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Archive for October, 2012

  Please Join us if you can!    

You are Cordially Invited to JASNA-Vermont’s December Meeting 

~ The Annual Jane Austen Birthday Tea! ~

  Sandy Lerner* 

“Writing Second Impressions 

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~ Traditional English Afternoon Tea ~
~
and Playing Word Games with Jane Austen! ~ 

Sunday, 2 December 2012, 2 – 5 p.m. Champlain College, Hauke Conference Center,
375 Maple St Burlington VT 
 

$25. / JASNA members and pre-registrants;
$30. at the door; $5. / student

Pre-registration is required!  ~ Please do so by 23 Nov 2012!

~ the form: Dec Tea 2012 Reservation form
~ Regency Period or Afternoon Tea finery (hats!) encouraged! ~ 

For more information:   JASNAVermont [at] gmail [dot] .com
Please visit our blog at: http://JaneAustenInVermont.wordpress.com

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*Sandy Lerner, co-founder of Cisco Systems, founder of Urban Decay Cosmetics,  founder of the Ayrshire Farm in Virginia, and, most dear to us, is also the founder and moving force behind the Chawton House Library. She is now Chairman of Trustees, Chawton House Library and the Centre for the Study of Early English Women’s Writing, a place for research and camaraderie for scholars from all over the world. What better place than the former home of Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen-Knight to study Austen and her literary antecedents and contemporaries!

Lerner’s book Second Impressions, written under the nom de plume of Ava Farmer, is set 10 years after the action in Pride and Prejudice, and explores the changes to the Darcy family’s lives, to Europe post-Napoleon, and to life in late Regency England, all as homage to Jane Austen, written in her “stile”, and with a fascinating yet credible plot. So let’s step into Lerner’s world to discover such things as: What do Darcy and Elizabeth do all day at Pemberley? Is Lady Catherine a welcome and constant visitor? Are the Wickhams reformed?  And what becomes of England’s most eligible female Georgiana Darcy? And Anne de Bourgh? And dare we ask about Mr. and Mrs. Collins?!

Second Impressions will be available for purchase and signing, all proceeds to benefit Chawton House Library.

During the Tea we shall engage in Playing Word Games with Jane Austen, a most suitable and refined entertainment for a wintry afternoon!

*****

Sandy Lerner, c2012 Pal Hansen

Links for further reading:

c2012, Jane Austen in Vermont

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The AGM in Brooklyn brought many pleasures, and one of the most pleasurable was meeting and talking with Susannah Fullerton.  I have long been an admirer – she is the President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia and a quick perusal of their website shows the extent of what she and her organization do, from annual meetings to conferences and the JASA publications Sensibilities and The JASA Chronicle.  Susannah also leads a number of literary tours for ASA Cultural Tours  [Australians Studying Abroad], and lectures on Austen around the world. And I must add that she was perfectly cast as the close-to-hysterical Marianne in the “Austen Assizes” script by Diana Birchall and Syrie James staged in Brooklyn!

Susannah has written many articles and a few books, one on which remains an all-time favorite, Jane Austen and Crime (Jones Books, 2004), wherein Ms. Fullerton gives us the real world that Jane Austen alludes to in all her works, the realities of such pieces in the narrative as Willoughby as serial seducer, Lydia’s “elopement,” and even the gypsies in Emma.  In her newest work, A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and her Characters went to the Ball (London: Frances Lincoln, 2012), Fullerton offers up the same detailed analysis of what Austen so off-handedly tells us, most of which we don’t quite “get” as 21st-century readers – the dressing for the dance, getting to the Ball, the various types of balls, proper etiquette, the music, the conversation, the Men! – all of it to enhance our understanding of Austen’s time and therefore her stories…

I have asked Susannah to join us today to tell us a little about her book, and her publisher has generously offered a copy for a giveaway – please see the information below on entering to win!

