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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bard InThe House?

Where my journey began: Shakespearepost.com--a great resource site. "Rap vs.The Bard" by Anna http://www.shakespearepost.com/2009/10/11/rap-vs-the-bard/

The Word on the Street?: Rapper/Hip-hop artist Jay-Z is the Contemporary Shakespeare of the Rap World. Quoted in an article on Unkut.com, Assoc. Prof.Adam Bradley of the Claremont McKenna College (CA) Literature Dept. says the title is "...a heavy burden to bear, but I think the one who could probably do it the best would be Jay-Z – and I say that both for the longevity of his career but [sic] [and] also the range of his subject matter." In the Unkut.com article by Robbie, Professor Bradley, author of the Book of Rhymes, lists some of the reasons for his opinion:

-- Jay-Z's musical evolution reflects personal change as an individual. Before, topics of his work centered around dealing drugs, the street, and other unnamed "nefarious" activities. This vs. the subject matter on his latest album: His wife Beyonce and his life as a visionary business entrepreneur. Bradley cites Jay-Z's similarity to Shakespeare in his ability to expand and shift the focus of his topics and his audience,thereby discovering new ways in which to appeal to a new sector of the public; Says Bradley, according to the article "...precisely what Shakespeare did..." . http://www.unkut.com/2009/10/is-jay-z-the-shakespeare-of-hip-hop/

"English 101 Meets Hip-Hop Studies 101"
(from Baz Dreisinger's NY Times Review)

Baz Dreisinger's Sept. 8, 2009 New York Times review Def Poetry opens with "Are you a hip-hop fan who can't tell assonance from alliteration.?" In my opinion, his immediate attempt at balance--asking English Majors if they know the difference between Biggie and Tupac--is unnecessary. After all, by Dreisinger's own admission, his ultimate analysis is that Bradley's book is all about giving hip-hop's biggies the poetical recognition and legitimacy he seems to be seeking to earn for them, not an exploration into how much an English lit major's legitimacy might be proven by mock-testing them on how much they know--or even care--about rap stars. Political correctness has its place, but in this case it seems a little like overkill.

From there, Dreisinger goes on in some detail, noting some of Bradley's recognition of poetical technique embedded in rap: e.g. onomatopoeia, its rhyme/beat "dual rhythmic relationship", as well as the preference of simile to metaphor in its more directly targeted focus, and etc. Dreisinger finishes with a description of Bradley's efforts as wanting "...to legitimize rap by setting it in a canonical context, [then asks] but aren't we past the point of justifying it?"
My question? Aren't we also then, past the point of needing to justify any legitimate criticism of rap?

But even without "pointing it up", Dreisinger has already zeroed in on a salient point very early on, in his first paragraph, by quoting Bradley: 'rap "is poetry, but its popularity relies in part on people not recognizing it as such." ' And he records another very telling statement by Bradley on Rhyme: " [it] provides the necessary formal restraints on their [the rapper's] poetical freedom."
Dreisinger doesn't mention Shakespeare here. (Another version of his article appeared in the NY edition on 9/13/09.) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/books/review/Dreisinger-t.html?_r=2&scp=7&sq=&st=nyt

Perhaps references to the Bard and statements like "...precisely what Shakespeare did.", given the evidence offered by Bradley, seem somewhat out of place. Maybe someone else thinks, as I do, that Shakespeare's poetical expertise--one might argue, his intentionally applied knowledge of a structured poetic technique--makes no sense as a focus of comparison to hip-hop's free-wheeling poetical construction; particularly when analyzed by Bradley after the fact. Given Hip-hop's apparent need to somehow intentionally disguise itself ? as something those "not in the know" would think is "poetry" is one thing. To somehow continue to infer, subsequent to raw poetical analysis,("unspoken" "related" assertions sometimes more powerful conclusion makers than ones actually stated out loud) that Hip-hop, in conjunction, might miraculously and simultaneously represent something remotely resembling Shakespeare seems to be grasping at a conclusion. (A conclusion arrived at with the help of only generalized reasons of personal choice and/or business habits, or public relations considerations--attributes common to many successful artists, whether they be poets, painters, or pottery makers.) Any potential undue profit garnered from invoking Shakespeare's name would seem to have been logically eliminated--or has it been?

As to any ultimate conclusion on Professor Bradley's theoretical assertions pertaining to Jay-Z, Shakespeare, poetry, and Hip-Hop, as well as what might be the ultimate impact of some of his more popular ideas about Shakespeare, in my view, the jury is still out. First, I'm interested in the answers to what I believe are more important image-related questions. How much "poetical expertise" there might be in the construction of rap, by whatever means it might exist (accidental or incognito) is, by itself, a question that has likely been answered by Bradley. However, he complicates his answer with his later references to Shakespeare. After all, it's evident in the mere reading, on the surface and without very much deep-mining or hindsight analyzing, how much the expert hand of the poet resides in Shakespeare's work. So, to me, the honest answers to the following questions might (or might not)be much more relevant as to how Shakespeare might (or might not) "fit in" here:

--What kind of an influence might any of this--in Dreisinger's terminology--canonization of rap have on the impression made by Jay-Z's poetry---in-disguise?
--And, what kind of ultimate influence might Bradley's research and consequent opinions have on someone's impression of Shakespeare?

