Shakespeare in 1950s India: Wendy Beavis writes home

portrait

The Shakespeare Institute Library has recently acquired the letters of Wendy Beavis, an actor with the Shakespeareana Company touring India and Pakistan in the 1950s. Run by Geoffrey and Laura Kendal, the company performed in schools, theatres and sometimes the open-air and experienced long, cramped train journeys, basic accommodation and prickly heat as well as staying in palaces, riding on elephants and seeing the Himalayas, together with the camaraderie and petty squabbles of a small touring group of actors.

 

Wendy wrote to her parents in Sutton Coldfield every few days and her letters are full of the everyday experiences of being away from home: trying new food, making her limited money last, dealing with other company members and their foibles but also of the specific problems of a theatre troupe: trying to keep the costumes clean and pressed, coping with inadequate electrical supplies in remote villages, playing to audiences who don’t speak English and the constant shortage of greasepaint which Wendy frequently asks her parents to send her. The searing heat caused the Macbeth witches’ rubber masks to melt and the costumes to be drenched in sweat, monsoon rains flooded the theatre and drummed on the tin roof and, during a performance of Othello, an earthquake caused the audience to stampede from the theatre, endangering Jennifer Bragg (the Kendals’ daughter) who was lying on stage as the dead Desdemona.

Shakespeareana performed a varied repertoire, not just Shakespeare but also Gaslight, The Importance of Being Earnest, Charley’s Aunt and She Stoops to Conquer, here shown in a performance in Simla with Wendy on the far left.

production-shot

The company performed for and met many notable people including Prime Minister Nehru, Tensing Norgay, Countess Mountbatten, the Maharajah of Mysore and Gopi Krishna, the famous Kathak dancer.

The main sequence of letters runs from June 1953 when the company set sail on the TSS Jal-Jawahar from England to Bombay (performing several shows on board ship) until October 1956 when Wendy and fellow actor John Day returned on the MS Batory, with her final letter on the 20th ending ‘only another 17 days’. Having told her parents back in March that she would be coming home in the autumn and would be at home for Christmas, by the time she left India the ever-changing Shakespeareana schedule had changed again. The plan then was for the company to tour America and Canada and for Wendy to join them in Antwerp in November for the transatlantic crossing. However this tour never materialised, the company travelled on to Singapore and Malaya and Wendy never rejoined them. How her parents or Wendy herself felt about this we shall never know.

Wendy discussed news from home both domestic and national. She always responded to details in her parents’ letters and constantly asked questions about their garden, her relatives and Candy the cat. She also mentioned the 1955 general election, an outbreak of myxomatosis, a serious crash at Sutton railway station (still Birmingham’s worst rail disaster) and asked ‘How is this commercial T.V. going? Are you getting any better programmes, or is it more irritating?’

One of the common frustrations of reading an archive of letters is that you only get one side of the story.  A rare treasure therefore are two letters written to Wendy in November 1954 which were returned to sender covered in redirections: one from her father and one from her mother. Mrs Beavis went into hospital in 1954 for an operation; it’s clear Wendy worried about her and even offered to come home but we don’t know how much she knew about it or whether her parents withheld the details. Mr Beavis wrote that while his wife was in hospital he has put two coats of paint on the kitchen as a surprise for her and reports she was ‘bucked’ to get a letter from Wendy with snaps and flowers. Mrs Beavis wrote from Ward 2 of the Women’s Hospital and on page 11 of a 16-page letter mostly talking about other people she mentioned she has had a hysterectomy. We know Wendy did not get this letter but we have those she sent her mother in hospital, one enclosing two sprigs of bougainvillea, exotic blooms in Sparkhill, Birmingham.

envelope

Kate Welch, Senior Information Assistant

Advertisements

The Art of Deception: Kurosawa’s ‘The Bad Sleep Well’

ran-poster

This morning on Twitter a stunning poster of Ran reminded me of my awe and wonder for Kurosawa’s films. Yes, I’ve blogged about Kurosawa before but it struck me that Throne of Blood and Ran get much attention while the marvellous The Bad Sleep Well is less known and less praised. Here’s a short piece about that film which contains moments of pure cinematic genius.

