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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: March ::
Doubling of Cordelia and the Fool: Again
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0215  Friday, 24 March 2006

[1] 	From: 	Bruce Young <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 23 Mar 2006 14:26:23 -0700
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0203 Doubling of Cordelia and the Fool: Again

[2] 	From: 	Bob Marks <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 23 Mar 2006 16:19:45 -0800 (PST)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0203 Doubling of Cordelia and the Fool: Again

[3] 	From: 	Matt Henerson <
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	Date: 	Friday, 24 Mar 2006 00:06:01 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0203 Doubling of Cordelia and the Fool: Again


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bruce Young <
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Date: 		Thursday, 23 Mar 2006 14:26:23 -0700
Subject: 17.0203 Doubling of Cordelia and the Fool: Again
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0203 Doubling of Cordelia and the Fool: Again

John-Paul Spiro makes some good points.  But I would respond that having 
a character like Portia-or Kent, Edgar, Henry V, Vincentio, Rosalind, 
Viola, etc., etc.-in disguise (even cross dressing) is quite different 
from having an actor play two different characters: that is, two 
characters the play intends us to take as separate and distinct persons.

The difference comes partly from the fact that, in the case of disguise, 
the audience knows the character is in disguise and hears dialogue 
alluding to the disguise and highlighting the ironies, while the play 
texts are in no way equally explicit about doubling.  As far as I know, 
the texts we have from Shakespeare's time never explicitly require 
doubling or indicate which parts should be doubled, nor do they use the 
presumed doubling of particular parts as the source of clearly 
demonstrable effects.  The doubling practiced in Shakespeare's time 
would (as I think) have had pragmatic reasons and limitations that would 
at the very least have put symbolic and ironic reverberations on the 
back burner.

But my thinking would be swayed if someone could provide concrete 
evidence of doubling in Shakespeare's time deliberately designed for 
symbolic or thematic effect.

I still think such symbolic and ironic doubling is a modern practice 
that we should be on our guard against reading back into Shakespeare's time.

My complaint about directors confusing or abusing audiences comes from 
the fact that heavy-handed directorial message-telegraphing has done 
more damage than perhaps anything else to the productions I've seen over 
the past 20 or 30 years.

But I admit that sometimes directors' attempts at symbolism, if done 
subtly and intelligently enough, have worked for me.

Bruce Young

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bob Marks <
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 >
Date: 		Thursday, 23 Mar 2006 16:19:45 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 17.0203 Doubling of Cordelia and the Fool: Again
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0203 Doubling of Cordelia and the Fool: Again

In discussing the doubling of Fool and Cordelia here we are skirting 
around the possibility that Cordelia never left England but stayed 
behind and served her father disguised as his Fool - the original Fool 
having been Oswald who left Lear's service and joined up with Goneril 
(in Leir).

I know that this idea must seem to be off the planet to many of you, but 
I assure you that there are many good reasons for it. I have an 
extensive website dedicated entirely to the idea. Some of you may not 
have seen. It begins at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/catchus/student.html

Not a joke!
Bob Marks

Cordelia:
...since what I well intend, I'll do't before I speak...that you make 
known It is no vicious blot....

Fool:
...Why, this fellow has banish'd two on's daughters, and did the third a 
blessing against his will...

Lear:
And my poor Fool is hang'd! ... Do you see this? Look on her, look, her 
lips, Look there, look there!

http://users.bigpond.net.au/catchus/chapters.html
http://users.bigpond.net.au/catchus/a000.html

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Matt Henerson <
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Date: 		Friday, 24 Mar 2006 00:06:01 -0500
Subject: 17.0203 Doubling of Cordelia and the Fool: Again
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0203 Doubling of Cordelia and the Fool: Again

Mr. Ackroyd can offer no evidence in support of this doubling in 
Shakespeare's company, and I, in my turn, can offer no real evidence for 
my repudiation of the idea.  Of the three--soon to be four--LEARs I've 
appeared in, the roles were only doubled in one, and that didn't work 
very well.  The actor, a very young, petite and athletic woman--she 
played Ariel in the same season--was a strong Cordelia, but she didn't 
have the gravitas to oppose a much older, much larger Lear.  Other than 
that production, I've never seen the doubling tried, although I thought 
Emma Thompson a wonderful Fool in an otherwise forgettable production 
for the Renaissance Theatre Company in the early 90's, and she recorded 
Cordelia for the same company a few years later, so she could certainly 
have carried it off.

The problem for the contemporary director is that he or she is most 
often forced to look for a Cordelia who can also play Fool, rather than 
a Fool who can also play Cordelia, and Cordelia is a much more 
physically specific piece of casting.  She must be a woman, and while 
the Fool can be either sex, the role is written male.  She must be the 
youngest of three sisters, all three of whom are potentially sexually 
active.  This is not to say that people don't have sex into their 
eighties, but Goneril and Regan tend to be cast in their thirties and 
forties.  The Fool has no sexual stakes in the play, and he may be 
played--in fact he seems to me to work best when he is played--as an 
older man.

While Mr. Ackroyd, and others who argue in favor of this double, 
emphasize the links between the characters, I find the differences 
between them equally compelling.  Certainly both try to force Lear to 
acknowledge the folly of his behavior, but the way in which they each go 
about it emphasizes the gulf of age and experience which separates them. 
  Cordelia has the absolute faith and rigorous moral convictions of the 
very young.  All she needs to do is tell her father the truth, and he'll 
see the error of his ways.  In defending her position, she advances a 
50-50 division of a woman's love between a parent and a husband as the 
natural order of things.  There is no gray area here, none of the little 
concessions to psychology or personal politics which adult children have 
been making to aged parents since just after the flood.  "But goes thy 
heart with this?"  Of course it does.  She doesn't even seem to pick up 
on the fury just barely concealed by "So young and so untender?"  She 
begins a new line with three perfect iambs: "So young, my lord, and 
true." as if that will end the discussion.  And the storm breaks upon 
her unawares.

The Fool knows his man better; he's probably known him longer.  His 
attacks are much more sophisticated and indirect.  He knows exactly how 
far he can go before he's whipped, and he recognizes the danger to Lear 
in provoking him to an ungovernable fury.  In fact, he's forced to watch 
in complete silence in II iv, as Goneril and Regan do deliberately 
exactly what Cordelia did unconsciously in I i.  "All thy other titles 
thou hast given away, that thou wast born with." makes much more sense 
in a middle aged or elderly mouth.  Its owner has seen all sorts of 
titles--permanent, transient, actual and metaphorical--come and go, and 
no twenty-something would seriously advise anybody to "Leave thy drink 
and thy whore/And keep in a door/And thou halt have more/Than two tens 
to a score."  The conservatism, not to say the puritanism, in the 
injunction to lay aside the good stuff and save a little something for 
your retirement makes the line an injunction from one old man to 
another.  The youngest daughter says "Dad, you're an idiot."  The old 
friend and/or retainer can plausibly say "Come on, Old Man, act your age."

All of which is not to say that there are not some young actresses out 
there who can't pull both characters off, but one of the many things 
that makes Emma Thompson so marvellous is that there aren't that many of 
her.  It's a bromide in the profession that anybody capable of playing 
Juliet is too old to be cast in the role, but we've all seen marvellous 
Juliets.  The role is, after all, written as and for a young woman/man 
by the greatest of practical playwrights.  I am convinced--and again I 
can offer no evidence--that the Fool was written for Robert Armin, a 
profound and intelligent middle aged comedian, a fact which would make 
it necessarily difficult for a young woman to play him.  I've seen it 
tried several times, with and without doubling Cordelia, and I've never 
seen it work.

Matt Henerson

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