Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 2

In his second blog post Mark discusses the challenge of making the play's action seem spontaneous, the problems of putting the separate scenes together and decisions he's made since last week.

Transcript of Podcast

Finding spontaneity

The Duke certainly is an outsider. He moves from being a very distant ruler to somebody who goes amongst his people in order to see the affects of the justice of Angelo. Along the way, I’ve found that he is prepared for many things, but also some things do go wrong and as a result he has to improvise – he has to come up with solutions on the spur of the moment. When you look at a play like Measure for Measure, it can seem as if everything's predetermined because it's written down, but nothing is predetermined from a character's point of view. Many different things could happen, so in rehearsals we’ve been trying to find as many of those places as possible. That uncovers a sense of unpredictability and spontaneity in the playing.

There are a lot of those moments in Act IV. Even when the Duke first arrives at the prison and has his conversation with Juliet, she's ahead of him already. She answers all of his questions very well and does not avoid her responsibility, so right away you have a case where there isn’t any need for her to be punished further. Then it's a matter of trying to find a way to make Claudio aware of the position that he put Juliet in by being impatient – getting her pregnant outside of wedlock instead of waiting until their marriage had been ordered properly in that society. I think the Duke introduces Claudio to the idea of his death and the limitations of life, partly in order to awaken in him more care for life and more care for the effects of his actions, but even in that instance, Vincentio is not prepared. He doesn’t know what he’ll find, and often what he does find is radically different from what he suspected. Of course, he makes the major discovery that Angelo is just as corrupt as he is. It's interesting that once he has made that discovery, the Duke doesn’t just unmask himself and go to put Angelo in prison; instead he's trying to create the circumstances under which people will become conscious and take responsibility for their own lives. I think he's trying to find a place where they can develop a bit more compassion for each other.

To encourage people to take responsibility and develop compassion, the Duke sets them on what seems like a cruel path. He makes it seem like they’ve lost something that's precious to them. It's as if all the people executed in those countries with the death penalty were not really executed but just looked as if they had been, then were woken up and told ‘We’re going to give you a second chance. You’ve seen what life is, you’ve felt yourself how much you value your life.’ I think the Duke is trying to instruct people to make better lives for themselves – take the mercy that you’ve been given and make something better of it. How do you do that? How can you be certain that someone won’t just re-offend? They have to experience some real remorse or some real connection with who they are and what they’ve done for that kind of policy to work.

Solving the puzzle

At the moment, I don’t actually feel I can talk about the Duke because the character is all in pieces. It's not hanging together. We’re at that point in the rehearsal process where what one's doing just doesn’t make sense. You often get that working on these plays because you work on specific scenes separately and then you put them together; things might not fit at first. Something that's right for one scene isn’t right for another scene. It's very disheartening and worrying at a certain stage. Then something new will come out of it. Right now it is a bit like a puzzle where you’ve done the prow of the boat or maybe you’ve done the steeple of the church because you could identify those features, but you’re left with the sea to do, or the red cloak that's made up of a hundred and fifty pieces that are just red – how do they fit together? It's like that, really, working on a play, particularly as you learn it, because it's not just learning it by rote. You’ve got to learn it so that you can say it in a believable way, so people believe you’re saying it and you’re meaning it. You become very aware of the bits that don’t make sense at all to you, particularly with an author like Shakespeare, because his thinking and his wit are so subtle and advanced that it's very difficult to keep up with him sometimes, to see what he means.

Getting through it

What John [Dove, Master of Play] has been saying, and I think he's right, is to rely on the story. Play the story, find what you need to do in terms of the story, and then you won’t go wrong. That's the basic thing. So you come back to that; you also try to hold onto that on the days when scenes go well. You can start to hold on like a person holding on to somebody's clothes when the other person is gone, talking to the clothes as if the person is there, but he's not there at all. Likewise in a scene, you can get attached to the outer clothing of the acting of it without connecting to the inner need of the person to do whatever they’re doing. So you go back to that need, that's always a good thing. It's always very difficult when you start, and also at the end of a rehearsal period, to have a lot of people come and give different impressions. One just does what one is doing, but then it gets very complicated when you get a lot of people telling you what to do, so you have to build up some confidence in your own instinct and hold to that too.

