Monday, January 9, 2012

King John and the Bastard

My Shakespeare reading group's play tonight was The Life and Death of King John, a play now so obscure that some may not even know Shakespeare wrote a play on that subject. It should be played more often; it's quite dramatically effective. And it suffers from having the most famous most misquoted line in Shakespeare: "to gild refined gold, to paint the lily" (Act 4, Scene 2), usually rendered as "to gild the lily," which doesn't make any sense, or, rather, the original version is the one that doesn't make sense, both (and several others in the same speech) being cited as examples of "wasteful and ridiculous excess."

Among the dramatis personae are characters called "the Bastard" and "the Lord Bigot". I knew Shakespeare wrote propaganda, but this is ridiculous. (For the humor-impaired: that was a joke.)

I got to read Hubert the Executioner in the emotional scene where Prince Arthur pleads not to have his eyes put out. Rather than making him sound deep and clumsy like Wilfred Shadbolt, I tried for a lighter voice vaguely inspired by that of another famous Hubert, Humphrey. I also got to be the aforementioned Bastard in one scene. He's one of Shakespeare's fine examples of a loose, casual-speaking character. Done with a bit of gum-chewing drawl he's a lot of fun to play. And also the leading citizen of Angiers, who when asked to declare allegiance either to John or to Philip of France (representing Arthur's rights), basically says "Let's you and him fight over it." And when they reply, "We've got a better idea. Let's both of us unite and destroy you first, and then we can discuss who gets the allegiance of the ruins," hastily changes his mind.

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