Sunday, June 1, 2014
Arden of Faversham
Anyways, the first play was 'The Roaring Girl' which kicked off a season of plays featuring strong female protagonists - it's brilliant, not so much the play itself which is perhaps a little bit patchy, but the roaring girl herself - her combination of swagger and independence set her apart form the majority of female roles (ever) and is, I assume, absolutely unique for the time she was written. What the RSC have chosen to do with the play makes the very best of it as well (go and see it!). 'Arden of Faversham' feels more traditional (both plays are based on real women), Alice is dissatisfied with her husband Arden, he's a prosperous business man who's just acquired a whole lot of what had been common land, so in many ways life is good for her - plenty of money and status - but not much fulfilment. Alice also has a lover - Mosby, she also lives in a time and place where the only way out of marriage is death so Arden has to go.
Arden turns out not to be a very likable character, his actions over the former common ground are dispossessing people and one of them is pissed off enough to curse him - he really doesn't have a way with women. That he's not very likable helps the audience sympathise a little with Alice whilst she does her best to recruit would be assassins - it turns out not to be very easy to dispose of your husband (news of which should come as a relief to husbands generally). Eventually her efforts succeed and Arden is killed, his body dumped on the cursed plot of land but retribution swiftly follows. Alice seems to feel genuine repentance over the murder which in a way is disappointing; it would have been much better for her if she'd realised earlier that she might regret her actions, and maybe more interesting for the audience if she hadn't felt much remorse.
More disturbing than the murder (from my point of view) is the way the Alice and Mosby use Mosby's sister Susan as bait in their plans. Susan is essentially Mosby's property to dispose of as he sees fit. There are two men interested in her, the extremely creepy Clarke who has a way with poisons, and Michael - Arden's servant - who is swayed between loyalty to his master and passion for Susan. He's rather more appealing than Clarke who Susan clearly wants nothing to do with and we had half an expectation that she might not mind Michael as a husband. Actually she's not interested in him either but between them the actions of her brother and would be lover are enough to see her condemned as part of their plot. That Susan has absolutely no control over her destiny at all is for me the biggest tragedy of the play.