————————————————–

In his book Theatre of Chaos William Demastes states that ‘Hamlet is like a sponge. Unless produced in a stylized or antiquarian fashion, it immediately absorbs the problems of our time… its philosophical dimensions are as rich and culturally moveable as its political dimensions.’

Kurosawa sets his version of Hamlet in contemporary post-war Japan. During the 20th century Japan transformed from a feudal empire to an industrial super state, and the transition was not a smooth one. When Japan surrendered at the end of the Second World War the emperor declared, “We must endure the unendurable”, and for the first time in their history Japan became an occupied country. Traditional feudal values were repressed by the American occupiers, there were political and economic reforms, democratic institutions were set up. A whole new way of life had to be adopted – some threw themselves into it with a self-destructive force, others, like Kurosawa, approached it carefully, adapted to it and made it their own. He was given the chance to make films about subjects that had never been tackled before – one of them being the social chaos of the post war years. Wartime austerity had been replaced by indulgence and excess. He said:

I wanted to make a film of some social significance. At last I decided to do something about corruption, because it has always seemed to me that graft, bribery, etc, on a public level is the worst crime that there is. These people hide behind the façade of some great organisation like a company or corporation and consequently no one ever really knows how dreadful they are, what awful things they do. Exposing them I thought of as a socially significant act – and so I started the film.

the-bad-sleep-well-poster2

Kurosawa’s resulting screenplay examines the effect that political decisions can have on the personal, and by association, national psyche – how will the human soul be affected? The Bad Sleep Well shows us a complete warping of traditional values – a sickness brought about by corruption within new and established institutions disturbed by the war. Speaking later he said: ‘Maybe it was because I came from the old samurai class, but even back then I remember hating anything crooked or underhanded’.

Important traditional qualities such as loyalty and honour are manipulated for self-interest. Employees are encouraged to commit suicide in order to save the skins of their superiors. Self-assertion was seen as immoral in pre-war days and self-sacrifice as a sensible course in life. In Kurosawa’s film the old levels of Japanese society, their ways and values are still in place but have been perverted for diabolical ends and a hidden agenda. Nobility and virtue no longer apply in a capitalist environment. Beneath the veneer of duty, ritual and obedience to authority is a wealth of personal trauma. The ‘Hamlet’ character, played by Toshiro Mifune (and by association Kurosawa himself), wishes to explode the facade, and takes on the important responsibility of trying to expose these men who hide behind the mask of respectability and act like gangsters.

the-bad-sleep-well-noirAppropriately, The Bad Sleep Well is photographed like a film noir. This was a style born in America by directors who fled Germany at the start of the Second World War. They used expressionistic techniques, chiaroscuro, angled camera positions, and disturbing cityscapes. This genre of film told stories of people who found it difficult and sometimes impossible to wade through the dark underbelly of their country – characters that are severely tested in their adjustment to civilian life after the war – having fought for justice, they find only corruption, and the fates against them in their own city streets. The noir style fits Kurosawa’s subject. Beautifully photographed in ravishing black and white widescreen, the film flows between the clinical corporate world of offices and meetings to the darkened suburban streets where ersatz ghosts and would-be-killers lurk in shadows, only to disappear in car headlights moments later.

the-bad-sleep-well-1960-4

Japan, like Denmark, is a prison. This feeling of entrapment is cleverly created with Kurosawa’s visual style. The majority of his shots in this film have a symmetrical composition. Characters stand on opposite sides of the screen reflecting each other and framing the action. The actors are often blocked to form converging lines or triangles so that the viewer subliminally feels as though he is being fenced in or pushed into a corner.

The settings also emphasize this eerie claustrophobic aspect with long corridors lit by strips of light, darkened streets lined with fences that block off sight-lines: a police office with horizontal blinds lit from outside creates bars of light across the walls; home interiors of plain walls with bars of wood again creating the idea of being closed in.