With all due respect to Prof. Bradley, even more accurate and pertinent information, possibly more important than some of that which has been outlined by him, might come from an assessment of opinion gathered from the members of a checkout line in a popular CD store. JM

Sunday, October 11, 2009

How Old Is Too Young for Shakespeare?

As quoted by a reporter in a NJ Camden County newspaper article, May 6, 2008:

"'I had to practice hard. I really winged it my first day, but I learned how to look at words before reading them', said [Nick Bottom] whose role called for frequent interplay with audience members."

One reason for the frequent interplay was because Shakespeare "himself" had directed this player to do exactly that. In fact, Shakespeare himself (or some guy who looked, sounded, and dressed an awful lot like him) had actually stopped the action to give this actor some direction--in front of the audience! But, knowing that the performance of "Rehearsing A Midsommer Nights Dreame With Shakespeare" had been billed as just that--a rehearsal, the audience members weren't too put off by the rudeness of this Impostor.

Another of the reasons Bottom's "...role called for frequent interplay..."?

The rest of the students in the school, grades 1-4, were a big part of the process. They were watching how well a 5th grader had learned how to "...look at words...", and they already knew some of what he was going to say. Having worked on some of those words, and many more, as part of a month long program involving words and concepts often billed as "too hard" or "too advanced for their age group", they were familiar with Bottom's "Raging Rocks" "bad acting" tirade in Act I of A Midsummer Night's Dream. So familiar, in fact, that when the guy dressed as "Shakespeare" once again stopped the action to ask his Apprentice Players if they remembered the speech, they showed him how well They had learned "how to look at words"--and how. On the count of three, the entire remainder of the school, grades 1-4, in perfect unison, and without a hitch, recounted, from memory, a speech they were never asked to memorize. But they'd heard it enough, spoken it out loud, worked on it and other speeches in pieces and bits, while depending on the cooperation of their fellow students to support their efforts when they were asked.

The teachers and parents in attendance were not a little amazed at this response from an entire student body. But Shakespeare? ...Somehow he knew the chance he was taking wasn't all that risky. He and His Players had come to a mutual respect and interest when it came to each others Knowledge, Abilities, and Talents.

So, I'm asking: How old is too young to learn something about Shakespeare? JM

Thursday, September 17, 2009

shakespeare text speak

According to sources at No Sweat Shakespeare, --Shakespeare Text Speak (or shkspr txt spk!) Aug. 30 2009, politicians in the U. S., New Zealand, Australia, and England, have criticized teachers for accepting certain assignments from their students. What's on these allegedly dubious homework "papers"? It looks something like this: "wot dis iz, iz d nu way 2 rIt shkspr. ts al d rAj."

Ts..."shkspr txt spk"

Of course, the completeness of my NU ShksprEn DicshnarE/Texticon, being temporarily limited to the wrdz & frAzs in the examples you see below, forces me to improvise. So I make no claim to--accuracy, in my attempts to dEsIfr & cumpOz, from the nonetheless uncommon wealth of the wrdz bElO, thOse I have to invent in order to ...cumUnicAte...properlE in dis xItn nU lngwj. JEz, I could be taking a really big chance at botching up shksprz lines and not even know it. I'll try to be more careful az I bEcum mo ("more"? like "mo" in Shakespeare's text? --must be a mistake.) mor adep @ T. I wdnt wnt 2 apEr az thO Im a ejit. For "brevity's sake" I'll move on, old style, and try incorporating the astounding & innovative qualities of this new...sorry... nU lngwj az I gO. (langwj?--that's..."langwidge"-for the benefit of the uninitiated, spelin-chalnjd, or jis plAn slO. )

Witness how the upcoming lines from Hamlet, arguably the most famous in all of English Literature, are gracefully transformed and rendered, az dA (they) simultAnEuslE, economically, and summarily xcize d OvrblOn syllabic detritus and mellifluous superfluity so often left behind as the result of unnecessary alliterative and assonant bombast; itself, native to self-centered poetic genius; the traces of which, as anyone az familiar az dEz students must be with Shakespeare must know, can sometimes, tragically, go unnoticed by more lax, incautious editors. Not so here; as beautifully, in its cumplEte and unXprgatd poetic magnificence, the brilyinz of shkspr is lifted to new hItes upon the wings of brevity.

Without further adU. Here, not 2 2 sollid...sallied, or sullied, by the flesh of my halting hand of ignorance; an actual, authentic 2 !!! excerpt from "d trjdE of hmlt prnz of dnmk", as tranzpOzd by-- "shkspr txt spk"--an xcIting, nU, & Rtfl lngwj.

‘2 b, r nt 2 b dat iz d Q wthr ts noblr n d mnd 2 sufr d slngs & arowz of outrAjs fortn r 2 tAk armz agnst a C f trblz, & by oposn nd em?’

Once more, proof of Shakespeare's skill with words, imagery, and their power to leave one speech-LESS . . .... that power further enhanced by "shkspr txt spk".

Still unconvinced? --And for those who might think I'm kidding, I can assure you, according to the folks at No Sweat Shakespeare (who seem behind it 100%) this is true-form, actual, and authentic Shakespeare, so defined and accepted today, within some of the halls of academia.

For the incredulous--or yet to be impressed--among us (unyieldingly cretinous though ye may be) I can identify with your skepticism, even while blinded by this technique's stunning impressiveness as an instructive and enlightening tool. Claimed by its proponents as "...an additional language the [students have, ...one] that their critics don't." ...[have]...and...well, I digress.