How do you make those character choices? I don’t know; you sense in yourself what feels right and what doesn’t feel right, and you just keep trying things until it does feel right. Sometimes things feel right for a while, for quite a while, and then suddenly they don’t feel right anymore. Then it changes and you’ve got to change and let go, but mostly if you come back to the story, if you come back to answer the questions ‘Why is the character there? What do they want? What are they expecting to happen? What do they need to happen?’ then those things will always yield good results, particularly with someone like Shakespeare. Maybe the results would not be as useful with writers who aren’t so good with plot, but Shakespeare's stories are always well-imagined and credible.

Lucio and the Duke

One person the Duke cannot be merciful towards is Lucio. He's like a reporter. If it was a modern-dress production, I would probably imagine him as an investigative reporter from a low-calibre newspaper. He has a very odd ability to know all about something that's just been said. For instance, in Act IV when the Duke disguised as the Friar says to Isabella, ‘The Duke comes home tomorrow – nay, dry your eyes’ [IV.3.125]. This is not something he has planned to say in advance; he moves his plans forward because she is so upset. He thinks ‘I must get back even quicker than I thought’ because in the previous scene he tells the Provost that the Duke will be here in ‘two days’. There's no way anyone else could know he's changed his plans but then Lucio comes in and says ‘But they say the Duke will be here tomorrow’ [IV.3.153].

There's no rational reason for Lucio to know that, except that he has enough instinct; he often says things that are very near to the truth, and he makes up all kinds of other things that are very slanderous. That's one thing the Duke says he cannot forgive. I think Francis Bacon wrote the plays, and slander was actually what Bacon believed to be the most offensive thing: to strike at the good name of a person was what he considered the worst crime of all, curiously enough. That seems to be the case in this play: whenever the Duke has a soliloquy, he seems to go on and on about the false reports that people make against you and ‘What king so strong / Can tie the gall up in the slanderous tongue?’ [III.1.444-5] He's very concerned with calumny and people – I think he's rather shocked to find that there is a character like Lucio who makes up things about other people, and they’re close enough to truth to be believable.

Avoiding adulation

I went and heard the Dalai Lama speak last week, and it was interesting how much he was really trying to deflate, puncture, and move aside the adulation that was flowing towards him from the thousand people or so who were there to listen. He was making fun of himself to try and prevent people clapping or standing up. He works to keep the ego out of things, to avoid getting caught by pride or grandiosity, and the Duke has some work to do in that area, it seems. Also, very shy people who keep very much to themselves can develop a sense of control over their lives. When you go out into the world, though, you can’t control what other people think or say about you any more than you can control the weather. So perhaps that feeds into the Duke's concern about false report. We’ve been working on Act V quite recently, too, which is very, very complicated: there are so many layers, so many plates he's spinning. It's been quite difficult because there's a lot to learn and you have to be the centre of so much.

Language and syntax

I’m enjoying the language of the play very much; it has a very unusual syntax. It has the curious syntax of a solicitor or a lawyer. When you read legal documents, there are so many clauses within a sentence that it's quite difficult to follow the thread and the Duke has a lot of phrasing like that. I think it's a little bit old fashioned, so I’ve been listening to lots of tapes of people speaking like that in the last century, in the 1930s and 1940s, just to try and find a character that speaks a little more self-consciously or with a little more grandeur, perhaps. When the Greeks taught people to speak, the first thing they had to learn was clarity; clarity was the first principle and everything else depended on that. The second principle was grandeur, and sometimes grandeur involves a lack of clarity, a kind of obfuscation and a longer route round to a conclusion. ‘Go and pick an orange from that bush’ would be a clear command. ‘If I were you and valued my life, with a lightness of heart and a bright eye, I would think it not unfit to go and reach me now an orange from that plant’ – there's a bit of grandeur about that, but you think at first ‘What's this person talking about?’ It's not clear and yet it has a grand swoop to it.


