April 25th, 2016

shakespeare

30 days of Shakespeare: Day 7 - Your favourite clown

It's a matter of convention, of course, but I tend to find the scenes with Shakespearean fools rather jarring to the course of the play. It can be done well, of course, but it was an intervention that perhaps worked much better in Elizabethan theatrical idiom than it does now. Romeo and Juliet, for instance, has two comic relief minor characters: the illiterate clown who accidentally invites Romeo to the Capulets' ball, and Peter, Juliet's nurse's servant. Neither really works for me. (The nurse herself, of course, may be a clown, but I think she's a different sort of entity.)

There's one glorious clown figure, however, who in the hands of a good actor can completely steal the show in a play ostensibly about other people. He bosses his friends around, and when he wakes up to find that a woman of unearthly beauty has become fascinated by him, he takes it as no more than his due. He also has the same first name as I do. I speak, of course, of Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, that odd play which starts off abut two young aristocratic couples and ends up with fairies, amateur theatricals, and a manifestation of the divine. The humorous and farcical aspects of the plot are pretty timeless (none of the incomprehensible wordplay scenes of, say, Love's Labour's Lost). And Bottom stands out as the most vivid character of the lot - the guy in the club who thinks the whole thing revolves around him, and because he thinks so it has largely become true. Of all Shakespeare's fools, he is the one who I feel is best integrated into the plot and perhaps says the most interesting things, without meaning to, about us human beings.

Here's a very glamorous Judi Dench as Titania, in love with Ian Richardson as Bottom in 1968:



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