Monday, 8 July 2013

In the forefront of audience reseach

In 1979 my wife, Marianne, and I had taken up an invitation to be actors in residence at Churchill College in Cambridge UK. Both being professional actors we were naturally interested in audiences. With the help of the College we set up an experiment in which we performed a variety of short peices to an invited audience. A camera was trained on us, the performers, and a camera was trained on the audience - the audience knew what was happening but quickly forgot they were being 'watched'. The result was recorded on a machine that I think was the first portable video recorder. The format was simple but the result very instructive - the screen was 'split' into two with Marianne and me on the lower section and the audience on the upper. Recently I found the tape and have had it restored and tranferred to disc by a company in Bristol - I have yet to see the results but their blog gives me hope that it will a true blast from the past. I am not sure how one gets their blog but for anyone who is interested I suggest they try googling Great Bear audio Bristol-

Saturday, 30 March 2013

"An Actor walks into China" It's a real pleasure to say that a friend has written a book that is a real treat to read - one that shows show people at their best - inventive, imaginitive, sensitive and - well, naturally, entertaining.  Colin McPhillamy's  is just such a one.  Amazon is a click or two away and the price is right! It's a Good is his collection of tales,  "The Tree House and Other Stories"-  BBC nominated for the Prix Italia and the The Writer's Guild Comedy Award. 

Saturday, 23 February 2013


`Play the woman': a common expression for shedding tears
`Griefs cry louder than advertisement' (Much Ado About Nothing V.i.32)

‘With adults, especially of the male sex, weeping soon ceases to be caused by, or to express bodily pain. This may be accounted for by its being thought weak and unmanly by men, both of civilised and barbarous races, to exhibit bodily pain by any outward sign. With this exception, savages weep copiously from very slight causes, of which fact Sir I Lubbock has collected instances ... With the civilised nations of Europe there is also much difference in the frequency of weeping. Englishmen rarely cry, except under the pressure of the acutest grief, whereas in some parts of the Continent the men shed tears much more readily and freely.’
(The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Charles Darwin)

Base on some 400 + allusions to weeping in the plays of Shakespeare I offer some general principles towards an etiquette of weeping:

If you are amongst your nearest and dearest, you may weep for loss or gain of a loved one without censure

If you must weep, stand aside and try not to draw attention to yourself. If that fails, be ashamed of your tears or blame them on your mother

If you want to make an impression on the audience, intimate that you would rather your tears be transformed into sparks of fire (Queen Katherine), or swords (the Earl of Warwick), or revenge (the Shrew)

Kings may emphasise their weakness by bursting into tears

If you belong to the Andronici you're in a class of your own

Exert self-control over your tears if you want to rise to the top

Tears of compassion will get you a crown, a dukedom returned, a fortune

If you're a common or garden servant, slave, child, woman, foot soldier, your tears will serve you very little

The tears of anyone standing in the way of the king will avail them nothing

Anyone may weep for laughing

A train journey taken recently gave me the opportunity to catch up on two plays by Shakespeare that I had neglected for too long: Henry V and Titus Andronicus.. In their different ways they brought home how heedless I had been of Shakespeare's use of weeping on stage. Until then I had thought that tears were a matter only for the individual characters concerned. What struck me, after reading them in quick succession, was the difference between how grief is expressed by the brave English in Henry V and the equally courageous Romans and Goths in Titus Andronicus. [2]

I set about cataloguing tears shed in the whole canon of his theatrical works.

I was unprepared for the sheer quantity of weeping, the affect of it on the weepers themselves and on others, how tears influence, are the cause for reflection or action, and the many reasons for supressing tears or letting them fall.

I restricted myself to listing the examples of weeping that leave little room for doubt that they are indeed shed on stage. Tears off stage come to the audience at second hand. Whereas weeping that is required by the script to happen on stage, can be seen to be shed, and because tears are a powerful emotional signal may affect the audience directly.

