Wednesday, June 11, 2014

To Shakespeare and Beyond - Elizabethan, Jacobean and Caroline Theatre: English Renaissance Theatre


To Shakespeare and Beyond - Elizabethan, Jacobean and Caroline Theatre: English Renaissance Theatre




It is hard to define what exactly makes Elizabethan theatre (and to a lesser extent the Jacobean and Caroline Theatre that followed) one of the most enduring ages of theatre. it is even more difficult to define why Shakespeare is considered one of the greatest and most revived and translated playwrights. It is not because Shakespeare is the most prolific playwright although he did write about 47 plays (Spaniard Lope de Vega is believed to have written 1500 plays and about 400 have survived although many of these were short 40 to 90 minute plays). 
Some of the most common reasons given for Shakespeare being considered the greatest playwright that ever lived are:


·      Shakespeare’s plays are rewarding to read, study, act in, direct and see on the stage

·      Shakespeare wrote in many different types of plays
·      Shakespeare was initially an actor and so he understood the way his characters would be acted and come across on stage
·      The characters in his plays are complex, recognizable and interesting
·      The language in his plays uses different forms of language and verse types and can express everyday and complex situations and emotional states in rich and varied ways
·      The plots of many of his plays are relevant and pertinent across the ages and across cultures and different languages such that Ben Jonson’s dedication to Shakespeare written in the Preface to 1623 printing of Shakespeare’s First Folio still resonates: “He was not for an age but for all time…

But to understand Shakespeare and the innovations of his age let’s go back to the beginnings of Elizabethan Theatre.

Elizabethan Theatre did not start with Shakespeare but with the revival of theatre and adaptation of Classical plays in England in the late 1550's. These plays put an emphasis on tragedy, with narration and choruses, spirits and the use of formal verse. This had been done before but one of the innovations of Elizabethan playwrights is the use of Blank Verse. Blank verse is a verse structure (usually iambic pentameters) which uses regular metrical but often unrhymed lines. The freedom of blank verse allowed a greater depth of emotion and character to be explored in dramatic verse. Some claim that the iambic pentameter is the perfect rhythm for drama since the iambic rhythm is like a heartbeat and the pentameter is about the length of a normal human breath and thus the claim that Shakespeare writes with heart and breaths life into his characters.

One of the first Elizabethan plays is Gorboduc (1561) by Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton, a tragedy based on British chronicle history which uses blank verse. Many saw this as a major advancement because it was a play in a classical style, using blank verse which was also local because it used British history. As the Elizabethan period continued, drama during this time started to become more complex in its verse and in the subject matter dealt with but because the professional companies still toured the provinces, they never lost the sense of the grand sweep of Morality tales and the popularist elements of using stereotypes, clowns and fools. This combining of traditions is important to early Elizabethan Drama as seen in the combination of clever scholarly verse and country traditions and verse in Nicholas Udall's Ralph Roister Doister (1553) and of bloody tragedy and farce comedy in Thomas Preston's Cambises, King of Persia (1560).

As Elizabethan Theatre started to build momentum, a number of measures and innovations helped to build it into the tradition which Shakespeare would inherit. In 1567, the first purpose built Elizabethan Theatre was built, The Red Lion in Whitechapel (prior to this performances primarily took place in city inns, stable yards and in the halls of some of the rich). In 1574, the authorities of the city of London restrict playhouses forcing players to go out of the city boundaries to establish new playhouses. James Burbage and John Brayne in 1576 build a new theatre in Shoreditch which they call – The Theatre. The Curtain crops up next door in 1577. These performance spaces, combined with the Queen establishing her own theatre company in 1583 (called the Queen’s Men) with performances happening which she attends at Gray’s Inn, Greenwich Palace and Whitehall Palace, means that English Renaissance Theatre is alive and healthy when Shakespeare arrives in London around 1588.

