CORIOLANUS, OR: THE ROMAN MATRON – COVENT GARDEN, DICEMBRE 1754
‘When new theatres were built at the end of the eighteenth century, the architectural design had entirely changed. With Henry Holland’s Covent Garden Theatre, opened on 17 September 1792, an entirely different structure could be seen: the horseshoe shape of the Italian theatres, as imported to London from Paris…The plans for Holland’s Covent Garden show a tremendous structure, seating over 3,000 spectators in a horseshoe arrangement, in which the acoustics were poor for those near the back wall, and a high percentage of the audience needed to turn their heads and shoulders to view any action on the stage. There was no longer any apron stage; tiers of boxes had replaced the old proscenium arrangement. Numerous contemporary complaints by established actors indicate that they experienced great difficulty in attempting to adjust to the new stage.’45
Fin dagli anni settanta del secolo diciassettesimo le nuove playhouses erano state progettate da architetti e costruite senza basarsi sulla ristrutturazione di edifici già esistenti, come era avvenuto durante la Restaurazione. Le nuove strutture si ispirano alla emergente cultura neoclassica e prendono come modello l’anfiteatro romano: la platea è organizzata in cerchi che si incontrano in un singolo centro, costituito dal palcoscenico, e sia le panche del pit che la parte anteriore dell’apron sono ovali. Le pareti del teatro si ampliano a mano a mano che ci si allontana dal palco, per cui i palchi laterali curvano tutt’attorno il teatro, mentre per funzionalità prospettica decrescono in altezza a partire dal fondo della sala fino alla ribalta.
L’auditorio risulta così essere a forma di ventaglio, con un grande vantaggio per l’acustica del teatro e per la visione da parte dello spettatore: ‘With the Augustan theatre, with every aspect integrated in the fan-shaped auditorium, a deep stage showing perspective scenes, and an audience close enough and well-placed enough to see every facial movement and hear every word uttered as Betterton, Barry and Bracegirdle appeared on that stage, we can now claim a Gestalt of our own…’46
Verso la metà del diciottesimo secolo i teatri beneficiarono della prosperità materiale che sembrava regnare in quel momento in Inghilterra, e le due sale provviste di licenza, il Drury Lane, governato tra il 1747 e il 1776 dal famoso David Garrick, e il Covent Garden, che, come sopra accennato, in quegli anni era organizzato dal famigerato John Rich, offrivano una grande varietà di spettacoli di alto livello, e di conseguenza godevano di un ampio affluire di pubblico. Quest’ultimo sembrava più che altro attirato dalla rappresentazione di un singolo evento drammatico, rappresentazione che ben si addiceva alla nuova struttura della cornice teatrale e al tipo di recitazione del periodo, – che secondo Viola Papetti ‘costruiva figure irruenti di passioni, “attitudes” tanto facilmente leggibili quanto persistenti, che coincidevano con enunciati verbali e spesso anche musicali,’47 – piuttosto che dalla successione lineare, più o meno unificata, del susseguirsi di accadimenti previsti da un testo già elaborato.
Anche gli spettacoli di ambientazione storica, che, come discusso precedentemente, erano molto in voga all’epoca di Thomas Sheridan, erano strutturati in base ai rinnovati criteri spazio-scenografici richiesti dagli ambienti teatrali, soprattutto in un edificio nuovo di zecca come il Covent Garden.
Sebbene si ispiri al dramma di Thomson, Coriolanus, or: The Roman Matron prevede un mutamento di scene più frequente: sono previsti infatti per le scenografie pannelli mobili rappresentanti, tra gli altri, la casa del protagonista, il Senato, il Foro e il campo dei Volsci. Lo stratagemma utilizzato più frequentemente per attirare l’attenzione del pubblico è quello della discovery, in cui i personaggi si rivelano all’aprirsi dei pannelli disposti come in un dipinto, come nel caso dell’arrivo di Marcius a Corioli, che viene rappresentato ‘seduto maestosamente in un silenzio solenne.’