Here's another example of the exemplary form and movement we all expect from a true shksprEn Tragedy; its essence and clarity served up to us in no time, and in a more potent, concentrated dose, thanks to "shkspr txt spk". May it serve to bend the unswerving and most stubborn opinion of even the most draconian critic. ("Doubtful" of its great usefulness or legitimacy.)--And, as the nO swt shkspr ppl are keen to infer about critics--envious, no doubt--of those few, those happy few, conversant-lucky in this new Art in Language).

From The Tragedy of Macbeth:

2mrw & 2mrw & 2mrw crEpz n dis pety plAs frm dA 2 dA 2 d lst silabl of rcrdd tIm & al our ystdAz hv lItd f%lz d way 2 dsty def…tis a tAl tld by an ejit, ful of snd & fury sgnfyn nutin.’

...And Nutin from Nutin leaves...NUTIN.

(Disclaimer: No further editing, whatsoever, of the previous content--either on my part--or on anyone else's part, for that matter--could have possibly occurred.)

Let's get real.

One "matter of fact" question in the article that plays apologist for this..."uddr nonsnz" makes me seriously question the motivation of anyone who might champion a practice such as this: "But what could be more relevant to the modern teenager?"
As if bastardizing words while poking at a cell phone is an unquestionable and better-functioning conduit to learning how those words sound and what they mean.

I have a question for them: What could be more IR-relevant to developing an ease and familiarity with the mellifluent phrasing, vocabulary, imagery, and laudable, erudite, and Truly-Accomplished "Word-Play" in Shakespeare's work, than to waste precious learning-time and effort in attempts to turn it into a series of UN-pronounceable, stunted, grunts and tics; so malformed and transmogrified, that they look and sound as though they were uttered by a lot of ILL-literate, "F%lsh Ejits"? (If I may be allowed Teacher's permission to whet an almost blunted purpose; as I remember that I am also allowed their permission--even within the scope of such seemingly misplaced authority in the granting of permissions --to Spell It Out for Them : Foolish Idiots).

Furthermore, are we actually doing anything worthwhile towards making anything more understandable, when the greater focus is on making it "relevant" to someone's lifestyle? --Particularly when, by allowing the practice of the habits of that lifestyle such permissive pervasiveness, it so skews and maltreats the material itself? Aren't we sending the signal that what's more important is their pacification, at any cost, to them and to us? (As it's likely that they spend more time focusing on altering the very thing we would teach them, than on the actual, unadulterated article itself.) And then, to lend it the legitimacy of sanctioning its submission IN THE PLACE of, and EQUAL TO, the Art we would teach them; telling them, in effect, that whatever they do To that work of art has no real affect; not even on our own respect for it...Tsk...tsk...tsk..."Shkspr txt spk"...THAT.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Shakespeare Transmogrified (Introduction)

Part one in a series of articles devoted to unmasking Shakespeare's Hand in his works.

(transmogrify-tranz mog' re fie'- v. to change in appearance or form, esp. strangely or grotesquely; transform.)

What a wonderful word. It's even juicier as a noun: transmogrification. Reminds me of an old horror flick--Lon Chaney Jr.and his Transmogrification into...The Werewolf!

I learned what the word meant because of a fellow who, like Shakespeare, was a wonderful genius at painting descriptive pictures and outlining the quirkiness of his Characters--with Words. (was that a subconscious attempt at a pun? ...or the quirkiness of his words with characters...get it?--characters--letters?...sorry)

This Author, as did the Bard two hundred plus years before him, capitalized the first letter of some of the words he wanted to stand out on the page. Most Editors, who know better, have since 'emended' the results of this practice for him; likewise, for Shakespeare. They always use the word "Emended" when speaking of any duty associated with supervising the compilation and publication of works by Shakespeare--even when describing wholesale and unnecessary alterations. It's less offensive, softer, and less direct than the apparent black sheep of this particular Synonym Family..."Corrected". That would more than imply, directly, that someone was wrong about something.---Wouldn't---It?
And although there is some legitimate discussion around the fact that it was a common practice of the time to capitalize some words we wouldn't find the need to give Proper Noun status in our (also "emended") grammar books, and unanswered questions about what exactly happened to copies of the Plays when in the care of sometimes sleepy, or possibly overzealous, typesetters in the printing shop, there is more than enough evidence in the Doing to indicate, to some of us, that there is value in the investigation... Vocally and Aurally.

Far from being 'incorrect', our "mystery author", Charles Dickens--at one time in his life an aspiring actor himself--also knew about the importance of getting and holding the attention of his readers. Until his dying day (and that's not too far short of being literal) he would read his work Out Loud to huge audiences, playing ALL of the Characters he'd created--male, female, or child. (Maybe he capitalized the words as reminders to himself as to what to do with this or that word at his speaking engagements--nahhh) He knew that if you wanted a reader to audibly capture the sounds you heard in your head as the writer; if you wanted them to also appreciate the rhythms you felt in the words as you wrote them, something had to be done, On the Page, to Point Them Out. (see how I sneakily...snuck...that right in there? --Subb-tal, huh?).

Although you can still see this practice in action in original printings of his Sonnets, presumably (and I use the preceding word with some caution) meant to be 'read', when it came to his Plays, Will had the Listener in mind.