In Stratford, in November 1582, the 18 year old William Shakespeare married the already pregnant 26 year old Anne Hathaway, daughter of a well-off local farmer.They had their first child Susanna in May 1583 and the twins Hamnet and Judith arrive in 1585. One story goes that a travelling troupe visited Stratford upon Avon in 1587 and being short a player, the 23 year old Shakespeare was paid to stand in and he did such a good job that they invited him to look them up in London.

The next April (straight after his 24th birthday), he acquired a license to travel and he took to the road for the three day (220 km) horse ride to London (seven days if he took this first journey to London by walking). He would have walked up the road from the Tudor house we now call ‘The Birthplace’ (the house Shakespeare was born in and now lived with his father John Shakespeare the Glove-maker and his wife and three children) for about 400 metres to get the horse. He was probably travelling in a group of four to ten riders since highwaymen still roamed the roads and tracks.  He would have crossed the River Avon on one of the two bridges and dropped down into the emerald green of the Warwickshire countryside and then probably got off his horse as they ambled up the winding dirt track near the Cotswold’s escarpment. On the way he would have passed his mother’s birthplace and the birthplace of his wife Anne Hathaway in Shottery. He then would have gone onto Chipping Campden and Moreton-in-Marsh and probably would have stopped at Woodstock for the evening or if the weather was good, they have made it all the way to Oxford.

The next day would have started hard as their horses climbed up the trail through the Chiltern Hills. Shakespeare would have seen the chairmakers along this route and probably made note that when he made his fortune, this would be the place to acquire chairs and furniture. The reward after the hard hills would have been Dorney Lake and they would have stopped somewhere around here for the night.

Then down into London, a city of over 180,000 in 1588. As Shakespeare entered London and came to a junction of Watling Street, he would see an area known as Tyburn. He would have heard of it. The gallows would probably have had the naked body of a thief still swinging in the gentle April breeze. Shakespeare knew this place well from family stories of what had happened to some of the more forthright Catholics in his family. The warning would have served as a reminder of what could happen to those who clung to the old religious ways. He then went down what is now Oxford Street before dismounting his horse, paying the horseman and entering the Bell Inn just south of St Paul’s Cathedral for his first of many nights in London.

Shakespeare's first plays were written in the conventional style of the day. He wrote them in a stylised language that does not always spring naturally from the needs of the characters or the drama. The poetry depends on extended, sometimes elaborate metaphors and the language is often rhetorical and written for actors to present and declaim rather than speak.  

Shakespeare however began to adapt the traditional styles to his own purposes. The opening soliloquy of Richard III has self-awareness shown in much later plays. No single play marks a change from the traditional to the freer style. Shakespeare combined the two throughout his career, especially with Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. By the mid-1590s, Shakespeare had begun to write a more natural poetry. The two major forms of writing in Shakespeare are Prose and Verse. I will explore this further.

Once Shakespeare mastered traditional blank verse, he began to interrupt and vary its flow. This technique releases the new power and flexibility of the poetry in plays such as Julius Caesar and Hamlet. He was probably very busy writing plays since sources such as those of company and theatre managers suggest that companies had as many as 30 plays in their repertoire in a season so 10 news plays probably came into a company's repertoire each year and a playwright like Shakespeare would be expected to write 2-5 plays for the season which started in June.

