Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 2

In his second and final blog post Joseph discusses his thoughts about Gloucester, problems of movement after Gloucester has been blinded and rehearsing the closing jig.

Transcript of Podcast

The character of Gloucester

In week two of rehearsals, Dominic [Dromgoole, Artistic Director of the Globe] went back to the start of the play and working through it scene by scene, in terms of what the scene was about, the possible moves we could make, the relationships in the scene, and how it fits in with what’s gone before in the play. We talked about the nature of the portrayal of Gloucester and his relationship with his sons. The way I’ve seen Gloucester played before is that he’s a saint, but Dominic had this idea that he is just as much of a fool as Lear. He is good natured and had been organising this big event for the king, gathering everyone, organising seating arrangements and wanting everything to go well – that’s the sort of courtier he is. He expects good things to happen all the time. But then it doesn’t take much to make him think that Edgar has betrayed him. He has a very extreme reaction, just like Lear; he’s another parent making impulsive decisions, being fooled by children who are selfish and who don’t have his best interests at heart, and ignoring the good ones, Edgar and Cordelia. Gloucester doesn’t even talk to Edgar until after he’s blind, and even then he thinks he’s speaking to a stranger. And there’s no relief for him, in that sense. It may seem as though my interpretation of Gloucester means I think he is willing to kill himself, or to be blinded, but it’s more that he can’t quite believe it happens to him. You can see that if you go back to the lines; after he tries to kill himself and realises he’s still alive he says, ‘Henceforth I’ll bear / affliction till it do cry out itself / “enough, enough” and die’ (4.6.75-77). When Oswald comes on and says ‘The sword is out / that must destroy thee’(4.6.226-226), Gloucester replies, ‘Now let thy friendly hand / Put strength enough to’t’(4.6.226-227). So he’s saying that it’s a sin to commit suicide, but if someone murders you, that’s allowed. In my way of thinking, the world can’t be the way Gloucester thinks it ought to be, with everybody behaving well: ‘Good my friends, consider; you are my guests. Do me no foul play’ (3.7.30-1). With him, it’s all protocol and decorum, and he depends on people behaving well; when they don’t, his world is completely eroded, and he can’t see the point in living.

Putting in more detail

After going through all the scenes, we started paying more attention to detail – the speed of the speech, the speed of the movement. It began to be about the director shaping it. One of the things I found tricky was the first scene I have with Edgar, when I say ‘Knowst thou the way to Dover?’ (4.1.58). He’s giving Edgar his purse, because he’s thinking everyone should have something, and perhaps because he’s also thinking that he’s had too much. And I find that a very emotional thing. For Gloucester to realise, ‘This is how life’s been, and I’ve never thought about people not having anything’. I’ve only just got it really.

Text and Movement Work

I’ve been working with Giles [Block, Text] and Glynn [MacDonald, Movement] throughout the rehearsal performances. I loved my sessions with Giles, because they helped me to make decisions about word emphasis and therefore what the character was thinking and what their emotional state was. There’s that difficult speech Gloucester makes when Regan and Cornwall decide to put Kent into the stocks (2.2.137-144), but actually, it’s very character revealing. It’s all status and decorum and rightness and about what you ought to do.

With Glynn, I did some general Alexander Technique work, and she made one note after seeing the run through that was really helpful. She pointed out that blind people see with their ears. And that’s what Lear says: ‘Look with thine ears’ (4.6.147). So once the blindfold is on, I close my eyes, and I don’t open them at all. People may call it ‘method-y’ but I don’t think it is; I want the whole sensation that I can’t see. I have cheated once though and opened my eyes when I thought I wasn’t in the right place for the fall. The reason was that in one performance, when I did the fall, half of my body went out into the audience … which they loved! When Dominic heard about that he got excited, and I thought, ‘Yeah, you would want to keep that in, me half killing myself!’

The Costume

I had my costume fitted – my leather britches were still being made so I couldn’t try them on – but I got to try the shirt and coat. I love the quality of the material of the coat; it is worsted wool and has a fur trim. The autumnal green colour really suits Gloucester, as he is a man in the autumn of his life, and it suited me, as I’m middle aged as well. It swings beautifully and I use that when I’m making an exit or an entrance. My hat is fur lined, and the richness of the whole costume signals my high status.

The Jig

We started the music and jig rehearsals in week two. I had great trouble with the jig. I still can’t do the double step; everybody’s tried to teach me but I’ve got two left feet and no timing. We also started learning the songs which are in medieval English. It is fascinating to learn, and it was so wonderful to hear the tune. Almost all of us learnt it in a short time. It’s a song about belief. The last line means something like ‘This is what I know, this is what I believe,’ so it’s a life affirming, positive song, not a dirge.


These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.

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