some gestures, some serenades, and a rare bonus photo of me in the act of directing! this is one of the things i love about theatre, and a great reminder of how much fun it can be.
some ophelia rehearsal stills that i can’t get over. the actors in my hamlet scene were working with some pretty heavy stuff and they did a great job! i think this scene had a lot of potential to be damaging, and the amount of trust that they put in each other and in me was astounding.
dancing! we played a lot with partner switching and determining who it made the most sense for everyone to dance with when they weren’t dancing with their own people. (also known as more background dynamics!)
all of those dynamics were drawn up to give beatrice and benedick, whose scene contained the bulk of the dancing, enough time to speak to one another. twice.
i achieved this by assigning everyone else preliminary dance partners; rosalind with celia, perdita with florizel. the clown was in charge of the dj booth.
in complete violation of their handshake pact, hamlet approached juliet for the first dance. this angered romeo, who proceeded to assure benedick he would dance with beatrice just prior to making a beeline for ophelia instead. this insulted beatrice, who begrudgingly conceded to dancing with benedick after all. if you could call it dancing - a good chunk of rehearsal time ended up being devoted to teaching the actors to step on each other’s feet and yank one another around in a less painful way. the idea behind this was to give everyone else an apparent reason for not wanting to dance with either.
i had combined two dialogues from much ado into the scene, and they needed something to fill the transition. b&b’s lack of awareness caused them to miss the partner switch entirely, and a whole chain of events went off behind them. rosalind fell in with romeo, which led celia to dance with hamlet in an attempt to make her jealous. ophelia danced briefly with perdita, and juliet with florizel. this left beatrice and benedick with only each other, again, and they kept on stomping until after everyone else had stopped.
then the clown put some spooky music on and pushed ophelia out onto the floor, where someone was waiting for a dance.
two other rehearsals; costumes were being decided, scripts were out of hands, and everyone was essentially off-book!
some more rehearsal photos from the middle three scenes, now with the clown! i ran a few rehearsals outside when the weather allowed.
at this rehearsal for the much ado scene, i had the actors shout their lines from further and further away, only taking steps closer when they felt that their character was in control of the situation. naturally, beatrice and benedick got rather close rather fast.
an exercise we developed during the hamlet rehearsals was the repetition of a single set of lines. here, we used the following exchange:
hamlet: are you honest?
ophelia: my lord?
hamlet: are you fair?
ophelia: what means your lordship?
if you have ever encountered the question game, the structure of this will seem familiar. the first one who fails to respond with a question loses. i chose this exchange because it’s one of the only places in the scene where ophelia and hamlet speak close to the same amount, and it’s sandwiched between some hamlet wordiness. i had the actors play with different ways of delivering just those lines, and pairing them with different physical aspects until we found a balance (or an imbalance) and continued the scene in that vein. this rehearsal also marked the beginning of my struggle to find a functional rolling chair, since i wanted ophelia to be pushed toward hamlet by polonius (as played by the clown).
this as you like it rehearsal introduced the concept of what we came to refer to as “puddling” - celia and rosalind in a close little pile on the floor. we also began to explore aspects of character relationships that we had previously touched upon. presenting celia and rosalind as an almost-functional relationship opened a lot of doors for character development, particularly with celia. this scene saw her as alternately nurturing, controlling, doting, immature, and playful. the arrival of the clown is an interruption into their private space, especially considering that they had only just escaped the party for the quieter garden. (this, admittedly, was a nod on my part to the queer history of the time)
we started testing costumes (that’s our costume consultant standing in as romeo) and dancing (our choreographer took a bunch of these photos and showed the cast how to dance dangerously without hurting anyone) and some really interesting things happened!
this was the point where we really started fleshing out character relationships and deciding who, at this wild, mismatched get-together, got along best.
romeo and benedick, blustery sweet talkers that they are, got along quite well, with romeo’s melancholy bringing in hamlet to form their little triad (see: bro corner). florizel, who tried a couple of times to join them, doesn’t have a lot in common with the bro crowd. at one point, the actors devised a complex secret handshake that florizel didn’t know.
perdita and ophelia bonded over flowers, meaning they were played as being fairly close, meaning that perdita was the first to go over to ophelia when she collapsed after hamlet’s dramatic exit. i think it’s always important to work out the background dynamics as early as possible, because they make scenes seem more natural and make for an amusing time when an audience notices them.