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SF:  Some years ago I was having dinner with Joan Strasbaugh of Jones Books, the publishing firm which had brought out the American edition of my book Jane Austen and Crime, when Joan suggested that a book that really needed to be written was a book about Jane Austen and Dance. I was taken aback for a moment! Surely, with dances playing such a vital role in Jane Austen’s fiction, that subject had already been covered. But when I stopped to think, I realised it had not. Many Austen scholars have written about her dance scenes as part of other works, but there was no one book devoted entirely to that subject, a book that explored the social etiquette of the ballroom, the vital role dance played in courtship, the suppers served and the music played. Would I be interested, Joan asked, because if so, she could recommend the project to Frances Lincoln UK Ltd. And so I started writing.

image: Republic of Pemberley

What I wanted to do, I decided, was to follow Jane Austen’s characters to a ball. Had I been Jane or Elizabeth Bennet, what would the whole process of going to a dance have involved? How did a heroine get to a ball in the first place if her family had no carriage (the case for Emma Watson), how did she dress for the occasion, what rules governed her behaviour while there, and what differences did she find between assembly balls and private balls? When she stood up with a young man, what were the possibilities for flirtation and courtship, and how does Jane Austen show this happening with Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley, Emma and Mr Knightley, Catherine and Henry, Marianne and Willoughby, when they are dancing with each other? Poor Fanny Price suffers the day after the Mansfield ball when she has no suitable confidante with whom to talk it all over, but for luckier young ladies often the ‘post-ball discussion’ was almost as much fun as the event itself.

Jane Austen loved to put on her satin slippers and go off to dance. In my book I wanted to provide information about the balls she attended, from the Basingstoke assemblies of her youth when she danced happily with neighbours and family friends, to the later balls where she chaperoned nieces and preferred to sit by the fire with a glass of wine rather than dance. She too enjoyed courtship in a ballroom when she danced with Tom Lefroy; she too knew the excitement of being asked by the right man, and the challenges of avoiding the wrong one.

As I wrote my book I discovered patterns in Jane Austen’s use of dances in her fiction. Several of the novels have one informal dance and one more formal one, and she uses each to progress her themes, characterisation and relationships. In some novels what happens is romantic, as is the case when Darcy and Elizabeth are partners and you can almost see the sparks between them, but in Mansfield Park everyone always seems to be dancing with the wrong person and balls in that novel illustrate selfishness, not romance. Jane Austen makes a great deal happen at a ball!

image: Brock illus Mansfield Park, Mollands

A Dance with Jane Austen is beautifully illustrated with contemporary pictures or illustrations from the novels. I include a brief chapter about dances in the film versions, but decided not to make this extensive because so often film-makers get it wrong and put in a dance, such as Mr Beveridge’s Maggot, which Jane Austen would not have danced. However, there are some lovely pictures from some of the movies that I chose to include.

For the past 17 years I have served as President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia. In that time I have lectured extensively about Jane Austen and her works, and have seen the joy that her books give to readers around the world. I hope that my book will increase the enjoyment of those readers by taking them into the ballrooms to discover that there is “nothing like dancing after all.”

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JAIV: One question I would ask Susannah is ‘What is your favorite dance scene in a Jane Austen novel and why?’

SF:  My favorite dance scene is the Crown Inn ball in Emma. This is the evening when Emma first starts to view Mr. Knightley as an attractive male, rather than as an old friend and family connection. She watches his “erect” figure move about the room, sees him rescue Harriet Smith from the embarrassment of being rejected as a dance partner, prods him into asking her to dance with him, and can hardly take her eyes off him all night! Jane Austen achieves so much in all her dance scenes – she gives a sense of a full community of living people, progresses courtships, reveals character and shows faults and foibles – but this scene is particularly rich. The moment when Emma reminds Mr. Knightley that they are “not really so much brother and sister as to make (dancing together) at all improper” and he replies “Brother and sister! No, indeed!” is one of the most erotic moments in all of Jane Austen’s fiction. It thrills me every time!

image: theloiterer.org

Oh I agree – I love this scene! Thank you so much Susannah for sharing your love of Jane Austen and dance with us!

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Gentle Readers!  please ask any question you might have for Susannah Fullerton or post a comment here and you will be entered into the random drawing for a copy of A Dance with Jane Austen. Please do so by 11:59 pm, Sunday November 4th, 2012. Winner will be announced on Monday Nov. 5th – Worldwide eligibility!

For a review of the book, please visit:

About the author: 

Susannah Fullerton is President of JASA, and author of Jane Austen – Antipodean Views, Jane Austen and Crime and the forthcoming Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece (due out Jan. 2013) – note that the UK title of this work is Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

A Dance with Jane Austen
Frances Lincoln, October 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0711232457

Upcoming book: (Feb. 2013)

US edition title and cover

UK edition title and cover

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Originally posted on Austenprose - A Jane Austen Blog:

Jane Austen's Regency World Magazine (No 60) Nov Dec (2012)Hot off the presses is the November/December 2012 (No 60) edition of Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine, the ultimate Austen reading indulgence. Here are the featured articles!

