In his second blog post Michael discusses how private research and group work inform character, and the ever changing nature of the play text.
Transcript of Podcast
We are concentrating more on specific scenes now. However, at this stage there is a lot of discussion work, it is quite rare that we get on our feet and do something practical. There is so much to ‘chew over’ and think about.
The other day, I came to realise that I had not read any of the play for about three days because I had been carrying out research. There is a growing sense that the research needs to decrease and that we need to develop a more practical approach to the scenes. However, I feel that there is a lot character development that will come out of our research.
I’ve been looking at the theme of ‘nature’, and what it means to the play as a whole. It is referred to about forty times. This theme relates to Edmund, as his second word to the audience is "Nature". Edmund seems to represent an alternative view of nature. Therefore, I think it might be interesting to trace the journey of the word throughout the play. I feel that Edmund represents the Hobsian view of nature, which is more malignant, and not the more beneficent view of nature of Hooker and Bacon.
This week has been dominated by research. Jaq [Bessell, Head of Research] is resourcing the actors with any information we request, this is wonderful. Often we find, in the copies of the text we are using, lots of little notes at the bottom telling us to refer to other sources. That is great, because then we simply ask Jaq for those sources. Barry [Kyle, Master of Play] has asked Jaq to draw up a list of what people are doing, so that we are not duplicating information.
My first point of research was on the laws of inheritance, which quickly ‘spun off’ into ideas about custom and nature. On research document stated that the first male inherits everything, but in the absence of the male heir the land would be divided between the daughters. This idea is not confirmed. Sometimes you have to look at research sceptically. The same person, who stated this idea, makes all sorts of unjustified claims about the play. They claim that Edmund has been studying abroad, like Hamlet and Horatio, but there is no evidence that suggests that. Although Edmund has been away for nine years, the text does not say what he has been doing.
From my research I have found that the laws of inheritance are based on the understanding of the time of the hierarchical structure of the universe. What is interesting from Edmund's point of view is how much his character may be an expression of an idea in the play, he is also a man of action. It seems that thoughts and actions are in harmony in Edmund. That is what is so exciting about the role, the opportunity to play someone who is bright and at the same time seriously muscular! I think that is where we are heading in terms of Edmund's character – to an interpretation of him as a superman (in the Nietzschean sense).
People have been submerging themselves into their personal research projects and by way of doing that, they have actually been submerging themselves into their characters. It seems that the research projects help to define the character.
Discussions in a big group are more general because you are looking at the entire play and trying to give everybody space to say how they feel. In these discussions it is important to be objective, but we all see things through our character's perspective. The work in smaller groups tends to be more practical, specific to the content and context of a scene, the circumstances prior to the scene, the characters wants and desires and nuances of a line and verse. Practical suggestions for the play are made during group work. An example of this is when Edmund cuts his arm, it was suggested that Regan might bandage it for him, and that might be their first moment together. It would be good to get Regan and Edmund together, quite intimately, as early as possible.
We have rehearsed the Kent and Oswald scene, when Kent insults Oswald and ends up being put in the stocks. I have one line in that scene, "How now! What's the matter? Part!" It would be very easy to come on stage and say my line and then drop out of the scene. However, I was keen not to do that. I wanted to try and turn that line and scene into something imperative for my character, obviously without detracting from the main thrust of that scene. The company has not been working through the play in scene order. I find dipping into scenes here and there quite dynamic, because you have to think ahead. It is not as interesting to work sequentially as you know what is going to happen in rehearsals.
I have been looking at the scene where Edmund betrays his father to Cornwall. If you see this in another theatre they turn things inside out, so that you have the raging of the storm outside and then there is this internal scene with background noise of the storm. This is fine, and accurate, but I would be interested to experiment with playing the Edmund and Cornwall scene in the rain, just to show how the storm affects everyone. Barry [Kyle, Master of Play] believes that there is an element of madness in the storm, which infects all the characters. I think that this is a really good idea. Edmund could only betray his father in the storm, if it was calm and peaceful he would not do it.
The text and cuts
We are using the Quarto, (Oxford Shakespeare edition) for this production and there are times when it feels like it is not as good as the folio, but sometimes the folio is not as good as the quarto. In fact, I may do the folio version of ‘thou, Nature…’ It is a useful exercise to compare the differences between the folio version (most editions use the folio) and the quarto, the difference in punctuation is particularly striking.
I have been negotiating and trading lines with Barry. He gave me three and a half lines back (that had previously been cut out), so I thought I owed him! In the "This is the excellent copy of the world" speech, Edmund is talking about all of the different things that people claim the stars are responsible for. "That we are all liars, drunkards, thieves…by spherical predominance". Edmund is saying that we are led to do things by divine prominence. Barry cut the list down, as it is quite a long list. However, I felt that in the Globe you could use the entire list by involving the audience. You can imagine that you are pointing out the drunkards, the thieves and the knaves. When Edmunds says this list, he is not judging people. He also lists his own character, the trecherer.
We had the cuts prior to rehearsals. I prefer an ongoing negotiation throughout rehearsals, rather than being given cuts at the outset. Barry is very open to negotiations. He is quite keen to keep lines in, but we do need to be careful as if we all put our cut lines back into the production we will add half-an-hour to the playing 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.