Notevole doveva essere soprattutto la rappresentazione del ritorno vittorioso di Coriolanus dalla guerra contro i Volsci, descritta con cura nella pubblicazione nel 1755 dell’acting edition del Covent Garden, dove l’autore, oltre a motivare la scelta del soggetto e il metodo di elaborazione del suo lavoro, si impegna a spiegare il significato del termine ‘ovazione’ nella cultura romana dell’epoca repubblicana: ‘Ovation was a lesser sort of triumph. It had its name from ovis, a sheep, which was sacrificed on this occasion, instead of a bull, used in the great triumph. The ovation was granted upon any extraordinary success against the enemy, in gaining a battle, taking a town, some remarkable exploit, or making an advantageous peace to Rome. But a triumph was never obtained, unless a kingdom was entirely subdued, and added to the Roman territories. They differed in form from each other principally in this, that in the Ovation all marched on foot, but in the triumph the victor was carried in a chariot drawn by horses, and followed by horse-men, which makes the representation of the latter, on the stage, impracticable.’48
Sheridan procede quindi con l’elencare l’ordine d’uscita dei vari personaggi necessari alla rappresentazione dell’ovazione.49 Questa doveva essere però preceduta da una processione civile proveniente dalla città, in cui sfilavano verso Coriolanus preti, flamens, coristi, senatori, tribuni, vergini, matrone, e madre, moglie e figlio del protagonista, al suono di flauti e altri strumenti a fiato. Anche in questo caso l’effetto sfarzoso della performance aveva lo scopo di procurare nel pubblico una considerevole risposta di carattere evocativo.50
Come precedentemente constatato durante la presente trattazione, a partire da Tate tutti i drammaturghi alle prese con l’argomento Coriolanus sono stati particolarmente colpiti dalla potenzialità espressiva della messa in scena della processione delle donne romane presso le porte della loro città. Anche in questo caso, Thomas Sheridan fornisce delle precise indicazioni per quanto riguarda lo svolgersi dell’evento: ‘SCENE a Camp with Volscian Soldiers, as before. Enter CORIOLANUS, TULLUS, GALESUS, VOLUSIUS; The Roman Ladies advance slowly, with VETURIA and VOLUMNIA, all clad in mourning. CORIOLANUS sits on his tribunal; but seeing them, advances, and goes hastily to embrace his mother.’
Di grande impatto drammatico doveva essere anche la gestualità che senz’altro accompagnava l’episodio dell’intercessione vera e propria, che, come ricordiamo, è tratta in questo caso da Thomson.
Dopo l’abbraccio spontaneo del condottiero, all’entrata della madre, il dialogo tra i due procede così:
Coriolanus Lower your fasces, Lictors –
Thou best of parents!
Veturia Coriolanus, stop.
Whom am I to embrace? A son, or foe
Say, in what light am I regarded here?
Thy mother, or thy captive?
Coriolanus Justly, madam,
You check my fondness, that, by nature hurry’d.
Forgot, I was the general of the Volsci,
And you a deputy from hostile Rome.
[He goes back to his former station.
I hear you with respect. Speak you commission.51
Alle risposte negative del figlio, Veturia reagisce così:
Veturia O Marcius, Marcius! Canst thou treat me thus?
Canst thou complain of Rome’s ingratitude,
Yet be to me so cruelly ungrateful?
To me! Who anxious rear’d thy youth to glory?
Whose only joy these many years has been,
To boast that Coriolanus was my son?
And dost thou then renounce me for thy mother?
Spurn me before these chiefs, before those soldiers,
That weep thy stubborn cruelty? Art thou
The hardest man to me in this assembly?
Look at me! Speak!
[Pausing, during which he appears in great agitation.
Still dost thou turn away?
Inexorable? Silent? – Then, behold me,
Behold thy mother, at whose feet thou oft
Hast kneel’d, with fondness, kneeling now at thine,
Wetting thy stern tribunal with her tears.52
Anche Volumnia tenta in modo drammatico, dopo aver preso la mano del marito tra le sue, di ricondurlo alla ragione:
Volumnia Ah! Coriolanus!
Is then this hand, this hand to me devoted,
The pledge of nuptial love, that has so long
Protected, bless’d, and shelter’d us with kindness,
Now lifted up against us? Yet I love it,
And, with submissive veneration, bow
Beneath th’ affliction which it heaps upon us.
But oh! what nobler transports would it give thee!
What joy beyond expression! could’st thou once
Surmount the furious storm of fierce revenge,
And yield thee to the charms of love and mercy.
Oh make the glorious trial!
Coriolanus Mother! wife!
Are all the powers of nature leagu’d against me?