When referring to a visit to the Theatre, Elizabethans spoke in terms a listener might use: "Yesterday I went to hear the Tragedie of Macbeth." or "Will you go with me tomorrow to hear Henry V?" They loved their language, the way it sounded, the shape of a phrase. It was, literally, "Music to their ears". And Shakespeare was their Mozart/Beethoven/Mahler, Stokowski/Ormandy/Shaw, Rachmaninoff/Horowitz/Pavarotti--Composer/Conductor/Player--all rolled into one. Examples of the nearest approximation of Shakespeare's actual notation on the page cannot be found in a popular publishing house edition. The closest we can come to discovering possible indications of his hand, on the printed page, can be evidenced only in the First Folio of 1623 and some of the "good" Quarto publications.

Because of so many ongoing structural and internal "emendations", of every kind, applied to his compositions over the centuries passed since they were first printed for publication, the copy of Romeo and Juliet most of us will have been directed to buy in our local bookstore has been...transmogrified--and not only in terms of capitalization. Verse structure (the overall page layout and format, (measures), and thus, phrasing, expression, line completions, pauses (rests)--the instrumentation and implementation of dynamics in a scene can be affected); punctuation (dynamic markings altered; ritardando, staccato, legato, largo, prestissimo, adagio, along with stops and rests); spellings (possibilities of applying color, sound, voicing, expression, and dynamics); ALL of which affect Rhythm, Tempo, and Interpretation--Logistically, Practically, Emotionally, and Intellectually. All of these major components (and others, to be outlined in this series) affect not only the ability of the performer to successfully interpret and present the work; they also alter the end result of what audience members or readers not only see, but also hear, respectively, either in their ears or in their heads (and sometimes both). Notwithstanding gross and obvious errors in printing or transcribing--and they do exist--would we presume the greater right to move any of the other little dots and rests around on the page, in some cases altering the melody, rhythm, and tempo of, shall we say, The Resurrection (Symphony 2) by Gustav Mahler, or Missa Solemnis, by Ludwig van Beethoven?

Yes, Shakespeare's plays are great Literature. What is quite amazing to me, is that the literary aspect of his work is only a by-product of Shakespeare's genius; of his then-immediate intentions, which were to produce the best damned version of whatever, ever Heard. And because his Words were meant to be Spoken Out Loud, by an Actor--the Instrument of the Stage--it behooves us to sit up and take notice as to how Shakespeare the Conductor, aka Director, might have been just a little interested in how his Players Voiced his Notes and played his tunes. With very little time to rehearse his part, what better way to instruct the Player of an Instrument, than to write those instructions on the page in front of him-- into the work itself? JM
(to be continued)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

This Time I Will Mention Oedipus

--something on "incestuous" abomination and Hamlet's projected "obsession" with it, his procrastination, and the hierarchy of his concerns.

The Trial of Bastardie (London, 1594)
The Triall of Bastardie: that part of the second part of Policie, or maner of Gouernement of the Realme of England: so termed, Spirituall, or Ecclesiasticall. Annexed at the end of this Treatise, touching the prohibition of marriage, a Table of the Leuitical, English, and Positiue Canon Catalogues, their concordance and difference. By William Clerke.
Table of prohibited marriages.

[Listed in the same tables as the abomination of marrying your own aunt, daughter-in-law, grand daughter, sister, mother, or daughter, along with several other possible "incestuous" unions.]:

A man may not marrie his
{Sister., Wife's Sister.,Brother's Wife.
}The equall collateral line, and first degree.

30 Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinances, that ye doe not any of the abominable customes, which have been done before you.

This is real bad stuff then, regardless of our viewpoints on any of it--as attested to by King Hamlet's Ghost: To Hamlet:

"I that incestuous, that adulterate Beast
With witchcraft of his wits,hath Traitorous gifts.
Oh wicked wit, and Gifts, that have the power
So to seduce? Won to this shamefull Lust
The will of my most *SEEMING VERTUOUS Queen: [my emphasis]
Oh Hamlet, what a falling off was there,
From me, whose love was of that dignity,
That it went hand in hand, even with the Vow
I made to her in Marriage; and to decline
Upon a wretch, whose Naturall gifts were poore
To those of mine. But Vertue, as it never will be moved,
Though Lewdness court it in a shape of Heaven:
So Lust, though to a radiant Angell link'd,
Will sate it selfe in a Celestial bed,
& prey on Garbage." [Note which words are Capitalized]

Following the description of the "incestuous", "murderous", "adulterer's" crime:
"Oh horrible, Oh horrible, most horrible:
If thou hast nature in thee beare it not;
Let not the Royall Bed of Denmarke be
A Couch for Luxury and damned Incest."

It sure seems as though the former King Hamlet has a few "issues" himself re: Claudius sleeping with his wife--Hamlet's Mother. I think Hamlet finds it not a little important,after the somewhat repetitive,insistent, horrible moans of his father about the vileness of all this. I also think he finds it extremely disgusting to even think about--never mind LIVE WITH under the same roof and scrutiny of an entire kingdom's eyes. (Hamlet's not alone in the disgust department over this somewhat "questionable union".) And he can't get away from it! And since his Too, too solid Flesh" rant about it, the shame, anger, and disgust quotient has been magnified a hundred fold by this latest revelation. But he has to Eat It All, like a good-little-boy-Prince(-who-should-be-King-too):) ("But breake my Heart, for I must hold my Tongue.") His desire to go back to Wittenberg has already been pronounced,"...most retrograde to OUR desire." Mummy's too.

