Friday, July 26, 2013

The Spanish Tragedy (Arden Early Modern Drama). Edited by Clara Calvo and Jesus Tronch.

In some cases, the publication and editing history of a play can be as fascinating as the play itself and that’s certainly the case with Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy. Reprinted in eleven quartos before it fell into obscurity for three centuries, its first most certainly a pirate, its fourth filled with emendations and additions, quite rightly the editors of the Arden edition, Clara Calvo and Jesus Tronch, dedicate over a third of their introduction to explaining the process of simply fighting their way through this history in order to produce this scholarly version. At that they’ve succeeded and in such a way as to make the textual changes breath within the main text whilst still making it legible is a triumph.

The facts are these.  Q1 was a product of a feud between rival London publishers, with Eward Allde and bookseller Edward White creating it as a repost to the proper rights owner Abel Jeffes because he had knocked out a copy of Arden of Faversham which they themselves had proper rights to. Eventually, the law intervened and both stationers were fined and order to give their pirated editions to be confiscated and “either given or sold for a small sum to needy booksellers”. The upshot nevertheless of this is that The Spanish Tragedy, thought of as one of the pillars of tragedy in Early Modern English exists in several good, clean(ish) if unique copies even if the now accepted author’s name doesn’t appear on the cover.

Then there’s Q4. Q4 is published in 1602, by White and new copyright holder Thomas Pavier and substantially rewrites sections of the play and adds some extra scenes which these editors persuasively suggest must have been carried over from a theatre prompt book. Originally, these revisions were thought to be by Ben Jonson, but substantial critical back and forth across the years has dismissed all of that and now thanks to computer textual analysis, the probable candidate of at the least the whole new scene is Shakespeare. But unlike Sir Thomas More, there’s nothing substantial to confirm such and so the play still finds itself as in the Early Modern Drama series, rather than Shakespeare (presumably also because Kyd is still the substantive author).

Similarly to Hamlet and Lear then, the editors find themselves having to choose which version to favour. They choose Q1, largely because it was there first but also, I suspect, because its easier to demonstrate additions to a text than removals. So Q4 additions and revisions are included in the text in a different font with a small sans serif year next to them, which is certainly more sensible than in FA Foakes’s Arden Third Edition of Lear in which tiny Qs and Fs are employed around lines and single words and make the text distracting to read. The demands are different, I suppose, and there’s little need to change fonts in the middle of lines, for example, but there’s a sense of there being two different texts here that the Lear lacks.

The first two thirds of the introduction are structured in a more formal way than many of these Ardens, beginning with a short explanation of how play fits within European theatrical tradition before shifting into a (very short) biography of Kyd which concentrates on his death more than his life and extent to which he was the informer who led to the murder of Marlowe. In two letters to Sir John Pickering, the lord keeper, he accused Marlowe of being in possession of heretical papers, the very heretical papers which had seen his own arrest and by the editors account he comes across as “mean, cowardly, self-righteous and sanctimonious”. What would we think of Shakespeare if any of his correspondence had survived?

From there, we’re straight into the play, how it acts as a bridge between Seneca and Shakespeare in the development of tragedy, how its use of ghosts and revenge and madness and meta-theatre prefigure Hamlet and how its use of objects, and the introduction is especially good in this regard, slowly become relics as they slip between various hands across the play. Throughout there’s a genuine sense of being there at the start of theatrical history, of seeing ideas, characters and story points being employed for the very first time which are still being referred back to now in drama, even if we’re not necessarily aware of the source. But the authors treat this with a lightness of touch, so as not to overshadow the play they’re considering.

It’s in the theatrical history that we see how the textual history of the play feeds into directorial choices. How much of the emendations and additions do you include? What’s expected?  As with most of these Arden Early Modern Drama plays, there isn’t an unbroken history, The Spanish Tragedy falling out of favour for just under three hundred years, with Pepys’s viewing of a production in 1668 the last recorded performance until amateur revivals began in universities in the 1920s. Both the National Theatre and RSC have offered productions in recent years and BBC Radio in the 90s, but given its reputation, Kyd’s play still isn’t in favour as a piece of theatrical drama. Perhaps this new edition will do something to change that.

The Spanish Tragedy (Arden Early Modern Drama). Edited by Clara Calvo and Jesus Tronch. Bloomsbury. 2013. RRP: £9.99. ISBN: 978-1904271604. Review copy supplied.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Kenneth Branagh answers question about a blu-ray of his In The Bleak Midwinter.

Ken did a Q&A at The Guardian today so inevitably I asked the question:
"Any plans for a UK blu-ray release of his In The Bleak Midwinter? I watch it every Christmas."
Ken answered!
"I would love Bleak Midwinter to be out on blu-ray but for reasons I don’t fully understand there are rights issues involved. It somehow got a little bit complicated. But there is a bit of a cult following for it, I’m very glad to say. I would like it to happen, for those who like it to become a Christmas perennial."
Oh swiz. On the upside, perhaps it'll nudge him into asking his people "What is the problem? What are these rights issues?"  My guess is it's because although the film was made by Castle Rock which is now owned by Warner Bros, it was distributed on VHS in the UK by Columbia Tristar which is currently owned by Sony, who may still have the home rights.  But it's odd, because A Few Good Men (also Castle Rock) is in the same situation, but has been released by Sony on BD in the UK.  Perhaps it's just that Sony can't be bothered?

Elsewhere, Hamlet is mentioned:
Kishiwadaboy asked:

"What is your favourite scene/outtake which didn't make it into the final cut of one of your films?"