  • Some great Christmas gift ideas for the Jane Austen fan in your life
  • You shall go to the dance – public and private balls in Jane Austen’s time
  • How keeping a bawdyhouse could be a tough business
  • Baiting, coursing and fishing: blood sports were big business in the Georgian era
  • Looking at Jane’s use of fashion accessories in Emma
  • The life of Sir Thomas Bernard, a prominent philanthropist
  • Jane in the Garden of England

This new issue also includes reports from the recent Jane Austen Festival in Bath and the JASNA AGM in Brooklyn; news, letters, book reviews and much, much more!

Need a seasonal gift?

A subscription to Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine is the perfect gift for friends and family who…

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Janeite Deb:

Here is your chance to win Janine Barchas’s Matters of Fact in Jane Austen!

Originally posted on Johns Hopkins University Press Blog:

Okay Austen-philes, now that the 2012 JASNA (that’s the Jane Austen Society of America to the uninitiated) is through and your lives have returned to some semblance of normalcy, here’s your chance to test your knowledge of Jane Austen and her times.

Allowing for variant spellings, the real-world occupants at Baddesley Clinton share with Austen’s protagonists in Sense and Sensibility so prominent a name (first and last) that it remains emblazoned upon the stained-glass windows of their medieval manor.  What is this shared name?

We’ll send a copy of Janine Barchas’s Matters of Fact in Jane Austen to the first two people to correctly answer this question in comments to this post.

(Hint: Savvy readers might pick up on the answer simply by reading Professor Barchas’s recent post to our blog. A close look at the illustrations in her book also gives away the answer.)

Have at it!

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Reader’s Digest recommends Jane Austen in motion.

The Graphic Canon, Vol. 2, edited by Russ Kick, has just been released – Pride and Prejudice graces the cover!

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Gentle Readers:  I welcome today, Janine Barchas, associate professor of English at the University of Texas, Austin, where she teaches, perfectly situated you might say, Austen in Austin. She has published a number of scholarly articles on Jane Austen and the just released Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location and Celebrity (Johns Hopkins UP, 2012).  She has graciously offered to share a bit of one of the tales expounded on in her book, the Wentworth family of Yorkshire.  I think you will want to know more about her very interesting findings – I highly recommend the book! – and see below for a contest offering from the publisher that starts this coming Friday October 26 [see the blog here: http://jhupressblog.com/ ] – and please comment or ask Janine a question!

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A Janecation in Yorkshire?  Jane Austen’s Real Wentworths

Although South Yorkshire may seem an unlikely destination for a Janeite pilgrim, the research for my book Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: history, location, and celebrity (Johns Hopkins UP, 2012) led me to two breathtaking country estates with histories that connect to Austen’s fictions: Wentworth Castle and Wentworth Woodhouse.

I was not tracing Austen’s physical steps, but following some of her leading names—particularly Wentworth, Woodhouse, Fitzwilliam, Darcy, Watson, and Vernon.  When Austen selected these surnames for her fictional protagonists, they hung on the real-world family trees of these two neighboring Yorkshire estates.  Not unlike the Kennedy family in our own era, the Wentworth clan consisted of high-profile politicians and celebrities—with newspapers assiduously tracking all sightings and London shops selling reproductions of family portraits as cheap paper pinups.  Jane Austen, too, seems to have been keenly aware of Wentworth celebrity.

Wentworth Woodhouse

Even a short summary of the history of Wentworth Woodhouse can make an Austen fan sit up with the surprise of recognition.  After Robert Wentworth married a rich heiress named Emma Wodehouse, their Yorkshire family so prospered that in 1611 its senior line achieved a baronetcy, just as the owner’s sister married the heir of the wealthy D’Arcy family.  The eldest son of that same first baronet was the hapless Thomas Wentworth, first Earl of Strafford and martyr to the royalist cause.  With the Restoration, the estate was returned to Strafford’s eldest son, William Wentworth.  But when William died without issue in 1695, it transferred to the children of his sister, Anne Wentworth, wife to the head of the Watson family.  When in 1751, Charles Watson, heir to these princely estates, succeeded his father as the second Marquess of Rockingham, he became one of the wealthiest peers in England.  Charles Watson Wentworth, having added his mother’s maiden name to his own, was twice elected Prime Minister of England.  But he died unexpectedly and childless in 1782, just after his second election at age 52.  Thus, when Austen was a mere girl, the combined fortunes of the Woodhouses, Wentworths, and Watsons transferred to their next of kin, the Fitzwilliams.

