Bardophobia: where is the cure?

People of all ages these days strongly dislike Shakespeare, and it’s not just that they’ve had a lot of experience with his works and decide they don’t like it – they have been brought up to fear Shakespeare. It’s human nature to be afraid of what you don’t understand, but this is ridiculous. Students in school are taught to fear Shakespeare. English teachers – who either don’t like Shakespeare, or love Shakespeare but have no talent for passing that on to their students – put the Bard on an inaccessibly high pedestal for the students to gaze up at. All the young students learn is that “Shakespeare is the best writer ever because he uses really big words that only really smart college professors understand what he’s saying.”

Nay, thou lilly-liver’d toad! ’tis not so!

Will this Bardophobia Pandemic ever be solved? Probably not. There will always be those that are incurable, though progress can be made. However this MAJOR problem is not exactly the top button of priority on everyone’s list. Alack, the educational system is kept busy enough trying to make due with their ever-shrinking budget. It looks like the solution will not be handed to us on a government sponsored silver platter.

It’s up to you (yes YOU!) and you alone to educate those unfortunate souls who have denied Shakespeare access to their lives. You must unveil the true magic of Shakespeare language and drama. Most will complain that they don’t understand Shakespeare… but the majority of these people have never, or not recently, seen a GOOD production of one of the plays. That makes all the difference. And if no theatre is nearby with a Bardorific performance then there are plenty of great movies out there. Especially anything directed by Kenneth Branagh – they’re easy to follow and very well done. GO! And preach the word of the Bard to the people! Hallelujah!

WOTD: Jackanape

Modern insults are rather uncreative. Our vocabulary has become drab and boring when you want to make yourself feel better by making someone else feel worse. Today’s word of the day aims to solve that problem.

jackanape (n.) IPA Pronunciation: jackanape
buffoon, monkey

DIANA
That jackanapes with scarfs: why is he melancholy?
-All’s Well That Ends Well

“That guy totally cut me off! THOU PEEVISH JACKANAPE!” It’ll catch on. All in good time.

Speaking the words, seeing the pictures

I’m not talking about illustrated editions of Shakespeare’s works. Will uses a lot of very descriptive words to help both the actor and the audience imagine a visual picture from the words being spoken. Metaphors and similes galore help us understand exactly what’s going on in the character’s minds, and what they are seeing. When Horatio says “The morn, in russet mantle clad, / Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastward hill,” (once we know what all the words mean) we can see the morning sun rising through a red and yellow sea of clouds, illuminating the large rolling hill in the distance. It captures the imagination – a great tool to use when you can’t afford the best sets and costumes.

The prologue of Henry V is all about this. He wishes for “A kingdom for a stage, princes to act / And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!” but that would be impossible. “…can this cockpit hold / The vasty fields of France? or may we cram / Within this wooden O the very casques /That did affright the air at Agincourt?” As he apologizes, he then mentions that the company will “On your imaginary forces work” and entreats us to imagine the horses, the giant armies, the riches of the Kings.

Shakespeare doesn’t make it too hard for us to imagine this. Just as with Horatio’s line, images fill Henry V – and all the rest of the Bard’s poetry and prose. In a very visual age of TV and movies we are a little spoiled – we often expect the images to be ready made for us. But with a little practice of using your imagination again (remember your imagination? You used it a lot when you were younger. It never really leaves you.) you’ll be seeing Shakespeare’s words in no time.

When reading a play for enjoyment, school, or for an upcoming production it is essential to pay attention to the images provided. If ever you’re reading silently… stop. Speak. First, it’s much easier to uncover the meaning when you speak the words. Second, if you are ever planning to speak these words onstage don’t get in the habit of hearing how the words sound in your head. Everything sounds better in your head. Don’t try to copy that performance. Even if you’re just reading for school and don’t plan on speaking the text aloud for any other reason – do yourself a favor and speak out loud to yourself. Now while reading to yourself, look over the very visual passages and really put pictures to these words. See the morning sun, what image does “in russet mantle” bring? See that “high eastward hill”. Now speak the words slowly while keeping that very specific image in mind. Notice that the words hold greater power now. They will to your audience as well. The better you get at this, the more captivating your performances will be.

Suddenly all those extra passages in Shakespeare that you thought were boring and meaningless and could be cut start to make sense, right? The images contained within the text are a HUGE help to getting inside the mind of Shakespeare’s characters. The images each character speaks are very personal and are never spoken without cause. Use them. When Macbeth says “O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!” you know just how vexed he is.

