My favorite speech from "King Lear," as printed in the world's first published version of William Shakespeare's plays, the First Folio. At the Stratford, Ontario Theatre Festival I had the thrill of seeing Christopher Plummer as King Lear.
Lear's wicked daughters, Goneril and Regan, are about to imprison their father and murder their sister Cordelia -- the virtuous, true daughter who truly loved her father. Lear's foolish vanity and pride have caused his downfall, his madness -- and now this.
~ ~ ~
SCENE III. The British camp near Dover.
Enter, in conquest, with drum and colours, EDMUND, KING LEAR and CORDELIA, prisoners; Captain, Soldiers, & c
Some officers take them away: good guard,
Until their greater pleasures first be known
That are to censure them.
We are not the first
Who, with best meaning, have incurr'd the worst.
For thee, oppressed king, am I cast down;
Myself could else out-frown false fortune's frown.
Shall we not see these daughters and these sisters?
No, no, no, no! Come, let's away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we'll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who's in, who's out;
And take upon's the mystery of things,
As if we were God's spies: and we'll wear out,
In a wall'd prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon.
Take them away.
Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia,
The gods themselves throw incense. Have I caught thee?
He that parts us shall bring a brand from heaven,
And fire us hence like foxes. Wipe thine eyes;
The good-years shall devour them, flesh and fell,
Ere they shall make us weep: we'll see 'em starve
Exeunt KING LEAR and CORDELIA, guarded
Come hither, captain; hark.
Take thou this note;
Giving a paper
go follow them to prison:
One step I have advanced thee; if thou dost
As this instructs thee, thou dost make thy way
To noble fortunes: know thou this, that men
Are as the time is: to be tender-minded
Does not become a sword: thy great employment
Will not bear question; either say thou'lt do 't,
Or thrive by other means.
I'll do 't, my lord.
About it; and write happy when thou hast done.
Mark, I say, instantly; and carry it so
As I have set it down.
I cannot draw a cart, nor eat dried oats;
If it be man's work, I'll do 't.
Flourish. Enter ALBANY, GONERIL, REGAN, another Captain, and Soldiers
patfromch has confessed that HE might have been wrong and VLEEPTRON might have been right! He has generously offered to trade places, lie comfortably on the ground, and let me drive a large tractor over him.
Did Shakespeare intentionally publish his own plays, or take any part in publishing The First Folio?
Vleeptron says: No Way, Jose!
SENT: Wednesday, April 01, 2009 1:10 PM
SUBJECT: Shakespeare und seine Schauspieler
LOL, this was fun, but I have a bit of Real Work, with a Deadline (!), and I have to stop trying to research this Shakespeare stuff for now.
But here is the Back Story (I hate that dumb new phrase), the background.
In our times -- most of this begins around 1900 -- Shakespeare has become a Holy Figure, guarded and imprisoned by academic scholars and professors in great universities. So almost all of what we think and have been taught about Shakespeare is filtered through the minds of literature professors who have never been actors or theater directors, who have no experience with putting on a play, no experience whatsoever with the life, culture -- and commercial business -- of theater. Shakespeare for them has become entirely a matter of reading and interpreting the Sacred Words in ancient books and publications. Professors have kidnapped William from his beloved stage and locked him in dusty old books and monographs.
This was a world and tradition Shakespeare never had contact with. He was the equivalent of a high-school dropout from a farm town. Many such bright lads -- like Newton a generation later -- might have made their way to Oxford or Cambridge, but Shakespeare went straight to London to begin acting in the lively new theater scene.
What we've lost today is this sense of Theater As a Day-to-Day Ticket-Selling Business, with lots of Competitors -- plagiarists, thieves, "industrial spies."
After he began writing his own plays and forming a professional theater company, he was forced to guard his only business assets: His plays, the ones with his name on them.
If he was sloppy, actors would steal his scripts, and a few weeks later another theater would present "the Tragedie of Hamfat, the Duke of Sweden." Same plot, same thrilling sword fights, same ghost, same beautiful speeches. But somebody else's name on the play, and somebody else attracting the crowds and siphoning the money from Shakespeare and The Globe.
Shakespeare wrote the things down for only one reason: As scripts, for his actors. If you acted the role of Guildenstern, you probably only got the pages in which you appeared and had speeches. Ophelia's pages stopped the moment she jumped in the river. The pretty boy who played Ophelia never got to read the dialogue of the rest of the play.
Now I will shock you:
Actors and directors and playwrights are, as a general rule, psychos, narcissists (they spend 9 hours a day looking in the mirror), thieves, pervs, drunks. Women didn't appear as actresses until the 18th century, but when they did, they were immediately perceived as prostitutes and fortune-hunting mistresses of rich old men.
These are not Honorable or Dependable People. Most actors are constantly desperate for money, and don't care how they get it.
(I used to be an actor, and I loved it, and I loved the people, we threw The Best parties! But you don't want to get too close, and you don't want to bring a pretty actress home to meet your Mother.)
So Shakespeare had to guard every word he wrote. After every rehearsal, the stage manager would have very carefully collected every written page from every actor, and inventoried every page like the old family silver.
If he didn't, or if he got sloppy, these drunken bums would have smuggled them out of The Globe and started their own competing theater two blocks away and performed Shakespeare's slightly altered plagiarized stolen plays. They saw the big money Shakespeare was making, and knew that it all depended on his magical words and stories, which were proven crowd-pleasers and blockbusters.
(Actors consider "Macbeth" an unlucky play. It's short, and as violent, bloody and horrifying as a Sam Peckinpah movie. When a travelling theater troupe runs out of money far from home, and the locals aren't buying tickets, they put on "Macbeth," which always sells tickets, out of desperation.)
As long as he lived and remained active in the theater -- his second was Greyfriars, an old Catholic monastery seized and shut down by Elizabeth I's dad Henry VIII -- Shakespeare wasn't letting anybody read this stuff. He'd be happy to act or write a new play for anybody with money (I've seen the law chambers room where lawyers commissioned "Twelfth Night" for their Christmas party), but he wasn't spreading his magic words around for the reading public.
Get close to some Schauspielers. Act in a couple of plays with them, act in "Der Besuch" or in some Schiller. You'll have the time of your life! They throw the Best Parties! And if you have some talent and a few brains (most actors don't), you get to participate in some wonderful moments of beauty and genius.
But then you'll understand Shakespeare's world. These are all crazy bums, and they'll steal your wallet or your favorite sweater or your girlfriend or your microwave oven in a heartbeat. And if you're working on a play, and you leave it lying around next to your typewriter ...