Wentworth Castle

Wentworth Castle, 1829

By then, a family feud between Wentworth cousins (Tory and Whig) had resulted in Wentworth Castle.  Even the name of the rival estate deliberately taunted the mere “House” six miles away.  Major renovations to Wentworth Castle were duly answered with elaborate improvements to nearby Wentworth Woodhouse, shaping English garden design through one family’s political rivalry.  The competitive landscaping at these neighboring estates, the bulk of which took place between 1710 and 1790, was a prolonged endeavor that occurred on a grand scale and in the national spotlight.  It was in 1791, when Austen was in her teens, that the Wentworth Castle estate and titles were inherited by an obscure gentleman from Dorset named (I’m not making this up!) Frederick Wentworth, making him the third and last Earl of Strafford.  When Austen reached her late 20s, Wentworth Castle became the property of young Frederick Vernon after another heated Wentworth-family dispute. The historical circumstances surrounding this contested transfer of Wentworth wealth resemble those in Lady Susan, which features at least two characters named Frederic Vernon as well as a dispute over a family castle.

William Wentworth – 2nd Earl of Strafford

[Image from wikipedia]

After years of wily namedropping, and perhaps because her contemporary readers would have instantly connected the hero of Persuasion with this glamorous Wentworth family, Austen disclaims in her final novel.  She has the sycophantic Sir Walter Elliot sneeringly dismiss any link between Capt. Frederick Wentworth, the story’s self-made naval officer, and the highborn Wentworths from Yorkshire, who held titles such as the Earl of Strafford: “Mr. Wentworth was nobody, I remember, quite unconnected; nothing to do with the Strafford family.”  By placing the requisite disclaimer in the mouth of Sir Walter, Austen keeps her own tongue firmly in her cheek.  Sir Walter is notoriously unreliable—a narcissistic fop who lacks judgment.  Despite, or perhaps because of, Sir Walter’s dismissal, the name of Frederick Wentworth so flagrantly invites contemporary associations that the upending of those expectations (a landless sailor named after one of England’s most famous landowning families?) becomes part of the story’s piquancy and contemporary appeal.

Anne Wentworth, Countess of Strafford – by Joshua Reynolds c1745

[Image from wikipedia]

Today, both properties are being renovated and have opened their gardens to visitors.  Privately owned Wentworth Woodhouse has plans for a spa and hotel by 2015, while the Wentworth Castle Trust (the house is a teacher training college) has already restored the castle folly for which the property is known.  In both cases, the grounds and vistas are as stunning as eighteenth-century and regency guidebooks record.  While enjoying the picturesque herds of deer that, according to the locals, have roamed there since 1066, I could not help smiling at how the popularity of Austen’s fictional characters—especially Fitzwilliam Darcy and Frederick Wentworth—have succeeded in eclipsing their historical namesakes, casting a Janeite shadow over the once-glittering owners of these estates.

Wentworth Castle folly

Wentworth Castle Estate

Wentworth Woodhouse estate

If you’re an Austen enthusiast who has already been to Bath, Lyme Regis, and Chawton, then consider a visit to Wentworth Woodhouse and Wentworth Castle.  Meanwhile, I hope that my book takes you partway there.

The Fitzwilliam Arms in nearby Rotherham

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For a few photos as well as more information about these and other glamorous places alluded to by Austen, see the JHU Press Blog post by Janine “Jane Austen on Location”: http://jhupressblog.com/2012/09/12/jane-austen-on-location/

Johns Hopkins UP is about to run a small contest that would give away copies of my book to the first few who answer correctly a historical question with an Austen twist.  Look for the question on the JHU Press Blog, starting on 26 October.

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About the author: Janine Barchas is the author of Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel (Cambridge UP, 2003), the editor of The Annotations in Lady Bradshaigh’s Copy of Clarissa (English Literary Studies, U of Victoria, 1998), and numerous scholarly works on Austen (search her name on the Jasna.org website here). Her research interests include eighteenth-century literature and culture, the British novel, book history, textual studies, Jane Austen, and early fiction by women. At the JASNA 2012 AGM, she spoke on “Austen Between the Covers: A Brief History of Book Cover Art”, and will be one of the plenary speakers at the JASNA 2013 AGM in Minneapolis, the AGM celebrating 200 years of Pride and Prejudice.

