Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Was Ever A Choice So Hard To Make!? A New Appreciation for Greenhill Directors...

Thank you Greenhill for guiding and inspiring our conversation last Friday and Monday! In our attempt to respond to your posting, we came full circle in our conclusions: we both have a new appreciation for the kind of sacred respect that is practiced by literary communities when engaging Shakespeare’s texts (all lines seem to matter!!) and have gained a new admiration for the efforts made by directors like that at Greenhill because cutting lines is tough.

On the first cut: We used a different edition, but if we understood the cut correctly, Greenhill suggested eliminating the lines when Derby/Stanley converses with Queen Elizabeth before Richard makes his entrance in scene 3. Both Sumer and Cole seemed to resist making such a cut:

Sumer: While the dialogue between Queen Elizabeth and Derby is short, cutting it would hinder both literary analysts and theatre spectators. I worry that, without those lines, we lose full view of how Elizabeth is perceived by other characters other than Richard. In the short exchange between the Queen and the men of her court, Elizabeth forgives Derby, almost before greeting him, for the hate his wife bears for her. This demonstrates that, while not as cunning as Richard, Queen Elizabeth does have her wits about her. In return, Derby apologizes to his Grace for his wife's words and even goes as far as to imply that her dislike stems from some kind of deficiency. Those eight or so lines demonstrate that not only Richard carries a low opinion of the “common-born” Queen, but it also shows her ability to influence and intimidate others, shown in Derby's immediate condemnation of his wife. The original first cuts by Greenhill do make sense and move the action along, but the cut also closes the scope on an already narrowly-viewed character such as Queen Elizabeth.

Cole: On first thought, cutting Elizabeth's lines with Derby seems like one of the best ways to make the appropriate cuts for shortening the length and focusing our attention on the primary action. After some analysis, I think the lines show that Elizabeth’s position could be weaker than we realized. Also, Elizabeth’s and Derby’s words show that there are divided alliances even after the War of the Roses.   Also some of Elizabeth's persuasive personality is shown in these lines.  She is able to confront Derby very quickly, making him share his thoughts about his wife.   Like Greenhill, these are the cuts I would make, but upon in depth analysis I worry if it would take away from Elizabeth’s character.

Anuj, however, agreed with the suggested cuts: In the first cut suggested by Greenhill, the behavior of the wife of the Earl of Derby was brought up by Queen Elizabeth as being rather scathing and arrogant. Queen Elizabeth's mention of Lord Stanley's wife's behavior shows that the Queen has the ability to verbally put someone on the defensive in a conversation, but these short lines under consideration do not present any main ideas for the scene, instead showing peripheral subjects that would not be missed in a reading or performance. With the need to cut lines from the scene in mind, I agree that the ejection of this short discourse would not harm the mechanics of the scene and would therefore be an appropriate cut.
On the second cut: We had a great discussion about Margaret’s role in the play, and we considered the effect of cutting some of her more repetitive asides. Here’s what we realized:

Nick agreed: Queen Margaret had many asides and they all seemed to have the same effect, making this appear to be a great cut. These asides do emphasize, however, Margaret's resentment and bitterness to the other families while making her look a little crazy. They show her character. The Director of Drama here at Oakridge suggested that Margaret should be treated as a character "on the side," and following the script, Margaret does enter unnoticed by anyone (stage directions state, "Enter Old Margaret, [apart from others.]"). So I do think cutting some of her lines could help move the scene forward without taking much away.

Cade had some doubts: On first read, cutting some of Margaret's lines seemed like a very logical and easy decision, but the more I considered it, the more I saw her repeated lines as necessary for her portrayal to the audience. I think we are to see her as one who is crazy and able to see the future, and her asides add to her appearance making her over-dramatic and even annoying. As a reader, her lines and asides did seem irritating or obnoxious perhaps, but maybe this is exactly how Shakespeare wanted us to feel about this character. Although it is very easy to declare all Shakespeare’s lines as relevant, it is much more difficult to actually cut them and I believe the Greenhill students did an excellent job at this.

Ana presented a suggestion: I think Margaret is an interesting, foreshadowing character. I feel like she shows us what Queen Elizabeth might end up being like if her husband dies. In class someone described Margaret as a "grieving, melodramatic widow" whose feelings of bitterness and acrimoniousness tread the line of sanity. But I don’t think this character needs a spotlight for her at center stage, and as a director, I would suggest that other characters talk over her, thereby ignoring her warnings and drowning her voice out. That might be another option, just having characters actively ignore her by talking over her many asides and warnings.