I’m thinking of the Duke as someone whose time would be very strictly regulated. Think about a day in the life of a member of the Royal Family; Prince Charles’ time, all his day, I would imagine, would be regulated – he mustn’t be late. When you’re in any position of power, you have to be more responsible for time. It's quite interesting because increasingly in the play the Duke will say ‘Has anybody called here of late for me? Much upon this time, I promised here to meet’ or ‘Who hath called here of late?’ He's late –of course, if you don’t have a car with eight policemen to drive you through London, if you’ve got to get the tube then a bus instead, it's much more complicated. That's something he would be totally unfamiliar with in the physical world. As the Friar, he can’t get to places in the same amount of time, so he's always running behind. In a sense, as a Duke, he's elevated into world clear of physical concerns. His toothpaste is put on his brush for him – he doesn’t have to put the toothpaste on. That's the kind of life he has led.

Research: Friars

I’ve been reading a bit more on Friar Francis and the amazing life of those friars dedicated to absolute poverty. There's a report in England that people got together and built the friars a little stone house. They came back a couple of days later and the friars had knocked it all down and made a mud hut because they were always trying to live at the most basic level possible. In London they moved into some road called Stinking Drain or Stinking Lane – they really were always trying to subject themselves to the worst conditions that human beings were living in. The friars’ outfit, which I hadn’t understood before, is beggar's clothing. Jenny Tiramani [Director of Theatre Design, Master of Clothing] found a picture of Friar Francis of Assisi's gown, which is all patchwork. I’ve been thinking about that and thinking, well, he's barefoot and of course to walk barefoot through a city. If you’ve not done that for many years, after a while your feet will harden up, but for someone like the Duke, his feet will just be a mess after one day. So I’ve been putting that in as well, that his feet are very bloody, just to show he finds moving through all this very foreign to him and difficult. Those are some things that I’ve been working on recently.

Absolute against death

I’ve discarded the idea that the Duke might be dying. I was attracted to that idea for a while, the idea that he was coughing blood or had noticed some signs of a condition passed down genetically in his family, something that he would be able to recognise ‘It's coming’ or ‘This happened to my father, I know I’ve got about a year or two.’ I was quite attracted to that idea as an explanation for his testing of Angelo and testing the government to see if they would be able to take over for him. I thought maybe that was why he offered marriage to Isabelle, so that she would become a duchess. But I’ve discarded it now – I don’t think it's the right idea because it's a bit tragic, and the play is written as a comedy. I think I just have to swallow hard and offer my hand to her as a proper offer of marriage; the reason is that I’ve fallen in love with her. That is a huge thing for the Duke, and though I think that is the right way to go, so that it has a romantic ending, I don’t know how to play it at all yet. It's completely hidden: when he's on his own, he doesn’t talk about Isabelle, he talks about himself. Unless those lines relate to her in some way but I hadn’t thought about them like that. It must be a kind of passion or a love that I guess we’ll only read in looks and touches and things like that. In a way, maybe what Angelo's feeling for her, the Duke is also feeling exactly the same thing but he doesn’t say it. Then it suddenly comes out at the end and it's so surprising. At a very, very untimely moment, too.

