Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 3

In her third blog post Mariah discusses the last week of rehearsals, Beatrice and Hero's relationship and getting used to her costume.

Transcript of Podcast

The last week

It's been really nice to discover more about the relationships between Ursula, Margaret, Hero and Beatrice this week. We’ve been exploring the role of gentlewomen in Tudor society, which I was rather confused about. They’re not like servants – as members of the gentry, they have higher status than that. Even though they are gentlewomen, the lady of the house would have a higher status than them because they are part of her household; they’ve been brought in for some reason. You can get them to go errands for you and they call you ‘Lady’ or ‘Madam’. It's interesting to notice when Margaret and Ursula address Hero in those terms and when they don’t. The relationship between a lady and her gentlewomen is kind of odd – it's difficult to find a modern equivalent because nowadays the only people who really have ladies-in-waiting are Royals.

What I found really lovely today was talking with Joy [Richardson, Margaret], Yolanda [Vazquez, Beatrice] and Lucy [Campbell, Ursula] about the closeness of the bond between these women. It comes down to the fact that they would have helped me dress every morning and undress every night, and we would have slept in the same room together. They would know everything about you – if you woke up in a mood or went to bed in a huff. You couldn’t possibly hide those sorts of things from your gentlewomen because they would have been there with you all the time. They would have shared a really close physical bond. It's when Hero is with Margaret, Ursula and Beatrice that her intimacy is revealed. She is not very intimate with Claudio – she can’t be, she's not allowed to be – but you see another side to her in the scenes with her gentlewomen. I love the warmth in these physically close, comfortable relationships – they’re less formal than the scenes with Claudio and the others, or at least they shift in and out of formality more easily.

I’d like to explore what Hero, Margaret, Ursula and Beatrice do all day, what sort of activities might occupy their time. The Tudor Group said that they would have known about medicines and when Margaret is teasing Beatrice she does mention ‘Carduus Benedictus’ being good for a qualm [III.4.68]. That isn’t something we know about now. I suppose girls know about cosmetics, which creates a similar social bond. It would be useful for an Elizabethan housewife to know about medicines and I guess Hero would be educated with that end in mind. Our production has been cast so that Margaret and Beatrice are closer in age, and Ursula and Hero are closer in age. We’ve made that division; Margaret is Beatrice's waiting woman and Ursula is mine, so maybe Margaret would have the role of educating us.

Beatrice & Hero

There has to be a reason for Hero confiding in Ursula about Claudio because the bond really under the spotlight is between Hero and Beatrice. I find the second half of wedding scene [IV.1] so moving: after Hero leaves, Benedick tries to proclaim his love for Beatrice. She says ‘Not now, this is really important.’ It's as if her bond with Hero is to the death. Beatrice is so angry with Claudio that she wants him dead. I mean, that's huge and I’m not sure that Hero would agree – I’m not sure she wants him dead! But I think it's so beautiful that Beatrice is absolutely certain that Hero is innocent. She's spent all her time with her, so she would know, but it's more than that – there is absolute conviction and faith in Beatrice's reply to Benedick's question ‘Think you in your soul that Count Claudio hath wronged Hero?’ She says ‘Yea, as sure as I have a thought or a soul’ [IV.1] Beatrice is the only one to really trust Hero – and the Friar. Not even her father trusts her at first.

Hero's isolation is interesting in itself: why has Shakespeare has left Hero with just Beatrice to fight for her? Dramatically, that choice heightens tension and it emphasises the extremity of her situation. Hero is all the more vulnerable and isolated. There are remarks in the play which suggest maybe she's only just come of age… so she's quite fragile and has been left in these awful circumstances. I think it makes the strength of the friendship between the two women is all the more incredible – the way it runs through the play is fascinating. I’m also really interested by the way Benedick has to choose between Beatrice and his friend Claudio – it's the pitting of your romantic love against your deep friendships, and being torn between the two. Shakespeare ties people up in very complex dramatic knots.

Cultural context

I’m noticing that there's a lot of emphasis on pledges in Much Ado About Nothing. Everybody swears! It's a way to back up the truth of what you’re saying. Even the Friar says

…Trust not my age,
My reverence, calling, nor divinity,
If this sweet lady lie not guiltless here
Under some biting error. [IV.1.165-8]

He swears that Hero is innocent by everything he believes in and everything he has dedicated his life to. The swearing seems an odd contrast to all the witty banter that goes on: someone just says ‘I swear’ and all of a sudden they want their words to be taken seriously. I suppose it feeds back into questions about whether you can believe what you hear.

The more we rehearse, the more you discover how social and cultural norms have changed since Tudor times – it's weird how some things, like the importance of swearing as a pledge, have largely fallen by the way-side. We don’t look at chastity in the same way either. Back then, it was socially unacceptable for a woman to lose her virginity before marriage. The Tudor group also spoke about the fact that there were more murders in certain areas of London than the rest of the entire country! Murder was a more frequent occurrence then than it is now, and it wasn’t simply a case of someone shooting at you with a gun: instead you would be challenged to a dual. To kill someone by running them through seems to require a greater connection to the physical act itself than pulling a trigger. There seem to be so many things about that society that are visceral and physical, really earthy and rude – and then there is also this incredible sense of decorum and formality.