moments from each scene’s first individual read through/rehearsal! we started off by going over the text and making sure everyone was on the same page as to what everything meant, and then got on our feet!
i spent much of the first semester of my div iii working on putting up a selection of five scenes from five shakespeare plays for the center for interdisciplinary renaissancestudies at umass. i had a choreographer, a costume consultant, a cast of eleven, a set of curtains, and a couple hundred paper flowers. this production tested my skills - not only as a director, but as a dramaturg, a manager, and a shakespeare scholar.
this project served as a fantastic way to figure out what i will need for my div iii as a whole. the idea of staging critical moments from multiple plays in the same space occurred to me in the fall, and i was struck by the idea of staging the “get thee to a nunnery” scene from hamlet as a waltz. that idea would eventually lead me to consider the way that ophelia moves and is moved by the text she inhabits and the people in it. i toyed with the idea a bit, also thinking about other scenes that i wanted to stage. the second scene of as you like it and pieces of 4.4 of the winter’s tale stuck out to me in particular, but i didn’t give the concept much more thought until i was approached with the opportunity to stage some shakespeare at this year’s renaissance festival. immediately my mind jumped back to this idea, with the thought of a festival or party as the backdrop. the bohemian sheep-shearing festival from the winter’s tale seemed a close parallel to the outdoor renaissance festival, so that became my setting. i had intended to use only scenes involving two people, but it quickly became apparent that the text demanded more. i reworked some of the text, stringing together two of beatrice and benedick’s altercations, originally an act apart. i trimmed 4.4 down a good deal, and it still ended up being the longest (4.4 of the winter’s tale is the longest scene i have encountered in a modern edition of any shakespeare play). but even the trimmed and recut scenes needed more than two voices throughout. to compensate, i created the character of the clown as a device to tie the scenes together by acting as all of the intermediary characters. the clown became polixenes, polonius, touchstone, and juliet’s nurse, and then things began to make sense in terms of staging. i have done a good deal of research on shakespearean fools, and wanted to ensure that the clown maintained that external awareness that those fools seem to possess. onstage costume changes and variations in speech and movement ensured that the character was read differently with each transformation.
i wanted to form a narrative arc out of five pieces set in drastically different times and places, with drastically different writing styles. a good deal of rehearsal time was initially spent going over the text to ensure understanding. it was incredible to see my actors discovering speech patterns unique to their characters in their lines. all of the (literally and figuratively) flowery words in the winter’s tale scene contrasted sharply with the blunt wit of much ado. we discovered that florizel and perdita frequently fill each other’s meter with almost every exchange they have - because they’re in sync and that most of florizel’s lines to perdita could have the phrase “because i love you” tacked onto the end and still convey their meaning; that beatrice and benedick use drastically different punctuation, and he puts much more stock in his than she does; that ophelia’s thoughts and questions follow hamlet’s, but not the other way around; that most of celia’s lines have dark undertones that would be evident if spoken by anyone else; that romeo and juliet speak in clearly drawn out iambs, more than anyone else, and that romeo’s punctuation vanishes almost entirely when he gets rolling with his words.
all of these discoveries helped enormously in terms of characterization, but putting all these figures in the same room is also absurd, and it’s important to have fun with the idea. relationship dynamics were made evident by the staging. this resulted in the creation of things like the “bro corner”, where romeo, hamlet, and benedick exchanged complex secret handshakes; the mutual friendship between perdita and ophelia based entirely upon an appreciation and knowledge of flowers; the former relationship between romeo and rosalind (playing with the closeness to “rosaline”, the name of romeo’s ex, made for an interesting backstory) became the trigger for celia to play possessive girlfriend and try to make rosalind jealous.
a lot of the staging was based around the inevitability of dance. the idea of the hamlet scene as a waltz led me to work with a choreographer, which made more dancing seem a natural extension. florizel’s praise of perdita (staged as a toast) kicked off a dance that persisted through the entire much ado scene. the hamlet scene followed directly afterwards, and then there was no more waltzing.
for me, the most important thing about narrative is chain reactions. how can an event occur without a catalyst to make it happen? i organized my entire show as a string of events firing off in a line, each one setting off another.
