As we near April, my dramaturgical duties have been evolving from collecting ideas and images into more concrete, production-related responsibilities. These include: observing rehearsals and going over notes with my director; running lines with actors and discussing character choices; shamelessly telling everyone I know to see the play, both in person and via Facebook; developing program material, including a dramaturgy note; and creating a lobby display.
This last task has proven more challenging than I anticipated. After narrowing down what I wanted to convey to the audience — concepts of power and an overarching concept of the world of the play — and how to do so — through images — I found myself backtracking to the some of my earlier dramaturgical notes. Jason’s very first “in” to the play was Power, and from there, Iron Age England. He chose 800 BC as the world of the play not only because that’s when the original Leir is said to have reigned, but because of the nature of that world: it was a time of discovery, when people based their entire universe off of gods they couldn’t see, when violence and brute strength determined a person’s worth. These concepts tied in to the plays biggest themes: power, man’s purpose in the universe, identity, a dependance on and fascination with nature, religion and ritual.
So I went back to one of my first resources — the British Museum — and found a page that I apparently missed during my earlier hunting. Here are some illuminating facts from the website about life in Iron Age society:
- The Iron Age British religion did not need images of their gods in human or animal form.
- Britons did not worship in temples or special religious buildings. Rather, the evidence shows they worshipped on the farm or out in the landscape.
- Many discovered Iron Age artifacts are thought to have been offerings to gods, spirits or ancestors. Rivers, lakes and bogs were the sites of offerings of weapons; animals and everyday objects such as pots, querns and tools were offered at houses and farmyards, while offerings of torcs or chariot harnesses were made at land away from farms. Humans could be offered as well. Many of these rites were probably carried out by Druids, the special priests in Britain and France at the end of the Iron Age.
- Iron Age Britain has often been considered a particularly warlike period because of the many hillforts and weapons.
- The finest examples of British La Tène or Early Celtic art are often weapons, such as the Kirkburn sword or Battersea shield. La Tène is a style of decoration using abstract curving patterns, which spread rapidly from western Europe from around 450 BC. Few objects used in daily life were ever decorated with these designs. Instead it was reserved for metal objects such as torcs, sword scabbards or mirrors.
The splendor and expense of these weapons, and the metal parts of the chariots used by their owners, show the importance attached to being a warrior in the Iron Age.
- Many warriors might have been aristocrats, chiefs or kings. The few outstanding objects, such as the Great Torc from Snettisham, were probably signs of their owners’ great rank and power. But not every Iron Age society was so hierarchical. In many, the leading members of most families may have had the status of a warrior and owned fine swords.
- I also noticed a lot of circle imagery while sifting through Iron Age artifacts and pictures — the circular settlements and hillforts, the spiral designs on shields and swords, the simple, round houses. We are using a lot of circle imagery in our Lear production, and although ours is for more metaphorical, thematic purposes, it’s pretty amazing that we can find traces of it all the way back in 800 BC.
These facts reveal a lot of parallels between Leir’s 800 BC world and our interpretation of Lear’s kingdom: a dependance on ritual and nature; a materialism, a desire for excess and extravagance, as evidenced by the intricate care taken to craft the Iron Age weaponry; a strict hierarchical system, relying heavily on physical strength and power. Here are some images from the Museum’s online gallery. The captions are taken from the website’s artifact descriptions. Happy hunting!
50-20 BC, this face depicts is a mature man with hair combed back, clean-shaven except for a well-groomed moustache. Images of prehistoric Britons are very rare and in the Iron Age people were almost never shown as statues or carved as part of the decoration on objects. La Tène art styles were usually abstract and rarely showed images of people, animals or plants. This pattern changed at the very end of the Iron Age in the south east of the England. Here, there are a few pictures of Iron Age men shown on coins or as decorations on wooden buckets.
This is one of three small bronze models of men’s faces that were the decoration on a wooden bucket found in a Late Iron Age cremation burial. The grave probably belonged to someone of great importance and wealth, perhaps even a king or queen. The bucket would have looked similar to the one found in another Late Iron Age cremation burial at Aylesford, Kent. This also had men’s faces on the handle mounts.
The grave was the burial of a king or queen similar to another royal grave at Welwyn Garden City. The grave also contained two bronze jugs and a bronze pan, similar to examples from the Aylesford burial. There were also two Roman silver cups, five Roman wine amphorae and many pots.
“Probably the finest Iron Age sword in Europe,”
this sword was found buried with a man who was in his late 20s or early 30s when he died (he was an old man; very few Iron Age men lived to be older than 35 to 40). After the dead man was placed in the grave, three spears were thrust into his chest as part of the funeral ritual….The iron blade of a sword needed great time and skill to make and the sword as a whole is an incredibly complicated weapon and piece of art….The sword was clearly a valued object. The scabbard had been damaged and was repaired some time after it had been made, which might have been many years before it was placed in the grave with its final owner.
This is the only Iron Age helmet to have ever been found in southern England, and it is the only Iron Age helmet with horns ever to have been found anywhere in Europe. Horns were often a symbol of the gods in different parts of the ancient world. This might suggest the person who wore this was a special person, or that the helmet was made for a god to wear. Like the Deal Crown, this was more of a symbolic head-dress than actual protection for the head in battle….
Like many other objects, especially weapons, this helmet was found in the River Thames….The helmet is made from sheet bronze pieces held together with many carefully placed bronze rivets.
In East Leicestershire, archeologists found more than twelve hoards of gold and silver coins, preserved in burial pits. Most were struck by the Corieltauvi, an Iron Age tribe occupying the area about 2000 years ago. Others are of the Iron Age king Cunobelin, known as ‘Britannorum Rex’ (King of the Britons). There are also early Roman coins from mainland Europe. The archaeologists also found the remains of a Roman cavalryman’s helmet. This and the Roman coins show that the people using the site had links with the Classical world. The helmet may have been a gift or could have belonged to a Roman soldier killed in battle.
Some of the animal bones are complete and were probably sacrificial offerings. Others have cut-marks, the signs of feasting. Archaeologists now believe the hill was a ritual meeting place where people made offerings to their gods and held great feasts.
1900-1600 BC, this cape would have been unsuitable for everyday wear because it would have severely restricted upper arm movement. Instead it would have served ceremonial roles, and may have denoted religious authority. The cape is one of the finest examples of prehistoric sheet-gold working and is quite unique in form and design. It was laboriously beaten out of a single ingot of gold, then embellished with intense decoration of ribs and bosses to mimic multiple strings of beads amid folds of cloth.
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