Ask Philippa: Twelfth Night Edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo courtesy Philippa Kelly.

Twelfth Night is Shakespeare’s last and darkest comedy, written in 1601. Director Christopher Liam Moore calls Twelfth Night his favorite Shakespeare play, treasuring its capacity to soar to the heights of mirth and delve to the darker parts of humanity. Set on the tiny island of Illyria, the play takes its characters on a huge emotional journey, in which they question who they are, mourn losses, entertain big dreams, and discover parts of themselves that they didn’t know where there.

I’d be delighted to answer any artistic or dramaturgy questions about what’s in store for this season’s production of Twelfth Night. Curious about cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Ask Philippa! Please leave your questions in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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Dr. Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org, or post below to ask her a question.

Buy tickets for Twelfth Night, or subscribe to the 2015 Season, by clicking here; or, call the Box Office at 510.548.9666.

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Grove Speakers 2015

As the gateway to our theater, the Grove is a place we’re very proud of. This year Philippa Kellywe are mixing the familiar with the new—and yet the thing that everyone has in common is dramaturgy! Almost all of our speakers have served as dramaturgs in various theaters. A love of dramaturgy is what makes us all so interested in speaking in the Grove—the desire to share knowledge and to nurture conversations about the stage.

Returning this year are Philippa, Joanie, Cathleen, Robin, Ciara, Keith and Molly. New faces include Amelia Furlong, fresh from a degree in theater at Middlebury College, where she wrote her senior thesis on The Two Noble Kinsmen. This summer she is interning with Cal Shakes as well as speaking in our grove. Sonia Fernandez, dramaturg for Life is a Dream, recently completed her doctoral thesis on race and humor at UC San Diego. She has dramaturged at many theaters, including the Magic, Crowded Fire and Cutting Ball. Patrick Kenney, associate dramaturg for The Mystery of Irma Vep, is a student at UC Santa Cruz and has experience in acting, directing and dramaturgy. Laura Brueckner is a recent PhD graduate and a long-time expert in dramaturging new works. She is a writer for Theater Bay Area and works intensively with Crowded Fire Theater. Rebecca Ennals is Artistic Director for the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival. Julian Talamantez Brolaski is a poet, teacher, musician, and Medieval and Renaissance scholar, holding a PhD in English from UC Berkeley.

Pictured: Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly giving a Grove talk; photo by Jay Yamada

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Twelfth Night: Love, Death, Contagion

Great Plague of London

Historical image of the Great Plague of London (1665).

In Shakespeare’s time, with its high mortality rates, most twins were split apart by death—as were the Bard’s own 11 year-old twins Judith and Hamnet in 1595, with Judith living on to be her father’s un-favorite child. Unlike Twelfth Night’s Viola and Sebastian, Shakespeare’s twins were not identical, but their fate, and its residual presence in the playwright’s imagination, very likely had a connection to the play’s central miracle – that the sea, long seen as a metaphor for death or the great unknown, delivers its dead safely back again. (By the way, here Shakespeare made one of his few famous factual mistakes – boy and girl twins cannot be identical as they are in his play.)

Despite the joyous restoration of the twins to each other and their eventual celebration of a different kind of pairing (the rites of marriage), Twelfth Night was to prove Shakespeare’s farewell to comedy. Indeed, the play itself has many dark notes: not least all the references to the plague that had killed young Hamnet and, in Shakespeare’s own childhood, had also killed one of his sisters. Duke Orsino refers to Olivia, for example, as having “purged the air of pestilence”; Sir Toby objects to “contagious breath”; and Olivia says of love, “Even so quickly may one catch the plague?” How did people protect themselves from catching the plague in those days when people rarely bathed, and, on the occasions where they did, shared the same bathwater with up to ten members of the family? On a daily basis people washed their hands as often as they could with water, vinegar or urine. They avoided crowded indoor places—meetings, including church sermons, would be held in the open air during onslaughts of the plague, and the theaters were shut down altogether (this is how Shakespeare got his sonnets written). The wealthy would often evacuate their homes when the illness came uncomfortably close, prevailing on great estates elsewhere to take them in. But many people died (one third of Europe’s population had been wiped out in the 1300s, and many thousands died in London during the repeated waves in the 1500s).

Questions about Twelfth Night, or other Shakespeare plays? Click over to Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly’s Question of the Fortnight. 

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Ask Philippa: 2015 Pre-season Edition

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo by Richard Friedman.

The 2014 Season has just barely ended, and already we’re preparing for 2015. We have an incredible array of artists and plays lined up for the 2015 Season, and I can’t wait to see you all tumbling out of the grove next season with your digestibles and into our beautiful amphitheater.

While Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone has written a letter about the 2015 Season, here’s a brief overview of the Main Stage season:

Twelfth Night
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Christopher Liam Moore
May 27–June 21

Director Christopher Liam Moore (Cal Shakes’ Lady Windermere’s Fan) is renowned for being able to delve into comedy, romance, and language with humanity and élan. Now he’s opening our season with Shakespeare’s comic masterpiece of mistaken identity, in which shipwrecked twins navigate across a strange island to find love—and each other.

Life Is a Dream
By Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Translated and Adapted by Nilo Cruz
Directed by Loretta Greco
July 8–August 2

This stunning Spanish Golden Age classic that’s been called “the Spanish Hamlet” tells the tale of a prince imprisoned by his father at birth because of a prophecy. Magic Theatre’s Loretta Greco directs a brilliant translation and adaptation by Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Nilo Cruz, who brings urgency and accessibility to Calderon’s mythic, poetic play, where reality and dreams collide in a story of human will battling fate.

 The Mystery of Irma Vep
By Charles Ludlam
Directed by Jonathan Moscone
August 12–September 6

Lady Enid is haunted by the spirit of her husband’s ex-wife, Irma Vep—but that’s just the beginning of her problems. Mummies, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and other surprise guests pursue the numerous characters played frenetically by only two actors, including the fabulous Danny Scheie in a gender-bending tour-de-force performance. Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone (Pygmalion, American Night) takes on Charles Ludlam’s outrageously ingenious comedy.

King Lear
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
September 16–October 11

At the beginning of Shakespeare’s King Lear, an old king asks his daughters to deliver love in return for slices of land. A cataclysmic scene ensues, at the end of which Lear (via hubris? Naivity? The foolishness of age?) is thrust out into the world with almost nothing that’s ever had value to him—without his land, without his familiar duties and prerogatives, and, most importantly, without his most precious daughter. He goes on an epic journey to finally (and fleetingly) experience the redemption of love, and, indeed, the redemption of a self.  Nationally renowned director Amanda Dehnert—whose credits include the groundbreaking 2011 production of Julius Caesar at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—directs two-time Tony award nominee Anthony Heald as Shakespeare’s profound tragic hero.

As 2015 draws near, I’d be delighted to answer any artistic or dramaturgy questions about what’s in store for next year. Curious about cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Ask Philippa! Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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Dr. Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org, or post below to ask her a question.

Subscribe to the 2015 Season by clicking here, or call 510.548.9666.

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Ask Philippa: “Pygmalion” Edition

Listen to Philippa Kelly’s Grove Talk about Pygmalion by clicking here.

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about Pygmalion, which runs July 30–August 24. Tickets on sale now.

Pygmalion, perhaps George Bernard Shaw’s most renowned play, concerns the playful plight of phonetics Professor Henry Higgins and penniless flower girl Eliza Doolittle, whom he takes under his tutelage. Poor Eliza is reduced to a bet between aristocrats who believe they can pass her off as one of their own. This scheme leaves plenty of room for Shaw’s signature social commentary on the British class system and the relationship between language, class, and power.

Many of us might know the characters of Pygmalion from its musical adaptation, My Fair Lady; however, it is worth noting that artists and directors have struggled against Pygmalion’s lack of predictable romance for a century (since it debuted in 1914). Some writers think this may be why Pygmalionis still “underperformed”:

From the PYGMALION stage at the Bruns: You'll notice this population chart sitting on Higgins' bookshelf.

A hundred years on from that first production, the ending of Pygmalion continues to be a sticking point. It stands as an unspoken matter of contention between audiences, confidently expecting a romantic resolution of the plot, and most directors who wish to remain true to Shaw’s intentions. And it may help to explain the conundrum of why the play, for all its enduring fame and popularity, remains relatively underperformed today.

Are you going to see Cal Shakes’ Pygmalion?  Do you have questions or comments about the production’s cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

Headshot of Philippa Kelly

Dr. Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org, or post below to ask her a question.

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The Comedy of Errors Production Spotlight: Assistant Director Leah Gardner

Assistant Director Leah Gardner in full clown regalia.

By Aliya Charney

The Comedy of Errors Assistant Director, Leah Gardner, found herself at Cal Shakes this season through none other than our very own Danny Scheie (Dromio of Ephesus and Syracuse) and Patty Gallagher (Merchant, Officer, Courtesan, Abbess). At UC Santa Cruz, Gardner was a student of both Scheie and Gallagher. Gardner served as Assistant Director for many of Scheie’s productions as well as founded a student theater group at Santa Cruz, BarnStorm, through Scheie’s guidance. As a student in Gallagher’s clown class at UCSC, Gardner tapped into her true talent. “Patty pulled me aside one day after class and told me that I was a natural clown. That was truly one of those life-changing moments where everything makes sense.”