As stated before, we came full circle in this discussion – appreciating both the literary reverence for all of Shakespeare’s words as well as the creative vision and courage demonstrated by directors who work to bring such words to life on the stage for our enrichment. Thanks again Greenhill for stimulating such great discussion here at Oakridge!


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Responding to Hockaday and the Question of Moral Integrity in Act One

This is a response to the posting linked here.

Here at The Oakridge School, first period English class had a rich discussion on the concept of moral integrity thanks to the post by Ashley Grey from The Hockaday School. Our discussion focused on two statements from her piece, namely that “[Anne] ruins her moral integrity by accepting [Richard’s] ring” and that “[Elizabeth] slightly compromises her moral integrity in her verbal spar with Richard and Margaret.” We discussed these ideas at length yesterday (thank you Ashley Grey!!), and here’s some ideas we came up with:
We had mixed reactions about Anne. Some of us agreed that Anne loses her moral integrity by accepting Richard’s ring while others urged us to consider whether she had a real choice at that moment in time. Some in first period suggested that the moment she’s presented with an actual choice is when Richard offers his sword. Richard tells her in that exchange, “Take up the sword again, or take up me” (1.2.210), and we interpreted this to mean that if she does not marry him, her only option is to kill him then and there – meaning that when she’s faced with the request to take the ring there is no real option not to do it.  We thought that integrity as a concept entails choice, and with that in mind we wondered whether her choice not to kill Richard (she does say, “I will not be thy executioner”) is where she compromises her moral integrity. Here’s what we wrote:

Tierney: I believe that Anne may indeed be a very moral woman that was just confused by Richard's words in a time when it’s hard to think clearly. Richard, being the mastermind that he is, tried to “woo” her during a time of mourning. This is also what causes her unwillingness to kill Richard in scene 2. Although killing Richard could’ve been a very helpful deed to all characters in the play, her mourning state of mind actually makes possible her higher moral stance to choose not to act out violently.

Shelby: Yes, I don't think Anne betrayed her moral position when she chose not to kill Richard. Even after Richard killed both her husband and father-in-law, she didn't want to kill him herself. What I like about Anne is that she keeps up with Richard in his attempts at verbal conquest and when he then tests her willingness to confront him with physical power, she refuses to do it. Perhaps Anne, after seeing what happens when other people are killed, wished to break the cycle of the logic of violence and vengeance which was destroying the Yorks and Lancasters. Could she have accepted the ring for this reason? Was it for peace? Although killing Richard might have saved many people down the line Anne had no way of knowing this and she upheld her moral principles as best she could. In my opinion, because she chooses not to act violently, she has no real choice when offered the ring, and her integrity remains unblemished.
Some of us disagreed with Tierney’s and Shelby’s interpretation here.

Richard gives Anne the choice to take his life
David: No, I think Anne's decision not to kill Richard does betray her moral integrity. Yes, killing someone is wrong, and her refusal to kill could be read as moral. The death of Richard, however, proves to be necessary and it would have prevented much pain and grief that will come in the later Acts. Also, her reason for not killing Richard might be deeper. The Hockaday posting rightly claims that she is not an unintelligent person. One can see that in the way she keeps up with Richard’s verbal discourse. Perhaps she does see that Richard is a way to reach power. She might be thinking that keeping Richard alive saves her from falling from her social position, and helps her gain power. Therefore, I agree that this proves all the more the case when Anne accepts Richard's ring. She might have been flustered and in a state of mouring, but maybe she is just looking for a way to gain power and influence.

Caleb: The fact that Anne chose not to kill Richard, at first glance, shows that she is indeed moral. Not killing someone when you know that they murdered your father-in-law and husband shows restraint and moral integrity. Or does it? Anne could have been aware of the fact that she was out of power, and if she married Richard, she'd be back in the loop. This would mean that Anne was indeed lacking in morality. Little does Anne know that no matter what the cause of her actions, she still fell into the palm of Richard's hand. She doesn't seem aware that Richard plans on killing her. If she had killed Richard when he had given her the chance, she would've prevented a lot of grief and trouble for everyone, but her mind was either too focused on getting back into power or too fixed – impractically speaking – on being morally righteous as a nonviolent Christian.