Justice and Mercy

John [Dove, Master of Play] told me a good thing Friar Francis did. There was a very shy stutterer, an aristocrat who came to join him, and he told this aristocrat, ‘Right, you’ve got to go into the town and stand in the pulpit in the market square and give this sermon.’ The man said ‘No, I ca-ca-ca-ca-ca-can’t do that, Friar Francis,’ and he said ‘Right. Now you need to go and do it in your underwear,’ and the man went and did it. The public were all unruly at first, and then they came round, but Francis apparently came up afterwards and said ‘That is the nearest thing you’ll see to the crucifixion.’ So he would set these very harsh tests for people, and there's something of the Duke in that. But he's so clever, the Duke, and I just don’t feel like I’m clever enough. He holds so much in his head. The main thing with these plays is that it would be very easy just to play it as someone who's prepared everything and knows exactly how it's going happen, but I don’t think that's how it's meant, and I think it would be very tedious then. You’ve always got to find what is planned and what isn’t planned, and play them accordingly. I don’t think he can be certain that Isabelle will forgive Angelo at the end, for example. I think he hopes that she will and he sees in her the potential that she will, but it may well be that she won’t. Indeed, he's throwing as many obstacles in her way as possible, and then when she does forgive Angelo, the Duke does a very, very interesting thing and brings forth a man called Barnardine, forgiving him first of all. Why does he do that? It seems like he's trying to teach people something because he says to Barnardine:

Sir, you are said to have a stubborn soul
That apprehends no further than this world,
And squarest thy life accordingly. Thou art condemned,
But, for those earthly faults, I quit them all. [V.1.484-7]

To say that in front of Angelo and Isabelle, it seems like he's wants them to see that you can’t punish each person in the same manner because people have different consciousnesses. It's something to do with ‘you should know better’, the idea that perhaps mercy needs to be applied in different ways to different people.

‘Craft against vice’

It's a very, very interesting play. Very different than any of the other plays of his that I’ve been in, very different, but definitely a comedy and with a very wonderful plot, almost as exciting as The Comedy of Errors or something like that. Very much still based in misunderstandings. Another thing Francis Bacon wrote about that time was an essay on dissimilitude, and the Duke is very often talking about this – that leaders sometimes do need to dissemble in order to reveal something at the right time.

… If you think to carry this as you may, the doubleness of the benefit defends the deceit from reproof. [III.1.257-9]

That's an essential thing and not necessarily a bad thing. So you have examples in this play, of people like Angelo who dissemble for a bad purpose, and then other instances that meet dissembling with dissembling in order to do good – this is the Friar's case. He says at the end of Act III ‘Craft against vice I must apply.’ Maybe those are the two different kinds of dissembling, craft and vice, which I must apply.

Craft against vice I must apply:
With Angelo tonight shall lie
His old betrothed, but despised;
So disguise shall by the disguised
Pay with falsehood false exacting,
And perform an old contracting. [III.2.277-82]

The Duke has a certain interesting idea: good people sometimes have to meet falsehood to a certain sense with falsehood, with craft. It's a difficult argument because elsewhere in Shakespeare you get the distinct feeling that you can’t justify the means by the end, that the means will become the end if you’re not careful, but in this play he's searching for a good end through false means, through disguise.

It's not unlike Viola [Twelfth Night], of course, or Rosalind [As You Like It], who also get very worried about disguise in the middle of their adventures, but ultimately bring forth a new harmony in the states that they’re working in – Illyria and Arden – through disguise. Just like in those two plays, there's a great danger that in Act V of Measure for Measure, that the characters who have been fooled will be very angry and cross about it and it won’t work out… in that way it's like a chemical experiment that might explode or might distil into something at the very end of the process of heating, cooling, watering, and separating. When you put things back together in Act V, it might just explode, or it might congeal into some new substance that's made up of all the individual elements you put in. You have to have that sense in the play too: Act IV particularly should really go as far as possible towards an end that looks disastrous so the light of Act V and the happy ending is offset and not expected.

Putting it together

So we’ve been working on individual scenes, and we’re now putting the acts together. John [Dove, Master of Play] is doing a very nice thing which is to run the acts so you have a sense of the shape and movement of the five acts. Like the five beats in a line, each act has a passive and an active quality to it. Then by the end of this week we’ll put all those acts together into the whole thing, into the whole line of the play. So it's a very crucial stage, as I always find at this point.

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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