In his second blog post, Alex discusses a tal about living in Tudor times, rehearsals for Act I, scene 2 and how far Claudio is like Hans Solo.
Transcript of Podcast
A member of the Tudor Group called Ruth came in this week to talk to us about what living in those times would have been like. She spends a large part of her life living as a Tudor person would have done, so she has a huge amount of information about the clothing and how the social order worked. It was really helpful stuff because it all relates to the world of the play and, at specific points, to my character particularly. For instance, Claudio is imprisoned and we talked about what prisons were like in those days. Apparently people could be taken into custody for crimes like murder but if they had enough evidence (mitigating circumstances and witnesses), they could get off quite easily without punishment. The beginning of Measure for Measure might not be quite as serious as it seems at first: going to prison didn’t necessarily mean you would be hanged. Perhaps Claudio would be more confident of getting off lightly than I’ve played it so far. Obviously, these Tudor prisons weren’t prisons as we imagine them today. Often they weren’t prisons so much as dirty holes somewhere, like in the supporting arches of a bridge. If you were imprisoned for a long time, your chances of survival were very low because of the grim conditions and diseases. The places stunk, they were utterly disgusting and no one in their right minds would be pleased to go there. Money talked and if you were rich enough you could buy yourself your own room and clean things, but as Claudio is only there for two days and Angelo is very strict, we think that benefits system probably doesn’t apply.
We also talked about the humiliation, the fact that I have to go and stand in front of all those people in the first scene. That sort of thing did happen. Ruth explained it was a church punishment; you would have to stand in front of the congregation, wearing just a shirt and nothing else, for the duration of the whole service, whilst holding candles. Luckily I don’t have to do that, unless John [Dove, Master of Play] changes his mind rather drastically… if he did, well, I’d probably do it! We discussed walking as well, because we’ll be carrying swords like the Elizabethans, and that will affect the way we walk and our posture as it affected theirs. They have this sort of saunter and it was also good to get chance to practice that, although it does feel very strange. I feel like I’m on a catwalk and I’m Naomi Campbell or something. It's very feminine, and my difficulty is trying to find the masculinity in that. You push your hips forward, really swinging them, which feels very odd for a modern man. I don’t normally get embarrassed, but I was almost embarrassed to walk around like that. You feel slightly naked about trying to be that sexual in an ordinary way, if you like. You’re just walking, yet it seems like a very sexual thing. It's something I’ll have to practice, although I won’t be doing it on the way to the shops!
We learnt about social etiquette too. Bowing was extremely important in those days, but also extremely normal. Every time you saw someone, you’d bow to them, and every time you left someone, you’d bow to them. We discussed how you would bow to people in certain social classes and to people who you felt a certain way about: the way I bow to Juliet and to Isabella would be different to the way I bow to Elbow and Pompey, or Lucio or Angelo. There are gradations of bowing. Colin [Hurley, Lucio] and I wanted to find the Elizabethan equivalent of the sort of handshake that mates do together, to try and get a “bowing equivalent” of that kind of thing, which is quite hard. You don’t want the audience to be divorced from you by these bows; you don’t want it to look like something alien that you do. It needs to seem organic and as if it really is a communication of some kind.
Text: a session with Giles
As far as I know, I have only one line of prose. The rest is entirely verse, which is great, and for the first time – with the assistance of Giles [Block, Master of the Words] – I’ve stopped being afraid of the language. You know, I was quite anxious about playing this part because the language seems incredibly complicated and it is very dense. By working with Giles, going through pieces of verse from other Shakespeare plays, I’ve managed to get over the fear of complexity and now the language seems fairly lovely. I know that sounds rather gushing, but I’ve really got excited about how beautiful the language that I have to speak is. There's so much to enjoy and until just now I hadn’t been chewing the words or giving them their full weight. That's something I feel I’ve just started to achieve. I’m beginning to understand where each thought comes from, where it starts and where it finishes, and where one thought overleaps another; that's great because once you get at the train of thought behind the language, that language itself makes more sense. I had a really great session with him the other day when we just talking about rhythm. I’d been saying a line in one way, for example, talking about the Duke, “I have done so, but he's not to be found.” [I.2.173]. I was saying ‘I have done so, but he's not to found’, whereas Giles suggested that if I played the iambic rhythm more strongly ‘I have done so, but he's not to be found’, I can add an element of mystery. Saying the line in that way leaves an open feeling at the end of the line instead of the conclusive closed feeling I was getting initially. And it feels right to add more mystery at a moment in the play when everyone is asking ‘Where has he gone?’ So, I’ve discovered that I had just been taking some lines for granted. When we talked about metre it brought up something new and different; a different rhythm changed the meaning of the line and the intention behind it. I find it very exciting.