the show began with only perdita onstage. why was she onstage? to tend to the bouquets of flowers she had prepared for her forthcoming guests.when florizel entered, he had to observe perdita long enough to have cause to speak - and when he spoke, it had to make their dynamic immediately clear. florizel’s presence made perdita jump, but she calmed when she saw it was him. their dynamic was very much one of mutual trust and fascination, with florizel putting significant effort into making perdita laugh so that she wouldn’t worry as much. when the guests arrive, the women get flowers and the men get enthusiastic handshakes from perdita. their entrance lines were all character notes - the clown, notably, was met with the line “reverend sirs”, as a nod to the multiple characters he would become; ophelia was greeted with rue (ouch). when polixenes, king of bohemia and florizel’s father, paper crown and all, (unaware that his son was present, disguised as a peasant) approached perdita (to hit on her with lines that fall somewhere between gardening tips and enthusiasm about eugenics), she began with civil replies that quickly escalated into calling for backup and causing a scene when the king (and her boyfriend’s dad) made her physically uncomfortable.
in rehearsals, we had discussed the economic and sociopolitical standing of everyone present, because that would impact everyone’s interactions. the top of the ladder was hamlet, prince of denmark. florizel, prince of bohemia, would be next if he wasn’t disguised as a peasant. rosalind and celia are the daughers of dukes; ophelia, romeo, and juliet are all more or less petty nobility. beatrice and benedick are next down the line, and perdita, a shepherd, is near the bottom - or would be, if she wasn’t playing hostess for the day. the clown, as bohemia’s king polixenes, had the most power as the sovereign of the country that everyone was presumably in. in terms of power, polixenes outranked everyone present. this informed a lot of the movement in the first scene - florizel ducking away at his father’s entrance and shrinking back into the crowd when perdita brought him forth as an example (a wise move on his part, since in the winter’s tale, polixenes reacts to the news of the couple’s engagement with a series of increasing violent threats - toward perdita in particular, so i felt it was important to show how menacing his actions and words to her really are). soon after the clown removed the crown, polixenes was replaced by polonius, and the dynamic shifted. the most powerful person in the room now was hamlet.
this informed the partnering choices during the dance scene and, again, the clown orchestrated an uncomfortable situation - this time, by sitting ophelia down, handing her a book, and physically pushing her chair to the middle of the floor, in front of hamlet. of course, their violent waltz drew everyone’s attention, and by the time hamlet had finished, his position of power relative to the rest of the room was apparent.
hamlet’s line “there will be no more marriages” has been interpreted a number of ways, but spoken to a room full of couples from various comedies (and romeo & juliet, who are focused enough on marriage that they count), it becomes a threat. that’s the rule of shakespeare - the comedies end in marriage. the tragedies end in death.
hamlet’s exit prompted the rest of the partygoers to unite in checking on ophelia - except for rosalind, whose mind was somewhere else entirely. unnerved by her apparent lack of concern, celia dragged her away from the crowd to talk. scene four was a departure from the party scene as rosalind and celia made for the garden. the garden setting as separate was intentional - in part, a nod to the setting of their scene in the context of as you like it; in part, a nod to ophelia, and lastly, a nod to queer history. the choice to portray celia and rosalind as a couple was an intentional and necessary one on my part, and one with a fair amount of precedent in terms of literary analysis.
celia and rosalind in the garden squabble, make up, and leave with their issue less than resolved. in my narrative, celia’s reaction to rosalind’s behavior (she becomes upset at the idea that rosalind doesn’t seem to love her Most) is a continuation of the jealous possessiveness she had exhibited during the party. in rehearsals, we worked on exploring and problematizing the particulars of their relationship; what about these two works, what doesn’t, and what shouldn’t? the results were somewhat unnerving. both are (arguably) manipulative in different ways; we played with the concept of celia wanting rosalind all to herself and rosalind wanting to explore other options, see other people, be other people. the scene, unfortunately, didn’t leave room for any extensive discussion of ganymede or aliena (the personas that rosalind and celia, respectively, adopt in the forest, of which there is certainly a lot to be said). instead, i wanted to play up the more childish aspects of their interaction. this was amplified by the clown’s return, this time as an official clown - touchstone.