Clothes

Even Elizabethan children would have worn corsets – they were dressed up like little adults. It must have given them a chance to get used to the way a corset restricts your breathing. My corset was done up too tightly in a fitting the other day and I had a bit of a turn! The costume fittings take about an hour and a half, and it's absolutely amazing to hear about how the clothes are made: materials are specially woven and dyed, and wherever possible, they’re made using techniques from the Tudor period. Luca [Costigliolo, Master of Clothing] likes you to know about the clothes you’re wearing – where the material has come from, why a certain colour or cut has been used, and how much different things cost. The Tudors would have been walking around in their money! That's quite a nice thought.

Yellow

My dress is yellow, which Luca says is associated with hope and joy amongst other things. The one negative thing that yellow was associated with is jealousy – not that Hero would have been aware of it, but perhaps Claudio might be. He prizes her so much that he gets into a fit of jealousy and behaves appallingly. Or does he? I’m not sure how I feel about his reaction. He believes that she's been unfaithful on the night before their wedding. Even nowadays I’m pretty sure anybody would break a marriage off if they found out their wife-to-be had slept with someone else.

The really difficult question is what exactly does Claudio think Hero has done? Does he think she's slept with someone or does he think she's just been alone with someone when she shouldn’t have been? Is seeing her alone with someone as good as saying she slept with them? It's hard to get your head round that. I guess Shakespeare leaves that open for a reason. Borachio says an interesting thing when describes meeting Margaret at Hero's window: he says that Margaret wishes him ‘a thousand times goodnight, and….’ [III.3.142-3] And what? He breaks off by saying ‘I tell this tale vilely.’ That could mean ‘I’m telling it really badly and should go back to the beginning,’ or could it be that he's about to describe what happens with Margaret and that's something he shouldn’t do? I guess it's up to Joy [Richardson, Margaret] to decide how far Margaret would have gone with Borachio. He defends Margaret's honour at the end, when Leonato accuses her of knowing about the plot:

Leonato
This naughty man
Shall face to face be brought to Margaret,
Who I believe was packed in all this wrong,
Hired to it by your brother.

Borachio
No, by my soul, she was not,
Nor knew what she did when she spoke to me,
But always hath been just and virtuous
In anything that I do know by her. [V.1.283-290]

Borachio says that Margaret has always been virtuous and I think I believe him. Otherwise, Shakespeare would have flagged it up, and afterall the play is Much Ado about Nothing : nothing much really happens!

Leonato

Going back to Leonato: why does he believe the Prince and Claudio? That's one of the things I’m thinking about at the moment. He can’t really know his daughter very well if he believes that she is capable of doing what they say she's done. Of course, Claudio is very convincing. It must be a great shock and the accusations are backed up by the Prince's authority. Leonato is an interesting character because we don’t get to see the scene where he changes his mind and goes ‘oh lord, what if she is innocent…?’ We just see him say ‘I wish you’d never been born’ [IV.1.125-33], which is awful, and when we see him in his next scene [V.1], he seems to have changed his mind: he basically says to his brother Antonio ‘Oh I feel awful, I feel awful, I feel awful, and by the way I think she's innocent.’ I think there is literally one line that mentions this: ‘My soul doth tell me Hero is belied.’ [V.1.42] I’ll have to ask Penny [Beaumont, Leonato] what she thinks about that. She said earlier that if Leonato and Hero are very close then the change in Act four, scene one, is more marked and their relationship involves more of a journey. If they are really close and then Hero completely falls out of favour, that's the worst case scenario. I suppose the reason Leonato believes Claudio and Don Pedro is because they are so convincing...

The Tudor Group told us that in Elizabethan times, if your father walked into a room, you would have to stand until you were told that you could sit. That makes the parent-child relationship seem very formal today, but I think it should be taken as a sign of respect rather than distance. It doesn’t mean Hero and her father are not close. I think it's interesting that Hero swoons after Leonato says ‘Hath no mans dagger here a point for me?’ [IV.1.108]. She can’t bear to be accused of something which her father finds so terrible that he would rather kill himself than believe it. That's the worst punishment of all. The thing that gets a rise out of her is when Leonato says ‘You must be guilty because you’re not protesting.’ He sees her lack of response as proof that she's guilty, so she responds in extreme terms: ‘If you find me to be guilty, you can kill me.’

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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It might be important , London

The Tudor Group told us that in Elizabethan times, if your father walked into a room, you would have to stand until you were told that you could sit. That makes the parent-child relationship seem very formal today, but I think it should be taken as a sign of respect rather than distance. It doesn’t mean Hero and her father are not close. I think it's interesting that Hero swoons after Leonato says ‘Hath no mans dagger here a point for me?’ [IV.1.108]. She can’t bear to be accused of something which her father finds so terrible that he would rather kill himself than believe it. That's the worst punishment of all. The thing that gets a rise out of her is when Leonato says ‘You must be guilty because you’re not protesting.’ He sees her lack of response as proof that she's guilty, so she responds in extreme terms: ‘If you find me to be guilty, you can kill me.’

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