Whispers from the Wings

And the stuff goes on

February 28, 2014

Life can be so rich working here if you sign up to the stuff that goes on. Last week Giles Taylor, of our company, ran an excellent workshop on Shakespeare's verse.

It's interesting that the only (supposed) piece of dramatic writing in our bard's own hand happens to be the manuscript for the speech in Sir Thomas More that I delivered at the Shakespeare Institute last week.

It must be one of the most valuable documents on the planet. There are very few crossings out and alterations and it looks as though Shakespeare wrote his expressive and economical verse quickly and with amazing facility. The iambic pentameter seems to have flowed from his pen as if he could hear his characters' voices in his head and feel their heartbeats in his soul.

Unpacking the text
Giles concentrated his workshop on that five foot 'dee-dum' rhythm so common in dramatic writing of that time with illustrations of how, when a foot in the pentameter changes from the customary 'dee-dum' to a 'dum dee' (a trochee), it is to deliberate and great effect.

I suffered from irregular heartbeat for some years and I think it's very relevant that I was never conscious of my regular resting heartbeat at all until an extra beat suddenly made me aware of it.

It's exactly the same with the heartbeat rhythm of Shakespeare's verse. Giles had several excellent examples. Here's another one that springs to mind:

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

That very first 'Now' (the first strong beat of a trochee) starts things off with a bold bang, and then in the fourth line another break in the rhythm along with the alliteration of 'bosom' and 'buried' — lends extra emphasis to the powerful, and now powered, metaphor.

Unwrapping the plays
On Saturday morning I was privileged to deliver the Unwrapped session in The Swan. These ticketed events explore how we mount our plays through rehearsal into performance.

I think the session went rather well. I invited a woman onto the stage to feel the weight of my two stone surcoat and she visibly buckled! Norfolk's eBay reliquaries were a source of great interest and some amusement.

We have had a session this week with Professor Gary Watt, of Warwick University, where Shakespeare's easy familiarity with the subtleties of rhetorical argument was examined through the brilliantly contrasting speeches of Brutus and Antony over Caesar's corpse.

Then in the afternoon we were excited to hear some of our cast reading Middletown, a new play by American playwright Will Eno, that Jeremy Herrin wants to do under auspices of Headlong, the touring company whose helm he took over last June. It was a funny and moving piece that explores the oddness, charm and frustration of human existence by looking at small lives in a small town.

Headlong specialises in new writing and re-considered classics, and have Anya Reiss's exciting version of Spring Awakening making waves at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Next week we have two day-long workshops on our plays with groups of young people from local schools. They get Jeremy Herrin, Hilary Mantel, a bunch of actors, all kinds of stuff, and tickets for the evening. All for £35. What a bargain!

Image: Nat Parker plonked his hat on Olivia Darnley's head in the wings the other night, and I snapped it with my iPad because it immediately brought to mind the cherubic drawing of Henry VII as a young child!

by Nick Day  |  No comments yet

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Teaching Shakespeare