King Edward III conquers Romania
George Volceanov évoque sa traduction de Edward III en roumain, ainsi que les réactions des journalistes et critiques au sujet de la mise en scène d’Alexandru Tocilescu au Théâtre National de Roumanie, à Bucarest. Richard Proudfoot, qui prépare une édition critique de la pièce pour la collection Arden Shakespeare, propose un compte-rendu détaillé de cette mise en scène à laquelle il a pu assister en 2009.
George Volceanov discusses his translation of Edward III in Romanian, as well as the critical reception of the play directed by Alexandru Tocilescu for the National Theatre of Romania, Bucharest. Richard Proudfoot, who has been editing the play for the Arden Shakespeare series, provides a detailed account of this performance which he witnessed in 2009.
Table des matières
2If we take a look at the way in which the Shakespeare canon has been constituted in English and in Romanian, we instantly notice that foreign cultures always lag behind the British and American perception of Shakespeare’s Works. Pericles had been retrieved from oblivion in 1664 and finally sanctioned as a canonical text in 1773, and yet the Romanian man of letters Cezar Bolliac wrote in an article titled “Şakspear”, issued in Curiosul in 1836, that the Bard was the author of “36 acknowledged plays”. One hundred and fifty years later, Professor Leon Leviţchi, the editor of the Romanian version of Shakespeare’s Works (issued in nine volumes, between 1982 and 1995) would refer to the “37 plays usually attributed to Shakespeare”. There was a gap back in 1836 and there was another gap in 1982.
3In 1998 I decided it was high time someone should update and reshape, or enlarge, the Shakespeare canon in Romania, too. The best way to fulfil this task was to work out a double strategy, a scholarly-and-literary diptych. A doctoral thesis, titled The Shakespeare Canon Revisited, was to stand for the theoretical, or rather, historical and explanatory half of a larger project aimed at reshaping the notion of Shakespeare canon in Romania. It was to be the Romanian counterpart of the 1987 Textual Companion to the Oxford Shakespeare. It was published in April 2005. The scholarly half of my project also took the shape of a series of papers given at various academic events and published in their respective proceedings. The other half, the practical, or “artistic” one would consist of a series of literary translations issued for the first time in Romania. The translation of The Two Noble Kinsmen by Shakespeare and Fletcher was first published by Polirom Publishing House in June 2002. In May 2003, the translation of Edward III, fragments from Sir Thomas More, and an epitaph, all attributed to Shakespeare, were published by Paralela 45 Publishers.
4In November 2004, the translation of Edward III won the Andrei Bantaș Foundation Award for the Best Translation of 2003. Then, in November 2005, Ion Caramitru, the newly appointed General Director of the National Theatre in Bucharest, first announced that Edward III, “a play recently ascribed to Shakespeare”, would be brought to stage by theatre director Alexandru Tocilescu in the 2006-2007 season (Noul Adevărul, 25 November 2005). This announcement was resuscitated in the summer of 2006 (Realitatea românească, 21 June, 2006; Cronica română, 23 June, 2006). Tocilescu and Caramitru had worked together in the celebrated production of Hamlet at the Lucia Sturza Bulandra Theatre in the mid-1980s. It earned them international acclaim, and Ion Caramitru rocketed to international stardom and got an OBE.
5Alexandru Tocilescu’s intention of directing a “new play” by Shakespeare was made public in the media when he announced that he was in search of actors aged 25 to 45, with “heroic” features (România liberă, 13 October, 2006; Azi, 17 October, 2006). The actors in the cast of Edward III were selected on the basis of an audition – the candidates had to play brief excerpts of their own choice from Shakespeare’s chronicle plays. Many of them came from rival companies. The much awaited “national premiere” received a lot of hype. Curierul naţional (18 January, 2007), Cotidianul (21 January and 21 February, 2007, 30 July, 2007), Formula AS (24 September, 2007), România liberă (25 September, 2007) are just a few of the journals and weeklies that assiduously wrote about “Edward III being rehearsed at the National Theatre”. Sensing the readers’ growing curiosity for the less known chronicle play, Paralela 45 Publishing House issued its second edition in the spring of 2007.
6Rehearsals began on January 25, 2007, and two days later director Alexandru Tocilescu declared in an interview issued in the daily Evenimentul zilei (30 January, 2007):
The Romanian spectators do not know this play; they will expect something completely new. And this is Shakespeare, the words are sublime, the text has sensational poetics. […]. I haven’t altered the text at all, it may seem a lengthy text but the overall impression depends on the quality of the actors’ performance. If the long soliloquies are played properly, the audience will freeze and listen breathlessly to these extraordinary words. I’m not intent on cutting. If we bring the text to stage for the first time, shouldn’t the spectators hear it all?
7Interestingly, in an appendix to this interview, the leading actor Ion Caramitru expressed a slightly different view on the text of the play: “Edward III is not easy. Right now, we are deciphering and ennobling it. It’s a long text; we’ll have to decide where to make cuts.” I have discussed some of the alterations (including cuts and, every now and then, small additions) in a paper given at the European conference “Shakespeare in Europe” held at the University of Iași in November 2007.
