Shakespeare Portfolio 1
This was submitted as part of my BA.
Date : 18/07/2016
Today, the term "type-casting' sounds a death knell for any actor, suggesting that they are only able to play one kind of character. However, Shakespeare's material conditions shaped his dramaturgy: acting as house playwright for the Lord Chamberlain's (and later King's) Men, Shakespeare had a set stock of actors for whom he had to produce parts. Simon Palfrey and Tiffany Stern have noted that "the parts Shakespeare wrote must have been contiguous to the lives enacting them: imitating them, commenting upon them, teaching them, laughing at them, compensating for them, even predicting them'. (41) Parts were specifically written for particular kinds of company-members: braggarts, kings, fools, melancholics. In this essay I seek to trace the type of the young man playing at foolery in Love's Labours Lost and As You Like It. Both Berowne and Jaques would have both been written with this sort of personality in mind, for ease of acting and audience comprehension. Furthermore, Shakespeare makes an incisive statement about both would-be fools' applicability to the plays they are in by dialoguing with the type itself.
Both Jaques and Berowne are inherently theatrical young men playing at foolery in a nobleman's court. Jaques stands as Duke Senior's replacement for Touchstone while he is in Arden, while Berowne is the central wit at the King's court in Navarre. Each plays their role wholeheartedly: Jaques never lets up from his determined project to "moralise the spectacle', while Berowne stands as a chorus to the sonnets scene. (II.i.44) His interjections in the ever-more ridiculous outpourings of Petrarchan love act as humorous stage directions:
more I'll read the ode that I have writ.'
Berowne: (aside) "Once more I'll mark how love can vary wit.' (IV.iii.97-98)
The perfect rhyme mimics the sonnets being delivered, but Berowne's comment is much wittier than anything any of the others can produce: the perfect rhyme emphasises his rhetorical talent, significant in an age of rhetorical education and debates over language. As the scene continues, Berowne is the wittiest: it is to him, and his "glib reasoning', that the King turns, asking
Our loving lawful, and our faith not torn, (IV.iii.281-2)
begging him to resolve their oath-breaking with rhetoric (and lies). (Woudhuysen, 53) In As You Like It, Jaques also stands as the theatrical player of wit. He determinedly plays at melancholy, interpreting everything for the audience in his terms. The "Seven Ages of Man' speech defines his character. It splits men into designated types, refusing to see anything that does not fit into his codifying schema including women: it never occurs to Jaques that Ganymede is anything other than a man. He ostentatiously attempts to outwit Orlando during their first meeting –& "let's meet as little as we can' –& demonstrating his wordplay to the audience, as well as his determined cynicism. (III.ii.252) His response to Orlando's heartfelt "just as high as my heart' is to tell him
you are full of pretty answers. Have you not been acquainted with goldsmiths' wives, and conned them out of rings?,
distrusting immediately that this young man is not merely playing the melancholy lover. (III.ii.264& III.ii.265-267) This theatricality is crucial: for Jaques, everything is a part to play, much as Berowne performs and orchestrates wit. Pater writes that there is "something of self-portraiture' of the dramatist in Berowne: certainly, both men are well aware of the theatricalities of their performance. (Ryan, 75) It is thus unsurprising that David Tennant played Berowne and Hamlet in the same RSC run: both parts are self-consciously theatrical, much like Jaques.
Tiffany Stern notes that casting along personality types made it easier for audiences to make sense of a play's characters, and for actors to understand their roles. (65) London was far too small to have a "run' of a play, so instead multiple plays would be in a "circulating repertory': playing to one's personality would make it much easier for Burbage, Kemp and the rest of the company to swap between multiple parts. (Astington, 107) Furthermore, for the audience, many of whom would have been repeat visitors, the character type would provide a way into the play. Gay notes that "fool' characters operate on the overlap between locus and platea in the theatre, where the former is the imagined location of the play, and the latter the actual playhouse and physical performance before an audience: such characters act to interpret the drama while pointing out its inherent theatricality. (11) Woodhuysen notes that Berowne dominates the play with over 600 lines, and that "he is bound to be the sharp focus for the audience's interpretation of its plot and structure'. (59) Understanding Berowne as the witty young interpreter in Love's Labours Lost would help an audience to see how the King of Navarre's plan for the Academe is doomed to fail, as he points out the flaws in the plan in the opening scene: the King remarks "how well he's read, to reason against reading!', the seeming oxymoron highlighting the power of Berowne's mocking rhetoric to point out the contradictions inherent in the King's scheme. (I.i.94) Similarly, Jaques' position as mocking interpreter gives greater force to his defining speech: his position, caught between locus and platea, is given through his assumed type. As Penny Gay notes, "the fact…& that his mordant observational mind has produced the play's most memorable speech brings him closer to the clown's role than he realises'. (93) Acting as quick-witted interpreter, Jaques stands in the liminal space between play and played, highlighting that, to use the Globe's motto, "totus mundus agit histrionem'. Both characters are conduits for the audience's comprehension of the play, while remaining part of the plot: in the great "copia of clowns' in both, Berowne and Jaques stand apart from the typical "Fool' characters, while maintaining the incisive wit that often undercuts the speech of others. (Gay, 61)