I cannot! – will not! – Leaveme, my Volumnia!53
Tutto il dialogo non è che un crescendo atto a preparare il momento in cui Veturia estrae il pugnale da sotto la veste e minaccia di uccidersi – uno degli episodi, come accennato in precedenza, che ebbero più successo tra il pubblico.
Anche se sembra che Thomas Sheridan non possedesse per interpretare il personaggio di Coriolanus quello che viene definito le physique du rôle, è indiscutibile la sua abilità ‘in making his Person appear of that athletick Proportion, and giving that Ferocity to his Countenance which so remarkably distinguishes that Character,’54 a partire dal costume di scena, studiato nei minimi dettagli, con tanto di cimiero piumato, ritenuto all’epoca elemento necessario per raffigurare al meglio un guerriero romano, al fine di rendere nel modo più preciso l’idea di un vero generale, come raffigurato dalle antiche statue.55 (Fig. 3)
Anche i movimenti un po’ rigidi e troppo solenni, o la voce dell’attore, che spesso risuonava ‘unequal, harsh, and discordant,’56 non venivano considerati dai critici come difetti, in quanto l’immagine che si aveva allora di Coriolanus, cioè quella di un soldato dalla scarsa educazione, giustificava questo tipo di rappresentazione del personaggio.
Un altro attore, William Smith, si alternava a Sheridan nel ruolo del protagonista. Questi era famoso per le sue interpretazioni di uomini di mondo, e per prestanza fisica ben si addiceva ad impersonare il generale romano. Arthur Murphy testimonia così la sua interpretazione: ‘Mr Smith enters in the first act, after having (as we are to suppose) just overcome the Volsci, to the tune of violins and hautboys; but I am afraid the grandeur of is triumph is a little misapplied, considering the early times in which Coriolanus lived, before the Roman empire had arrived to any degree of splendour and magnificence, and was great in virtue only. However it makes a fine shew; and Mr Smith, who has an excellent person, by the help of a little burnt cork and a real coat of mail cuts a very martial appearance. I think it was one of the Gracchi who, when he was speaking to the people, always had a servant behind him in the Rostrum with a pitch-pipe, which he touched whenever he found his master’s voice rising beyond a certain height; such an instrument as this would, in my opinion, be of service to Mr Smith, for his fault seems to be that of keeping too much at the top of his voice.’57
Nel ruolo di Veturia assieme a Sheridan recitava, come sopra accennato, Mrs Peg Woffington, che nonostante la giovane età – trentacinque anni – impersonava la madre di Coriolanus in maniera piuttosto soddisfacente.58 Smith era invece affiancato da Mrs. Hamilton.59
Le reazioni dei critici alla messa in scena del Coriolanus da parte di Thomas Sheridan furono discordanti. Un corrispondente del Monthly Review del gennaio 1755 ritenne che: ‘Sheridan…has joined Shakespear and Thomson as awkwardly together, as if a man should tack, to the body of one picture, the limbs of another, without considering what and uncouth figure they might make together,’ mentre sul Public Advertiser del 13 dicembre 1754 l’alterazione veniva giudicata un’opera realizzata con grande arte: ‘The gross Absurdities of Shakespear in point of Time and Place, have in a great Measure been amended; those Scenes, which in their own Nature are improper for Representation, have been judiciously omitted: At the same Time, all the fine Passages and incidents, have been preserv’d, which serve to mark strongly the two Characters of Coriolanus and Veturia…[W]hether it was owing to the Skill of the Performers or whether Thompson [sic] having Shakespear in View, was inspired with and unusual Warmth of imagination, the Characters appeared supported throughout with the same Fire, and seem’d to be of a Piece.’63
45 Arthur H. Scouten, ‘The Anti-Evolutionary Development of the London Theatres’, in ‘British Theatre and the other Arts, 1660-1800’, Associated University Press, 1984, p. 179.
46 Arthur H. Scouten, ‘The Anti-Evolutionary Development of the London Theatres’, op. cit. p. 178.
47 Viola Papetti, Lo spazio teatrale nella Londra della Restaurazione in Le forme del teatro a cura di Giorgio Melchiori, Bulzoni, Roma, 1979, p. 195. Colley Cibber così lamentava nel 1740: ‘When the Actors were in Possession of that forwarder Space to advance upon, the Voice was then more in the Centre of the House, so that the most distant Ear had scarce the least Doubt or Difficulty in hearing what fell from the weakest Utterance; All Objects were thus drawn nearer to the Sense;…every rich or fine-coloured Habit [costume] had more lively Lustre; Nor was the minutest Motion of a Feature…ever lost, as they frequently must be in the Obscurity of too great a Distance.’ Gary Taylor, Reinventing Shakespeare, op. cit. p. 57.