Later, though they may also be his own feelings as well (and the feelings of anyone who might put themselves in his place) Hamlet recounts his father's sentiments; anger, pain, and utter disgust about his mother's actions--her betrayal, incestuous behavior, and *"seeming vertue". Imagine having to confront your mother--Queen or no Queen-- with these things? --After she's "summoned you", obviously to tell you what a bad little Prince YOU'VE been? What size head of steam might that gather?

And his final words to Claudius, THE VERY ONE, HIMSELF, HE, ACTUAL ARTICLE, THE "...incestuous, adulterate [murderous] Beast":
Ham. "Heere thou incestuous, murderous, Damned Dane,
Drink off this Potion: Is thy Union heere?
Follow my Mother."

Laertes. "He is justly served.
It is a poyson tempr'ed by himselfe:
Exchange forgiveness with me Noble Hamlet;
Mine and my Fathers death come not upon thee,
Nor thine on me."

Once again, in the oft-repeated words of he whom Hamlet avenges, and WHILE stating the very reasons he's been asked to do it, WITH his mother's death to add to the mix. Although they may be his thoughts as well, Hamlet reiterates the words his father can't say.

As to his belated decisions to go stabbing about; Circumstance has pretty much dictated things. NOW in front of ALL, witnesses to the treachery, with Laertes dying testimony,(the guy whose father he mistakenly killed) no less, his mother another victim of the "Incestuous, murderous, Damned Dane",...the oft-overlooked (possibly because it was always missing?) item in the arsenal of "facts" used to condemn him for his procrastination--"Proof"--isn't something he needs anymore.

His feigned madness, by the way, was a common practice among royalty when the intrigue and safety issues for particular "chosen ones" got a little dicey. It was used as a means of protection, especially from one's bloodthirsty relatives eager to climb the political ladder "legitimately". (the insane were protected from recrimination for their actions, which, could include getting in the way of those potentially dangerous "loved ones" while they were seeking out a solution to what could happen to them as a direct result of their "kind affection") I may have mentioned Hamlet's behavior re: Polonius' body--"Don't kill me yet...I'm still crazy, see?."
He was protecting himself the whole time, just in case the "murderous" persona in the "incestuous, murderous, damned Dane" decided it might suddenly resume killing people "too much in it's way"; especially those "would have beens", "wannabees", or possible "should have beens" named "Hamlet". You think he didn't know Claudius kept him around to "watch" him? Anyone who thinks Hamlet could have simply, with impunity, "enacted revenge" without explaining or proving anything, simply because he's The Prince with a beef, hasn't read the play. He can't trust anyone. Not even his own mother. And his only witness to anything he knows...? --a ghost!

As far as how we can tell anything about what Hamlet's thinking by "how he says it"--that would have to do with the way the relationships have been handled by the PRODUCER/DIRECTORS--the "Concept People"-- throughout the play; and also, by the way the line itself has been delivered. Any actor who puts undue emphasis on the word "incestuous" for reasons of "proving" something Psycho-sexual--perhaps that Hamlet could easily exchange names with Oedipus and no one would notice-- clearly cares more about impressing the audience with some more sensational "point" than, well, for one thing, their ability to scan and read verse convincingly with any accuracy.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Wisdom From "Down-Under"

Many belated thanks to Flloyd Kennedy for a visit and her concurrence and very knowledgeable comments re: my post " 'Translating" Shakespeare' " 8/16/09.

Fortune has favored us from Down Under with input from Flloyd and her knowledge about the importance of Shakespeare's Words. (As much as I'm tempted, I'll forgo a quip here about "Fortune's Favours"-Hamlet 2.2.227-232.) uh...Maybe it's too late :-)

Wait--did I say 'her' ? Before we get into a discussion on the problems someone might think I have concerning 'gender issues', "Flloyd"--with 2 LLs--Kennedy is a noted Acting/Voice Instructor/Performer/Playwright ("The Fall of June Bloom: A Modern Invocation") from Australia. She's taught verse speaking at RSAMD, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and, in addition, has taught most of the other subjects related to speaking from a stage, at other notable educational institutions. She's also recently hung around with one of my heroes, Patsy Rodenberg, Director of Voice at London's Royal National Theatre, and author of the books The Actor Speaks and Speaking Shakespeare, among others. (ask me if I'm jealous; even a little bit)
However...moving on...Flloyd is quick to point out that in Australia, they're not so 'gender-specific' as we might have a tendency to be. "Actor", for instance, can mean either a male or female thespian. I've always preferred to not make that particular distinction myself. (Wonder if I have any 'joey' blood in me, mate?).

As an actor, director, and instructor of a technique developed from the First Folio of 1623 (the very first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays) I also find much in common with her philosophy and viewpoints on the ART of Acting.

I capitalize 'ART' because that's really what it is. This is especially so when it comes to acting Shakespeare. And far from what seems to be the most popular and prevalent wisdom relative to a Method of acting, (here in America at least) Flloyd recognizes the importance of a TECHNIQUE of Acting; one which also employs the Words, and values them as the Tools of the Trade they most certainly are. She also recognizes the danger of messing about with the words and/or ignoring their importance. Inherent in that danger, we, as actors, put ourselves at peril's mercy if we lose our connection to the very definite networking structure set up intrinsically within the words themselves--the voice/body/emotion/mind connection. This is so important, not just for Shakespeare or Acting in general. It's a vital component in any kind of Communication using Words as the Vehicle. It also directly affects how the communication is received, understood, interpreted, and appreciated--audience, reader, student, et al. (If you hang out here long enough, you'll probably get tired of hearing me babble about it).