Further Reading:

Wentworth Castle:

Wentworth Woodhouse:

And note that The Country House Revealed is a six part BBC series first aired on BBC Two in May 2011 in which British architectural historian Dan Cruickshank visits six houses never before open to public view, and examines the lives of the families who lived there. Wentworth Woodhouse s featured in Episode 4.

All photographs by Janine Barchas.

Please leave any comments or questions for Janine below – and don’t forget to check out the JHU Press blog on October 26, and see if you can answer the Jane Austen question!

c2012 Jane Austen in Vermont

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Gentle Readers: I have posted previously a review of Shakespeare’s Richard III, a review written by Chris Sandrawich of the JAS-Midlands Branch in the UK [ you can read this review here], and I welcome Chris back today with his review of another play in this year’s World Shakespeare Festival. This festival has been an outstanding, stunning event, and because I live Here [and alas! have not seen a single one] and Chris lives There, I am most pleased to have him share his witty and brilliant analysis of the plays he has attended… [the delay in posting entirely my fault – blaming this like everything else on Moving…] – so herewith, without further ado and with my heartfelt Thanks, is Chris on Much Ado About Nothing.

[image: Courtyard Theatre, Stratford - wikipedia]

Much Ado About Nothing at The Courtyard Theatre on 9th August 2012.

Driving south and approaching Stratford we felt an element of sadness that this Play was to be our penultimate visit in the series of six that we had booked and this one would be the only play showing at The Courtyard Theatre.

Getting there in good time is a must for car-parking in Stratford and as we strolled in good time into the paved courtyard space dividing the theatre building from the road the first signs of an Indian influence and a different flavour to the evening were evident as an impending “assault on our senses.” There was a caterwauling of car horns, bangs and shrieks layered with sitars, tablas, as well as western drum kits and reed instruments too varied for my limited musical ear to distinguish which ones, all emerging as a wall of sound from inside the theatre proper. The whiff of spices and burning joss-sticks made me feel once again that I was in my youthful days of the South Kensington of our swinging sixties. The aromas were doing their best but any olfaction was losing against an off-putting drift of a zephyr sufficiently persistent to ruin the overall effect of “something in the air” on what was, for this very wet unseasonable season, a beautifully rare azure skied summer’s evening. Directly in the centre stood a man with a tray selling freshly baked pakoras and samosas, and although we had eaten earlier they seemed too tempting to resist. Just like Oscar Wilde we can resist anything except temptation and gave in gratefully.  We sat on a bench to one side and enjoying the evening sunshine ate these delicious starters. The fascination of the British with Indian food is now remarkably well-entrenched for something which was so negligible it did not exist when I was born in the baby-boom. The relationship of the British with the subcontinent had run for over two centuries without much of an encroachment of curries into a land of roast beef and three veg. At the time I was ushered into the world there were only three, very expensively posh, London West End, Indian restaurants (or so I am informed) and all essentially serving food to those who had been in the Armed Forces based in India or who had lived through the days of the Raj. Even at half my present years, there were easily more fish and chip shops than all the rest put together, and any Briton wanting a taste of the East went to a Chinese Restaurant. Now, and nobody is quite sure why, except that Indian food tastes great, two-thirds of all restaurants are Indian (over 10,000) and they serve over two and a half million customers a week generating a yearly turnover of well over £3 Billion pa. The taste of India is here to stay. Of course, when the British say “Indian food” they include without any discrimination indigenous Pakistani foods, especially Balti dishes. Neither is there any great distinction between the types of Indian food originating in India which varies as does the availability of foodstuffs and spices determined by the sea, forests, plains and mountains that are nearby and the endless variety of cultural and regional differences. From the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to West Bengal these thirty-three distinctively different types of Indian Cuisine (see Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_cuisine) are all merged into an “Indian” for the mostly unknowing but very ‘hungry for a curry’ British. We, the British, do have very cosmopolitan tastes these days. To somebody of my parents’ generation such a description of the amounts of Indian food consumed in these Islands would have seemed as far-fetched as landing a one-ton atomic-powered vehicle on Mars which can motor up a 3000 metre high mountain and which sends back pictures, performs experiments and tests rock samples remotely with a laser gun. Or as the bizarre and outlandish events of seeing in the same wet English summer a winner of the Tour de France and a winner of a men’s Tennis Grand Slam tournament by Britons.

