This is Juliet's sixth and final blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale in which she talks about moving on from The Winter's Tale to Troilus and Cressida and using Original Pronunciation in her next role.
Transcript of Podcast
The Winters Tale is going well. We’re still finding different laughs and different ways of pacing scenes – we try to change moments to keep them fresh – but we’re really concentrating on Troilus and Cressida now. It's become a mammoth beast! We’re rehearsing around performances of The Winter's Tale, in afternoons or evenings, and I’ve actually been surprised that original pronunciation is the thing that I’m finding least hard! I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do OP but it feels very natural. I wouldn’t mind if I never had to do Shakespeare in RP again! Sounds feel raw and guttural in OP, meaty somehow. They open up the characters, as though the sounds are coming from the heart and the belly rather than the head. Actually that makes sense when you think that RP was developed by the aristocracy in the 1700s. So OP is fine - what I am really struggling with is Cressida!
Cressida starts off so sure and quick-witted at the beginning of the play. Her three main characteristics seem to be wit, sex and control. I thought my super-objective should be to be in love and keep control of my life in a man's world; to get Troilus without losing myself. That seems clear in her first scene with Pandarus [I.ii]: Cressida is confident and runs rings around him, but the minute he goes off stage she has a soliloquy that reveals another side. Her opinions that a woman shouldn’t let anyone win her love because that will ruin it – ‘Men prize the thing ungained more than it is’ – and that she’ll be controlled by the man seem so jaded and twisted. I feel that on the outside she is very assured and strong. She knows how to control or manipulate people in order to keep her strength. But underneath she is someone who, as both a traitor's daughter and a woman, is very isolated and vulnerable, and she's unsure that if she gives herself to somebody the relationship will last. I am struggling with those different sides.
Cressida's journey through the play is so odd and at the end she just disappears. I think it's interesting that Shakespeare didn’t write a mad scene at the end where she's shown to have completely lost the plot or another scene that gives her the chance to explain why she gave up Troilus for Diomedes. Troilus tears her letter up in Act five – perhaps that was an explanation. The more I look at the play, the more I think it's not really about love; it's about how people are forced to make bad decisions because of war. The love story disappears. I think Troilus loses the fight with Diomedes because of his anger at Cressida's betrayal. And Cressida makes the awful choice to be with Diomedes in order to survive; she has to save her own skin. I think Shakespeare focuses on the fact that war brings out the worst in everybody. It corrupts the whole society.
The play is very dark, though it didn’t feel like that when I read it. I remember thinking ‘This is fantastic – lively and full of kind of exciting things.’ The second we started to get up and play the scenes, a much darker story came through. There isn’t any let up, any bright side. Cressida's last word in the play is ‘turpitude’. Depravity – a horrible word to leave on, but it fits with the play's vision of war.
Watching other scenes in rehearsal, I realised how the women are bartered in the world of the play. Greeks and Trojans fight over who owns Helen. Cressida is suddenly bartered to the Greeks in exchange for Antenor. And the Kissing scene [IV.5] (where the Greek commanders kiss Cressida, passing her from one to the next) is really abusive. Basically Cressida is their trophy, as Helen is a Trojan trophy. We’re playing the scene as a kind of competition as to who can degrade Cressida the most. After that, it's enjoyable to play Andromache because I think she's a very strong woman. I read quite a lot about Andromache in Greek mythology and she is said to have been very formidable; I think to be with someone like Hector you would have to be pretty tough.
Relationship with Pandarus
Giles was keen to look at the idea that Pandarus has been grooming Cressida from birth to be ready to give herself to Troilus. Their relationship would help Pandarus’ position because I would eventually be queen or mistress to a king. The wordplay in the first scene is all about defending myself against pregnancy and him looking after me; it's very sexual and how we are reading it is that Pandarus has groomed me so that I’ll be ready to mate with Troilus. It is quite bestial and fits with an animal imagery that runs all the way through the play.
We talked about the seven deadly sins in rehearsal, and how four main feelings spring out of war: fear, low self-worth, guilt and resentment. Other feelings like pride, lust, greed and anger spring from these. Those feelings are prominent in a society where, as the result of going to war every day for seven years, killing has become the norm. ‘Where are you going?’ – ‘Oh, I am just going to kill a few people on the battlefield’. It's a society that has been brutalised by war.
OP meets modernity
Although we’re doing Original Pronunciation, our production won’t be in Original Practices. I don’t think one follows the other. If the design was neutral, say Greeks in white and Trojans in green, then we would use OP to express everything. What we’re trying to do is to broaden out the whole experience by using lots of different references to war in the design. Some of us are in First World War outfits and some of us are in Second World War outfits (I’ve got a gas mask on at the end). We use both guns and cutlasses. I think it's very brave to go for a design that draws in several different periods; we’re speaking in OP so there's a sense of 1500s –1600s, our costumes suggest WW1 and WW2 which bring in the 1900s and the story of the siege of Troy is from ancient times. If the amalgamation works and we manage to bring the different worlds together, I think it will be a really strong analogy for war through the ages. These things happened in Homer's time and Shakespeare's time and they’re happening in our time. People behave in the same way. Troilus and Cressida is really a very modern play.
It is quite clear that Cressida is a very modern woman and she's very complex. She's not a Juliet; she makes a pragmatic choice in a way that someone like Juliet or Cordelia never could. They would have said ‘I would rather die than go off with Diomedes’ but Cressida makes a very modern choice: ‘Well, this is where I am. Either I will be passed around the Greeks or I find a guardian who will keep me safe’. Adapting in that way and making that choice is something that most other Shakespearian heroines would not have done.
Troilus doesn’t understand that survival aspect of her decision. I feel that when Troilus and Cressida meet, they both have an idealised view of what love is, yet neither of them has experienced anything approaching love. Troilus has been a warrior for seven years so he's has grown in that capacity, but is probably very naïve in terms of building relationships. In the same way, Pandarus has been priming Cressida for all this time and she seems to know an awful lot about women and sex, but actually she is a virgin. So they idealise each other but there is no real meeting of minds. When Cressida falls from the pedestal, Troilus can’t possibly see anything other than that fact that she is false.
Troilus and Cressida are a real contrast to Perdita and Florizel in The Winter's Tale. I think if Florizel met Cressida, she would eat him alive and if Troilus met Perdita he would eat her alive! It makes it quite hard to move between plays. Troilus and Cressida have such a bleak journey; they’re ripped apart after spending one night together. Talking of crossovers between plays… today in The Winters Tale I managed to drop Perdita's West Country accent going into the final scene but then right at the end an OP ‘r’ slipped in really loudly! There was no way of disguising it in the line just as I was about to meet my mother! I turned around to Sam who plays the young Shepherd; normally we have a little moment where we say ‘Oh isn’t my mother beautiful?’ and we chat for a bit. But this time I turned around and said ‘Did you just hear that?’ and he went ‘Yup!’ I am finding it quite difficult to switch off and not bring any of one into the other.
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.