Ideas about Claudio
I also had a long session with John [Dove, Master of Play], and we went over my first scene [I.2]. It was mostly about our trying to really get on the same page in terms of our thoughts about Claudio, because now I’m certainly beginning to make decisions about the character. I’m starting to understand how I might play it, whereas before I was bumbling around and hadn’t made any decisions. I held off making decisions really, because I didn’t know what I thought about Claudio, but I’m beginning to think that I do know about him. So we’ve discussed the character again… the ideas that I find helpful, and what John and I find helpful together. We started off saying that Claudio is a bit like Steve McQueen – now seems wrong, because he's too laid back – and then I thought that he might be like Wes Bentley's character in American Beauty, the next door neighbour who is very reflective, quiet and thoughtful, but actually that's not Claudio at all. Well, perhaps he's a little bit like that, but now we’re thinking now that he's more like Han Solo from Star Wars, which is wicked [laughs], or like Westley from The Princess Bride: he has that sort of bravado. I don’t mean that makes him shallow… he's a young man and with an adventurous feel about him. You know that he's really full of a lust for life, and that he enjoys life on the edge. I think he's a “live fast, die young” character which is definitely not how I originally saw him, but that interpretation makes him much more interesting within the world of the play, and more exciting for me. To say that he's a cool character sounds reductive and simplistic – but he does have an element of real coolness, and hopefully this is something that the audience as well as other people in the play will respond to. It's important for me to find that quality.
Act I, scene 2
The tone of Act I, scene 2 has become much lighter. Initially, we were playing it very seriously; I’m on my way to prison and I’m going to have my head chopped off, so the situation isn’t looking exactly rosy. Angelo's fiercely strict, he's taken drastic measures against me and it's awful; the prevailing feeling was ‘oh, hell, what are we going to do?’ As a result of the information that the Tudor Group gave us about the likelihood of getting out of prison and the idea that Claudio is a ‘live fast, die young’ character, I’m much more ‘jokey’ with Lucio now. Instead of ‘oh my god, what are we going to do?’ that scene is more a case of my saying ‘Oh, what kind of situation have I got myself into here? We’ll get out of it, we’ll sort it out.’ Now Claudio is a lot more confident that he won’t actually have his head chopped off and that he will get out of this mess unscathed, he and Lucio seem more similar than we realised at first. Together they are rather like the Montague boys – perhaps Claudio is actually a bit like Mercutio, whereas initially I thought he was a bit like Romeo. I can recognise elements of both characters in Claudio, but it helps me to focus on his ‘Mercutio’ aspects at the moment. Lucio and I get a real banter going between in the first scene; you get a sense of how sparky they are together, as well as an impression of Claudio's zest.
I’m noticing how fast Claudio thinks: his thoughts come a lot faster than mine do! Where I would say something then pause and think about my next phrase, Claudio's lines trip over each other very fast. His thoughts move quickly but they’re still clear and precise, very witty. His conversation really bounces of the other character and involves a razor-sharp wit. As John has been talking about him as kind of knife-fighter, it seems fitting that he also speaks in that way. All in all, the way we’ve been thinking about the character has really changed in the past week, which is exciting. It's going to have a great affect the way we play the scene with Isabella in the prison [III.3]. I think I’m going into the prison with more confidence that I’ll be ok, although that confidence has to be underpinned by doubts: it might just be bravado… there is still the possibility that I will get my head chopped off ands perhaps I’m trying hard to ignore that. Starting at this point certainly gives me a height to fall from when Claudio says
Ay, but to die, and go we know not where,
To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot,
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod [III.1.121-4]
He's moved from one extreme to the other and you don’t expect that; only a few lines earlier he's saying to the Friar
To sue to live, I find I seek to die,
And seeking death, find life. Let it come on. [III.1.43-4]
I had been playing those lines as a harsh realisation and acceptance of death but now I’m wondering what they might mean to a ‘live fast, die young’ type like James Dean, who seeks to go to the very brink of life. If Claudio is like a big wave surfer who loves the adrenalin rush of living on the edge or an adventurer in the true sense of the word, living on the edge, then maybe death might be the great adventure. Maybe those lines are not as sombre as I thought at first.
I think a Claudio who is more buoyant in the face of death in the first part of the scene [III.1] is more interesting because, once he speaks to Isabella and the realisation hits him that he must die, another side to the character becomes apparent very suddenly. You see his cowardice… no, cowardice is too strong... it's more a realisation that death isn’t actually a great adventure. He realises death could be the end point; he could be doomed to eternal damnation. There's a very quick turn around and I think his first reaction to Isabella would be something like ‘hang on, hang on, that's not what I was expecting.’
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.