The End?

Cutting one of Shakespeare’s plays is a common practice for obvious reasons: many of them are long. Not everyone has the patience for a three and a half hour (or more) Hamlet. Performing an uncut version of one of The Bard’s plays is in fact uncommon. But if you ever see an CUT version of The Comedy of Errors – Shakespeare’s shortest play – the director is probably crazy or is performing for an entire crowd with Attention Deficit Disorder.

But what happens to a play when we cut the tail end off of it? What is changed when the resolution of the conflict is ended but there is no return to a new or the old stasis? It might put a different spin on what the full play is showing. For example: after Romeo and Juliet kill themselves there is still another 125 lines of text consisting of Friar Laurence, the kids’ families, the Prince, and others coming to the scene. The incredulous spectators of this horrible event listen to the Friar tell how it all came to pass; Lord Montague and Capulet, in their grief, put aside their differences and end their feud; the Prince wraps everything up with a nice speech ending in a rhyming couplet.

In an uncut ending of this play, the audience is not left to think that this play “glorifies teenage suicide,” as it is often critisized of doing. We are made to see how this terrible tragedy affects the families of the two deceased. At the same time, the feuding heads of the family have to deal with the consequences of their fighting. Like at the end of most tragedies, we get some sort of an answer to the question, “How far is too far?”

How often do you see all this produced? In many of the movie versions and on stage this scene has quite a bit of text sheared from its body. Lets say a production were to have Juliet stab herself, blackout. This leaves the audience with less closure. Hopefully the director has a few notes in the program about what her/she was trying to do with the production, in case anyone is confused. But this ending elicits a host of different things to think about at the end of the show. I won’t say that this is better or worse, it is an option for anyone putting on this play.

The same goes for any of Shakespeare’s plays, but I won’t discuss them all. Just one more: Hamlet. After Hamlet dies, Fortinbras comes in and claims the throne; The English Ambassador comes to tell us that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead; Horatio will speak to the people about how this happened, etc. What if we don’t see anymore after “Good night sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”? Maybe the director has cut out most the Fortinbras storyline, so it wouldn’t make sense for him to show up. Maybe they wanted to leave us thinking about the sort of tottering state Denmark would be in after the entire royal family has been killed.

There aren’t any concrete answers to these questions I bring up, just some food for thought. Directors should be mindful of what effect your cuts might have. Audience members – be aware of the effect the conclusion of a play or movie has on you. What are you left thinking, wondering, guessing? And how does that affect your enjoyment of a production?

All’s well that ends well; still the fine’s the crown;
Whate’er the course, the end is the renown.
- All’s Well That Ends Well (IV.iv)

The great potential that classic drama has to changes like this to create different responses is what really lets creativity soar sometimes, and maybe less desirable effects at other times. If you have any thoughts on this please comment and continue the discussion! I’d love to hear your thoughts too.

WOTD: Gambol

Pronounced like what you might do at a casino, but not related. This is a popularly asked about word in Shakespeare. The meaning isn’t always obvious from the context and isn’t familiar to everyone’s eyes. This is a special post because this is a popular and versatile word.

gambol IPA Pronunciation: /’gæ
(n.) leap, caper, antic

She’ll do the rarest gambols
- Two Noble Kinsmen (III.v)

(v.) shy away, leap away

… I the matter will re-word, which madness
Would gambol from
- Hamlet (III.iv)

(adj.) playful, sportive, spirited

such other gambol faculties ‘a has that show a weak mind and an able body
- Henry IV, Part 2 (II.iv)

Also gambold is used as a noun, which means entertainment. The most common place to find this word that I have not yet mentioned is in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when Titania tells her fairies “Be kind and courteous to this gentleman; / Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes;” – (III.i). Referring of course to Nick Bottom, the ass. Titania is asking the fairies to entertain him.

American Shakespeare In The Shadow

When you watch a movie of a Shakespeare play, or a filmed stage version, or listen to an audiobook what do most of the actors have in common? Most are British. Now I have nothing against the UK, but a lack of good Americans doing Shakespeare in the media poses a set of problems for students of Theatre and Shakespeare in the US.

What kind of problems? Life threatening? No. First off, it’s much more inspiring to see people who speak the way you do doing things you want to do. The average American when asked to speak something Shakespearean will put on a bad British accent and give you the few words they know from Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet. Seeing nearly only Brits do Shakespeare subliminally into our heads, “Americans can’t do Shakespeare.”