After Hamlet, Shakespeare varied his poetic style further, particularly in the more emotional passages of the late tragedies. This style is "more concentrated, rapid, varied, and, in construction, less regular, not seldom twisted or elliptical". Some people consider that the building of The Globe with its thrust stage, changed the nature of acting style of the Lord Chamberlain's Men (the company Shakespeare acted and wrote for and became a shareholder in). Others see that the changing of the ensemble of the the Lord Chamberlain's Men and specifically William Kempe leaving as the major comic actor and Robert Armin joining the company, as a major impetus for Shakespeare's change of style. These people would argue that Shakespeare is a great playwright because he wrote for his actors. Others see that personal events in Shakespeare's life such as his age and maturity and the death of his son Hamnet account for the change in his writing from 1599 onwards. In the last phase of his career starting around 1607 with Pericles, Shakespeare adopted many techniques including masque (a form that came from Italy but was mastered for performances and the stage by architect and English designer Inigo Jones) to achieve these effects. These included run-on lines, irregular pauses and stops, and extreme variations in sentence structure and length. Some claim this starts as early as 1605 with Macbeth, the language darts from one unrelated metaphor or simile to another: "was the hope drunk/ Wherein you dressed yourself?" (1.7.35–38). The late romances, with their shifts in time and surprising turns of plot, inspired a last poetic style in which long and short sentences are set against one another, clauses are piled up, subject and object are reversed, and words are omitted, creating an effect of spontaneity.

Shakespeare's poetic genius was allied with a practical sense of the theatre. Like all playwrights of the time, Shakespeare dramatised stories from sources such as Petrach and Holinshed. He reshaped each plot to create several centres of interest and show as many sides of a narrative to the audience as possible. This strength of design ensures that a Shakespeare play can survive translation, cutting and wide interpretation without loss to its core drama. As Shakespeare’s mastery grew, he gave his characters clearer and more varied motivations and distinctive patterns of speech. He preserved aspects of his earlier style in the later plays, however. In his late romances, Shakespeare deliberately returned to a more artificial style, which emphasised the illusion of theatre.


In Shakespeare’s a number of devices and types of language are used in his verse. Some of these are:

  • Meter - a recognizable rhythm in a line of verse consisting of a pattern of regularly recurring stressed and unstressed syllables. 
  • Foot/feet - a metric "foot" refers to the combination of a strong stress and the associated weak stress (or stresses) that make up the recurrent metric unit of a line of verse.
  • Iamb - a particular type of metric ‘foot’ which had two syllables  consisting of two syllables, an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable ("da DUM")
  • Troche - the opposite of a Iamb. A stressed syllable followed by a unstressed syllable.
  • Iambic pentameter: A ten-syllable line consisting of five stressed beats (penta) in a iambic footing. E.g. “In sooth I know not why I am so sad.” da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM 



Some people regard Shakespeare as using two major categories of language form - Prose and Verse. Others state that he used three major forms of language - Prose, Rhymed Verse and Blank Verse:


Prose
Prose is ordinary speech with no regular pattern of accentual rhythm. Prose is the ordinary, everyday language that people speak in. Usually it is reserved for people of lower or working classes. It does not contain any of the metrical structure of poetry. Lines of text do not all have the same number of syllables nor is there any discernible pattern of stresses. If you are unsure if a passage is in prose or in blank verse, look for the following visual clue: a long passage in prose is typically printed in your text like an ordinary paragraph with right and left justification. 

Rhymed Verse
Verse has a relative regularity of poetic rhythm. Normal rhymed verse has poetic rhythm and rhyme. Blank verse is un-rhymed verse containing metre which is normally in iambic pentameter beat structure. He increasingly tuned his metaphors and images to the needs of the drama itself. In practice, this meant that his verse was usually unrhymed and consisted of ten syllables to a line, spoken with a stress on every second syllable. The blank verse of his early plays is quite different from that of his later ones. It is often beautiful, but its sentences tend to start, pause, and finish at the end of line and sense of character and dramatic tension is lost.  Rhymed Verse in Shakespeare's plays is often in rhymed couplets, i.e. two successive lines of verse of which the final words rhyme with another.  The rhyme pattern of verse in rhyming couplets is conventionally represented aa bb cc etc., with the letters a, b, and c referring to the rhyming sound of the final word in a line. 