We spent a lot of time in class also discussing the statement made about Elizabeth in scene 3 of Act 1, and we didn’t disagree with the idea that Elizabeth’s verbal alliances with Richard against Margaret “slightly compromise her moral integrity.” Our discussion, however, quickly shifted to Margaret and the verbal power she wields in her curses against Richard and Elizabeth.
Kourtnei: There is no doubt that Queen Margaret is bitter and angry. This is a result of not only Richard III killing her husband and son, but also because in killing them, Richard removed her from power. As Hockaday points out, Queen Margaret does not even slightly attempt to hide her dislike for Richard verbally speaking. She announces that she despises him. One would think that her obvious dislike for Richard would be her main outlet of aggression and bitterness, but rather than this being the case, Queen Margaret instead targets everyone, instead of just Richard. In doing this, she turns people against her, almost forcing them to side with Richard. Does this destroy her moral cause of trying to oppose Richard’s agenda? Instead, Margaret’s words end up turning everyone against HER rather than Richard.

The point made by Kourtnei got us thinking about the moral position of Margaret in Act 1, and we immediately made note (as many critics have) that she functions much like a “moral chorus” does in Greek tragedies. Her position remains steadfast and consistent expressing constant disapproval of the feuding factions of post-Lancastrian England. And then Elizabeth (a student from 1st period)reminded us of the irony of our reading:

Richard conflicts with Queen Margaret
Elizabeth:  A posting by Greenhill reminded us that there are three Henry VI plays that come before Richard III. When you consider her role in the tetralogy, it becomes clear that Queen Margaret is known as a ruthless and manipulative woman that will do anything to seize power. She will also do anything to get back at Richard for killing her son. And Richard did perform this act, but we also must think about Margaret's actions in the Henry VI plays. Margaret killed Richard's father after humiliating him on the battlefield. She’s proven that she’ll do anything for power. This prompts us to ask about the source of her bitterness: is it Richard’s villainy, her loss of family, or is it the loss of power? She wants so badly to be in power but she no longer has a path to the throne.  Like Richard, she does not like being in the shadow of other’s glory, and like Richard, she has murdered other people’s loved ones. This makes Margaret and Richard's arguments more valid, meaningful, and complex because we know the reasons why they have so much hatred for each other. This also makes her role as moral chorus ironic as she has no moral grounds for condemning the other characters.

We were fascinated by this question of moral integrity, and we thank Ashley Grey of The Hockaday School for directing our conversation this way. As we reflected on the conversation, we noticed that we were most motivated to find evidence for defending the integrity of Anne, but some of us remain staunch defenders of Ms. Grey’s assessment that such integrity gets ruined when she takes the ring…

Thank you Hockaday School!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Female Morality and Verbal Power in Act 1 of "Richard III"

At Hockaday, we were given the assignment of telling whether or not the female characters within Richard III have verbal power and how that affects the discourse of morality throughout the play.
 I believe the three female characters introduced within Act 1 of the play all display some form of verbal power, Elizabeth’s being more tamed. This verbal power highly depends on their place in society as the two females, Margaret and Lady Anee, who are lower down in the socio-political pyramid are brash in speaking to Richard, while Elizabeth, who is queen, is more mannerly and non-accusing in speaking to him, but all, to some extent, "see" his villainy. Margaret and Anne, Lancasters, are on the opposing side of the Yorks, so they more freely express how they feel when speaking to or about them. They are angry: because Margaret lost her husband and son, and Anne lost her husband-to-be, their disdain for the Yorks, especially Richard, is natural.  Elizabeth, on the other hand, married to Edward, is a part of the House of York, even though she was once married to a Lancastrian knight who was killed at the hands of the Yorks. Her position, straddling both families but not firmly a York, is unique, and although we can infer Edward IV's family did not like her nor she them, the way she speaks to Richard indicates that she is careful in all that she says. She always says, for example, what amounts to "you do not favor me," never declaring her hatred toward him, as do both Margaret and Anne. She has verbal power as she expresses how she feels to Richard, but she is politically cautious, never making herself sound hateful.
 Throughout Act 1, the experience of the women affects their ability their moral integrity within their speech. Elizabeth and Margaret are more able to uphold their moral stance within their speech, even though Elizabeth is more passive in her regards, while Anne quickly tarnishes her moral integrity. We can assume that Margaret, when she was queen, had the chance to be formal and proper. She can now truly express her feelings for, as an older woman bereft of power, she has little to lose; Elizabeth, on the other hand,  must be careful in all she says for her security and perhaps her husband's life depends upon her discretion.   She is experienced in regards to Richard, as he has threatened her, putting his sword to her chest, and she has seen her son's blood on Richard's sword. She does not trust him and she knows the evil he is capable of. Elizabeth also knows how to get her feelings across without being controversial. She is also experienced in regards to Richard as, from the way she speaks, we can be inferred that he has neither been welcoming nor cordial to her. Although she does not trust him, she slightly compromises her moral integrity in her verbal spar with Richard and Margaret. Elizabeth and Anne both switched from or thought about switching from the house of Lancaster to the house of York in order to experience social mobility. This is a huge comment on the faithfulness of a woman to her moral stance when it comes to position on the socio-political pyramid. They were both young and could recreate themselves within society and they also lacked life experience as they had neither been queen before nor had they switch houses on a count of their own judgement. Anne has not had experiences with Richard that would make her distrust him. She only has second hand information and though he does admit to killing her husband, it can be inferred that she might slightly believe in Richard's attempts to woo her. Also I believe she is intelligent enough to see that he is an evil person and with the knowledge of Clarence being in the tower and Edward being sick, she infers that he plans to sabotage them and claim the crown. This is beneficial to her because it means that she has a clear path to the thrown. Regardless of that he is still a part of the Yorkian nobility and can provide her with protection from poverty and low social status. She ruins her moral integrity by accepting his ring and saying he teaches her how to flatter him. This could be brought into the large question of 'Did Old English society promote losing one's moral integrity to gain social mobility?' As a woman's social status depended on the man she was associated with and often, one house would rise while another falls, how would the widows and women integrate into these new societies into which they were forced by conquest? They would have to adapt, either learning to live the life of the poor or persuading men of the ruling house's nobility to begin relations with them, which is a compromise of themselves and their moral integrity.  Thus from act 1, it can be inferred that experience and role in society have a great effect on the female characters’ verbal power and the moral integrity displayed in their speech. 
-Ashley Grey

