quinta-feira, agosto 11, 2016

Shakespeare in Hopscotch Mode: "Cimbelino" by William Shakespeare, António Pires (Stage Director), Teatro do Bairro, and Act for All School

(Entrance's front door to the theatre)


I've just got home from having seen Cymbeline. This is the first time I’ve watched this play (either on stage or on screen) and It’s just very fresh in my mind because I’d also just read it. There are some outstanding performances: Carolina Crespo as Imogen is outstanding and her relationship with José Pimentão as Posthumus is the emotional and beating heart of this production. Iacomo’s “comic” interjections and intonations were also very funny. Yes, there were ideas in abundance and some didn't come off so well (the action around the battle scene in particular lost itself more than a little in visual symbolism). Nevertheless, this is a production well worth seeing - it's also encouraging to see the significant number of actors in the company this year that are just coming out of this particular acting school – “Act for all School” (only Adriano Luz as Cymbeline and Rita Loureiro as the Queen, João Araújo, João Barbosa, and Ricardo Aibéo are professional actors). This production has given an invigorating another feel to the celebrations of the 400 years of Shakespeare’s demise.

This staging was a "showcase of Shakespeare's plays," where one can recognize Romeo and Juliet, Othello and some other of his works. According to the stage director, António Pires, he wanted to play to interact with the memories of the viewers - fetching references to paintings, but also with the songs that populate our imagination, as well as with fairy tales, and popular tradition.

The decisive factor for me to have enjoyed it (it’s not one my favourite plays), was the space where the stage was set, at the Carmo convent ruins; making the action of the play outdoors, allowed the natural “colours” (the play was performed at night), the black sky, and the ruins very much a part of the text.


I'm glad that they made the effort to stage this rather obscure play; many of these plays have many hidden gems. While the "Cymbeline" plot is contrived, I enjoyed it for combining themes and characters that were obviously borrowed from his other works. In this version of "Cymbeline," I had shades of “Othello” (Iacomo as Iago), “King Lear” (Cymbeline betrayed by his wife and step-son), “The Merchant of Venice” (Imagen disguised as a male youth), etc. As one of his late plays, it was both a tribute and a clever parody of Shakespeare’s own canon.

The original Elizabethan text was shown on the front wall of the ruins at the same time the actors were saying their lines. It was the first I saw something like this in a Shakespearean staged play in Portugal (it’s quite common in our Opera houses). I loved it! For my particular type of brain it was a treat. Listening to the text with one part of my Portuguese brain, and at the same time reading the text on the wall with the English part of my brain, produced a very weird but nevertheless very rewarding experience. Henrique Braga’s rendering is the translation I’d have liked to be able to do. It‘s not Shakespeare, but it’s not supposed to be. I’ve always maintained that Shakespeare in a foreign language is not Shakespeare, merely a rendering of the original text into another language. Shakespeare’s peculiarity lies in his words, i.e., in the power and beauty of his phrases in English. Yes, Shakespeare says stuff, some of it rather good, and quite interesting, but the real genius lies in the how, not the what. Considering the amount of text that Shakespeare 'reworked' (let's not forget that Shakespeare was, in effect, writing 'early-modernised' versions of old stuff, and I don't mean this in any way pejoratively), any translation of Shakespeare runs the very real risk of fulfilling Plato's criticism of poetry itself. This is ironic considering we're discussing poetry, but if anything is close to the ideal form of poetry, it's Shakespeare. I ought to go all Shakespearian at this juncture, but my memory deserts me. You can no more translate Shakespeare than you can Schiller or Celan. 

(The beginning of the play)

It is great that other people other than the English love Shakespeare, but the magic is in the unique construction of the words and phrases he used in his prose and blank verse, as delicately crafted as the finest sculpture and in many ways more important than the more obvious theatrical devices of plot and characterisation. He was not a mere storyteller and no translation - even into modern Portuguese, no less - can hope to capture his achievement. It can still make for damned fine theatre, but it is not Shakespeare. Of course the "profound and poetic use of the English language "gets lost in translation", and can only to a certain degree be replaced by a profound and poetic use of the Portuguese (or any other) language, if it is a good translation. So you have an advantage if you are able to enjoy Shakespeare in the original Elizabethan English. But there obviously remains enough of Shakespeare in any good translation, that he can fascinate people all over the world. What you translate of course changes the culture you translate into, but the act of translation also forces you to sometimes stretch, sometimes re-invent the possibilities of our target language. In as much as Vasco Graça Moura, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen and earlier translations did just that, they created a whole new Portuguese poetic idiom, "all ours" indeed. (Which modern translators find it hard to emancipate themselves from, by the way; but there are many excellent "poetic" modern versions.) All but four of his plays borrow plots from other sources, likewise with characters. One could rewrite the plays substituting modern English for the Elizabethan original, but that would be another form of rendering. I’m a die-hard Shakespearean. This means the Englishness of his plays must be kept at all costs. On the other hand, this does not mean I’m going to stop seeing Shakespeare’s plays in other languages, namely in Portuguese. I just know it’s going to be a different experience altogether. The level of fruition is just going to be on another plane of analysis. Kudos to Henrique Braga’s rendering of the Elizabethan text into Portuguese. I still feel the essence of Shakespeare's language evades translation even if the meaning is captured. From basic things like the rhythm of "To be, or not to be" compared with "Ser ou Não Ser", to the countless words Shakespeare invented for his own purposes, for me there's just no substitute for the originals. I think for a Portuguese reader moderately equipped with English, the effort required to read Shakespeare in the original is akin to the effort a native English speaker makes to understand Chaucer. In both instances it's possible with a bit of work, if you're really into it, as I am.

(One of the Gothic pillars on the right side of the theatre)

On a side note, it was only by watching this play that something about the 5th act crystallised in my mind. How was Shakespeare able to interweave strands of narrative elements drawn from Boccaccio, French medieval romance, Holinshed and various other sources? There are people saying Shakespeare was not an original writer. Bah! Everything was drawn together with mind-boggling skill. Producing a coherent work of art from an array of reworked source material is a complex business; it's just not as simple as saying that Shakespeare didn't write his own stories, and therefore the language is everything. Things are not as simple as that.


NB: Play seen live at a packed Carmo convent ruins in Lisbon, on the 9th of August 2016.

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