[Samosas at Indian Foods Co]

Polishing off these snacks we idly watched other theatre goers wander about and chatted, as is my wont, to some of them about their experience of The World Shakespeare Festival 2012.  Everyone was very positive and had something good to say about the plays they had chosen to go to. There was this communal feeling of yearning to be able, subject to the constraints of time and expense, to see all the Plays and at all venues. We may not like to concede inevitable defeat in the face of such a commitment, but we all had to choose only some, and give up many, to see. We did so with some regret at what we were missing as well as the great pleasure in what we had seen and heard. There is no doubting the overall success of this venture and I do hope that in future years this “International Flavour” is encouraged and nurtured alongside home-grown talent. We must recognise that Shakespeare is owned by the whole world these days and is studied and played everywhere, phenomenal though that thought is. Normally the British are more tight-lipped than seemed the case in these discussions and I wondered whether there was some overspill of general bonhomie from the feel-good factor of the Olympics. I rather think there was, and I hope it lasts.

Meera Syal as Beatrice

Deciding that, interesting as chatting proved to be, we could wait no longer to explore what this cacophony of sounds was all about we wandered in to look and lurk on a slow dawdle to our seats. The cast, with many associates, were doing their level best to recreate Indian City street scenes (I assume successfully but I have not had any first-hand experience) with vendors, musicians, singer sewing machines, comestibles, bright colours and a generous dollop of paraphernalia seeping in all directions. As the zephyr’s powers failed at the portal we got a lovely whiff of spices and joss-sticks so that our eyes, ears and nostrils were acutely aware of all things Indian. There were no elephants or sacred cows lumbering about but I suppose there are limits! Enjoying the scene we ambled down aisle 5 into seats 20 and 21 on the end of Row A which put us in the stalls front centre. The stage came right up to us, of course, and directly in front of us were steps up onto the stage and so we could surreptitiously hang our feet out onto the first steps and later claim we were onstage, treading those Shakespearean boards at Stratford, during a live performance. It has a similar ring to my saying I was “up at Oxford in the sixties” when in reality I was only there to see Boro play Oxford Town in the third round of the FA Cup in a cold snowy January.

To get a flavour of just how well the cast play and look, and how they dress, and to hear “Benedick” speaking against a background of Indian rhythms then go to http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/much-ado-about-nothing/ and press play.

Much Ado About Nothing

Whenever I think about Much Ado About Nothing I think about another kind of nothing associated with the Play and wonder about what Shakespeare originally intended. The original versions of the Play have many stage directions and in the opening directions there is a mention of Leonato’s wife Innogen. However, she never appears or says anything and so in most versions of the Play in modern times she does not even rate a mention. Shakespeare in his creative passion must originally have had a role in mind, but later found the plot and dialogue had no way of including her and so she is left as much ado about nothing, as well. I still wonder though.

The stage looked magnificent with an imposing edifice at the back of the stage of a family house of someone well-to-do if the numbers of doors, windows and balconies were any indicator. There was an enormous (artificial, of course but nonetheless imposing) tree on the right and around the tree, which is exactly how it has been described to me, depicting the rapid growth of technological industries and usage in India without the necessary time or money to build an infrastructure that keeps such things out of sight; were the coiled wrappings of cables thick and thin and of many colours. This is typical of the pragmatism that makes do whilst allowing the flow of commerce and telecommunications unabated. Actors on stage were involved in comings, goings and all the minutia of filling in the time until the Play proper could begin whilst giving the early arrivals something to look at and listen to.

Courtyard Theatre – image: The Guardian

Chatting to the couple just behind us we learned that this was their third visit this year to see this Play alone and that they simply loved it, especially this production. They had tried sitting both left and right and were now viewing from front and centre. They lived locally and wished to see other plays but each time the subject arose between them they kept returning just like frogs to a pond to see this one again. The lady did say that although the Play had received rave notices she had thought the Times Critic a little picky for adversely commenting that Paul Bhattacharjee (Benedick) and Meera Syal (Beatrice) were a little too ‘long in the tooth’ for the parts suggested. We were unable to establish just how much we could agree on about the critic being mistaken when the Play started. Have you noticed how they never seem to worry about an interesting conversation or two going on out there but just start when they want to? Later, I pondered on the merits of the Times critic’s attack (although I did not actually read what he said) and found that although I could see where he might be coming from I did not agree.

