in performance: Constance
"If I were mad, I should forget my son"
I’m taking some vacation time this week, so I wanted to try something a little bit different and think about a character through the lens of a specific piece of performance. Do feel free to jump in and share your thoughts about the clip in the comments box below!
This video, produced as part of the Shakespeare 400 celebrations, is what is often referred to as Constance’s ‘mad scene’ in King John. However, as you can see, this speech is very specifically about how she isn’t mad, despite the fact that her onlookers claim she is, and despite the fact that she has entered with key visual signifiers of madness on the Shakespearean stage, like wearing her hair loose. Delivered as a soliloquy, Camille O’Sullivan can take the speech slowly, whereas in the full scene, the continual efforts of the other characters to make Constance shut up and go away usually mean that actors have to deliver this speech very quickly and forcefully, which ironically contributes (presumably against Constance’s will) to the impression that she’s in an irrational frenzy. O’Sullivan’s performance here lets us hear the clarity of Constance’s train of thought. However she looks, her speech is not madness. What she expresses is not irrational, but profound and clear grief at the loss of her son— however uncomfortable it makes her onlookers to hear it.
What do you think of the performance? What other ways have you seen this speech and scene delivered?