Of the five hundred or so references, I have excluded those that are mythical, legendary or used as a poetic device. These give emotional colour but say little or nothing about the motivation and consequences of any weeping that occurs in the 'real life' of the stage, e.g. I have left out the following:

Flavius Go, go, good countrymen, and for this fault
            Assemble all the poor men of your sort;
            Draw them to Tiber banks, and weep your tears
            Into the channel, till the lowest stream
            Do kiss the most exalted shores of all.
                                                (Julius Caesar I. i. 57)

Hamlet             What's Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba
                        That he should weep for her?
                                                (Hamlet II .ii. 555)

Imogen             True honest men being heard, like false Aeneas,
                        Were, in his time, thought false; and Sinon's weeping
                        Did scandal many a holy tear, took pity
                        From most true wretchedness ...
                                                (Cymbeline III. iv. 57)

In order to sort out my final count of 443 instances of weeping, I constructed a simple grid that lists the names of the plays, the range of dates over which they are thought to have been written, the characters involved, their status and why they might be crying (or trying not to). E.g.
Date of
About tears
Notes re
Errors I. i. 71
Comment re
Happy ending,
reunited with
wife and sons

For an explanation as to how this grid led to my formulation of Shakespeare's attitude towards the loss of his son Hamnet, see Chapter 7 'Shakespeare's Twins and his Reconstructed Family'.

As work on the grid progressed a pattern began to emerge that seemed tailored to the Tudor view of the universe, a universe constructed along strict hierarchic lines. Some forty years after Shakespeare died this ideology received a buffet from Cromwell that changed Britain's government and society's view of itself forever. But when Shakespeare was writing the established perception of the universe seemed to them as fixed in the firmament as the pole star.

When it became clear that Queen Elizabeth I was failing in health and coming to the end of her reign, there was much anxious discussion and disquiet about who would ascend the throne after her death. Even after she had informed her scheming old courtier, Cecil, that 'a king should succeed me; and who should that be but our cousin in Scotland', anxiety remind high.  It was with these anxieties in mind that as soon as James I took the throne in 1603 he set about consolidating his position. He took firm hold of the doctrine of the Royal Prerogative, a form of authority that had been strengthened by the Tudor monarchs in the interest of firm government, and transformed it into the doctrine of Divine Right of Kings, thought by some to be an unwelcome and abusive form of self-aggrandisement.

Nevertheless, it suited the times to the extent that it accorded with the accepted notion that everything had a place. God was in heaven, Satan was in hell and man was somewhere in between. Needless to say, Christian kings led the way upward and onward.

It was thus an easy step for me to entertained the notion that even tears might have -
            Degree, priority, and place,
            Infixture, course, proportion season, form,
            Office and custom, in all line of order
                                    (Troilus and Cressida I.iii.86)

Following the custom of Shakespeare's times, I put royalty at the top and slaves at the bottom of the list. As a popular model of monarchial correctness, Henry V was the obvious choice to begin with.  As my list devoloped he was supplanted by Edgar in King Lear as one who shows a compassion I find lacking in Henry.  Lychorida, being a weeping slave woman in Pericles, I placed lowest of all.

When I was in doubt about where a character should stand in relation to the others, I referred the one and only guiding moral code at the time, Christian principles. This with regard to how a character ended his or her life; where a character stood in society and whether a character was male or female, females coming second in line to males of 'equal' status.

I fine-tuned the final positioning by making reference to the degree of self-control shown by each character in turn, especially the male characters, since the females seem to have had a dispensation in the matter of weeping.

Where to place the weeping cast of Titus Andronicus posed a serious problem. From beginning to end of this exotic play, chaos reigns and self-control is limited to one character only, Marcus.  When set against the brave face presented by Henry V on hearing of the death of a friend in battle it is tempting to think of Titus Andronicus as a broad comedy, a side splitting burlesque on the revenge plays popular at the time. There are an astonishing number of tears shed. Onions must have been in great demand. 

A character who appears to weep genuine tears demand something of the audience that is not demanded by characters who, though having reason, do not weep. A character who does not resort to tears leaves us free of that particular influence to make up our minds about them. .

