Shakespeare's Fathers and Daughters.
Oliver Ford Davies
Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2017
19.9 [pounds sterling] pb, viii+224 pp., 5 b/w ill.
Shakespeare's Fathers and Daughters by veteran stage and film actor Oliver Ford Davies draws on his "fifty years in the theatre" to examine father-daughter relationships across the Shakespearean canon (ii). Davies's book follows previous character-focused studies including Diane Elizabeth Dreher's Domination and Defiance: Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare (1986), Lagretta Tallent Lenker's Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare and Shaw (2001), Sharon Hamilton's Shakespeare's Daughters (2003), and Tom McFaul's Problem Fathers in Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama (2012). However, Davies doffs his former lecturer hat to share his performer's perspective, rendering the autobiographical result highly readable.
The first four chapters of Shakespeare's Fathers and Daughters are divided chronologically into "Early Plays", "Comedies", "Tragedies and Tragicomedies" and "Late Plays," each subdivided by play. In sections subtitled "... an actor's perspective" Davies discusses his four main father-roles: Capulet (in Romeo and Juliet), Leonato (in Much Ado About Nothing), Polonius (in Hamlet), and Lear (in King Lear), locating these points along the chronological arc of Shakespeare's developing stagecraft. Throughout, the actor's perspective is illuminating, such as when Davies observes that Shakespeare has "introduced every element in Capulet" for the actor to later unfold (34), or remarks that "the sixteenth-century's father's inability to show his affection for his daughter face to face necessarily constrains their scenes, a limitation which I found very galling to play" (39).
Looking at the "evolution of fathers", Davies draws on his own experience of Leonato to posit that he is actually the protagonist of the play's second half as he speaks the second greatest number of lines (61, 55). Davies feels that Shakespeare constructs fathers versus young only-daughters of marriageable age to better explore extremes of "gender, age, status, experience" and the "ongoing conflict between reason and emotion" (5, 4, 190). Thus, Shakespearean brides are often teenaged--Juliet (in Romeo and Juliet), Anne Page (in The Merry Wives of Windsor), Marina (in Pericles), Perdita (in The Winter's Tale), and Miranda (in The Tempest)--even though teenage marriage was not the contemporary norm (169).
The core of the book is Davies's discussion of playing Polonius and Lear in Hamlet and King Lear (see also his Playing Lear, 2003). These sections are rich in anecdotes, from musings on method and lines to recollections on teaching and taking direction. As Polonius at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2008, "I wore a cardigan, that great signifier of family and domestic repose" (77). At one performance, discovering who had been killed behind the arras, a woman in the audience cried out "Oh, not him!" (82). Davies relishes telling us that in Frangois de Belleforest's source material, the Polonius-equivalent actually hides under the quilt, then is dismembered and fed down a sewer to pigs (75).
The fifth chapter on "Shakespeare and his Daughters", meaning Susanna and Judith Shakespeare, outlines the family biography, while Chapter Six, "Fathers and Daughters in Contemporary Society", suggests that Shakespeare's plays do not necessary reflect his own societal dynamics (165). Equally, these chapters combined and placed at the beginning could contextualise Davies's roles and recollections. The final chapter, "Fathers and Daughters in Drama, 1585-1620", compares Shakespeare's works to those of Robert Greene, Thomas Kyd, John Lyly, Christopher Marlowe, and Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, regarding the extent to which they "leave out daughters, or fathers" (174, 179). A strong "Conclusion" ties themes together across the canon.
While these latter sections interest, I prefer Davies's unique behind-thescenes recollections, such as when his early-career director Peter Dews chastised: "They've come to hear a play, and your last line only a passing bat might have picked up" (32). Minor errors creep in. Silvia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona is not "the only heroine to have a song sung to her" (14) since that also happens to Innogen in Cymbeline. Shakespeare did stoop to employing the trope of a character rising from their coffin, since Thaisa in Pericles does this, and Innogen in Cymbeline appears to come back from the dead (175). Shakespeare definitely examines married life in comedies aside from The Taming of the Shrew (107) as the author notes elsewhere.
Overall, however, this is a fine contribution to the Arden Series. I only wish that "an actor's perspective" had been given even fuller scope.