pop readership) what attracted Graham was that the central core of Killigrew’s story remained implicit, the reality that what goes down onto the historical record is half-lies, delusions (as Ralegh’s tales of what he founds in Guiana which in the book are suggestively rightly undercut).

Thus Graham in his note to “purists:”

This has been a novel primarily about the Killigrews, a not unimportant Cornish family whose history appears and disappears tantalisingly among the records of time. Sometimes the bare facts of their existence are recorded, sometimes the facts are richly and revealingly clothed, sometimes there are frustratiosn and impenetrable silence …
     There are a number of eye-witness reports of the raid on Cadiz, most famous, no doubt, Ralegh’s own. But in the main I have relied on an unpublished manuscript in the Lambeth Palace Library, probably written by someone on Ralegh’s flagship; and it is on this manuscript that I have depended for the account of Ralegh’s adventure the night before the battle — an adventure which, at least in detail, seems to have escaped his numerous biographers-and also for the story of the loss of the Peter of Anchusen. The treasure fleet at Cadiz was in fact not burned until twenty-four hours later than stated in this book.
     The extent to which John Killigrew became committed to the Spanish cause is perhaps arguable, but the evidence which exists does seem to me conclusive. Not only Facy’s report on William Love’s statement, mentioned in the novel, but many other reports of a like nature which filtered in at the end of 1597 and continued to do so through much of the following year. William Astell’s testimony, February 22, 1598, was that it was rumoured at the Groyne (Coruna) that John Killigrew had been executed for treason. Peter ScobIe reported May 5, 1598, that while a prisoner of the Spaniards he was constantly questioned as to whether John Killigrew had been put to death or was in prison. But the conclusive testimony comes from the Spanish side-hints and references in various letters-and perhaps most of all in the order issued by the Adelantado that those at Falmouth were to be well used during the landing, all others put to the sword.
     I have no evidence that Ralegh spoke up for John Killigrew when he was brought to London to answer for his behaviour, but it is not out of keeping with his character that he should have done so

********************

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Christmas ritual parade by tavern

We actually have a pair of heroines at the close. Dorothy Killigrew who has been such a faithful sexual partner, submissive to John Killigrew (endlessly pregnant) leaves a letter to her husband, offering him her last 10 pounds (Bk 5, ch 10, p 465):

Old letters always have a pathos, seeing these after so many years brings back that time with a poignancy. Perhaps not so much for my father … but for poor Dorothy Killigrew and for all that time of youth and striving and and the stress of a life gone forever

This is one of many passages which suggest the book actually is supposed to be a story retold from a mid-17th century perspective that Graham meant to write his Elizabeth chronicles up to.

Maughan remembers how this stepmother did all she could for him, was of “noble soul,” ever kind (if quietly so), and tells us he saved this letter ever after.

And it’s revealed Katherine Footmarker was indeed Maughan’s mother. Of genteel but lower origins than suited John’s father and without money, the marriage was forbid and it was though she died. But she turned up in Cornwall. Again with no explanation we see that though once John Killigrew loved her and treated her son well, he had learned to hate her for standing for what he had lacked (the courage to marry her) and in the end did him in (his desire for pomp, luxury, the world’s admiration, power). Katherine Footmarker saved her son a number of times, taught him medicine — Maughan has a Dwight Enys side.

While these shattered and half-ghost heroines were probably not meant to function as sympathetic heroines for us to bond with in the later books, in this one re-read that is how they emerge — along with Meg who solaced and saved Maughan when young. We might think of Sue as the equivalent of Arabella in Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (or maybe Sue herself). Why do I say this? I surmise another heroine would have emerged in a second volume of “the Killigrews.”

I began to see too that the deeply enjoyed ritualistic Christmas festival that occurred in the opening of the book and repeated as ever sadder lost moments as the book proceeds was to be brought back again at the opening of the next. In the Poldark books these seasonal moments of gathering characteristically occur at the books’ close

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Irish coast where 1st Armada ships crashed

The book also does come most alive when set in Cornwall. Then we get these evocative descriptions of land, weather, the passing of time

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Walter Ralegh and his son, painted 1602

The book has a sort of surprise final conclusion in its very last pages, one which we don’t foresee but when it comes seems what was to be expected. What else could Maughan do now?. Maughan marries Sue but in an atmosphere of intense disillusion, bleakness, dissrust. As with Clowance finding out that Stephen Carrington had been such an egregious liar, their marriage was even bigamous ((Poldark Twisted Sword), so Maughan discovers that Sue knowing he was alive went ahead with her marriage to the older man who now dead has provided them with far more money than she admits — we see this in the house they move into. She insists he break with Ralegh and his old Cornish familial connections as the price of her body (in effect). He could hold on, but he sees how tenuous is Ralegh’s hold, if not the place as a servant to Ralegh’s wife that he was offered. Does he want to stay in Cornwall? how ambitious is he? Enough. He also decides to leave apparently to escape the tragedy of his father and step-mother’s home. It’s taken over by a new daughter-in-law, calculating hard.

I had thought Sue in type like Graham’s Elizabeth Chynoweth, but I’m wrong there; she’s a character in her own right, keenly ambitious and amoral and not likely to tell Maughan the truth when it doesn’t suit her. At first Sue seemed merely prudent or cautious in the manner of say Graham’s Clowance, but her determination to make Maughn work for a man he distrusts and despises (Howard, and we have seen with cause — Howard threatens Maughan with his reversion to Catholicism to avoid torture, starvation, execution by burning); Sue’s willingness to use a threat of marriage to another man rather than Maughn rather reminds me of Elizabeth (see especially Part 5, Ch 8, pp 452-54). Sue thinks she is going to get more power, money, prestige, and forgets the full bargain is Arundell will end up owning her and she becomes subject to him as happened in the Warleggan-Elizabeth marriage. But she is also Rowella (Four Swans) ruthless sexually too.

There are moments at the close where Maughan reminded me of John Ridd in Lorna Doone.

This bleakness of the wedding ceremony for Maughan is replicated in his having taken the position with the Howards that Sue demanded Paradoxically it does seem she is right: he must sever himself from Ralegh if advancement is his aim. The Howards are going up and in history (Graham points this out in his historical note) the Howard who hires Maughan was part of the party of Britishers who rode to Scotland to invite James VI of Scotland to become James I. Ralegh is in the Queen’s favor as the book ends, but we have seen enough to know it won’t last; he can’t resist participating in deluded slaughters (another has just occurred over near the West Indies with nothing gained again). But Maughan is uncomfortable with these treacherous types around Howard, and alas, I do see this Howard is presented as homosexual and Graham makes this a real count against him. This bigotry of Graham’s would hurt him much today among an intelligent readership.

This kind of ambiguous ending is typical of the Poldark books only then we usually have an uplift of a final scene of acceptance between Ross and Demelza so it’s not so bleak except in Black Moon. There is no such scene here. The father is dying probably (he did in history). From the last sentence of the book it does seem as if Graham wanted to carry on with this book as another in a cycle, but perhaps its reception deterred him. As I say, he seems unaware the complaints couched as objections to his historicity are really aimed at his undermining the ‘glorious’ view of history perhaps common to historical novels. The one battle we do experience is mess of death, chance, destruction, misery (the attack on Spain which succeeds only like many war attacks gets nothing). They do it because it’s there said Philip Sidney then.

