The rarer action is/In virtue than in vengeance – TEMPEST, V i

This was all going to be a little bit silly, but it’s taken a turn. But let’s begin at the beginning.

A friend was in town a week or so ago for the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville and conversation turned to Twelfth Night, a production of which he’s going to be involved in soon. My wife and I hadn’t seen him since the production we were in at the beginning of last year (which inspired the name of this ludicrous little blog), so there was much chatter, eventually turning to the whole “how dark does one play the ending, what with Malvolio being confined and confounded in a little room, do you reckon?” question, about which I have, as is my tendency, Opinions. They were gut opinions, but finally something occurred to me that I think backs them up.

I should first disclose that I am and have, at least since my university years, been sick of the Darkening of the Comedies.. This notion that the Tragedies are the real deal, the Histories are just Tragedies based on true stories (from which most comedy must be tainted/excised) and the Comedies, well, if they are anything but cheap crowd-pleasers, the Christmas Carols* of Shakespeare companies, at least we can overstate their existing darkness whenever possible, and maybe superimpose some extra for good measure, particularly at the very end when we have a chance to leave the audience with a sour stomach for one reason or another. It’ll let people know we’re Serious About All This.

And this was always treated as a profound thought from the Tragedians, worthy of congratulations or at least knowing nods above steepled fingers. “There’s such darkness in the Comedies, you know?” I was, as a lifelong lover of Chaplin’s movies about a starving homeless guy, the Marx Brothers’ insistent, destructive anarchy, the parentless Freudian head cases of Charles M. Schultz, confused. I thought that was the whole deal with comedy, that it Went On Despite, yes? So the battle between “Yes! I too have suffered!” and “Get over yourself; we’ve all suffered!”, between celebrating and mocking our mutual pain, is difficult to take part in when surrounded like the Light (Comedy) Brigade by people who sniff at your “glibness” if you aren’t constantly plunging yourself into the Cimmerian darkness of intangible despair. (That line is for my wife, who will appreciate it.)

But I digress.

We were talking about the end of Twelfth Night and how I fully believe that we aren’t supposed to mind Malvolio’s detention all that much because he is a petty, vindictive martinet with no trace of self-awareness. And I loved playing the guy. That old saw about having to like the character you’re playing in order to get under the skin is the true true; more accurately, you have to acknowledge that in some way you are the character in that in some way you are everybody, so there you are. We are all petty, vindictive martinets with little self-awareness at some time. I’ve been in traffic. And I’m not blind to the paragraphs above that are still unmercifully surly about mere aesthetic differences with people I’ve scarcely seen for twenty years. We’re all a bit Malvolic.

We most of us only suffer it in spells, though, and when Twelfth Night ends we leave Malvolio in the midst of being unmerciful, unforgiving, a crime that Shakespeare never lets slide:

Prospero? Stranded on an island for fifteen years by his brother. What does he do at the play’s end? Forgives him.

Who talks him into it? Ariel…who was enslaved by Prospero (and Sycorax and who knows who else before that). Ariel’s response, by all appearances, when released by Prospero? Forgives him.

Titus Andronicus? Nobody forgives nobody never. And everybody dies HORRIBLY, except the ones left behind to enact more revenge. We just run out of time to watch it all.

Duke Frederick of As You Like It? Random spiritual awakening, and he apologizes for everything – he only sends a note (“My bad; you can have all your stuff back”**), but he does it. No one says, “Not enough! Let’s storm the monastery and stab him!”

Hamlet? So bent on being vengeful that he opts out of killing Claudius in a private room where there’s only the two of them because that just might not condemn his soul to eternal hellfire. And what fun is that? So fifty-three other people have to die and a short-tempered cannon-feeding military dictator comes in to run the show thereafter. Good call.

There are others – Portia does a whole speech about this to Shylock you may have heard of – but that’s plenty.

And Malvolio decides to leave on the note of being “revenged on the whole pack of you”. So he gets what he gets. Which is probably, knowing Olivia, a generous severance package which he’ll still try to sue over because of some bonus he feels he’s owed over and above…somehow the lawyer he hires turns out to be a disguised Feste…it still ends badly. Because he’s a petty, vindictive martinet with no trace of self-awareness.

A detail that kind of slides by people: the whole reason Malvolio is released in Act V is to tell them what happened to the kind sea captain who still has Viola’s clothes; the helpful guy we haven’t seen since the first scene. Seems one of the reasons we haven’t seen him, thrown in as our last reminder of Malvolio’s consistent behavior, is that he was locked up (?!) by Malvolio for some reason no one is even sure of. But yes, let’s get all worried about Mal’s “pain & suffering”.

