In her second blog post, Penny discusses Leonato's relationships with other characters in the play, different aspects of Leonato's character and the work done on the text with the Master of Words.
Transcript of Podcast
We’ve been through the play two or three times now, each time with different objectives. It has been really useful to go through the play that many times and familiarize yourself with everything everybody does, not just concentrating on your themes. You become informed by your character and by what other people do and say in the play. On the other hand, it has delayed getting down to the scenes. I love really investigating the part, making the decisions about what you are doing and who you are, as well as resolving any bits of the play that you don’t understand.
For instance, we have been talking about Sicily – where Messina actually is – and the fact that Don Pedro of Arragon is Spanish… we’re thinking about which wars the soldiers might have actually been fighting. I don’t think that there is documentary evidence specifying where they have been fighting or how long the war was, so we will make decisions about that. It's a learning process. Obviously, a lot of the action takes place in Leonardo's house and his garden. And it is very tempting to think that it takes place in the country side, but it doesn’t. It takes place very definitely in Messina, so that makes a difference. Leonato is governor of Messina. I expect this would be an appointed position not a heredity position but none the less I expect those positions were given to people of noble birth, so he is probably pretty rich. He has a nice house big enough to accommodate all those people who arrive in Act I, scene 1: dignitaries and their entourages. I think of his house almost as an embassy – it might be his own house, but it is definitely a place where visiting dignitaries like the Prince would stay. That's the sort of environment I imagine Beatrice and Hero growing up in. Don Pedro and the soldiers might have passed through on other occasions when Hero would have seen Claudio.
That train of thought led me to think about Leonato's relationship with Claudio's uncle: I have decided that he and I are really good friends, along with Antonio. We all know each other very well. Perhaps if Claudio was orphaned, he would be the one who stepped into the parental role. I don’t know when his parents died – they don’t have to have died, that's what I’m thinking at the moment. I would have talked about Claudio many times with his uncle and had really good chats about him – how he's getting along, what he's been up to – so although Claudio doesn’t know me really well, I know an awful lot about him. Maybe Claudio visited his uncle a lot because the first thing that we hear in the play from the messenger is that he has already been to the uncle, told the uncle, and the uncle has cried with joy on hearing about Claudio's ennoblement. It's a possibility that Claudio has only just been made a Count as the result of his success in battle – perhaps he didn’t inherit his title. I’m not sure; it is not for me to say because it's not my part, but these are the possibilities that occurred to me looking at the situation from Leonato's point of view.
This morning Penny [Diamond, Antonio] and I discussed the relationship between Leonato and his brother. It is early days but we think perhaps Antonio might be a widower. Leonato is a widower too; Shakespeare did start to write him a wife called Imogen but he thought better of it and she disappeared. That's quite interesting because it makes me think about Hero as a motherless child; Shakespeare perhaps didn’t set out to write that in the way he set out to write Beatrice as a motherless child. Beatrice status as an orphan is important to the story, but we assume that the fact that Hero's mother is dead is unimportant because Shakespeare was going to give her one, then he decided she was surplus to requirements… I suspect there are so many motherless children in Shakespeare because women were so much more difficult for male actors to portray on the stage, so why have one you didn’t need? You only had so many actors at your disposal, and it didn’t make sense to take one up with a character you really weren’t going to use. So I’m inclined to think that the reasons for this cut are practical; Imogen's absence doesn’t shift the direction of the play's story. It's just like the boy Leonato calls on in Act I, scene 2
How now, brother, where is my cousin, your son? Hath he provided this music?
Antonio's son is brought in when he's needed and then he's suddenly disinherited when Leonato tells Claudio he must marry Antonio's daughter instead of ‘dead’ Hero
To-morrow morning come you to my house,
And since you could not be my son-in-law,
Be yet my nephew. My brother hath a daughter,
Almost the copy of my child that's dead,
And she alone is heir to both of us. [V.1.286-90]
Of course, that could all be part of the fiction surrounding Hero's pretend death. I’ve got lots of thoughts and lots of questions!
