Thursday, January 26, 2012

Spitting at Shakespeare

In 1989 I had the mixed blessing of seeing Dustin Hoffman perform Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. We had almost front row seats. What I remember most – in fact all I remember – is Hoffman quite literally spitting out his lines. In abundance. I thought there was a leak in the roof there was so much liquid coming down. Some years later, in 2005, I saw Michael Gambon in Henry IV at the National Theatre, also spitting as he spake. And just a few days ago at the cinema, I saw Ralph Fiennes in his directorial debut as Coriolanus*, where he can often be seen spitting ('You banish ME?' *Spit* 'I banish YOU!' *Spit*). So it comes as no surprise that, according to a Washington Post blog post, Shakespeare's plays are known to produce more spit than any other playwright. In fact, theatre or film directors are known to request more spit from actors when they are under performing: 'Give me more spit!' is an often-heard line at Shakespeare's Globe theatre.

But spitting – or expectoration – though 'currently' (say Wikipedia) unacceptable in the west – unless you wear a tracksuit and live on a council estate and have a particularly nasty cold – is acceptable in other parts of the world. Like India. If Shakespeare had his way, it would be acceptable the world over. After all, didn't he write, 'The world's a stage, so spit on it'. Or something.

*My boon companion and I – luckily – just missed seeing Ralph Fiennes in the flesh. My friend, having been one of the make-up artists on Coriolanus, had wanted to confront Fiennes in the Q&A session (at the Everyman in Maida Vale) after a showing of the film to ask him why she hadn't been invited to the film's premiere. But after she had a double Jack Daniels and Coke in the cinema bar just before the film, and a double Pimm's and lemonade after it, it was probably for the best that the Q&A tickets had sold out.

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