8Edward III was premiered on January 26, 2008, after a whole year of tough rehearsals that saw multiple changes in the cast. One of its immediate effects was the issue of the third edition of the play by the same Paralela 45 Publishers. Another important consequence was that the collaboration between the translator of Edward III and the dramaturg that helped him to reshape the play-text for the stage led to setting up a team involved in a national project, a new Complete Shakespeare series for the third millennium, in a modernized language, intended for both reading and performance. The project was launched in April 2010, when the first two volumes of the sixteen-volume edition were published. The second volume was yet another step in the enlargement of the Shakespeare canon in Romania: following in the steps of the 2006 Arden Shakespeare edition of Hamlet, it provided the first Romanian translation of the three distinct early versions of Hamlet: Q1, Q2 and F.
9Alexandru Tocilescu’s stage version, based on my translation, was the fifth production to test the theatrical value of the play on the stage in the last three decades, after those of Dick Dotterer at the Globe Playhouse of Los Angeles (in July 1986 – an event hardly noticed outside academic circles), Toby Robertson at Theatr Clwyd at Mold in June 1987, taken to Cambridge and to a Shakespeare Symposium in Taormina in August,1 Frank Patrick Steckel at Cologne in 1999,2 and Antony Clark at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in April 2002. With its over thirty-three thousand spectators to date and a still promising future career ahead, Tocilescu’s version is, probably, one of the best attempts to turn an unknown play into a remarkable cultural event.
10Alexandru Tocilescu’s re-reading of the text lays emphasis on the notion of honour, on giving and keeping one’s word, regardless of the consequences that keeping one’s word may incur. That is why, during the performance, so many characters cross their hearts with wide gestures. The message is clear: the characters would rather lose their freedom, their possessions, kingdoms, even their lives, rather than break their word. “We are bringing to stage Edward III to remind people that the word of honour, the oath, is a sacred fact that everybody should observe”, Tocilescu confessed in the programme. “I read the play and I gave my word of honour I would bring it to stage. Only thus could I prove that I would keep my word.” Ethical and moral rather than political reasons underlie Tocilescu’s choice, but in a corrupt society, ruled by a political class consisting of professional liars, the message is clear. Tocilescu reiterated this message in several interviews before and after the premiere:
11It was love at first sight. As soon as I read the play, I gave up an earlier project, that of staging Cyrano de Bergerac, and I got my mind set on Edward alone. The play speaks a lot about honour, honesty, and keeping one’s oath. I want people to decide, but honestly, whether these notions are still worth considering nowadays (Cotidianul, January 22, 2008).
12In an interview tellingly titled “The Play of Oaths – A Cultural Event” (România liberă, February 1, 2008), Tocilescu said:
I decided to bring Edward III to stage as soon as I had read the play, because I realized that the things at issue in the play – honour, the word of honour, keeping an oath – are things that can no longer be found in Romania. Everything our contemporary society shows us is lies, broken oaths, cheating, lack of honesty.
13Alexandru Tocilescu explicitly refers to the idea of drama as image as his profession of faith, a belief nurtured by his mentor, the great David Esrig:
I’m doing visual drama. From my teacher, David Esrig, I learned that drama is image. Things may have changed meanwhile, the teachings of Mr Esrig may no longer be fashionable, and today drama may be sex, drugs, or alcohol. I’m an elderly gentleman, that’s the way I learned to do drama and that’s the way I’m doing it! (România liberă, February 1, 2008).
14As of September 2008, more than twenty-five reviews of the production appeared in a wide range of journals and magazines. Sceptics might call them mixed reviews, as the reviewers’ tone ranges from eulogy and praise to bitter attack. Optimists might claim that the favourable reviews prevail, insofar as twenty of the twenty-five articles praise, in superlative terms, the actors (especially Ion Caramitru as King Edward, Crina Mureşan as the Countess of Salisbury, Şerban Ionescu as King John of France, and Daniel Badale as the Black Prince), Tocilescu’s choice of launching an unknown play, his coherent interpretation of the text and his use of multi-media means as well as the inventiveness of Dragoş Buhagiar’s costumes and setting design. “Edward III and Caramitru the First” by Gabriela Lupu (Cotidianul, January 27, 2008), “A Remarkable Cultural Event” (a three-part review by Ileana Lucaciu, in three consecutive issues of the weekly Timpul liber, January 31 to February 14, 2008), “On Honour, with Irony and Detachment” by Nicolae Prelipceanu (Teatrul azi, January-March 2008) have captured the essence of the play’s message and have contributed to its growing popularity among theatre-goers.