one thing i thought was interesting, particularly in terms of dynamics, was that touchstone very much belongs to celia. he’s her fool, he comes to tell her news and warn her of unexpected happenings, and one gets the sense that he has known her for most of her life. i decided to stage touchstone’s knight and pancakes tale as something of a familiar story leading to a game. when touchstone tells them to “stand you both forth now: stroke your chins, and swear by your beards that i am a knave”, i had celia spring up and participate readily, familiar with what was going on, whereas rosalind was more reluctant to join in the game (until the mention of beards, we joked - a nod to both the persona of ganymede and to her epilogue). celia led their exit, leading rosalind and leaving touchstone alone to express to the audience “the more pity, that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly.”
hardly moments later, romeo leaped onto the stage with a guitar, gesturing after the clown and proclaiming to the audience “he jests at scars that never felt a wound!” you think no one listens to you, fool? well. the clown stepped up to raise a window for juliet, while romeo tested out different chords in an attempt to formulate the perfect serenade. romeo knows what he’s saying in the balcony scene - he’s spitting scripted poetry, very elaborate, romantic stuff, whereas juliet’s lines are more conversational and thoughtful. romeo’s lines became lines in a song he was trying to write for a girl he had seen at a party, strummed out abruptly while she stood in vague silhouette behind a curtain, reacting unconsciously to his words. romeo’s monologue was peppered with rhythmic strumming, self-satisfied pauses, and moments of genuine shock - memorably, during the performance itself, at his line “…her vestal livery is but sick and green and none but fools do wear it; cast it off!”, juliet’s entire party dress was flung over the curtain and landed on the stage. romeo crept over to it, shocked that the power of his song had totally managed to get juliet out of some clothes.
juliet’s speech had her sitting in a slip, curtain pulled aside to show her dreaming and scheming. the clown, as the nurse, now clad in dowdy florals, remained visible (as did the entire cast), holding up the curtainrod in front of juliet - even when, proclaiming “farewell compliment!”, she yanked one of the curtain panels from the rod to hold in front of her when she went to speak directly to romeo. the nurse’s calls were intensified by the fact that the audience could see the clown becoming increasingly impatient. taking a cue, juliet bid romeo a goodnight, and then the audience, stepping down and kicking off the bows.
i come from a musical theatre background, which probably has something to do with my affinity for bows and curtain calls that function as a continuation of the narrative. romeo and juliet went up first, hand in hand, together at last, never having made physical contact throughout the entire play. rosalind and celia stepped up next; rosalind bowed while celia curtsied, a reflection of the gender roles they would adopt. they headed to the other side while the clown led ophelia out. hamlet, out of nowhere, cut her off with his own sweeping bow before she could finish her demure one. hamlet stalked off to his place in the line, while the clown walked ophelia as far away from him as possible, only to have to spring forth to separate beatrice and benedick, who were pushing one another as they both attempted to bow at center stage first. the clown pulled them apart and banished them to opposite ends of the line (which reunited the bro corner of romeo, hamlet, and benedick on one end). florizel and perdita turned up looking more sheepish than shepherds and made their bows with apologetic shrugs and smiles. the clown closed the center of the line, swapping out of the some costume pieces, and the show ended.
costumes were a big part of the characterizations for me. i wanted the timeframe as ambiguous as possible and a mismatched sort of vibe. the clown had an assortment of costume pieces for each character - a bright yellow paper crown for the king, an old cap for polonius, an array of mismatched pockets for touchstone, and a floral skirt for the nurse. since there was dancing, i had to be aware that the clothing i put the actors in would affect the way they moved and acted.