Blank Verse
Blank Verse is un-rhymed iambic pentameter. It is like Prose but has a recognizable metre usually an iambic pentameter or lines using a troche. It is employed in a wide range of situations because it comes close to the natural speaking rhythms of English but raises it above the ordinary without sounding artificial (unlike the "singsong" effect produced by dialogue in rhyme).  In the play 'Othello' an example of Blank Verse in perfect iambic pentameter is:
         "The native act and figure of my heart..."

Prose Vs Verse
Prose is the form of speech used by Shakespeare most often for lower class or comic characters. When he does use it for high born characters it is used for a specific character or narrative reason. In prose, no rhyme or outward sign of metre is evident in lines. It is everyday language. An example of a high born character using prose is evident in the play Othello. Iago makes remarkable use of prose to manipulate people around him. Iago is an extraordinary manipulator of speech and he switches his speech to suit the occasion and the functions he is performing whether it be as advisor, humble servant or common soldier.He switches his speech patterns and tones for different purposes in different situations. 

At the end of Act 1, Iago uses prose to manipulate Rodrigo from trying to kill himself to using his money to win Desdemona from Othello and Cassio. Here prose shows Iago and frank and down-to earth yet Iago's seamless transition to verse to talk to the audience shows his real objectives.


Iago: Thou art sure of me: — go, make money: — I have told thee often, and I re-tell thee again and again, I hate the Moor: my cause is hearted; thine hath no less reason. Let us be conjunctive in our revenge against him: if thou canst cuckold him, thou dost thyself a pleasure, me a sport. There are many events in the womb of time which will be delivered. Traverse! go, provide thy money. We will have more of this to-morrow. Adieu. Go to; farewell. Do you hear, Roderigo?
Roderigo: What say you?
Iago: No more of drowning, do you hear?
Roderigo: I am chang’d.
[Exit.]
Iago: Thus do I ever make my fool my purse:
For I mine own gain’d knowledge should profane,
If I would time expend with such a snipe.
But for my sport and profit. I hate the Moor:
The better shall my purpose work on him.
Cassio’s a proper man: let me see now:
To get his place and to plume up my will
In double knavery — How, how? Let’s see: —
The Moor is of a free and open nature,
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by the nose
As asses are.
I have’t. It is engender’d. Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light.
                — 1.2.364–404

Later after having sorted out his whole plan to destroy Othello, Desdemona, and Cassio’s lives Iago once again revels in his wickedness to the audience in verse:
When devils will the blackest sins put on,
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows,
As I do now: for whiles this honest fool
Plies Desdemona to repair his fortunes
And she for him pleads strongly to the Moor,
I’ll pour this pestilence into his ear,
That she repeals him for her body’s lust;
And by how much she strives to do him good,
She shall undo her credit with the Moor.
So will I turn her virtue into pitch,
And out of her own goodness make the net
That shall enmesh them all.
        — 2.3.351–62

Here Iago speaks in blank verse. Blank verse contains no rhyme, but each line has an internal rhythm with a regular rhythmic pattern. The pattern most favored by Shakespeare is iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter is defined as a ten-syllable line with the accent on the every other syllable, beginning with the second one. The rhythm of this pattern of speech is often compared to a beating heart. Examine one of the lines from the above speech and count the syllables it contains. For example:
So will I turn her virtue into pitch.
First replace the words with syllabic count:    
1-2  3-4      5-6    7-8       9-10 
Next, replace the word with a ‘da’ sound to hear the heart beat:
    da-DA   da-DA   da-DA   da-DA da-DA
Finally, put the emphasis on the words themselves:

