Having seen about 40 Shakespeare-related shows in this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, what did I really notice about performances?
Unsurprisingly, the acting in Shakespeare’s works highlights difficulties often encountered generally, as the heightened nature of Shakespeare performance can emphasise any actor’s problems and quirks.
A huge issue is connection to the words of the playwright, whatever type of language is being used. This is where ‘the present need’ comes in, and it is what is necessary in order to speak at all. It is whatever actually makes you open your mouth and let out those sounds that we call words.
You do not open your mouth to speak in life without having something to say, saying that something in YOUR words. You may get lost / confused / misuse a word, but you don’t try to speak with words you do not know / believe you know.
Nor do you speak if you literally have nothing to say. There will be some thought, some feeling, you wish to convey when you start to speak, whether or not you are capable of expressing yourself well at that moment.
The Need to Speak and Shakespeare
When it comes to expressing yourself / your role through the words of William Shakespeare, there is a distance to be covered – the distance between contemporary speech and the bard’s language. Even though only 5% of Shakespeare’s words are actually no longer in use, his sentence length and structure, along with his use of verse, make his plays different from the scripts with which we are familiar today.
How can you go about making 400-year-old lines sound as if this is your own speech, these words your words, and these sentences the only ones you could possibly say to express the present need?
There is no getting around it – you must understand each word and the sense of those words in context. The sites found to the right, under Not in the Common Roll of Links, are of great use for this, being resources that help with glossaries and comments. You are also most welcome to get in touch with questions that you have about possible meanings.
After your dictionary-related research for specific word meaning and sentence suggestions, it is important to explore interpretation. This is where you connect role to situation, considering all you can find about your character and circumstances.
The thoughts and feelings you explore for your character are built on the words you have – particularly with Shakespeare, where there is so little by way of stage directions / character notes beyond the actual lines of speech.
So, you must know technically what the words and sentences mean.
Note just how important your words are: through exploration of your words you will discover the thoughts and feelings which will, in turn, inform the way in which you use your words to express those thoughts and feelings.
Whatever is happening for your character in that moment is what provides the words you say – without understanding of those words, you cannot find the ‘present need’; without the present need, you cannot speak.
Shakespeare’s Gift to You
Shakespeare’s language itself provides the most incredible help with exploring his words, understanding them and bringing them to life.
His gift is in the rich texture of his sounds and in the flowing rhythm of his verse. Also, Shakespeare’s characters speak their thoughts and feelings openly.
Playing with the words by sounding out the vowels and consonants, acting out meaning in great exaggerated mimes and creating images for the associated thoughts and feelings yields fantastic rewards.
With all the above in mind, you can connect to your lines and make them your own, finding what you say within the need to speak in a present that you have been able to build for yourself, using the words of William Shakespeare.
YOU wind up owning some of the most fantastic words, thoughts, images and ideas in the English language.
YOUR words are those which have spoken to generations, stimulating interpretation, allusion and imitation time and time again.Title quote – Mecaenas, Antony and Cleopatra, II.ii