Not that Maughan is blamed for turning himself to participate in the conspiracy or his Catholicism — though he feels intense remorse upon remembering how he turned his mother out in the last pages of the book and was insufficiently active on Dorothy’s behalf. He abjured as soon as he could, but we see he is going down the road to compromise and corruption once again, led partly by his sexual appetite and desire to have a woman, a home, someone to cling to.

********************

GodolphinHouseCornwallblog
Godolphin House, Cornwall, a building from the later 16th century (photo from Graham’s Spanish Armada, a book as much about Cornwall as the Armada)

The book is more like the first type of fiction he defined as the types he defined in his Poldark’s Cornwall: where historically real people are central. Books 1-7 of the Poldarks are all fictional people within a real setting; Books 8-12 have real people appear but not central.

Graham’s historical fiction is as relevant today as it was at the close of WW2 when he first turned to the genre. When Maughan is imprisoned, he is for a long time put in solitary confinement. We see him go more than mad, deteriorate, nearly die. It has now for the first time reached public consciousness how cruel these ordinary (yes) procedures in US prisons are. Like his dramatization of disability in the Poldarks, Graham presentation of imprisonment, captivity afterwards and why people betray others is ahead of his time.

Ellen

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Some people say that life is the thing, but I much prefer reading.” — Logan Pearsall Smith

“I have lost friends, some by death… others through sheer inability to cross the street. — Virginia Woolf


Hans Holbein, possibly Katherine Howard (fifth wife of Henry VIII)

Dear friends and readers,

Do you find, gentle reader, that you sometimes remember the very first books you ever loved or read and realize that on some level you are still delving there? The first adult books I ever read — taken out of the adult library with an adult card were fat thick biographies of Renaissance queens. I still see the sturdy dull brown covers (they were recovered older books) of 2 books one on Margaret de Navarre and one on her daugjhter, Jeanne d’Albret. Many years later: how many years did I spend reading, researching Renaissance women, writing about them? I’ve now read Margaret’s long inward meditation Dante-like journey poem, Prisons, in an English translation, her spiritual “chansons” in French and literary critical books, one on her and Vittoria Colonna compared (Silvia Laura Ansermin), others on the Heptameron, especially good, Patricia Francis Chokalian, Rape and Writing in the Heptameron, and one of the most vivid insightful books on a Renaissance woman I’ve ever found, Francois Kermina’s Jeanne d’Albret: La mere passionnee d’Henri IV, and what I felt was its cousin Kermina’s study of Madame Roland or la Passion Revolutionaire.

It seems to me that part of my graduate study and the first 20 years of reading and writing after I left graduate school which culminated in my translations of Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara and my student of Renaissance women’s life-writing is another coming full circle.


A modern imagined idea of Sally Hemings from some contemporary descriptions, probably idealized

Well, I’ve been unexpectedly hooked by a book I can’t recommend but will blog about when I’ve finished it: Cynthia Kierner’s Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello, the oldest white daughter of Thomas Jefferson by his first wife, Martha Wayles Skelton. It’s remarkably readable, and reveals sufficiently a particular life of an 18th century gentlewoman at the same time as it consistently omits much about the second central player, Jefferson himself: his political vision as well as his private life apart from his white family and public life: the relationship with the woman who had she not been African-American and his slave might have been called his second wife: Sally Hemings. Sally certainly lived enough years with and bore many children by him.

I’m intrigued by a relationship I can’t delve: one of the first semi-adult books I remember reading, around age 10, was a slenderish (novella-length) biography meant for say an adolescent, Patsy Jefferson. I can’t recall the author. It was not a “young adult fiction” (or non-fiction), of the sort publishers produce today, deliberately written to a niche, simplified prose and somewhat naive realities, but a real reading book but in the young adult section of an old-fashioned library (in the Bronx where I grew up), one of several rows of books picked out by librarians. Many years later I picked up a copy of another book very like it, which I also read, slightly later (I was 11) LouAnn Gaeddert’s All in All, a biography of George Eliot. Produced by Dutton, I reread it when I found it and showed it to my older daughter, who alas did not show much interest. It is really suitable for a young adolescent or teen; it’s relatively frank telling of George Eliot’s life and career, how she left her father over a religious crisis, went to London, fell in love with Lewes who could not marry her, went to live with him, built a career, and when he predeceased her, her second marriage and death not long afterward. It even has some mild literary criticism.

I don’t know that I’ve come quite full circle with Patsy since what I have in my hands also and will read next is Annette Gordon-Read, The Hemingses of Monticello: the story not only of Sally, but of her mother who was a slave and had many children by Jefferson’s first wife’s father. These children all called Hemings are the subject of this arduously researched book. It’s both books that I need to read and I think I need to because I want to return to what I began when I was 10 and now read a fully adequate or adequate book on this Jefferson’s daughter — and second common-law enslaved wife.

Many years after All in All I can say that having read all Eliot’s fiction, a lot of her non-fiction, several biographies, her life-writing in various forms and lots of literary criticism, plus watched a number of great film adaptations, I fulfilled what I began when I read Gaeddert’s book.


Jodhi May as Mirah Lapidoth in Andrew Davies’ 2002 film adaptation of Eliot’s Daniel Deronda — May consistently appears as precisely the heroine type I bond with again and again — from Sarah Lennox in Aristocrats to Anne Boleyn in a fine BBC film

None of this is part of the reading I keep planning will be my whole occupation over this fall. I just couldn’t resist Patsy as over the years I’ve not been able to resist George Eliot, the Brontes, Austen, Renaissance queens and literary women, all begun when I was young.

A corollary is that I find I am very disappointed by women who write books with male heroes at the center. Reading about the gender fault-line in tastes this week I came across the common or at least familiar idea that women are willing to make the cross-over and read books with men at the center as happily as they do women at the center and enjoy identifying easily with the heroes while men are often not willing to make the cross-over. Some men are not just embarrassed to admit they enjoy women’s books and identify with women’s heroines (not just read them as one would about an erotic object); they genuinely cannot or will not enter into a book with a female at the center.

In my experience, as limited as it is (for how many friends have I had with whom I discuss this sort of thing and are willing to be truly candid), I’ve found a lot of women like me. I strongly strongly prefer a novel with a woman at the center and have found I often like them best when the book is written by a woman. You can get men who come close to writing heroine’s texts or whose heroes have a feminine sensibility, can encompass female obsessions, needs, roles (Trollope, Henry James, E.M. Forster, LeCarre) but I find I often find a greater satisfaction when this kind of novel is by a woman (say Gaskell or Oliphant). I don’t make the cross-over in movies with ease either.

