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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: February ::
Re: Touchstone (Jesters)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0225  Wednesday, 10 February 1999.

[1]     From:   David Lindley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Feb 1999 14:30:19 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0223 Jesters

[2]     From:   Richard Nathan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Feb 1999 16:48:19 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0223 Q: Touchstone

[3]     From:   Brian J. Corrigan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Feb 1999 12:10:47 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0223 Q: Touchstone

[4]     From:   Jim Helsinger <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Feb 1999 16:45:30 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0223 Q: Touch


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Lindley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 9 Feb 1999 14:30:19 GMT
Subject: 10.0223 Jesters
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0223 Jesters

If Touchstone is unfunny, where does that leave Trinculo?  The actor
playing the part in the current Leeds performance (with Ian McKellan)
remarked to me  'I'm supposed to be a f**** jester, but I've got no
f****** jests'!  And it's hard to disagree.

David Lindley
School of English
University of Leeds

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard Nathan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 9 Feb 1999 16:48:19 +0000
Subject: 10.0223 Q: Touchstone
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0223 Q: Touchstone

What an odd thing for Branagh to say.

I can't help wondering if he was somehow mixing up Toushstone from AS
YOU LIKE IT with Feste and Fabian from TWELFTH NIGHT.

In his book, "The Art of Coarse Acting, Michael Greene writes a very
amusing passage about how unfunny Feste and Fabian are, recounting his
enormous difficulty in trying to get a laugh with Fabian's line, "Sowter
will cry upon't, though it be rank as a fox."

It reminds me of a particularly awful production of MACBETH in which I
played Lennox, back in college.  The scene in which Macduff and I had to
laugh merrily while the Porter was going on and on about equivocators
was one of the very worst things I ever did on a stage.

But back to the topic at hand, I've always found Touchstone to be MUCH
funnier than the Porter or Feste or Fabian (although some will argue
that Fabian isn't technically a clown).

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian J. Corrigan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 9 Feb 1999 12:10:47 EDT
Subject: 10.0223 Q: Touchstone
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0223 Q: Touchstone

Judy Lewis writes:

>Reading the introduction to the screenplay of Much Ado About Nothing, I
>was somewhat astonished to see Branagh's description of Touchstone as
>"one of the great unfunny Shakespearean clowns."
>
>Since I cannot ask Branagh himself, I wondered if there were others -
>especially those with experience of As You Like It in performance - who
>agree with this.  When I directed AYLI several years ago, our Touchstone
>was brilliantly funny, and brought the house down at every performance.

I agree with you. Our Touchstone (and the 11-line Audrey) virtually
stole every scene in which they appeared (in the best way, I mean) in
the production I recently directed. You put me in mind of Mickey
Rooney's comment regarding Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened. He
suggested that the part was wholly unfunny and required a good deal of
tarting up.  It may well be that some actors (Rooney? Branagh?) think a
part unfunny if it requires much intralineal interpolation or mise en
scene in performance. Dogberry is funny on the page, Branagh seems to
think, but Touchstone may be required to be funny only on the stage with
little direct help from Shakespeare.

Or does Branagh mean, I wonder, that Touchstone is not meant to be funny
at all? Might he be thinking of Robert Armin's reputation for playing
the melancholic clown? If Touchstone is an unfunny clown, what then is
to be done with Jaques in performance?

And the burning question remains would Branagh put Robin Williams,
Michael Keaton, or Billy Crystal in the part?  . . . Keanu Reeves? The
mind staggers.

Cheers,
Brian Jay Corrigan

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jim Helsinger <
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Date:           Tuesday, 9 Feb 1999 16:45:30 EST
Subject: 10.0223 Q: Touchstone
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0223 Q: Touchstone

>Reading the introduction to the screenplay of Much Ado About Nothing, I
>was somewhat astonished to see Branagh's description of Touchstone as
>"one of the great unfunny Shakespearean clowns."
>
>Since I cannot ask Branagh himself, I wondered if there were others -
>especially those with experience of As You Like It in performance - who
>agree with this.  When I directed AYLI several years ago, our Touchstone
>was brilliantly funny, and brought the house down at every performance.
>
>Any thoughts?
>
>Judy Lewis

Touchstone can be hilarious. Maybe Branagh just never saw a good
production....

I do think, however, that he is much harder than some of the other
clowns.  I think the distinction lies between the "witty" fools, who are
generally smarter than most everyone else in the play (Touchstone,
Feste, etc.), and the "physical" clowns who are usually dumber or slower
or malaprops (Dromio, Dogberry, Launce, etc.) For Shakespeare's company,
Will Kemp played most of the physical clowns and after he left the
company (I think Dogberry was his last role), another actor (Robert
Armin, I believe) portrayed the "witty fools."  Each type of humor
attracts different types of people.

Personally, I'm attracted to lazzi based, more physical comedy.  I've
played a number of the Will Kemp  clowns and they are a joy.  For one
thing, their jokes are easy for the Groundlings to get!!!  Many of their
jokes leap across the time barrier very easily. But Feste and Touchstone
scare me.  Not because they can't be funny, but many of their jokes are
"witty," above the heads of other characters in the play, therefore it
takes more work to figure out how to get them across to the audience.
Also, as language changes, some of their quick turns of a phrase don't
have the immediate reaction they may have had in Shakespeare's time.
It's more work.  Bottom's "Oh, let me play the lion too" is a slam dunk
laugh.  A fourth grader playing the part will probably get it.  But
Feste's  "Jane Smile" monologue can look, at first glance, like the most
unfunny thing since the Spanish Inquisition.

I've done AYLI four times (never as Touchstone) and once the actor
playing Touchstone figures out the way he's going to do "the seven
degrees of the lie" it is a wonderful bit, but it usually takes awhile
for him/her to crack it open.  I've seen one production in which
Touchstone was about as witty a sack of hammers, but luckily in all the
other productions I've seen and been in, he's come across well to
brilliant. Those are my thoughts.

Jim Helsinger
Artistic Director
Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival
 

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