Thursday, 13 August 2015

Methinks the Dane doth not protest enough

The other morning, in a piece about Benedict Cumberbatch, the presenter said that the role of Hamlet had more lines in it than any other tragic hero. He may have said 'than any other Shakespearean hero', in which case I beg his pardon. But the claim recalled for me my first – and only – appearance on stage in a serious vein. Thereafter, throughout the 1970s, my aim on stage was to make 'em laugh.

<autobiographical_note date_range="1971-1972" theme="Segismundo">
In my first year I was recruited by the Cambridge University Hispanic Society ...
That site traces the Society's doings since the year 2000. I haven't been able to track down anything that keeps records for a further 30 years back...
... to act in a performance of a play by  Pedro Calderón de la Barca ...
Football fans, particularly supporters of Barcelona, should note that the last part of that name has a [k] in it.
...who lived from 1600 to 1681, born when Shakespeare was in his teens and outliving him by just over 65 years. 
At the time it was the custom for  the Society to stage a play in Spanish, with a fairly captive audience of A-Level students on school trips  (the play selected was always on the current A-level syllabus).
I doubt if this would be possible now. There has been a marked decline in Modern Languages places in HE, and it would be reasonable to assume (Stop Press YUP) there was a similar decline in schools (especially since the incredibly short-sighted decision to make Modern Languages optional in Year 10 (or whatever it's called now). In any case, this sort of jaunt (school trips to the theatre) is, I fear, some of the low-hanging fruit likely to be the first to go in the bean-counters' frenzy of belt-tightening.
The play, known in English as Life is a dream, deals with ... 
I was cast because of my size (big) rather than my command of Spanish (negligible, at the time), so my memory of plot details  is not great. If anyone would like to check the text, try here
... a prince who was too big as a baby for his mother to survive the birth, so – fearing an ill omen – his father locked him in a tower (as they used to do in those days). Then, for some reason, a sleeping draught comes into it 
Made of opium superadded
To the poppy and the henbane
, and the prince  awakens  in his princely state. He runs amuck, drunk with power,.. ...another dose of sleeping draught... awakes back in durance vile., thinks he's a butterfly or something....yadda  yadda yadda.

Anyway, the point is, as I remember it (our director may have cut it that way) he is scarcely off the stage for three or four hours – depending on how much  is cut. And I wonder how the size of this part [some of which I can still quote] would compare with Hamlet's.

Later the same day, Mr Cumberbatch was in the news again, "pleading" with fans, to quote the CNN piece, not to film while he‘s on stage. A BBC report said  that this new version of "the Danish Play" {sorry, wrong superstition} was aimed at a new audience – people more used to going to rock concerts where there was a long tradition of bootleg taping.

The word bootleg introduces an air of petty criminality. The word has an interesting background, referring to purveyors of illicit liquor, secreting bottles in  the top of their wide-necked boots – think of a leading boy. As Etymoline says
 ...As an adjective in reference to illegal liquor, 1889, American English slang, from the trick of concealing a flask of liquor down the leg of a high boot...
Hmmm. Pantomime... Hamlet.... nope, no time.
This idea of illicitness raises the idea of breach of copyright, a hot button for that new audience, brought up with the expectation that whatever‘s online should be free. There are people who can‘t see an Intellectual Property Right without trying to breach it.  The Internet is the Wild West of the 20th and 21st centuries.

But complaining about the legality of it – which I don‘t think Cumberbatch did, though many artistes do – misses the point. In live theatre there is an  unspoken deal between the actor and the audience: You pretend I'm a Danish prince havering about avenging my father's murder, and I'll pretend you‘re not there.

Then along comes a child of the Internet brandishing an iPhone and shatters the illusion. I can't imagine exactly what goes on in an actor's imagination to maintain their side of this delicate contract of mutual willing disbelief, but I'm pretty sure buzzes and clicks and red lights don't help.

On the other hand, one shouldn't be too precious. The groundlings at Shakespeare's Globe  didn't observe the hushed niceties of a well-behaved 21st-century West End theatre audience. They shuffled aboutperambulated,  peeled  and atepartook of applespears, picked pockets, peed... They really were a mobile vulgus (or to use its modern abbreviation "mob") – they MOVED. But those Elizabethan audiences were better at making believe.

This isn't just a case of modern theatre etiquette though. Anyone who tries (pointlessly, in view of the technical shortcomings of the results) to film a live theatre performance makes it harder (I'd say impossible, but actors may be different) to maintain the actors' half of the bargain, diminishing it the experience for everyone:

I just used the word "pointlessly"; but maybe I'm missing the point. The object of posting these things to YouTube or Instagram or Facebook or whatever is not to record the performance but to record  an instant in the poster's timeline (or life, to use a rather old-fashioned word). Such posts are the 21st-century equivalent of graffiti: "Kilroy was here", "I saw Cumberbatch's Hamlet[, cool  or what?]"


Update 2015.08.17.16:00 – A few alliterative tweaks in  the antePenultimate para. and clarificatory tweak in the penultimate para.

Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?)

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

I'm thinking about doing a native iBook version in due course, but for now Mac users can use Kindle's own (free) simulator.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this

Freebies (Teaching resources:  
Well over 49,300 views  and nearly 9,000 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with nearly 2,700 views and nearly 1,100 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

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