15Interestingly, the few negative reviews expressed mainly reservations about the authorship of the play. And I say interestingly because the 1987 production of Theatr Clwyd elicited from critics the same mixed response, vacillating between eulogy for the quality of the actors’ performance and scepticism about the authorship of the play. Giorgio Melchiori quotes the title of reviews like those written by Rodolfo di Giammarco, “Is it true Shakespeare?” (La Republica, August 6, 1987), and Franco Cicero, “Shakespeare or not: Edward did not convince” (La Gazetta del Sud, August 5, 1987), issued in the wake of Theatr Clwyd’s performances given at Taormina in the summer of 1987.3 Elena Vlădăreanu, in “Edward III, for the First Time in Romania” (România liberă, January 28, 2008), and Ioana Moldovan, in “To Be or Not to Be Worthy of Shakespeare” (22, 15-21 April 2008) launched bitter attacks in the vein of the aforementioned Italian critics’ style. Even this minority of anti-Edward III reviewers seem to have partly learned their lesson. Iulia Popovici, who took the pains to criticize Tocilescu’s production not just once, but three times in three different journals, conceded that there is “thematic coherence” in a play in which “the first part is about the question of honour in private life, while the second one treats the same issue in public / political life” (“Shrek, Headaches and Sonorous Battles”, in Observatorul cultural, January 31, 2008). The same reviewer further admits: “I would not call this production a political spectacle, but it surely is an ethical one, one of ethical reflection, not a morality in the vein of the medieval plays.” In yet another review ironically titled “Soldierly Tales, Caramitru and The Wall” (Ziua, January 29, 2008), that very same Iulia Popovici once again acknowledges the “keeping or breaking of one’s oaths” as the “central theme” of the play. Even cynical or ironical reviewers do at least understand a modicum of authorial / directorial intention after all.
16The critics who expressed favourable opinions did mainly praise the director’s choice of turning a tale of love and war into an opportunity for ethical debate on the moral values that a post-Communist society still needs to rediscover. Doina Papp, in “The Grand Repertoire” (Bucureştiul cultural, Februay 12, 2008), stated that
the director has found an elegant ideological rationale for his play, the themes of honour, dignity and political responsibility that everybody should no doubt agree with […] at a time when not only does our society ignore the ethical imperative but it actually rejects it in the name of a destructive free will.
17Irina Budeanu, in “Edward III featuring Ion Caramitru” (Azi, February 1, 2008), contends that “after Hamlet, Edward III is the best role ever played by Ion Caramitru”. The play is, in the reviewer’s opinion, a tragic comedy interpreted by Alexandru Tocilescu in the vein of dark comedies, and the title role is a character that debunks the concepts of heroism, love and honour. All in all, “what’s honour, chastity, an oath today? Just values we have lost for ever. This is the message Ion Caramitru clearly conveys”. Gabriela Hurezean, in a review titled “When the King Gets Infatuated Like a Schoolboy” (7 plus, February 5, 2008) emphasizes the comic potential of the play, Tocilescu and Caramitru’s great sense of humour, hence the “subtle irony, the latent allusions” used by director and leading-actor to speak seriously of honour, love, manhood, and about a remote age”. Ileana Lucaciu lavishly praised Alexandru Tocilescu for demonstrating how Shakespeare is still our contemporary in the third millennium, in the way he tells us what life is, while the director is nothing but a spokesman, a conveyor belt that delivers the author’s ideas “wrapped in spectacle, without altering their essence” (“A Remarkable Cultural Event”, Timpul liber, January 31, 2008).
18The most interesting reference to the Romanian production of Edward III takes Shakespeare from the theatre hall to the world of soccer. In the daily Gazeta sporturilor, in an article titled “Theatre” (April 24, 2008), the sports journalist Maria Andrieş compares the Romanian soccer championship with Shakespeare’s Edward III, in that the coaches’ ambition resembles the kings’ desires, and the world of soccer is “fullof plots, traps, invasions, exposures, imprecations yelled according to the rules of decorum”. The journalist also alludes to the setting design of Tocilescu’s Edward III (the whole stage is covered with synthetic lawn) when she refers to the battlefields of soccer and the wars that will keep wearing them for years on. Maria Andrieş’s brief, ironical article speaks volumes about the appropriation of the newly canonized Shakespeare play by the present-day Romanian culture.
All in all, it’s a good play that should teach us a lot about political truth, about things that change and things that never change. Those who still deny that Shakespeare was one of the great politicians should think again. One thing, at least, is clear: he knew more politics than our politicians will ever know.
20Meanwhile, the anonymous blogger has become a respected crime fiction author (Oana Stoica-Mujea).
22I was fortunate enough to see the production in Bucharest on Friday, 22 May, 2009, at the kind invitation of its translator, George Volceanov. I also had the pleasure and privilege of a short conversation on the following morning with Ion Caramitru, Director of the National Theatre, who played King Edward. To write about a production even of a play with which one is closely acquainted when it is performed in a totally unknown language is an act of presumption. However, detailed information about the handling of the Romanian text provided by Professor Volceanov has given me the confidence to write an account of what I saw, with an inevitable emphasis on visual aspects of the production, which the director’s own concern with the image makes appropriate. My enthusiasm for the project stemmed in part from memories of the Romanian Hamlet, directed by Tocilescu and starring Caramitru, at the National Theatre in London in the late 1980s.