Penny [Diamond, Antonio] and I have been working on the little scene [I.2] quite a bit over the last couple of days. We’ve done it several ways – today we did an exercise where we had to identify exactly what was being said and assign a word to each ‘section’ of text. So for the line
How now, brother, where is my cousin, your son? Hath he provided this music? [I.2.1]
We identified three sections of text [underlined, bold, and italicised]. I thought that Leonato was basically saying ‘For goodness sake, where is your son? He's in charge of this music – where on earth is he and why hasn’t he done it yet?’ We assigned the word ‘assail’ to the section ‘How now, brother’ [underlined] because I wanted to get that sense of catching someone's attention in a very determined way: there he is, quick, catch him!’ For the next section [bold], we chose the word ‘integrate’ and the final section [italics] was assigned ‘prodding’. It's not so much the words themselves that are important, but the affect: they remind me that what I’m doing is trying to have an affect on the other character. Instead of just coming on and saying ‘Hello, where's your son? Has he arranged for the music?’ I have to communicate the intention behind the words. You come on and you say ‘Come here, I need to talk to you! Whereon earth is he?! Has he done it yet?’ There has to be a clear reason for saying each line onstage and the reason ‘because they’re in the text’ isn’t good enough if you want to bring the words to life. You’re always reacting to what other characters are doing or saying. It's very easy to go and sit at home alone with your script and basically decide what you are going to do in isolation. If that happened, we’d all just be doing our own separate things in the same space when we onstage together. I learn my lines early on, because I can never wait to get started, but I think this means I have to be particularly careful not to decide too much in isolation. The exercises help you keep all the ideas you bring into the rehearsal room very flexible.
When Hero has been denounced during the wedding scene, she says very little and that reminds me a bit of Cordelia in King Lear… there's something very stubborn about the silence of Lear's youngest daughter. Hero is a bit different but I think Shakespeare uses the same device: like Cordelia, she doesn’t really say much to defend herself at first and her silence is then misinterpreted. She questions what is happening but she doesn’t actually stand up and say ‘I didn’t do it’ until the Friar asks her directly. Her father is left to say ‘Well, she hasn’t denied it therefore I guess she is guilty.’ Leonato says he wishes that he had never had any children and that's a sentiment shared by Brabantio in Othello, when he regrets having Desdemona, and King Lear actually says something like that about his children: I wish I never had any. It's an incredibly powerful statement, breaking the bond between parent and child.
I think what Leonato says at the wedding is extraordinary. He has a wonderful speech that's often cut, but you must need your head examined if you cut it. I’m not saying that just because I am playing Leonato; it is a seriously beautiful speech. Basically he says that he wants Hero to die. He asks her ‘why are you living? If I thought you were going to live – if I thought your spirit was stronger than your shame – I would kill you myself.’ Then I tell her that I wish I had taken up a beggar's child at my gate instead of having one of my own so I could say this dreadful shame wasn’t my blood: ‘It is sad but it has nothing to do with me, this issue is from unknown loins’. Imagine what he must be feeling to say that to his daughter who has just been through the horrendous experience of being jilted at the Alter.
The lines that just break me up are near the end of this speech:
But mine and mine I loved and mine I praised
And mine that I was proud on, mine so much
That I myself was to myself not mine,
Valuing of her – why, she, O, she is fallen
Into a pit of ink… [IV.1.134-8]
I think the way Shakespeare's written the line is very clever… I don’t know how much of the punctuation is original but clearly the line breaks up ‘Valuing of her – why, she, O, she is fallen’ and it sounds as though Leonato himself is breaking up inside. Most of Shakespeare's lines gather momentum, but they do flow. When you get a little line like that, well, for me, that's the pinnacle of that piece. I said last time that I like to look at the whole play and get an idea of the arc of the story. Each scene and each speech has peaks too, so once you’ve got an idea of the overall arc of the story, you need to identify those other pinnacles along the way. I think in that speech, the emotional peak comes at the line ‘Valuing of her… ’ Maybe peak is the wrong word: I mean the point at which something breaks.