And yet I’ve fallen in love with these historical Poldark fictions by Winston Graham where he has males at the center as much and more than his females, intelligent, complex characters. I identify with his males too. In the last Poldark, Bella Poldark I found I recognized my own kind of self-destructive needling of people and social awkwardness stemming from a background of rejection by one parent and over-possession by the other: Valentine Warleggan. How can this be? I want to understand. My idea is to explore historical fiction, long a favorite with me but also romance and mystery and how these two latter popular kinds blend in with historical fiction. I’ve already done some of this with my reading of Jerome de Groot and Helen Hughes, but I’m not satisfied. Why these books? of course I know it’s something individual in me that a chord is hitting, and that he keeps hitting it in his major characters and their fates. Can I find someone who comes near to discussing this chord as it comes out in historical fiction or these kinds? If nothing else, I’d be able to predict what book I should read next and not waste my little time left.

So I began again with Pamela Regis’s book about what’s called “romance novels” for women. Suffice to say I discovered that (what I already knew) while Graham has some romance patterns, his books do not at all fit into Regis’s notion. Still in reading the first half of Regis’s book I thought Pamela Regis did make visible a pattern that is true to many heroine’s texts, one most feminists overlook.

Regis suggests there are 8 essential motifs or events/occurrences found in romance novels that she defines as a heroine-centered novel about the falling in love and courtship of a woman which ends happily in marriage. According to her, this plot-design allows for the reading traveling with the heroine from innocence into maturity. The stages are: first a definition or description of a society (often flawed, disordered); the meeting of the heroine with the hero; a barrier which keeps them apart; an intense attraction; a declaration of love; a point where all is despaired of (ritual death); then recognition (that you are all in all to one another, you have found your deeply congenial mate); and, lastly, betrothal. The text (or film) can end here, but three more paradigmatic events often recur: the wedding, dance or fete, which brings all the characters together; the exiling of a scapegoat who represents the worst norms of behavior (e.g., in Austen’s P&P Wickham), and someone who behaves very badly converted to agree to the marriage of the central pair sufficiently (again in Austen’s P&P, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Miss Bingley, just).

I cited Austen’s P&P twice. Regis declares Austen’s P&P the most perfect romance novel ever written, and it seems clear that she just about derives her paradigms from this novel. Not altogether as her examples from the 18th and 19th century include Richardson’s Pamela, Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Forster’s A Room with a View.

I am bothered by several troubling elements in her book. First, she insists that the romance novel have a happy ending. If it does not, it cannot be a “good” or successful one. It will not have done its “job” or performed its “function.” The same idea was produced in Janice Radway’s famous study of romances as read by ordinary women in a mid-western commnunity. Thus DuMaurier’s Rebecca (courtship can also occur after a marriage) and Mitchell’s GWTW cannot be “good” romance novels as their endings are qualified. I cannot see this. I agree with Regis and others that a marriage at the close of a book need not be an imprisonment at all: it can provide real liberty within the terms a real society offers, contentment, security, peace. But I do not see that one must have a happy ending. It seems not to be important at all to Regis what are the particular inward values a novel promulgates (like the trade of virginity for high status in Pamela). I prefer a sad ending to one that is not believable or one based on ugly values the couple will then embody in their lives (be these competition, exploitation, greed, pride whatever).

This reminds me of how I’ve read repeatedly that good mystery novels are escapist and comfort book. To the contrary, when I’m really involved in a mystery novel where characters I care about are at risk of harm (murder, rape), I feel all anxiety, not comfort. I rise from a Susan Hill novel disquieted about society — as I should be, given norms of aggressive behavior allowed. What I like is the qualified happy, unhappy or making do ending.


Jodhi May as the feminine lesbian in Tipping the Velvet (Andrew Davies’ film from Sarah Walters’ marvelous romance novel)

Last in the last part of Regis’s book her examples of 20th century romance novels are all poor and trite: she suddenly shows herself enamored of glamor, of alpha males, accepts rape, does not at all demand complex psychology, will not tolerate truly vulnerable, sensitive, distressed hurt heroes or heroines who at the close are worldly failures.

So one must take the 8 stages and the three optional paradigms apart from the rest of Regis’s perspective and use them to understand genuinely humane, intelligent complex romances. For myself I have to have a definition of romance much wider than the courtship pattern, one which includes other patterns of woman’s lives after marriage and if they don’t marry at all. It must only have a happy ending that is warranted and one that does not celebrate meretricious or unexamined values. With this corrective, I find myself thinking back to so many of the novels by women (and men) with heroines at the center which I’ve loved very much and understanding their structures much better.

I have begun Ford Madox Ford’s famous Fifth Queen: about Katherine Howard and it seems to me superior to Hilary Mantel’s two-prize winning historical fictions set in the Renaissance, centering on the earlier Tudor courts and Thomas Cromwell. This Cromwell has fascinated fine minds: like Bolt for his Man for All Seasons.

I do need companionship and am finding in these books companionship and explanations for why I do find it here. I was not able to lead the 20th century careerist modern woman’s life nor am that of the socially active mother or wife, and these eras (pre-20th century) before the recent constructions of these roles emerged offers me women who feel the way I do. Friends. Instead of writing this blog I could’ve told you a personal story, reader, that ended badly for me, but that kind of thing is supposed to be reserved for my Sylvia blog and after all it is too painful and too much about cyberspace experiences for me to be able to do it.

I find myself reading today, more than 56 years after I was born and I first began to read books meant for adult and semi-adult readers, the same kinds of matter I read from the time I started reading, only I take a much more knowledgeable, sophisticated and I sincerely hope enlightened approach.

Ellen

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Michael Benz was a superlative Hamlet — within the limits of the kind of acting used

Dear friends and readers,

Jim and went out last night to see the London Globe company act Hamlet at our Folger Shakespeare Library. Like last time (8 summers ago now, in the Globe Theater itself in London where we were groundlings), the company’s way of doing the plays left me cold. They again enacted actors acting the parts. For me the result is too stylized.

The dress this time reminded me of the way people costume the rude mechanicals in Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and before the play started two actors, one playing Polonius (Christopher Saul) and one Claudius (Dickon Tyrell, a superbly effective presence even in stylized patterns), mingled with the audience. They were people like us you see, their costumes not so different from ours. The era imitated was 1940s mostly, with Miranda Foster having her hair in a snood, buns on top of her head, seamed stockings, 1940s pump shows. One problem was, why 1940s? This choice of era was not addressed. Like the Shenandoah play, the company do it in the light. Minimal props. I loved all this in a way. And I can’t really complain that they depend wholly on the lines spoken beautifully in a talk way. That means you’ve got to listen — and you appreciate the words both how they still speak to us and how they are Elizabethan in feel, outlook, nuance. But during the intermission I heard people talking about how hard it was for them to keep up, to follow. Those who had read the play rejoiced. I’ve read it many times so I could follow. I loved the folk dancing before and aft. They do get across the comic moments of Shakespeare’s even most pessimistic of plays.

A couple of the younger actors were weak. There were but 8 of them, lots of thoughtful doubling. Tom Lawrence most notably as Horatio stood out as somehow embodying a quintessential English Renaissance player look. The actors playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern came in with sheepish comic looks, carrying suitcases, tennis rackets, vacation stuff. The whole feel alluded to Stoppard’s play — so the aesthetic control could be broken to allude to another art world.