The large auditorium of the National Theatre, Bucharest, with its wide and deep stage, accounted for several features of the production. The set comprised a grassy expanse bordered at the wings and upstage by large rocks, rising at the back to create a low rocky sky-line against the cyclorama. In the midst, mounted on parallel tram-tracks on which it could move up or down stage, stood a metal structure consisting of twin towers joined, both at the top and lower (about two feet above head-height) by crossways. Movement of this versatile structure and its metamorphoses into different shapes, combined with various projections onto the cyclorama, of skies ranging from sunny to stormy or twilit, a raging sea, a town in flames, a flight of monstrous ravens or, for interiors, patterns of floor tiles, permitted wide variation of stage space and image for the different scenes. Various metamorphoses of the towers and their ramps and panels alluded to castle architecture, both external and internal, while its silhouette evoked a warship for 3.1 and London’s Tower Bridge for the meeting of the armies before Crécy in 3.3. What happened to it in the last scene will be described in due course. Occasional unfurling of a cinema screen framed by the towers and crossways added a further dimension. Film was used for the naval battle (3.1) and the battle of Crécy (3.5) and slide projections for the offstage exploits of Prince Edward at Crécy (3.5).
23The opening scene, which established the style of the production, invites detailed description. The curtain rose with the towers upstage centre under a clear sky, to the sound of rural noises – birdsong, church bells and a distant dog barking. The peace of the scene was rudely broken by loud pop music as a gang, mainly of men, most of them young, burst onto the stage. Their horseplay soon evolved into a game of rugby football. A few were quickly singled out: the referee by the three heraldic lions on the back of his black shirt, one youth by being stripped to the waist and a man with a headband by reason of his height. Some older, bearded men also stood out. The game led to a touch-down by the tall man, after which his kick from downstage, aimed at a goalpost represented by the towers, failed – on this occasion – to convert his try but still got friendly applause.
24The start of the dialogue identified the referee as King Edward, the tall scorer as Artois and the shirtless lad as Prince Edward (Daniel Badale). Dialogue soon added white-bearded Audley to the identified characters. The promotion of Artois as Earl of Richmond was greeted with enthusiastic applause, but when the topic of war was broached, concealed panels swung into place to form a back wall to the towers, darkening the scene. The King’s commitment to war, closing with his claim to have been inspired by Artois with “Hot courage […] Able to yoke their stubborn necks with steel / That spurn against my sovereignty in France” (1.1.45, 49-50), was greeted by a general shout of “Vive le roi”. This cry is limited in the text to the French army of King John. Here it became the strongest possible endorsement of Edward’s dynastic claims; the more so as it led immediately to the drums – the first of many – that announced the arrival of the French ambassador, the Duke of Lorraine.
25Lorraine (Liviu Lucaci) entered by a small door under the crossway, his tall, cloaked and partially armed figure in sharp contrast to the base football players, and expressing in his body-language a disdainful sense of slumming among northern barbarians. His embassy was contained in a document, which King Edward let fall in contempt. No swords were drawn during the altercation between Lorraine and Artois; instead Prince Edward, as he spoke his first lines, leapt onto Lorraine’s back, knocking him to the ground. The English lords rapidly pulled him off and threw him into a pool of water in a large rock at stage left to cool off.
26The arrival of Montague (Mihai Muntenita) was arresting. The lower section of wall lifted to reveal him, bloody and exhausted, up left. He staggered onstage, where he was at once helped and supported. When he had given his news he was led to the pool to have his wounds washed and dressed while the King gave orders for levying an army for the French war. The concern of Warwick (Eusebiu Stefanescu) for the peril of his besieged daughter was strongly projected and served to identify him. Commitment to war was expressed in a Maori war-chant and dance that neatly fused rugby with warfare before the general exit. It was only now that Edward pulled his son back, turning their exchange into an intimate parental pep-talk (though undue bookishness hardly seemed to be this Prince’s problem). “An armour’s weight” (1.1.159) was a detail we would remember at the arming of the small figure of the Prince in heavy black armour before Crécy.
27The care with which the production delineated relationships and power structures was already apparent. Strong and appropriate casting gave each role an easily recognisable individuality. Of the characters introduced in the crucial opening scene, only Artois would fade from view, a casualty of later heavy cutting. The King’s vocal and physical dominance were achieved without strain or effort; he was humanized by his participation in the game of rugby, his strong opposition to French arrogance and his intimacy with his son.
