Announcing: Return of the Shakespeare Blog Carnival!

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

After much time without it, I have decided to resurrect the Blog Carnival. Hopefully after all this time there is renewed interest in it as well! Since it has been a while since the last one, any post from 2009 so far will be accepted. Submit a few! Let’s make it a link-love fest! After all, the whole purpose of the carnival is to share.

So go ahead and submit your links!

I’d also like to offer the opportunity to other bloggers to host the carnival. Jen from Just Jen has offered to host the next one after this. Who else? The more hosts we have, the more sharing gets done! We Shakespeare Bloggers aren’t a large group, but so far we’ve been a very sharing group. Let’s keep it up.

If you’re new to the blog carnival scene (or need a refresher), learn more about this one and look at past editions on the Shakespeare Blog Carnival page, and check out BlogCarnival.com to see others of various subjects across the web.

So submit your links and tell some friends because the carnival is back in town!

Shakespeare’s Fools

In lieu of fooling you all on this day of fooling, I thought I might post a very short blurb of my love for the Fools in Shakespeare’s plays: Touchstone, Feste, Lear’s fool, and the rest. I’ve had the opportunity to play a few of the Fool characters. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had onstage was as Feste. Hopefully I’ll get to play the rest in the future.

Despite being labeled as fools they are actually the wisest characters in the canon. These are characters whose job it is to entertain. Court jesters who are not to be taken seriously, even though they often speak quite wisely.

The more pity, that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly.
– Touchstone, As You Like It, I.2

But they often speak the most true, don’t they? Anyone else that would dare to say the things that Lear’s fool does would be killed.

FOOL. That lord that counsell’d thee
To give away thy land,
Come place him here by me,
Do thou for him stand.
The sweet and bitter fool
Will presently appear:
The one in motley here,
The other found out there.
LEAR. Dost thou call me fool, boy?
FOOL. All thy other titles thou hast given away, that thou wast born with.
KENT. This is not altogether fool, my lord.
- King Lear, I.4

The power these characters have with words is wonderful and sometimes astounding. The Groucho and Chico Marx of Shakespeare’s time.

FESTE. Good madonna, why mourn’st thou?
OLIVIA. Good fool, for my brother’s death.
FESTE. I think his soul is in hell, madonna.
OLIVIA. I know his soul is in heaven, fool.
FESTE. The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul, being in heaven.
- Twelfth Night, I.5

Feste would make a great lawyer with that kind of rhetoric. He’d convince the jury that THEY were guilty. But he probably doesn’t think that highly of his own wordly talents. After all,

Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.

I hope you all had a foolish day!

Evoking and Forgetting Shakespeare

by Peter Brook

Peter Brook is one of the most influential minds in today’s theatre. The impact he has had as an author and director of plays and films might just be immeasurable. His 1968 book The Empty Space as well as his 1970 Royal Shakespeare Company production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream have been hugely influential upon today’s scholars, directors, teachers and actors.

The Theatre Communications Group (TCG), has produced the Dramatic Contexts series to document “important statements on the theatre by major figures in the theatre.” Thank you kindly, TCG.

Being part of the Dramatic Contexts series, this isn’t a book that Brook published. This 47 page, large print book contains transcripts of two speeches Peter Brook made in the mid 1990s: Evoking Shakespeare and Forgetting Shakespeare, delivered in Berlin and Paris, respectively. If one were to compare this to Brook’s other works, Evoking and Forgetting Shakespeare leaves the reader wanting more.

The book is not large and can easily be read in an hour. This reviewer was left unsatisfied with only 47 pages of Peter Brook’s ideas. Why not include more speeches and articles? However, in so few words, the Brook still manages to make some profound statements about producing, directing, and studying Shakespeare’s works today. The first section (Evoking…) raises and attempts to answer questions such as “Why is Shakespeare still relevant today?”, “Who was Shakespeare – the man?”, and “What do we mean by calling him a genius?” Brook explores Shakespeare’s capacity for memory. An author whose writing contains such densely-packed language full of imagery must have had a super-human talent for conjuring such images and in his mind (and linking them together). He speaks of the challenges of producing Shakespeare’s plays today and attempting to make them feel new and “modern” without losing the power of the language.

Forgetting Shakespeare asks the actor (or director, etc.) to “Forget that these plays had such an author. [...] So just assume, as a trick to help you, that the character you are preparing to play actually existed.” Why? Because you are not like Hamlet. Because you are not the news-caster for Shakespearean headlines. Because actors seem to do very well when the portray people who actually lived. Just look at any of your favorite biography films.. it’s true. This way we forget about the author, what his intentions may have been, his philosophy. All things that get in the way. So the only way to find Shakespeare is to forget him. My summarizing and paraphrazing is not nearly as eloquent or inspiring as Brook’s so I suppose you’ll just have to buy a copy and read it for yourself.

At nearly $9, it’s a little pricey for the amount of paper they used, so if you’re a casual Shakespeare reader this probably isn’t for you. This work, though, should be read by the die-hard fans as well as actors, directors, and teachers of The Bard. The ideas inside are well worth the price. And because of the short length, it’ll be easy to come back to again and again for inspiration.

