Saturday, March 25, 2017

Not So Funny

It's odd how very clever people can go wrong in the theatre in terms of their grasp of what will work on stage and what won't. I came across a striking example of this in Marjorie Garber's excellent Shakespeare Above All, her magisterial run-down on all the plays. What's particularly striking about this is that she so often has an excellent sense of the plays as theatre, yet she writes this, apropos the sequence involving Hermia raging against Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream: Surely the scene would be even more comical if the difference between the two women were slight or non-existent.

Nope. Completely wrong. The laughter, and it's big and lots of it if you get the scene right, comes from the simple and obvious fact that Lysander now sees his beloved as being unattractively short and the shorter the actress is, the better. It's impossible for the actress playing Hermia to look suitably outraged in the sequence if she doesn't have an understandable sense of vulnerability over being vertically challenged, in some sense.

There's a temptation putting something on stage of adding extra layers, partly because it's the clever thing to do. In most cases keeping it at the level of the obvious is the better option - especially so with Shakespeare who clearly knew very well exactly what would work and saw no point in being clever for its own sake.

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