Beatrice and Bendick

Unlike Romeo and Juliet there are no exact mentions of age with Beatrice and Benedick, and although Claudio and Benedick are described as “young lads” of Florence and Padua respectively they do not have to be of the same age bracket. There are many suggestions of Benedick being older than Claudio. When Beatrice says, “Scratching could not make it worse, an ‘twere such a face as yours were” is she describing a young visage? When she later says, “You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old” she is not talking of a brief acquaintance. When Benedick says to Claudio, “I can see yet without spectacles . . . . .” is not that a reference to advancing years and an age difference between them? There is also references to Benedick regularly taking up the company of young(er) men, the latest being Claudio, and there is in Elizabethan times (and even with Shakespeare himself it seems) as shown in The Merchant of Venice with Antonio and Bassanio the examples of “close relationships” between an older and a younger man. There are as a counter argument references to “young” or “youth” in the play but such terms are relative. All I know is that having Beatrice and Benedick older than Claudio and Hero as with the Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson film version worked very well and our two leads were brilliant.

Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh as Beatrice and Benedick

The naming of Hero as “Hero” is quite deliberate by Shakespeare to foreshadow her “doubtful chastity” which is part of his plot. The myth of “Hero and Leander” was well known to Elizabethans and Shakespeare himself uses references to them in many of his plays, and Christopher Marlowe had written a poem Hero and Leander in 1598, and the timing of Much Ado About Nothing is generally fixed as 1599, so as usual Shakespeare borrowed from ancient and modern and just about any good story he could get his hands on. What he did with these stories is the real mark of his genius. In the same way with naming characters it is no coincidence, we can infer, that Don John is chosen as our villain when the bastard brother of Phillip II was also called Don John and was a personage well known to Elizabethans.

The Play transfers very well from Italy to India and to Delhi. Messina, Padua and Florence are kept in the text but references to Italy are simply replaced with India and all the rest unchanged with the obvious notable exception of the Friar replaced by the Panditji.

Well the Play rattled along with its wonderful set and fine troupe of actors but as mentioned above Meera Syal and Paul Bhattacharjee were scintillating as the brightly sparkling duellists in language that prickles with the heat of their exchanges and they displayed a great chemistry between them as sparks flew off in their verbal sparring sessions. Whilst tearing down each other’s reputations they did take careful note of exactly what the other was up to at all times and demonstrated a fulsome ambiguity throughout of the real nature of their interest in each other.

In the Kenneth Branagh film alluded to above the parts of Dogberry and Verges are wonderfully played and sent up to the moon and back by Michael Keaton and Ben Elton (who can ever forget their boyishly ‘pretend’ horses and dismounts) and they have ruined forever in Olivier fashion these parts for a generation of actors. Simon Nagra and Bhati Patel did their best, I suppose; but I was unimpressed. Long before Richard Brinsley Sheridan invented Mrs Malaprop in the The Rivals we have Dogberry butchering the English Language and uncannily substituting a similar but wrong word for the one intended. This misuse reaches a high art form as Dogberry urges his charges to be “vigitant” and expressed his hopes that they remain “senseless” of it! For me this difficult part did not quite work for Simon Nagra’s skills, and a lot of the humour was lost in the lack of emphasis and facial expressions needed to bring the audience along with each new twisting verbal cudgel swiped at the passing words.

“Dogberry and Verges with the Watch.” Engraving by Robert Mitchell Meadows, before 1812. Public domain.

The parts of Dogberry and Verges are important enough to require more powerful actors than we saw here to not only make them memorable but to extract all the humour their use of language brings to the play. These absurd officials were stretched by Shakespeare into seemingly unlikely “real people” but the audience of the time recognised only too clearly that these sorts of constables could be met with everywhere. “Hazlitt praised Dogberry, regularly hailed since as an all too convincing depiction of petty officialdom” (as taken from page 309 of The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare Edited by Michael Dobson & Stanley Wells – which Dame Judi Dench describes (and I warmly agree) “A wonderful treasure-house of information and insight”). As further supporting evidence of just how “real” Dogberry and Verges are to their time my Annotated Shakespeare by A L Rowse offers on page 394 a letter from Lord Burghley to Walsingham (Elizabeth’s principal Ministers at the time of the hue and cry over the search for the Babington Conspirators who intended Elizabeth’s death and her replacement by Mary Stuart) which says:

