Sunday, 4 January 2015
Forcing the Issue.
After breakfast we all set off across the Great Park to All Saint's Chapel adjoining the Royal Lodge.for Matins. The Lodge itself was the Queen Mother's residence for over fifty years and now belongs to Prince Andrew and his family. He's not had the best of weekends himself, with hugely damaging allegations about his private life splashed across all the papers, but you wouldn't know from the calmness with which the Estate is running. Cheerful policemen checking our passes, welcoming clergy, and friendly waves from members of the household driving their small gleaming cars up the drive on their way to work.
I'd half expected us to run into a barrage of paparazzi, but either they knew that Andrew, due back in the country from a skiing trip, was holing up elsewhere or the security ring began on the outskirts of the park and we were well within it's embrace.
The congregation was an intriguing mix of Cumberland Lodge guests and members of the royal staff. There was deference to rank and age, a couple of brimmed hatted ladies in waiting escorted to front row pews, cookers, cleaners, rangers and game keepers filled in with us. I sat next to a dapper kilted Scot, with perfectly slicked back grey hair. The pride he seemed to have in his position almost burst through his chest.
The service was short and sweet, beginning with a stirring singing of the National Anthem and supplemented by some perfectly pitched choral singing from the male choir, cherubs of all ages, squash nosed boys and plump ruddy angels.
We wandered back to the Lodge for more sessions. My afternoon was spent with Rowan Williams looking at some of the dilemmas that our initial discussions have raised. We began to look carefully at the ending, which works a little like a bonus track. In earlier work Shakespeare may well have been content to end the play with the reunion of Polixenes and Leontes, the reconciliation of Polixenes and Florizel and the recovery of Perdita, but he choses in 'The Winter's Tale' to simply report this. In the moment there is a sense of anti-climax here, the audience denied the reunion that the flight and chase from Bohemia had promised, but it soon becomes clear why as we move beyond the orthodoxy of the well made play and are led, with Leontes, by Paulina into her gallery.
The final scene is one of the most astonishing in the whole of Shakespeare and has to be played as if Hermione were simultaneously frozen statue and an accomplish in Paulina's elaborate therapeutic experiment. It's such a tender scene with Paulina coaching both Leontes and Hermione into an embrace, what happens next is left beyond the final curtain, but enough is revealed for the possibility of a reconciliation of sorts.
Before dinner Rowan delivered a fascinating lecture focusing on the idea of bringing something to issue. He pointed out that the play begins at a moment of high expectancy. Polixenes is leaving Sicilia, finally, after a nine month stay. Hermione's pregnancy is also in its final stage, but, instead of allowing time to bring these two events to their natural conclusion, Leontes, in pain and fear at what they may mean, forces the issue, tearing up his world before Polixenes can leave and his daughter can be born.
It's an empty defiance, an act of self destruction as much as anything else.The baby is born regardless, and his best friend flees.
There is a physical cycle to the play. It's Leontes disgust of a perceived physical intimacy between Hermione and Polixenes that drives the opening action of the play and it the physical reconnection between Leontes and Hermione - no words are exchanged - that ends the action, although even in his final speech Leontes is still trying to orchestrate the action match making Paulina and Camillo and asking each of the play's protagonists to 'answer his part' in the preceding action. He is seeking to creatively dramatise the action of the play back, but, this time in collaboration with his fellow players.
We touched briefly on the theme of hospitality. The play starts in generosity and the sheep shearing festival is clearly a bountiful celebration with the Shepherd scolding Perdita for not working hard enough as the hostess by comparing her day dreaming and dancing with the energetic and robust performance of his dead wife, who clearly kept everybody's glass topped up.
By the end of the play Leontes is, perhaps, ready to be hospitable again - or at least to try a mutual experience with others. It's this that makes love possible. The ability to place oneself in a position of vulnerability, a position where change and all the pain that comes with change is possible, fully knowing that you can't go back, but rather must bravely face the future, denying your own denial of connectedness and dependence. It's both a chilling and beautiful provocation.