The Transformation of Leontes:

"Triumph of Time" vs. BBC vs. The Text


Ben Gardella

Triangulating Shakespeare


...As Stanley Wells said, "Jeremy Kemp's Leontes, introverted, properly humorless, seems understated. His anguished utterances need air. He avoids embarrassment but sacrifices range." [Stanley Wells. "Goes Out, Followed by a Furry Animal," Times Literary Supplement, Feb. 20, 1981.] A perfect example of this is at the trial of Hermoine. Jeremy Kemp begins the scene with an ample amount of lividness and spite, though I think the word "beloved" sounds much more distinguished and biting when pronounced in three syllables. The frequent cuts move the action along through Hermoine's long speeches and the close ups on Kemp's Leontes provide the jealous tyrant image that we need to see. Though again I do agree with Mr. Wells that "he should fly off the handle" a bit more. [Wells.] The pace after the reading of Apollo's oracle grinds to a grueling crawl as Leontes switches radically and instantly to a wet whispering fish. Kemp takes two four second pauses in quick succession as he reduces his character to repenting mud. In acting circles, this is called "indulging." Kemp is drawing so much attention to his feelings of remorse that they come off as insincere. This is a character armed with a vocabulary and dramatic structure comparable to Hamlet, Macbeth and King Henry V. When events turn on them, they do not instantly turn to spineless jelly. I think it is correct to interpret this court scene as a transformation for Leontes, that "he stands still at last, reduced now to silence, sculpted into the image of mortified man. [Charles Frey, Shakespeare's Vast Romance: A Study of The Winter's Tale. University of Missouri Press, 1980. pg. 136.] That silence becomes ineffective after the second pause and Kemp takes two more before Paulina's entrance. To watch a man fully repent without question is also terribly uninteresting. It gives the audience little to think about as Paulina beats at a dead horse.

This is where "Triumph of Time" sheds some light on the court scene. Its approach toward Leontes offers a structure more dramatically accessible to an audience. To begin with, the event of his son's death does not affect Leontes so profoundly as in the BBC. The actor, Ben Gardella, uses the news as a personal threat to his credibility. The scene we do get with Mamillus is terse and peculiar. "Art though my boy?" "Art thou my calf?" (Iii) The relationship is extremely formal and possibly exploited by Leontes. "The suspicion his wife is unfaithful before. What if Mamillus is not his son?" [Kenneth Muir, ed. Shakespeare: The Winter's Tale. Macmillan, London, 1968. pg. 60.] Gardella's reaction, unlike Kemp's is "I think I screwed up. Things are falling apart around me. Don't panic! Maybe..." and then Hermoine faints. The situation is so out of his control that Hermoine is carried out despite his orders. Instead of addressing the rest of the court in order to save face, Gardella turns inward and further isolates himself which is exactly what this scene is intended to do. "When he denies the Oracle, he opening presumes against the godhead, denies his created status." [Frey, pg. 131.] If Leontes tries to fully rejoin with the rest of society before Paulina can confirm his isolation, this is going against what the audience is intended to see. "What the audience sees when Leontes is onstage is opposition leading to static isolation." [Frey, pg. 132.] A partial rejoining with the court only to be isolated again serves no purpose. What Gardella gives in his bitter delivery of Camillo's honor being "most humane" is further insight into the character of Leontes. He simply has a difficult time admitting that he is wrong.

Perhaps this interpretation of Leontes is not precisely correct but without taking liberties with the text, discoveries are never made. Look at what Jacobi did with the play within the play scene in Hamlet. By taking a traditional dramatic structure that is even implied in the text and turning it upside down, a whole new play is discovered. I'm sure he was criticized for being blasphemous and inconsistent with the text at first. Whether right or wrong, one school of thought grows from the experience. The other stagnates.

Whether Leontes is interpreted correctly or not, the production staff of "Triumph of Time" could learn much from the BBC. The long speeches by Hermoine and Paulina must be dealt with either textually or cinematically. This means many of the words should be cut out and the camera should move or cut to different shots more frequently during those longer speeches. Modern audiences become bored with a static shot over twenty seconds and that is being generous! For example, the first close up of Kris Rankin (Hermoine) is beautiful and cinematic. But at least one shot of Leontes' stoic face should have been presented. I realize that there was only one camera available but if I was to do it again, I would shoot the whole speech several times. One of the times would be a close up of Leontes as Hermoine delivered her speech off camera. The more excess footage the better. I would not be so specific in setting up certain shots. They are too time consuming. Instead, I would film the same scene many times over at various different angles. The problem of continuity of speech patterns and action would be great but the intention would be evidence in the final product.

The chamber scene directed by Amy Avina achieved exactly that. That is the edits were often comical but the intention and skilled direction were amazing. The opening shot involves a servant off camera providing Leontes with a direction to look past the camera. Already, the camera takes on the personality of intimate voyeur rather than a presentational filming device. Another excellent cut proceeds when Paulina approaches Leontes with babe in arms. She walks away from the camera and we cut to a reverse angle of her coming toward the camera. It only looks fully because of flawed editing. If the second shot did not begin until Paulina was one step closer to the camera, the continuity of action would be perfect. As it stands now, Paulina appears to cover the same ground twice.

If we were to give out an academy award for best edit, it would have to go to Ryn Wood. Though the chapel scene is marred with numerous technical flaws, the "awakening" of Hermoine's statue is brilliant. By filming out of sequence, night becomes day like magic. This shows great insight into the theme of "Time" conquering all. Time is what heals Leontes' jealous wounds and indeed becomes triumphant.


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