 

This film is a myriad of mousetraps, as Nishi tries to expose his father’s murderers and bring down the company. The centre-piece to this film is a breath-taking and extraordinary scene which occurs directly after Nishi has saved Wada, another company pawn, from committing suicide. Wada, who is believed dead by everyone, is forced by Nishi to watch his own funeral. This is Nishi’s incredibly cruel ‘play within the play’ which Wada must endure in order to spur the revenge plot. (The scene is first up in this trailer for the film).

It is a scene that reflects the concerns of the entire film. It is about truth and the juxtaposition of conflicting ideologies, and is completely cinematic – what we see and hear are completely at odds and so the horror of it is accentuated.

Nishi and Wada are in the constricted environment of the car, the windscreen itself acts like a cinema screen, and Nishi produces his own soundtrack – a recording of the corporate villains of the company Dairyu in a nightclub. So, we are watching a film within a film. The soundtrack is completely at odds with what we are watching, thus making it more grotesque. A grieving widow and child unknowingly receive the would-be murderers of the man they have lost. The very traditional funeral mount and the national costumes of the women, place them in traditional Japan – a funeral service for a man who believes in the validity of old values – the belief of which has ironically resulted in his attempted suicide and presumed death. The men from Dairyu, their dark suits representing the corporate world, appear reverential and humble, they pray – their deception in the outside world goes unnoticed. But we hear, with Wada, from their morbid drive-in, the truth. The westernisation of Japan and the corporate identity that the executives represent is echoed in the swinging western music of the night club, we see them bow in reverence but hear them laugh about the man’s death and talk about celebrating his demise with drink and women.

There is a great sense of corruption here, of guilt and the gullibility of innocence and, of course, of betrayal. In Hamlet, those in power act above the law – as in Macbeth they show a face that hides a much darker self.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Although he is alive, Wada is the ghost at his own funeral. He says, ‘after this I cannot go on living’. The rights have been performed and he is dead in the eyes of the world. Nishi leaves him no option but to join him in his revenge plot. But his role is that of a ghost, a visitor from the grave exposing the crime committed against him. Like Banquo’s ghost he repeatedly appears to his murderer and drives him out of his mind. His would-be murderer is also one of the men indirectly responsible for the death of Nishi’s father. He is left a gibbering wreck and in his madness, acknowledging his guilt, can only utter ‘Forgive me Furuya’.

Sons seeking revenge, corruption, murder for personal gain, madness, appearance versus reality, ghost and mousetraps – they are all here, joined by the pervading theme of deception. Kurosawa succeeds in exposing the corrupt interlocking of business and government in post-war Japan. Nishi’s attempt to impose justice on a world in which justice is absent is futile. As in Ran the chaos that ensues leads to madness and loss.

Karin Brown, Shakespeare Institute Librarian

Many of Kurosawa’s film are available on Box of Broadcasts including:

Ran

Throne of Blood

See the Bfi’s page on Kurosawa vs Shakespeare

Henry Irving, Bram Stoker & the Shakespearean Gothic Imagination

On the build up to Halloween and on the 110th anniversary of Henry Irving’s death enjoy this blog on the dark side of Irving and Shakespeare exposed in Stoker’s Dracula.

For Henry Irving it was one of those fortunate pieces of timing; at no other time in history would he have been the success that he was. When we look at reviews, articles and accounts of his performances and his choice of play we begin to pick up a strand of fin de siècle gothic. And, I believe that it is this strand, so in keeping with Victorian obsessions with the occult, that captivated audiences (and your typical late Victorian gent. Bram Stoker).

An interest in the occult goes through successive phases, and we can see it mirrored in the literature and drama of the time. The Gothic revival of the late 18th century, was mirrored by a similar but more socially embedded revival at the end of the 19th century. Where the works of Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis reflected concerns and fears about the French Revolution, Victorian gothic novels and stories tapped into the disintegration of a whole belief system. Where Shakespeare brought on his stage ghosts and witches and Ben Jonson exploited the contemporary belief in alchemy, Henry Irving brought to his stage mesmerism and doppelgangers, and the psychological terror of the unconscious.

