Sunday, 17 January 2010

Saturday 16 January

I am starting to think seriously about Shakespeare, and Mary Sidney. I have been asked to audition for the "Mary Sidney" mature role in a production of "Alls Well that Ends Well" next week. I would have to learn a couple of speeches by heart and grasp the plot better. Basically, the play is about a French Countess with very meritocratic ideas, like Mary Sidney, who rejects her son (as Mary did her son William Pembroke) for his snobbery, promiscuity, lack of tenderness for women, rudeness, lack of filial duty and lack of Christian values, and instead cherishes her angelic, healing, adopted daughter, Helena (who is not aristocratic), for her talent, bravery and brains. Very modern theme - but I am not sure there is any explanation as to why Helena loves Bertram at all, except for his looks as he is a weak and obnoxious character. Of course, some women do love men who are utterly worthless. But this is the play's problem on stage, which is not solved even in the best productions e.g. with Judi Dench as Countess.

Perhaps there is a key: Shakespeare (or "the poet") loved the "dark lady" of the Sonnets for her emptiness and unworthiness, to heal her from herself, to save her by love, but then suffered himself through his own generosity and her vain superficiality. He berates himself for loving her inspite of knowing what she really is like. My theory is that he liked her (Aemilia Lanier) not for her character and poetry but for her musical talents. Helena, Shakespeare's image in the play never complains at all about Bertram. She is an "angel" who yet traps and chases resisting men.....a problem play indeed. But further contemplations suggested this to me: Shakespeare believed that the English are basically deeply royalist with a yearning for "blue blood". (There is no need to convince me of this after the reactions to the life and death of Diana). This play is about Nature correcting a declining blue blood line (Bertram) through infusion of new and meritocratic blood (Helena). Hence her bed trick on Bertram is morally OK, because through it, the line of the blue blooded (which the English quite like as a concept) is restored to virtue and health. Indeed, I think that throughout the play Helen and the Countess are unconsciously bringing about what Nature is already "balancing" out through love. Helena, like Prince William's Kate is a "top girl", a fine looking, bright, strapping lass who brings health and vitality to a family hung up on history. Hence, we are to interpret her proactive wooing and "entrapment" of Bertram as his restoration and the saving of his family and of the noble Countess.

We watched "Amazing Grace" the 2007 film about Wilberforce and the slave trade. Good and worth seeing, but not enough authentic black input for my taste. Fascinating late 1790s costumes, street scenes and dress, lovely lead actors and a fine saga. Recommended. I must make one comment on the actress who played the wife of Wilberforce. In the film, she was a ravishing, womanly, poetic, noble, fiery, passionate, stunning red head with high forehead and piled hair in fabulous costumes: an evangelical campaigner who looked like Rita Hepworth, but thin. Well, we watched those "snippets" on the DVD about the making of the film and in real life she is a childlike, mousy hippie with chewed blonde hair in a finge, in bargain basement clothes. It was incredible. In fact, I would recommend getting the DVD of the film, just to realise what the costume department can do - and just how good some actresses really are. Also, if "nymphs" such as "the red head", are lurking beneath today's women, what a waste. I guess that is what "How to look good nude" (or whatever the shocking title is), on ITV is saying. This week I watched and actually wept over it. It showed a disabled woman in wheelchair, who they turned into a real beauty. Her lack of vanity was the essence of her beauty.

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