initially, i wasn’t sure how to convey that florizel was disguised as a shepherd; he ended up in tie-dyed pants and a looser, much more casual shirt than anyone else. perdita, on the other hand, had to be “most goddess-like pranked up”, so she ended up in a layered top and a long pink skirt that opened like a flower when she spun. benedick’s stiffness was largely due to his too-small military jacket, and i refused to let beatrice wear heels in order to draw attention to the height difference between the two of them. beatrice was also the least reserved of all the women onstage; we intentionally put her in darker colors (preparing her to be an old maid), but those took the form of an open-backed shirt with a low neckline and a shorter skirt than any of the others. ophelia’s color scheme, from the beginning, was blue and white. we tried several variations of this, but settled on a rippling blue circle skirt with a matching top, and a white overlay with a heart cutout. ophelia did get to wear heels, specifically because i wanted her and hamlet at eye-level with one another. ophelia being as tall, or taller than hamlet gave him more of a reason to put her on the ground. hamlet himself was the only one whose party outfit lacked color entirely. black pants and a crisp, simple white shirt made him more formal than the others, and less easy to read. from the very beginning, even before casting, multiple people asked whether i wanted to put rosalind in a dress. that was something i deliberated on pretty heavily - on the one hand, not doing so opened up a lot of room for rosalind’s gender presentation, but on the other hand, with the limited context and adjusted narrative framing of this show, would it read clearly as having her wear a dress and seem mildly uncomfortable in one? once the show was cast, i discussed this with the actress, who expressed a preference for a dress. the final dress ended up being about as feminine as we could manage - light colored, floor length, ruffled, floral, lacy, and swirling - in short, as much of a direct contrast to rosalind’s behavior and physicalization as possible. her posture during the party was often closed-off, which read as just the right amount of discomfort. celia, in the context of her play, is the one who first suggests venturing into the forest of arden. of all the partygoers, she seemed the most equipped to have actual fun in a simple white shirt offset by a bright orange skirt with an open-weave lace overlay. in direct contrast to all these spinning skirts was juliet, who we wanted to seem as much like an awkward thirteen year old at her first real party as possible. in modest heels and a pale bluish formal dress (with a couple of barrettes, for good measure), juliet towered over all of her dance partners and definitely gave off an air of growing-up-very-quickly. romeo, in contrast, wore a striped shirt with an eye-searing neon green skinny tie. i wanted the tie itself to be improperly tied and the shirt collar crooked in true teenage boy party fashion. all of these choices helped to flesh out the characters and their individual traits.
i elected to keep the set minimal - a table to the side, a rolling chair on the stage, a row of stationary chairs along the back, a curtainrod in the middle of that row, and paper flowers everywhere. the flowers idea came when i was looking for unifying themes between all of the plays i had chosen. the idea of having an enormous number of paper flowers in various brilliant colors, spilling everywhere, was one i found enormously appealing. considering the venue (an outdoor tent), it seemed more reasonable to have floating, changeable scenery. the flowers were atmospheric and aesthetically pleasing (the performance day was windy, and some of them blew around dramatically during the dance scenes), and they provided a talking point for perdita and florizel in the first scene.
in all, this project was a great opportunity to explore accessible characterizations within fabricated narratives. stay tuned for photos of the process with further commentary!
deconstructing frames of reference: how do we talk about ophelia?
characters in dramatic literature are often referred to possessively, as though the play they inhabit has ownership over them. much of the time this is fitting or necessary, but i also think that it says a lot about the ways that characters interact with their environments.
hamlet is a name play - which is to say that it revolves around its titular character. if we look at other plays of this type, something becomes evident.
titular characters rarely need their worlds to be specified unless they are the subject of multiple works. no one would think of referring to macbeth as “macbeth’s macbeth”, but something like ”macbeth’s witches” is fairly common. it transmits ownership, which i’ll get into shortly. what i’m really trying to work out here is when one would be more inclined to say “playname’s othercharacter” as opposed to “othercharacter, from playname”. in other words, when will someone go for the possessive instead of the referential?
what i find most interesting about shakespeare is that many of these characters have entered the western canon in such a way that their worlds do not need to be named. macduff, for instance, (while we’re still with the scots) can be safely referred to without one having to say “macbeth’s macduff”. i wonder whether this has less to do with the recognition of his placement within the world of the play and more to do with the recognition that he is not macbeth’s macduff - he vehemently defies macbeth’s ownership. for scotland (read: duncan).
how does this transfer over to other characters? i think a lot of it has to do with the amount of control the title character has over his surroundings. cymbeline, for instance, is hardly the focus of cymbeline, the text of which is dominated by imogen, who bulldozes over every other character with over 600 lines. the titular king himself has almost half that. maybe it’s just that cymbeline isn’t super popular (which is unfortunate, because it’s a great play that has been done a great deal of disservice with regard to genre) but the words “cymbeline’s imogen” don’t feel natural.
