Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens during the play
- Leontes, the King of Sicilia, has been entertaining his childhood friend, Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, for nine months. Leontes asks his wife Hermione to persuade Polixenes to delay his departure for home a little longer.
- Suddenly, Leontes is overcome with the belief that his wife has been having an affair with Polixenes and that the child she is about to have is Polixenes’s bastard.
- Leontes orders Hermione’s arrest and separates her from their young son, Mamillius. Leontes then orders his councilor, Camillo, to murder Polixenes. Instead, Camillo warns Polixenes and the two of them escape to Bohemia.
- Hermione delivers a baby daughter while in prison, and her attendant Paulina, enraged at Leontes’s accusations against her lady, brings the infant to Leontes and pleads with him to reconsider.
- Leontes’s only concession is to ask the god Apollo (through the Oracle at Delphi) to decide his wife’s guilt or innocence. He tells Paulina’s husband, Antigonus, to remove the infant girl and abandon her “to some remote and desert place.” Meanwhile, lonely for his mother, Mamillius falls ill.
- Hermione goes on trial and the messengers from the Oracle arrive. Apollo proclaims that “Hermione is chaste, Polixenes blameless, Camillo a true subject, Leontes a jealous tyrant.”
- Leontes rejects Apollo’s declaration as “mere falsehood,” Hermione collapses and is pronounced dead; news comes that their son Mamillius has also died.
- Leontes realizes that “the heavens themselves do strike at my injustice.” He begs Apollo’s forgiveness.
- Meanwhile, as a storm is brewing, Antigonus arrives on a seacoast with the baby girl; a bear attacks and kills him. A Shepherd and his son find the unharmed baby.
- A Chorus in the person of Time announces that sixteen years have passed and that the abandoned girl, named Perdita, has grown up in the home of the shepherd. Polixenes, suspecting his son Florizel is in love, disguises himself to spy on the situation at the annual sheep shearing festival.
- Autolycus, a musical scoundrel and pickpocket, tricks the shepherd’s son, who is on his way to the festival.
- During the festival, the King finds out that his son is in love with a “shepherdess” (Perdita) and forbids it. Camillo helps the young lovers flee to Sicilia.
- Unions, reunions, and wonders ensue.
Notes from the Director
It is required you do awake your faith
(edited notes I sent the actors before we started rehearsals)
– The categories that subdivide On Demand and Netflix so you can easily look for the “kind of movie” you want are similar to the categories/headings in the 1623 First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays: “Comedies,” “Tragedies,” “Histories.” And just as movies like Pulp Fiction (a crime thriller filled with comedy) and Shakespeare in Love (a period drama full of romantic comedy) are not always listed where you think they should be, individual Shakespeare plays are also the product of mixing and matching from these categories. And I think this mixing of genre is part of what makes Shakespeare so great: the comedy in Much Ado is heightened by the hard-core dramatic center of the play; the first half of the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is some of the funniest and dirtiest stuff Shakespeare ever wrote. (What’s wonderful about Netflix and the new wave of online video stores is that movies can be listed in multiple genres. Shakespeare in Love is simultaneously listed in: Romantic Comedies, Romantic Dramas, Period Pieces.)
– So, the WT note here is: play the moment. Don’t try to play the scene or what you think is the appropriate tone for a genre. Play each moment as it is written and let it be whatever it is; don’t label it. Let Genius Boy (Shakespeare) and me (his favorite director!) take you and the audience from moment to moment and let me worry about the cumulative effect. Don’t play an arc, play each moment so that those watching can decide what they think the arc is.
– Too many actors get caught in the trap of deciding what their overall character journeys are and then playing pieces of that overlay rather than digging in and finding/playing each individual moment night after night.
– What’s surprising, shocking, and delightful about the ride of WT is that tone, dynamic, and genre often slip and slide in ways that are hard to predict. We will treat our audiences to a feast that delivers the entrée, salad, dessert, and appetizer in unique but delicious ways.
– Shakespeare doesn’t care about the descent into jealousy in WT (he did that in OTHELLO), he wants to explore the effects of jealousy on a marriage with kids, the ultimate horror it can create, and then repentance, forgiveness, rebirth, and reconciliation.
– The audience has to care about these characters to take the best ride Shakes has given us. For the audience to care, the characters have to love truly madly, deeply.
– Polixenes can’t be on the prowl or skeevy in any way.
– The love from every side has to be deep and real.
– The accusation of infidelity has to feel so real/true for Leontes but also be very wrong for everyone else.
– Leontes has to believe he is right, right, right…right up until he realizes he has been so, so wrong.
– And the ending has to be happy. That’s a very difficult aspect to the fairy tale. At the end of the play, Mamillius is dead. Antigonus is dead. Neither of them come back to life. And yet the ending has to be a painfully happy family reunion.
– But a big part of this play is a fairy tale. Rebirths are possible in fairy tales. Leontes’s repentance, Hermione’s rebirth, a statue that comes to life to be reunited with her daughter all create the kind of heart-breaking, heart-restoring miracle that also makes perfect sense as the culmination of this fairy tale.
– The end of this play is a miracle.
I can’t wait to work on this great play with you wonderful actors!!!!
ASC Artistic Director and Co-Founder