Saturday, June 7, 2008

Gift or curse?

Attended a teachers' class on Shakespeare speaking, and the actor/instructor backed up what I've known all along: If you want it to be clearly understood, either by yourself or by your listeners, you MUST OBSERVE THE LINE ENDINGS. In Iambic Pentameter verse, they're there to indicate the end of a thought, or a change in thought, just as modern punctuation does. If you run it all together, no matter how "real" you think you're being, you'll obscure the real meaning of the verse. Remember that art often shows a more vivid truth through the artifice of its form. This is true for Shakespeare. Try this with any of Shakespeare's speeches, and after a few tries at stopping yourself from speaking at the end of any iambic pentameter line, you'll discover that the character speaking is having a NATURAL pause in thought, just as any of us, in speaking to each other, will have every time we converse. By the same token, don't put a pause in the middle of an iambic pentameter line, no matter how bad the urge is to do so! By fighting against what seems "perfectly natural" for us today, you will unveil what is really going on in the character's mind. Take Macbeth:

If it were done, when 'tis done, then 'twer well, (...pause, thinking)
It were done quickly: If th' Assassination (feminine ending, indicating INDECISION)
Could trammell up the Consequence, and catch (...what's the right word?)
With his surcease, Successe: that but this blow (one blow, only one...could that do it)
Might be the be all, and the end all. Heere, (, this place, and what else?)
But heere, upon this Banke and Shoal of time, (...thinking it out)
Wee'ld jump the life to come. But in these Cases, (feminine ending, VERY unsure here!)
We still have judgement heere, that we but teach (...I dare not even say it!)
Bloody Instructions, which being taught, returne (...what, it's awful to contemplate)
To plague th'Inventer, this even-handed Justice (ALEXANDRIAN, six iambs, AHA, caught you!
take a slight pause after the comma - the ONE
Commends th'Ingredience of our poyson'd Challice (feminine ending, very unsure, thinking)
To our owne lips. (AHA, there's the rub! )

It works. It's meant to. The verse is there for very good reason. Make your job easier, not harder, by USING the form Shakespeare gave you to INFORM his characters' thoughts!

1 comment:

mizliberryan said...

Thank you for that post. I have always been a bit breathless, clueless and certainly not very clear to an audience when I read Shakespeare aloud. The example from Macbeth was particularly useful.
Miz Liberryan