Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal 1

In this interview, Phil talks about Claudio's successful army background and how this might impact on Benedick's challenge of a duel. Phil also remarks upon Claudio's infrequent use of verse, yet that it is important and significant to an interpretation of his character.

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Time: 20 minutes, 25 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Paul Shuter:

It is a couple of weeks since we last spoke, and at that point you had finished the table work and you were just starting to get up on your feet. What has happened since then?

Phil Cumbus:

It has been a graduation of that process is really. It is a big moment in the rehearsal process, that leap from round the table onto the rehearsal room floor. It is always awkward, it always feels like a big leap. You have all these thoughts, you have discussed about the language and the story, and the physical reality of just getting up and being onstage – in a big area like the Globe stage – you feel very out of place very quickly. But you just have to push on through that, and realise that you will discover things as you work: you don’t have to get up and have a finished performance ready and waiting. It is something you just have to work through. So it's a lot of fun, but it is quite a scary moment in a rehearsal process.

PS:

Have you now pretty much worked through the whole play?

PC:

We have gone through the whole play, yes. It took some time, particularly the begining of this play, which I thought was a tough start. There is a scene at the start of Much Ado where pretty much everyone arrives; you have the women talking with Leonato, and then the soldiers arrive, and there is a lot of physical movement of a lot of characters in the same space, right at the beginning of the play, so that was a tough scene to nail. So that took some time, just with everybody negotiating space, and getting a feel for the stage. But it is a lovely moment for Claudio, because in that first scene he says so little, and so you have a chance to be in that world from the beginning of the play, and see how the relationship starts to develop between the different characters in the play.

PS:

Have you worked on a back story for Claudio?

PC:

We have, yes, it has been much discussed. This idea of the soldiers and what soldiers have been doing, how well the characters know each other, what exactly Don John was doing in the war – whether he was fighting against us, or he was mutinying among the troops – but we came to this nice idea of making that as real as possible. So this idea of Don Jon's uprising being quelled and beaten by Claudio, there would actually have been a fight at some point I imagine; Claudio would have gone with 10 men or so to attack Don John, and his men. And he was victorious. It's nice to carry that into it, it's not just a theoretical idea of a tension between Don John and Claudio, a would have had a fight, and Claudio won. If you have a fight with somebody, if you enter into that physical dialogue, you never forget that – you carry that with you for a very long time. So that is a nice tension to bring into the scenes, and the attitudes between Don John and Claudio. Also the relationship between Claudio and Hero is nice to explore. The fact that they know so little about each other. As two people who are about to get married, they barely know each other at all. It is a very interesting dynamic, and a very scary thing to enter into, if you are dealing with feelings to somebody you just have no awareness of whatsoever. So she does not know me, and I do not know her. That sets up a nice tension, even if that is a very beautiful moment in the play, it is very tense.

PS:

You have avoided the temptation of going back and inventing a romance before he went off to war?

PC:

Not a full romance, he speaks about how he knew her a little bit, and he's seen her. But what I have been finding very interesting, his Claudio's change in himself, I don't think on many levels that Claudio believes he is fully worthy of such a beautiful and virtuous young lady as Hero is. Until he comes back from the war, and he is newly celebrated, hailed as this great victor in the war, and has been treated with much more grandeur and success. That fuels in Claudio a new-found confidence, that he hitherto has not had possibly, so suddenly on a wave of celebration he may be feels now he can possibly obtain someone as lovely as Hero. Whereas before he was always too shy, too quiet, and did not have enough self worth to pursue that before.

PS:

What about social hierarchy? Because he is Count isn’t he...

PC:

He is ‘Count’, yes. I wondered about that, for me it is quite helpful to imagine, at this stage anyway, it might not stay with me, to imagine that the ‘Count’ was a new title.

PS:

I see, you have done so well in the war you have been ennobled?

