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Finding the Pink Flower in the Scorched Landscape: A Discussion with Our Collaborators

By Cymbeline Anthropocene on Feb 19, 2020 at 01:43 PM in Project News, Articles of Interest
Group discussion of the ecology of Cymbeline on Day 2 of the Santa Barbara inaugural meeting
Finding the Pink Flower in the Scorched Landscape

Westmont College, Saturday January 25 2020, 11.00 am  

Randall Martin: At Levan’s request, I’ve invited him to start us off by saying something about his views of Cymbeline and ecology.

Levan Tsuladze: I don’t think of such a big role for me, I just want to be small. Sorry for my English. I will help with my hands and feet [gesturing], and then Eka [Levan’s translator] can help me.

First, when I was thinking about this play, I was thinking, where is ecology in this play?  I don’t know where it is. Because it’s not about ecology. But we must try to find it, of course. As You Like It, that is it about ecology. Everything is clear. [In Cymbeline] Yes, maybe the cave. But after two minutes, one of them cuts off the head of another man, and whoosh. Then the other part of this man [gesturing downwards] … not very ecological. And he [Guiderius] has good reason for this.

But something important happens in the finale of this play. It’s very simple. When the play starts, beautiful play, two persons are sitting in a bar, speaking not seriously about whether which girl is better or not. And you think it is a drama about love, complications about love, and then comes the war, from where we don’t understand. Someone comes [from Rome], a beautiful person, um…  

Randall Martin: Lucius.  

Levan Tsuladze: Yes. He says, we will crush you. He’s a good person, we love each other, but I will kill you. [laughter]

Group member: That’s how it goes!

Levan Tsuladze: Then a terrible thing happens, the war comes, everybody is killing each other. And yet out of this war everyone became better. I don’t know why, but we must find out. This is the most important thing. Why this Italian man [Giacomo], he’s going to die in five minutes, and he says I am the terrible person, I killed your wife? And everyone became satisfied. Why I don’t know. Maybe the war, maybe about the fire in the forest.

I see also the fire in Georgia. It was when the Russians came. It was not only fire firing guns, it was when people are struggling. For me it is war. I was there when the Russians came close to Tbilisi. It was finished, the war, the politics, they received orders, it is finished now, don’t go farther. And these four boys in a big Russian tank, they came. It was beautiful there, like this part of Santa Barbara, and many apple trees. [Yet] they started throwing Molotov cocktails, for what I didn’t understand. Just because everything was beautiful, blooming, peaches, pears. And these four boys, I imagine they were two years in the army situation, and they see everything and started to [throwing gesture], and it was burning. It was only black, a big forest. You know what it is in Santa Barbara what is fire, and [to Rob Conkie] you what it is in Australia.

After two months, my friend took me [back] there. I think this is the last scene of Cymbeline, when I go to it. The young people in the flame. And after this, burned trees. And my friend took me to see this. We looked through binoculars. It was dangerous [to go close]. And my friend took a sport rifle, not an automatic, and he fired. It was a beautiful black forest. But only black. And when the bullet hit the tree, it sheeou! [gesturing shattered].

And then yesterday, I saw [photos] from Australia, after the forest [fires], I saw some trees became green [after rains]. And one photo is beautiful, and I think it is symbol of Cymbeline, black burned body of this tree, and in this black there is a pink flower. And then I saw another photo [of the burned trees], and I saw green, not leaves, but something green. And I understand that all cataclysms are terrible, they are terrible, but they have inside something, because nature can be regenerate.

The same is the person, he has a chance to regenerate, like the finale [of Cymbeline], everybody became better. Why? They don’t understand themselves. And Shakespeare doesn’t tell us why this happens. In Othello, he explains. In Lear he explains everything. Here the finale is like a fairy tale. But it is more interesting for me in this play. How does the small pink beautiful flower happen? Through this terrible things, a flower is coming out.

The same is here I think with the finale of Cymbeline.  First this Italian [Giacomo], before he was ready [to confess], but something helps him. I think the war. Something terrible and not understanding the war. Before the war [the Italians] are very polite, very diplomatic. Yes we will come, we will fight. We have our part, you have your part. But when they come [together to fight] it is terrible. I don’t know what to say.