48 Thomas Sheridan, in David Wheeler, ed., Coriolanus Critical Essays, op. cit. p. 12.
49 ‘The Ovation was performed to the sound of drums, fifes and trumpets, in the following order:
The order of the OVATION
One carrying a small Eagle.
Four Serpent Trumpets.
Four carrying a Bier with Gold and Silver Vases,
Part of the Spoil.
Four carrying another Bier with a large Urn and
Four Souldiers carrying a Bier loaded with Trophies,
Armour, Ensigns, &c. taken from the Enemy.
Five Souldiers with mural and civick Crowns.
Four Captive Generals in Chains.
One carrying a small Eagle.
Twelve Lictors preceding the two Consuls
A Standard bearer, Another Standard bearer,
with a Drawing of Corioli. with the name of Corioli
wrote on the Banner.
Two carrying a large Eagle.
On the military Procession alone, independent of the Civil, there were an hundred and eighteen persons.’ Thomas Sheridan, in David Wheeler, ed., Coriolanus Critical Essays, op. cit. pp. 12-3.
50 ‘Unlike Shakespeare’s plan, in which Coriolanus enters almost immediately and takes up a position between his fellow generals, Sheridan has the hero arrive almost at the end of the parade, following two consuls and followed in turn by standard-bearers and soldiers. Coriolanus’s “No more of this,” must have rung somewhat hollowly after his willing participation in pageantry on such a scale. Sheridan’s ovation, which at once glamorised Martius, mitigated the play’s visual chill, and titillated antiquarians and spectacle-lovers, was destined to become a production fixture.’ John Ripley, Coriolanus on Stage in England and America, 1609-1994, op. cit. p. 106.
51 T. Sheridan, Coriolanus: or, The Roman Matron, op. cit. p. 65.
52 T. Sheridan, Coriolanus: or, The Roman Matron, op. cit. p. 69.
53 T. Sheridan, Coriolanus: or, The Roman Matron, op. cit. p. 70.
54 John Ripley, Coriolanus on Stage in England and America, 1609-1994, op. cit. p. 106. Secondo quanto riporta Cecil Price – Theatre in the Age of Garrick, Basil Blackwell and Mott Ltd., Oxford, 1973, pp. 32-3, – Thomas Sheridan era considerato dai suoi contemporanei ‘a thoughtful man of good education, he applied his mind to elocution and was much admired by those who disliked Garrick’s ‘tricks and bo-peeps’. The Theatrical Examiner, for example, said Hamlet was a character often attempted ‘but never tolerably by any but Sheridan’. It also praised his Macbeth, finding him very good in the dagger scene, but another critic wrote of the same performance, ‘Then the cold Sheridan half froze the part.’ Like Quin, he could be very fine in roles like Cato and Brutus, in which loftiness of sentiment and integrity of character were everything. Even as King John he was much admired, and his son, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, said that ‘his scene with Hubert was a master-pierce of the art, and no actor could ever reach its excellence.’ He wrote frequently on elocution but it is difficult to discover how far his theories affected his artistic practice…Sheridan had an original mind, but seems to have been more interested in words and sounds than in character and action.’