Furthermore, writing for types allowed a dialogue with both ideas of characterisation and with the actor themselves, and Shakespeare undercuts both his men for playing at fools. Stern and Palfrey note that the practice of writing for types meant that types were a form of self-definition for an actor, and thus Shakespeare would continually negotiate the types that his actors' personalities fitted into. (46) Comedy requires change in order to come to a resolution: Westlund notes that "fulfilment, one of the most important aspects of the pastoral world of love and song, is precisely what is never attained in Love's Labours Lost'. (43) Thus, in the figure of Berowne, Shakespeare uses this structural demand to point out the need for change in his character type, to have the language of love be "honest plain'. (V.ii.745) While Berowne has taken great pride in his wit throughout the play, Rosaline demands he stop playing the part of the fool: "sans sans, I pray you' is her quick riposte to his typically (and here, ironically) florid speech about eschewing rhetoric at the end of the play. (V.ii.416) The laugh that this would surely receive undercuts Berowne's genuine speech about love, demonstrating the bind that he has put himself into by continually playing at wit above all else: Woudhuysen notes that "those who use language as though words are open-ended in their meanings are rewarded with an ending in which the fate of their loves in indeterminate'. (18) With the women's instructions that their possible lovers must wait a year, the play comes to an unexpected end: Berowne remarks, lamely, "that's too long for a play'. (V.ii.864) Berowne is forced to recognise that the performance must come to an end, that playing at being a fool cannot last: the necessities of an ending force his hand. However, this recognition of the need for change presages a form of closure for his character. His acceptance that he will "jest a twelvemonth in an hospital' keeps his half of the bargain with Rosaline: promised change reaps promised resolution, delaying the dramatic model of comedy enough to present idle foolery as pointless. (V.ii.857) Shakespeare gives lesson to those witty, theatrical young men in his company by forcing Berowne to change, perhaps countering a culture –& like that of Navarre –& which valued wit above meaning. Davis notes that "the wisdom-and-folly theme is…& thoroughly canvassed' in the play: Berowne's playing at wit is demonstrated as his deepest folly. (85)
However, Jaques is most undermined by Shakespeare. While in the earlier play Berowne is forced to recognise himself, in As You Like It Jaques absolutely fails to see himself clearly, as Shaw notes. (49) While Jaques positions himself as interlocutor to all, his wit is usually just seen as diverting entertainment, or, worse, undermined: Shapiro notes
"he has a significant presence in the play (speaking almost a tenth of its lines), but no effect on it':
his most famous speech is merely a diversion while the actor playing Orlando goes offstage to carry on Adam. (245) Furthermore, the appearance of the old man, who is visibly not "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans everything', completely undermines Jaques's great pronouncements. (II.vii.166) Crucially, in his interaction with his foil, Touchstone, Jaques fundamentally misunderstands what a fool is: Ryan notes that a touchstone is something with which to test a precious metal, and Jaques' foolery falls short under examination. (213) Jaques remarks to Duke Senior that "he's as good at anything, and yet a fool', to which the Duke responds "He uses his folly like a stalking horse, and under the presentation of that he shoots his wit'. (V.iv.103& V.iv.104) Jaques believes that Touchstone is truly foolish, but the Duke is wiser, knowing not to take his old fool at face value. It is this interaction that fundamentally proves Jaques' wit inferior: instead of hiding his truth hides in wit's "stalking horse', earning himself the motley coat of a true fool, he is simply morose and determined to typify everyone that comes near him. Dusinberre writes
"Shakespeare creates in Jaques a 1590s satirist, but pairs him with a fool whose wit punctures the pretensions of the wise man'lt;/p>he stands as "odd man out' in a genre attuned to satire, but unable to play at wit satisfactorily.
(106, 106) Furthermore, Jaques is a fixity in the play: the audience sees him only in Arden, and he remains constant as the pillars which hold up the stage. While the rest of the characters come to Arden and leave again, in the possession of greater self-knowledge, the forest having acted as a "testing ground' for love and a world outside of the court, Jaques chooses to remain there alone, having learned nothing, content to interpret the world melancholically. (Cirillo, 22) Thus, Shakespeare constructs Jaques' fixity as a judgement upon his type: a man playing at a melancholy fool, he seems to say, is not the fool we need. While Jaques was a showpiece role, As You Like It was written in the wake of the 1599 Bishop's Ban on verse satire: perhaps the dislocated fool stands as a comment on a need for new kinds of satire, instead of a direct translation from verse to stage.
Both Jaques and Berowne seem to have been written for the same character type. Each young wit fulfils a similar function in their respective plays, but the development –& or lack thereof –& within their characters acts as a comment both upon the plays as a whole, and upon their character type. In a play obsessed with language and what it can create, Berowne's forced realisation that his attitude of foolery is unproductive also highlights the fundamental unreality of the Academe and its attempts to preserve itself against the ravages of time& Jaques, meanwhile, stands as the antithesis to the journeys of discovery that the rest of the characters go on in Arden. Shakespeare utilises and updates the types of his troupe of players: each of these parts would have been both a creative challenge and, perhaps, an indication that the player in question needed to take a look in the mirror a little more often.
This resource was uploaded by: Donna