28For the second scene, closing of the gates established the towers as Roxborough Castle, its siege represented by the hammering on them of unseen upstage battering rams. Inside, the Countess (Crina Muresan) whose blue gown and green cloak stood in strong contrast to the reds and browns of the English court, spoke from the crossway. Under extreme pressure and desperate for the return of Montague, she was visibly shaken by each blow on the gates. The Scots, tall, kilted and hairy (Douglas also drunk nearly to incapacity), were ranting boors who ratcheted the contempt and fastidious distaste of Lorraine several notches even above his response to the English. He was very glad to depart. The playing of Douglas (Dani Popescu) was farcical: he used the pool (already predictably) to sober up and was the target of a large bowl of unmentionable liquid poured over him by the Countess as he left the stage in flight. Their large stature added ignominy to the hasty retreat of the Scots. The invitation in the text to guy the Scots was gratefully accepted and reinforced national stereotypes as well as establishing King David (Mihai Verbitchi) as a figure still remembered in the final scene.
Front ramps like drawbridges were lowered from both towers for Montague’s arrival, defining a courtyard, before the gates opened to admit King Edward and his relief force, preceded by the mandatory drums. (The team of drummers featured so strongly in the production as to earn a solo spot in the second half after the arming of Prince Edward and the role of antagonists to the ‘clamour of ravens’ in 4.5). After descending, the first act of the Countess was to run and embrace her father, their close, affectionate relationship providing strong preparation for the crisis in the next scene. Though never less than gallant and courteous, the King himself had not the slightest intention of staying. His instant attraction to the Countess, signalled by a sudden burst of music, Nat King Cole’s “Fascination”, made it far too risky. Warwick and the rest would happily have stayed, but he had a war to fight. The Countess’s persuasions were strengthened by his resistance and led her very close to the King, she even touched him, taking him by the hand. Ion Caramitru saw the integration of the King’s infatuation into his broadly sympathetic characterization as the major difficulty of the role. Led by the text, he acted as a victim of temporary possession, powerless to control passionate impulses of which he heartily disapproved. “Fascination” returned ironically as he at last accepted her invitation. As hostess and guest turned to enter the castle, the gates closed on them and the cyclorama changed from sky to pinkish floor tiles, defining the enclosure of the King in the play’s sole interior location.
29A strong act-break, with a blackout for furniture moving, emphasised the shift to the garden, which was equipped with two substantial chairs. A wine flask and a cup pointed towards one main activity of the following scenes. In one chair sat a young man, strumming a lute, while improvising a song about the King’s infatuation. He sang very well and was an accomplished lutenist, “This fellow is well read in poetry” (2.1.53) referring to a professional level of musical expertise. This was Lodwick (Andrei Aradits), never defined as the King’s secretary, just a young courtier, loyal to the King, but amused by his passion. (In other performances another actor took the role: Audley was similarly double-cast. The gentle bearded old man I saw [Constantin Dinulescu] played a grandfatherly role towards Prince Edward that wouldturn his death at Poitiers into a high emotional price for the Prince’s victory.)
30King Edward entered, down the right ramp. He was at a loose end and carried a croquet mallet, ball and hoops, which he set up at stage right. Failure to get the ball through all the hoops at a first desultory attempt led him to abandon the game, knocking the hoops down in impatient irritation. He sat drinking wine as he instructed Lodwick about the poem he was to write. Sitting with him, Lodwick tried in vain to write in face of the King’s incessant advice and interruptions and was eventually reduced to copying verses at Edward’s dictation. Soon he was as fully engaged as his sovereign in the composition. This heightened the humour of the King’s attempt to cover up on the arrival of the Countess, hospitably bringing a bunch of grapes, as the confidential shared writing of the poem switched abruptly to Edward’s pretence of criticizing an incorrect battle plan. Such detail, sometimes involving minor modification of lines, was introduced throughout the scene, to sustain an undercurrent of humour and spontaneity. The realisation of implicit humour did much to alleviate the rather unvaried tone of the play’s rhetoric – it also helped to defend the King against the charge of cynical abuse of power. One benefit of translation is the scope offered for such minor tonal modification.
31The King’s first tactic with the Countess was to launch an unexplained and angry complaint, leaving her in the dark about what he was getting at. When he became explicit, with “Take thyself a little way aside”(2.1.212), she retreated to a dark corner under the crossway, emerging to tell him in no uncertain terms of her contemptuous rejection of his proposition.Her exit was decisive. Left alone, Edward called for more wine, which was brought by Warwick, together with a second cup. The King’s demand for Warwick’s help in seducing his own daughter was made by a now visibly tipsy Edward. Warwick’s instinctive shocked reaction was to drop his cup. When the King left, Warwick’s long speech of perplexity was abridged but retained his firm statement of resolve at any cost to preserve his daughter’s honour while fulfilling the conditions unfairly imposed on him by the King. He embraced his daughter warmly on her entry, before proceeding to his odious assignment. Responding at first with deep dismay and forced self-control, the Countess was soon pummelling her father’s back and shoulders as she poured out her complaints. The shape of their heavily cut dialogue was preserved and right relations between them were soon restored. By the time he left she had regained calm and composure. Standing alone at centre stage she slowly crossed herself (one of the first andmost powerful uses of a gesture often repeated in this production) while the slow opening of the gates behind her projected a cross of light onto the floor, into which she turned for her slow central exit. She was now safe, from her father at least, whatever her thoughts about the King. The growing light as the gates opened and supporting music brought the scene to a heavily marked end.
