Friday, 3 April 2009

Ambiguous eroticism

Rose Doughty writes:

Love and beauty are the conventional topics of many of Shakespeare’s sonnets, along with related topics of time and mutability. He is not conventional in his treatments, though – he addresses the poems of love and praise not to a fair young maid, but to a young man, and includes a secondary subject of passion – a woman whose beauty and virtue is questionable: love is represented in a complex and paradoxical way. Over many years, commentators have speculated about the claim in the sonnets that the poet will make the young man’s beauty immortal in verse, thereby defying the destructiveness of time, and about the theme of betrayal of friendship.

What is the nature of the relationship between the poet (or rather, the persona of the poet which Shakespeare adopts) and the young man? Some commentators claim that the relationship is asexual while others contend that it is sexual. The ambiguous eroticism is a constant source of fascination, not least for Paul Priest, the author of Sonnets, two performances of which by Theatre of the Dales closed the LitFest this year. They were followed by a lively discussion with the audience.

Paul Priest taught at Trinity and All Saints College in Horsforth, and during his time there introduced a number of innovatory practices to increase the students' level of engagement with Shakespeare. These included bringing in theatre practitioners like David Robertson, and he was the actor who played a most convincing, if a little ageing Shakespeare last weekend at the Yorkshire College of Music and Drama. Gemma Head oozed authority as Lady Pembroke, and Will Tristram played her son William as an irritating teenage aristo who was perhaps justifiably upset at being described as a churl. The wordmaster had to explain the use of the term in his dedicated sonnet, rather weakly in this script, I thought. Katharina, 'a dark lady' (Victoria Morris) was suitably alluring in a slightly mannered performance full of appropriately slinky movements, a turn-on indeed for WS. John Savage brought an intelligent flamboyance to the character of Henry Wriothsley, Earl of Southampton and the author himself came in to play the part of a divine dressed in a blue Anglican cassock to comment on the religious slant adopted by WS towards the end of the series.

Theatre of the Dales is locally famous for all the right reasons, it appears.

Below, the man responsible:

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