Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Production Notes 4

This is Liam's eighth and final blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard II in which he discusses moving from Richard II to Edward II, the differences between the plays and the characters within them, and his initial impressions of Edward as a character.

Transcript of Podcast

Character Research

I went to Gloucester Cathedral the other weekend, to see where Edward II was actually buried. I like that you can do this sort of thing with characters who are also historical figures. You can’t say you’ve definitely achieved such and such as a result of a field trip, but I definitely feel good about going the extra mile to see a place connected with my character. Apparently it's one of the best examples of a medieval tomb in Europe – there's a very ornate alabaster cage with an effigy of Edward inside. The feeling of close physical proximity to a person that really lived and breathed… you can get that from a house or clothes, or by reading the books they read. It doesn’t have to be a tomb, just something that helps you think of the character off the page, as someone who was alive. It was sobering and a bit bizarre to sit there about two feet away from whatever's left of Edward – the effigy of him on the tomb presumably isn’t a bad likeness because it was put up only a few years after his death.

Rehearsals

Rehearsals for Edward II have been very different to those for Richard II. Tim [Walker, Master of Play, Edward II] was aware that because we were doing another play, we would be tired a lot of the time and our focus would slip (you always find yourself concentrating on the show you’re doing) so he cracked the whip from day one, whereas Tim Carroll was more relaxed. Also, the Company had bonded as a group. Tim Walker wasn’t starting from scratch which perhaps had an affect on the way we rehearsed. Right now we’ll either rehearse Edward II during the day followed by an evening performance of Richard II, or if there's a Richard II matinee, we’ll rehearse a little bit in the morning, do the performance, then go back into rehearsal for the evening. Obviously, not everybody is called for each rehearsal, but I’ve been called for most of them. We jumped straight to the text in rehearsals; there were fewer of the introductory exercises we used for Richard II and Tim didn’t block very much, initially. We stood in a circle and worked through the scenes, doing whatever we wanted in terms of movement. There wasn’t an awful lot of ‘round the table’ discussion – I think Tim knew how fractured out rehearsal process was going to be (punctuated by as it was by performances of Richard II) and just wanted to get on with the play.

Recently my work in rehearsals has concentrated on the first chunk of the play, during which Edward is under constant attack. I really used to loathe that part of the play, up until Edward's military victory, and that's probably to do with my ego! I think it's because you come on in the title role, as king, and you want to feel comfortable and confidant – powerful, you know – but instead you’re under fire from the word go. The barons’ attack begins almost immediately. You’re compromised and you’re bullied and you’re being challenged and shoved around. As a King, Edward finds his position very uncomfortable and I think that tips over into how I feel as the actor who plays him. You have to cope with the fact you’re not being given the respect that is your due, and at the same time you’re in a very isolated position… all the associations attendant on a royal role are turned upside down. Everyone else is behaving very badly, as far as Edward is concerned, but he bides his time and takes all the flak until he decides enough is enough – that's when he takes to the battlefield. Now I’ve worked out that the lack of respect and isolation was what was making me feel odd, I enjoy the first part of the play as much as the rest of it.

Edward's Character

My initial impressions of Edward have developed. He's a complete human being with moments of determination and moments of complete insecurity. I don’t know whether he's ultimately likeable, but he is understandable – he's a king who feels slighted and has enough power to make his displeasure known. The way he runs the country is certainly flawed. He doesn’t think about the way he should govern; he just wants to be allowed to love whomever he chooses. That's the fundamental thing I don’t think he can understand: why isn’t he allowed to love Gaveston? Of course, the reason is that a huge amount of power comes attached to a King's love – Edward goes completely over the top bestowing titles on his favourite, and in doing so upsets the precarious balance of power that was dependent on the patronage of the King. The influence and standing of the Barons is diminished, and they react. However, I’ve been imagining ‘what if…’ to help round out Edward's character, and I found one of the most interesting questions was ‘what if he was allowed to settle?’ Perhaps if he was given what he wanted, and the nobility did leave Gaveston alone, then Edward's attention might turn to good government. In fact, there's a point in the text that hints he isn’t as clueless about the state of the country as one might think. When the Barons agree to repeal Gaveston's exile, Edward showers them with honours and titles. I say to the elder Mortimer:

And as for you, Lord Mortimer of Chirke,
Whose great achievements in our foreign war
Deserves no common place nor mean reward,
Be you the general of the levied troops
That are now ready to assail the Scots.
(Scene 4, ll.360-64)

Clearly Edward is aware that English forces are about to invade Scotland. Little bits like that hint that in different circumstances he might be a different King. On one hand, he does get several chances to make changes and stabilise his rule – lots of people come up to him and say ‘this is what is happening. What are you going to do about it?’ On the other hand, for a king to stoop so low as to be bullied into action by the likes of Young Mortimer – well, realistically Edward can only respond by rejecting the advice on principle. There's also the question of Young Mortimer's relationship with Isabella. Gaveston accuses them of having an affair. Maybe that's just something he pulls out of thin air, but you could play it so as to emphasise it as a real possibility. The audience must decide as the action progresses; I’ve been keeping that suggestion of infidelity in the back of my mind, because the suspicion of an affair might help explain why Edward rejects Mortimer's advice so completely. Although Edward has his own lover and favourite, the double-standard of the time meant Isabella was not allowed the same freedom, and later when I say ‘she spots my nuptial bed with infamy’, I think Edward really does believe it. Perhaps, in the context of the time, Edward's irresponsibility is more closely linked to the practical sphere of government while Isabella's actions are related to moral issues.

I’ve also been working on Edward's relationship with Young Spencer. A sexual relationship between the two is strongly implied but it's never made explicit. There's a moment in scene 12 when the Herald reports that the Barons are up in arms because of Edward's close relationship with Young Spencer, who is described as ‘a putrefying branch/ That deads the royal vine’. Basically, they’re demanding the separation of the King and his new lover. Edward answers defiantly:

Away! Tarry no answer, but be gone.
Rebels! Will they appoint their sovereign
His sports, his pleasures, and his company?
Yet ere thou go, see how I do divorce Spencer from me.
(Scene 12, ll.173-77)

There have been several productions that decided Edward should kiss Young Spencer at this point. I think there is a stage direction for an embrace. Edward's defiance is certainly bolstered by that movement: he gets even closer to Young Spencer instead of sending him away in accordance with the Baron's demands. However, I thought if I kissed Young Spencer, the sexual element of the scene would drown out everything else: the defiance, Edward's strength… all those things. Instead I just take Young Spencer by the hand and hold it right up in a very public way (as though I’m showing our hands to the waiting troops: I imagine the Globe audience as the army), then I turn the gesture into something slightly more intimate. I think that was the right way for me to do it. A big kiss would be reductive, as though I was saying ‘Oh, you’ve killed my boyfriend. Well just watch me with my new one.’ I hope holding hands will emphasise the defiance: ‘Your not going to tell me what to do or how to behave, and I will ally myself to whomever I choose – sexually and in every other way.’ The gesture becomes a public statement.

Marlowe and Shakespeare

Working on Edward II and Richard II simultaneously has made me aware of how Marlowe and Shakespeare use language differently. Edward II has a different flavour – it's got a craggy feel about it, and the lines seem much more straightforward than Shakespeare. The poetic lyricism of Richard II offers an especially strong contrast. Marlowe's characters say what they mean in a more direct way. I’m not familiar with Marlowe's other plays, but the action in Edward II seems to drive forward with violence – events thump along after each other very quickly. I feel like I’m covering lots of ground; perhaps that's because in historical terms it actually covers a span of about twenty years (not that that's stressed in the play, but it seems to explain the drive behind the action). When I’m speaking as Edward, I don’t really notice whether there are nine or ten syllables in a line, but technically I’m aware that Marlowe has many more nine syllable lines. I’d say the technicalities do matter – the stress patterns in a line can suggest where emphasis falls, which in turn can give you clues about the meaning of the line – but technicalities only matter up to a point. I try not to get bogged down. Edward has some very powerful speeches, and people have remarked on their clarity, which I think is a really fantastic compliment. Edward often sets a course of action, planning out what he intends to do in a very direct way. I’ve noticed there's quite a bit of repetition too, but when the action is so fast-paced, that serves to reinforce what's going on. Telling the story clearly is an achievement in itself. We must be doing something right!

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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