Friday, February 6, 2015

Aria da Capo

Play #10 - Aria da Capo by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Aria da Capo is a short little metatheatrical piece that seems to delight itself in its sending up of theatrical conventions. The book it's in actually lists the play as a morality play, but I think that's a drastic oversimplification. It starts out with a fairly simple commedia type scene between Pierrot and Columbine - two classic stock types of Commedia dell'arte. They flirt and make jokes and eat and drink for a while, until they are interrupted by a character named Cothurnus, who is wearing a tragedy mask. They argue for a moment that his play isn't to start until later, but he protests that he will play it now, so the comic actors leave. Cothurnus then summons the two tragic actors, Corydon and Thyrsis, who are both fairly put out by having been summoned to the stage so long before they were supposed to perform. But perform they eventually do. Their play is the morality play about two shepherds whose mutual jealousy leads them to escalating animosity that begins with building a wall down the middle of their field, and ends in them murdering each other. Once they are dead, Cothurnus shoves their bodies under the table that the comic actors used and just leaves. The comic actors return to play their scene and are concerned to find the dead bodies there. But when they complain, Cothurnus tells them to just cover them up - the audience will forget they are there. Pierrot and Columbine agree, and begin their initial scene again as the curtain falls.

Tragedy, it seems, can interrupt comedy with impunity in the theatre. Moralizing can be derailed by mechanics (unprepared as they are, the shepherds keep having to ask for their lines, for example). And the horrors of death and betrayal can be quickly swept under the rug (or tablecloth, as the case may be).

It's a poetic little piece that feels more like an inside joke than something truly intended for a larger audience, but, as someone who loves a good inside joke, I found it quite pleasant!

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