Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 2

This is Penny's second blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale in which she talks about working with the Master of Words, the sixteen year gap in the play, and rehearsing the trial scene.

Transcript of Podcast

Sixteen years pass…

Most of this week has been spent working on Act four, scene four (an absolutely huge scene – the sheep-shearing) so I haven’t done much rehearsing as Paulina. I had a costume fitting which is always enjoyable. They try to distract me while my corset is being laced up so that I won’t notice how tight it's getting! The play spans such a long period of time (sixteen years) that fashions would have changed and I think that I am having a second set of sleeves in a different shape, - though we decided that as Paulina's quite traditional, she wouldn’t have been too bothered about keeping up with the latest fashion. As our play is an original practices production, we probably won’t use make-up to show the ageing process – we might do something with hair, but Shakespeare's words do a lot of that work for you. The character Time tells us time has passed and we accept it. Leontes says Hermione's statue is wrinkled [V.iii], and that's almost like verbal make-up; it's all part of the imaginative game.

When we return to the Sicilian court after sixteen years, the fact that everyone is in mourning for King Leontes’ family will probably be more noticeable than the age difference (or lack of it!). The king has been doing penance all that time, so I suspect we’ll be pretty sombrely dressed – though I’m hoping to introduce something a bit more colourful by way of an embroidered front piece for the last scene. By that time everyone knows who Perdita is, and Paulina knows that she's going to complete the reunion. Hermione will come to life and everything will be fine. I think the final scene also marks the end of Paulina's reign as the king's closest advisor (which is certainly how she sees herself for the latter part of the play). She's going to relinquish her huge influence at Court quite happily because she's got what she wants; the king is repentant and his faith has been awakened, he's reunited with Hermione – and Perdita too, as it turns out. She's happy to give up that position, but it will be quite a change for her, and it would be nice to show that costume-wise by introducing something a bit more colourful for the last scene – it's celebratory, after all. Perdita has been found, and everything is going to change for the better.

Word Work

We’ve done some group work with Giles [Block, Master of the Words]. In these sessions, we tend not to work on The Winter's Tale but take a general look at Shakespeare's text; Giles helps us to discover how the form of the text unlocks meanings that you might find difficult and it also helps you find the most effective way of using your own imagination to bring the words to life. I’m a huge believer in ‘using’ the final word in the lines and that's something Giles has introduced me to, really. He's never constrictive in what he says; he says there are no rules at all. The sessions are really all about guiding you to get the best out of the form of the text – he never ever tells you how to say something.

What I try to do is look at the last word of a line and find a reason for giving it; I don’t think stressing is the right term – but it's giving it a real life. If you can find something to give most of those last words in the line a real life of their own, you can really liven up the whole speech. You can’t do it with every line, but often you can. It's a sort of key into the verse; it helps me think about those particular words in a new way and why they should be special. When people stress too many words in the line, the line drags out and it all sounds like it's some kind of archaic ‘Shakespeare’ that has nothing to do with the way we talk. That just can’t be right.

I make a lot of decisions about the text at home – that's where I try to answer questions about the impetus behind the lines: ‘Why does my character open her mouth to speak at this point?’ I find the most relaxing position (sometimes I lie on the floor) and just say the lines out loud: there's no need to think about what to do with the rest of your body. You just use your brain and a bit of voice. That's when I tend to discover things about the text that I didn’t realise were there. I bring those ideas into rehearsals, and they change and develop as we rehearse the scene together – finding meaning obviously isn’t something you do by yourself, so much depends on the other actors, the relationships between characters and the shape of the scene. As an actor, you can get tunnel-vision, looking at your own scenes without seeing the whole picture. The director looks at the play as a whole and how each scene tells the story, and helps you discover how you fit in to the overall scheme of things. Word work on the character's motivation, their reason for speaking, is the beginning of that voyage of discovery.

Trial Scene

I mentioned that we had been thinking about Paulina's speech at the end of the Trial scene [III.iii]. We did some more work on that earlier in the week. Paulina comes in to face Leontes after Hermione has fainted, and at that moment I believe she truly thinks Hermione is dead. The speech where she tells the King about Hermione's death builds up to that moment by recounting all the terrible things that Leontes has done (he betrayed his best friend Polixenes, he attempted to poison Camillo's honour with regicide, he sent his baby daughter to be eaten by the crows) but these are all ‘poor trespasses’ when compared with his latest atrocity… that's when she reveals that he's actually killed the Queen: Hermione is dead.

At that point Leontes seems repentant:
Go on, go; Thou canst not speak too much, I have deserv’d
All tongues to talk their bitt’rest
[III.iii]

But Paulina isn’t having any of that, she says: Oh, you’re sorry are you? That's such a shame, yes, you poor chap. There's no point in you being sorry at all because no matter how long you repented, no matter what you did to show that you’re sorry, the gods wouldn’t look at you because what you’ve done is so awful.’ She doesn’t repent telling him the truth at all – her honesty forces him to acknowledge what it is that he's done.

The next time we see Leontes and Paulina is sixteen years later [V.i]; his political advisors want him to marry and have an heir to secure the future of the state, but Paulina can’t allow that to happen because she knows that Hermione is alive. That's the scene we rehearsed this morning. I found Paulina really has to have her wits about her. Her trump card is Apollo's Oracle ‘King Leontes shall not have an heir / Till his lost child be found’ … he cannot get married and have an heir, because the oracle has forbidden it, therefore it simply cannot happen. I’m really looking forward to exploring what goes on between Leontes and Paulina there.

Next Week

I believe the Tudor Group are coming into rehearsals – they’re wonderful people who spend some of their time living as the Tudors would have lived. They wear Tudor clothes and share their knowledge about different aspects of Tudor life, which is often useful background for Original Practices productions. I’ve met them before, as they came to talk to us before Richard III and Much Ado About Nothing, so I know that they’ll be telling us about the right way for a Gentleman to take off his hat (without showing the inside of it, which would be greasy) and the proper way for a lady to curtsey. We’ll learn about wearing swords too, because the men would have worn swords all the time. I’m much more up to speed with what the original practices to do with men because I’ve never played a woman here before!

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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