This is Melanie's second blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, in which she talks about Lady Capulet, the Capulet household and the relationships within the family, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
I’ve got a three-quarter wig which I’m very pleased about – it's brilliant. It sits towards the back of my head and what's wonderful about a three quarter wig is that there isn’t any wig lace, because you’re using the natural hair line. They look completely natural and it's almost impossible to see the join with your own hair. It will be pinned in with pin-curls, not sat on top of my head like a hat. It's designed to look like Lady Capulet's real hair, not Lady Capulet wearing a wig! I’ve had lots of costume fittings, I feel like I’ve had hundreds! It's very exciting; my costume has a fantastic under-structure and there's a huge amount of material. I’m going to be very well padded. There are two big silk taffeta petticoats underneath the gown and I’ve got two bum rolls to get the right shape: the gown is designed on a very dramatic diagonal line. It starts off very high at the back, way above my natural waist-line and then sweeps down in a great ‘V’ shape to a point just above my navel, so it will look very dramatic. The farthingale comes right out around the top of my pelvis. It's stunning. There's no split down the front so you can’t see the petticoat. Instead there's lots of black and silver embroidery. It was going to be black and gold, but when Jenny came to talk to us about what gold and silver represented, I felt Lady Capulet would be more likely to wear silver and pearl … she's more like the moon than the sun. I’m going to move across the stage like a ship – hopefully a galleon under full sail, but at the moment there's the possibility that I’ll be more like a tug: I’ll need to practice moving about the stage in full costume. I’ve been getting used to my corset by wearing that in rehearsals.
I’ve got an extraordinary stand-up ruff to wear: it stands out at the back of my neck and looks very huge and impressive. There's a seven foot long train, too. Actually, it can’t be that long on the ground because it hangs right down my back; there's probably five feet of material trailing behind me. I’m keen to get a ‘practice train’ that I can wear in rehearsals, because the sheer length and weight of my costume will have quite an affect on the way Lady Capulet moves, especially in the public scenes. I’ll need to get familiar with that before we open. I've been told a story about an actress in the Globe production of King Lear – she had to flick her long dress up with her foot so she could move easily but when she got downstage she flicked it over the head of a groundling and didn’t notice until she had to turn around - the lady was too polite to fight her way out of the dress! I’ll have to be careful with my train. I’m not sure how it’ll work in the jig, though; we’re not at the stage were we can incorporate ‘flicking’ into the steps yet.
Rehearsals are great at the moment. I’m staving off making any decisions. The more we’ve worked and the more exercises we’ve done, the more possibilities open up for the character. I feel much more in the dark than I did ten days ago, much more at sea. I know I’m hovering and there's always the impulse to demand answers ‘What am I going to do with this?’, but it is much more exciting and useful to explore Lady Capulet's function in the play than to rush into quick solutions. What does her presence do for the play?
I think that Lady Capulet's function is to complicate our understanding of Juliet. The relationship between Lady Capulet and Juliet encourages us to question parent/child relationships more generally: what is the role of the parent in child development? What are the tensions between the generations? All that is interesting to think about, but in terms of actually acting, I’m still finding my character. I love that the way we’re working allows that discovery to creep up on you. Yesterday we did a run of the play and no-one really noticed what we were doing until we’d done it – that felt very relaxed and natural, whereas sometimes the run looms up and everyone piles in, making a conscious effort to achieve things. I really respond to the confidence Tim [Carroll, Master of Play, Romeo and Juliet] has in us. The fact that no one's being pushed into making decisions shows he has a great trust in our ability. In turn, that makes the rehearsal room feel like a very safe place to experiment. I guess I think it's about time to start nailing things down, but there's no hurry. A lot is still up for grabs.
Lady Capulet and the Nurse
There doesn’t seem to be a definite ‘shape’ to the play yet. There's a healthy kind of competition in the rehearsal room, like the competition you get within a very strong, solid football team. I suppose each character wants to make the play and the story their own. The idea of competitiveness between Lady Capulet and the Nurse is particularly interesting. I think it's a competition the Nurse wins hands down – clearly, Lady Capulet has been involved in an ongoing battle to dominate this member of her household and she has never won. Lady Capulet simply cannot dominate the Nurse and why that is, I don’t know. It's something I’m still confused about. I think we’ll find a balance in the fullness of time – Lady Capulet is head of the household and she does hold some authority. But then the Nurse does speak with great familiarity to Capulet in Act III, scene 5:
You are to blame, my lord, to rate her so.
