Did you know that in Shakespeare’s time there was a sweet white wine called Bastard, and it’s mentioned in Henry IV Part One? Or that on days when he gave public readings, Dickens had two tablespoons of rum with fresh cream for breakfast, and a pint of champagne for tea? Or that George Eliot was the first person to refer to ‘pop music’ in a letter in 1862?
All this and more can be found at http://interestingliterature.com/. There are more scholarly articles but ‘Best Anecdotes Featuring Oscar Wilde’ and ‘Interesting Literary Facts about Halloween’ will do for me.
When a boy soldier from Somalia grows up, what kind of husband will he make? I went to hear Adrian Lester talk about playing Othello, yesterday. He said the lines that had stood out referred to how young Othello was when he became a soldier: ‘For since these arms of mine had seven years’ pith…they have used their dearest action in the tented field.’ Which means he has been killing since he was seven. The army is his family; his fellow soldiers, his brothers. Also, AL points to Desdemona’s reported reaction to him. That when he tells the stories of his adventures to her she reacts with pity, as if she understands his suffering: ‘Often did beguile her of her tears, when I did speak of some distressful stroke that my youth suffered.’ She gets past his uniform and straight to his heart. AL said this would have been a first for him, that he would have been used to listeners wanting to know how many he had killed and the details of the battle.
What I find interesting about this, is that AL has made up the last bit. Or at least extended the fact that it was what Desdemona’s father asked him about. But it enables us to understand the fragile psychology of a man of war encountering love for the first time.
I have heard actors say that if they cannot find the explanation for who their character is in the text they will make it up.
And what is the question they most want answering? Why is this person the way they are? Does it make sense? Can I stand in front of 300 people and convince them of it?
The challenge as someone creating a character is to make sure the explanations are already there.