Early on in the rehearsal process, the cast were encouraged to think about what their character may have been doing the day before their first appearance in The Winter’s Tale. It was great fun – and also provoked lively discussion, as the cast suggested imagined situations involving their characters, which foreshadow events in the play, and begin to build tension and conflict. Here’s Hazel’s take on her character, the Young Shepherd, on the day before his life changes dramatically:
We get up really early, before the sun, and take the sheep out to graze some distance from their pens. Dad says it’s best to take them up round the crags near the shore as the salty grass makes their meat sweeter and the sea breeze is good for their coats. You have to be careful, he says there could be wild animals hiding out behind rocks or in caves. I haven’t seen any yet (I’ve heard wolves and once fancied I heard a bear which put the almighty fear into me), but I keep my eyes peeled. It can sometimes be boring when the sheep are settled, but I like watching them and have given them all names and have my favourites. Mainly some of the old ewes – it’s funny when they bicker over a nice bit of grass. That’s most of the day so if everything is settled I have taken to bettering myself. I didn’t get much schooling but I can read and write.
Dad is clueless when it comes to manners and big words so I have taken it upon myself to learn as many big clever words as possible and purchased myself a book (which I have marked “BOOK OF BIG WORDS”) and a pencil (which I did the marking with) where I write down any big words I hear say when we are at market, and in quiet times whilst tending the flock I come up with meanings for the words. So far I have done six words and I hope that my meanings are curate (I just slipped that one in there – see?). We get back to the cottage after penning up the sheep at dark, so in the Winter that can be early.
Sometimes, if we finish early or on festival days, I get time to court Mopsa who is a pretty maid, but it’s nigh on impossible to see her without her little pal Dorcas tagging along. The two of them apart are such sweet girls but together, although they are best friends they never seem to stop rowing with each other when I see them. Still my heart is set on marrying Mopsa one day. Although Dorcas does have a cute little nose and they both hold a song sweet enough.
When I talk about them to my Dad he always says to sow wild oats when you are young, so I need to work out which of them would be best fitted for a farming life. Talking of songs, I love a ballad and hope that my voice is handsome enough to sing be it sad, merry or even a bit fruity – though Dad clips my ears if I sing a naughty ballad, which only happens very rarely when ale has flowed a little.
I hope to make my Dad proud of me and perhaps even to become more stately and mannered in life and move our little family into a more noble chevron (see I did another there). But these are all just dreams, I know. Tomorrow morning it will be back to the flock. Dad says there may be a storm breaking – I see no sign of it, but he’s been around for a long time. I hope not!