    so-WILL i-TURN her-VIR tue-IN to-PITCH

Here is a scene where Desdemona and Emilia switch from verse to prose:
EMILIA
'Tis neither here nor there.
DESDEMONA
I have heard it said so. O, these men, these men!
Dost thou in conscience think,--tell me, Emilia,--
That there be women do abuse their husbands
In such gross kind?
EMILIA
There be some such, no question.
DESDEMONA
Wouldst thou do such a deed for all the world?
EMILIA
Why, would not you?
DESDEMONA
No, by this heavenly light!
EMILIA
Nor I neither by this heavenly light;
I might do't as well i' the dark.
DESDEMONA
Wouldst thou do such a deed for all the world?
EMILIA
The world's a huge thing: it is a great price.
For a small vice.
DESDEMONA
In troth, I think thou wouldst not.
EMILIA
In troth, I think I should; and undo't when I had
done. Marry, I would not do such a thing for a
joint-ring, nor for measures of lawn, nor for
gowns, petticoats, nor caps, nor any petty
exhibition; but for the whole world,--why, who would
not make her husband a cuckold to make him a
monarch? I should venture purgatory for't.
DESDEMONA
Beshrew me, if I would do such a wrong
For the whole world.
EMILIA
Why the wrong is but a wrong i' the world: and
having the world for your labour, tis a wrong in your
own world, and you might quickly make it right.
DESDEMONA
I do not think there is any such woman.
EMILIA
Yes, a dozen; and as many to the vantage as would
store the world they played for.
But I do think it is their husbands' faults
If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
Or scant our former having in despite;
Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
As husbands have. What is it that they do
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is: and doth affection breed it?
I think it doth: is't frailty that thus errs?
It is so too: and have not we affections,
Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well: else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.
DESDEMONA
Good night, good night: heaven me such uses send,
Not to pick bad from bad, but by bad mend!
Exeunt

Elizabethan and Jacobean Times
During Elizabethan times and then in Jacobean times, the profession of dramatist was challenging and far from lucrative. Entries in the businessman/producer Philip Henslowe’s diary show that in the years around 1600 Henslowe paid as little as £6 or £7 per play. This was probably at the low end of the range, though even the best writers could not demand too much more. A playwright, working alone, could generally produce two plays a year at most; in the 1630’s Richard Brome signed a contract to supply three plays a year, but found himself unable to meet the workload. Shakespeare produced fewer than 40 solo plays in a career that spanned more than two decades; he was financially successful because he was an actor and, most importantly, a shareholder in the company for which he acted and in the theatres they used.

Ben Jonson achieved success as a writer of Court masques and was talented at gaining patronage which was an important part of the social and economic life of the era. Those who were playwrights pure and simple fared far less well; the biographies of early figures like George Peele and Robert Greene and later playwrights like Brome and Massinger are marked by financial uncertainty, struggle, and poverty.

Playwrights dealt with the natural limitation on their productivity by combining into teams of two, three, four, and even five to generate play texts; the majority of plays written in this era were collaborations, and the solo artists who generally eschewed collaborative efforts, like Jonson and Shakespeare, were the exceptions to the rule. Dividing the work, of course, meant dividing the income; but the arrangement seems to have functioned well enough to give many good playwrights a living while they wrote better works.

Thomas Dekker wrote over 70 plays but around 50 of those plays were collaborations. He earned about 12 shillings a week for this collaborative work. Thomas Heywood claimed to have been the ‘main hand’ behind 220 plays in his career. When a writer worked on a play on his own it would take three to four months but a joint piece could take about four weeks to write. Henslowe's Diary indicates that a team of four or five writers could produce a play in as little as two weeks. Many of the plays produced in this way were failures lasting a week or were not even staged. The collaboratively produced play Sir Thomas More is a notable exception.

Many other playwrights wrote a considerable number of plays during the Jacobean period. Francis Beaumont wrote some 15 plays from 1605 to 1615 including The Knight of the Burning Pestle and Love's Pilgrimage. It is interesting to note that a female playwright was also writing during this period. Elizabeth Cary probably wrote a number of plays but her play The Tragedy of Mariam (probably written somewhere from 1603-1606) is the only play which survives.



Exercises and Workshops for Primary Students





One easy way to get Primary students into Shakespeare and Elizabethan Theatre is to start with the plot. On the whole, the best Shakespeare plays to study or do some units around in primary school are some of the comedies like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night or a Comedy of Errors. Other good works can be done on Romeo and Juliet or even Macbeth. Alternatively some introductory activities can be done about Elizabethan times and Shakespeare’s life.