Impact of being a parent
We were chatting today about how interesting it is to play Much Ado About Nothing with an all-female company because when your character is a dad, you’re both a father and a mother. Like Leonato, I have one child and I can’t imagine ever saying anything like the alter-speech to him, no matter what he did. Life was different back then. I don’t think we can really begin to understand what a woman's honour meant in that society. A woman's marriage prospects were dependent on her honour and men made decisions about marriage for her. Look at the bit of the scene we did this morning [I.2], where Antonio tells me that his man overheard the Prince and Claudio talking and that the Prince is going to propose to Hero and marry her straight away. I don't think that Leonato really believes it. Later on he says to Hero ‘If the Prince does propose to you – you know what your answer is.’ If the Prince wants to marry you, you’ll marry him. He is the best catch around. That was what life was like. That doesn’t mean Leonato is a horrid dad – it means they lived at a different time with different rules. I think being a parent does have an affect on you when you are playing a part like that, because your own rules are different and you would have reacted in a different way, but the fact that I’m playing a father rather than a mother at the moment makes no difference to me. I think human beings feel pain whatever sex they are, just as Shakespeare's characters felt the same pain that we feel now, despite the four-hundred year gap. And that's one of the reasons why I think Leonato is so wonderful. He speaks to our hearts now.
I also realised how good Leonato is at his job as the Governor of Messina. The way he talks to everybody is very courteous, even when he is getting a bit tired of people like Dogberry. He is very generous – he treats people very well, and I think that is also part of his job.
To see this man of stature reduced to tears in the wedding scene makes it even more crushing. Normally he is so calm and balanced. At first of all he is just disbelieving anything like this could happen. He just can’t understand it. And then the prince says he has seen it with his own eyes. There's the shift: the prince has proof and he wouldn’t lie – and that is the crux… the prince wouldn’t lie so Leonato believes it, and he's vile to poor Hero. He interprets the lack of a direct denial as an affirmation of her guilt, but the Friar says ‘Look, tell us straight, did you do it?’ When Hero responds ‘No, I didn’t do it’ I am sure she would look to her father. Leonato doesn’t say immediately that he believes her because he doesn’t really know what to say. He is in such a state. However by the time you see him challenging Claudio and Don Pedro, he is pretty certain of his ground. Another shift; he's not having any of their accusations. Leonato might not understand why they lied about Hero but as far as he is concerned, Claudio and the Prince are to blame.
When Leonato challenges Don Pedro and Claudio in Act V, scene 1, I think he believes that he presents a real threat to those young men. Antonio [Penny Diamond] and I were asked if we wanted swords to wear. It's too early for me to decide for sure, but I’m going to try to see if the scene works without a sword. I want to give Leonato's verbal threat some real force. We may change our minds, but that's the way I thinking at the moment. There's a tricky moment in that scene when Claudio goes for his sword and I say -
Nay, never lay thy hand upon thy sword;
I fear thee not. [V.1.54-5]
Leonato is not frightened by this young man, and Claudio responds ‘In faith, my hand meant nothing to my sword’ [V.1.57] – I wasn’t going for my sword, honest! I’m not sure how those lines will work if Leonato doesn’t have a sword; old man didn’t wear swords as a matter of course (as young men did)… it's a choice we’ll have to make once we’ve seen how the lines work verbally.
I’ve thought a lot about the relationship between Beatrice and Leonato over the last week. I’ve decided it will be more interesting if I play that he is really concerned about getting her married, because he's getting older and he wants to see her settled. That's difficult because she puts up obstacles all the time and makes it difficult for any suitor to get close. You could play it rather fondly by laughing at all her quips as though he's accepting the situation ‘Oh, you’re just awful to these men and you’ve always been this way’. But I think he really wants Beatrice to get married and really means it when he says
By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue
He is worried that she will never get married is she carries on like this and that will make her vulnerable when he's no longer around to make sure she's provided for. I was thinking it might be nice if we played that Beatrice's mother was the sister of Leonato and Antonio: we have a very close relationship with Beatrice and it would make sense for her to be our niece, though I don’t know what Yolanda [Vazquez, Beatrice] has decided yet. For now, I’m pursuing the line that her mother was our sister, who possibly died giving birth to Beatrice – there's that reference in Act II, scene 1 to the star that danced at her birth whilst her mother cried [ll.309-10]. It's interesting that after Beatrice says that, Leonato gives her an excuse to leave ‘Niece, will you look to those things I told you of?’ [IV.1.311]. It feels quite tactful, as though he's letting her leave the stage because references to the circumstances of her birth have upset her. Perhaps I let her go because she's upset about her mother.