I think this play of Shakespeare, this last three plays together, The Tempest and Winter’s Tale, they are different from Hamlet. In Hamlet, Shakespeare starts with his aim, what story he is telling. You go with him together. You understand what he is doing from the first say. Here you don’t understand what is coming. The stories are beautiful, dramatic, ah …  

 Randall Martin: interwoven?  

 Levan Tsuladze: Yes. But where are you going, you don’t know. You don’t imagine. From the beginning it is different. The middle is different. For example, this cave [where Innogen takes refuge in Cymbeline 3.6], it is beautiful, three very healthy men, free, in nature, and they see the girl, they don’t understand it is the girl, but they see a different person and they come in love. They say we love you like a sister. Like brothers for a sister. They are of royal blood, and you think now the play will go in this direction. And then [the scene changes to the Romans and British], from I don’t know where, now we will start the war. Yes we will start the war. Nobody is talking about, “Now the war will start, Oh mama! now the war will start”. And the war starts, and it is terrible. How I see it, it is flames. Everything is destroyed. Nobody is the winner. Yes there is a winner, but nobody is a winner.

 A Russian film director made King Lear many years ago, [Grigori] Kozintsev [in 1971], and the most idea is, it is war. Always somebody going with horses, and flames. We don’t know what war is it. And it isn’t important what war is it. It is a big catastrophe. The world is destroyed when he [Lear] destroys his family and himself. I think something like this is here.

For me, I’m not sure, but I will try [this idea] in Georgia [at the Marjanishvili Theatre]. I will try to make some sense of it [Cymbeline] like Italian theatre, like Carlo Gozzi, Il Corvo [1761]. If you remember it is the same like surrealism. He is telling the story and you don’t understand what is it. It is horror, it is love, it is something. He tells a big story and you don’t understand the meaning. But in the finale you understand it is … I don’t know what. Like a Salvador Dali painting. Something is beautiful, but you cannot put everything together. It is not connected with each other. They are together, you don’t understand how it works, but it is beautiful when you see it. You understand he is working with another rules. Not normal rules.

 I think these three plays of Shakespeare are a little surrealism. He started to draw something [gesturing, inside himself], more poetry than in another play. I am not a Shakespearian, but I [am] think[ing of] ,“Hang there like fruit, my soul, till the tree die.” The poetry is higher than the dramatical rules, which [Shakespeare] destroys. That’s why this play for me is very interesting and very strange. Something ecological is here. How we can bring ecology in, I don’t know. Everything is ecological! But yes ecological is also in our insides.

 And here [in Cymbeline] everybody starts to be from the beginning like a nuclear war. And that’s why they became like the Italian man [Giacomo]. Beautiful dramaturge is this William Shakespeare. For example the same when this Giacomo, when he saw this girl [Innogen], sleeping, beautiful text, he’s bad person, he must “heh, heh, heh! [gestures, rubbing hands together]. He’s gone from Rome to England and back for one ring, but also for reasons inside. He is killing this girl, but there is evil and love and hope mixed together.

 Maybe Shakespeare was tired. All of us are tired. Because all day all we see are crazy things in the world. At the moment we are tired. I for example think some days that it’s better to throw some nuclear bombs at this, kill the children, and we’ll finish this. [laughter, applause]. And somebody will start from the beginning.

 It is not simple, I think. That’s why it’s very important [to] work on this play. Because when you start, you don’t know where you will come in the finale. Because you don’t know. Not like Hamlet, or Merchant [of Venice], there is awful [gesturing, conflict] but you can see this picture of what happens, and why. You understand. And here you are to understand that everything comes from [gesturing, above]. And this is the most important and beautiful thing of this play. Many persons they are talking with each other about other things, and you think they are not necessary, but they are necessary. Because they have something important [gesturing, in their heads, minds]. And maybe this small person is important. Sorry, I forget the names. Like this bad boy, the son of the Queen.

 Group: Cloten.

 Levan Tsuladze: These people don’t know where they are coming, where they going. But they are necessary, like in a dream. In our dreams there are characters, we don’t remember them, but they are making [gesturing, sense] of our dream.  

 That is why here are many small characters, they just show us this boy [Cloten] is bad. But maybe this is the key of the play. These many smaller persons. Their perceptions. That’s what I wanted to say. It’s very difficult [to tell]. Stop the “war” about this play, maybe we make a mistake! [laughter].