PC:

Yes, exactly, so suddenly his position changes, and everyone's attitude to Claudio is now changed. He has gone from being this odd, very heavy, soldier like character, to somebody who suddenly has a new-found respect and a new social command. I found that quite nice to bring into the energy of the opening few scenes, he is in this position, but he does not quite know how to operate in it. You have got somebody like Don Pedro, who has had that all his life, that status is very full in him, and he knows how to use it. Whereas for Claudio, it is a very alien world, the Count-thing is a new title he is unused to wearing.

PS:

And you are now, where you were not before, a rank above Benedick? He is often called signor isn't he?

PC:

Yes he is. We have talked a lot about this in rehearsal, the title is that they give, Count Claudio, and we've just had this scene where he calls us “gallants”, and talking about what these reflect, and if you call somebody “the" or “thou", and all these little bits of language that bring with them a different set of attitudes. So yes, titles are very, very important.

PS:

What are the relationships that are important to Claudio?

PC:

Claudio's relationship with Don Pedro, is something we have been talking a lot about. We discovered today this idea of language, and what they speak. Don Pedro and Claudio are very quick, very good actors, in the scene where they know that Benedick is listening, and they are leading him into the dupe about Beatrice being in love with him, – they are very good at playing those scenes. They assume a role, they question each other, so that they can get the information across. They do it later when they are taking the mickey out of Benedick so one of them will say “I think he is in love”. So that the other one says “no, he would never be in love, he would never do this that and the other." So they get a lot of information out very very effectively, and that is because, presumably, they have been doing this a lot. This sort of banter, this sort of mickey-taking is something that they are incredibly familiar with through the last couple of years that they have been fighting together. How much Don Pedro loves Claudio? We have been talking about that, because he has a very strong bond with Claudio, and Claudio is obviously now separating himself, and has a potential new life with Hero, and that brings about a distance with Don Pedro, and a sort of melancholy, which could suggest that there is a different depth of feeling from Dom Pedro's side then there is from Claudio's. So that is a very interesting dynamic, that we are still discovering. Then there is Claudio's relationship with Benedick, and how that changes throughout the play. It starts out with the first person that Claudio goes to, he goes to Benedick, to say I'm having these strange feelings about this girl, and I don't quite know what they mean, because he has a connection with Benedick. But then, later on, that relationship starts to sour a little bit, it gets a bit more arch, because of the challenge, and potential duel that they are going to have. It leaves a bitterness between, and the banter starts to take on a more dark and aggressive tone towards the end of the play. Whether they will ever, once the play has finished, even though there is a happy ending – whether Claudio and Benedick will ever again have that sort of relationship is, I think, quite unclear. I think it might be forever tainted by the events that have happened in the play.

PS:

Are you playing it that there is not an obvious winner, if that duel takes place?

PC:

No, I think there is an obvious winner. I like to imagine that the descriptions we get of Claudio at the beginning of the play lead us to believe that, out on the battlefield, he is like a crazed Ninja. He is an amazing soldier, that is how he knows how to operate, he can go into battle, and he can dominate entirely in a way that he cannot do in any other part of his life. The idea that Benedick is hanging on Claudio's shoulder, they say that "Claudio is infected with the Benedick" at the beginning, because Benedick is now hanging out with Claudio very closely. I think that might be connected with the soldier thing – that Claudio is a good man to hang around with in battle, because he is an incredibly effective soldier. So the duel is quite funny, I think, if you make it so that the duel has a very clear outcome –that Claudio would, obviously, be victorious. This means also that for Benedick, that it is a bigger deal for him, if he says "I challenge you". Because he knows that it would be a very tough fight…

PS:

...almost certain death…

PC:

...it raises the stakes on the dramatic exchange, which is, I think, always a good choice to make.

PS:

Can we talk about the relationship with Hero? I just wonder if there is one?