A good game to play to introduce and get students familiar with the plot of a Shakespeare play is ‘Yes Let’s’. This is essentially a structured game of ‘Follow the Leader’. This following is a sequence which can be used for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.



Get all the students up on their feet and spread them out around the space. Tell them you are going to play a game called ‘Yes  Let’s’ that you will lead them in. The teacher tells the students that they are going to say “Let’s all...” and then the teacher will state an action like “Let’s all ride a boat at sea…”. Then the students will reply, “Yes let’s.” Then the students do the action stated. The teacher will then after about 10 seconds make a suggestion of another action with the words “Let’s all…” The students then reply with “Yes let’s” and the start the new action.



The teacher should make sure that the students move around the space and do some interaction with one another.

The teacher should go through the whole sequence of the actions below since these are part of the major sequence of events of Twelfth Night.
-         Let’s all ride on boat
-         Let’s all get shipwrecked
-         Let’s all pretend we have lost our twin sister or twin brother
-         Let’s all pretend we are boys, girls pretend you are boys too
-         Let’s all pretend that we are all Dukes (you may need to explain what a Duke is)
-         Let’s all pretend that you are a Duke’s loyal servant
-         Let’s all pretend that have fallen in love with someone
-         Let’s all try to trick or fool someone
-         Let’s all write a letter
-         Let’s all dress up to impress (or look good for) someone else
-         Let’s all get locked up in a dark jail cell
-         Let’s all get freed from a jail cell
-         Let’s meet someone but think they are someone else
-         Let’s find your long lost twin
(An extension to this can involve students leading and shouting out parts of the sequence even if they don’t do it in the order originally stated)

Here is a story sequence to play ‘Let’s All’ for A Midsummer Night’s Dream
-       Let’s all pretend you are in love
-       Let’s all pretend someone likes you but you don’t like them
-       Let’s all run away into a forest
-       Let’s all pretend we are the King of the fairies of the forest
-       Let’s all pretend we are the Queen of the fairies of the forest
-       Let’s all pretend that that the King and Queen of the fairies are having an having an argument
-       Let’s all be a mischievous servant to the King of the Fairies
-       Let’s all find a magical love potion
-       Let’s all be amateur but not very good actor entering a forest to rehearse a play
-       Let’s all be a mischievous fairy putting a donkey’s head on an actor’s head
-       Let’s all put a magic love potion on the eyes of someone sleeping
-       Let’s put love potion on a number of sleeping people but mix up who loves who
-       Let’s try to fix our mistake
-       Let’s perform badly and overact in a play performed to a royal couple
-       Let’s perform a huge wedding where three couples get married

Exercise - Exploring Shakespeare’s World

The class is a team of expert archeological diggers. They have been asked to identify six objects. These objects have been dug up near London, England. The teacher presents the students with photographs of objects from Elizabethan England. The objects are dated as being 450 years old.

The archeologists need to identify (a) what the objects are and (b) who used them. They need to explain their answers. Perhaps they work as a whole class, brainstorming their ideas with a scribe to note them on the board, or they might work in small groups and report their answers. There is no right or wrong at this stage! They are the experts.

Exercises for Secondary Students
Still Images
One easy way to get secondary students to explore Shakespeare in Drama is to have them try to present a Shakespeare play they have read or are familiar with in Ten Still Images. This helps them to get used to the plot and narrative of a Shakespeare play. The students can then on placards or through having one student speak, label or preface the still image with a quote from the relevant moment in the play.

