Delighted to enter the strange, beautiful world of Shakespeare’s Romances – a world where verse and prose are stylistically inconsistent (due in part to collaboration with other playwrights, but also to the poet’s increasingly complex relationship to the formal constraints of iambic pentameter). A world where character development is non-existent and plots are driven not by recognizably human motives, but by the vagaries of wildly unpredictable plot devices. I’m tempted to think that Shakespeare is consciously creating crowd-pleasing entertainments and subordinates all to his reading of the shifting needs of his audience. But that’s kind of a dead end – only someone who lived at the time could verbalize the Jacobean theatrical zeitgeist. And as a mere blogger, recording my immediate reactions to the specific event of listening to the plays in 2017 via recordings made decades earlier featuring actors mostly deceased – I can claim it isn’t my job after all to make that analysis. I am only motivated to record the joy I experience in immersing myself in their incomprehensible, off-beat universe.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre, discovers a nasty secret while wooing the daughter of Antiochus, King of…umm…Antioch. He is forced to flee for his life, setting in motion a series of events that includes multiple maritime mishaps, murder plots, a lengthy interlude in a house of ill-repute, and a happy ending personally engineered by the goddess Diana. All of which, amazingly, leaves me with a feeling of warm contentment.
The Argo recording of the play was the last of the series to be recorded, in November of 1963, and the cast is headed by Welsh actor William Squire (1916?-1989), who just over two years earlier had replaced Richard Burton in the broadway production of Camelot. Squire inherited not just the plum leading role of Arthur, but also the glittering original company that included Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet. There seems to have been two William Squires, whom I will call Squire A and Squire B. Squire A is a smooth, polished leading man and second lead of classical theater. Squire A played King Arthur, but also a wonderfully amiable and engaging Chorus in the Henry V chapters of Peter Dews’ Shakespearean Age of Kings cycle (1960). He returned to the history plays in 1964 for John Barton’s Wars of the Roses cycle at Stratford, playing the seductive and ambitious Suffolk who woos Margaret of Anjou and the worldly and urbane Duke of Buckingham (already recorded for Argo years earlier).
Squire B is the purveyor of dour and/or saturnine older men who weaved their way through stage, film and TV appearances throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s. This included Captain Cat in Under Milk Wood, Owen Glendower and Justice Shallow (recorded for Argo), Thomas More in Anne of the Thousand Days, Hunter in the perpetually tense British TV Spy Thriller Callan and, of course Gandalf in Ralph Bakshi’s much heralded animated version of Lord of the Rings. The interesting feature of Squire’s career was the way he shuttled back and forth between Squire A and Squire B throughout – I suppose the expected shape would be to gradually move from one to the other over time. Thus, as late as 1966, at 50, we find him playing Teddy Lloyd in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on stage, definitely a Squire A role, and as early as 1956, he is the Squire B Aeschines, locked in a battle of words with Michael Hordern in Alexander the Great.
He is a superb Pericles, regal and intrepid during the first half and moving as the grief-stricken older king in Act V. As his daughter, Prunella Scales can do little but project sweetness and unconquerable virtue, but she does so with great conviction. Michael Hordern as the good-hearted Simonides and Margaret Rawlings as the wicked queen Dionyza are particularly memorable, as are Patsy Byrne (famous so many years later as “Nursie” in Blackadder) and Patrick Wymark as the rather Dickensian low-lifes who run the brothel into which poor Marina is thrown.
Can it be that I have only five more blog posts remaining?
Pericles, Prince of Tyre with William Squire, Prunella Scales, Tony Church, Michael Hordern, Margaret Rawlings, Patsy Byrne, Patrick Wymark, Gary Watson