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Shakespeare From Page to Stage

Excerpt from a lesson with Theater Arts Professor Gino DiIorio


In Shakespeare Page to Stage, there are many text issues discussed and explored. Here are just a couple…

ANTITHESIS

The first mistake most actors make when performing Shakespeare is being married to the verse, stopping at the end of every verse line. How do we avoid this? By figuring out what is being said, what the character wants, what is going on in the scene, but above all, by figuring out the Antithesis. Balancing one idea or word against another.

In Act 1, Scene 7 of Macbeth for example….

(Not bear the knife myself). Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will pleased like angels trumpet-tongued against
The deep damnation of his taking-off; (Macbeth)

We certainly wouldn't stop after the end words, "Duncan, been, virtues", etc. We have to drive through to the end of thoughts and balance them against other thoughts.

The actor might take a slight pause after the word "office" and on the page it would look like this:

(Not bear the knife myself). Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office,
 
VS.
that his virtues
(Will plead like angels trumpet-tongued against
The deep damnation of his taking-off; (Macbeth)

This works in the Sonnets too. For example in Number 29…

Yet in these thoughts, myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
from sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate.

If we stop at the end of every verse line, the sonnet makes no sense.
{Yet in these thoughts, myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee,}
 
VS.
{and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
from sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate.}

Short Lines and Broken Verse Lines

There are many clues in Shakespeare's verse. For example, a verse line that is broken up in a scene usually means that Shakespeare wants to actors to pick up the cues-in times of great stress for example. Short lines that are not connected are usually indicative of a pause.

For example, in Act II, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet….

ROMEO: O, that I were a glove upon that hand
That I might touch that cheek!
   
JULIET: Ay me!
ROMEO:   She speaks.

Of course Romeo should be right on top of that cue. He's been watching Juliet for quite some time and she hasn't said anything yet. These are her first words and at the very least, they startle him.

In Act II, Scene 1 of Taming of the Shrew, we have another example…

PETRUCHIO: Who knows not where a wasp does where his sting?
In his tail.
KATE: In his tongue.
PETRUCHIO: Whose tongue? (A)
KATE: Yours if you talk of tales and so farewell.
PETRUCHIO: What, with my tongue in your tail? Nay, come again. (B)
Good Kate, I am a gentleman—
KATE: That I'll try.
PETRUCHIO: I swear I'll cuff you if you strike again.
KATE: So may you lose your arms. (C)
If you strike me, you are no gentleman.
And if no gentleman, why then no arms.

At point (A), the lines almost certainly should be spoken right on top of each other. It's a comedy after all, and there's a great deal of witty repartee between the characters. At point (B), the actor will hopefully have to stop on these short lines to wait for laughs. A better example is point (C). After the arms line, there is almost certainly a short pause. Kate is making a play on words that Petruchio and the audience for that matter, probably will not understand without further information. Hence, a short pause for all of us to think "Huh?" and then the explanation of "gentlemen and arms", etc.

Are these hard and fast rules? Of course not. Just suggestions on how to approach the text. But all of this script work forms a great framework for performing and understanding Shakespeare.

 

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Gino DiIorio and Virginia Vaughan
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