Since then, Gardner has been clowning her way through life. Upon moving to Seattle, Gardner joined Pi, a physical clowning troupe, which eventually relocated to San Francisco. Once in the Bay Area, Gardner joined the San Francisco Clown Conservatory to hone her craft, learning more about juggling, acrobatics and clown technique.

This is the first time that Gardner is working with The Comedy of Errors director, Aaron Posner, but she has seen some examples of his work at Shakespeare Santa Cruz, what Gardner describes as a “remarkable” production of As You Like It. “With Aaron, the story is paramount,” she says. “Each choice is made to tell the story in a clear way.” On the topic of clowning, which is prevalent throughout Posner’s version of Shakespeare’s earliest comedy, Gardner jokes that “[Posner] says he doesn’t know what clowning is,” yet he has produced “a very physical, real, simple, clear, honest rendition of the play that works perfectly with the clowning style.”

Gardner admits that “clown” is a loaded word. “Lots of people have different ideas of what it is. But [to me] it’s a very simplistic joy at the very heart of it and at its core. In terms of Aaron’s vision, he talked to us about ‘simple joy’ and I feel like we are seeing that vision.”

On the topic of “dark” comedies, such as The Comedy of Errors, Gardner insightfully reasons that, “there is, in good comedy, a darkness to it [and] looking at this play through the clown perspective is a brilliant way of working through it because all good comedy is rooted in tragedy. Laughter is a way to deal with the darker side of life in a constructive, positive way. The heart of all comedy is tragedy.”

Before beginning rehearsals for The Comedy of Errors in May, Gardner had “very high expectations for the cast…and they have exceeded that. This is…the most fun…I’ve ever had in a rehearsal hall.”

You can join the fun till July 20th! Tickets for The Comedy of Errors are on sale now. Get your tickets here!

For more information about Leah’s clown troupe, Pi, visit: www.piclowns.com.

 

 

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Inside the Rehearsal Hall for “The Comedy of Errors”

“The play’s the thing.”

—Hamlet, Act II, Scene II

Hello!

This is dramaturgy intern Aliya Charney blogging from inside the rehearsal room for Cal Shakes’ upcoming production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, directed by Aaron Posner. We started off running (and tumbling!) this past Wednesday at the Meet and Greet, where cast members, artistic staff, production crew, the entire Cal Shakes team, and donors had the opportunity to listen to Posner discuss his vision for the play, which centers around the idea of “play.”

The cast of The Comedy of Errors in rehearsal.

The various puns on the word “play” (a stage performance, an exercise of amusement, fun and jest, a game, to act the part of a character, and even another word for “pun” itself ) perfectly complement Shakespeare’s earliest comedy. The Comedy of Errors, which is filled with wordplay and jest, is a play about mistaken identity, mystery, doubling, farce, magic, confusion, and love.

The notion of play, which Posner will use to drive The Comedy of Errors forward, will manifest on stage not just through juggling, clowning, and acrobatic tricks performed by the actors, but through the sense of what Posner himself calls “invented Shakespeare”—a term he uses to describe the contemporizing of Shakespeare’s texts through the fluidity of the Bard’s own language. Meaning, Posner, the cast, and artistic staff will create a world that profits from Shakespeare’s enduring language, rather than interpreting the play through a specific historical lens.

Costume Designer Beaver Bauer draws inspiration for her looks from Buster Keaton, 1920s fashion, eastern European clowns, Steampunk, and much more. Her looks coincide with Posner’s vision of play and “invented Shakespeare” because they do not come from one specific place or time period, but rather, are drawn from themes and images that the text itself evokes. Nina Ball, scenic designer for the production, has created a multi-level, colorful, trapdoor-filled, “shutter-cluttered” open stage that provides a canvas for abundant physical humor, allowing the actors to fully embody the sense of play, while simultaneously harmonizing with the beautiful, natural backdrop of the Bruns.

Posner adds to the play’s themes of doubling and confusion with a cast of seven. Both sets of twins (four characters total): Antipholus of Ephesus/Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus/Dromio of Syracuse (played by Adrian Danzig and Danny Scheie, respectively) are performed by two actors, while other cast members play multiple personalities on stage as well. The actors, therefore, rely on quick changes (some of which take place on stage before the audience), accent shifts, and physical humor to tell the story of mistaken identity between two sets of brothers.

