(BEING CONTINUED FROM 9/12/18)
DruidShakespeare also pushed ecocriticism’s “analytical limits” by bringing
together environmentalism and issues of national identity (Estok 50). The soil that
covered the stage floor was not just ordinary dirt; it was peat, the type of earth that fills
Ireland’s bogs. The bog lands have long been a significant feature of the Irish landscape,
and have been referenced in numerous Irish literary and dramatic works. Patrick
Lonergan discusses the difficulty of staging Shakespeare on an Irish stage in light of the
tense historic relationship between England and Ireland, noting that there is an “[…]
ongoing problem of finding a way of staging Shakespeare that is both Irish and of a high quality” (236). As opposed to attempting to carve political messages out of the Henriad,Druid Theatre shied away from making it any more a play about colonialism than it already was. Instead, when asked about what she did to make the production Irish,director Garry Hynes responded that, “We use a landscape — both an emotional and an actual landscape — that’s familiar to us and will be familiar to audiences who have seen,say, DruidSynge” (Soloski). By literally “pack[ing] the stage with Irish soil,” the themes and stories of Shakespeare’s Henriad were transported to a new landscape (Soloski).
Ireland had kings, Ireland had taverns and thieves, and Ireland fought wars; these stories are not unique to a specific locale. In a sense, the specific Irish landscape in DruidShakespeare allowed the plays to become more universal. As Hynes said, “I’m
personally attracted to the histories, because of what they tell us about things that interest me in the theater — family, fathers and sons, the mix of the great kings and those outsiders at the tavern. These plays felt very Irish to me” (Soloski).
The dirt floor of the theater did not just act as a passive backdrop to the action.
Hynes noted in an interview that the use of real dirt was especially relevant to the
Henriad due to the myriad of earth references made in Richard II (Soloski). Indeed,
during the course of the play, Richard physically engaged with the earth numerous times.
Most notably, upon his return to England in Act III, Scene ii he knelt upon the ground
and spoke to the earth, running it through his fingers:
“Dear earth, I do salute thee with my hand,
Though rebels wound thee with their horses’ hoofs: […]
So, weeping, smiling, greet I thee, my earth,
And do thee favours with my royal hands […]”
Bringing real dirt into this scene allows the earth to become more than an abstract
reference, and Richard interacts with the peat covering the stage floor as though he is
speaking to a real character, addressing and coming into physical contact with the ground he treads on.
Later in his speech, he gives the earth an active role in the plot of the play, calling
upon it to prevent rebellion:
“Feed not thy sovereign’s foe, my gentle earth,
Nor with thy sweets comfort his ravenous sense […]” (Act III, Scene ii)
These words turn nature into an antagonist in Henry IV (Part I and II) and Henry V; the
environment works against Bolingbroke and the new regime.
Perhaps the most significant antagonistic role that nature took on in
DruidShakespeare was during the battle scene in Henry V. During this scene, rain began
to fall from the ceiling as though we were outside, soaking everything and everyone in
the theater. This meteorological feat takes us back to Jones’s question: “How do storms
affect current critical discourses, and change the way we experience early modern
theater?” (1-2). To demonstrate how weather can change the interpretation of
Shakespearean theater, I will contrast DruidShakespeare with a film adaptation of Henry V.
Henry V is a play that has often been criticized for its idealization of war. The
British government’s film adaptation of the play in the 1940s was widely regarded as a
propaganda piece, using the nationalist themes of the play to present an idealized image of war, and thus inspire the British people to finish WWII. There is no blood shed in this film, despite the fact that most of the play is spent on the battlefield; a convenient adaptation seeing as the British were trying to boost morale in a country weary of death and destruction. The portrayal of the natural world in this film adaptation is similarly idealistic; battle scenes occur on verdant fields under a clear blue sky.
In contrast, Druid Shakespeare’s rendition of Henry V was more reminiscent of
the trenches of WWI. Rain fell in torrents inside of the theater, soaking the actors and
turning the fluffy carpet of peat into a pit of mud. This change in weather radically
altered the image of war presented to the audience—war was no longer a stylish pursuit or a thing of beauty; the battlefield was a dirty place, and everyone who stepped foot on it was soon soaked to the bone with blood, mud, and rainwater. While this certainly added to the dramatic effect of battle, it also was much more accurate in portraying the realities of war. Allowing the weather to have a voice, as opposed to unrealistically presenting a forever-sunny battlefield, allowed us to see the relationship between man and the earth.
Rain was not the only climate-related element present in DruidShakespeare.
Throughout the course of the play, scenic elements in the upstage right corner showed the play’s progression through the four seasons. These scenic elements not only served to bring Laroche’s “green space” into the theater, but also demonstrated the effect that each king’s rise to power had on the earth (212).
(TO BE CONTINUED)
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