Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 1

This is Patricia's first blog post. This week she discusses her first opinions about Goneril and her relationships with other characters, and reflects on the first week of rehearsals.

Transcript of Podcast


Goneril is a very difficult character to understand. Lots of people have opinions about Goneril. Before I starting rehearsing, when I told people I was doing this job, they said some big sweeping things like ‘ she is pure evil, there is nothing good in that woman at all’. I don’t believe that, and I don’t think you can play that. It is like playing a king. How can you play a king? You can’t play a king; everyone else has to play as if you are the king. I am trying to concentrate on ‘what makes Goneril tick’. Why is she this closed off, damaged and disappointed person? I am trying to find out what has informed or formed her character. I have been thinking about what it must have been like for Goneril not to have a mother. There are no mothers evident in the play. What is it like to be neglected? Also, what is it like to live in a very male world? It is quite funny in rehearsals, as there are only three women in the cast! It can seem very ‘male’.

When Lear asks his daughters to declare their love for him, he says "Goneril our eldest, Regan our dearest, and Cordelia our joy." I am starting to develop the idea that Goneril is the least favourite, the most neglected and the least appreciated. I am also wondering if Lear wanted his first born to be a boy, and of course Goneril is not a boy. That may influence her character later on in the play. Goneril is quite tough, maybe she tries to be more like a boy because she is not a boy.

The other questions that have been asked this week are:

• Why is Goneril married to Albany?
• What is that marriage like?
• Why have they got no children?
• Why is someone like Edmund so attractive to her?

We had a discussion about costume yesterday. It was with the designer and Barry [Kyle, Master of Play]. I disagreed with some of their ideas. They saw Goneril's journey, in a costume sense, starting with a plain dress (the same as Regan's dress, but with a very soft shape) and progressing towards a more masculine look. I disagreed because of one particular line where Goneril says something like ‘I had rather lose the battle than lose Edmund to my sister’. That suggests to me that at the end of the play, instead of being concerned with looking like a soldier and being like a soldier, she wants to be like a woman. Therefore, I felt it was wrong for me to wear trousers. Goneril should be at her most feminine as she tries to maintain Edmund's attention.

Another question I am thinking about is how Goneril can justify killing her sister. I have not got anywhere near an answer. I don’t believe that anyone considers themselves to be evil, that is a judgement made by people on the outside. So, to play Goneril, you have to create a real person, you can not just be Cruella DeVille.

Goneril's relationships with other characters

I am interested in the idea that, from Goneril's perspective, Regan has tried to steal Edmund's love in the way that she previously stole the love of her father. Regan is the second born child and it is conceivable that the little love Lear gave to Goneril was transferred to Regan after her birth. In Edmund I think Goneril believes she has found the love of her life, when Regan ‘moves in on him’ it may seem to her a repetition of that of her early experience. Creating a character is about exploring relationships and finding the world of the play – a world that would justify people being so very harsh to one another.

We have been exploring Goneril's relationship with Oswald. It is too simple to say that Oswald is a servant. If you look at the first scene between Goneril and Oswald, she is telling him to treat her father badly. What she is asking him to do is risk his life, because Lear is not going to react well to a servant snubbing him. She confides in Oswald in a way that suggests there is more to their relationship than simply that of a servant and a mistress, there is a history, and Goneril trusts Oswald.

Another thing I have been thinking about is Goneril and Regan's relationship. Because Goneril and Regan join forces in the play, I had assumed that they operated together. However, I am not so sure now, after considering the later section of the play. It seems they are only working together because it suits them, not because they are ‘big buddies’, but I am not sure about that yet, I’ll have to wait and see.

Everything I had previously read about King Lear, ‘lumped’ Goneril and Regan together. When you actually come to play the characters, it is very important to find the differences between them, simply because they are very different. Their language is different, and that has become very apparent this week.

I think Goneril's husband, Albany is a very difficult but interesting character. It would be so easy to write him off as a ‘wimp’. I don’t think this is the case, I think that he is the voice of reason in an unreasonable world.

The week in rehearsals

We have been singing a lot with Claire [van Kampen, Master of Music]. I think there may be folk singing in the production. We may sing as ensemble when not in a scene. We have been singing English folk songs in some rehearsals.

I have been terrified this week. It is very scary to start working on a play like King Lear. It is like standing at the bottom of a mountain and thinking ‘I am never going to get up there, I’m never going to make this verse sound as though that is how I really speak.’ We have got wonderful help, from people like Giles [Block, Master of Verse]who is working on verse with us. You feel ‘pumped up’ and inspired because he gives you something and you think ‘I can do it, I can do it!’ and then you get into rehearsals and you open your mouth and you can’t do it!

At the moment I have masses of questions. Questions seem to breed more questions. I do look forward to when we actually stand up and get over the feeling of having never acted before. With a difficult play like this you do have to discuss things. You feel very clever in your head. However, when you actually stand up it means nothing! You imagine that you have ‘cracked’ it or that you have taken a step forward, but this is only in your seat, not when you are acting. Obviously, all of our discussion work feeds into rehearsals later, but it would be quite good to stand up and do some acting soon, even if we are terrible!

This week has been like planting lots of little seeds all over the place and seeing which ones take root, which ones need more attention and which ones are never going to grow in that soil. Hopefully we will build a subtle basis for a wonderful production.

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.

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