Henry Irving as Mathias in The Bells

Henry Irving as Mathias in The Bells

Irving produced a powerful and curious emotional effect over his audience. Peter Thomson points out in his essay Henry Irving’s Secret Self “You cannot read much about Irving’s acting without encountering adjectives like ‘sly’, ‘sardonic’, ‘eerie’, ‘intense’ or even ‘demonic’”. In one review he was described as having a ‘ghastly power’ by the Athenaeum. These are not adjectives that we associate with Victorian stability, but with the subversive Gothic literature of the day.

Writing of Irving’s role as Philip of Spain in the play Queen Mary written by Tennyson one critic described his performance in the terminology of occultist beliefs:

The great actor’s spell! Let me rather say, Henry Irving’s Personal Magnetism, his hypnotism, his irresistable magic. It was this that created the blind enthusiasm of his followers … To those in the power of the Irving spell – and they were the vast majority – Irving, as actor, producer, manager, and man, could do no wrong. This is putting it too mildly – he could do nothing less than the absolutely perfect … the house (the Lyceum) became a temple. Even the pit was holy ground … We lost all sense of proportion.

Victorian England’s fascination with the pseudo-sciences such as phrenology, mesmerism and spiritualism was a cultural phenomenon which touched all classes of society and infiltrated all walks of life. We can see from the language used in this review (and there are others along a similar vein) that ‘magical thinking’ had entered the public consciousness to an alarming extent. But these references to Irving’s performances also demonstrate why he was popular at this time. He excelled in portraying the dark side of human nature better than any other actor at the time.

There were many events which shook the foundations of Victorian life – Darwinism, the trial of Oscar Wilde, the movement of the New Woman, socialism, the horrific murders by Jack the Ripper. As Clive Leatherdale points out: “It was a popular Victorian view that societies were afflicted by the criminals they deserve”. The divided self, and destructive sexual excess provoked a real life killer and a fictional vampire that would never leave public consciousness but remain the ever present bogey men of the rational thinking world.

Scene from Faust with Irving as Mephistopheles centre stage

Scene from Faust with Irving as Mephistopheles centre stage

Stoker and Irving shared a love of the supernatural. Ellen Terry stated that Irving’s “imagination was always stirred by the queer and the uncanny”. Contrary to what many people think when they hear the term Victorian, this was a time of great instability. The disintegration of established beliefs and strict moral and religious codes led some people down some very dubious paths. Explorations took place which were both fearful and exciting into the primitive and archaic forces deeply rooted in the human mind. The fiction of the time went beyond the “reductive and deterministic gaze of material science … and articulated disaffections with the reductive and normalising limits of the bourgeois structures of life. It was felt that these limits produced the divided lifestyles of the middle classes, respectable by day and pleasure seeking by night.”

In the Lyceum Victorian audiences had a theatre which reflected concerns in a way which was both thrilling and cathartic.

End of Act 1The play which made Henry Irving’s name, The Bells, was really a sign of things to come. What Irving tapped into throughout his career was the concept of the double life. His ability to explore the inner workings of human psychology and motivation echoed the emerging work of Freud and touched a nerve in his audience. In the last act of the play, virtually a monologue, (I’m presuming that you know the plot) the burgomaster dreams of a trial and dies from self-induced terror. A review from The Times explained how:

He is at once in two worlds between which there is no link – an outer world which is ever smiling, an inner world which is purgatory. The struggles of the miserable culprit fighting against hope are depicted by Mr Irving with a degree of energy which seems to hold the audience in suspense … it was not till the curtain fell, and they summoned the actor before the curtain with a storm of acclamation, that they seemed to recover their self-possession.

