This is Dickon's third blog entry for the 2007 production of Othello in which he discusses continuing rehearsals, costumes and research, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
This week we’ve been through the scenes that Lodovico is in for the first time, on our feet, script in hand, and we will go back to them for a second time, which will be useful. I’m working with the script because I don’t want to learn the lines until I can learn the intentions – otherwise it is just like learning the phone book. When I have a hold on the character, or I’m beginning to, that gives me the reason to consolidate the lines. I try to learn the lines as thoughts, breaking speeches down where there is a full stop, finding the new thought. Giles very interestingly says it is a play of three and a half thousand lines, but he would much rather is it was a play of nine hundred and eighty thoughts. So when I get to the lines it is learning through the thought processes of the character rather than going for the line ending, which works for me.
The challenge is getting his status straight away, playing his status. He is going into a political situation he doesn’t know anything about. Cassio has disgraced himself. Othello hits his wife. This simple job that he thought he was going to do, has turned into something else. The research has revealed some interesting things about what Lodovico would do. My feeling is he makes his money through trade. For him, and this helps me as an actor, there is a real urgency for him to get Cyprus sorted out so that trade can go on. He has turned up to give power over to Cassio, and he finds that Cassio hasn’t really shown himself to be a sound man. Cassio has disgraced himself and lost his reputation. Suddenly the situation is revealed as being more complicated, and this is a shock. It makes an interesting journey – otherwise he would just turn up, hand over a letter, and take Othello back with him. Ultimately he doesn’t get to do his job – because Othello and Desdemona are dead.
In the willow scene Desdemona says Lodovico is a proper man. Because Wilson has chosen to put me in Act One Scene Three we have established a family connection between Lodovico and Desdemona, but because they are kinsmen they could not have been lovers, Lodovico could not have been one of the rejected suitors. I did read an essay which suggested he might have had an affair with Emilia. He is a family member, arriving with the knowledge that Brabantio, Desdemona's father, is dead. There is that to play, but Desdemona never finds out that he is dead. There is some off stage time when Lodovico and Desdemona are together, but it isn’t long. Part of the assistance that I’ve had from the Globe research team is a list of the qualities of a gentlemen like Lodovico always maintaining his dignity, and a cool mind. I suspect he doesn’t tell her because of the journey back – he doesn’t want her hysterical on the ship. He can sort it out at then end of the journey. It also isn’t clear what Othello is going back to. At one point in that first scene he says:
Is this the noble Moor, whom our full Senate
Call’d all in all sufficient? Is this the nature
Whom passion could not shake?
I think he likes that in Othello – that he is clear headed. Not a very convincing assessment of Othello, as it turns out. His war CV was great, and he can deal with war situations, but this is a shock. I keep looking for modern parallels. Would it be like going to Checkers in the 1940s and seeing Winston Churchill hit Clemmie [his wife]; or if Tony Blair hit Cherie Blair at some state function? It is an event of that magnitude. The absolute disgrace of the act is that he does it in public. It would be a disgraceful act anyway, but more so because it is done in public. Also it continues. I tell him to make amends – with all of the weight of what amends means. The OED says, reparation and compensation – it is not just a case of saying you are sorry. He has to acknowledge the weight of what he has done and what he needs to do to put it right. The moment goes on. I say call her back, but Othello continues to humiliate her – in effect asking me what I would like to do to her. He continues the mistreatment of Desdemona – which is even more disturbing. It is almost a professional and personal suicide note. This is it for Othello. Now that Lodovico has seen this, it will be the end of his career for Venice.
My ideas are still in ferment a bit. He hasn’t quite arrived in my mind yet. I played him on Saturday with quite a bit of anger, that he couldn’t do his job, taking Othello back. Also that he has lost a member of his family – Desdemona. But I’m not sure that is quite right for this rather stoical man. I still haven’t found the right balance of the personal the political and the emotional. This is normal for about two thirds of the way through the rehearsal process. I’m just entering the fear period now where you think you would rather do any job other than acting. Hopefully that starts to go away, and by the time we’ve done the last run-through in the rehearsal room it has gone. Of course with some shows, and some directors, the preview period is very much part of the rehearsal process and you are still discovering and refining things during that time. That's ok for the director who is just watching, but doesn’t feel so good when you are standing in front of a thousand people.