At any rate, Malvolio and the Maria/Toby/Feste/Fabian contingent are people we’d all rather watch bounce off each other than be around (have I mentioned that this is my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays?), but I can’t pretend any of them are serious offenders even of each other. They’re just childish people, in a turn-of-the-seventeenth-century-Seinfeld sort of way.

Now, how to put these feelings into performance? It isn’t terribly hard to make Malvolio an unrelenting pain in the ass simply by using the text. But some think the last bit of cruel wrongful incarceration on the part of Maria et al. is over the line. (I guess those folks don’t like sea captains.) I figured the best way to keep this in the realm of comedy (bending, not breaking) was to make it about injured pride, not utter madness, so the solution (at which I didn’t arrive until tech, which made me scare the hell out of the stage manager, to whom I apologized profusely) was to exit haughtily after the declaration of vengeance…and step right off the stage, entirely missing the steps into the vom, like an idiot. A couple of characters would snort, I would glare, straighten the skirts of my doublet and re-haughtify myself to exit again. It seemed to work, this gesture stolen directly from Rex Harrison, I later realized.

———

I decided to write all that this morning and had to do other things, but this topic keeps pitbulling the world today and just won’t unlock its jaws.

First we got word from a friend who was some time ago involved in a real, non-fictional tragedy. This friend was rattled after merely using the word “forgiveness” in discussing ways people have dealt with such tragedies in the past resulted in a verbal attack; apparently that vicious suggestion of “forgiveness” disrespects the grief of others…which, knowing this friend (and I’d have the same reaction) will be the cause of a roiling stomach precisely because of the evident pain of the person who decided to lash out at the suggestion of maintaining humanity in the face of tragedy, as if that suggestion was a mere passive/aggressive implication that said lasher-out hadn’t been forgiving enough. But I’m trying to universalize and instead I’m vaguebooking. Sorry.

Also, the verdict on the Charleston white-supremacy terrorist murders came down just a little while ago, which I am neither eloquent nor wise enough to try to summarize the facts of here, much less my own feelings, but there’s a conversation going on within many feeds and timelines and households and newsrooms right now about justice and forgiveness and how those things work.

And that conversation always brings me around to Ariel again, Ariel who (which?) is both non-human and fictional and who suggests that if Prospero were even to look upon the confusion he’s caused his enemies, “your affections/ Would become tender.” Prospero responds, “Dost thou thinke so, Spirit?”

And Ariel says (bearing in mind our distance from Jacobean spelling), “Mine would, Sir, were I humane.”

Usually this is modernized to “human” but it could still be “humane”. And ideally they’d be synonyms anyway.

All this makes Prospero realize that, as stated in this post’s title, “the rarer Action is/ In vertue, than in vengeance,” and it’s worth saying here that “rarer” in that era could be taken to mean not just uncommon, but also good, uncommonly good. Which is even better than humane***.

———

It’s been a long day; it’s been a long post. I am not a fan of his work, so my earlier plan was to quote Don Henley with ironic sarcasm and note that in trying to get down to the heart of the matter, I’ve reached the conclusion that I think it’s about forgiveness. Forgiveness.

But the world has blown my stock of irony today and I’d have to admit that the quotation works better without it and I’d just feel like a jerk. Not a Malvolio-level jerk, but still.

* I freaking love A Christmas Carol, for the record; it’s about generosity of spirit, which will be relevant shortly, if it can ever be said that it’s not relevant.

** paraphrase

*** tonally this is a weird place to note that today, 10 April 2017, is the incept date of replicant Leon Kowalski in Blade Runner. There’s an Ariel/Caliban streak in the replicants, but that’s probably obvious enough not to require a whole post. #MoreHumaneThanHumane

He that hath missed the princess is a thing/ Too bad for bad report – CYMBELINE, I i

I called the blog Yellowstocking Tales, so I suppose I should tell one.

Back in April, as part of this big 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death fanciness we’re now in the midst of, my wife and I were thrilled to be sort of the actor portion of the small (five-person, though really we all ended up acting) Kentucky Shakespeare contingent invited over for the festivities by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon. We were almost the only non-tourist Americans there, save for a New Orleans brass funeral band. (This is also how, seemingly at random, we ended up here, though I think our popularity with photographers that day had mostly to do with our being nearly the only extravagantly costumed people in the parade on 23 April, as well as the let’s say Visually Shakespearean way my baldness/beardedness played off the resplendent ruff I was given.)