Again, when Capulet refuses to let the wedding preparations alone, the Nurse has no qualms about saying her bit:
Go, you cot-quean, go.
Get you to bed! Faith, you’ll be sick tomorrow
For this night's watching
She has a comfortable status within the household which suggests that she can actually go over Lady Capulet's head. Bette [Bourne, The Nurse] talked about the possibility that Lord Capulet rather than Lady Capulet brought the Nurse into his household. Lady Capulet was a young wife; maybe she was actually too young to take on the serious responsibility of hiring on domestic employees. Perhaps she was presented with this fait accompli which she has been struggling to live with ever since. I think that thought is quite useful. There's a lot of tension in the way Act I, scene 3 is written.
Tensions in the Capulet Household
I’ve read Harley Granville-Barker's essay on Romeo and Juliet and he doesn’t pick up on any tensions in Act I, scene 3 at all. He reads the scene in terms of comfortable, conventional household relationships: the first scene with Lady Capulet, the Nurse and Juliet [I.3] is just about three women sitting down together and having a laugh, so when Lady Capulet says:
Marry, that 'marry' is the very theme
I came to talk of.
Granville-Barker thinks she has actually forgotten that she came to talk to Juliet about marriage because she's been having such a jolly time. That seems to be a very sexist reading to me – the idea that these three women can just be taken at face-value … they’re chatting and having a laugh because, well, that's what they seem to be doing. Granville-Barker shores his argument up with references to the fun the household seems to be having on the eve of Juliet's wedding. I don’t think things are that straightforward. However it's tricky, because the household does seem happy during the scene where everyone prepares for the wedding [IV.4]. If you see Lady Capulet having a really good time in this scene, you might ask ‘So why was she so upset by Tybalt's death less than twelve hours ago?’ As I said, I’ve got a great many more questions than answers: the questions about Lady Capulet are coming thick and fast, and the answers are evading me right now.
It struck me that men of Granville-Barker's [Edwardian] generation never competed with their wives in domestic situations. They had very defined roles in the house. I think that Lady Capulet must feel that she is very much challenged by the Nurse in a way that Harley Granville-Barker just wouldn’t recognise because the idea of complexity in the domestic sphere was completely alien to him. His view takes the easy way out: the Nurse and Lady Capulet are simply women having fun – that reduces them to very shallow characters. This reductive sort of reading isn’t very useful!
Tybalt is Dead: Lady Capulet's Reaction
I keep coming back to the moment in Act III, scene 1, when Lady Capulet's desire for revenge is overwhelmingly powerful. It seems to be the key to her character. She is a woman of great strength and stature – a woman who is capable of such a response in that situation is neither shallow nor diffident nor vacillating. I’d love to find some humour in this scene too; I think Lady Capulet is incredibly self-absorbed – she's a tragic heroine in miniature – and some humour might provide an interesting counterbalance to her tragic side.
At some profound level, she's without an occupation. If she has been pushed out of her domestic role by the Nurse, then she is probably quite bored. In that sense she's quite similar to Mercutio and Tybalt. What do they actually do? I’ve just been on holiday and we did lots of sight-seeing and shopping, but I did wonder how Elizabethan women filled their time! I thought ‘What would they have done with the six hours I’ve just spent here?’ You don’t get the sense that Lady Capulet is exactly ‘hands on’ in the household. I suppose there's the reference to her role as hostess: a servant tells her ‘The guests are come’ [I.3] and part of her position as the Lady of the house would be to organise entertainments and give the servants their orders, but I don’t get the feeling that she's engaged in this role or that she enjoys it particularly. It's hard to make decisions about how I’m going to play her character and that's partly because defining her place in the world of the play is difficult.
It helps me to bring in a colour when I’m thinking about a character's function. Each character has a particular colour that balances with the colours of other characters at certain points in the play – almost like an aura. For instance, when Mercutio comes onstage, there's a very bright, dazzling colour about him whereas the Friar might have a more natural palette of muted colours. It's there in the imagery of the language: the Friar speaks of the natural world while Mercutio's lines have an energy that's almost electric. Lady Capulet's colour in Tybalt's death scene is red – a very bright, vivid, primary colour. I just respond to her feelings in a visual way – at that point, she is like a splash of vocalised grief and rage and red reflects that best.
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.