Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Winter's Tale, More on

1. The HSU production of The Winter's Tale was reviewed--astoundingly--in the Lumberjack, the HSU student newspaper that usually does its best to ignore all theatre, dance and musical events involving HSU students. "Just like in high school, Shakespeare's language got in the way of a good time," the Jack review begins, and soon refers to its "nearly foreign words."  So much for the moron in "more on."  Of course, there are now-obscure words in Shakespeare, but the language in this play is not especially difficult.  There's just a lot of it,  which is one problem modern audiences are likely to have in following it.  It's a good reason to see and hear these plays as many times as possible, for each production can yield a greater appreciation for the words and the language, as well as the plays.

2. Here's my brief review from 2006 of that season's Oregon Shakespeare Festival production, directed by OSF artistic director, Libby Appel:

 It begins with a burst of color, music and motion—that (thanks to the excellent sound system as well as the staging) creates the mood in the audience that’s the mood of the characters as we first see them. The court of the mythical Sicilia is joyful at the reunion of its King with his childhood friend, now King of the equally mythical Bohemia.

 Yet in the midst of revelry a single light flashes on the face of the King as he reveals his paranoid fantasies about his friend and his wife, Queen Hermione. A tragic course is set, with murderous plots, betrayals and death. But this course is broken and even reversed, in part by intervention of the gods, and in part by love.

 This late play has some of the earth-magical qualities of The Tempest, references to the tradition of Greek tragedy, and echoes of many of Shakespeare’s previous plays. This production features powerful performances by Miriam A. Laube as Hermione and William Langan as King Leontes, and performances by the entire cast that make this story crystal clear as well as affecting and funny, played against the apparently simple but highly evocative scenery of Rachel Hauck.

 Also featured is Mark Murphey as the trickster god Autolycus, whose performance delightfully proves that physical comedy can serve a substantive text, both as relief and as integral to the story.

Shakespeare’s plays are timeless partly because they speak in different ways to every time, and in this one I was struck by how those who served this king felt honor-bound to dissuade him from his disastrous course. Too bad they aren’t serving in the non-mythical Washington.

3.  Background on The Winter's Tale that I wrote and posted at HSU Stage:

“All roads lead to Shakespeare… He is the very center of a literary education in our language. When we say drama, we mean Shakespeare and the rest.”
Eric Bentley
In Search of Theater

In 1592, a hack writer called Robert Greene complained in print about a young playwright named Shakespeare. Greene called him an “upstart crow,” and accused him of plagiarism.

Some eighteen years later, with Greene safely dead, Shakespeare appropriated the plot of Greene’s most popular prose romance (“Pandosto”) and transformed it into the stage romance, The Winter’s Tale.

Shakespeare’s title meant a kind of “old wives tale,” a made-up story. Perhaps the country folk of England had a tradition like some Native American tribes, of telling stories around the fire in the winter—stories with fantastic elements, that might be fables and teaching stories as well.

The Winter’s Tale was the last play that claims Shakespeare as sole author, except for one more: The Tempest. Though this play is not frequently performed, it contains some of Shakespeare’s most theatrical moments, including spectacles, song and dance, and the very theatrical ending.

Like The Tempest and the earlier As You Like It, this play examines the contrasts of court and countryside, rich nobles and poor country folk, as well as art and nature, magic and real life. Shakespeare suggests ways in which these opposites can be reconciled, as in the character of Perdita, the daughter of noble birth who is raised by shepherds, and who observes that the same sun shines on palace and cottage alike.

“In this play the human and the natural come together," writes Shakespeare biographer Peter Ackroyd, "in the great ongoing rhythm of life itself.”

“The Winter’s Tale conveys more persuasively than any previous work the sustained illusion that the world of dramatic romance is directly related to the world in which we live. Thus in Leontes Shakespeare embodies a new Everyman figure, the tragic king who can be redeemed in this life through penitence and love and the renewal that time brings.” --Norman Rabkin, "Shakespeare and the Common Understanding"

“The Winter’s Tale communicates a joy new in Shakespeare by suggesting the possibility of grace and innocence in a world which presents every appearance of being able to overthrow them.”--Norman Rabkin: "Shakespeare and the Common Understanding."

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