But finally I prefer modern psychological enactment because I was not moved until near the end. The acting keeps me at a distance: the pace is too quick, and the gestures somehow slightly frozen, graceful in frenetism would be the way I’d characterize the Hamlet-Gertrude hard encounter. The American Shakespeare Company players (formerly Shenandoah express) do their plays using modern psychological mimesis with direct connections to our lives and norms today. I also much preferred the more abridged Hamlet we saw this summer: this Globe version was shortened too, lines sweated, here and there a speech omitted).

Go see it as an attempt to bridge the past into the present.

For a list of the company, director and notes, see Globe on Tour with Hamlet (they come to the Folger).

Ellen

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John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (Patrick Earl as Giovanni, the lover-brother, and Denice Mahler as his sister-lover, Annabella), from the ASC’s production 2012

Dear friends and readers,

This is a “must-see” production. So wrote the “Mid-Atlantic Travel Blogger” who while anonymous had enough clout to see a “private” performance of John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore by the group who used to call themselves “The Shenandoah Shakespeare”. He or she couldn’t or doesn’t explain why; indeed seemed puzzled how such a “twisted” play could please, and put it down to “shock.”

Within a few seconds of the start of the second act, I realized this was the production Ford’s daring play calls for: its note throughout is a gleeful exposure of the angry cynicism, amorality or sheer stupidity (imbecility) of all the authority figures of the play: some are amoral such as the cardinal (Rick Blunt), who is disinclined to prosecute the murder of one citizen because the murderer has some connections, and who gathers up all the gold left by dead strewn across the stage at the play’s close; some are justifiably cynical like Hippolita (Stephanie Holladay Earl), rejected wife of a nobleman; or Vasques (Eugene Douglas) a kind of Iago who pronounces moral lessons. There are simpletons who enforce unexamined norms: Florio (Daniel Abraham Stevens), Annabella’s father who forces her to marry the vicious treacherous Soranzo (Jake Mahler). There are the complicit for their own appetites and interest’s sake, Putana, Annabella’s “nurse” (Bridget Rue as brothel madam); Grimaldi, willing to murder at the drop of a sword (typical type of this era, played by Michael Amendola). Dark farce is the way much of these interactions are performed, with over-the-top garishly sexual costuming for the women. The story is complicated but it’s told simply at wikipedia).

Really though there’s nothing new here for us in 2012. Old hat since Marat/Sade. What is startling and commendable is from the second part of the play on, the players did Giovanni and Annabella’s love for one another as totally passionate, a beautiful thing, two souls made for one another with the most idealistic soaring of the spirit. Here’s Annabella telling Soranza what Giovanni is:

This noble creature was in every part
So angel-like, so glorious, that a woman
Who had not been but human, as was I,
Would have kneeled to him, and have begged for love.
You! why you are not worthy once to name
His name without true worship, or indeed,
Unless you kneeled, to hear another name him. (Act 3, sc 3)

The look of aspiration in Earl’s eyes is pitch perfect:

The twisting of this young man from within until he goes mad by the end of the act and himself cruelly murders Annabella (Othello-like, and Ford alludes to Othello, he cannot bear to have his woman taken by Soranzo nightly) and stalks about covered with the blood of Soranzo crazed and vehemently assailing the world from the top of his lungs on the top of a high table — these final moments are where the plot-design of the whole play had been heading.

As ever, our players “did it with the lights on,” and so they had no technology to rivet or distract us with. Earl as Giovanni was up to absorbing an audience into awed silence watching him. At the play’s close he has not the problem of what to do next since Vasques comes up to stab him from behind and then has his hired assassins (several in black who turn up whenever needed) to finish the job off:


The woman imitates a police offer, the men without the religious symbols FBI and spy-detective types, and then there’s a priest

The second half of this production was thus much braver than the Capital Fringe Festival group two summers ago who drew out of an abridged version of the play a socially acceptable feminist moral: at one point Annabella tells us (in this production from a high window) we are seeing “A wretched, woeful woman’s tragedy (Act 5, sc 1). But the dignity with which she is endowed, and the way the previous production managed to suggest this play was about men oppressing women was not followed here. This Annabella grovels on the floor:

The lines emphasized are those which present the two people as gripped by love, unable to do without one another surrounded by these “vile” types. The production used “mash-up” techniques for the intermission and during the play we were treated to 1950s rock-n-roll ballads that were very familiar to me, strains of them which I could not quite place: about love a blind passion, about loneliness. Soranzo’s bullying becomes a raping of Annabella nightly instead of justifiable rage at finding himself stuck with a pregnant woman who will not tell her lover’s name; he orders her to bed (the lines are there) where he will again do what he wants. Coerced marriage is rape.

The play put me in mind of Simon Raven’s unfortunately little known masterpiece novel, Fielding Gray: the life of the homosexual male is twisted and perverted by having to hide it, being subject to blackmail and abuse. Heterosexuals can be as nasty and horrible as they please in their sex life, it remains okay as it’s heterosexual; homosexual sex is not prima facie no good in itself; it’s what the society does to it that makes it base and wild (see my blog on Andrew Davies’s film adaptation of Hollinghurst’s Line of Beauty). So too incest here. Ford’s play differs from the many Jacobean plays enacting incest or incestuous desires and vicarious sex (Beaumont and Fletcher’s Maid’s Tragedy, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Webster’s Duchess of Malfi, Middleton’s Women Beware Women): Ford empathizes with the lovers. As Eric Minton puts it, Giovanni and Annabella are just these “true-hearted individuals who just happen to have fallen in love with someone sprung from the same womb. Theirs may be the squirmiest sin, but many other characters prove more loathsome in their violent natures, their greed, their infatuation with revenge, and their self-serving self-righteous.” Minton then goes over the downright silly in the play but omits one young woman, Philotis (Bridget Rue), who is sent to a nunnery in a sort of daze: she had on a shiny satiny skirt with a petticoat which reminded me of outfits made for little girls who are given tap-dancing lessons by middle class US parents for the once-a-year stage performance.

Alas though, reading the Mid-Atlantic Traveler, and finding hardly any reviews of this play, and remembering how the previous production I have seen (so to speak) normalizes the action in terms of 20th century values, perhaps the players and their director were rightly cautious in the introduction and first half. They had an added on introduction which both trivialized the coming play and warned us against it, going so far as to tell us Giovanni was a bad villain. It was all a joke we were going to see, but if we couldn’t take some (whisper the word) “incest,” perhaps we shouldn’t stay. Then the first act had the actors at first turning to the audience as if to ask for boos. What they discovered was there were several fools in the first row who took this seriously and began to call out heckling comments which was then half-clapped by further idiots further back. The play-acting in this first act was oddly artificial and over-the-top strident, rather like a clown show. The way of playing the love of Giovanni and Annabella and the betrayals of the other characters seemed to suggest it was a mystery what could possibly have fuelled Ford to write such a ridiculous piece. Maybe the heckling did some good, for I could see the actors begin to stop appealing to the audience, back off, speed up, though not until the second act did the front row people begin to realize they were not supposed to boo Giovanni or call him out as a “bad guy.” Perhaps the gouging out of Putana’s eyes after Vasques manipulates and deludes her into revealing that Annabella’s lover is Giovanni did the trick to silence them. I admit they interfered with my enjoyment in the first act and was relieved when they fell silent.