Sir, As I came from London homeward in my coach. I saw at every town’s end the number of ten or twelve standing with long staves, and until I came to Enfield I thought no other of them but that they had stayed for avoiding of the rain, or to drink at some alehouse, for so they did stand under pentices at alehouses. But at Enfield finding a dozen in a plump, when there was no rain, I bethought myself that they were appointed as watchmen, for the apprehending of such as are missing. And thereupon I called some of them to me apart, and asked them wherefore they stood there. And one of them answered, “To take three young men.” And demanding how they should know the persons, one answered with these words, “Marry, my Lord, by intelligence of their favour.” “What mean you by that?” quoth I. “Marry”, said they, “one of the parties hath a hooked nose.” “And have you,” quoth I, “no other mark?” “No,” saith they. And then I asked who appointed them. And they answered one Banks, a head constable, whom I willed to be sent to me. “Surely, sir, whoever had the charge from you hath used the matter negligently. For these watchmen stand so openly in plumps as no suspected person will come near them; and if they be no better instructed but to find three persons by one of them having a hooked nose, they may miss thereof.”

You get from this slice of Elizabethan writing (don’t you just love the ‘standing in plumps’) and reported speech a pretty picture of “idiots in charge”.

It is interesting to note that “pentices”, mentioned by Lord Burghley, is normally used in modern usage to signify Penthouses but in Tudor times it meant a ‘hipped building’ where the upstairs was larger than the ground floor and so there would be an overhang that offered shelter from inclement weather. Don John’s agent in malice, Borachio, actually says to Conrad, “Stand thee close then under this pent-house, for it drizzles rain, and I will, like a true drunkard, utter all to thee.” And confesses to the trick played on Hero whilst the Watch listen. This shows some change of meaning to the word “penthouse” over the centuries, unless the original Penthouses also had an overhang being on the topmost floor. Anyone out there know?

One of the cameos of the evening’s entertainment was the brilliant acting of Anjana Vasan (the maid) who they used instead of the ‘boy’ bid by Benedick to fetch his book from his chamber window to bring to the orchard. She arrives back but is unable to find Benedick hidden as he is from the others. She kneels down in the front centre of the stage in order to get away from the others and not attract their attention or distract them as they circle and try in loud conversation to catch Benedick’s ear.

Anjana Vasan as Maid in Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Ellie Kurtz.

[Image: RSC website]

Wide-eyed she kneels there drinking in and believing every word of their overblown description of how much Beatrice is fancied to be in love with Benedick. This maid’s face reflects the action as she enters more and more into the supposed turmoil of Beatrice’s mind as her excitement grows and reveals a most delightful range of high-flown passionate expressions as in a crescendo Claudio gets to his speech

Hero thinks surely she will die, for
She says she will die, if he love her not, and
She will die, ere she make her love known,
And she will die, if he woo her, rather than
She will bate on breath of her accustomed crossness

And at each belling of the word die the lovely Anjana’s face was a picture to behold, riven through with Beatrice’s living pain, whilst holding onto Benedick’s book as a kind of talisman in defence all the while, and finally collapsing in a heap as the rest take absolutely no notice of her whatsoever. A marvellous piece of unwritten addition to the Play and the Director and cast should be well pleased with themselves for its inclusion. Well done Anjana Vasan.

When the entire Play was done the cast received from a full house a most rapturous and fully deserved burst of applause. They (apart from my gripes about Dogberry and Verges) were simply wonderful. On the way home we discussed how well the play had worked and just where we had seen the actors perform in other areas. We really could not call anything to mind for the excellent Paul Bhattacharjee although he seemed very familiar to us indeed. As luck would have it and without even planning to have an Indian theme to our week we saw the film, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” the next night and whilst enjoying the main parts we noted how so many of the smaller roles in this film were also being played by first class performers. If you have seen the film there is a wonderful hospital scene in which Maggie Smith’s character is displaying rampant racism and insists upon an English doctor. The Staff Nurse brings her one speaking perfect English and lo and behold there in his pin-stripe suit stood our Benedick from the previous night, Paul Bhattacharjee, this time playing a hospital doctor.  We were also able to compare the attempts at giving us a flavour of a city in India with those from the film and found them, space and expense permitting, pretty close.

Another Triumph seen and heard and once more worth every penny of the £48 per seat, and as we had booked six for a ‘Stratford Pass’ we got 20% off as well.

Chris Sandrawich, 14th September 2012.

The Schedule:

  • 26 July – 15 September (The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon) – alas! it has already moved to London!
  • 22 September – 27 October (The Noël Coward Theatre, London)
c2012 Jane Austen in Vermont

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