Thou wouldst make a good fool

So we finally have a rough cast list together (we’re waiting on confirmation of schedules from actors, hence the “rough”). Auditions, while exhilarating and surreal, also brought up some really important and seemingly obvious logistical questions. How do we double cast minor roles? Do we need to double cast at all? Which male parts can be played by females? Should those cross casted females play their characters as men or women? What difference do these choices make? How do appearances and audience preconceptions of these famous characters affect the production?

This last question, regarding long-established images and interpretations of characters, is a tricky one. Do we want to challenge the audience’s notions of these characters? With characters like Lear and Gloucester, appearance is a major consideration with casting: they need to be old, obviously, preferably close in age and in many cases, similar enough in appearance to make the foil between them obvious. For Goneril, Regan and Cordelia: How alike should the sisters look? Should the sisters and their husbands be of simliar heights? What difference does it make if Goneril is taller than Albany? And, the question we’re still struggling with: Who is the Fool and what does he or she look like?

Our director’s initial vision of the Fool was a male close in age to Lear; he is, after all, another of the king’s foils. He specifically asked actors at auditions to not play the Fool as a jester, but rather more of a tragicomic realist (he compared him to Steve Martin at one point). But with each actor’s audition, we saw a new Fool emerge. We saw sad fools, angry fools, silly fools, fools who were clearly female or male, fools who could be either gender, fools who clearly loved the king, fools who were terrified of their master, even a few fools who pulled off a jester-like charm without being shallow. We saw fools of all shapes and sizes; some had beards, glasses, some looked like they could be Lear’s age, while others looked like children.

Now we face the problem of having to choose which direction we want our fool to go. I decided to go back to our Lear roots this week to give us a little perspective. I’ve been focusing my most recent research on King James I and his philosophy regarding kingship and diving right, so it seemed only fair to look into whether or not he had a fool. Shakespeare himself was something of a fool to the king, pointing out his flaws and foibles through humor and stories. So here he is, Mr. Archy Armstrong, King James I’s favorite fool:

It’s hard to find much information on Archy without delving into books on fools of the time (which I’d love to look into once I have the time) but for now, here’s what I know: He was appointed fool to King James’ court in 1611, and quickly became one of his  most beloved servants. Other members of the court disdained him for his insulting witticisms, but as he once retorted to the Duke of Buckingham: “dukes had often been hanged for insolence but never fools for talking.” He remained a fool into Charles II’s ascension to the throne, and went on to become a wealthy and successful business man.

But Lear’s fool regenerates with every staging. Our possibilites are virtually endless.  Here are some of my favorite fool images from other productions, but they’re by no means the only ones out there.

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