During the intermission for the first time in all the many times I have seen ASC productions (a lot of them by now), I began to think well, at long last they have goofed. Or maybe it was that in such a conservative era, and in this mid-Virginia Shenandoah valley (not so far off is Evangelical Jerry Falwell country) they were scared off of doing justice to the very material they had chosen. I might have suggested to Jim we go home, only it had been a 3 hour drive to get there. But I remembered the choice of ’50s music during the intermission and hoped it was deliberate and stayed.

In the event, the actors switched gears totally and the last hour and a half was magnificent in energy, bravura, acting, poignancy.


From a Brooklyn Academy of Music production

It may be that the day we went there just happened to be a number of naive audience members in the first row. I have seen actors on stage make the mistake of inviting an audience slightly to cut up, and have to actually not just back up but even half-scold said audience to get them to be courteous in their interactions again. One must not forget that the actors on a stage are in a state of abjection to the audience: they may seem to be individually triumphing, releasing themselves, showing off, but they are performing for us, nailed down to their scripts, often showing themselves, costumed in dangerously vulnerable ways. Actors have sometimes had overtly to separate themselves from evil characters to protect themselves from the audience’s identification of them with their roles. I have read insightful accounts of theater which make this point about the reality of the actor’s rightly unacknowleged position of supplication (See Kristina Straub’s Sexual Suspects: 18th Century Players and Ideology on the long-hard slog actors of the 18th century performed to gain respect stop heckling and abuse, and protect the actresses.) I had not actually experienced what this means before this.

Jim had a different take — while just as surely recommending going to see it if you are at all within driving distance. Over dinner Jim argued that Ford is playing with ideas, at a distance from them (in the way I think of the Fletcher plays, Middleton and Massinger in his comedies). The play, Jim says, is misogynistic. Ford judges Annabella to be a whore, using the term in a general vilifying way to mean any woman who has sex outside marriage even if with just one man. (Izzy protested that Annabella cannot be a whole because she is paid nothing, has no money; she used the 20th century definition of whore means prostitute which is the way I use the term.) Jim maintains the text of the play blames Annabella. Her looseness starts the evil spreading. PUtano had it coming to her. Vasques is the Vindice (revenger on behalf of God and providence) character and that’s why he is left standing. Jim suggested that since a modern audience would dislike this very much, and want to empathize with a tragic character and feel for the victims, the people who do Ford must alter the play into black farce. Then we don’t worry who is to blame. Or they can, like the Capital Fringe people, impose a modern anti-misogynistic message by abridging.


Tragic heroine from The Broken Heart

I’m not sure. I find it hard not to read Ford’s The Broken Heart as feminist. If we are to blame Annabella, why not Giovanni who is cursed by several authority figures in the play. Surely Soranzo. Vasques recalls Shakespeare’s Iago.

So don’t miss the play. This is a play where the behavior spectacle of the audience may become part of the play and the play itself of real interest.

Ellen

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Robert Fripp’s website

Dear readers and friends,

I am honored and delighted to have a guest blogger today. Robert Fripp, the author of Dark Sovereign, a thoroughly researched play that does justice to Richard III. Robert came across my blog-review of the WSC’s production of Richard III: WSC Richard III: a parable about politicians. He liked what I wrote and was prompted to write himself about this king and his play here:

Richard III: Receiving emergency care after mauling by Shakespeare

Discussing Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Richard III, Ellen recently wrote, “They [the WSC] mean to take [Richard III] into the 21st century; as the director says, it’s not a history play anyway (as nowadays we know Shakespeare was repeating heavily shaped Tudor propaganda).”

“It’s not a history play anyway.” Too true. Shakespeare’s Richard III comes close to emulating British pantomime, where a rough-looking male with five o’clock shadow plays a wicked step-mother, and the leading lad is a nubile young woman in tight-fitting Robin Hood garb. Shakespeare’s Richard III goes far beyond character assassination. It crosses the line into farce.

Someday we may recognize 1983 as a watershed year in the history of research and reportage on the subject of Richard III; not because 1983 marked the 500th anniversary of Richard’s accession to the throne. Rather, because a current affairs television producer in Toronto (me) got so fed up with the quasi-history and fabulous (in the literal sense) character assassination of Richard III that I started writing a “better” play than Shakespeare to produce a plausible King Richard. I’ve written my play, Dark Sovereign, in the English it was available to for Shakespeare—which I learned to write “fluently.”

Strange projects may spawn stranger outcomes. Whether Dark Sovereign lives or dies as a play, overnight it is now the longest drama written in Renaissance English. Dark Sovereign bumps Hamlet and Richard III from being the first and second longest down to being second and third. I never intended Dark Sovereign to be performed at full length. My Introduction invites directors “to grab a machete and roll up their sleeves.”

Now to our new Richard III. As a boy, he took military training at Middleham Castle, in the North Riding of a northern county, Yorkshire. Much later, he married Lady Anne Neville, who grew up at Middleham. In Dark Sovereign, before Richard proposes to Anne, Robert has Richard remind her:

” ‘Twas in your father’s house I learn’d to war.
Remember wi’ yourself, how I bethought was
to play David in Golias’ armour;
whilst did you, a little golden girl, sit out and pick pied daisies.”

Five hundred years after the king’s death in battle, two Richard IIIs stalk England. Shakespeare’s ambitious psychotic still enjoys a warm welcome in the South. But many Northerners won’t hear a bad word against Richard. In many respects he was a benign governor in the North. When you enter a pub in Leeds, Leicester, Nottingham, Manchester or York, be careful what you say.

For nearly a decade Richard served as military commander in the North, defending the border against Scottish raiders on behalf of his brother, King Edward IV. In Dark Sovereign, a letter informs Richard that King Edward’s ambitious queen, Elizabeth Woodville, appears to be reaching for regal command herself, and Richard’s allies demand that he hurry to London. Richard angrily responds:

Richard: “I am to Edward shield and general captain
in the office of a wall against the Scot.
But these would have me hole the wall,
lay down my arms, quit vigilance, invite invasion.
Is England so phantastically king’d, that I
—while Scotsmen ravish English wives—
must haste to London,
there to save my brother from his queen?
Psha! Though it be comfort-killing, yet the Border is my stage.
I’ll order myself in the play I have in hand.”

When King Edward dies, Queen Elizabeth Woodville is able to use Edward’s underage heir, their son, as a rubber stamp to enact mischievous policy. Richard in turn is forced to react. Given the opportunity to seize the boy, he joins forces with Harry, Duke of Buckingham, who reminds Richard how many members of his immediate family had already been killed during England’s war for dynastic power:

BUCKINGHAM: “Our hurt’s not small;
no more is the common griefs of England.
Spare for no cost, no more than if it were the cause of all.
          A time and times the Rose that bare you
wept death-wearied tears for York, which,
claiming England’s dear-bought majesty,
did quit it debt with dearest blood. [110]
‘Twere the devil’s undeserving profit, did your father
—his three sons withal—untimely fall in grave.
For nothing!
          To sway the diadem doth mitigate abominations.
To lose the rule were death. And treason.
Standing: I’ll take me out a pissing while.
I’d purge the wine of fellowship on daisies.”
BUCKINGHAM goes.