Friday, September 20, 2013

What's my motivation?

We at Greenhill spent a day paring down one scene (link). Two of our students--Allie and Molly--noted that, in addition to cutting lines, a director and actor would also have to add a lot to the script. Most notably stage directions and character explanations--how to deliver a particular line, what gesture to make and when. Allie and Molly decided to add stage direction to three places in Act 1, Scene 2. Let us know in the comments what you think about these choices, and what you think about the consequences of this stage direction.

Stage Direction #1 (Starting at line 107) [Richard is trying to persuade and seduce Anne; physically, being closer to her makes more sense for properly executing this task. Richard should come off as an oily, slimy character who slinks his way throughout the play - this is just another more subdued way of doing so. Each step signifies him getting closer and closer to his ultimate goal which is, even if for a short while, Anne.]

Anne: Oh, he was gentle mild and virtuous.

[With every sentence, Richard takes a small step towards Anne who is kneeling on the ground with her dead husband.]

Richard: The better for the king of heaven that hath him.

Anne: He is in heaven where thou shalt never come.

Richard: Let him thank me, that holp him to send thither,/ for he was fitter for that place than earth.

Anne: And thou unfit for any place but hell.

Richard: Yes, one place else, if you will hear me name it.

Anne: Some dungeon.

Richard: (In a low voice, seemingly seductively yet unnatural) Your bedchamber.

Stage Direction #2 (Starting at line 126) (Note: in this scene, Richard’s character should overact in an attempt to beguile Anne. However, this should not be confused with the actor overdoing the part of Richard, but rather Richard should overdo the emotions he is pretending to feel. Throughout the scene, Richard should try to maintain a sickening sense of unctuousness in everything he does. In contrast, Anne, being cruelly duped, must show a scale of emotion so that her entrance is completely different in tone than her exit.)

Richard: Your beauty was the cause of that effect:

Suddenly, Richard kneels and is eye-level with Anne. He grabs her hand gently and tries to kiss it; she violently pushes him away. Her face is wild with anger, but there is fear in her eyes. Richard’s charade is unaffected. His actions seem methodical, almost rehearsed in smoothness and control.

Richard: (a sly smile) Your beauty, that did haunt me in my sleep….

Stage Direction #3 (Richard’s soliloquy from 156-175)

Richard, realizing that his original plan is not working effectively, begins to cry softly as he delivers this soliloquy. His head is hung low and he speaks in a dramatically shaky voice, occasionally peeking up to see Anne’s reaction. Like a child in a temper tantrum, Richard’s actions are driven almost entirely according to the reaction he receives.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Was ever script of this length staged?

Too often, students and instructors approach a Shakespeare play as they do a house of worship—quietly, reverently, hoping not to upset too much. Directors and actors, however, approach a Shakespeare play as a working document, a plan that demands editing, a narrative that they must animate. Working on this script is especially daunting. BBC television’s 1983 Richard III (link) runs three hours and forty-nine minutes; staging the entire play…well, it seems almost unfair to the audience. And to the actors. Kevin Spacey, who recently starred in a world tour as Richard, noted in a recent interview (link) that Shakespeare’s Richard III is particularly difficult...too durned long, demanding too much of the lead actor.