WOTD: Russet

Breaking away from words that look like you know them, here’s something different.

russet (adj.) IPA Pronunciation: russet
a yellow or reddish light brown

HORATIO
…But look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastward hill.

- Hamlet (I.i)

Horatio sure knows how to turn a phrase. He could have just said “look at that pretty sunrise”, though this is a tad better. You want to talk about painting a picture with words? This is a good example of just that.

New address!

The Bard Blog is growing! You can now link to this site at bardblog.com, so readers: update your bookmarks. Both of you. Also, the “Bard Blog Recommends” link on the sidebar can be easily reached by this easy to remember URL: http://bookstore.bardblog.com. I’ve also added the option of subscribing to an RSS feed of this site onto the side menu, if that’s how you prefer to get your news.

Tell your Shakespeare loving friends (what other kind can there be?) about this little page, I’m sure they’ll appreciate it to some degree. And if you don’t have Shakespeare-loving friends, send a link to this site to your Shakespeare-fearing enemies. But mostly your friends. The internet is for friendship.

What does it all mean?

(To the casual reader of Shakespeare: this might not apply to you directly, but remember that to enjoy these works you have to know what they mean too. And when you are an audience member who has done some research, seeing an actor who has done his share as well will make the experience all the more rewarding)

Shakespeare’s use of language can be a little daunting. The words often mean different things than you think, there can be words you’ve never heard before, and the grammar isn’t always what you’d expect. You will often hear that an audience at a good production of a Shakespeare play will only really grasp a third (ish) of what is really being said.

Actors/Directors – THIS DOES NOT GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO GET LAZY!!!

To the actors: just because the audience doesn’t always know what you’re talking about NEVER means that you don’t always have to know. You don’t spout off words and facts on a usual basis that you have no idea what they mean, do you? Don’t get smart here. Even if you do, you are trying to achieve a certain effect by using those words and you know what effect that is. Maybe YOU don’t know what Shakespeare is saying, but the CHARACTER knows exactly what s/he’s trying to say. And since YOU are playing the CHARACTER it is essential that you find out what everything means. And not just your own lines. You need to know what is being said to you, and about you. If you are playing off someone else’s line but you haven’t bothered to realize that then you’ll be missing something! Not that you have to do all this work alone. Ask your scene partner what it is that they’re saying to you.

Directors: it would be absolutely insane of me to suggest that you look up what everything means in the entire play for all the characters… so I will. It’s a gargantuan task, but you as a director most likely have had something to do with the cuts made to the script and you need to know exactly what is being said and why and what significance those cuts you made have to the story/characters. In addition to that, the more familiar you are with the text itself will give you a better feel for what the actors are doing, or what they should be doing. And if they haven’t done their homework, you will most certainly know. Then you can call them out on it. Busted!

When working on one of the Bard’s plays, you can expect to do a lot of research. What do these words mean? What is this place he’s talking about? What is this reference to Greek mythology? All these and many more are things you need to answer, and it can’t all be done in the rehearsal room. Plan to spend plenty of extra time trying to figure this puzzle out. And remember that it is a puzzle! Not some boring research report. It’s a journey full of surprises, discoveries, and edumacation. It can even be a good way to bond with your cast. Research party! Chips, Dip, Dictionary and Script!

WOTD: Approve

Continuing with the theme of words that are spelled and pronounced the same as modern words but have different meanings, I give you -

approve (v.) IPA Pronunciation:
try, prove, put to the test

CORNELIUS
I left out one thing which the queen confess’d.
Which must approve thee honest…

- Cymbeline (V.v)

I really like this word. There is a certain weight it carries with the sounds that are used: the push of the P, followed by the ooo of the U and the smooth V. And you’re not just proving something, you are a-proving it. Like it’s more than just finding a reference for what you’ve just said… you need to put it to the test with some action. Kind of like this…

“I know Kung Fu.”
“…. Show me.”

WOTD: Dewlap

Here’s a fun word. There’s nothing like odd names for body parts that you don’t really care about.

dewlap (n.) IPA Pronunciation: /`d(j)ulæp/
folds of loose skin around the neck

PUCK
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob
And on her wither’d dewlap pour the ale.
-A Midsummer Night’s Dream (II.i)

It’s a lovely image that comes to mind, isn’t it? Which is a great tool to use in good storytelling. This is the sort of verbal image that Shakespeare provides to guide the artist onstage to “paint a picture with words”. Awesome, dude.