Irving unnerved and disturbed people, and they liked it. Through his style of acting he also gripped his audience – it is fair to say that they would never have seen an actor like him before. His physicality, his strange intonation and reading of lines fascinated audiences to such a degree that, like prey before the hypnotic snake, they couldn’t take their eyes off him.

Irving's as Mephistopheles used as the cover to edition of DraculaIt is no great claim to make for the man who inspired the literary icon of Dracula that Henry Irving was the first great horror actor. Max Beerbohm recalled: “He had, in acting, a keen sense of humour – of sardonic, grotesque, fantastic humour. He had an incomparable power for eeriness – for stirring a dim sense of mystery; and not less masterly was he in evoking a sharp sense of horror”. He was a man with an ‘inner devil’ of his own which drew him to sinister roles, and as Harold Bloom pointed out it was the source of his most powerful theatrical effects.

As Paul Murray in his recent biography of Stoker points out:

Irving’s forte was supernaturally tinged melodrama: he established his reputation in The Bells as far back as 1871 as the guilt-stricken murderer, Matthias. His Vanderdecken was, like Dracula, ‘haunted by the despair of an eternity of love’. The supernatural in Shakespeare was of particular interest to Stoker: he was struck by the wonderful way in which Irving handled the ghost in Hamlet … It has been suggested that Van Helsing’s name may derive from the Danish name for Elsinore, Helsingor, or ‘the island of Helsing.’ Even a romantic play like Romeo and Juliet struck a horrific chord with Stoker, with the bloodthirstiness of the Italian petty states … making an unusually strong impact on him.

When it came to Shakespeare it was the characters who embody the idea of the divided self with which Irving had most success: Macbeth, Iago, Richard III, Hamlet – characters which show one face to the world of the play and an inner self to the audience.
After seeing him perform Hamlet, R Russell concluded on the central character that:HI_copy

Hamlet is evidently one of those who find in solitude a licence and cue for excitement, and who, when alone and under the influence of strong feelings, will abandon themselves to their fancies. Such men… will pace rooms like wild animals, will gaze into looking-glasses until they are frightened at the expression of their own eyes, will talk aloud … will do almost anything to find vent for emotions which their imagination is powerful enough to kindle.

Take out the name Hamlet and this could be the description of numerous characters from the best works of Gothic fiction. Irving explored the Victorian fear that should one release one’s grip on the self that a persona could emerge from the ‘secret depths’ who is different and other from society’s norms. His ‘unmanly’ Hamlet exposed the fallacy of Victorian confidence in revealing the insecurity of the self. This was his unique selling point and his dark attraction to his audience.

‘Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breaths out
Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on.

One is not suggesting that Hamlet has acquired the ‘dark gift’, but the vampiric imagery in this speech is self evident. Shakespeare’s work is rife with ghosts, spirits and the supernatural and the text of Dracula reverberates with Shakespeare’s influence. Stoker’s life-long association with the Bard went back to his Trinity College days where he was taught by the Shakespearean scholar Edward Dowden. But it was his work with Henry Irving that provided Stoker with his intimate knowledge of the plays. There are many Shakespearean references in Dracula: plot lines, themes, images, quotes, and misquotes used.

One example of Stoker’s use of Hamlet occurs in chapter 11. Lucy, Dracula’s first victim in England, desperate for a restful sleep and surrounded by garlic flowers, compares herself with Ophelia, but you can also see references to Hamlet’s words in the most famous soliloquy when she writes:

Ellen Terry as Ophelia

Ellen Terry as Ophelia

“Oh, the terrible struggle that I have had against sleep so often of late; the pain of the sleeplessness, or the pain of the fear of sleep, with such unknown horrors as it has for me! How blessed are some people, whose lives have no fears, no dreads; to whom sleep is a blessing that comes nightly, and brings nothing but sweet dreams. Well, here I am to-night, hoping for sleep, and lying like Ophelia in the play, with “virgin crants and maiden strewments.”

