This evening Kellie led a brief warm-up (as she has in two previous sessions), first inviting the men to stretch for a while, then moving on to an articulation exercise. The stretching, along with some lighthearted conversation, helped us all to relax. Then we practiced delivering some challenging sentences from Edith Skinner’s classic text, Speak With Distinction – sentences like “These people feel that they can guarantee the suite for sweet Phoebe,” and “It’s a miracle that the ability of the English actress had been debated so belatedly.” The men had a lot of fun with that – and would have kept going after three rounds if we had not called “time”!
In our circle, I initiated a discussion of Iachimo’s character, and more specifically, his motivation. What drives him to make his wager with Posthumus, and to pursue Imogen? Christopher again compared these actions to “frat boy behavior” – where self-worth is based on one’s ability to compete with other men, and to assert dominance. The urge to dominate extends to women, who are seen as objects of conquest. Iachimo’s “Italian style” of this masculine pattern brings to bear his special gifts for intellectual calculation and emotional manipulation, commingled with his highly refined appreciation of art and beauty. Christopher said that Iachimo’s voyeuristic enjoyment of Imogen reminded him of someone sneaking into an art museum after hours, where he finds himself alone with a painting like the Mona Lisa, enjoying the artistry privately and illicitly. (I was reminded of the fact – but did not speak on it – that many of the men in this particular prison are sex offenders. Many no doubt have affinities for (or addictions to) pornography.)
What are the causes and conditions that sometimes pervert our very human, very natural urges (in this case, our natural aggressiveness and our sexual desires)? I suggested to the men that all of us have an “Iachimo” inside of us – a potential to misuse our aggressiveness and our sexuality. There were some murmurs and nods of agreement.
When I asked where in our lives we have seen this “Iachimo-like” behavior, Foist immediately responded: “In prison.” Kellie asked us to pause, and to consider that these behaviors also thrive outside of prison, in the highest circles of power. The prison industrial complex disproportionately punishes offenders in the lower socioeconomic strata. There was general agreement on this point.
We concluded the discussion for the time being, and moved on to work on 2.4 (where Iachimo convinces Posthumus that he has seduced Imogen) and 2.5 (where Posthumus rants bitterly against all women). As we worked through the text, our dramaturges helped us to take a closer look at some of the more challenging words and phrases. Christopher offered notes from the Arden 3rd Edition, Terrance from the New Cambridge, and Jarkese from the Oxford. We spent a considerable amount of time discussing this passage from 2.4.23-26 (Posthumus): Their discipline / (Now wing-led with their courages), will make known / To their approvers they are people such / That mend upon the world. The most difficult part of this passage is “Now wing-led with their courages.” There is considerable support for this interpretation: “Now led in wings or divisions (a disciplined formation) by their gallant commanders” (Furness, 1913). Another possibility has also been entertained, where “wing-led” is replaced by “mingled,” and “courages” is changed to “courage”: “Their discipline, now mingled with their courage.” This is the reading offered in the New Cambridge Edition, following changes made in the Second Folio. Wayne (Arden 3rd Edition) sticks with the First Folio text, while acknowledging that the Second Folio’s version may be more “accessible.”
I can see either choice working in performance, and I have left it up to our Posthumus to decide. (In this rehearsal, he went with “now mingled with our courage.”)
We also viewed 2.4 and 2.5 as presented in the three film versions of Cymbeline that we have been consulting: the 1982 BBC TV version (directed by Elijah Moshinsky), the 2014 film directed by Michael Almereyda, and the 2016 RSC production directed by Melly Still. At least some of the men appreciated the opportunity to see a range of interpretations and acting choices. I certainly find it helpful, as an actor and a director. I know from previous years, however, that Mike (our Posthumus) has a real aversion to looking at film versions, as he feels that it interferes with his own process of developing an individual, authentic approach to the character he is playing. My own feeling (which I have expressed to him) is that it is possible to maintain one’s own originality and integrity as an actor, while at the same time learning from and being enriched by the performances of others. We have agreed to disagree on this, and Mike simply turns his attention away from the screen when we show film.
Most of the group seems to prefer the simplicity, clarity, directness, and intelligence of the performances in the BBC version, despite its exceedingly dark tone, and “closet drama” feel. Helen Mirren, Michael Pennington, and Robert Lindsay are really wonderful, in an all-round stellar cast. The 2014 film, set in the context of a contemporary drug war between cops (standing in for the Romans) and a criminal organization (“the Britons”), slices and dices Shakespeare’s language, but it is helpful in connecting some of the play’s actions and emotions to contemporary attitudes and motivations. For example, when Posthumus speaks his diatribe against women (in voice-over narration), he is in a gun shop, selecting a weapon. Melly Still’s RSC production, set in a “dystopian new future” (Michael Billington, The Guardian), is very bold, and although much of it strikes me as overly presentational, extreme to a fault, and sometimes false, the dynamism and physicality of the performances are creative and inspiring.