Characters with theatrical jobs

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As you know I tend not to do weekly or other regular bookish memes, but here’s a spin on one I couldn’t resist, especially as it related to Lory’s prompt Reading the Theatre. It’s posed by Helen of She Reads Novels and this is how she introduced her recent post:

“This week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl) is “Characters Whose Job I Wish I Had”. As Jana says we can put our own unique spin on each topic and as I wanted to join in with Lory’s Reading the Theatre month, I have chosen ten characters who have jobs connected with acting and the theatre. These are not all jobs I would like to have myself, but some of them sound fun!”

So, without much further ado here’s my take on Helen’s take; quotes (with links) are from my reviews.

Continue reading “Characters with theatrical jobs”

Playacting

Dodie Smith: It Ends with Revelations
Corsair 2012 (1967)

July 1967. The Sexual Offences Act 1967 was passed in England and Wales, decriminalising homosexual acts between consenting males aged 21 and over. In the same year Dodie Smith, now aged 71, published It Ends with Revelations (this title a quote from Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance), a novel which has homosexuality as one of its main themes. Fifty years later Smith’s novel has some curiosity value — a rather strange period read — considering gay marriage is now legal in Britain. To me it also reflects the ambivalence of the times: even at the height of the Swinging Sixties (the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had just been released) Britain’s ruling institutions still retained a reactionary prewar attitude to personal behaviour, and Smith’s novel rather uncomfortably straddles that transition period.

Continue reading “Playacting”

The geography of Cymbeline

Roman Britain according to Ptolemy c. 90--168
Roman Britain according to Ptolemy c. 90 — 168

The first thing to remember is that The Tragedie of Cymbeline is, despite its published title, a comedy. It’s certainly not a Shakespearean ‘history’ so we mustn’t expect any degree of accuracy or verisimilitude. If anything it belongs to a genre we’d nowadays happily accept as Fantasy if it was to be written up in modern language. And its sources, particularly Geoffrey of Monmouth’s so-called History of the Kings of Britain, were pure fantasy, in the broadest sense, albeit with some authentic pieces like nuts or fruit included in the baking of a cake.

The map I’ve used is a Renaissance edition of Roman geographer Ptolemy’s great work, mapping the world as known at the time. Everything appears distorted but at least north is to the top instead of to the left as in most medieval maps. I’ve marked in Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire near where most of the later action takes place. I’ve made the assumption that Cymbeline’s palace is in Lud’s-town or London, on the walls of which Cloten promises to raise Posthumus’ severed head on a pole (and where medieval traitor’s heads were similarly displayed). Sadly for Cloten he doesn’t get to keep his promise. The historical Cunobelinus, the original Cymbeline (Cynfelyn in Welsh) actually had his ‘capital’ at Colchester in Essex, then called Camulodunum; incidentally, the latter site, named after the god Camulos, may have inspired the choice of ‘Camelot’ as Arthur’s capital.

The Roman fleet came from Gallia, but probably Shakespeare imagines it coming from a Breton port up the western seaways. The overland route taken by Imogen and Cloten west over the river Severn and the Welsh mountains to Milford is marked in green, mostly following the Roman roads that Ptolemy’s map marks out. This rather ‘squeezed’ depiction of Britain allows relatively quick movement from east to west since the chronology of Cymbeline is also particularly squeezed. Modern road or rail routes cut journey times but all Imogen, say, could manage was a score of miles a day on horseback, and to get from London to Milford at this rate would have required a fortnight’s travel (if indeed London was Cymbeline’s capital).

However, in the confines of Shakespeare’s great ‘wooden O’ such considerations were irrelevant. And 450 years ago today — or thereabouts — such considerations were inconceivable to the newborn William about to cry his lungs out.

Cymbeline, Act IV

skyline
Rocky tor on Preseli Hills skyline  (author’s photo)

William Shakespeare
The Tragedie of Cymbeline
Act IV in four scenes

I’ll say this for Will: he knows how to lead you to sometimes expect the expected but then takes an unexpected turn which, in retrospect, you could also have expected. For example, in Act IV a certain villain gets their hoped-for come-uppance, but not in the manner that we might have imagined — and while that comes as a bit of a shock it is entirely appropriate.

