As Young As Yesterday
Director’s notes by Miles Potter
“Life knows no age or time.
Youth will ever set out to seek fortune.
Man will ever fight for the love of Woman.
Kings will threaten –Queens weep – Ministers conspire.
And so – though our storyis of three hundred years ago,
it is as young as Yesterday – or
These are the opening title cards for the 1921 silent movie of The Three Musketeers, starring Douglas Fairbanks. Ninety-two years later, the sentiment still holds true.
Dumas struck narrative gold when, during researches for his history books, he came across an obscure title in the Marseille public library: Mémoires de M. d’Artagnan, capitaine lieutenant de la première compagnie des Mousquetaires du Roi (Memoirs of Mr. d’Artagnan, Lieutenant Captain of the First Company of the King’s Musketeers) by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras. In this semi-fictionalized memoir of the famous musketeer D’Artagnan, published in 1700, Dumas found the names of Athos, Porthos and Aramis.
Weaving together historical details of the period as well as letting his own fertile imagination run wild, Dumas created tropes and archetypes we are still mining today: “buddy stories,” tales of a young man wanting to prove himself, wanting to “belong to a team” and thwarted love are all timeless themes that recur in popular culture. But to Dumas and his large audience they felt new, and he created characters as durable as any in popular culture.
And while the attitude of the piece toward women is of its time, we must remember that Dumas created a character that paved the way for the villains of James Bond, Holmes’s Moriarty or Harry Potter’s Voldemort. She is of course Milady de Winter, who (I believe) rises above the misogyny of her origins to pretty much wipe the floor with most male heroes. As she points out, it takes eight men to bring her down. Like Voldemort, she seems capable of coming back from the dead, and like Moriarty, the obscurity of her origins and her ability to shape-shift only amplify her power. The very fluidity and ambiguity of Milady’s character adds to her power. She is not an evil woman; she is a terrifying force of nature.
As to the rest of the story, while it is indeed timeless, any stage version must be of its time. The Batman or Lone Ranger of my childhood are not the same as those portrayed today. Today, people like their heroes with a certain moral complexity, which Dumas was certainly happy to supply. Life was precarious in 1625, swords killed, and living life to its fullest every day makes sense when life is so very dangerous. We hope we have brought to the stage characters that embody all the life-force and all the fun of Dumas’ originals, as well as acknowledging the fact that Dumas took his entertainment seriously indeed; and because of that, the story has survived to be a classic that is indeed “as young as yesterday – or tomorrow.”
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