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.

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11 comments

  1. officialsayyesweddingdresses.weebly.com Apr 21, 2013

    “Speaking the words, seeing the pictures | The Bard Blog –
    Shakespeare Info” definitely got me hooked with ur website!

    I actuallywill probably be back again more regularly. Thank you ,Carmine

  2. russell gabriella May 8, 2013

    Very good article. I love Shakespeare’s works and am currently doing a thesis on the same. I am very glad to find a blog like this. Thanks:)

  3. Ian May 14, 2013

    Very thoughtful article.. I read it twice get it completely. Although I am not a Shakespeare fan but I do like his work. I have to come back again again to read more stuff on your blog.

  4. Aubrey Maintenance May 22, 2013

    Very Nice article about the speaking words seeing the pictures. Yes definitely some tell all the story behind it. And i love the Shakespeare’s work a lot.

  5. Thomas Brayden Jun 12, 2013

    I am presently doing my post graduation in literature and studying Shakespeare’s Hamlet.Though this article mentions few lines from Macbeth,I am sure this idea of ‘speaking the words,seeing the picture’ would help me in understanding the characters of Hamlet well and imagining the flow of the story in more creative way.

  6. Thomas Brayden Jun 26, 2013

    It is good to know that people now also read Shakespeare’e books.I love to read his books, but I cannot find meanings of many words. It would be helpful if we could discuss such words in this blog. Looking forward to learn more from this blog.

  7. Margot Aug 2, 2013

    This is really the 2nd blog post, of urs I personally read through.
    Nevertheless I really enjoy this specific one, “Speaking the words, seeing
    the pictures | The Bard Blog – Shakespeare Info” the
    very best. Thank you -Rosemarie

  8. Caden dt Aug 3, 2013

    I am a newly recruited lecturer of Literature in the University of California.Few of my students have chosen the topic ‘Hamlet’,'Othello’ and ‘Macbeth’ etc for their thesis on Shakespeare’s works.Students are often stuck at some peculiar bard phrases and lines.Hence I came to search more on internet and found your post.I appreciate the way you have presented this new idea with so much of conviction by incorporating few examples of it into post.

  9. Angelina dtk87 Aug 24, 2013

    My friends had shared this link on their Twitter page and as I
    went on reading the post,I found it very educating and enlightening.This idea of learning through pictures is very useful for the beginners as well as for experts too.Through the
    visual medium,one can perceive the concepts more effectively and clearly.I have bookmarked this page already and will share the link on my social network.

  10. Jackson Maria Sep 4, 2013

    I think this is the second article I am reading of this blog. I enjoyed the previous article also, and this one is also very good. Each blog is very informative and I love reading them. This idea of learning through pictures is very good.

  11. Bryant James Sep 19, 2013

    This blog is truly educating. I have read the articles on this blog. It is very informative and I have bookmarked this blog for further reference. I have also shared this page on my college portal for the benefit of the other students.

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