i’ll skip titus andronicus and coriolanus for now, because this theory largely an apostrophe issue and i don’t think the same vernacular stipulations apply. same goes for double name plays like romeo & juliet and antony & cleopatra. timon of athens is gonna sit this one out, too, because of that “s” issue and the confusion that comes with removing his designation. pericles, prince of tyre has a similar issue (i would also argue that his dominion over his own play is…tenuous. at best.) and as tempted as i am to include the merchant of venice (antonio) and the merry wives of windsor here, they don’t hold the same linguistic merit
instead, let’s look at more examples. “julius caesar’s brutus” and “julius caesar’s cassius” seem natural, because even though those two are most of the play, caesar’s ownership over all of them is the focus. (spoiler: that’s why he dies.) and this is how we get into kings - guys who, like julius caesar, are inseparable from their titles, like king lear and the somewhat more nondescript king john (that play, surprisingly, is a lot of fun). “king lear’s cordelia” gives us a pretty good idea of lear’s dynamic with his daughter, who never stops belonging to him even though he disowns her in act 1. without getting into the particulars of king john, i’ll say that his dynamic makes statements like “king john’s henry” (his son, henry iii) reasonable, though probably not necessary (henry has 30 lines and is hardly a focal figure).
kings with numbers attached to their names complicate matters a bit, but not much. i think it’s interesting to see how the same name can sound natural or unnatural when in possession of another. for example, “henry iv’s falstaff” is a confusing, if important distinction if one is attempting to differentiate between the falstaff of the henriad and the falstaff that appears in merry wives (or even the similar figure who turns up briefly in henry vi.) falstaff belongs to henry iv in a way that “henry iv’s hotspur” does not share (arguably, until his death). henry vi has a hard-won claim over margaret (though a very convoluted one that takes forever to set in) that makes “henry vi’s margaret” admissible in a way that “henry vi’s joan” is not, because while it is one thing to differentiate between joan la pucelle’s appearances in various works, it is another thing entirely to imply that she belongs to the king as margaret later does.
this is where stuff starts to get really wild. “henry v’s katherine” versus “henry v’s kate” is the division between identifying a character and identifying a dynamic. katherine belongs to the play, but kate (anglicized and wedding-dressed) belongs entirely to our buddy harry le roy.
one may refer to “othello’s desdemona” or “othello’s iago”, even “othello’s cassio" but one will not likely say “othello’s emilia" because, unlike desdemona (his wife), cassio (his chosen lieutenant), and even iago (there isn’t a succinct way to sum up their relationship), emilia does not belong to othello as she belongs to iago (in spite of how he treats her).
what it really comes down to is whether characters belong to the plays they inhabit or to charactrs within those plays. still with me?
hamlet is a play about a guy named hamlet working out how best to deal with the murder of his dad, hamlet.
consider: “hamlet’s polonius” versus “hamlet’s horatio”. horatio is undeniably hamlet’s, whereas one would be more inclined to say “polonius, from hamlet”. (arguably, this is because polonius belongs to claudius, and not to hamlet at all.)
gertrude is where things begin to get complex (as usual). ”hamlet’s gertrude” evokes the queen’s dead husband, hamlet (heretoforth referred to as “ghostdad”) to whom it could be argued she had a sense of belonging. until she married his brother claudius and her son, also hamlet, Our Hamlet, lost respect for her.
does hamlet belong to gertrude? undoubtedly, because even as he distances himself from her, in the duel scene they demonstrate concern for one another - gertrude offering to wipe hamlet’s face, hamlet becoming very distressed when she (spoiler!) dies. but does gertrude belong to hamlet? this is where the oedipus theorists usually make their entrances, so i’ll move on to ophelia.
“hamlet’s ophelia” is so heavy, in part because ophelia is one of those names that is, by now, so inexorably tied to hamlet. nothing hurts so much as belonging to hamlet except possibly not belonging to hamlet.
people in the play and outside of it over the past few centuries, have tended to assume that it is this not-belonging to hamlet that leads to her death. girl loves boy, boy leaves girl, girl cries, girl dies. it happens over and over. it’s an insidious pattern that has been making its circles through media for AGES.
belonging is a form of possession. hamlet, a ghost just like his father, haunting ophelia even when he isn’t there. hamlet in her body, hamlet pulling the strings. hamlet’s ophelia lacks agency; hamlet’s ophelia is censored and subject to incredible violence.
where’s ophelia’s ophelia? stay tuned.
my shakespeare show went up two weeks ago! check out these pictures.