Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Suit the action to the word

It’s not what you’ve GOT, it’s what you DO with it

Despite stealing most of his plots from other books, Shakespeare’s linguistic reputation relates to what he does with his sources, what he does with the language, how he portrays characters in action and how he reveals issues and themes in narratives that thrill and delight 400 years later. THAT’S the nature of his GENIUS.

For Example: Mercutio, Jacques, Malvolio, Aaron

Mercutio is mentioned in Shakespeare’s source for Romeo and Juliet but is in no way like the brilliantly funny, meteoric and doomed character in the play we now have. Certain characters appear to be completely original but they are essential to the texture of the plays we know, especially when staged: Jacques in As You Like It, Malvolio in Twelfth Night and the baby-loving Aaron in Titus Andronicus - all original characters.
Ben Affleck as Mercutio, Alan Rickman as Jacques, Tim Crouch as Malvolio, Harry Lennix as Aaron the Moor with Jessica Lange as Tamora, Queen of the Goths
A Source and What Shakespeare Did
Plutarch’s version of Cleopatra’s barge-ride (translated – from a French version by Amyot – in 1579 by Thomas North) is pretty good writing:

. . . she disdained to set forth otherwise, but to take her barge in the river of Cydnus, the poop whereof was of gold, the sails of purple, and the oars of silver, which kept stroke in rowing after the sound of the music of flutes, oboes, citherns, viols, and such other instruments as they played upon in the barge. And now for the person of her self: she was laid under a pavilion of cloth of gold of tissue, appareled and attired like the goddess Venus, commonly drawn in picture: and hard by her, on either hand of her, pretty fair boys appareled as painters do set forth god Cupid, with little fans in their hands, with the which they fanned wind upon her. 

And this is what my hero did with North's/Aymot's/Plutarch's prose in Antony and Cleopatra:

The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
Burnt on the water. The poop was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were love-sick with them; the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,
It beggar'd all description: she did lie
In her pavilion – cloth-of-gold of tissue – 
O'er picturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature. On each side her
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
With divers-color'd fans, whose wind did seem
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did.
Images of Cleopatra, including Harriet Walter and Kim Cattrall
He’d be in trouble with copyright laws today, but doesn’t it make you gasp? The sheer hutzpah!  And how brilliant, in comparison with the original, are phrases like “Burnt on the water.… Purple the sails…. winds were love-sick…. to the tune of flutes kept stroke…. It beggar’d all description…. pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids…. glow the delicate cheeks….” And the use of the blank verse, the bold opening of “The barge she sat in….”? The way the rhythm pulls like the pulling of oars on a river? The way this speech is given to the semi-cynic Enobarbus, so it does, indeed, beggar all description? Sheer genius!
Elizabeth Taylor, beggaring all description....