Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Pointy Sticks and Emendations

Today we revisited 2.7, the "Trial" scene, which is now officially the most (perhaps the only) over-rehearsed scene in the play. When the only note I can think to give is "Act more exhausted," I think I've said my piece.

Then it was on to 3.4, a scene I fabricated in which Kent and Gargrave get "captured" by France's army, and reunited with Cordelia. Short and sweet, with a nice bit of pole arm blocking in the middle. Walterdale has some lovely pikes in props storage, so I figured we might as well use them. They certainly look more menacing than swords (still waiting for swords...).

We briefly visited Lear's monologue at the top of 4.5 ("Come, let's away to prison..."), and found a much nicer way to block it (before we had Lear standing behind Cordelia and pointing over her shoulder towards an invisible "prison" space out in the audience somewhere; now he sits her down on the stage (in front of Edmund and some shocked soldiers) and creates their blissful isolation right there and then. It's got a lovely intimacy--and a heart-breaking poignancy, if you happen to know that this will be their last few minutes on earth.

Then there's 4.3, the "reconciliation" scene, where Lear wakes up ("You do me wrong to take me out of the grave"), recognizes Cordelia ("Thou art a soul in bliss..."), and she forgives him ("No cause, no cause"). This scene was a maudlin masterpiece in the Victorian era; Lear would be carried on in a raised chair, awoken to soft music, and would touch and even taste Cordelia's tears to confirm their corporeality.

Our scene is very much the rough 'n' ready version: Lear is flat out on some blankets on the stage floor (one of them is actually a curtain--very Gone With the Wind), and only has Cordelia's kiss to awaken him. No attendants, aside from Kent and France--and I have them keeping their distance, letting Cordelia do the work. I honestly don't know if it will have the emotional effect it ought to have, but I feel as though I don't have any resources to help improve it. I really do think it ultimately comes down to Dale and Anna-Maria; once they're comfortably off-book, I think it will start to shine.

Before we left, Anna-Maria lobbied to have one half-line reinserted into 1.1:

Good my Lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me;
I return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honour you--
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say they love you all?
Haply, when I shall wed, that Lord whose hand
Must take my plight, shall carry half my love with him,
Half my care and duty. Sure I shall never
Marry like my sisters.

To the end of this, the Quarto version of Lear adds the half-line, "To love my father all." It's not in the Folio, but nearly all modern versions include it. It certainly does a good job of rounding out the line, since it balances out the earlier repetitions of "half."

My reasons for not including this half-line go all the way back to May. I had Cordelia's psychology all worked out, and then along came Anna-Maria, shrewd and observant and totally self-sufficient. She had Cordelia figured out at a very early stage, and when she happened to be reading through various editions of the play over Christmas, she came upon this extra line which fit much better into her characterization than it did into mine. As she explained it, "To love my father all" is a final jab at the two sisters, but it's also the straw which breaks Lear's back, and provokes his extreme reaction.

She makes a good point. It's certainly less ambiguous, and in a play like Lear, that can never be a bad thing. It just goes to show you that the first ideas are not always the ones you keep.


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