 Kevin Asselin: But that image of the pink flower, and the scorched landscape, that’s  a beautiful image, I think, of the war, as Randall was saying [earlier that morning]. So many of the characters are in crisis throughout, and then you have a cataclysmic gigantic crisis in the destruction of the war.  

 Levan Tsuladze:  After the flame, it is beautiful.  

 Kevin Asselin: We were saying this morning, in Yellowstone national park, in 1988, almost 900,000 acres burnt, one of the largest fires in America. And scientists realized that the Lodgepole pine [Pinus contorta], a kind of tree that exists primarily in Yellowstone, the only way for that tree to regenerate is the seeds [which] can only open with the heat of flame.

 Katie Brokaw: Sequoias too.

 Kevin Asselin: So that’s how they regenerate. So when you drive through Yellowstone, you see all of this new growth, trees that are maybe this tall [gesturing, six or seven feet] amidst all the old 1988 burned Lodgepole pines that stand maybe 30 or 40 feet. So you have new growth, the pink, amidst the scarred landscape of the old. I think there’s a parallel there, in terms of the ecology.

 Levan Tsuladze: This is the beginning of things. I remember this because in my country the war was not only [gestures, shooting] but flame, all big forests. It was my favourite way when I go to my friends out of Tbilisi, it was the most beautiful part of Georgia. And why you [the Russians] throw these things [bombs], for what, because in Russia there are no trees, everything is flat? I don’t know.

 Kevin Asselin: That’s the Anthropocene.  Mankind’s decision to randomly throw a bomb. For what?

 Levan Tsuladze: Yes, it was finished [the war], nobody died, it was not such a big war. They [the Russians] decided at the beginning, we destroy something in Georgia, it was two days [gesturing, they bombed]. Georgians die, tourists.    

 But it’s not about killing. After the war, some drug inside awakes in man, in this situation. Why you are throwing? Just a small boy, with a cigarette, Prima [a kind of strong cigarette] [gesturing, imitating the soldiers throwing bombs], and the flames, baaah! But when you see the trees, burning, very quickly. And four boys only, [they were] a little late because the [main Russian] army had turned back [home], they are throwing [gesturing, bombs all around.] It was a symbol for me.

 Now, my grandmother’s mother, when Georgia it was not the Soviet Union, and the communists came to occupy Georgia, my family was very against this, all Georgia was against these things. My family were aristocrats, and they had many houses in the town, there would have been money, and big family. And one young boy was “indigo” [i.e. autistic or with some other learning disability] and he grew up very quickly, he was advanced for his age. But when he became sixteen, something crunched, and he became a little crazy. It is the phenomenon of every indigo boy.

 And when the Russian army -- it was the communist army called number 18 -- they came, after three years of Russian Bolshevism, they remembered about Georgia, Stalin was Georgian. He sent this army through Georgia. This army it was poor people who were frozen in Russia. And in Georgia it was also summer, they came to eat peaches. And all my childhood, my grandmother taught me one story. When they [the Russians] came through the town (it was [when the Russians first] came in Georgia), all day this army, it was too big, all day they are going through [gestures, walking] this town, and all the people were standing and looking on this, without [speaking] words.

And this indigo boy he burnt houses, and his mother said don’t fight with fire. [Yet] maybe it helps him [i.e. his mental disability]. And for me, the revolution and Bolshevism, it this army going through the town, burning houses, and the boy he doesn’t understand what he is doing, and then his mother in hope maybe, yes, Georgia will die, but maybe his mind will come back. I don’t what it has to do with Cymbeline, but … [laughter]

 Stan Hoffman: But it’s a good story! 

 Randall Martin: You’re helping us, you’re helping us a lot.

 Katie Brokaw: Thank you for all of that, that was really helpful and provocative. I too was really struck by the image of the [pink] flower in the burnt tree. And it reminded me of one of my favourite lines of poetry from the nineteenth century, British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, who says, “And for all this, nature is never spent. / There lives the dearest freshness deep down things” [“God’s Grandeur”]. I never thought about that until you gave me that image, about that line in relation to Cymbeline.