PC:

There certainly is. It is a very odd relationship, and one that I am still working to discover. We did this scene the other day where I believe that Don Pedro has stolen Hero away, I go off in an aggressive mood, and then it is revealed that Dom Pedro has wooed on my behalf, and that Hero is in fact mine, and she is presented to me in this scene. It is a massive shock, and massive surprise for Claudio, he doesn't quite know how to deal with it, that he got it so, so wrong. I noticed that once they come together, these two guys have been put together, Hero and Claudio, and it is obvious that we are going to get married, that they are incredibly awkward. They are very sweet, they are very innocent, because they don't quite know how to be together, because they don't know each other. And I realise that this scene that happens beyond that, where we talk about gulling Benedick and that plan, it felt very much as if Hero was stranded. So there is this weird conflict between the two of them coming together. And very quickly you get the sense that Claudio doesn't know how to be with her, and doesn't quite know how to play that part. Then once he hears of Hero’s betrayal, he goes mad. That is easier to believe if that bond between them is slightly superficial to begin with anyway. It is very quickly tainted in his mind because it has not been sealed in a very firm, concrete sort of way. So it is very odd, and I think he just feels incredibly unworthy of her in many ways, so he is incredibly quick to be embarrassed and ashamed by ever thinking it was possible. That is partly where his anger comes from in that wedding scene I think, towards Hero. He feels stupid, he feels very, very angry that he could ever forget that it should be any other way than you end up, if you get married, you end up looking stupid, as Benedick keeps saying over and over again. Claudio allows himself to believe there is another possibility, and then he shown that is [not] the case, and he feels incredibly stupid, in front of his friends, as anyone would in that scenario.

PS:

Yes, in effect that first bit, where he misinterprets the wooing, it just prefigures the second plot.

PC:

Exactly, I was wondering, why did Shakespeare put this in? This odd little moment that is suggested by Don John that Don Pedro is attempting to steal Hero away, and Claudio snatches on that incredibly quickly. That's what it is. It’s a little window into that aspect of Claudio's personality, so that when it comes to the wedding scene we believe it. So Shakespeare is setting up that notion that Claudio is incredibly fragile when it comes to his trust in her feelings for him, which suggests the massive insecurity. There is also the fact that in that world, and at that time, being cuckolded – being the married man whose wife cheats on him – was prevalent and that people were incredibly worried about that, it was very much in the forefront of their minds. But also on a very naturalistic level, if he is insecure, the moment anyone suggests anything, it would unravel very, very quickly. I think that is why it is in there, that little scene, it is a precursor, it is a little reflection, in a mini format, of what would come later on in the play.

PS:

Taking a completely different tack, what is your costume like?

PC:

We have had fittings, I think everyone has had one by now. Obviously, a play has a design concept, so all the styles and looks have a link. Ours has a North African vibe to it. The basic journey of my costume, is that we arrive at the beginning of the play as soldiers, quite tightly bound in by our uniforms and swords – it is a very sculpted and fitted costume. Mine is made up of browns and coppers. Then gradually the play goes on and Claudio himself starts to relax, in the lead-in to getting married, and the scenes of fun and tomfoolery, the costume starts to do the same thing, the costume starts to relax. So we end up with these more open chested costumes, we end up in these robes which are more lounging gear of its time. And then the wedding has its own special costume, it is very, very beautiful, lighter colours, very formal, which is a help to me. This wedding is incredibly detailed, it is the equivalent of a wedding today, the bride and groom have very ornate outfits, and then once he has rejected Hero, once he has rejected that world, the anger he feels leads him back to his soldier costume again. So he is back to where he started, where he feels most comfortable. The soldier's uniform is Claudio's comfort blanket, and that is what he resorts to at the end, once he has been embarrassed and ashamed by Hero. It is great when a costume reflects a character's journey, as I believe these do.

PS:

High points and low points of the last couple of weeks?

