Posts Tagged ‘William Shakespeare’

shakespeare's birthday drink

William Shakespeare’s baptism is recorded as 26th April, 1564 and his death as 23rd April, 1616 – so, as there is no official record of his birthday (likely to have been shortly before his baptism) that day of birth is now celebrated as 23rd April to give a beautiful symmetry to his life.

So: Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare!

Shakespeare’s England’s Sonnet for the Bard’s Day

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A day late, but still worth a read…

When and where did he marry? | Blogging Shakespeare.

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Macbeth and Banquo on horseback meeting the three witches

Macbeth and Banquo meet the three witches. Illustration from 'The Picture Shakespeare: Macbeth', 1901. (NLS reference: (Am).5/5)

‘Beyond Macbeth: Shakespeare in Scottish collections’

See Shakespearean treasures and explore what Shakespeare has meant in Scotland across the centuries. Exhibition runs till 29 April 2012.

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Charles Dickens (1812-1870) receiving his characters - William Holbrook Beard (1872)

Author Charles Dickens was born  on this day, 7th February, in 1812. (Fancy an overture to remember this year?)

Here you can read about Charles Dickens, Shakespeare and Stratford-upon-Avon, and you can find Simon Callow on Dickens the Performer and a BBC cartoon of The Life of Charles Dickens over on the Discover Fine Acting Blog.


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Call me before the exactest auditorsHere is a link to a well-thought-out and highly useful post by Mark Westbrook*:-

Doing a Shakespeare Monologue for Drama School Audition

The sections he covers are: Monologue Choice, Style of Performance, The Heartbeat, Speeching and Headline.

Adding to these sections, here are a few Discover Fine Acting extras, including the most important point of all…

Monologue Choice

This should be obvious, but it is worth a mention nonetheless: be sure to check the criteria set for the audition!

Some schools have a particular list of audition pieces from which to choose. Some schools state which pieces they will not accept.  Just to be really helpful, you can find these two opposites mentioning the same pieces, so make sure you are really clued up on what is wanted by the schools for which you are applying.

If you are set on a choice for one which is not accepted at another, you will have to work on more monologues than usual – be realistic about the time and work you have to put in to cover however many monologues you will need! (And remember to choose a Shakespeare piece and a contemporary piece that are contrasting.)

Style of Performance

Heightened performance which uses Shakespeare’s verse pays attention to the words at the end of a line – the break is there for a reason.

There are many ways in which trying to heighten delivery / use verse can ‘falsify’ your performance, so if you cannot get help from someone who understands these aspects, just bear in mind that the last ‘strong’ word of a line (usually the very last word) is important. A ‘strong’ word falls on the ‘dum’ beat of the ‘duh dum’ line – see Heartbeat below.

Do not try to force something onto that word, just know – as you work with your text – that it is worthy of attention.

If you can connect with someone able to help, then you can explore such aspects in depth without making technique the be-all and end-all.

Should you wish to work with me – Danielle Farrow of Discover Fine Acting – you can get in touch via www.discoverfineacting.com. Also, of course, you can ask questions in the Comments section below.

The Heartbeat

First, a reiteration of Mark’s point: unless you have checked with the school on this matter, make sure you are using a verse piece. This is part of what Shakespeare in auditions is all about.

The ‘music’ of Shakespeare is based on that ‘duh dum, duh dum, duh dum, duh dum, duh dum’ rhythm (known as iambic pentameter). Shakespeare often then ‘riffs’ on it, playing around a bit. Here lies his incredibly helpful direction for acting. If you are not familiar with using this rhythm, take steps to change that.

You can find help on the basics here, and – again – it can be worth finding someone in the know to work with.

Such technical aspects are part of your preparation and should not be what you are thinking about in performance. They are building blocks for your work, not the results of it!


Another very important point! You are speaking aloud, so make sense of that and speak to a particular person. This person can be fictional or someone from your own life – whatever best works for you.

General note: do not fix directly on someone auditioning you unless you have expressly gained permission to do so – above head(s) usually works best, with you being specific in your imagination about the person / people you are speaking to.


A useful tip there, regarding the first line, and here is another:-

Read out the last strong word of each verse line and you will find the story / journey of the speech. Say each of these line-ending words in order, with thought and feeling for what these words mean in context.

Which leads to…

The most important point of all…

You must know what your words mean!

You must make these words your own – it is you the auditioners want to see.


Mark Westbrook is a Professional Acting Coach and runs Acting Coach Scotland, a private acting studio offering acting classes in Glasgow, masterclasses, workshops and audition coaching for actors at all levels. His acting studio is based in Glasgow, Scotland, although he teaches all across the United Kingdom.

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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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Looking for help in approaching Shakespeare?

Tips for Reading and Understanding Shakespeare is a multi-media article for anyone interested in looking at Shakespeare’s works.

As well as handy tips, there are many helpful links and some videos for your delight, so don’t think it all has to be hard study!

Twitter offers a lot of help for Shakespeare, including @IAM_SHAKESPEARE

Shakespeare on Twitter - @IAM_SHAKESPEARE

Title quote – Ferdinand (reading Don Armado’s letter), Love’s Labour’s Lost, I.i

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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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There is now a lot of information available from the Ask Shakespeare event on Twitter (2nd Feb. 2011), where international experts (scholars and performers) answered Shakespeare-related questions.

For now, you can find this here:


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