Evoking and Forgetting Shakespeare

Out of Many: One

It’s time for some personal reflection and exploration. Open up your mind and start thinking…

Which of Shakespeare’s characters do you most identify with? Why?

Shakespeare wrote nearly 1000 named roles, large and small, comic and tragic, king and servant, rich and poor. With so many to choose from, it’s a tough choice. But with so many characters and in so many situation, everyone’s bound to have one.

And why do you identify with this character? If you’re an actor, could you play this part? Would you like to? Don’t all just say Hamlet, back it up!

If you can’t think of one just yet, start off with which character would you most like to play onstage (whether you’re an actor or not). Who’s head do you want to get into?

I’m very interested to hear what you think of yourself based on who you choose. Ask your friends too! Get them to join in the comments. Or just ask in a conversation. If they say they’re most like Macbeth you might want to look for a new friend.

The World Sans Shakespeare

In the discussion in an older article from a few months ago, one comment brings up a point that got me thinking. I’d like to pose it to you all in a more prominent spot.

What if Shakespeare’s works never existed or didn’t survive? Who would we be reading/acting/studying?

We have John Heminges and Henry Condell to thank for Shakespeare’s prominence in literature in drama around the world today. All because of the Folio they published. But what if none of that had happened? Which of Shakespeare’s contemporaries would hold the spotlight today?

Who would students be complaining about studying instead? Johnson? Marlowe? Fletcher? Beaumont? Would we have Middleton festival theatres around the world? Or none of these? Maybe we’d have a list of the top three Elizabethan poets. Might society today instead look past Elizabethan and Jacobean drama and study Dryden instead? Or maybe later still all the way to George Bernard Shaw. Who knows?

It could make for an interesting episode of The Twilight Zone.

The Blame Game

There hasn’t been much activity here lately, I am to blame of course. There’ll be more activity from now on… so let’s start a little discussion. Inspired by some things I saw while surfing the internet, I’d like to ask my readers:

Who is responsible for Romeo and Juliet’s deaths?

Don’t forget to back up your answer with a strong argument. Was it Friar Lawrence who created the plan to fake Juliet’s death? Was it their parents’ for their feud? Was it Romeo who was too quick to judge? Was it the entire city of Mantua for locking their gates to the messenger with the letter to Romeo? Or perhaps it was the Prologue who revealed the end at the beginning, and the characters naturally can’t stray from what he has to say.

I have a feeling it was Colonel Mustard, but I’ll put my two cents in a little later. Let’s get the ball rolling with an answer to the question…. Whodunnit?

Memorizing Shakespeare with ScenePartner

There’s a relatively new online product out that was created to help actors learns lines. Just click on over to MemorizeShakespeare.com and see what the buzz is about.

The whole idea behind this method is that learning by ear the most effective way to remember text, just like the way you learn song lyrics or another language. The learning is entirely audio. There’s no text to read so that you don’t memorize the page layout rather than the text, you instantly know how to pronounce words, the rhythm of the text, and you don’t have to worry about hurting your arm with the weight of the complete works in your hand. You can even download your cues to practice with once you learn your lines.

Sounds pretty good, right? Before going any further let me take this opportunity to invite you to try it for yourself. You can download their sample and learn Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy. Although there are plenty of helpful tips out there to help actors learn lines, most experienced actors have a method that works for them after years of experimenting. This one might work for you, it might not.

The advantages I mentioned above sound good and it’s definitely better than nothing. But for someone who is serious about succeeding in acting Shakespeare’s text this method is not the alpha and omega of learning lines.

There is a fair level of inflexibility with recorded text. In any given production, lines may be cut. With ScenePartner, each cue is a single track. But sometimes pieces of lines are cut. A few lines in the middle of a speech may be removed, words are different depending on the source, and directors may even alter words. Punctuation is different in various editions which can alter phrasing and meaning and the recorded version might not correspond perfectly.

Students beware. You might be new to acting Shakespeare and glad to find a resource that tells you how to pronounce the words and memorize the text easier, but do you know what all the words mean? I would recommend not learning any lines until you have discovered what the difficult or unfamiliar words mean. You can’t act words you don’t know. Please take the time to figure out what you’re saying first, no matter what method of memorization you use.

If actors were to do their homework to find definitions, do scansion, play with the imagery in the text, and make the words their own so that the words aren’t merely being recited, this resource may be a good addition (not substitute) to the methods they employ to learn lines.

From $12-24 per album for lines and another $12-24 for cues (price varies per character), it’s not too much of a hole in your wallet for this help, and if it works for you – by all means, take advantage of this resource!

The long term investment of a good reference books and a digital audio recorder make for a much cheaper alternative if you plan to memorize a lot of Shakespeare.

Merry Christmas!

I hope you’ve had a Merry Christmas, and/or any other holiday you happen to be celebrating this season.

Did anyone get anything Shakespearean? Please share the Bard-y gifts you got and gave!

I bought myself a present this year… it’s Shakespeare: The Bard Game. I have yet to play but it sounds like it’ll be fun. I’ll have to get some fellow Bardolaters together and play, I’ll let you know how it is. Till then, enjoy the rest of your holiday season!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!