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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: December ::
Re: My Old Brain is Troubled
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2719  Monday, 3 December 2001

From:           Peter Groves <
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Date:           Saturday, 01 Dec 2001 10:26:17 +1100 (EST)
Subject: 12.2699 Re: My Old Brain is Troubled
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.2699 Re: My Old Brain is Troubled

-- Sam Small wrote --

> Some performers revere Shakespeare's lines so
> much they feel that all they have to do is say them clearly with some
> sort of metric emphasis.  I have heard professional actors say as much.
> The result is blood-gorging boredom.  On the little recording I have
> done (the Sonnets) I realised that it is an extraordinary amount of work
> to project meaning without sounding forced.  It felt like driving a
> Formula One racing car in that you have to concentrate on every word's
> meaning and sound or else you crash off the track.  I propose a golden
> rule for actors of Shakespeare: Meaning hath metre; metre none.

Indeed, but my experience is rather of actors who pay little or no
attention to the metre at all.  There are many actors who simply don't
understand that in Shakespeare's mature work the metre is so often a
pointing of the text.  To take just one example: after the Battle of
Actium comes the post-mortem:

CLEOPATRA: Is Antony or we in fault for this?
ENOBARBUS: Antony only, that would make his will
Lord of his reason. What though you fled
From that great face of war, whose several ranges
Frighted each other? why should he follow?

Editors have tried to emend line 3 on the grounds that it's "missing" a
syllable (C18 editions read "What although you fled"), and anyone with
an ear can see that they both sound wrong if read 'flat' (or with what
linguists call a default intonation).  But an actor who knows he has to
find five beats in the lines is forced to supply them with entirely
appropriate copntrastive accent on the pronouns that brings out the
pragmatic point of what Enobarbus is saying:

CLEOPATRA: Is Antony or we in fault for this?
ENOBARBUS: Antony only, that would make his will
Lord of his reason. What though YOU [inexperienced, a woman] fled
From that great face of war, whose several ranges
Frighted each other? why should HE [a seasoned soldier] follow?

Peter Groves

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