Dreams and the unconscious play an important part in the novel. Trances, sleep and nightmares drive the novel’s action. Stoker uses Lucy’s sleepwalking to exonerate her from making a pact with the devil. She is vamped and dies while in a state of trance. Unlike Lady Macbeth, she is spared damnation.

036150

Image of Irving’s Macbeth

Macbeth more than any other play is key to the development of Dracula. Here are a few of the comparisons Barbara Belford makes with Macbeth:

  • Both centre on a desolate, brooding castle to which an unsuspecting stranger is lured and then “visited” in his sleep.
  • Both have a sleepwalking scene.
  • The protagonists, motivated by power and ambition, receive a kind of immortality from their covenant with supernatural forces, and die trapped in their castles with their throats slashed.
  • In both evil is seen as an infectious plague to be destroyed by teamwork.
  • Macbeth’s three “weird sisters” are resurrected to tantalize Jonathan Harker.
  • The image of blood is also very central to both. In Macbeth the word “blood” or “bloody” occurs 36 times.

There are also references from King Lear, The Tempest, Cymbeline, Much Ado About Nothing, The Winter’s Tale, Twelfth Night and As You Like It. For instance the scene in Cymbeline where Iachimo enters Imogen’s bedroom. He emerges from a casket in the dead of night to defile a chaste maiden as she sleeps – if in ‘name’ only. One senses that Stoker created his own monstrous apparition with Irving’s Shakespearean qualities in mind.

Irving and Terry in Cymbeline

Irving and Terry in Cymbeline

Stoker was a complex man, but a man of his time, beset with self-contradiction, inner divisions and paradoxes. Undoubtedly, the connections he made and people he met through Irving, and from his life at the centre of Victorian London, provided him with enormous amounts of material. But mostly Stoker was always attracted by the theatricality which so often accompanies the Gothic. And it is through Irving’s repertoire that we can see the origins of his fiction: double lives, mesmerism, supernatural visitation, pacts with the devil, immortality.

Karin Brown, Shakespeare Institute Librarian

The Jasper Britton Script Collection

With Jasper Britton returning to the Royal Shakespeare Company to play the eponymous character in Gregory Doran’s productions of Henry IV, it seems a good time to delve into one of our newest collections in the Shakespeare Institute Library. Our intrepid leader, Karin Brown, is making great strides in expanding the SIL’s special collections, especially those items connected with the performance history of early modern plays. The Jasper Britton Script Collection contains five treasures from four of his Globe and RSC appearances: Macbeth and The Tempest from productions at the former and Gregory Doran’s productions of The Taming of the Shrew and John Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed from 2003.

Jasper Britton in rehearsal for Henry IV

Jasper Britton in rehearsal for Henry IV
Photo: Kwame Lestrade

Britton’s association with the RSC begins long before our script collection, having appeared in A Jovial Crew, The Beggar’s Opera, as Meander in Terry Hands’ production of Tamburlaine  (which memorably had Antony Sher climbing up a rope and hanging upside down, just because he could I seem to recall – I’d be surprised if he did that again as Falstaff, although it’d be amusing with him reuinted with Britton in the Henry IVs) and as a Soothsayer in John Caird’s Antony and Cleopatra in the 1992-93 season. The first of Britton’s two ten year gaps between RSC Shakespeare appearances then occurred, during which time he (according to the World Shakespeare Bibliography) played Richard III for Brian Cox at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park in 1995 (incidentally, we also have the Open Air Theatre’s archive collection including material related to Jasper Britton’s Richard III; more of that another time), Theresites in Trevor Nunn’s Troilus and Cressida at the National Theatre in 1999 and Macbeth opposite Eve Best at the Globe in 2001. As a Troilus and Cressida addict, I’d love nothing else but to have a look through the script for that, but alas…

Jasper Britton's script for Macbeth

Jasper Britton’s script for Macbeth
The Globe, 2001

No sense in dwelling on what’s missing from Britton’s Shakespearean career, though. What we do have in the Jasper Britton collection is an unadulterated field day for the researcher of contemporary Shakespearean theatre. Unlike promptbooks, which record – with varying degrees of detail depending on the stage manager – the production as set when it reaches the stage, this collection of scripts details the actor’s rehearsal process through a mass of annotations written throughout Britton’s personal copies.