Less than one week into rehearsal, The Comedy of Errors is already promising to be a a fun-filled, hilarious, and loving production. Posner began the first rehearsal by requesting the cast to “find the love” in this dark comedy. Indeed, love of all forms flourishes on stage: from romantic love to love between brothers, sisters, and friends, and even unapologetic self-love, The Comedy of Errors balances Shakespeare’s oft-dark text with fruitful moments of tenderness guaranteed to make the audience fall in love with the production, and actors.

The Comedy of Errors begins previews on June 25th and opens on June 28th. With rehearsals now fully underway, I will be updating this blog periodically with production developments and insight into the rehearsal process.

Join in the madness! Buy your tickets for The Comedy of Errors here.

Aliya Charney is a dramaturgy intern for Cal Shakes. A recent graduate of UC Berkeley, Aliya is a Shakespeare and cat enthusiast from Chicago. Her favorite line in The Comedy of Errors is: “I to the world am like a drop of water / That in the ocean seeks another drop.”

 

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Off to Ashland! A Weekend of Theater and Discussion in Oregon

This October 3-5, Cal Shakes Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly will lead a trip to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Attendees will stay at the Ashland Springs Hotel and attend three plays during their stay, while enjoying dinners, cocktails, and conversation with Philippa and other guests. Philippa will lead discussions on each play and give her own insight. If you are interested in attending or learning more, please call or email Special Events Manager Shelly Jackson at 510.809.3297 or ashlandtour@calshakes.org no later than Monday, May 12.

The Tempest

Dennis Arndt in The Tempest. Photo courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Why perform a play at this time, in this space, and for this audience?  What kind of play are we watching? These are some of the questions that a dramaturg asks, either when beginning work with a cast and crew or when leading a tour like the one we’ll be taking to Ashland this October. We’ll be seeing The Tempest, Shakespeare’s late work that explores revenge, relinquishment, aging, deep love, and indeed, the surrender that comes with such love. What do we know about Shakespeare’s life at the time when he was writing The Tempest? He wrote the play at the age of 47, yet themes of mortality had underscored his writing from quite early in his career, as with Sonnet 73: “That time of year thou may’st in me behold/ When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/ Upon those boughs which shake against the cold…”

Water by the Spoonful

Daniel José Molina in Water by the Spoonful. Photo courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

We’ll also see Water By the Spoonful, whose plot pivots on a returning Iraq War veteran working in a sandwich shop in his hometown of Philadelphia. Haunted by his memories, and of one in particular, this literally crippled man interacts with various characters who have, each in a different way, been crippled within the alienating modern world. I’ve recently done a lot of research on the experience of war veterans—both in reading and by interview—and I look forward to integrating some of this knowledge into our pre-show session on Water by the Spoonful.

Kenajuan Bentley and Jack Willis in The Great Society.

Kenajuan Bentley and Jack Willis in The Great Society. Photo courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The third play we’ll see is The Great Society, the sequel to Robert Schenkkan’s remarkable play All the Way, which blew me away when I saw it in 2012. This new play is again about Lyndon Johnson, looking at the period from 1965 to 1968 when LBJ struggled to fight a “war on poverty” as the Vietnam War escalated out of control.

I love leading these tours because they challenge me to enrich the experience of play-going for all of us who meet up there in Oregon’s beautiful theater town, surrounded by lush walking trails. In addition, I bring in guest artists and dramaturges to chat with you over dinner—many of the OSF staff members have become my friends since I worked there last year, and they bring an intimate (and often humorous) knowledge to our table. I want to share it all with you.

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Additional Details on the Ashland OSF Tour with Cal Shakes Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly:

WHEN: Friday, October 3 through Sunday, October 5, 2014

LODGING: The elegant Ashland Springs Hotel in the heart of downtown, just steps away from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

DINING: Your package includes Friday night cocktail reception and dinner, and Saturday night dinner at a restaurant in town; breakfasts included with your stay at the Ashland Springs Hotel.

ENTERTAINMENT

FRIDAY EVENING: The Tempest, Shakespeare’s classic tale as reimagined by Berkeley Rep Artistic Director Tony Taccone. In Shakespeare’s romance, sorcery and love transmute vengeance into humility and humanity, making it possible for all to return to a world made new by the power of forgiveness.

SATURDAY MATINEE: Water by the Spoonful, directed by Shishir Kurup. In this fearless, groundbreaking Pulitzer Prize–winner, worlds virtual and real unfold onstage, challenging our notions of family, forgiveness, community, and courage. A janitor. A software mogul. A college grad. An IRS paper-pusher. Although they live thousands of miles apart, these four people share a secret: They’re recovering addicts who’ve found a safe haven in an online chat room. There, with liberal doses of jokes and bullying, they help each other navigate the broken terrain of their lives. But when an Iraq War vet’s tragedy spills over into their cyberhome, everything changes.

