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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: December ::
Re: Teaching, Reading, and Seeing Shakespeare
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 910. Wednesday, 8 December 1993.
 
(1)     From:   James Schaefer <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 07 Dec 1993 09:58:34 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Teaching Shakespeare
 
(2)     From:   James Schaefer <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 07 Dec 1993 11:27:33 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0906  Re: Reading, Teaching, and Seeing Shakespeare
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Schaefer <
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Date:           Tuesday, 07 Dec 1993 09:58:34 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Teaching Shakespeare
 
Another acting technique that might prove useful in teaching
Shakespeare is described by Peter Brook in his book, *The Empty Space*
(London: 1968), pp. 121-22.
 
Dissatisfied with paraphrase as an approach to understanding the
Shakespearean plays, he and his actors developed a technique of
paring away at the text, removing words until they found the
structure of action in "those words that they could play in a
realistic situation..." (p. 121).  This technique allowed the actors to
discover a basic framework of action that was at the same time an
organic part of the play -- a rough pencil sketch, as it were, of what
Inga-Stina Ewbank has called "the figure in the carpet," the
organically intertwining dramatic relationships, created through
language, that comprise a play.  The advantage over paraphrase is that
this sketch is in Shakespeare's own hand.
 
During early rehearsals, the words which had been removed were spoken
inwardly.  The result was a naturalistic dialogue filled
with "uneven lengths of ... silences" representing words that seemed
to have "nothing whatsoever to do with normal speech," i.e., with the
motivations or psychological needs or personal communication that
actors commonly seek within a text (both p. 122).  As rehearsals
progressed, these words would be gradually reintroduced into the context of
action that the actors had found in Shakespeare's own words:
 
        Then it was possible to explore them in many different ways
        -- turning them into sounds or movements -- until the actor
        saw more and more vividly how a single line of speech can have
        certain pegs of natural speech round which twist unspoken
        thoughts and feelings rendered apparent by words of another
        order.  (p. 122)
 
Therein lies the important point, and the antidote to the worst aspects
of Method acting as it is taught in the U.S.:  these otherwise hidden aspects
_are_ present in the text and _can be_ rendered in performance, if one learns
to find them.  Brook's actors finally return to the "figure in the carpet,"
in all its glorius complexity, having found an underlying structure of
action  that is truly textual, fully contained in and expressed through the
words of the play.  The perverse concept of "subtext" never needs to be
invoked.
 
This approach is readily adapted to the classroom (I had it used on me
in grad school, and have used it myself as a class exercise), and does not
take as much time as it might seem, since one rarely tackles in the classroom
the kind of full-scale analysis required to prepare an entire play for
for performance.  It works wonderfully for extended "set" speeches
that are so well-known for their beautiful imagery that it is hard to
recapture their drama.  It _does_, however, assume a performance-based,
reading-aloud based approach to teaching the text.
 
Jim Schaefer
Georgetown University
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Schaefer <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 07 Dec 1993 11:27:33 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0906  Re: Reading, Teaching, and Seeing Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0906  Re: Reading, Teaching, and Seeing Shakespeare
 
Another invaluable source on learning how Shakespeare works as theatre
(and therefore how it needs to be read) is J.L. Styan's *Shakespeare's
Stagecraft* (Cambridge, 1971).
 
Jim Schaefer
 

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