We have started to learn the steps to the pavane in our dance sessions, which I think we may use during the revels scene [II.1]. I am not quite sure what I will be doing in that scene – I probably will be having a little dance somewhere! We have also been working on the jig which is always a highlight, I think. I love the jigs but I do find it very difficult learning the steps. Sian [Williams, Master of Dance] breaks all the dances right down into steps – she introduces you to one step and you think ‘All right, I can manage this’. Then she makes it a little more complex so you think ‘Alright, this is the step we’ll be doing’. You are just getting your head around that when she says, ‘Okay, now we are going to do it twice as fast!’ I always think I am never going to get it right and I have to keep telling myself that's ok, it is only a small part of what I have to do in the play. But last year I managed most of it in the end. My feet will probably get there eventually! And even if you don’t get it all right every single time, well, they probably didn’t all the time in Shakespeare's day either! I shall do my best.
Verse and prose
A lot of Much Ado About Nothing is prose – I think Giles [Block, Master of the Words] says that less than thirty percent of it is written in verse. I think the parts that are written in verse inform what's written in prose.
In verse you find lots of words like personal pronouns are almost never stressed. Also the word ‘not’ is very seldom stressed although it is sometimes (there are no hard and fast rules!) So you learn from that and you find that the same guidelines often apply for the prose as well: very often the same the pronouns are not stressed. Pronouns can lead you up the garden path. It is very tempting to stress them – we would in modern speech. We would say “you did this to me” where Shakespeare would say “you did this to me” and actually it is more powerful his way. I think of prose in terms of meaning rather than rhythm. Rhythm isn’t set in concrete. You still have to find the right words to stress. People often think prose is easier than verse but actually I think it's the other way around because so much of the work is done for you in verse. For instance, in the half-line
Friar, it cannot be.
Thou seest that all the grace that she hath left
Is that she will not add to her damnation
A sin of perjury… [IV.1.168-71]
You’re tempted to say ‘Friar, it cannot be’ but I don’t think that's as good as ‘Friar, it cannot be…’ – the speech is about the impossibility of Hero's grace and emphasising ‘be’ rather than ‘Friar’ helps communicate that.
We work on verse and prose with Giles [Block, Master of the Words]; five of us at a time, once a week for the six weeks of rehearsal. We don’t use Much Ado About Nothing as a text in these sessions because he doesn’t want to interfere with what's going on in rehearsal. We want to learn about how to serve the text best. For instance, Giles often says that is the second half of the verse line is usually more important than the first part. What that means is that you will ‘set up’ what you want to say then you will go through it, getting to the point very often at the end of the line. I always like to do an exercise for myself that I am only allowed two words in a verse line. I’m not allowed to say anything else, and those are the words I’ll emphasise, otherwise you can fall into the trap of stressing everything in the line! When you keep to the stresses it really helps with you with the meaning of a line.
We just try different things out. Giles will point things out to do with stress and colour. I’ve noticed that Leonato's got one speech that uses the word ‘words’. I am talking to Antonio after the wedding scene; I tell him to stop trying to console me ‘I pray thee, cease thy counsel’ [V.1.4] because there is no point telling a sufferer not to suffer. When Benedick comes into the play earlier on and he has the tooth ache, Leonato says ‘oh for goodness sake that's not worth bothering about.’ He comes to understand later on when he says
Give me not counsel,
Nor let no comforter delight mine ear
But such a one whose wrongs do suit with mine […]
Then he gives a list of things and starts to make his conclusion:
But there is no such man; for, brother, men
Can counsel and speak comfort to that grief
Which they themselves not feel; but, tasting it,
Their counsel turns to passion, which before
Would give preceptial medicine to rage,
Fetter strong madness with a silken thread,
Charm ache with air and agony with words. [V.1.1-5, 20-7]
You have the word ‘words’ and you can colour that.
We are going to meet with the Tudor Group this afternoon. They are extraordinary people that know a huge amount about Shakespearean life because that is what they do for short periods of time. They do spend time living just exactly like a Tudor family. They dress and eat as the Tudors would have done, and they’re going to come and share their experiences with us. I’m expecting this to be very helpful in terms of original practices; how to bow properly, the correct etiquette for handling swords, and how and when to wear your hat, for instance. I know from last year's session with the Tudor Group that the Tudors would have worn hats all the time. You took them off when you were in front of the king but apart from that you kept them on. I’ve got more costume fittings coming up too, and I’m looking forward to seeing how things have moved on. I’ve seen a picture of what my hat will look like but I never know exactly what it will look like until it appears on my head.
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.