The climax of this action in 2.2 was choreographed with care. Symmetrical placing of characters, especially in the enclosed central area and on the crossway and ramps, reinforced by the strongly contrasting colours of the costumes, often lent this scene the aspect of a page from an illuminated manuscript – an effect heightened by the predominantly blue tint of a fresh set of tiles projected as background.
32Comic tension was introduced from the outset by the opening dialogue about the King between Derby and a deaf Audley, in which Derby had to fight against raising his voice unduly to make himself heard. The comic unease thus generated led smoothly into the King’s entry following offstage howls as of a dog or wolf. Edward’s abrupt dismissal of Audley, and his Freudian slip of “Countess” for “Emperor” (2.2.34) got some of the best laughs of the evening. The offstage drumming that rouses the King’s anger was first heard in sporadic bursts. On the arrival of his son, fully armed, and equipped with an outsize broadsword (the first we had seen), King Edward withdrew into the unhappy reflections about his wife conjured by the appearance of the Prince. Still drunk, and aggressive with it, he first ignored the Prince, then put him down with an abrupt dismissal wholly lacking in acknowledgement of his new status as soldier, no longer just problem teenager. (Cutting of the opening dialogue of 3.3 left relations between father and son at this impasse until the arming of the Prince and his exploits at Crécy).
33The Prince’s departure produced an iconic image, as Lodwick stood at the top of one ramp, balanced by the entry of the Countess at the top of the other, framing the King at centre stage, as if with allegorical figures of good and evil (Lodwick was by now fully complicit with the King, happily catching the purse tossed up to him as his reward for bringing the Countess). The scene between King and Countess was played quietly, but built strongly, especially when she approached and touched the King, allowing him to hold her from behind in a loose, brief embrace. From this tentative gesture of intimacy she broke loose, crossed to stage and turned on him sharply as she drew her two “wedding knives” (two small, sharp-pointedand very shiny daggers) from the two sides of her dress in a swift and sudden gesture (2.2.171). The transition to danger was instant. Passing him one dagger, she kept Edward at a distance as she explained what they must do next – an explanation cut short as she seemed suddenly to cut her throat and sank to the ground. Shocked back to reality, the King dropped the other knife. His praise of her owed much of its fervour to sheer relief on finding that she was in fact unharmed. He had learned the hard lesson she imposed on him. As he called for his men, and they swarmed onto the stage, armed to the teeth, she slipped quietly through them to disappear into her castle while they formed ranks, standing shield to shield and ready to embark for France, transformed from a rabble to a formidably aggressive army.
34This was the moment chosen for the only interval, inevitably, given the continuity of the rest of the action, but it meant that a first half of one hour and twenty minutes was followed by a second that would last nearly two hours, largely on account of visual and musical elaboration and in spite of significant cuts. The production worked hard to counter the drop in dramatic tension and temperature as the play moves from love to war, but the “Countess scenes” in this production were in every way a hard act to follow.
35A conspicuous feature of the production was the skill with which the play’s greatest theatrical weakness, its repeated retreat from dramatic climax, was countered by raising the stakes. As with the apparent suicide of the Countess, the expedients were generally physical, taking such forms as the King’s drinking or the Prince’s attack on Lorraine, that translated verbal rhetoric into action. The death of Audley, contrary to the text and history though invited by his moribund condition in the final scenes of act 4, was among the last and most powerful. One source of the strength of the Countess scenes is the sustained interaction of a few characters, a feature lacking elsewhere, as few relationships are sustained throughout the action. Among these, of course, the relationship between the two Edwards, father and son, stands out, and it remained a focal point of this sensitive and imaginative production.
36The military action of Edward III, acts 3-4, contrasts in every way with what precedes it. King Edward ceases to dominate, though retaining his primacy when onstage for Crécy and the siege of Calais, but increasingly delegates his military role to his son, Edward, Prince of Wales (the play surprisingly avoids, except by allusion, his familiar Tudor sobriquet of “Black Prince”). The new dominant figure is King John of France, seen in the presence of his sons, Charles, Duke of Normandy, and Philip. The recurring motif is now that of English triumph snatched out of English jeopardy. Variety is afforded by presenting the successive battles from the differing points of view of winners and losers: fighting is staged only in one short scene at Crécy (3.4, cut in this production), where Prince Edward rashly pursues flying Frenchmen. Instead, long formal speeches evoke the sea battle (3.1), the devastation caused by the English advance (3.2), the French multitudes surrounding the English at Poitiers (4.4) and the assumed defeat and death of Prince Edward, related by Salisbury (Mircea Anca) in the last scene to his grieving parents and to spectators who have already witnessed his triumph and capture of the French king and princes and anticipate his arrival to dry the tears. Human interest centres on the relations of the two kings with their sons, and on the conflicts of loyalties relating to the safe-conduct for the Earl of Salisbury, which bring Prince Charles into collision with his father.