Male characters at the top of the list of non-weepers:
Philip Faulconbridge, the Bastard, King John
Falstaff in the Henry IV plays
Fool in King Lear
The Prince in Hamlet
Horatio in Hamlet
Polonius in Hamlet
Iago in Othello
Macbeth in Macbeth
Richard in Richard III

I have divided the list into three groups of weepers: each one starting at the top of society and working downwards

Group 1: Those who have good reason to weep but are able, more or less, successfully to fight the urge to do so

Group 2: Those who, not able to hold back their tears, nonetheless offer an apology for weeping

Group 3: Those who weep openly without comment - by far the most numerous (Appendix A for a list of those who refer to weeping, actual or metaphorical.)

Hardly had I begun on my list than I ran into difficulties. Where, for example, should I place Flavius, steward to Timon, a pre-Christian Roman? Do those who weep tears of compassion deserve a subdivision of their own? I ducked the issue and, in keeping with the Tudor view, let Flavius head the servants who, as was right and proper, stand below the noblewomen who weep. My task with Flavius was made easier by the fact that he demonstrates the Christian virtues of careful stewardry and compassion. Nevertheless, it turns out that top dogs are top dogs whatever their religion, hence the high position held in my list by Octavius Caesar.

Edgar in King Lear came out top. He won extra brownie points over Henry V because he reflects an aspect of Christ's teaching: 'many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first'                                                                                                                                          (Matthew 19.30).

The list of male weepers
If you are - a nobleman who debases himself and who sheds tears of compassion for his old mad monarch shall finally come to wear the crown
            Edgar in King Lear

- an English king who controls his tears, kills Frenchmen and then woos their princess successfully, your are definitely top dog
            Henry in Henry V

- a prince about to take on the trappings of kingship and who weeps near or at his father’s deathbed, you are O.K.
            Prince Henry in King John
            Prince Hal in Henry IV, Part two

- a triumvir who controls the world as easily as he does his tears and beats in battle the greatest of lovers you shall never win a woman like Cleopatra
            Octavius Ceasar in Antony and Cleopatra

- a man who weeps and blames the 'woman within' then you have style. Nevertheless, if you attache yourself to power, there is every chance that you will end up badly
            Laertes in Hamlet
            Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra
            Wolsey in Henry VIII

- someone who blames the 'woman within' but stands in the light of a noble power will do well      
            Exeter in Henry V

- if you are a lord who weeps on the occasion of an abdication of a weak king you will zealously support the strong king that follows
            York in Richard II

- a lord who weeps openly in sympathy with the 'wrong' king will be pardoned by the 'right' king, (political correctness is all if the right king is a Bolingbroke and connected through marriage to the Tudor line)
            Aumerle in Richard II

- a wronged magician then your compassionate tears will help bring about a reconciliation with your enemies
            Prospero in The Tempest

- a common soldier and have killed your dad in battle you can weep without losing face, and get the tears of the king thrown in for good measure
            Soldier Son Henry VI, Part two

- a king who gives away his kingdom, expresses shame for his tears, and is rude about women's sexuality, then you are going mad
            Lear in King Lear

- a Roman nobleman and a friend to the assassinated Emperor, you may weep in sympathy with a servant's tears
            Antony triumphs in Julius Caesar
            Antony loses in Antony and Cleopatra

- a Roman soldier who is close to a fallen friend you may weep before committing suicide and still remain honourable
            Eros in Antony and Cleopatra

- a Roman soldier who is close to a disgraced friend may excuse yourself for weeping and yet die in a ditch a broken man
            Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra

- you are a young tough Ancient Britain, who believes his friend dead, will weep with grief and remain socially acceptable
            Guiderius in Cymbeline

-  a father, you may weep openly when reunited with your children
            Pericles in Pericles
            Cymbeline in Cymbeline

- a weak king who weeps without demur you will come to a sticky end
            The King in Henry VI (murdered)
            The King in Richard II (dies murdered or self-starved)