Shakespeare and the script
We have a typescript of the text which has been issued to all the company. At home I’ve got four editions of Othello, the Penguin, New Swan, Arden and Cambridge. There is a point where you have to settle on a choice – as an actor you can’t play four different choices – that way you would end up playing nothing that the audience could understand. I take a lot of notes on my script. Finding out what words mean, or relationships, questions for the director - anything that springs into my mind I write down on the script.
Shakespeare puts lots of clues into the verse to help the actor, like when I greet Iago and there is only a half line, we have put a handshake in at that point to take up the rest of the line. The fact that Shakespeare was an actor, so he understood the problems that actors face, means he is on our side. He is not just a brilliant playwright. He was also writing for a settled company – I think this is part of the wonder of Shakespeare. You have the genius of Shakespeare, also a practical man determined to make money, but also a company of actors that came together who could handle these plays. Somebody like Burbage who could take the really big roles that Shakespeare wrote. It is not as if he wrote one of the great parts, say Othello, and found that the actor who was playing the part couldn’t handle it, so he couldn’t write something like that again. One of things I love about Shakespeare's age, and in many ways I think it mirrors our own, is the way the guys became very popular. There was a cult of celebrity. Burbage as Richard III wore his sword in a particular way, and suddenly men in the city were wearing their swords like that. Another example is the story of Burbage making an assignation with a woman from the audience and Shakespeare overhearing, and turning up before Burbage. When Burbage arrives and knocks on the door Shakespeare shouted out to go away, because William the Conqueror came before Richard III. If only teachers could get across the fact that he was an actor, and a man making money, and a celebrity, and so very human it would make a difference. The humanity that comes through the plays is so powerful. It shouldn’t be about sitting behind a desk studying for exams, it should be about feeling the text and letting the words work on you.
One of the things I’m going to research in more detail is torture, because that is one of the moments when the personal and the political seem to come together for Lodovico. How should Iago be tortured. Lodovico says:
…To you lord governor,
Remains the censure of this hellish villain,
The time, the place, the torture:
O, enforce it!
That open O is a very emotional sound. It is very loaded. He is telling Cassio to make sure it is done, which is a political act, and he is letting the personal tip in. The Elizabethans seem to have adored torture, so I want to go into that. I’ve found out that in the Doge's palace even, there was a torture chamber. So even this very sophisticated place has its dark side. Research like this helps me to talk about things with authority, so that I can say the words with meaning and the audience can hear them afresh. He is inviting them to think about torture at the end of the play, that is one of the thoughts in their minds as they leave the play. Iago's acts have very real consequences. It is chilling in that last scene that Iago will not talk about it. I’ve read about a man of this time tortured for two hours who won’t say anything. At this point the torture becomes the story and the resistance becomes the victory. I imagine Iago sitting there resisting by staying silent.
I’ve been reading a history of Venice, just to get Lodovico's back story in my mind. The story is set in 1570, and Lodovico is my age, so I’ve been trying to get what he ahs lived through clear in my mind. Even in 1559, just 11 years before, the Turks were already a major threat. So in the play there is an urgency to dealing with the Turkish threat, and they have been living with it for the last 11 years. The more of this sort of research I do, the more authority and ownership I feel I have. If I believe it, because there is a solid back story, then the audience should believe it – otherwise we should all go home.
I’ve just had a fitting of my shirt and my doublet. This is an ‘original practices’ production, so they are as authentic as they can be. My doublet is in the peascod style, which makes me look about three months pregnant, so I hope they can do something about that. It looked very stylish and smart. It has handmade buttons – the attention to detail is astonishing – it makes you feel you have to do your job as well as you can too match up to what you are wearing. Shoes for me are a big part of getting to the character – it is the final step into the world. I’ll have my beard trimmed and that will be a symbolic part of the move from Dickon to Lodovico. A costume should be an important part of helping you tell your story. In this production the designer has researched so well that it all works. Sometimes you can be 50 or 60 performances into a show and start to realise that the costume is wrong for the character, but I don’t think that will happen here. Talking to the designer about the costume can be difficult because at the start of the rehearsal period I don’t have a very strong sense of who the character is, and what he should wear, but obviously the designer has been thinking about the show and creating the costume designs for some time before we start.
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.