Friday, August 8, 2014

The Peasant Perspective

Purchasing my groundling ticket for the Shakespeare’s Globe performance of “Julius Caesar”, I prepared myself for several hours of standing. Arriving at the Globe on Monday evening, I discovered that standing was only one aspect of what would be a visual arts performance from the peasant perspective—a multidimensional perspective. Imagine the film “Inception”, where you consciously exist in a dream within a dream within a dream. Just as those dreamland layers, a ground floor ticket introduces the audience to an experience within an experience within an experience.

On the first layer, the groundlings experience is simply a crowd of people who preferred to pay £5 to witness a Shakespeare play at London’s modern-day Globe. Whether called peasant or personal preference, the groundlings are not the bourgeois. These groundlings enter the second layer, where they are amongst the less wealthy during Shakespeare’s time that wish to enlighten themselves in the arts but cannot afford to sit amongst royalty and such. Through the third layer, the groundlings become a part of the play as the peasants under Caesar’s Roman Empire.  As a groundling, you gain the perspective of a peasant through a multidimensional experience within another and another.

The beginning of the play disrupted the floor as the actors, in character, bombarded through the supposed Roman peasant crowd. Immediately, a male actor placed a large wooden structure feet away from where I stood. When San Diego State University professor William Nericcio commented that the structure was in our way, the perpetrator talked him down as if he were a peasant, looking ready to rough him up or kick him out. Shortly after, a female prisoner took her place atop the prop to further obstruct the view of the stage. Before the successful hunters passed through, she motioned for the peasants to display their palms upwards. When the audience refused to comply, she yelled for the peasants to obey.
Beside the peasant treatment, the peasant perspective redeemed itself in one scene. Following Caesar’s death, Brutus offered his words of console and hope for his people. In this moment, the ambience nearly romanticized the tragedy. The theatre created a frame of people that was unique to my personal perspective. From where I stood, he was framed by the silhouettes of fellow peasants on the floor and painted on a background of the wealthy in the seated booths. All eyes were on him and his performance, and with the theatre lights illuminating his determined face, the actor experience became real. He was Brutus; it, this scene, was a portrait of Caesar’s notorious friend and enemy.

Following this portrayal of colleague and murderer, one of Brutus’ co-conspirators demanded that the crowd speak up if they disagreed with Brutus in his speech to dissuade the people against the late Caesar. This was the point where the audience experience became real. Nobody responded. Whether because they did not know how to respond or felt voiceless against a figure like Brutus, the emotions must have been quite similar to those that were experienced during Caesar’s end. The crowd, as peasants, was forced to support the actions committed by Brutus and his co-conspirators.  The audience remained quiet, and the performers continued.

On every level, the groundlings existed as peasants. Feet ached and neck strained, the groundling experience is a teleportation through the centuries that allows theatre-enthusiasts to better understand the peasant perspective during both Shakespeare’s time and Caesar’s.

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