Faced with the need to provide visual meaning for this part of the play, director and designer devised a series of spectacles that relied largely on the mobility and versatility of the towers, the use of music – not least the band of drummers – and the large cast. The naval battle took the form of a montage of black and white film-clips of twentieth-century warships in battle; Crécy was an extended video (said possibly to originate in a video game) of medieval warfare in the style of Olivier’s film of Henry V, culminating in the firing of a historically validated cannon. The jeopardy of Prince Edward was projected as a series of Japanese-style cartoons, black and white, but progressively suffused with red, until the wounded Prince staggered onstage, threw down a sack containing the severed head of the King of Bohemia and was warmly reunited with his loving father. No risk was taken here of anticipating the final triumph after Poitiers. The towers metamorphosed in turn into a warship, a bascule bridge for the silhouetted confrontation of the kings and their supporters before Crécy; a cramped interior space for the beleaguered Prince and Audley; the battlefield of Poitiers, with the crossway as ambush for literally netting King John and both his sons; and the walls of Calais. Time taken for the various movements added to the considerable length of the second half, barely compensated by progressively heavier cutting. After the sea-battle, the most striking projections were of the conflagration of a town (3.2) and of monstrous invasive ravens in 3.5; while the skyline provided a twilit frame for the funeral procession of Audley at the end of act 4. Music continued to underline action or speech; blues for the Mariner’s narrative of defeat; a cor anglais, played live onstage for the desolation of plundered France; drums to punctuate and celebrate the arming of Prince Edward; a cry of ravens to match the projected image – finally, to add solemnity to Salisbury’s narrative of supposed defeat and loss at Poitiers, the allegretto from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, arranged for piano and strings.
37These expedients ensured visual variety and emphasis during the play’s least concentrated section, but they did so at the cost of the rhythm of the text and could not remove some sense of the episodic discontinuity that the uncut text works hard to mitigate. Successful in their own right and necessary in the theatre used, the visual excitements were achieved at some cost to overall audience engagement.
The presentation of the French, their silver and blue in contrast to the warmer English colours, made much of the contrast of visual style established by Lorraine at the outset. King John (Serban Ionescu) and his sons entered the action in armour. Cutting at once reduced the role of the boy prince Philip to a further fighting man. With both sons engaged in the action, King John, an imposing armed figure, was left alone to witness the first film show, of clips of twentieth-century sea battles, framed by a raging storm at sea on the cyclorama. He was reduced to impotent rage, knocking the elegant chairs in his tent about with his handsome, large shield. Rage remained one of his persisting traits and reached a grotesque climax when in sheer frustration he bit the ear of the heavily manacled Salisbury. In his depressive phase, induced by the prophecies, he required all the loving support and comfort of Prince Charles to regain his confidence (4.2).
38The strong casting of the play and its compelling and consistent realisation of the human relationships among the English put the French at a disadvantage in terms of their humanity and left King John too much as a violent and dangerous soloist, rather than a father whose very different relations with Charles and Philip bring him into strong contrast with King Edward. Heavy cutting, though, was the price inevitably paid for visual elaboration of battles that the play fights offstage. That elaboration was in turn an inevitable consequence of the size of the stage and of the cast, and it did provide various pleasures for audiences whose reaction to the geographically remote historical events might reasonably have been “Whose war was it anyway?”
39In deciding against sequential description of the military action I have implicitly emphasized the main dramatic problem it poses in the almost total absence of King Edward. Act 4 scene 2 establishes the King’s presence at Calais and shows the siege as moving into its final days. To his military role, King Edward adds two further notes in this scene: compassion for the poor citizens turned out by the defenders to save rations, and anticipation of the arrival of King David of Scotland with his captor, John Copland, and the aggrieved Queen Philippa (Simona Bondoc). Edward’s mercy to the outcasts was perfunctory and shallow business that he easily delegated to Derby; by contrast, the news of an impending visit from his wife caused him visible dismay. The role of the Queen is very small, and she appears only in the final scene. By emphasizing his troubled relations with her both in 2.2 and here, Caramitru provided strong preparation for that single appearance.
When she did arrive (in 5.1) it was with great impact. For the final scene, the towers underwent final metamorphoses. They returned to the mid-stage position of the earlier scene outside Calais, but with their lower section now extended into a platform on which, when the lights went up, the Queen stood centrally – in her armour, cloak and regalia a much more iconic vision of royalty than her husband had ever been. The casting of a senior star in the role qualified belief in her pregnancy but paid off in terms of power and authority. The role had been extended by addition of several short speeches, especially after the triumphant return of her supposedly dead son, where she was granted vatic lines from the closing speech of Theseus in The Two Noble Kinsmen and with them the status of senior commentator on the action. The comedy of marital discord was not overplayed, but it lent a further dimension to a scene which runs the risk of seeming a shade threadbare, even perfunctory. The earlier section of the scene showed King Edward in the exercise of his power, but duly attentive to his Queen. His pardon of the burgesses of Calais (why were there only five of the mythic six in a production with so large a cast?) was hard-won and heartfelt. He found the job of dealing with Copland, a bluff and hearty man after his own heart, altogether more congenial. Next to arrive was Salisbury (Caramitru’s comment on the lack of connection between this character and the Countess was to admit to a strong impulse on greeting him to ask “How’s your wife?”).