But I think that’s what’s happening at the end of the play, is that we are finding there is a hope, that even these people -- what Cymbeline has done, what the armies have done to each other, what Iachimo has done -- that we hope there is something deep down there that can start renewal, which is that image of the flower … and that starting over. And what that needs is forgiveness, and then once you do that, even if you’ve done horrible things, can you start over, and can there be renewal. And I think that that’s both a social question and an ecological question, and they are of course really bound up in each other. But we have to love each other, and forgive each other, in order to rebuild the planet together.

 Gretchen Minton: And I just would love to point out that the prophecy in the play really speaks to that image of growth out of what’s dead. When you [Levan] were talking, I underlined “from a stately cedar shall be lopped branches, which being dead many years, shall after revive, be jointed to the old stock, and freshly grow” [5.3.234-36]. So it’s about that same light of growing out of what is dead, which is all about those issues you [Katie] were talking about.

 Katie Brokaw: That’s so great. I wonder almost whether you could start the whole play with that prophecy, and really get that image. 

 Randall Martin: If I could just mention something and detour before I get to Rob. I connect what Katie and Gretchen are saying to your point [Levan] that it’s all profoundly irrational, that hope is irrational. You’re saying, okay, I just want to end it, I just want to throw the bombs there. Well hope and that are very close together, they come out of the same place. An irrational place. And they could go one way, or it could go the other, and who knows to say whether it’s gone which way. So where does it go, and what’s the mechanism to go there?

Levan Tsuladze: And who starts the war? Nobody knows …

 Randall Martin: Nobody knows, and it’s a bit mysterious.

 Levan Tsuladze: Yes, and it’s unexpected. And I think this is the moment of this play. Something happens, just like a miracle, but not only a miracle.

 Rob Conkie: It’s lunch soon, right? [laughter]. Jumping off from what Levan is talking about, something grabbed me right at the beginning, which was the point about the killing of Cloten, there not being a good reason for it. And that sort of took my attention, because I’d never considered that, that what Guiderius does is, as I’ve read the play so far, it’s self-defence, and Cloten really deserves it.

 But to think about it in a different way, it’s shocking, but it’s sort of smoothed over, and I think we tend to, especially in performance, you can smooth over things. So I think about the time scheme in Othello, which gets smoothed over in the theatre. You watch it in the theatre, and all of those things that don’t make sense, they grab you.

 So I think about this play, because many of the productions we’ve been talking about have been seeking some kind of contemporary analogue, setting it somewhere in a certain place and time. But what would it mean to take the time-schemes, you know, the temporal dislocations of this play, seriously, that it happens in different times and places. So, in performance we can just smooth those things over, so that Rome and Italy and Wales and Britain are sort of just meshed together, that this is one story. But what would a production look like if it decided to make those places very differently?

 And yesterday, Chris [Lortie] the biologist [at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis], he talked about Jeff VanderMeer, whose science fiction – I was looking it up – it’s about accentuating the weird. So I think one of the things we could think about is accentuating the strange. What does it mean for a queen to be throwing spoons? [referring to a theatre étude improvised earlier that morning by Lit Moon actors], and for Imogen to be spasming through putting the clothes on [i.e. cross-dressing as Fidele, in another part of the étude], it makes it strange.

 And I was thinking, because Stanislavsky has been repeatedly invoked, about naturalism. So what does it mean to de-naturalize the action, because nature is a key word, right? So in the context of a dramaturgy which is really about nature, what does it mean to de-naturalize, to make strange. And I was really interested in John’s use of the term étude. And I was wondering whether that was coming out of a [Konstantin] Stanislavskian active analysis, or a [Vsevolod] Meyerholdian process, so I’d really like to hear more about that. But I think that gets back to the invocation of Salvador Dali, that this play, it really is weird stuff. And if we smooth over too much of the weirdness, we are going to lose some of that quality. So that is something that was speaking to me out of the discussion. 

 Randall Martin: And I’d like to bring that back to Levan’s point about the war. And the way Shakespeare sets up the battle in this play. It’s all very weird, it’s strange, it’s destructive, and it’s very typical of a Shakespeare battle. On the surface, there seem to be winners and loser. But Shakespeare throws in comments like, well, one side is firing [on its own soldiers]. And it’s “friendly fire.” And then when the Romans are up, Shakespeare describes them as “lolling the tongue.” Their tongues are hanging out [like beasts]. They’re slaughtering people, and that’s the battle. And then another little detail about the war is that the bodies are so heaped up, they’re blocking people from retreating.