RICHARD GLOUCESTER:
“Alone. At last alonely and alone.
The nighted hours pass, a quiet wilderness without,
contráry to the noise keeps coil within … [120]
          … How should I think? nor why, with voice of word,
lend mettle and substantial form to thought?
Springs up this maund’ring from a sudden fury of the night?
or wells it from a lock’d up inly fount? …
          … ‘Tis said the soul is fed with charity,
but charity contendeth ever to prevail upon base fearful parts.
The mind of man is wax, wherein old use sets to his seal. [130]
I’faith, it is his learn’d experience breeds each his habitus.
This man, this habitus, is phoenix-like his gather’d self,
but wanting Charity’s pure phoenix-fire
came to his years unpurified.
Seldom suck’d I Charity wi’ nurses’ milk.
How the devil can I express her?”

At this point, Richard broaches a topic much debated in late medieval and early modern times. Dante Alighieri had introduced this question in his Divine Comedy: Does the Will or Reason provoke action?

“Whence welleth thought? and whither flows?
Being mine alone, I speak to me alone. But which self speaks?
and whether, as Another I, doth arbitrate his thought,
I may not know. Some humour feeds the tongue, [140]
which, being feeding, moves noise, so.
Other chooseth out th’opinion ears give audience
and which reject, as they were darts turn’d by a buckler.”
          Lights: Dawn breaks.

Enter BUCKINGHAM silently. He listens.

“Speaks Reason to my Will?
or doth proud Will to Reason speak?
The Comedy did anciently set forth how wayward Will
strove with his government, the passive voice of Reason.
O, would I wist which captain order’d thought,
Prescrib’d it me, dictated every deed.
Whether doth the Will or Reason urge me fasten on occasion [150]
of this night to sway the rule on England?
If either door gaped wide, mankind would wholly righteous be
—or damn’d! How stony is the way ‘twixt Reason and the Will,
to judgment.”

I published Dark Sovereign in Arden style, meaning that the text shares the pages with footnotes, giving actors and students instant reference to precise meanings. Precision extends to the language in which his play is written as well as the history. My aim: “The language of Dark Sovereign is precise. It is written in the vocabulary, idioms and syntax of the period from about 1579 (Sir Philip Sidney’s Old Arcadia) to precisely 1626, a cutoff date dictated by technical reasons involving Francis Bacon. This interval of forty-seven years marked the renaissance of English letters. Every word in Dark Sovereign, each syllable, word-sense, expression, verb ending, tense and function, as well as word order, metaphor and construction patterns, is present because the author found precedents in English written before the year 1626.”

Robert Fripp’s URL: RobertFripp.ca/ & LinkedIn (Toronto)
Dark Sovereign: Available in Paperback from Internet vendors
Tags: Robert Fripp, Shakespeare, Richard III, Dark Sovereign

********************

William Hogarth (1697-1764), David Garrick as Richard III (1745, a detail)

Gentle reader,

Allow me to add that it was in the 18th century the first revisionings of the Tudor myth began: with Horace Walpole (see his Historic Doubts). The source for Shakespeare’s propaganda play was Thomas More (a strong defender of Henry VIII — even after Henry VIII decided that More was more than dispensable). The subject is covered in Peter Sabor’s splendid Horace Walpole: The Critical Heritage. Paul Murray Kendall’s study reprints parts of More history and Walpole’s Historic Doubts.

Perhaps the 18th century stage, with turning away from beliefs in numinous kings, its scepticism, and new histories (David Hume, Catherine Macaulay), and its great empathetic actors first stirred pepple to doubt the accuracy of Shakespeare’s powerful play. The love of medievalism which fed into the gothic also created sympathy for the Catholic and Stuart point of view (for example, Sophia Lee’s The Recess, a gothic novel about the supposed twin-daughters of Mary Stuart by Bothwell, and Scott’s novels, Kenilworth and The Abbot) helped create a climate for revision.

E.M.

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… blood streams through the firmament … Marlowe (Doctor Faustus)


Caius Marcius, called Coriolanus (Fiennes) waiting for suppliants

Dear friends and readers,

Do what you have to do to see this film. Maybe it’s not worth a plane ride, but if it’s a longish trip by car (4 hours is not too much to drive) or bus, don’t hesitate. Don’t miss it. We left our house (in Alexandria, Va) at around 3:15 (short car ride, short walk, 25 minutes by train, 10+ minute walk) for a 4:50 show. Good thing we arrived by 4:15 or so. By 4:30 the show was sold out. As we walked out at around 7, the next show was sold out.

I suppose my reader knows the play’s story; if not, here’s a synopsis. This, so I can cut immediately to what makes the film so riveting and important: the acting and how Shakespeare’s core story was made a parable for our times combined with the directing in the context of its mise-en-scene. It seemed to me to break with conventions of such films.

I’ve just read Stephen Greenblatt’s review in the NYRB (59:4, March 8, 2012, 4, 6) It’s unfair to Fiennes. How irresistible it is to ridicule, especially when a character role demands no humor from the actor — though Fiennes managed a moment here and there, as when in exile we see him like today’s homeless people, sitting in front of his tent, looking cold, hungry, slightly puzzled, staring at his stuff.

Fiennes’s directing (the blocking) and acting were (as they say) pitch perfect, uncannily so. I’ve seen him as good before and unlike many other actors he can take on many types (from the bullying dense duke of The Duchess, to the sensitive diplomat of Constant Gardener [the film is dedicated to Simon Channing-Williams who directed CG], to Heathcliff, to the neurotic, yes seeming tall, thin and tortured in an early Prime Suspect). Here he actually managed to project sensitivity now and again amid the crazed militarism of Caius Marcius. The towering fits of rage where he spits out intense hatred and scorn for ordinary people and most of his peers are brought on by something in him that is a nervous wreck, neurotic,but not intimations of Hamlet because there is something dark in his eyes, obtuse, and he is edginess itself. Fiennes may have meant to evoke Marlon Brando in Apocalypse; he was Kurtz looking out at the world and his reasons for refusing to condescend to ask for votes, to taken on the role of suppliant had also to do with an appalled horror at the world he lived in, his own values somehow, not just patrician disgust. (In Tinker Tailor Colin Firth also channeled as they say Brando, but as in The Godfather.) So Shakespeare’s basically conservative message was altered to fit our era, especially perhaps this year, say since 9/14/08, the real year the world changed: when Lehman Bros came near default and the economic and political systems we endure began to be laid bare before us. If there was some music from Apocalyse Now I didn’t hear it. The film had sequences of no-music in the background a lot.

