Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 2

In her second blog post Rachel discusses the wedding scene [Act IV scene 1] and the difference between speaking in verse and prose, and she reflects on Don John's fate after the end of the play.

Transcript of Podcast

Ta’en in flight

Last week I said Don John disappeared in the middle of the play and that he was out there like an evil force, waiting to cause trouble I kept thinking about that idea and then suddenly I thought ‘Hang on a minute – he's captured.’ A messenger comes on and says:

My lord, your brother John is ta’en in flight,
And brought with armed men back to Messina.

Benedick replies:

Think not on him till tomorrow; I’ll devise thee brave punishments for him. Strike up, pipers. [V.4.123-6]

It's interesting I blanked on that. I’ve had a good look at it since and the commentaries explain Don John's disappearance in terms of ‘defining the limits of mischief in a comedy’. I suppose the idea is that if everyone knows ‘brave punishments’ will be devised for Don John, the wedding celebrations are given a boost. The villain gets what he deserves and that's satisfying. But I don’t think of Don John as a plot function or simply as a villain. I always thought Benedick's lines were a dismissal rather than something to add to the general gaiety: ‘No, we’ll think about him tomorrow. This is a time for joy.’ It certainly makes sense not to bring Don John back at the end because he’d disrupt all their happiness. Benedick ties up the question of what happened to him without bringing him back onstage. If he was there onstage and silent, that would be different. But he's not. There you go. It just goes to show that you forget things really easily. It's only when you actually do the play that you remember it all and everything falls into place.

Wedding: Act IV, scene 1

I haven’t got much to say about Don John this week because I haven’t been called very much. My last rehearsal was on Saturday when we did the wedding scene [IV.1]. That went very well, actually. It really felt like everybody was working together and listening to each other, which is sometimes difficult in large group scenes. There was a really good atmosphere – it was very positive. I mean, I went in not knowing what on earth I was going to do, but it turned out alright. The more Claudio got upset, the more interesting I found it. I discovered that while Don John wants to wreck the marriage and he does enjoy seeing Claudio suffer, he's also aware that it's quite a dangerous thing for him to do. When people start examining his story too closely, he interrupts them. Don Pedro begins to ask for more details about what Hero has been up to and Don John cuts him off

Fie, fie, they are not to be named, my lord,
Not to be spoke of!
There is not chastity enough in language
Without offence to utter them. Thus, pretty lady,
I am sorry for thy much misgovernment. [IV.1.93-7]

He's being careful and covering his back: ‘Don’t talk about it – no, no, no, you mustn’t mention these awful things she's been up to. There isn’t enough purity in language for it not to be offensive if you talked about what she's done’. Someone could easily say, ‘Hey, hang on a minute! What window was this? Who was looking out of it? How far away were you? Are you sure you saw the right person?’ That would ruin everything for him. He can’t let that happen. He gets Claudio and Don Pedro out of the way after Hero has fainted

Smother her spirits up. [IV.1.109-10]

He uses her faint as evidence of her guilt. She's guilty – the shock of exposure has made her faint. I didn’t understand that line about ‘her spirits’ at first … in rehearsals, you go through what each line means and put it into normal language to see if you’ve got the right meaning. We came to that line and I thought it meant something completely different. I thought meant she must be smothered because she's got evil spirits in her, which is completely wrong, so we had to talk that one through. Tamara [Harvey, Master of Play] went, ‘Oh, it doesn’t mean that, it means this.’ So it's quite interesting how wrong you can be at points. But anyway, by the end of that scene, when Don John exits with Claudio and Don Pedro, I felt really, really happy that I’d kind of got what I wanted. I think that's the thing about Don John – he does these evil things because it makes him feel powerful. It's almost like he's an addict. He's sort of addicted to being evil and so if he gets something done that's bad, it’ll give him a kick. At that moment he feels powerful and in control.

The way he cuts off Don Pedro [IV.1.93-7 see above] is quite interesting because it's all about the power of the spoken word. Earlier on in the scene, Don John says to Leonato ‘Sir, they are spoken, and these things are true.’ [IV.1.64]. Speaking the things makes them true; the spoken word is hugely powerful. I think as far as Shakespeare goes, that's the whole thing. Obviously Shakespeare's plays are quite good stories… well, actually I suppose it's arguable how good the stories are – most of them have been nicked from sources. Are they brilliant stories? Is Much Ado About Nothing a brilliant story? Not really. Beatrice and Benedick fancy each other but never quite manage to get it together and an evil bastard son causes lots of problems… there's drama in there, but the plot outline is quite basic. There's nothing wrong with that, but I suppose if you’re talking about Shakespeare, the brilliance is in the language and the way he tells the basic story. I’m only just starting to learn that really – how brilliant his use of language is. Take the line ‘There is not chastity enough in language without offence to utter them.’ Chastity in language. It's interesting, isn’t it? The play's so much about chastity, chastity in language and the power of words. They make it all happen. Everything in Shakespeare is in the words.

