Saturday, 6 February 2016

Saturday Evenings: Stay In Sit Up and Switch On

The mark of an epoch-making writer is usually measured in the effect they have on generations: past, present and future. If those who are yet to come can take ownership of a text in the same way of those who have come and gone, then the writer will have succeeded.

William Shakespeare is one of those writers.
May I peer into your soul?

This is not a post about the Bard, well; it is not a post about him in the sense of an essay or scholarly text. If that were the case the result would be a faux-scholarly treatise for I still am a novice when it comes to Shakespeare.

This column tonight is more about a fascinating new project The Guardian just put together. To mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death some of the more outstanding and versatile British actors were filmed performing speeches from some of his more famous plays to the camera. The outcome is mesmerising for many reasons. One was the delivery. Each actor/actress had a unique approach to Shakespeare but there was a common thread running through their performances. A beautiful common denominator that united them all. Two were the expressions. They ran the whole gamut of facial phraseology, a stunning display of rainbow-like human emotions. I switched the volume off at some point and just watched their eyes, mouths, noses, hands silently (the only sound was the constant purring of our washing machine in the background). They said as much as the words they uttered. Third were the props they used or lack of them thereof. Eileen Atkins’ glass of wine at the end of her scene is as powerful as Adrian Lester’s prop-less one-second pause after “Or to take arms against a sea of troubles/And by opposing end them.

To watch these first six films (I believe The Guardian has commissioned more) is to be exposed to Shakespeare’s intricate nuance. The beauty of his plays was that they were rarely black-and-white. Lester’s Hamlet (below) is a good example. I love the way he plays this renowned soliloquy. He is knackered. Hamlet is beyond exhaustion. His father has been murdered by his uncle with whom his own mother is consorting. That is enough to send anyone over the edge. “To die- to sleep- /No more; and by a sleep to say we end/The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to.” How many of us have not felt like that, at the end of our tether? Life pulling us in different directions?

I wish I had done Shakespeare properly in uni. I wish I had taught Hamlet properly, too, when I had the opportunity. The Bard not only wrote for an audience, but for the mind. The evidence is in the amount of people who read his plays without necessarily looking to attend a stage production. We all carry an internal Will. Do yourselves a favour, click on the link (in red, above) and enjoy once more this epoch-making writer.



© 2016

Next Post: “London, my London”, to be published on Wednesday 10th February at 6pm (GMT)

19 comments:

  1. God I'm lazy, ill informed and uneducated - I'm laughing. But your elegant post makes me sit up and want to fill in a gap. That was really fun! Thanks.

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  2. When time allows I will certainly explore the link. Thank you. I can still quote great chunks of Hamlet. It spoke to me when I first read it, and speaks to a different me still.
    Great post - thanks.

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  3. I applaud your bardic depth from my own shallows!

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  4. This segment from Hamlet was so beautifully performed that I listened to it twice. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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  5. Hey Cubano--am excited to hear these. There is no one so big as Shakespeare, for sure, as a writer I mean--in terms of encompassing worlds. I am not expressing it well, but thanks. k.

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  6. I've tried to watch some of these, but my internet connection here in Ecuador can be slow and it's frustrating when it stops and starts - I so hope these are still available when I get home. I recall being bowled over by David Tennant's Hamlet a few years ago.

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  7. He sure make works that make you think and which had stood the test of time.

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  8. What a great performance! 400 years after his death, and he is still the greatest! Your post is a good reminder.

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  9. My daughter just got through studying Hamlet in high school. We had some interesting discussion. I was blessed to take Shakespeare in High School with a good teacher (and a great course for there were two guys and twenty girls!). The video allows for the tight facial shot with strong lighting that allows you to watch the face only instead of being drawn to the larger presence and surroundings on the stage. Good post!

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  10. I read my first play by William Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar," as a fifteen-year-old school boy and, a few months later, saw my first stage production, "Henry V," at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. While reading Shakespeare can be a revelation, it was evident to me even then as a boy that first and foremost these plays are meant to be seen in live performance and reading is secondary.

    The concepts and the nuances of most of these plays range from subtle to glaring. Just as there are few playwrights who can approach the genius of Shakespeare, so, too, do few actors (in my opinion) have the talent and the skill to do justice to the major roles .... which is why it is enjoyable and interesting (and educational) to see as many varied performances/productions as you are able to during your lifetime.

    The project certainly seems to be a worthy one and a great way to bring a bit of Shakespeare to the people.

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  11. Adrian Lester's performance was mesmerising. Even in my current mood I managed to enjoy it and listen a second time. I am a Shakespeare fan and close neighbour, least-ways I live close enough to absorb the historic atmosphere. Thank you for an enjoyable and entertaining post.

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  12. Hi ACIL - I shall be back to listen to them all ... thanks so much for highlighting. Excellent - I need to learn about Shakespeare rather than the vague ideas I have of his life and more importantly his works ... It's saved for when I have some time tomorrow probably ... but I await with eager anticipation. Cheers Hilary

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  13. Gosh...Adrian Lester's performance was absolutely breath-taking...wow, what a talent...he really brought those words to life!
    So many actors in Shakespeare roles lack that unique kind of talent to carry it off, but he is really something else.
    Thank you for another brilliant post!

    Greetings from Hampshire.:)

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  14. Shakespeare was a magnificent writer, he invented so many words and phrases as well as writing brilliant plays and poetry. Plus his work is so timeless.

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  15. What an exciting project! Thank you for letting us know about it. I love your line about how "we all carry an internal Will." So true and so brilliantly expressed.

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  16. Yes, truly excellent! Thank you.

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  17. Sounds brilliant! I do love Shakespeare.

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  18. Yes We do love Shakespeare:)))I just wonder came across your website..are you dancer kind of?Iwanted to add you on FB..but iam not sure if its you..brilliant web site..and cant say how much i love ballet and dances thanx!

    xxx

    Anita

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