I haven’t seen Vanessa Redgrave in so great a part, one worthy, giving room for abilities in years. (The Merchant-Ivories didn’t.) It’s hard for older women to find great parts. If possible, she was even better than Fiennes. Utterly plausible. Not some scold, not a domineering termagant, but sure of herself with her son. The best scene in the movie was a longish one of her rubbing his really woundered body all over with her hands, binding his wounds with gauze, all around his body, his arms lovingly, as he places himself intimately within the folds of her body. This is followed by a silent one of him lying looking in pain but resting in bed, with Virginia (Jessica Chastain) coming up to him, and gingerly lying down alongside him. This actress does seem to have been chosen because she looks like young actresses all do recently: super-skinny yet large breasted, curvy thickish lips, a jutting kind of face: the way Julia Roberts looked when young, and Cate Blanchet is attempting to keep up nowadays. Chastain can weep, look as if she’d like to escape all this, and has a scene gathering her boys’ toys — naturally a plastic sub-machine gun and other implements of death by his bed. Redgrave (bless her), like Emma Thompson, has not gone super-thin; she still has her regal body, smooth if aging face. Her smiles gave me the creeps, but I think she is not blamed for what happens. One danger of this play is it may be read simply as see what mothers do. No. Fiennes was his own man, the product that belongs to the world around him.

The scene all will remember is the one from which this promotional (and therefore decorous) still I found on line (above) is taken:


Scene mostly from Act 5, Sc 2, lines 23-190: Fiennes as Coriolanus, Redgrave as Volumnia, Gerard Butler soft focus, arms folded, as Aufidius

but this framed picture moment is not characteristic of it. Characteristic are medium shots of her pacing back and forth a bit, standing with her daughter-in-law, Virginia (Jessica Chastain), their woman, Valeria, and the son, now kneeling,

now rising, with a couple of individual moments for the boy (given lines not in Shakespeare), and the wife (she comes up to him, tries caresses, tears (the lines are his in the play, abridged):

As we all know the family wins, Volumnia the pyrrhic victor, and thus causes his destruction, though in the film we do not know that until he returns to Aufidius after signing the treaty, and Aufidius works up a rage in Coriolanus (“boy! boy” Aufidius jeers, rightly at Coriolanus), and then orders the men ringed round him to beat and knife Caius Marcius to death, himself, Aufidius, coming in for the last deep thrust as he, Aufidius, appears at the same time to be making love to the by then dying maimed, again bleeding man. The last moment of the film is Fiennes dead, thrown and kicked onto a steel kind of shield, ready for the garbage.

Menenius (Brian Cox, chain-smoking) is pulled from this scene. (He is there in Shakespeare) to give him a separate suppliant moment. Like Alec Guiness and Gary Oldman (as George Smiley), Cox worked wonders of myriad responses by taking off and cleaning his glasses and putting them back on his face.

Menenius is persuaded by the parliamentary men to try to persuade Coriolanus from further destruction of Rome. This gives the film-makers another chance to allow us to watch someone walk across a land- or city-scape at length, bridges, checkpoints, wasteland, to where he is confronted (a repeating scene in the film) by a group of men standing in phalanx form, holding weapons at the ready, grim. A truck or fleet of fancy cars stands ready and the person is driven to the scene where he must beg, negotiate, whatever. (No wonder Coriolanus hates it — and this we are to feel too.) He is broken by Coriolanus adament refusal to recognize he is even there. (This is not filmed — as it would not work to see it; it would show the man to be the “boy” is he accused of being at the film’s end.

Alas, some of his speeches were cut, others re-arranged. You could not really have that long allegory of society as a human body with the people as its stomach; it would not have fitted the created world, rhythms of the speeches at all, but others were lost that have saturnine subtle political meaning. (I’ve wondered at times how was that Coriolanus done in the 1940s in Paris that caused it’s said a riot.) He, like Volumnia, is the one who urges Coriolanus to the marketplace, the reasoner (it seems), moderate even. (I seem to recall one testimony from the Irangate hearings where someone said “there are no moderates” [in Reagan's or was it Iran's gov't?].) Probably what’s brought in here is the heartbreak of Cassius when Brutus rejects him. Menenius’s world is smashed as Rome is now smashed. Whatever happens now he is personally a loser too. He kills himself by slitting his wrist veins sitting over a filthy dump near a bridge over waters that look polluted.

Most of the other roles were small, not demanding much. Characters as reporters, as heads of gov’t, as important people in the mob — though there I felt there was something of the spirit of the presentation of mobs in say the 1939 Tale of Two Cities. The people are hungry for bread, have no jobs, but they are so easily swayed (as in Shakespeare’s play). They are often played by non-white people, Middle Eastern, Southasian, Spanish looking: Lubna Azabal as Tamora, and Ashraf Baroum as Cassius given names. It takes little to move them to feel for Caius Marcius, and then so little for the two tribunes (Paul Jesson, James Nesbitt) “of the people” to rouse their envy, fear, spite, resentment. I noted the brief presence of a favorite actress (of mine) from recent BBC film adaptations as an anchor woman (Tanya Moodie).

As important was the text (sometimes cleverly moved around by the screenplay writer, John Logan) and settings and costumes. Much of Shakespeare’s central speeches survived, the central plot-design; it’s Shakespeare’s play all right. A transposition (faithful) film. Brilliantly updated. The scenes are are contemporary world of harsh ruthless military dictatorships and parliaments filled with corrupt — utterly out for themselves — insinuating skilful manipulating suited men. The war-torn streets with steel and cement huge buildings in cement cities, and gorgeous mansions set in green landscapes, along side cardboard towns, brick tenements, wretched deteriorating streets, ancient dilapidated stores, tent markets, everywhere at a sudden flowing with people, many wretched, dressed in modern style rags — I thought perhaps we were seeing the streets of the middle east (say Syria, Egypt today, Yemen) or more closely South and Latin America as we used to see them on TV after some decent gov’t was overthrown by a civil war (fomented in part by the US), but Jim thought they were generic. At any rate many were shown to us as if we were watching them on TV film, a news show, with a voice broadcasting at us, and a band of letters underneath.

As with the destruction of the OWS movement, each time there is a confrontation — most of these occur in the first phase of the film, the police come out in full steel paramilitary riot gear and beat the hell out of the people; we see these cage barbed-wire walls set up that have to be broken through; the debris in the streets from last time is what people stumble over.


Street battles: civilians the “collateral damage”

Much of the action that is reported in Shakespeare’s play (by messenger type speeches) is acted out in front of us. Coriolanus, Aufidius, most of the fighting men are seen in camouflage most of the time. For ceremonies Jim says the costume designed resorted to British ceremonial mititary gear for the soldiers, of course suits for politicians.

All this is significant; it breaks with conventions; to some the opening terrifically violent sequence, and the controlled violence which punctuates the latter 3/4s of the film might detract. It’s hard to watch. Really up close shooting people through the head. But I think it matters and it was right to put before this world seen on TV or Youtubes and read about on the Net by its mostly white middle class audience I saw the film with — people living in or not far from an expensive area of DC, calm peaceful areas (so it seems) of Virginia and Maryland who had come by bus and train and walking.

