04 October 2008

"Words . . . Words. Words."

"Hasn't it ever happened to you that all of a sudden and for no reason at all you haven't the faintest idea how to spell the word 'which'? Or 'house'? Because when you write it down you just can't remember ever having seen those letters in that order before?"

Don't fret. I'm not about to go on another Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead quote frenzy. I've just got words on the brain, and when I wrote the title to this post (I almost always start with a title, oddly enough, and rarely change it after writing the post -- even the automatic cursor placement of Blogger assumes you want to write the entry first) I had the experience of looking at the word "word" and thinking, That can't possibly be how "word" is spelled. This post title comes from an audition I had for Hamlet, years and years ago (read: 1999). Polonius asks Hamlet what he reads, and Hamlet famously replies in a three: words words words. A lot has been made of his response. A lot has been made of every damn thing Hamlet says. I, being a bit of the clown Hamlet warns the players to avoid, made a gag out of it, pointing to one page (words), to the facing page (words) and then turning up to Polonius to deliver my assessment: Words. I probably unconsciously lifted this from Gibson's delivery, but ol' Mad Max milks it WAY too much and kills the rhythm. So sayeth this guy. [Lifteths hands up, pointseth thumbs inward.]

I'll be having an increasing emphasis on Shakespearean topics as time progresses toward The Very Nearly Perfect Comedy of Romeo & Juliet. Next week, in fact, I'm teaching a Shakespeare class with Friend Heather of Zuppa del Giorno fame out in the autumnal splendor of the Poconos. (It really is a tough job sometimes...) It'll be a new class for us to lead, and we're planning on modeling it after what Zuppa does naturally, taking the week to teach the students how to approach Shakespeare's text using character archetypes and a specific, creative physicalization. We figure they get plenty of emphasis on the text as it is in regular class, and our work will give them new tools to apply. Still and all, words are rarely as important as they are in interpreting teh Bard. (That felt wicked, using LOLspeak with Shakespeare. WthTFth, Jeffeth?) I love Shakespeare. You might not know it, to look at my resume, but I do. In preparing to teach, I went out to ye olde storage space and unearthed my Bardic textbooks. In my Linklater book I found folded a journal of mine from college and, reading it, I was reminded of exactly how much I love that language, those words.

As I performed in a reading last night, I got to thinking about words, and how expressive they can be in so many more ways than literal meaning. My character in the reading was given a lot of open-ended ellipses, which can be difficult to interpret with specificity, particularly with only a few hours' rehearsal. The playwright suggested that I play the character with more emphasis on his neuroses than I had in rehearsal, so as I performed I explored the ellipses as spaces dictated by interrupting thoughts and emotions, rather than cognitive stops. It worked rather well for me, and got me listening to the "music" to be found in the follow-through of lines. There's this general rule for Shakespeare, that its effective and, in most cases, desirable, to carry one's energy directly through an entire line; indeed, right on through a page's worth of "line." Why does this work so well with verse? Think of it as a song. A mediocre song with a good hook that lasts three minutes or so works fine. But a six-minute tune that engages you the entire time, leading your emotions to all different places, there's nothing quite like that.

Another notable Shakespearean repetition is in King Lear: "Howl howl howl howl!" It's a cry of anguish from Lear, turned nearly animal from his misadventures and, ultimately, his daughter's death. It is in its way an aria. The only thing a performer has to guide him (or her, why not) is a nod to the cadence suggested by the rest of the verse and their emotional state at the time. "Howl" isn't even a word, per se, but an onomatopoeia. Language is a beautiful medium in which to work, and the real grace notes are in nothing so much as the spoken delivery. I'm looking forward to returning to a study of that.


Greg said...

I'm a little jealous. Anytime I've worked with Teh Bard (heh heh...), I have always found myself falling more in love with language and the Speaking of it.

I miss that. I wonder if there's much precedent for beach performances of The Tempest.

Jeff Wills said...

I'm certain there is, Greg. But the world needs another!