Learning and Knowing HOW to "Speake the Speech"--Ham.3.2.1--is every bit as important as knowing what the speech means, or knowing how it's supposed to make us "feel". Knowing how to handle the words frees us, so that we can "feel"; and, in fact, it can be a definite source of incredible inspiration for that feeling. For both actor and observer, AND for the student/reader as well, the ability to banish the confusion, correct the misconceptions, and find the key to great understanding resides in Shakespeare's Form: His usage of particular words, sentence and verse structure, his genius as an Architect in putting them all together, and the connection to Voicing Them, in a sculpturally sound and highly communicable way.

So before we throw up our hands in disgust, annoyed with how difficult Shakespeare's words are (and believe me, I understand the feeling--I once felt the same way) maybe a little investigating into how they work might be the Thing: THE Ticket to The Play.

Click this post's title and read Flloyd Kennedy's comments on Words and "Translating Shakespeare". Visit her blog (http://beinginvoice.wordpress.com/) and tell her I sent you.
Hang out a little there--and here. Shakespeareplace is a new-borne Blog; there's a lot more to come on this very important subject.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hamlet: "Woman-Hater" (promise I won't mention Oedipus)

A hot topic over at the shakespearegeek blog nowadays is " They Say He Made a Good End" http://blog.shakespearegeek.com/2009/08/they-say-he-made-good-end.html which has evolved into something like "Hamlet VS Ophelia". As usual I'm all over it over there--me and my big mouth. Check it out. Duane (the geek) has put up some great clips on it as well.

But I thought since I already had started a sort of Hamlet vs Ophelia thing here, I'd also comment on it here, while continuing the train of thought about Hamlet's "character".

'Interesting' that in his anger with Ophelia, marriage and betrayal is the subject matter Hamlet picks to focus on "--we will have no more marriages", etc.. Gee, what would have made that occur to him, now believing he's been betrayed by not one, but TWO women he loves? Think maybe he had ideas about Ophelia and Marriage? Apparently Mom knew enough at Ophelia's graveside to wish it had come to what she thought Hamlet and Ophelia were all about. What could be more obvious? Also, consider his tirade (mysterious to many) berating himself, stating in effect that as not worth anything--"What should such Fellows as I do, crawling between Heaven and Earth. We are arrant Knaves all, believe none of us"...etc. Is he angrily, yet wryly, commenting on how he's "not good enough" for Ophelia, in her eyes? Mightn't it seem so to him?

And of the gifts she attempts to return: "No, no. I never gave YOU aught." ...I loved YOU not; to the point that she's acting like (and has been acting like) no one he now "knows" at all; AND-- "Gee Ophelia, I guess with all of my insistence, with all of my pleadings, with everything we've had, IF you can STILL believe the relationship isn't worth it, and in addition, have NO good reason for believing that I'm not worth your trouble--or if you have a reason, refuse to share with me why this is SO-- "Well then, (tongue in cheek) I MUST NEVER HAVE "loved" you, since you seem to be insisting on it so strongly. OK, you're right-- Since you won't, let's see if I can come up with a why or two as to my "never loving you".

Hamlet's sarcasm is always logical. He seems to be saying (possibly): "It's now ALL I CAN THINK OF THAT MAKES ANY SENSE AT ALL!--get it Ophelia? (If, then, therefore) He uses the same formula of reasoning later on with his mother.

These important people in Hamlet's life are constantly forcing him to ask, "WHY?!...HOW...COULD YOU POSSIBLY DO THIS?!--It MAKES NO SENSE!" And "maddening"? (and quite literally, it is) is the fact that neither of them ever gives him an answer! (however we may justify their reasons for it, Hamlet's left blind, because he doesn't know what they--or WE--know).

This is too often forgotten or conveniently ignored by the conclusion-jumpers, psychoanalysts, and theoreticians. They're too busy at playing needle-in-the-haystack, mountain-out-of-a-molehill with Hamlet to notice any other character's flaws or transgressions.
You know, like Mom's an adulterer with Dad's brother, married him only 2 months after Dad "died", and Ophelia not only snubbed him for reasons he will never know, but also becomes a spy against him in the deadly game he plays with the court! Likewise they pay less attention to the words if they don't happen to "fit" the particular theory about Hamlet with which they happen to be enamored (or mired in) at the time.

It appears to me that some try first to simply foist a supposed penchant for meanness and cruelty on everything he says and does, without putting themselves in his place. How mundane and thoughtless, as though this were a daily soap opera, and as if Hamlet had their values and customary judgment and behavior. They'll "give him" that--the cruelty and pettiness in human nature; but never along with it, the strength of hurt or reaction a normal human being would have when faced with similar crushing circumstances.

However; back to his wit: His mercurial thought processes would immediately latch onto the now-available and pertinent subjects (marriage, betrayal, deception) as the vehicles; his perception would make the relationships in a split second, and his delivery would be as swift --and deadly-- as ever.