I hope the film reaches far more people, for the film targets people of many types and countries. I don’t make a habit of seeing Shakespeare film adaptations so don’t know how it fits in to this sub-genre recently, but I do go, watch them on TV, through Netflix, certainly go to the theaters in my area and used to go in NYC most of the time a Shakespeare play was staged, and I have read Coriolanus a couple of times. Jim & I saw the RSC perform it as Kennedy Center a few years ago where Timothy West delivered a extraordinary — memorable — performance as Menenius. Izzy reminds me we 3 saw an abridged version at the DC fringe festival two years ago – but I have only vague memories. Still, this is the best Shakespearean film adaptation I’ve seen in a long time because like Shakespeare it speaks home to us today.

As Marlowe said (Shakespeare grieved at the death of this gifted man),
blood streams through the firmament not since 9/11/01 (that was retaliation) but maybe more patently and obviously, inflicted on its immediate early US audience’s own streets since 9/14/08.

Ellen

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Henry VIII (Ildar Abdrazakov) and Anna (Anna Trebenko)


The historical Anne Boleyn (artist unknown)

Dear friends and readers,

Well the season started. Jim has bought tickets for the 3 of us for all but two of the Met-by-HD operas, and one of these Izzy is going to see on her own. We are planning on three operas-by-HD from Europe and two ballets. Two of these events we do enjoy will be around Xmas time.

I was especially interested to see Donizett’s Anna Bolena because I used to study the Renaissance and among the first books I ever read of the adult kind were biographies of Renaissance queens. I began with Henri IV’s mother, Jeanne d’Albret. I spent 20 years translating the poetry of two Renaissance women. I love to read about their life-writing. And I find the numinous archetypal ones to be central in women’s imaginative lives. I once wrote a review of a book of essays one of which was on these compensatory glamorized victims — who include Mary Stuart, Queens of Scots, Marie Antoinette, recently Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana. There will be more of these she-tragedy queens in the HD opera repertoire over the next couple of years.

They are perpetually presented as powerful and perpetually die young after allowing their bodies to be exploited … in European art the Catholic and sexually transgressive Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, a political failure, and probably an accomplice to murder, was depicted as a model of exemplary femininity while (as her rival), the Protestant and apparently chaste Elizabeth I, successful on her own behalf, and an effective powerful leader on England’s behalf, was depicted as a seething sexually frustrated Machiavellian. Like Arbella Stuart and Lady Jane Grey (the first imprisoned for many years went mad, the second beheaded when very young), Mary Stuart’s life could fit a stereotype which presented images of beautiful women coerced into renouncing power while they continued to wield it. Mary’s regalia of power endowed erotic interactions in which a beautiful woman submitted, resigned herself or despaired, with glamorized importance.

Once upon a time Elizabeth Tudor was too clearly powerful to be assimilated into such compensatory iconographies of victimhood. Her learning and unmarried state, which the majority of her audience would not identify with, were ostracized, and she became a grim projection of the miseries of unsubmissive women who do not aim to be loving wives. Nowadays she’s being turned into a sentimental icon of frustration. The flexibility and incongruities of these myths reveals the “normative” demand for female de-sexualization, domesticity, and submission or harsh punishment.

This is where Anne Boleyn fits and today as Miriam Burstein has shown (“The fictional afterlife of Anne Boleyn: how to do things with the Queen, 1901-2006.” CLIO 37.1 (2007), she is common figure in sentimental romance.


Anna Trebenko as Anna as this mysterious romance archetype

So how did this opera fit in? This Anna was a dignified angry saint; Trebenko played her as driven by despair at the close. Nonetheless as whole, as the NYTimes review had it, the play just won’t do. Especially debilitating and tedious was the character of Giovanna Seymour, supposed to be without ambition, just loving the king – and the queen. Ekaterina Gubanova as the tiresomely improbable remorseful Jane was dull. They could have cut some of her arias. She had no insight into the ambivalent feelings such a lady-in-waiting might have felt and acted upon. Myself I think she must’ve been one of these women without self-advocacy, never allowed to enact any.

Ippolito Pindamonte was the librettist. He was an Italian romantic poet something in the tradition of Byron and knew Scott’s novels very well. Well it was his play that Felice Romani turned into an opera. Felice Romani wrote many of the librettos for operas in this era. This was the first of Donizetti’s operas to be a hit, and it might be the “tragedy she-queen” who once lived, the world historical Figure, but it might also be the Pindemonte’s original play was better than most.

The opera as opera was much better than a Washington Post reviewer had it (the writer enjoyed the derision). Beautifully (stunningly consistently) sung by Anna Trebenko (Anna B), but if I was moved (I was) it was partly from remembering a real woman had suffered the terror of beheading.


Anna Bolena (Trebenko) and her ladies

Ildar Abdrazakov acted well a “mad” Henry, nasty, spiteful, vengeful, disdainful of this low woman he made a queen, he made some sense of the role, and while Stephen Costello probably didn’t read Scott, intuitively he recreated a Waverly hero.


Ricardo Percy (Steven Costello) and Anna (Trebenko)

Torture (doubtless done) was included by the costuming of Smeaton sung and acted well by Tamara Mumford. IN history Anne was accused of having a sexual affair with Smeaton. This has ever reminded me of how the court of these unrestricted monarchies is like a harem; the women are all available to the Master; any male around risks castration in some form, here it was beheading.


Smeaton asks for pardon (for having broken under torture)

The sets as prison were very good, the man who sung Hervey, a small part, important: to me today what stands out is how everyone around Henry let him get away with it. Why not update the play with some action. As it opened Henry was trying to get at Jane’s vagina by pulling up her gown. It made that scene more believable.

Still the truth is the sentimentality of the piece is not all that different from a costume drama I watched last night: a great crew of British actors doing Any Human Heart, nor the way everything is attributed to “love”. Nothing venal, petty, trivializing; no one acting for ambition, power, revenge. It should irritate anyone who knows about the Bolyen clan, how they climbed high as fringe court people, how the family pushed Anne and later Jane Boleyn — to hear Anne Boleyn spoken of as powerful.

I find it remarkable to notice that the conversation in the intermission was about the historical figures. People quoted the old rhyme about Henry VIII and his six wives. They half-discussed what little they knew about the era — next to or nothing. Not in any serious way, half-joking I suppose. The historical background or pretense of it helped put the experience across. The Met tried to latch onto that by hiring a costumer who regularly (for years) has been making costumes for Shakespeare’s plays. Her cosumes were beautiful. Often black (as they were in the era), sombre, heavy yet luxurious, giving the performers just the right gravitas. She said she studied Holbein’s paintings closely.

Good and serious books to read include: Retha Warnke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (excellent in every way); Julia Fox’s Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the infamous [the publisher gets to choose a title] Lady Rochford. For examples of recent romancing: Margaret Campbell Barnes, Brief Gaudy Hour [addressed to her husband no less] and Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl.


Jane Boleyn, also beheaded, by Hans Holbein the Younger.

You hear the costume designer talk and look at her costumes in the recorded interviews that are now regularly at the center of these operas. They are popular. I love watching the crew put together and pull apart sets. I came across an article which said the Met’s funding from private donors was 182 million this year (or had gone up that amount since last!). Gelbe, the manager who promoted and then went through with these HD broadcasts, is now vindicated. In our local theater the auditorium was sold out.

Ellen

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