Hereinafter we will call this The Stratford Trip, or, in person, “Oh You See In England”, which is a quite useful preface for any American saying something incredibly precious and pretentious in an American theatre – we started throwing this around before we were even home, this sort of faux I-was-in-Britain-for-four-days-but-somehow-managed-to-absorb-the-terminology-into-my-parlance-sorry-you-may-not-know-all-of-it-actually-basically attitude that I for one still find entertaining. “So when we take the interval – I’m sorry, I mean intermission, You See, In England…”

Another thing about that parade – it was likely to be the closest I’ll ever come to being a Disney Princess. In that I was recognized by multiple paradegoers as the character I was portraying, something I didn’t really expect. We weren’t waving from a float or anything; only carrying banners in pairs (“So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”). But the costume I was wearing had been built for me for a production of Twelfth Night, so I figured I’d wear my yellow stockings and garters with it. We’d be performing at the Birthplace later that day, so I had them along – it wasn’t like I had to run to the Tesco or wherever and grab a pair of extra large men’s tights, bright yellow. Seemed properly festive. I wore Malvolio’s chain of office, too, but that’s more of a footnote detail.

So a little way into the parade, I heard a woman tell what I assume was her granddaughter, “Oh, look, there’s Malvolio. See his yellow stockings?” And yes, we are in Stratford-upon-Avon, where the locals are predisposed to know a touch more about Shakespeare and related lore than your average person on the street and thousands of them are in fact wearing paper Shakespeare masks for a really specific world record attempt (to unsurprisingly creepy effect). Still, I took it as a one-off. By about the fifth person I heard say this, I understood how the college girls playing Belle all summer in Orlando must feel. Except, of course, no autographs; the loving throngs maintained at all times a respectful distance from me, surely out of awe.

Not everyone assumed Malvolio, of course. I was also marching only a few feet behind the couple who has (or, in England, have) been the parade’s Shakespeare for some years. So the true thrill of the odd spectator recognition, if that’s the word I’m after, was “look, dear, it’s Shakespeare and…I guess young Shakespeare.” Very little my hairline and I do is prefaced with “young” so…I’ll take it.

But we will draw the curtain and show you the picture.–TWELFTH NIGHT, I v

A quickie:

Sometimes you’re just online checking out today’s news about Shakespeare and Marlowe and the Henry VI plays and whatnot when suddenly you see the Reuters picture at the top of the article is of your wife and yourself doing a scene from Twelfth Night on the grounds of Shakespeare’s birthplace. And you say to yourself, “Huh.”

Weird day. Nice gams. Weird day.

For the rain it raineth every day–TWELFTH NIGHT, V i

This is a bit of silliness I had forgotten all about, written for a classic film blog I dabbled with a few years ago, in which I laid out the ideal cast for Twelfth Night had it been filmed by 20th Century Fox circa 1944. It belongs here as much as it did there, and it may be for my entertainment only, but that’s hardly my problem. I’m putting it here anyway. It begins with a few thoughts about the rootinest, tootinest, shootinest, Edward Everett Hortonest hombre of all time that was part of a character actor-themed blogathon and wanders off from there.

I offer no apologies: here it is.

UPDATED: I became aware as I went to bed after posting this that on that initial post years ago I neglected to included Malvolio, which would be enough of a gaffe already on a site not named after his leg coverings. I had cast him (because the choice is patently obvious) but somehow neglected to include a photo. I correct that error now. To wit:

I like to think Eric Blore would’ve finally gotten the Oscar nod he deserved for this one.

Remuneration!–LOVE’S LABOURS LOST, IIIi

I probably should have brought this up before, but here’s the deal with me and Shakespeare of late. The reason I’m writing all this nonsense.

He’s putting money in my purse.

It’s happened before, but never to this extent. Since about February of 2014, I have, depending on how you count it, been a part of either twelve (12) or fifteen (15) Shakespeare productions. Which, I am led to understand, is not normal. This immersion has been full-bodied and has left my brain simultaneously exhilarated and numbed, or if not simultaneously then toggling rapidly from one to the other. This blog is among other things an attempt to get all this down before I forget it, as the brain space is at a premium these days what with all the verse, etc.

For my own sanity and your clarity, let’s lay them out in briefest possible C.V. here:

Hamlet – An abbreviated (a redundancy when talking of Hamlet, I guess) eight-actor touring version in the spring of 2014 in which I played Polonius, the First Gravedgger, and Osric. I continued as Polonius in the full-cast version that followed as part of Kentucky Shakespeare’s summer mainstage season.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – I finally got around to playing Bottom in my fourth time doing this play (Demetrius in my 20’s, Theseus/Oberon/Wall and Flute/Thisbe in my 30’s). A delight, even with an excessively large, musty, thirty-five-year-old ass head on. This would be the one about which I’d write my Anthony-Sheresque memoir (Bottom’s Up!, obviously). This also marked the stage debut of Oscar, my splendid toupee (named for Oscar Jaffe of Twentieth Century), on which may the iron door never be closed.

Henry V – Fluellen and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Rounding out my 2014 Summer of Yammerers.