This is of course not true. I remember when I was reading Romeo and Juliet during freshman year of high school, I spoke the text aloud in an English accent because I thought it sounded better. Poor ignorant little me. Americans don’t do Shakespeare because they don’t know how, not because it’s a British thing. Shakespeare wrote in English, we Yanks speak English too. Shakespeare’s language was a predecessor of both modern British and American English. A lack of education about The Bard is the real problem at hand. It’s sort of a vicious circle of not learning, never trying, and then not teaching it. What’s worse is that when Americans put into movies with British actors they look very out of place (i.e., Keanu Reeves in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing )

There’s not a whole lot that can be done to change the educational system at the moment, so it’s up to individuals to educate people both in and out of school. And maybe more Americans should make Shakespeare movies, audiobooks, and putting on the plays and doing a good job. I’ll do my share when I get the chance. How about you?

WOTD: Honorificabilitudinitatibus

“WHAT!?!?!?!” You ask? This is the longest word used in any of Shakespeare’s plays. It’s also the longest word in the English language that alternates consonants and vowels. Some think that it’s a meaningless word based on the context used in the play, but that’s not so!

Honorificabilitudinitatibus (n.) IPA Pronunciation: Honorificabilitudinitatibus
the state of being able to achieve honours

I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word;
for thou art not so long by the head as
honorificabilitudinitatibus: thou art easier
swallowed than a flap-dragon.
- Love’s Labour’s Lost (V.i)

This word has a lot of baggage. Some have tried to rearrange the letters of what they thought was a made up word to create messages in latin to “prove” that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays. I won’t discuss that too much right now, personally I think it’s just trying too hard to create evidence for what some people want to believe. The facts are that this is plural form of the real medieval Latin word honorificabilitudinitas.

Now this isn’t a word you can use everyday. This isn’t even a word you need to know the definition of when you hear or read it, any long word could have taken its place, though I thought it’d be fun one to share. Practice reading it for a little while. How long does it take you to be able to pronounce it with ease?

WOTD: Younker

Back to a random selection, because it’s fun.
younker (n.) IPA Pronunciation: younker
1. young man
2. greenhorn, juvenile

How well resembles it the prime of youth,
Trimm’d like a younker prancing to his love!
- Henry VI, Part 3 (II.i)

The meaning seems to be a little derogatory. The literal meaning is #1, a young man but the implied meaning is often one who is inexperienced, foolish, immature.

Is Shakespeare Meant to be Read and Not Performed?

After quite a few mentions to this topic in the last few posts on The Shakespeare Blog – the first being For Readers’ Eyes Only – I thought I should join in on the discussion and give my three cents.

Everyone is, of course, entitled to their opinion about a piece of art… but those who claim that Shakespeare’s works are not meant to be performed just annoy me. If he wasn’t meant to be performed, I’m obviously not down a good career path!

The fact is that drama was did not have a widespread appeal as reading material until well after Shakespeare. George Bernard Shaw championed that cause to an extent. But until then, plays were written to be performed. Tons of them. Theatre was a very popular forms of visual entertainment in Shakespeare’s time… no TV!

Now one of the arguments brought up against Shakespeare being performed is that “language itself is so complex and rich that physicalization only serves to obfuscate the meaning of the text.” Yes, the language is complex. No, an audience won’t understand everything. BUT the significance of each individual word is of minute importance in relation to the entirety of a whole play. The important part is to understand the story to entertain, and to provoke thought. I don’t know about you, but I always seem to be much more entertained, understand more, and be more apt to think when I see a quality full fledged production of Shakespeare, rather than just reading silently. Yes, there are advantages to reading and studying the text on your own. But is Shakespeare not meant to be performed at all!? I don’t think so. No way.

Now just because we have TV and movies today doesn’t mean that we can put Shakespeare in a book and forget about the stage. Theatre is still a living art form. Shakespeare’s words don’t really LIVE unless they are spoken in performance, as intended.

WOTD: Kecksie

Do you have any kecksies in your garden? It’s not a word, like the past few that you can use every day… but it’s good to know when you come across this word in a play.

kecksie (n.) IPA Pronunciation: /’keksi/
a type of hollow-stalked plant

…nothing teems
But hateful docks, rough thistles, kecksies, burs,
- Henry V (V.ii)

You may have noticed that the last few words of the day are from Henry V. My word selection is no longer quite so random. I’m going through the plays and writing down the unusual words that I find interesting to share with you, the gentle reader.

MacBeth, sponsored by Dove Soap

I just came across this link on Shakespeare Geek. Thanks!

This was the funniest thing I heard all day! I love The Onion. Even more now for making a theatre joke.