February 2009


Thanks to everyone who showed up to read Othello on February 15 at the library. The reading went wonderfully with all the readers adopting their assigned characters and reading with great gusto!

I mentioned to one of the readers (Linda) that even the not too bright characters like Brabantio and Roderigo have these beautiful lines in the play, leading me to remember the opening lines of D.H. Lawrence‘s rather snide poem “When I Read Shakespeare–“:

When I read Shakespeare I am struck with wonder
that such trivial people should muse and thunder
in such lovely language

I just detected a note of irony in my comments about Brabantio and Roderigo. Here we are, probably trivial people in Lawrence’s view of things,(of course excluding any one reading this who claims nobility or that has been born great or achieved greatness!) siding with Shakespeare in this and claiming the glorious language to be our own, even if only for one Sunday afternoon a month!

Coming back to Othello, I forgot to mention this during the meeting, but I was curious to see if anyone would detect the few lines of the play where Othello mistakenly thinks he directly hears a dying confession from Cassio. Happy hunting and let me know if you cannot find it, I can point the section of the play out to you!

As far as our next play is concerned, I tallied the votes up and “The Tempest” came out on top. We will be reading this play on March 22 at 1:00 p.m. at the Plymouth District Library. The play is quite short, so there is no need to meet up early.

Finally, with the Shakespeare Seminar Class at PCEP being done for the year, we got the drop in attendance that I anticipated . I hope to keep the group going through the summer, so please consider attending even if you have not made a reading so far. Since we focus on a single play each meeting, you can bow in and out of the readings without any loss. Based on the feedback I have received, most of the readers enjoy the experience very much and the play jumps off the page becoming a unique living and breathing organism when read aloud by a diverse group of people.

Prashant Andrade

Those who attended the “Twelfth Night” reading, will recall the short discussion we had at the beginning of the session on handling the run-on lines or the enjambment that Shakespeare often uses extensively for verse in  his later plays. I have some more ideas about this that I wanted to share with you before our next reading. Please share any thoughts you might have about this topic that can help our reading! I apologize if this discussion is not interesting or useful to you.

An example from the Winter’s Tale is given below. Enjambment means that the end of the line of verse does not correspond to the culmination of a thought and meaning flows as the lines progress.

——————
I am not prone to weeping, as our sex
Commonly are; the want of which vain dew
Perchance shall dry your pities; but I have
That honourable grief lodged here which burns
Worse than tears drown.
——————

Contrast this with the end-stopping that is often seen in Shakespeare’s earlier plays, where a verse line corresponds to a thought. Here are some lines from Romeo and Juliet:

——————
A glooming peace this morning with it brings.
The sun for sorrow will not show his head.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things.
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished.
—————–

One of the dilemmas of reading Shakespeare aloud is how to handle these lines when reading. Sir Peter Hall, one of the founders of the Royal Shakespeare Company, maintains that a tiny sense break should be adhered to at the end of every line to show the verse nature of a speech into clear relief. There is a wonderful discussion about this in Ron Rosenbaum‘s book “The Shakespeare Wars” and Sir Hall cherishes being called an “Iambic fundamentalist” for spearheading what he thinks is the “War on Error” in reading Shakespeare:-).

On the other hand, some readers prefer to read by following the punctuation
thus preserving meaning albeit sometimes at the expense of losing the verse shape of the speech and making it sound like prose. One interesting observation is that no one really knows how Shakespeare would himself have punctuated the verse so almost any edition of the plays that we pick up has had editorial decisions on punctuation.

I have been recently watching the much revered John Barton and Trevor Nunn master classes on “Playing Shakespeare” where Barton and Nunn work informally with a group of actors including David Suchet, Ben Kingsley, Patrick Stewart, Alan Howard etc and the ensemble demonstrate their ideas on acting Shakespeare. The key idea that keeps coming up is balance and needing to be aware of whether the speech is heightened or just “conversation”.

I have found it useful to go through the play, especially through the verse portions and identify the lines where I would adhere to the verse with a small pause even at the end of a verse line with no punctuation and where to read the verse in a run-on line fashion (I precede these lines with a small pencil mark). The amazing thing is that if I find I clearly understand the meaning of the particular lines of the speech, the decision on what to do suggests itself! Shakespeare varies the structure of his sentences so that small tiny pauses at the end of some lines even without punctuation give punch and energy by emphasizing the verse nature of the speech, (especially during heightened speeches, but not exclusively) and sometimes it is best to read the line as a run-on line for the sake of conveying meaning and smoothness.

The nice thing is that it is up to every reader/actor to arrive at his or her own idea of how the text should read giving us one more variable to work with in portrayal of a character. On the other hand, it seems like there is always one more thing to consider when reading Shakespeare, but I believe challenges like this led researchers to conclude that “Reading Shakespeare Has a Dramatic Effect on the Human Brain” (see PhysOrg link below) or Google Shakespeare and Brain and see what comes up!

http://www.physorg.com/news85664210.html

Prashant Andrade

The votes are in, we will be reading Othello at our next meeting on February 15. Othello beat out Antony and Cleopatra by a hair!

Since the play is quite long (3560 lines) we will start earlier at 12:15 p.m. and go right into the reading. Several summaries of Othello are available on the internet.

I will also send out a reminder about a week before the reading.

Several films of Othello exist, here are a few that I have seen in the past:

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Laurence Olivier Othello with Maggie Smith as Desdemona and Frank Finlay as Iago
This was a bold controversial Olivier performance. When Olivier found out that Orson Welles had described Othello as “a natural baritone”, Olivier, a natural tenor, took voice lessons for several weeks.

Laurence Fishburne Othello with Irene Jacob as Desdemona and Kenneth Branagh as Iago

Willard White Othello with Imogen Stubbs as Desdemona and Ian McKellen as Iago

John Kani Othello, Richard Haines as Iago, directed by Janet Suzman
This performance took place in 1988 in apartheid era South Africa directed by South African born Janet Suzman. The atmosphere was highly charged, the law against inter-racial marriage had not been long repealed (1985) and the performances took on the shape of protest theatre.

Orson Welles Othello, Suzanne Cloutier as Desdemona and Michael MacLiammoir as Iago
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After some thought, I have also decided to let readers have the flexibility of opting for smaller roles during the reading if they wish and if they would rather listen more than read. I will just take this information down at the beginning of the reading and assign parts accordingly.

Prashant Andrade

Thank you to everyone who showed up to read Richard II on Sunday, January 18!

It was definitely a change of pace after having read the ruthlessly economical Macbeth (very little beginning, almost all ending!) and the almost giddily paced Twelfth Night at previous readings. In the opinion of many people, Richard II is a play where the poetic content trumps and sometimes impedes the dramatic thrust as I am sure a few people noticed at the reading, but what magnificent poetry and imagery! Thank you for your patience during the reading and I hope the character based game that we played at the beginning of the reading was helpful in keeping the characters straight for those of you not familiar with the play.