This is Peter's tenth and final blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale in which he talks about moving from The Winter's Tale performances to Troilus and Cressida rehearsals.
Transcript of Podcast
Having spent the first few rehearsals for Troilus and Cressida trying to get to grips with the language and OP, we’re now starting to work on scenes. Jo Philips, our composer, has given me two songs to learn. One is in what we call the Party scene [III.1] with Paris and Helen – ‘Love love nothing but love’ – and the other one is at the end. I have learnt one but I’m struggling with ‘Love, love…’ It's difficult finding the time between rehearsals and performances to work on singing!
I’ve gone back to the beginning of the play and now it's a question of finding different aspects in the character. It's quite difficult to fit characters in Troilus and Cressida into a moral framework but I think Pandarus is a shady type. He's very manipulative, very secretive. I think he's used to being in control of situations and people. He plays Troilus and Cressida like fish on lines in order to bring them together. I thought a lot about why he does it and I’m not clear yet, but we discussed how he seems to have very much groomed Cressida for such a meeting. Cressida is a traitor's daughter; she's in Troy on her own without protection from anyone apart from her uncle, and he seems to have groomed her up in order to find a good match that will offer her some security… but there's something sinister about that too.
Pandarus is comic in many ways but there's a dark streak in him and a dark side to the play. For me the scene where that really comes out it is the morning after Troilus and Cressida meet. Aeneas turns up and says Cressida must be exchanged for Antenor; she has to go to the Greeks. You would expect Pandarus to be deeply concerned about his niece but all his empathy is for Troilus. When Cressida asks her uncle what's going on, he tells her very bluntly:
Thou must be gone, wench, thou must be gone; thou art changed for Antenor; thou must to thy father, and be gone from Troilus. ’Twill be his death; ’twill be his bane; he cannot bear it. [IV.2]
It gets very nasty – he's very cold towards her.
You could say that Pandarus is in love with Troilus and that he is vicariously consummating his relationship with Troilus through Cressida. I think there might be an element of that. He does say some extraordinary things about Troilus: ‘I could live and die i’ the eyes of Troilus’ and of Cressida he says ‘I would my heart were in her body’ i.e. if Cressida felt as Pandarus did, Troilus would soon achieve his desire. The sense that he is living through Cressida but that he feels no real concern or warmth towards her is very odd.
At other times you see shades of what could be a very playful avuncular relationship between Cressida and Pandarus. The more I look at the play, the more I think it's hundreds of years ahead of its time in terms of its moral framework. It discusses the rules by which we live our moral lives: what's good behaviour and what's bad behaviour. Hector and Troilus talk about what is honourable in war: if somebody falls do you let them get up and carry on fighting? Hector says this is fair play but Troilus says that war is not fair play – it is about defeating and killing your enemy. It is about vengeance. It is almost as if these characters are caught in a very grey area between these two moral codes: one is very honourable and the other is amoral. Pandarus and Thersites are the characters who seem to thrive in that world.
I think each generation becomes very aware that if you send people to war and put them in situations where they might be killed at any moment then that puts any moral framework under huge pressure. I think that is what the play is about really. Shakespeare draws the parallel between war and love; how lust or sexual passion can compromise the moral order as well. Ulysses has a speech about how important it is to keep everything balanced in its rightful place: there is a real sense that the nature of this war is jeopardising world order. Pandarus inhabits the moral vacuum that opens up between love and lust.
Other things I’m noticing about Pandarus are his voyeuristic tendencies and his desire to listen. There is an extraordinary moment where Troilus and Cressida embrace before they part and Pandarus says ‘What a pair of spectacles is here! Let me embrace too.’ And he embraces the two of them. It's almost like he wants to get in between them in some way: very strange behaviour but great fun to play. He is quite playful. He has a kind of arch camp quality.
I also think he buys in to the whole notion of love. Troilus and Cressida are about to go to the bed chamber. They hesitate a couple of times because Cressida feels uncomfortable about the way this is all happening and a scene where Pandarus has manufactured a union suddenly turns into something purer – Troilus and Cressida confess their love and promise to be faithful. Pandarus leaves the scene at the point where they are about to go to bed and returns to find them talking: ‘What, blushing still? Have you not done talking yet?’ He watches the scene change (it switches from prose in to verse too) and says very little apart from a ‘Pretty, i’faith.’ When I’m playing it, I think ‘Oh, this is interesting. This is real love? Oh well, I will listen for a while and see where this takes us…Oh, its going to take us where I wanted it to take us, so that's another way of doing it.’ That's just part of the spectrum.
Thinking in the Space
One of the nice things about being in a company where you move from one play to another is that you develop a sort of shorthand with each other, as well as a better understanding of the space you will be working in. Giles is keeping rehearsals very playful. For example, we might be working on a scene and he’ll ask us to do it again but this time you have to make some sort of noise three times during someone else's speech. That keeps you engaged when you are not talking and it vocalises your response instead of just waiting to respond with the next line. In everyday conversations, it's actually while the other person is talking you vocalise either agreement or disagreement or whatever you feel is the appropriate response. Those sounds clarify your response and also feed into how the speaker articulates their next thought. For example, this morning we - David [Troilus] and I - were doing Act one, scene one; the first scene between Pandarus and Troilus. Troilus is bemoaning his luck: he can’t get Cressida out of his mind and Pandarus has put her there and he feels he can’t fight…. I think my non-verbal responses helped him to recreate those thoughts more spontaneously. You’re not just manufacturing thoughts and feelings yourself; what your partner is contributing actually gives you a springboard into the next thought. It makes for a more continuous dialogue rather than you speak/ I speak/ you speak and actually you can then use it in performance. There are actually more interjections (like ‘Good god’ or ‘how now’) in the ‘Bad Quarto’ of Hamlet than in the folio. The ‘Bad Quarto’ is probably a reported text which was written down from memory, so it is entirely possible that four hundred years ago they did interject when they felt like it. It just makes it feel more like spontaneous dialogue than rehearsed lines.
Playing The Winter's Tale, we’re much more aware of the difference between the rehearsal room and the stage, so we’re using the rehearsal room more like the stage now. There are lots of opportunities for Pandarus to consult the audience or confide in them. Pandarus has something of the showman and trickster about him; there's more of that kind of interaction with the audience than there is with Polixenes. I think that will be very exciting to explore through performance. The audience knows what Pandarus is up to and at the beginning I think he's the kind of character that audiences feel very on-side with, in a slightly wicked way. They know he's not a pleasant man but they enjoy his character and his scheming. In his final speech Pandarus bequeaths his diseases to the audience. He sees them en masse as traders in the flesh, brothers and sisters of the hold-door trade and galled geese of Winchester (the Elizabethan name for prostitutes who hung around Southwark brothels which were under the Bishop of Winchester's jurisdiction). It's a very odd ending. By the time he turns against the audience in his final speech, I don’t think they feel all that easy about him. He's a much darker character who's literally rotting from the inside out. 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.