As You Like It – a remount of a six-actor cutting I did in 2009 of this one, with commedia masks, an Old West setting, and the opportunity to play Jaques and Touchstone simultaneously thanks to dowel rod lorgnettes and a lack of shame.

Macbeth – another abbreviated touring version leading up to a mainstage remount. I want to count this one as two, though, seeing as I played Duncan/a Murderer/Doctor/Seyton/Probably someone else on tour and the Porter/Lennox on the mainstage, so I had all of about four lines overlap. Felt like a separate production to me, at any rate.

The Tempest – Stefano, with a large sweat-absorbing prosthetic belly and probably more rouge wine blossoms than strictly necessary. 2015 was the Summer of Entering From the House, what with Stefano’s shanties, the Porter’s crowd-climbing/-accosting and…

The Taming of the Shrew – …Petruchio’s big wedding entrance. I had the honor of playing opposite my wife for this one. Saving that for a post of its own. Or the book. (Oscar was in this one, too.)

(I should note here that for the previous three productions I was also company dramaturg/text coach because I suggested that one would be helpful and that it should be me. I seem to have inadvertently pulled some sort of Jedi Mind Trick on the Artistic Director, because it happened. This continued to be true for the following Kentucky Shakespeare shows.)

Twelfth Night – Malvolio, this time opposite my wife’s Olivia. Another pleasure, and, like Bottom, one I had been waiting to sink my teeth into for a long time. I have a much better Yellowstocking Tale from a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, but again, another post. This was on Twelfth Night itself (and the evenings surrounding), blessedly indoors instead of on the magnificent-in-summer-but-uncomfortable-in-January stage in Louisville’s own Olmstead-designed Central Park.

Two Gentlemen of Verona – Another pairing with my wife, who was Speed to my Launce. Maybe pairing is the wrong word because of the lovely Hope (Crab), who stole most of our laughter, applause, attention, and pride, which is the way of this show and I suspect has always been. I also got to write the setting of “Who is Silvia” for this production. (I played Proteus in college in the 90’s, in the days when all my hair stayed attached to me after the show.)

The Winter’s Tale – Polixenes. What a weird role. What a weird play. I love it dearly. But I defy anyone to deny its weirdness. Unlike anything else. Also a thoroughly justified appearance by Oscar in Act I. And another setting, this time for Sonnet 97 (“How like a winter hath my absence been”) as sung by Mamillius.

Romeo and Juliet – Friar Lawrence. July 2016 being the hottest month in recorded history (until August), it was nice to balance out Launce’s 1919-ish three-piece suit with the updrafty Medieval caftan of Polixenes and the monkish robes of the Friar. Such a pure functionary, which is a great thing to get to play. You’re not going to steal any scenes (or you shouldn’t) because the audience really only deeply cares about two people. So join them, I say. (I was also the dramaturg/text coach for the spring tour of this one, as well as being responsible for the cutting, which was a bit of work and makes me want to count this one twice as a bonus, maybe.)

Titus Andronicus – a Kentucky Shakespeare fall rarity. Previously mentioned in gory detail here. Purely behind the scenes on that one. It opens Thursday.

Macbeth Again – So much Macbeth, this time at Actors Theatre of Louisville until near the end of this month, with a small role that provides plenty of knitting time and time to cobble together this Shakespeare workshop I’m teaching soon.

Purely onstage, that makes twelve (12) productions and in the neighborhood of twenty-two (22) speaking roles large and small over the space of two years, eight months. Somewhere in that time I’ve also finished two separate cuttings of Julius Caesar for next spring/summer, a cutting of Antony and Cleopatra that I think conceptually brilliant but have yet to convince anyone else of (or try terribly hard yet, honestly) and a fair heap of preliminary leg work on another yet-to-be-announced play for 2017. And the trip to Stratford!

I’ve done other things in there (three or four plays from the last hundred years and an understudying gig, probably ninety or so audiobooks recorded, a reasonably major intestinal surgery), but none so connected to each other that they made me want to dedicate an entire blog to them just to clarify my thoughts and tangentially drag other people along for the ride.

So when I seem loserishly footstuck in the Jacobean mires of the rules of performing verse and so on, please remember it’s all I’m allowed to think about. If I didn’t keep a blog, I’d just turn my brain off and play Assassin’s Creed some more and what would that accomplish? (Although a Macbeth or Henriad edition would kick ass. Think on it, Ubisoft. “There’s not a one of them but in his house I keep a servant fee’d – this one’s name is MacGregor. He’s an Assassin.”)

And when I mention one or another of these productions (and I think I’ve at least mentioned every Shakespeare I’ve ever done – wait, no: another Twelfth Night, an Othello, a Richard III, and a college Much Ado About Nothing) eventually in this furious jumble of bloggery, I’ll be able to find them here.

Thanks for the indulgence.