So yesterday at Greenhill, we approached Richard III with an eye toward actually staging the drama rather than merely studying it, actually figuring out what was essential for an actor and an audience rather than merely taking the text as handed down.

The assignment for the day was to cut fifty lines from Act 1, Scene 3. Why those lines? Entire lines? Half-lines? Would any characters not survive the cuts? Here are a couple of the cuts we made, and what we understand as the consequences—good and bad—of making such tough but necessary choices.

First, many of us at Greenhill wanted to cut more quickly to the Richard and Margaret conflict, so we whittled down the opening forty lines to a quicker explication of Elizabeth's anxiety. We cut from lines 17 through lines 32 [Cambridge School edition throughout].

Rivers: Is it concluded he [Richard] shall be Protector [of the princes in the event of Edward's death]?

Elizabeth: It is determined, not concluded yet, / But so it must be if the king miscarry. [Enter Buckingham and Derby] What likelihood of his his majesty's amendment, lords?

With that cut, Elizabeth's concern over the king's health focuses our understanding of her character. Of course, we lose the palace intrigue of slander, which would mean further adjustments later. We made another cut about sixty lines later.

We noticed that Margaret had many many asides, all directed toward the same kind of effect, so we talked about paring down some of them. Cut 106-111, 113-118, and 124-140.

Elizabeth: My lord of Gloucester [Richard, obvs], I have too long borne / Your blunt upbraidings and your bitter scoffs. / By heaven, I will acquaint his majesty / Of those gross taunts that oft I have endured.

Richard: What? Threat you me with telling of the king? / Ere you were queen, ay, or your husband king, / I was a pack-horse in his great affairs, / A weeder-out of his proud adversaries, / A liberal rewarder of his friends. / To royalise his blood I spent mine own.

Margaret: [Aside] Hie theee to hell for shame, and leave this world, / Thou cacodemon. There thy kindgom is.

Now this cut demands more of a defense and explanation than the first. Again, we as a class an audience rigorous adapters of the script wanted to preserve the power of Margaret's asides without, y'know, banging the same key on the dramatic piano over and over again. So this cut does away with a couple of her asides. By means of this cut, Margaret's aside is political--in order to royalise Edward's blood, Richard sheds Margaret's husband's blood.

Remember, Margaret's husband has made an appearance in Richard III: The usurped Henry VI's still-bleeding corpse is carried onstage in Act 1, Scene 2. Keep in mind that in the previous history play, 3 Henry VI, after her son (another Edward) is killed, Margaret exclaims "Oh, kill me too!" to which Richard responds, "Marry, and shall!" When his brother the now-king Edward IV holds him back, Richard complains, "Why should she live, to fill the world with words?" (link). Instead of killing Margaret, Richard exits the stage and, in the next scene (3H6, Act 5, Scene 6), kills Henry VI. We thought that Margaret's go-to-hell aside was similar in tone, focus, and imagery to the ones we cut, we thought it was consistent with the enmity between the two characters, and thus, we thought it worked well as a response to Richard's line about royalising the Plantagenet line.

During class yesterday, we even played with a mid-sentence edit: Look at Richard at line 112, "What? Threat you [Elizabeth] me with telling of the king?" Now consider it in our pared-down version.

Richard: What? Threat you [pause] me? with telling of the king?

What do you think of these cuts?

Are there others that we missed that you would suggest?

Please let us know!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Shifting Focus: Reading Shakespeare's Richard III with Hockaday and Greenhill

At this point, we are shifting the focus of the blog towards reading and discussing William Shakespeare's Richard III, and we are opening up the digital space for cross-campus collaboration. Specifically, Oakridge welcomes both Hockaday and Greenhill students to collaborate and share their thoughts, words, images, reactions, etc., as we read this text together.

Thanks to Dr. Moreland of The Hockaday School for providing the following web videos - each of which presents a clip of an actor working through Richard's opening soliloquy. The first is from Laurence Olivier's famous 1955 version:

The next clip is a more modern adaptation - both in terms of its release (1995) and its narrative setting - and it stars Ian McKellen:

Lastly, we have Al Pacino working with the scene in the documentary, Looking for Richard (1996) - take a look:

I encourage students to watch these clips after reading the opening soliloquy by the Duke of Gloucester. Feel free to discuss and react to the different versions via the comment mechanism below this post.

Perhaps think about the following: What do the actors bring to each clip? How do they engage audience? Consider the role of the camera in the staging of the scene. Most importantly, enjoy them!