Look, I must get back to doing some footnoting and pronunciating for Kentucky Shakespeare’s summer season. I’ve been busily & desperately trying to get Guildenstern’s lines into my addled and aging brain which has delayed my dramaturgerery for a spell. There are new old plays to work on, so I need to put the old old plays to bed for a bit.
But I have one last thought on my roughly twenty month on/off sojourn in Mostly Fictional Scotland.
People cut the Porter. And when they don’t cut him entirely, they trim him down mercilessly*, especially considering the shortness of Macbeth to begin with. And I get it. No one knows what equivocation means, and if they do, they don’t much care. (Nowadays, we just outright lie, which seems to get the job done for a lot of people; Jesuit-era shenanigans seem almost quaint.) I’ve been in a production without him; I’ve been in a production with little of him; I’ve been in a production where I was him. And very few people mind it when he’s gone.
I’m here to say a word for him.
Yeah, that’s the word.
Dick jokes in Shakespeare get a bad rap, primarily because actors are under the impression that no one in the audience ever knows what they’re talking about and therefore feel the desperate need to point eternally towards their junk. Every. Single. Time. There’s a dick joke in the text.
I say, demand, plead, now to those actors: please don’t do that. Please. I get that a lot of you signed on to Shakespeare under the mistaken notion that the tragedies are the real classics and are therefore not all constitutionally equipped for comedy. But I swear to you if the audience understands nothing else you’re saying, they hear those. They get those. They make up their own in places where they may or may not be. We are a culture of nine-year-olds and we may miss political machinations (real or fictional) or relationship nuances ( r or f), but everybody knows a dick joke when it happens. Don’t Point To Your Crotch. Make literally almost any other choice but that. I’ve known some bawdy people in my life, but none of them ever underlined a dick joke by pointing to one. That’s not how good jokes work.
And audiences: stop blaming Shakespeare. Blame the actors. Don’t let them do that. Bring old veggies if you must. Whatever stops this.
Where was I?
Right. Standing up* for the Porter.
In a play about succession and male children and who gets dad’s job when he’s gone and who even has a son to begin with, it’s hard for me to agree that the Lecherie Routine is irrelevant. We’ve already established that Lady M. lost a child at some point, that Banquo’s issue Fleance is a threat constantly present in Macbeth’s filed mind, that “man of woman born” is not a phrase to be taken lightly. Duncan has already o’erleaped the usual protocol and said, “You know what? You’re all great at your jobs but I’m handing all this to my kid when I’m gone.” Whether or not the family jewels are in working order comes up a lot.* Especially for men who do battle in nothing but kilts.
And it’s not like the Porter is the only one who brings this up.* Mr. Fancy Tragic Star Himself notes that the witches in prophesying Fleance’s inheritance have “put a barren sceptre in [his] grip”. Even Freud probably thought that a bit much. And I’ve always been convinced there’s a barely-veiled offer going on in Lady M’s “and you shall put/ This [k]night’s great business into my dispatch” – he is rather easily led around*, isn’t he?
She’s prone to taking this to places we Still-(Still?!)-Post-Victorians aren’t comfortable with, too. After all, just before his entrance,* she was going on very un-bawdily about her own Lady (M.) Parts, what with all that begging the Spirits to
…make thick my blood,
Stop up th’accesse, and passage to Remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of Nature
Shake my fell purpose…
Plus her eventual (and frequent) introduction of the topic of nursing, which bounces around to some other folks too before all is done.
(Performance* Digression: We had to cut a lot of those for the student tour version I was in. Not because it would offend some puritans so much as because there’s nothing so disheartening at 9:00 a.m. as seeing the dead eyes of fifteen-year-olds aggressively ignoring you until “woman’s breasts” wakes them enough to make them snort for ten minutes. I add here with pride that my wife’s Lady M. during those shows kept all of
I have given Sucke, and know
How tender ’tis to love the Babe that milkes me,
I would, while it was smyling in my Face,
Have pluckt my Nipple from his Bonelesse Gummes,
And dasht the Braines out, had I so sworne
As you have done to this.
She so grossed them out and terrified them with the image and its coiner that neither “nipple” nor “suck” got a single laugh that whole tour. Take that, Adolescence.)
(Second Performance* Digression: I was also proud of how we handled the Lecherie Routine in the production in which I was the Porter, which was that neither Macduff nor his gang thought a single bit of it was funny, which explained why it went on so long – the Porter wasn’t going to let it go until he got a laugh. And all he got, after eleventy repetitions, was “Is thy master stirring?”* as if to say “Is there someone else up there we could talk to?”
The Porter doesn’t answer. I just shrugged and left the humorless jerks. Fortunately, Maccers came down right after. Their problem now.)
(Comedy Digression after Second Performance* Digression: There are solid and underappreciated non-dick laugh lines throughout Macbeth. In all three productions, occasional-to-consistent laughs came: at the Doctor’s “Will she go now to bed” after sleepwalking Lady M’s “To bed, to bed, to bed”; Macbeth’s own understated “’Twas a rough night”; and often at the ur-Schwarzenegger kill quip “Thou wast born of woman” when (spoiler) Young Seyward goes down*. I always had a hankering to do a commedia production with the text unchanged, mostly so I could cast Punch & Judy as the Macduffs – when he keeps asking for repeated confirmation that his awful family is dead it’s because it sounds too good to be true.)
It’s not just the Porter, is all I’m saying. It’s a penis-ey, vagina-ey play. And not in a “Will* was male and we can’t go too long* without mentioning it” way, but in an “inherent to the lines of story and succession” way. The vitals are vital.
That’s it. That’s my defense. I pray you, remember. The randiness is all.
(Final Digression: I keep threatening to use my meditative needlecraft hobby to make my Scotch-derived wife (though that blood has undergone a full bourbon transfusion since I moved her here) a bed-coat with her clan tartan on it purely because there’s a “sleep, that knits up the raveled sleeve of Kerr” line in there somewhere. But I’m having a beer as I type this, so I’m placing all the blame there.)
*I’m just going to put an asterisk next to any unwitting potential dick joke/reference as I go back through this.