Macbeth, Globe, 2001

Macbeth, Globe, 2001
Photograph Alastair Muir

The breadth of the comments can be seen on one page of Macbeth in 1.3 just as the witches vanish and leave him alone with Banquo. Next to his line to the Witches, Britton writes: “or witches, what’s in it for you?”; halfway down the page in between Banquo’s “That takes reason prisoner?” and his response, Britton has noted “PAUSE”; and next to Ross’s lines on entry to the scene (“The King hath happily receiv’d, Macbeth”), Britton writes, “Don’t cross legs”. From this one page, we glean a paraphrase, a technical note on line delivery, and a note on the physicality of the character. In other words, a treasure trove of material detailing the process by which Britton has created the character. The snag is having the finished script and not being able to unpack the timeline of the annotations, so we don’t know how this layering developed. What we do know is that it happened, of course, which is extremely valuable to the theatre researcher because so little investigation delves into process.

Taming of the Shrew, RSC, 2003

The Taming of the Shrew
RSC, 2003
Photographer: Jonathan Dockar-Drysdale

The acting process is (to completely simplify something complex) about adding layers to the character in order to create a living, breathing and believable human being from the clues in the text and the imagination of the actor. What Britton’s scripts beautifully capture is the creation of subtext in the margins, providing an insight into the characters Britton built on stage. For The Taming of the Shrew, it is apparent that he was creating a sympathetic character out of what is unrelenting brutality on the page, interpreting Petruchio in a fresh and inventive way against the grain of usual portrayals of the character as a swaggering braggert. Britton’s motivations – as shown in these scripts – are counterintuitive, as with the act four arrival of Kate and Petruchio at the latter’s home. Britton writes on the blank page adjacent to the text in his Applause First Folio edition of the play a note for this scene, saying “All that goes wrong is awful because it’s not good enough for Kate.”  Next to Petruchio’s line “Food, food, food, food!” Britton writes, “Ask for it! – for her – she’s starving,” which again implies his Petruchio is attempting to look after his new bride. Amusingly, Britton’s view of Petruchio as eager to please Kate extends to his dog, as his subtextual note corresponding with “Where’s my spaniel Troilus?” says, “he’s lovely – you’ll love him.” Those of you who are familiar with this scene are possibly shouting at your computer by now and saying what a beast Petruchio is to Kate, making her go to bed starving, picking fights with servants, etc. There’s a subtextual fix for that too as Petruchio is left alone to soliloquize “Thus have I politicly begun my reign” yet he’s thinking – according to Britton’s notes in the margin, “ F***ed that up, didn’t I?” These script annotations reveal an actor who takes risks in making choices by not going for the obvious reading, which translates into a three-dimensional and sympathetic character on the stage, as some reviewers noted:  Susannah Clapp in the Observer noted “Britton’s finely judged Petruchio is no demon: he’s troubled and perplexed” and, similarly, picking up on the fine detail and nuance of Britton’s performance, John Peter in The Times wrote, “His swagger is brilliantly aggressive, but it hides a slight sense of insecurity that makes him human.” The Jasper Britton Script Collection provides a wealth of information about the actor’s thinking about his character and how he created his unconventional reading through thinking clearly about the subtext, marking his thoughts in the margin of his script.

Dr Jami Rogers (Library Support Assistant and alumna of the Shakespeare Institute)

Other actors’ scripts held by the University include those belonging to Samuel West (SIL), Nigel Hawthorne (SIL), Norman Painting (CRL), John Gielgud (CRL), Laurence Olivier (CRL), and Noel Coward (CRL) (SIL – held at the Shakespeare Institute Library, Stratford-upon-Avon / CRL – held at the Cadbury Research Library, Birmingham)