55 Un contemporaneo lo ricorda nelle vesti di Catone, abbigliato con ‘ [a] bright armour under a fine laced scarlet cloak, and surmounted by a huge, white, bushy, well-powdered wig (like Dr. Johnson’s), over which was stuck his helmet’; è probabile che il costume da Coriolanus non fosse molto dissimile da questo. (John Ripley, Coriolanus on Stage in England and America, 1609-1994, op. cit. p. 106). D’altra parte, i costumi sembrano assumere sempre più importanza nelle rappresentazioni; come riferisce Cecil Price, ‘Two German visitors to the London theatre, impressed by the gorgeous appearance of the costumes, were amazed to find that they were sometimes trimmed with genuine gold and silver. The prodigality of these displays offended some members of the audience. ‘The Plain Dealer’ in A Letter to Mr. Garrick (?1747) complained vehemently of ‘that extravagance of dress which of late glitters on the stage. – There was a time when the best actors contented themselves with a new suit at each new play, and then too thought they were very fine in tinsel lace and spangles; but some of the present heroes must not only have a new habit for every new part, but several habits for the same part, if the play continues to be acted for any number of nights: I have taken notice of one in particular, who is rarely seen twice in one garb – These habits must also be as rich as fancy can invent, or money purchase. – In fine, nothing worse will suffice to appear in even in the character of a town rake, but such as would become a Prince of the Blood on a Birth-day, or a foreign ambassador in his public entry.’ Wilkinson, writing forty years later, accepted this state of things as normal, saying ‘the expence for the necessary profusion of stage dresses is enormous.’ Yet it is only fair to say that the greater showiness which was seen early at Covent Garden under John Rich and spread to Drury Lane under Garrick, was warmly applauded by the public, and that the appeal to the eye became stronger and stronger as the century progressed.’ Cecil Price, Theatre in the Age of Garrick, op. cit. pp. 46-7.
56 John Ripley, Coriolanus on Stage in England and America, 1609-1994, op. cit. p. 106-7.
57 Arthur Murphy, art. cit., in Brian Vickers, ed., Shakespeare – The critical heritage 1623-1801, op. cit. p. 349.
58 ‘She could hold her own in tragedy, and was competent as Lady Macbeth, in Jane Shore or Calista. She even attempted the style of French classical tragedy: ‘At her return from France she strove to introduce here many of the declamatory tones and laboured gestures, peculiar to that stage and nation; but though very improper for our words, images and feeling, they passed uncensored under the sanction of this loved actress.” The same critic thought her ‘the best lively coquette that ever appeared on our stage, except Mrs. Oldfield.’ She radiated charm as Millamant in the Way of the World and Lady Townly in The Provoked Husband. As one man remarked, ‘She first steals your Heart and then laughs at you as secure of your Applause.’ There was ‘witchcraft in her Beauty’ and she was ‘superlatively engaging in genteel Comedy.’ She was also renowned for her ‘breeches’ parts, delighting audiences with her Sir Harry Wildair.’ Cecil Price, Theatre in the Age of Garrick, op. cit. pp. 39-40.
59 ‘Mrs Hamilton in the part of Veturia, especially in the last act, excels herself; and in particular she repeats that line,
He never can be lost who saves his Country,
with the genuine spirit of a free-born Englishwoman.’ Arthur Murphy, art. cit., in Brian Vickers, ed., Shakespeare – The critical heritage 1623-1801, op. cit. p. 349.
60 ‘Mrs. Bellamy…was intelligent, but owed her success far more to her beautiful face and figure. Her blue eyes dazzled young men and, when Garrick decided to compete with Barry, she was a very obvious choice as his Juliet. The Theatrical Review remarked that in scenes of distress she had ‘a soft wildness, which commands pity’, adding ‘her talents lie chiefly in the pathetic…she is not like most of the other actresses, reduced to the poor shift of hiding her face…real, undissembled tears then speak her feeling, and call forth fellow-drops form every eye.’ Cecil Price, Theatre in the Age of Garrick, op. cit. p. 41.
61 ‘Shuter was another comedian who enjoyed considerable popularity in his day, but unlike Weston, he seems to have been guilty at times of overplaying. The Theatrical Examiner warned him about this: ‘Be comic, Mr. S____r! – not too comical! You can make your face mighty droll: but twisting wry faces is not always just and humorous. Falstaff is a part of too much weight for Mr. S____r.’ it damned him more effectively in the sentence, ‘Mr. S____r can play little low parts that require no great weight, – with an agreeable spirit of humour that is very well.’ In fact he created the roles of Croaker in Goldsmith’s The Good Natured Man, Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer, and Sir Anthony in The Rivals. His parts ranged from Ben in Love for Love to Mercutio and Teague, and he was much admired for his Stephen in Every Man in his Humour and Corbaccio in Volpone. A certain gusto marked them all.’ Cecil Price, Theatre in the Age of Garrick, op. cit. p. 36.
62 Per la lista completa del cast che prese parte alla rappresentazione vedi Appendice E, p. v della presente trattazione.
63 John Ripley, Coriolanus on Stage in England and America, 1609-1994, op. cit. p. 108.