Posts Tagged ‘language’

All’s Well That Ends Well a collaboration, probably with Thomas Middleton:


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What is the most important element in Shakespeare's plays?I have been exploring the question of plot vs. language, one that arises fairly often in Shakespeare discussions and has recently been debated on Twitter (see previous post). While this connects with such ideas as modernising Shakespeare, I am not looking at that here.

Here, I am looking at language, plot, character – due to the above debate stimulating discussion that included plot vs. character over on Linked In – and action (my own addition) , to see which I find most important.

I see each as necessary for storytelling – the basics of a play – in this way…

Considering characters, actions, plot and language

1. ‘Recipe’ – Ingredients (action and character) Combined (plot):

A -> B + A -> C + C -> D + (D+C) -> E

2. Illustration:

Bird to Branch and Bird to Fruit and Fruit to Water and Water and Fruit to Waterfall

where A=bird, B=branch, C=fruit, D=water, E=waterfall (characters) and ->=’to’ (action), +=’and’ (part of plot creation)

The particular order is the plot and necessitates having elements to order – character and action. Character and action, in turn, require plot for their interaction and placement as a tale. Communication of all three relies on language and language relies on having elements to communicate – all of these necessary, I posit, in telling a tale. (Which element drives a play can change, depending on type of story, but all need to be present.)

So, all equally important at basic tale to be told level.

3. Additional language: 

Hungry Bird to leafy Branch and quick Bird to juicy Fruit and ripe Fruit to flowing Water and rushing Water and battered Fruit to churning Waterfall.

Adapted with descriptive language to Tale of Bird (or Fruit or Water, etc.):

Hungry Bird flew to leafy Branch, and quickly pecked at juicy Fruit, but ripe Fruit fell into flowing Water below. Rushing Water carried poor battered Fruit right into churning Waterfall.

This final language is clichéd and overly full of adjectives – to mention but a few flaws! – but it gives a lot of information, painting pictures, etc. Here, choices about how to communicate, what response is sought, who it is being targeted and so on come into the way in which language is used.

Language is involved throughout: it communicates on a very basic level at first and then becomes more complex / elaborate as the story takes shape. I find it also becomes more important along the way and that expression is added to basic communication.


The Shakespeare Recipe

The recipe (play) is a particular combination (plot) of ingredients (character and action) served up with / via language (verbal for script-based, always physical when visual).

With Shakespeare, the characters, their actions and the plots that are a particular combination of these, are often borrowed, but these elements are raised to glorious heights via Shakespeare’s exploration of the ideas they bring and the language with which they are expressed.

The successful and beautiful marriage of all these elements is part of Shakespeare’s great achievement and in this respect, language gains more importance for me: whatever the plots or the characters, Shakespeare makes them into something incredibly rich, a gift worthy of repetition, admiration and – above all – exploration, and he does this through his understanding and language.

It is his plays that attract my attention most. Though I may have interest in the plots others have also used and the characters others have also written of, it is Shakespeare’s version of these which really grabs me and his version is his telling: the vehicle for his story, the language.

So, while plot, character and action are necessary, in my mind, for story, with Shakespeare, language provides not only the conveyance of these – making it necessary on a par with the others – but also the greatest attraction, working on me mentally, emotionally and physically.

This makes Shakespeare’s language the weightiest of all these necessary elements.

The most important element in Shakespeare is language

That answered to my satisfaction, I am still left with other questions:

At what point does the ‘recipe’ formula become a story? Is this a story throughout, or is 1. simply a formula, 2. an account and 3. a story?

Where do Shakespeare’s ideas and understanding come in?

And, of course – very importantly – what do you think?


Oh – and – what became of poor, hungry Bird and battered Fruit?

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Can’t believe I missed this!

But can still catch up…

Sweets to the Tweets: Farewell. « Folger SHAKESPEARE LIBRARY

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Having seen about 40 Shakespeare-related shows in this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, what did I really notice about performances?

What do you want to say?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.

From http://discoverfineacting.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/the-need-to-speak/

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.

The PresentThis is where you remember that the present need speaks.

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

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A Midsummer Night's Dream - Henry Fuseli

Consideration of Shakespeare being taught in modern translation . . .

Bless Thee! Thou art translated!

Consideration of the importance of plot vs. language . . .

The most important element in Shakespeare’s plays is…

Title quote: Quince, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (III;i)

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SkullThat you may not be in dire need due to a lack of helpful language, I have just added this useful page to the Acting Shakespeare Resources:

Acting Shakespeare – Useful Notes on Language

You’ll find a lot of quick information there on pronunciation, punctuation, verse, grammatical usages, etc. This post may also be of interest, on plot vs. language.

Had a laugh too – as a result of my Shakespeare twitterings over on Twitter, while I started typing this, thebardbot (Twitter name for an account that responds to #shakespeare with a quote from the bard) sent me:

O, there has been much throwing about of brains.

This is spoken by Guildenstern about players (Hamlet – Act 2; Sc. 2) and feels wonderfully apt for all the hard work I’ve been doing on the Skills for Shakespeare series and this Useful Notes page!

Now for that other quote – the title for this post:-

I know you are the Muskos’ regiment:
And I shall lose my life for want of language;
If there be here German, or Dane, low Dutch,
Italian, or French, let him speak to me; I’ll
Discover that which shall undo the Florentine.

This is the braggart Parolles in All’s Well that Ends Well (Act 4; Sc. 1) – he is ready to ‘discover’ (reveal) treasonous information, offering a deal while he believes he is being held captive by the enemy, which he isn’t. Yep, those Shakespeare folk love a good trick!

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