40At each new arrival, the last group moved to join the English army which lined both sides of the stage. Once the Queen had descended a central ladder to the stage and the burgesses were well clear of them, a slow movement began in the platform and gates which continued throughout the first half of the scene. First they were flattened into a single large surface, then that surface began, almost imperceptibly, to tip forward into a sloping position, in which at last it formed a broad, steep ramp from stage level upwards to about halfway up the towers. The slow movement was effected by two stage hands at windlasses on the top of the two towers, whose movement was just perceptible from beneath. The manoeuvre was completed only during Salisbury’s narrative of the supposed defeat and death of Prince Edward at Poitiers. The Queen reacted with extreme distress to the news of her son’s apparent death; King Edward with a quiet but grim vow of unprecedented vengeance. The preparation for the Prince’s final entry during the narrative of his supposed death was a theatrical irony that failed to register – though the movements of the set did compete for attention with the words of Salisbury.
King Edward had duly accepted from Salisbury the coronet sent by Montfort from Brittany, still in the box in which he received it, and passed it on for safe-keeping to an attendant (who removed it to the wings). The crown of France, “This wreath of conquest and reward of war” (5.1.193), was delivered with less ceremony, bowled down the slope at whose top Prince Edward, miraculously alive and triumphant, arrived as victor, and as embodiment of English royalty, backed by a sunny blue-green sky with wisps of cloud. The coup de théâtre that placed him there had been long in preparation, but it capped expectation. Now military triumph distanced him from his loving and ecstatic parents. The French royal prisoners were brought on from the left wings, chained together by the neck (a careless way of treating such valuable commodities). The scene then proceeded to underline the cost and savagery of war with a further sensation. As the Prince, having spoken of the human cost of the war, turned to threaten Spain, Turkey, or any other nation rash enough to provoke the just ire of England, the skies darkened and the top crossway opened to release a cascade of plastic dummy corpses onto the lower slope of the inclined ramp in savage prophecy of future English aggression. Whether thoroughly post-modern Edward, or lethal overkill, this event did nothing to diminish the delight of the large and predominantly young audience. Once the final lines were spoken –modified to list ‘three Princes’ and capped by King Edward with an extra prayer and final crossing of himself – the curtain came down to tumultuous applause, which soon became a standing ovation for the repeated curtain calls.
41The Reign of King Edward III can never before have been presented with such enthusiastic commitment and care, not to speak of expense. So presented, the play became at moments barely recognizable, yet the strong casting and subtly detailed characterisations retained almost all that makes it a real candidate for revival. In a smaller theatre and stripped of its visual splendour, the leading members of Tocilescu’s cast could give the best performance ever of this flawed but still fascinating play. As it was, the size of the stage dictated design decisions which played a dominant role, sometimes to powerful effect, sometimes to the detriment of pace and at the cost of heavy cutting. Crucially, however, the part of King Edward was taken by a major star actor who formed a true estimate of its difficulties and managed to compound its different aspects into a dominant but humanly imperfect and self-aware performance of great warmth and appeal.
42Though this will properly be known as the Caramitru Edward III, his was merely the leading performance in a cast of outstanding power and conviction. No doubt the local practice of an extended rehearsal period (over several months) contributed to the great confidence of the performance, but perceptive and illuminating casting and a clear overall view of the play combined to make this probably the best, and certainly the most careful and perceptive,production of Edward III ever staged. My neighbour in the auditorium was Sir Richard Eyre, former Artistic Director of the National Theatre in London. As the lights went down, he asked me “Did he write it?”. “Bits of it”, I replied. But at least to this Franco-Scottish spectator, and editor in progress of Edward III, the production never for a moment conveyed the sense (perhaps inescapable in English-language performances) of either apologising for the play as not always quite up to supposedly “Shakespearean” standards, or of holding it up for the audience’s verdict on its claims to enter the fringes of the Shakespeare canon by contrast with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production in 20024. The outstanding achievement of the production was to sidestep the question and to offer the play as a whole on its merits and for its argument.
1 Giorgio Melchiori, ed., King Edward III, The New Cambridge Shakespeare, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 48.
2 Richard Proudfoot, Shakespeare: Text, Stage and Canon, The Arden Shakespeare, London: Thomson Learning, 2001, p. 93.
3 Melchiori, p. 48.
4 Cf. the review article by Nicola Bennett and Richard Proudfoot, “ ‘ ’Tis a rightful quarrel must prevail’: Edward III at Stratford”, in Douglas A. Brooks, ed., “The Shakespeare Apocrypha”, The Shakespeare Yearbook, vol. 15, Lampeter, Edwin Mellen Press, 2007, pp. 317-338.
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mis à jour le : 09/12/2013.