- a lover who is under a magic spell and weeps openly when wooing the wrong lady you will eventually win the heart of the right lady
            Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream

- an old man and have been instrumental in banishing a Duke, your tears will not only be acceptable - they will stir compassion in the hurt party
            Gonzalo in The Tempest

- an old Patricians you may weep when a warrior friend is banished
            Menenius in Coriolanus

- a lord who swaps sides, twice, and yet shows shame by weeping, you are definitely ‘iffy’ but also likely to be a winner since you are well suited to taking part in a play about self-interest
            Lord Salisbury in King John

- you weep over the loss of lands in France, but do it discreetly, you will have the honour of dying in the battle of Barnet
            Warwick Henry VI, Part two

- are old and do something silly like dividing up your kingdom between two of your three daughters, you can weep but you will also go mad and die
            Lear in King Lear

- you're past your best, disappointed in your young wife, about to murder her and then realise your foolishness, you will weep in public without apology and be applauded for it
            Othello in Othello

- are the Sicilian father of a daughter wrongly accused of sexual impropriety, you may weep openly on the occasion of being offered hope that she is still intact
            Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing

- a lover who kills your wife's cousin and weeps excessively, you will get your comeuppance
            Romeo in Romeo and Juliet

- a Friar who assists young lovers to go against their parent's wishes will be brought to tears at the very least, though of what kind is doubtful
            The Friar in Romeo and Juliet

- you're the guide and comforter to a weak king and weep when your wife is banished, but do nothing to save her, you will surely be murdered
            Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester in Henry VI part two

-  you're the father of Richard Crookback your tears will avail you nothing and you will be stabbed to death,
            York in Henry VI, Part three

- you are a plutocrat of doubtful mental stability who weeps for pleasure while amongst hypocrites you shall rue the day and die forgotten (almost) at the seas margin
            Timon in Timon of Athens

The list of female weepers

If you are a queen facing divorce who controls her tears, directs her energies towards keeping a sharp mind and, what is more, is granted a vision of being eventually received by angels in heaven, you must be a top person
            Queen Katherine in Henry VIII

- a women in the guise of a young man (Ganymede) who controls her tears and makes the world laugh is near the top of the tree
            Rosalind in As You Like It

- the sister of a man whom you believe is about to lose his head on account of your fiercely protected maiden-head will weep; you will also be reunited with her brother
            Isabella in Measure for Measure

- a female friend unable to help a wronged lady you will weep discreetly, and thereby take an important step towards getting your man
            Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing

- a young woman who sees before her a brave new world you will weep when a young man proclaims his love for you
            Miranda in The Tempest

- a young woman reunited with her long-lost father you will weep
            Marina in Pericles

- a nice young woman who weeps when she is bound, chased and beaten by her feisty, rebellious sister you will nevertheless gain a husband
            Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew

- a bewildered and angry young woman wooed by a man propelled towards her under a mischievous spell you will weep
            Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream

- are a woman parting from your lover you may weep
            Lady Mortimer in Henry IV, Part one
            Imogen in Cymbeline
            Helena in All's Well That Ends Well

- are a queen full of foreboding who weeps regulary for your weak king you are destined to lose him                  
            Isabel, the Queen in Richard II

- the proud mother of a patrician warrior your tears will do little for your disgraced son                           Volumnia in Coriolanus

- a noble woman faced with the death of a loved woman you may weep
            Elizabeth in Richard III
            Duchess of York in Richard III

- recently widowed, whose brother-in-law is John of Gaunt, you will weep                                                          Duchess of Gloucester in Richard II

- are the mother of a young Prince who stands in the way of a scheming king you will weep, tear your hair and, like Cassandra, have your warnings go unheeded
            Constance in King John

-  a passionate, disobedient and excitable girl you will surely die if you weep excessively
            Juliet in Romeo and Juliet

- a young white girl who disobeys her father and runs away with someone from a very different cultural background you will find plenty to weep about and end up dead
            Desdemona in Othello