SATURDAY EVENING: The Great Society, directed by Bill Rauch (OSF’s Artistic Director), the tumultuous beginning of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency that Robert Schenkkan presented in All the Way (2012) continues in part two, The Great Society. This world premiere is an unflinching examination of the morality of power.

SUNDAY MORNING: We’ll come together to reflect on our experience of all three productions this weekend, facilitated by Philippa’s illuminating insights.

TRANSPORTATION: Transportation to and from Ashland is not provided. Short distances in Ashland (from hotel to restaurant, hotel to theater) are readily walkable by people in moderate health.

COST: $1,200 per person double occupancy, or $1,350 single occupancy (includes a $500 tax-deductible contribution to Cal Shakes). A deposit of $300/per person is required to confirm your reservation.

RSVP: Please call or email Special Events Manager Shelly Jackson at 510.809.3297 or ashlandtour@calshakes.org no later than Monday, May 12.

2013 Ashland trip participants

2013 Ashland trip participants.

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Division, Harmony, and “Medical Mistakes”: Twins in Shakespeare

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly muses on twins in Shakespeare’s work and time.

Twins. Frontispiece from "Tales from Shakespeare," McLoughlin Brothers, 1890. Public domain.

Frontispiece from "Tales from Shakespeare," McLoughlin Brothers, 1890. Public domain.

This season Cal Shakes will stage Shakespeare’s two plays—The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night—the plots of which are facilitated by identical twins. In Twelfth Night, directed for us and Intersection for the Arts by Michelle Hensley (Artistic Director and founder of Minneapolis company Ten Thousand Things), there is one set of twins, a boy and a girl, who constitute Shakespeare’s famous medical “mistake.” You can’t have identical twins of different genders—we know that now—but in Shakespeare’s day this wasn’t known. There was, however, a great public interest in twins, due in no small part to the fact that twins were supposed to be engendered by an excessive female response to sperm, and also to the fact that twins were so difficult to give birth to, let alone to raise to maturity. Today twins are very common, partly because of in vitro fertilization and partly because the infant mortality rate has greatly shrunk in the western world. But in Shakespeare’s time this was not the case. Many parents did not name their children until the age of five, so great was the chance that the child would die during its early years. Shakespeare himself was not the oldest of his siblings, but was the first to live past infancy.

Imagine how even higher the stakes were for parents of twins. With twins’ added risk of a great range of nutritional and obstetric problems, as well as low birth weights and increased prematurity, they were widely thought to punish their mothers by adding to the pain borne by every pregnant woman (such pain being referred to in The Comedy of Errors as “The pleasing punishment that women bear”). Shakespeare and his wife had twins, only one of whom survived past childhood.

Perhaps because the survival of identical twins to adulthood was rare in that time, many writers before Shakespeare were intrigued by their value, not least as a plot device. There was an enormous number of twins in folk tales and ballads, court poetry and prose. For Shakespeare in both Twelfth Night and The Comedy of Errors, identical twins provide the basis for foils, doubles, misprised identity, and gender confusion. The playwright may have been inspired to use them in both plays by the thought of who his sponsors were. The first recorded performances of both plays were at the Inns of Court—The Comedy of Errors  in 1594 and Twelfth Night in 1602—and lawyers were at this time fascinated by identical twins because of the legal implications of mistaken identity. (Interestingly, in this context, we might note that The Comedy of Errorshas three references to “law.”)

Poster for an 1879 production on Broadway, featuring Stuart Robson and William Crane

Poster for an 1879 production on Broadway, featuring Stuart Robson and William Crane.

Twins provide a great plot engine for Shakespeare—they allow him to create complications, mockeries and new inventions. Thematically, moreover, twinning gives him an opportunity to explore the mind-body connection which is still so puzzling today, and which can be reflected in Shakespeare’s own puzzlements about the relation of the mind to the body (“Your face, my Thane, is a book/Where men may read strange matters”; “There’s no art/To find the mind’s construction in the face…”Macbeth). Conversely, twins also allowed him to explore his fascination with the “twinned” juvenile soul of friendship that is, as children mature, gateway to minds and bodies that become fatally divided in adulthood (“Two cherries on one stem,” A Midsummer Night’s Dream; “twinned lambs/That did frisk in the sun,” A Winter’s Tale). But in this season’s two plays about physical twinning, division returns to harmony. In each case, the brutal “splitting” of the ships that have carried identical twins away from each other resolves in the jubilation of togetherness, the celebration and relief that is reclaimed in a single root.

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