Don John's words

There's something quite direct about Don John, I think. He hardly has any verse, but then hardly any of the characters have any verse in Much Ado About Nothing. Well, it sort of gets verse-y when it gets heavy, emotionally intense, but Don John has very little verse. He has got some nice images though, like the canker in a hedge: ‘I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace’ [I.3.25]. He has some nice things to say – he's direct but he isn’t dull. My favourite line is ‘I am trusted with a muzzle and enfranchised with a clog’ [I.3.30]. I mean apart from anything ‘clog’ has such a great sound. Clo-guhh. It's a great word and ‘enfranchised with a clog’ gives you this animal image. They only trust him if he's got a muzzle on him, and he's given his freedom but he can’t move anywhere. The contradiction hits you. I’ve just been reading this book about concentration camps and how the prisoners always have terrible, heavy shoes … Don John feels like he's in a prison, and I think he has some wonderful lines that describe that state. They’re not lovely, but they’re meaty. Lines like those talk about how he feels, but there is a sort of directness about what he says. The most typical example in Shakespeare of the kind of monster who has skill with words and language is Caliban; he's got the most fantastic lines in The Tempest. For instance, the speech that begins ‘Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises, / Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not’ [III.2.135-6] – I can’t remember it all, but that's how it starts out. Caliban says the most fantastic things and you think ‘Oh!’ – this grubby kind of monster that lives in a rock is speaking in the most beautiful way. I don’t think Don John's like Caliban, but there's a similar juxtaposition between what you might expect and what you get. Don John is much more direct, but he does have some choice lines which you can really get your mouth around. It's very different from Clarence's very lyrical verse speeches last year. I think I found speaking in verse easier.


If you have a long speech which is in verse, there's a kind of form to how you say it; you have to be aware at the ends of the lines and notice when there's gaps in the middle of the lines, and it all has a de-dum de-dum de-dum de-dum de-dum rhythm, so if you’re doing a speech like Clarence's ‘Methoughts that I had broken from the Tower’ [Richard III, I.4] you look for clues in the line-endings and rhythm and gaps. I mean, you should never seem like ‘I’m standing here doing my speech’ – you’ve got to be active and interesting and believe in what you say. But verse is easier in a way, I think, because of those clues and, also, to do dynamic scenes with dialogue in prose is very different to a lyrical verse description. Or at least I find it more difficult to remember the lines.

Head or heart?

Giles’ [Block, Master of the Words] theory is that when a character speaks verse, it often comes from the heart while prose comes from the intellect. I think this is probably right, although I haven’t quite experienced it for myself yet. I think Don John is talking from his heart when he says ‘I’d rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace.’ He's so hurt. Then there are all the things he says about how he feels about being imprisoned; it's prose but to me that's his heart talking, his hurt heart talking. And so I don’t know about the head/heart thing yet. I don’t think Giles is saying that prose is purely intellectual. I don’t think it can be purely intellectual, otherwise you’d just be reading an essay, wouldn’t you? Don John is talking about his feelings – he's talking about why he chooses to be kind of silent and grumpy in court. I don’t know why that's prose rather than verse. That's something for me to think about.


After remembering the capture, I got thinking about what would happen to Don John at the end of the play… at the moment I don’t really know but I think he would have a slump. He's addicted to evil and causing trouble, so I think he would experience the same come-down that alcoholics or drug addicts or gamblers get after a hit. I don’t know whether he’ll feel awful in terms of remorse. We had a chat in rehearsals about what Don John actually does and it is pretty horrible; there's no hint that he’ll be sorry afterwards. He steps on people to make himself feel better so I think the parallel with addiction is stronger: he’ll feel bad afterwards in the way an addict does. He wants to hurt Claudio and that's what gives him his fix. I’ve interpreted Don John's line ‘This young upstart hath all the glory of my overthrow’ as meaning that Claudio has taken my position at Don Pedro's side. Claudio is closer to my brother than I’ll ever be and that makes me hugely jealous; I want Don Pedro to be my brother and, when you get down to it, I want him to love me. But Claudio's got all the garlands of the war, Claudio's the war hero, Claudio's done marvellously well and Claudio's got everything I should have. He's best mates with my brother. He's marrying a beautiful girl. It's unfair and I just want to see him suffer. When I get what I want, I’m happy to watch - like in the wedding scene. At least, that's the idea. Most of this is in my head at the moment and I’m trying to remember it all for when I get into the rehearsal room. As I said, this week I haven’t been called for Don John's scenes. I’m sort of going ‘Please, can I come in and rehearse?’ I’ve only talked through the scenes once and just started to put them on their feet, so I’m feeling a bit nervous at the moment. There's only so much thinking work you can do on your own – you need to develop the relationships between characters with the other actors involved, for one thing. I’d be less worried if I came in with a very strong idea of Don John's character on day one, but I didn’t do that and I’m still not very sure what I am going do. It means I’ll use every last second when I do get started on my scenes!

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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