PC:

In any rehearsal process, I find that the second or third week is where you feel most uncomfortable. There is always a moment, I find, in any play, where you arrive with lots of ideas, and you have these discussions around a table and it sparks a lot of imagination and a lot of inspiration and ideas, and then there is always a point, once you on your feet and you are trying to piece the scenes together physically, that you feel that you are not achieving what you want to achieve. You don't feel quite comfortable enough in the character’s shoes, and with the relationships on stage, everything is slightly unclear, because everyone is discovering at the same time. So there is always that low point where you get slightly frustrated with yourself. You are not achieving what you want to do with the character. What you believe the text is telling you to do with it. But the high point is connected with that. I had a session with Giles Block, the man who is in charge of the text, and the verse and the language here; and he was explaining to me one of the differences between prose and verse. That when characters speak in verse they are very much being open, they are being honest they are letting their hearts flew through their mouths and they are speaking exactly how they feel. But when they are in prose, something is very often being hidden, the characters are being deflective, they are using the language to hide something, or to shield how they truly feel. I was having frustrations the other day, in the first scene with Benedick, when I start to talk about Hero and how I feel, and I just felt that I wasn't getting it, the language wasn't achieving what I wanted to, in terms of showing the character of Claudio at that point. And Giles said to me I think you are trying to do too much with the prose; the prose can only hold so much. If it is this verse you can use verse to fully fuel how you feel that you shouldn't feel that you have to get everything out why you're saying those prose lines. That is a nice discovery, that sometimes you can be trying to do too much with language, that with prose particularly you need to let it speak for itself and the audience will, no doubt, see what is underneath. So that made me feel better about the insecurities I was feeling about that exchange.

PS:

You have very little verse…

PC:

Very little, but very significant. There are some characters who have even less verse. But Claudio does have some, and they are very significant. A great example is that scene with Benedick at the beginning, where he is trying to talk about Hero, and he gets mocked, and he doesn't achieve what he wants to. And then Dom Pedro comes in, and there is once again some prose, some witty banter, between the three, and then Benedick leaves, and immediately, with Don Pedro, Claudio falls straight into verse. The first moment that we get any verse in the whole play. He says: "My liege, your highness now may do me good." and suddenly the exchange between those two, where Claudio is being as honest as he can be about his emotions, it flows through in beautiful iambic pentameter. Which again leads to what Giles says about characters being open. So that is a nice discovery. Then I speak in verse when Don John suggests that Don Pedro is wooing Hero. Don John leaves, and Claudio says, Thus answer I in name of Benedick, But hear these ill news with the ears of Claudio, and he falls into that soliloquy about how friendship is good and trustworthy in everything except when people are in love. Again, it is regular and beautiful iambic pentameter. These clues that Shakespeare is giving us, that when characters are being honest, when they are being open, when they are being themselves, when they speak to the audience, they do it in verse. It is an open channel from the heart to the ears of the audience, as opposed to prose, where they are shielding and deflecting and hiding. So the verse is incredibly important in a play that contains huge amounts of prose. The moments of verse become incredibly significant all the way through. Claudio speaks in verse at the wedding as well, he is almost at his most eloquent when he is shaming Hero. He cannot help but feel, he is incredibly hurt, so, by trying to shame her, he ends up speaking most eloquently about her beauty. He says, You seem to me as Dian in her orb, As chaste as is the bud ere it be blown; Amazing poetry. For someone who is incredibly ineloquent most of the time.

PS:

That is a nice thought, that is when his spirit is really coming through, when he is speaking in verse.

PC:

Yes, he calls on those feelings when he speaks in verse. I was thinking yesterday this idea about how things seem on the outside, and how they really are inside. The brilliance of Shakespeare, taking that argument, by saying to Hero, I am so hurt by you, because you seemed to be like this but, what I've learned from Don John, is that you are actually like this. By doing that it means we get to hear how Claudio views her, and how Hero seems to Claudio. What he says is that she seemed like the most wonderful, perfect, beautiful vision he had ever seen in his entire life, and it is funny that we only get to hear that in the moment when he is damning her and embarrassing her. It is a wonderful flow of language in that scene, beautiful language.

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