 And so on the surface there seems to be winners and losers. Romans lose a bit, British lose a bit, and then it works out, and there’s a victor. But that’s not really what Shakespeare is describing in terms of the fighting, and the combat, and the weirdness of the battle that blossoms some of these things like the “flower” that comes out of it. It comes out of this very strange space. And I think of that as being very typical of Shakespearian war, and maybe that’s also a kind of ecology as well, that there’s an ecology in the war, and it’s very strange, it’s very irrational. And yet that closeness of people, and that weirdness – you know, why does that guy throw the Molotov cocktail at the pears that are hanging on tree -- just bizarre! But that’s the ecology of this play too. 

 Gretchen Minton: And just to piggyback on that -- because I completely agree – that the weirdness of the play, and queering of the spaces and the time periods, is really important, as is Shakespeare recycling his own material. This play is part Titus Andronicus, part As You Like It, part Twelfth Night, and it’s like he’s shoving everything into the same play. And I think that’s part of what creates a weird space, which becomes like a type of ecology, and type of  dream vision, that allows the irrational space that can be the space for hope, or destruction. And that line between hope and destruction is an ecological space, but it’s a dangerous one, it is the dark ecological space of this play.

 Anna Telfer: Well, you [Rob Conkie] were just talking about naturalism, it’s like the weirdness in acting out that weirdness. It actually feels very normal, and it feels very cathartic and much more natural than just being a nice person. So that the physicalization of that actually feels very human, in a sense. And when we were doing the text work in that scene [3.6], I was thinking about how, in an industrial community, humans are the only living thing, because they’ve killed off everything. Like when we are sitting in this theatre, we are the only things that are breathing. But when you go out into nature, and there’s suddenly other things that are breathing, we are very human in this space. But what being human in an industrial space is, is being the only living thing, whereas being human in a natural space is part of a much larger ecosystem.

And then in the context of war, war is – correct me if I’m wrong – humans are the only species that kill their same species. Lions don’t kill other lions, they kill their prey. And so there is something very tragic about war, because when humans are the only living thing in an industrial ecosystem, the only thing you can kill is the other living things, which happen to be humans. But when you are in a natural space, you’re part of a more reciprocal ecosystem, so you don’t have to kill your own species. For worse, I would say. But if we are naturally part of a system that kills to survive, or uses other living things to survive, when you are in an industrial ecosystem, the only thing that you can kill is other humans, because you’ve already taken care of the rest. It’s a really depressing thought.  

 Katie Brokaw: Another thought I had while listening to this … because you [Levan] were talking about the other late plays, and how so many of the late plays, as well as As You Like It and others, are about the way that the sins of the parents, the older generation, are fought by the younger generation. And I think there is an ecological way to think about that too, and the answer is forgiveness. Instead of having the millennials hate the boomers, and say I just can’t wait for you die, that we actually have to have that forgiveness extended to everyone.

 Stan Hoffman: Just what you [Katie] were saying about forgiveness in the late plays, the journey of Prospero, when you were talking about that, I was thinking of that as another example of that journey of forgiveness, and the process of forgiveness, and what blooms out of that. It’s a different ending, but still the same themes.

 Katie Brokaw. Right. Prospero, and Cymbeline, and Leontes, they all cause problems  for their daughters, and their daughters have to forgive them for that. But I think that a lot of us feel that we have to forgive the patriarchs of society who have made these choices that have led us to where we are. Do we venge them or do we somehow bring them into the problem and try to help them become part of the solution?

 Randall Martin: And that’s Prospero. The “rarer action” is forgiveness. The default is to create a war.

 Stan Hoffman: Especially out of power.

 Randall Martin: And that I think extends from human to non-human species-power as well. It’s not just human to human, but it’s also human to animals.   

 Mitchell Thomas: And the one thing I’d add to that is, maybe even more rare, is to forgive someone who doesn’t want it or need it for themselves. So that there’s no ending to the ecological crisis, and there may be no getting the old generation into the new, and what it is like to offer or to experience forgiveness, and work toward that even when it’s not a two-sided process. So war continues, and there will always be fight. And that feels incredibly difficult to do, to sustain. I feel that once. I have a really hard time sustaining that.

 Randall Martin: … Maybe there’s the silence of lunch.