But as with his mother, these "witticisms" would be anything but subtly communicated, channeled as they are through the great anger that the realization of betrayal and its emotional pain would cause him. To keep his usual cool, dry, witty head with these particular individuals (Ophelia and Gertrude) is impossible anyway, and even if possible, a measured reaction would cost him too much, for many reasons; one of which would be that it would be misinterpreted; taken as his "normal" sarcasm when it comes to attempting to reveal truths. And yes he is "mad" --as in the later case with his mother --quite mad--insane with anger and hurt-- in this moment with Ophelia.

These instances are the only times I can think of during which he couldn't be supposed to be "faking madness". --Why?

Both of these women have left a thinker of serious proportions without the means to parse out what has happened to him! Their behavior is "insane" to him. He responds accordingly, himself insane in the moment from the realization that they will never help him understand WHY they've done what they've done. There is an Answer--they just won't give it to him!

This point would be scanned: What they've done appears to him to be partly driven by insane decision-making on their part, and they've driven him insane partly by WHAT it is, and partly by refusing to help him figure out the "WHY?" it is.
And he stands too much to lose in either case to not make known to them the damage he's received at their hands. They are too important to him and he loves them both too much not to let them know just how much they've hurt him. (...and, also... could they just be reasonable...and stop it...please?).
But in the case of both Ophelia and Gertrude, other than to "wonder" what might be wrong with him, There is No Response.

It's only fair to recognize that their decisions to stay mum are, at times, directly affected by the circumstances bearing on the two women. But Fate and their unwillingness (the hesitance sometimes justified, sometimes not) combine to never allow them to explain, even if they would--or could--or, possibly, to give Hamlet the time to batter down the bulwark of what is--to him--abject denial of the truth--and the results of that denial--of their (as far as he knows) obviously intended actions.

For once again, one of the greatest instruments of Tragedy in the play--Time-- fails to mesh with The Moment in which, ironically, it's simultaneously occurring. Everyone in the play, at one or more points, either lacks timing, or the intervention of Fate, Circumstance (or both) forces that lack of timing; they all pay dearly for it. Hamlet sees and knows, presciently, in his gut, from the very beginning of the play, the terrible, destructive power of this lack of synchronization, and the effects it may likely have: "The Time is out of joint."

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Tragedie of Hamlet, "Jerk" of Denmark.

It seems that everywhere I go in search of Shakespeare on the web lately, when it comes to the topic of Hamlet and his character, I can find someone ready to take a vicious stab at The Melancholy Prince.

Scholars of all stripes (from the time of Goethe, through Freud and on to today) attack everything in his nature. From his "indecision" and failure to act, to his lack of courage and heroism, to his "secret desire" to sleep with his mother (YUCK!), to his failure to embody the qualities defining "Tragedy" and the "Tragic Hero" set down by Aristotle; Academia is, and has always been, more ready to find his "flaws" as opposed to his virtues.

Time after time, Commercial Shakespeare's producers and directors, from Hollywood to Broadway, in production and/or 'adaptation', support these theories, always finding ways to 'read into' and play on the theme of Hamlet's weaknesses, rather than his strengths. The tragedy is always the result of his faults. Close examination of gaping character flaws in those who surround him, and the monumental exigencies supplied for him by simple fate will usually take a back seat, compared to the emotional sensationalism provided by pecking at the proposed hero with juicy personality complaints, however niggling, until he's brought down to his knees--or better yet--to the pedestrian level of the nigglers themselves.

This comes as no surprise. Many people are uncomfortable in the presence of genius, whether it be the intellect of a Hamlet or... a Shakespeare. From today back to Alexander Pope, who, in 1723, modestly claiming he knew better (most kindly meant, I'm sure) what Shakespeare the literary bumpkin was attempting to do--and therefore say--eliminated and/or changed words, phrases, and whole passages in the Plays, 'Editors' of Shakespeare have formulated wholesale rationalizations and suppositions as starting points from which to support their 'emendations' of the text and their theoretical 'reading into' the true meaning of his Work.

Since Hamlet is Shakespeare's 'wordiest' play; since Hamlet himself is his most vociferously intellectual character; since Hamlet is thought by many to be Shakespeare's greatest accomplishment (ironic in light of so many complaints about it); Hamlet gets the most attention in the way of analytical "help" from those Absolutists who think they know better than what the lines say--what Shakespeare said.

These theoretical notions--for that and only that is what they are--having been accepted and supported for so long, have had an enormous influence on the way the play and its central character are perceived. Hamlet is first read into before it is even read. The omnipresence of all this theoretical bantering has had the effect of strongly imprinting an initial image of Hamlet the Dane as a weak milk toast; a mewling, puking, adolescent; selfish and impotent, callous and completely self-centered; incapable of any heroic action; most simply, it seems, and worst of all, a woman-hater by nature. This impression is now the accepted premise and influential starting point from which any further analytical thought regarding Hamlet's character emerges. Any conclusions about the Prince seem to be powerfully influenced by it. Seemingly, when it comes to this play, events as they occur in sequence, difficulties which arise (as they would be perceived by any other human being--not allowed perception for Prince Hamlet), and even the lines themselves, are ignored in favor of a powerful gauze-like opaqueness, which seems to mask the obvious truth of the above to the eyes of an observer under the influence of any one of these "popular notions".