The action is still switching between Cymbeline’s court (in London, one assumes, as Lud’s-town gets a couple of mentions) and the cave where Belarius and his two young wards, Guiderius and Arviragus, reside under assumed names — on a mountain near Milford Haven, which I’ve suggested could be the Preseli Hills (highest point: 1760 feet). Cloten has arrived hotfoot on the trail of Imogen, following directions reluctantly given by Pisanio, and while in Posthumus’ garb is still fixated on her insult comparing him to underpants, working himself up mightily to fulfil his bloodthirsty boasts. Continue reading “Cymbeline, Act IV”

Cymbeline, Act III

Hoopoe
Hoopoe: clipart courtesy Florida Center for Instructional Technology http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/

William Shakespeare
The Tragedie of Cymbeline
Act III in seven scenes

The story so far
Imogen’s story is that of the Calumniated or Slandered Wife, whereby she is wrongly accused of being unfaithful to her husband. This results from Shakespeare’s use of the folktale motif of the Wager on the Wife’s Chastity, linked to the theme of the supposed lover — here played by Iachimo — hidden in a chest in the heroine’s bedchamber. The tale Imogen was reading before retiring to bed was from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and concerned the Thracian tyrant Tereus. His Athenian wife Procne asks Tereus to allow her to see her own sister Philomela. Tereus, seized with lust, rapes Philomela, and cuts out her tongue to stop her reporting his violence. However, Philomela weaves a tapestry which reveals the rape and sends it to her sister. Procne metes out a bloody revenge on her unfaithful husband before she and Philomel turn into birds, Procne becoming a swallow and Philomel a nightingale. Tereus also transforms into a bird, the hoopoe, which laments with a distinctive cry while wearing a distinctive crest to mark it out. Continue reading “Cymbeline, Act III”

Cymbeline, Act I

Ely House portrait
Shakespeare: the Ely Palace portrait, probably 19th-century — before 1864, when it first appeared

William Shakespeare
The Tragedie of Cymbeline
Act I in six scenes

The Medieval and Renaissance sense of the past was particularly liable to admit anachronisms, for example narrating how pre-Christian classical heroes would go to Mass before setting out on their adventures. In Cymbeline Shakespeare had no worries about anachronistic details: a story set just before the arrivals of the Romans in Britain includes for example men from France, Holland and Spain, when these countries were yet to come into existence, and its curious mix of Welsh, Italian and Latin-sounding names is quite disconcerting. But the author cares not a jot or a tittle about this, for this is principally a fantasy about power struggles in high politics, conducted by individuals with very human failings. Like many a Shakespearean comedy (don’t be fooled by the ‘tragedie’ label of its original title) it is essentially a fairytale full of all the folktale motifs and themes that we expect from traditional stories. Continue reading “Cymbeline, Act I”

Shakespeare’s The Tragedie of Cymbeline

Scene-II-Act-IV-From-Cymbeline-By-William-Shakespeare-1564-1616
Henry Singleton Scene ii Act IV from Cymbeline http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/Henry-Singleton/Scene-II-Act-IV-From-Cymbeline-By-William-Shakespeare-1564-1616.html

Shakespeare was christened on April 26th, 1564, four and a half centuries ago. To mark his birth — traditionally set on St George’s Day, feast day of England’s patron saint, though his actual birthday is not known — Lizzie Ross and I will be looking at one of his more obscure plays, The Tragedie of Cymbeline, act by act until we get to April 26th. We tweeted a similar dialogue with our views on the graphic novel Watchmen.

CymbelineAccording to IMDb a modern version of Cymbeline is due to be released as a film this year, set in New York and starring Ed Harris, Dakota Johson, Ethan Hawke and Milla Jovovich among others. This will be a far cry from either Iron Age Britain, when Cunobelinus ruled from Camulodunum — now Colchester in Essex — or from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s chronicle The History of the Kings of Britain, which in turn supplied Cymbeline as a fantasy character to later inspire Shakespeare via Holinshed’s Chronicles.

But despite the title, this is not primarily a tale about the king — as we will no doubt see.