- What's in an Ending?Shakespeare on Stage in 2013
Playgoing in 2013 generated many surprises and yielded a series of memorable images: my first guitar-playing Duke Senior in As You Like It, clogging mechanicals in Midsummer Night's Dream, the newly cured King in All's Well That Ends Well doing a cartwheel, Othello getting his "ocular proof " when located in a men's room cubicle and Saturninus getting messages from Titus Andronicus sitting in a bath tub, Ophelia remaining in her shallow grave downstage through the end of the play—and the playing time for the RSC As You Like It almost equaled that of their Hamlet.
Dominic Dromgoole's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Globe had many distinctive features. Two rarely invoked textual choices were noteworthy. As specified in the Quarto, the director included Helena (Sarah MacRae) in the group entrance of Egeus, Hermia, Demetrius, and Lysander in 1.1 and had her positioned as an observer at an upstage door only to depart in embarrassment when talk turned to her rejection by Demetrius. In 4.1 at the height of her dotage, Titania (Michelle Terry) said to her fairies not "be all ways away" (as in most editions) but "be always away" (i.e., depart forever), the reading in both Quarto and Folio. Other choices included a very angry Oberon (John Light) who was accompanied not only by Puck (as in the received text) but by a larger crew to parallel Titania's, so that at end of 3.2 not Puck but these four horned figures used branches to corral each of the lovers, getting them to lie down in the appropriate places.
Dromgoole opted for the Oberon-Theseus and Titania-Hippolyta doubling, so, as usual, Bottom's wake-up in 4.1 was moved earlier before the arrival of the hunting party to provide time for a costume change from fairy to human royals. New to me was a comparable change after "Pyramus and Thisbe" where Theseus called for the Bergomask, but [End Page 85] after a freeze for Puck's speech, what followed was an ensemble dance with lovers, mechanicals, and those fairies not doubling as mechanicals that gave Theseus and Hippolyta the opportunity to depart to change costumes. With the players crowded onto a small stage, the play-within had more than the usual business: for example, during the performance the unreliable floorboards required ongoing repairs from Snout; that same actor playing Wall was placed in what I saw as a huge wicker basket but one reviewer saw as "a giant soggy Shredded Wheat" so that the "chink" was at crotch level (5.1.177).1
This show was funny but not especially magical. For entrances, exits, and moments in between the mechanicals did their version of clogging, a crowd-pleasing effect that also extended the playing time; Bottom (Pearce Quigley) took some long pauses for comic effect and as a running joke either could not remember (or pretended not to remember) Quince's name. The courtiers' comments on "Pyramus and Thisbe" were pared back and often buried so that I could barely make out the Theseus-Hippolyta exchange that begins "The best in this kind are but shadows" (5.1.211-16). For the initial application of the love-juice to Titania's eyes, Oberon was stationed at a distance above though subsequently he and Puck did anoint eyes directly. At the entrance of Demetrius and Helena in 2.1, Oberon's "I am invisible" (186) made perfect sense on the Globe stage, but later to get a laugh during a lovers' spat he and Puck posed together as a tree to avoid detection.
As anticipated, Michael Fentiman's rendition of Titus Andronicus in the Swan provided a heavy dose of blood and violence (one reviewer concluded with a reference to "the gory that was Rome" [Spencer]). The process started in 1.1 when, after the protagonist's sons returned with the entrails of Alarbus (the first of many figures to be slaughtered or maimed), Titus dipped his fingers in the bowl and looked as if he were going to taste the blood. In contrast...