In fact, more casual readers and playgoers (and believe it or not, their opinion is the more important one to me and therefore the most disturbing in this context) many times simply refer to Hamlet as a "Jerk", citing his "callousness" and lack of "feelings". The 'proving-ground' of this opinion is located mainly in his obvious treatment of "poor Ophelia" in what has come to be known as "The Nunnery Scene".
Attached to his callousness, the idea of Hamlet's selfishness, his self-centered attitude, of his being "too caught-up in his own drama" are shortcomings often offered as support in an argument which 'proves', without a doubt, his "Jerky-ness".

My question is: Exactly whose Drama IS The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Translating" Shakespeare

Several months ago, I found myself involved in a rather lengthy argument on The Bard Blog over whether or not we need to "translate" Shakespeare. http://www.bardblog.com/the-world-sans-shakespeare/ (Should you visit, you'll see that 'lengthy' might be an understatement--I ran on quite a bit as my alter-ego "Willshill", but then, so did Professor Richmond.)

The meaning of 'translate' is defined by a 'translator', who has decided that Shakespeare, as written, is just too darned hard for mere mortals such as we. A professor at Cal State, Long Beach, Kent Richmond, as we speak, is busy at work "rewriting" Shakespeare, his stated purpose being to make Shakespeare more accessible to all. http://www.fullmeasurepress.com/

It's my contention that his work does just the opposite of its stated purpose-- making actual Shakespeare inaccessible for several reasons; not the least of which is the fact that it seems Mr. Richmond intends his work to be a wholesale replacement for Shakespeare-- as we know it--in our educational venues. Surely there are better ways to sell books, as well as better ways to teach Shakespeare, the latter being the main problem, I think. (I've experienced the positive results of some of those better ways--more on that later) Is Shakespeare too hard? --or would another kind of approach help? What do you think?

Welcome Carly

Many thanks to a new follower, Carly J. Mooney for her interest in shakespeareplace. Having performed some of Shakespeare's more popular roles (and having done them well, I can personally witness) I'm pleased to have both her opinion and insight here. Welcome!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

"Sonicky" Words

The author at one of my favorite Shakespeare watering holes--The Bard Blog--recently returned following a long absence. Coincidental with my attempt to write a sonnet of sounds using alliteration and assonance, it so happens one of the new subjects on The Bard Blog was the sound of words and how sounds-- and the actual construction of the word itself-- can conjure up a picture that can literally describe the thing itself. But it isn't simply assonance, alliteration, or onomatapoeia, as Gedaly points out. As he mentions, "Sonicky" is a word author Roy Blount Jr. came up with in his new book "Alphabet Juice" to describe this kind of word. (I wrote an initial response as my alter ego "Willshill". You can read the whole Bard Blog story by clicking on the title of this post). It seems that "sonicky" doesn't sit well with some as a description for this phenomenon. The search is on, it appears, for a "better sounding" word.

Anyway, I really don't like "sonicky" either.
What it really warrants, I think, to accurately describe what's happening, is a more than one word description. But I gave it some thought and came up with a few one-word possibilities.

--pictsonorant, pictsonorous, pictsonic, pic_sonic (if you want to get "slangy")

Here are a couple of doozies that take in Articulatory Phonetics, (the branch concerned with actual vocal production of sound) and also,the ideas of depiction or picturing (also used to define picturing in or with words), sonorous and sonar-- without the ous-- (a resonant quality of sound itself,the depth of sounds and also 'sounding' the depths with sound, therefore displaying the picture it finds as a result).
Are ya ready?

articulopictsonorous or... articulopictsonorant or... articulopictsonic

Hey, Will invented a few words, didn't he? Why can't we when trying to describe what he does best with them?

Whaddaya think? Any other ideas?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Welcome Gentles All ! to number 1623 Shakespeare Place--the place for anything "Shakespeare"--and we mean Anything! Voice your opinion on the current topics already under discussion or...start a topic you're interested in. Ask a question; if we don't know the answer we'll help find it if we can. Cast your vote in the latest poll and let us know why you feel the way you do. Let's talk Shakespeare!

To kick things off, I thought it might be fun to come up with a sonnet chock-full of alliteration and assonance (in fact it's entirely alliterative and assonant--maybe I got carried away?) describing some of the difficulties and joys, tribulations and rewards, of tackling stuff by the Bard. Since I'd never tried before, I'm not sure how well I did. Some of it's fun...I think...I hope. Thoughts anyone? Don't be shy--say it out loud! That's why we're here--and the whole point of Shakespeare (more on that later).

“Why Wrangle With Will?”

Bravely bombasting ballad by Bard,
Wantonly witty, will-willowing--worse:
Haltingly, hatching half-hopelessly hard,
Vouchedly vexing, varnish├Ęd verse!

Tortuous, tongue-tied torrents to traverse,
Workmanly-wise, would we willingly wade
In innocence, insane; ill-ta'en immerse
Ourselves over-deep; orate odes o'ermade?

Rattling wry, recapitulate rhyme,
Quizzical quatrains, quickly quixotic,
Soliloquy Splenetic, Sonnet Sublime,
Elegy Elegant, ever exotic.

Accounts Adventurous, artfully avouched,
Tragedy, touchingly tearful-tainted,
Comedy's Counsel, cordially couched:
Pictures Poetic, perfectly painted.

In Incomparable Intellect Imbued;
Valiantly Voiced Verisimilitude.

J.M. © 2009

About Me and Shakespeare: Professional actor, director, teacher, editor, sometimes writer, and overall loudmouth-- when it comes to anything "Shakespeare". (more on that later)