- a young woman who finds herself in dangerous circumstances caring for a mad old father you will weep and die ignominiously at the end of a rope
            Cordelia in King Lear

The list of child, servant and slave weepers

If you the children of a murdered duke may weep without fear of the consequences so long as they don't stand in the way of the throne
            Son and Daughter of Clarence in Richard III

 - a  young prince standing in the way of the throne threatened with the loss of your eyes may save them by weeping, but you will die anyway
            Prince Arthur in King John

-a servant who weeps tears of compassion you will win a fortune
            Flavius in Timon of Athens

-a servant who pretends to social niceties regarding weeping does well for himself because he will leave a Jewish master for a Christian but, nevertheless, be the target of laughter
            Launcelot in The Merchant of Venice

-a  you're dedicated to the interests of a dog, and are a servant who comes from a family of weepers, you too will weep
            Launce in Two gentlemen of Verona

- a you're a servant and burst in on a grieving friend of the dead Caesar you may weep, though you will be told to stand to one side
            Servant of Octavius Caesar in Julius Caesar

- if you are one of a group of servants of a great soldier, you will weep when he plays on your heartstrings
            Servants of Antony in Antony and Cleopatra

- if you are part of a Roman crowd swayed by the rhetoric of a famous, courageous, seasoned politician you will weep
            Citizens of Rome in Julius Caesar

- a servant or slave who, by nursing the child of a visiting nobleman, stands in the way of her advancement you will weep when the father bids farewell, and die (conveniently for the mistress) of old age, an accident or murder
            Lychorida in Pericles

Some general principles towards an etiquette of weeping
If you are amongst your nearest and dearest, you may weep for loss or gain of a loved one without censure

If you must weep, stand aside and try not to draw attention to yourself. If that fails, be ashamed of your tears or blame them on your mother

If you want to make an impression on the audience, intimate that you would rather your tears be transformed into sparks of fire (Queen Katherine), or swords (the Earl of Warwick), or revenge (the Shrew)

Kings may emphasise their weakness by bursting into tears

If you belong to the Andronici you're in a class of your own

Exert self-control over your tears if you want to rise to the top

Tears of compassion will get you a crown, a dukedom returned, a fortune

If you're a common or garden servant, slave, child, woman, foot soldier, your tears will serve you very little

The tears of anyone standing in the way of the king will avail them nothing

Anyone may weep for laughing

Sunday, 30 December 2012

glaucoma 2

This time, I closed my left eye, and with charcoal on a broken ground of green and blue sketched in the shapes of the living room before me as seen with my right. Then with indian ink, pen and brush emphasised parts of the picture to give it a little movement.  The fish like shape in the middle is my glaucomis companion - the challenge is to paint what I cannot see. Impossible, of course, but worth attempting if just for the interest I get from it - My uncle, Norman Sutcliffe, and illustrator and best of blokes, working in the first part of the last century would encourage me by telling me to paint what I see - I suppose what I am doing here is painting what my brain registers as missing from what I see. 

To all - may we have a peaceful New Year ,,, for a treat!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Glaucoma in painting

My glaucoma affects the sight in my right eye more than in the left.  I notice it only if I close my left eye that otherwise compensates for the missing section of my sight.  The picture I have been working on recently cheats so that into an imaginary autumn landscape with scudding leaves there is too the shape of the blind spot marked out in grey. This I left it as in the original charcoal, fixed, so it doen't smudge, because its graininess is very like the real thing.  Surprise suprise -  I connect this to a passage in Shakespeare when, in The Merchant of Venice, Young Launcelot, about to tease his father, says 'Oh, heavens, this is my true-begotten father who, being more than sand-blind, high-gravel-blind, knows me not (2.2.31).

The thoughts on Hamlet like Topsy keep growing, but I think is now almost ready to be decked out in better English than I can manage, which means I shall talk it over with my partner, Philippa who's eye and ear for a good phrase matches the cat's pyjams...