This is Michael's first blog post. This week he discusses returning to the play, the different decisions about Edmund he has to consider and how the play will develop through rehearsals.
Transcript of Podcast
Returning to the Globe
On the first day of rehearsal we were introduced to the theatre and staff. Starting this theatre season is very different from the last time I was at the Globe for the first theatre season. To begin we had a look around the theatre, which was an opportunity we did not have before, as the theatre was not completed and was full of scaffolding.
We went up into the attic and talked about performing in the Globe space, we then made a ritual dedication for the season. Later we looked at the range of experience the cast of King Lear has with Shakespeare. Some actors have not performed in Shakespeare's plays before, while others have a great deal of experience.
The cast read through the play together for the first time, which was a great deal of fun. It was a relief to hear which voices would be saying which lines. The way the play is cut is very important to a production. Barry [Kyle, Master of Play] had already cut the play before rehearsals began and he gave us these cuts.
It is rare for me to get a job so far in advance, [Michael was offered the role at the beginning of the year] so I have had quite a lot of time to think and prepare. This is both a plus and a minus, as my head is so full ideas before the beginning of the rehearsal process.
This week we have been talking about the play in most rehearsals, which has generated a lot of questions. We are starting to develop areas of discussions around these questions. All of the discussions have taken place around a big table, with all of the company present.
The real starting point for anyone playing Edmund is thinking about where he has been for nine years. Why did he go away? What did he do while he was away? And, why did he come back?
The themes that are beginning to emerge are concerned with legitimacy, power and displacement. While the play and characters are riddled with notions of good and evil, we cannot simply ‘play’ that notion. We must remember that as actors our job is also to create people. Edmund might be thought of as one of the evil characters in King Lear, along with Goneril, Regan and Cornwall. However, to play these characters in a manner that is credible we need to legitimise their behaviour. An actor cannot play ‘evil’ I will need to find out what it is that makes Edmund this way. Someone said that, in a way, these characters are victims as much as perpetrators; they are all damaged people.
Edmund is an aristocrat, and as the second son of Gloucester (there is textual evidence that he is younger than Edgar) he could not expect the same privileges and future as his brother. The fact that he is a ‘bastard’ adds to his sense of dispossession and alienation. In modern terms, it is like being told that you can’t work, that you will never have any money and that you will never be able to fulfil your full potential.
What I would like to know is how people (particularly 17 and 18-year-olds, for I am thinking that Edmund was that age when he left his father's estate) would feel about this situation and what they would do. One solution might be to leave the area to try and find a new identity. Maybe Edmund goes abroad.
The return of Edmund has been a big issue in our general discussions. Who knows about the division of the kingdom at the beginning of the play? Has Edmund come back because he thinks there is a possible opportunity here? Does he know that there are plans to divide the kingdom? Does he believe he could benefit in some way from its division?
Another question I have been thinking about is how does it feel to be an illegitimate son? Gloucester talks of the whole situation with very little shame, almost with pride. He talks in graphic terms of the woman who is Edmund's mother. If Edmund did feel shame at the circumstances of his birth, has he now turned these feelings into something else?
I’ve also been exploring favouritism in families. Who was the favourite in Gloucester's family? I have been trying to find textual evidence to support a decision. I think it is probably Edgar. There is a speech that Gloucester has, prior to Edmund betraying him, which suggests that.
What does Edmund want at the beginning of the play? How much has he planned and what is his strategy? Has he planned anything in the first scene (as it is only in the second scene that he reveals the forged letter plan)? Is Edmund's ambition endless, or has it been limited from the beginning? In other words, I am questioning how opportunistic he is. How do Edmund's ‘wants’ change through the events of the play? Does he plan everything or is he just lucky?
What is Edmund's mother like? We have had discussions about the lack of mothers in this play. Textual evidence about mothers would be useful. Can anyone find some?
Edmund talks about the astronomical conditions he was born under. "My father compounded with my mother, under the dragons tail, and my nativity was under ursa major and so that it follows that I am rough and lecherous…" What exactly does that particular line mean? What does "ursa major" signify astronomically? What is the dragons tail?
The other thing, which is quite interesting from our point of view, is the relationship between verse and prose in different versions of the play, because we are using the Quarto. In Edmund's case, the "thou, Nature, art my goddess" soliloquy in the Quarto is in prose. The folio is published as verse. I explore both the verse and prose version and make comparisons.
Politics and the family
There has been a range of discussions amongst the company about family and national politics. I think Edmund turns his personal life into political ambition. He has made that translation somewhere along the lines. Other characters in the play have not made this type of decision, they are still expecting the emotional turmoil of the family.
The company has talked a lot about introducing a range of dialects into the play. King Lear is such an English play, or such a British play. The word ‘British’ is used three or four times in the play, which I was quite surprised about. The play was written at a historical moment in which England and Scotland were united for the first time. Shakespeare seems to want to represent that in some kind of way. So I have been thinking about the use of a dialect for Edmund, specifically, what type of voice would be useful? I have been talking to Barry [Kyle, Master of Play] about experimenting with an Irish accent, as my mother is Irish. But this might be too much, as it may go into political Irish displacement issues, which are not relevant to our production of the play.
Shakespeare and Stanislavsky
There have also been discussions about how related Shakespeare is to Stanislavsky. As twentieth century and twenty-first century actors, we all have grounding in Stanislavsky and bring these ideas to our work on King Lear. However many, if not all, of the ideas behind Stanivlasky's method post date Shakespeare by hundreds of years. How then applicable are they to our work on the play?
Developing the play
I was much more worried the first time I began rehearsals for a play at the Globe. This time I feel quite ready to respond. It very helpful to have regular sessions on movement, voice and verse. I can also use my own previous experience and the experience of actors in other theatre seasons to inform my work.
These are background things; we have not really got into the play. We are reading the play section by section, scene by scene and asking questions on themes. We are looking at where each theme takes place, and when it takes place in relation to the previous theme. All of these chronological things can be puzzling.
As we go through the scenes I will be asking questions as I think that they are useful, particularly in terms of the speed of the play. There are lots of references to the passage of time, but they might be conflicting. There are many references to time, like "you’re the man who hit my master two days ago" – so we discover that between scene four and scene seven there are two days. I haven’t actually sat down yet and worked that out. It is usually better to complete that type of exercise with the other members of the company, otherwise you can make mistakes. It is very useful to know practical things, like the time of day, for each scene.
Barry, [Kyle] is very good at asking people to talk about what they feel and their experience. My experience of the first read through, (probably because I felt very anxious and vulnerable), was that each character appeared to be very vulnerable. I was amazed by this response, as some of the characters are clearly evil. In my previous season here, we did not have the opportunity to find out how the space worked vocally. We now have more knowledge of the building, which we could not have possibly had during the first season. I have started from a very different point this time.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.