KB replied:

"A very familiar paraphrase occurred when I tried to give Charlton Heston a note when he played the player king in Hamlet, I talked to him about the line "Anon he finds him striking too short at Greeks" which unfortunately I repeated "Anon he finds him striking at two short Greeks". Mr Heston was clever enough to spot my stupidity, the paraphrase was left on the cutting floor room."
That sort of thing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Globe to Globe Hamlet.

Shakespeare's Globe is taking a production of Hamlet, a version of this production perhaps, to every country in the world:
"Shakespeare’s Globe said it aims to perform in some 205 countries and territories, some of which have never seen a Shakespeare production before, and will get around by automobile, boat, train and plane. The Twitter feed @WorldHamlet will track the show’s whereabouts."
It doesn't leave until next April, but the official website is already up here. How exciting. The Guardian has quotes from director Dominic Dromgoole:
"I think having a lunatic idea is a very good thing, it's a great way to keep everybody focused and dazzled and delighted by the ambition and energy of the company," said the artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole. "If we're going to do every country in the world it has to be every country, we're not going to leave anyone out. All the 'Stans, South and North Korea – we're very keen to get into North Korea. Antarctica? Fuck yes."
The Twitter feed offers some background on the nature of the production:

All very In The Bleak Midwinter. Or Shakespeare Wallah. No news if it's the same eighth actors, because that would be remarkable. Can I come?

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Shakespeare's Globe's
A Summer Hamlet.

Fun trailer for a documentary about the Globe's touring production in 2011:
"A Summer Hamlet follows the company and their director, Dominic Dromgoole (Artistic Director of Shakespeare's Globe) as they tour the production from opening night at the Theatre Royal, Margate to their final performance at Hamlet's own home of Elsinore Castle, Denmark. Remaining backstage with the cast for every performance, this first feature by director Helen Lawson offers a rare insight behind the scenes of the production. We glimpse into rehearsal room mayhem, pre-show high jinx and backstage nerves as the team battle with the elements and a temperamental Ford Escort."
Of course, what I'd really like to see is a recording of the production...

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Island Princess (Arden Early Modern Drama). Edited by Clare McManus.

Continuing its policy of publishing more obscure but provocative examples of early modern drama, The Island Princess offers the work of John Fletcher at the height of his powers, if dating is correct, during the period when he’s been installed as Shakespeare’s successor as the in-house writer for the King’s Men and at liberty to experiment with dramatic forms, in this case continuing his investigations into the possibilities of the tragicomedy. Opening as a kind of swashbuckling romance in which the titular royal offers one of three suitors her hand in marriage if they’re capable of rescuing her brother the king from captivity, the story slowly becomes a disturbing discourse on corruption, conspiracy and religious intolerance.

Covering similar themes to Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Fletcher’s own The Sea Voyage, the story takes place against a backdrop of the spice-trade and islands in and around Indonesia, and the colonial clash between Christianity and Islam. In her introduction, editor Clare McManus explains how the playwright utilises this exoticism to reflect back to the audience the ongoing cross-cultural clash between Catholic and Protestantism and how even more than most plays of the period, our appreciation of the work has been diminished across time because of changes in our world view, how elements of language, even the removal of a beard however innocuous now, then carried great meaning.

McManus also moves to reclaim Quisara, the princess herself, as one of the great theatrical female heroines, noting that she may well have originated with Richard Sharpe who also premiered the title role in The Duchess of Malfi, indicating they’re roles of similar complexity. Throughout the play she oscillates between Amazonian confidence and victimhood, attempting to force a potential husband into converting for her benefit before agree to the same for him, sometimes feigning madness or at least giving the impression of such. This seems like another of those roles which is almost being held away from female actors because the repertory of plays still performed from this period is generally exclusive to one genius.

Nevertheless, McManus is able to dedicate a fifth of her introduction to the play's lack of theatrical history, at least in its purest form. Soon after Fletcher’s death, it found itself adapted under Charles II with the inclusion of allusions to topical events like the Great Fire of 1666 (which was the version Samuel Pepys saw three times).  French Huguenot Peter Motteux then utilised it as a source of a semi-opera, which due to its popularity became the form on which all subsequent revivals were based and is generally thought of as being enmeshed in the history of opera in that period, or until 1739 when it was retired from the stage taking the original with it, its bawdiness falling out of fashion.

There are only two recent revivals of note. In 1995 it heralded the beginning of the modern Shakespeare's Globe’s Read or Dead series starring Mark Rylance and Josette Simon and seven years later, an RSC production directed by Gregory Doran, a risky prospect in the wake of 9/11. McManus excellent commentary on this production demonstrates that theatre does not occur in a vacuum with scenes of Portuguese colonial violence that in the period of writing provided a context to the plays later descent into religious fanaticism being cut in case they're seen as being a “racist stereotype”. There’s an undercurrent of disappointment in McManus's tone, of how a play which has not been produced in many years was potentially undermined by the period of its staging.

The introduction concludes with what’s always my favourite section, the publication history. The Island Princess was published posthumously in the humongous first folio or "The Comedies and Tragedies written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher" (1947) which as the academic notices includes the work of about nine playwrights since it includes their collaborations with others, though not, curiously Shakespeare (we'd presumably still have Cardenio if it had). This play seems to be the work of a printing house owned by Susan Islip, one of two houses whose labours are only recently being given critical focus. Perhaps, as more and more of the plays from this volume become available, their work will be illuminated too.

The Island Princess (Arden Early Modern Drama). Edited by Clare McManus. Methuen Drama. 2013. RRP: £13.99. ISBN: 978-1904271536. Review copy supplied.