Emotion in Shakespeare
Another aspect which is strong in Shakespeare’s work is the tension between the ‘surface emotion’ of characters and their ‘hidden emotion’. A good exercise is to start by talking to the students about specific moments or speeches in plays they know or are studying such as King Lear or Macbeth. Students draw up two headings ‘Surface Emotion’ and ‘Hidden Emotion’ on the page and discuss how one emotion can be used to cover another in characters. Students shared these in small groups, and combine their lists. I then use masks with students and they create one mask for the ‘surface emotion’ and one for the ‘hidden emotion’. If you don’t have masks to draw on, then paper plates work well as masks. Students draw on the masks or make the masks with paper plates and colored markers, with scissor-cut eye holes. Wearing the masks in succession, each student then acts out (first to the group, then to the class at large) a short representation of the surface and hidden emotion he or she had chosen. After discussion, then the students use the text and use the masks to represent the different emotions while saying part of the text. The students can work in pairs or groups of three for this and one student wears the mask or masks while the other speaks the relevant line.
This exercises makes students aware of the different levels of emotion working within the characters and plays of Shakespeare.

Verse, Breath and Scanning Lines
Sometimes students have trouble getting used to the verse structure in Shakespeare. I use the following exercise to help them get used to the verse, the rhythm, breathing to deliver lines and scanning the verse. I take short speech from a play and I give the students a copy of the same speech. I ask them to have pencil with them too. I get the students to stand with the speech and the pencil and I ask them to initially mark the end of each individual thought and thus where they are going to take a full breath in. I explain that they are going to put a double slash (i.e. //) at the end of each thought to indicate that they will end the thought and take a breath here. I explain that a full thought only ends with a full stop, exclamation mark, question mark or a colon. Here is a speech from Macbeth which I have used often with students. The first time it is put in without marks and the second time shows it with the individual complete thoughts marked.

Macbeth Act 1 Scene 7
Macbeth: If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We'ld jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice
To our own lips. He's here in double trust;
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other.
Enter LADY MACBETH
Macbeth: If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly:// if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We'ld jump the life to come.// But in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor:// this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice
To our own lips.// He's here in double trust;
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself.// Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind.// I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other.//
Enter LADY MACBETH
I then get the students to walk the speech through whispering the words. I tell then to try to say each thought on one breath and to move in one direction for each thought and then to stop and change direction for each new thought. Students will find the difficult because of the length of some thoughts but I tell them to persist. We then discuss what happened and students normally point out that they normally said the longer thought quicker. I tell them that this is very useful insight into Shakespeare since sometimes he is telling an actor to think more quickly with a specific thought.
I then tell students that they can mark in changes within each individual thought and that they can (but don’t have to) top up their breath or snatch a breath at these points. I get them to put a single slash (e.g. /) at these points. I tell them they can do this where there are commas and semi-colons. The same speech annotated may look like this now.
Macbeth: If it were done when 'tis done,/ then 'twere well
It were done quickly:// if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence,/ and catch
With his surcease success;/ that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We'ld jump the life to come.// But in these cases
We still have judgment here;/ that we but teach
Bloody instructions,/ which,/ being taught,/ return
To plague the inventor:// this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice
To our own lips.// He's here in double trust;/
First,/ as I am his kinsman and his subject,/
Strong both against the deed;/ then, as his host,/
Who should against his murderer shut the door,/
Not bear the knife myself.// Besides,/ this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek,/ hath been
So clear in his great office,/ that his virtues
Will plead like angels,/ trumpet-tongued,/ against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;/
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,/
Striding the blast,/ or heaven's cherubim,/ horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,/
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,/
That tears shall drown the wind.// I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent,/ but only
Vaulting ambition,/ which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other.//
Enter LADY MACBETH
I then get the students to walk the speech through whispering the words. I tell then to try to say each thought on one breath and to move in one direction for each thought and then to stop and change direction for each new thought. I tell them they can pause while walking to top up a breath or top up or snatch a breath and change the pace of their walking. Students will find this easier than before. We then discuss what happened and students normally point out that they understand what the speech means or what the character is saying with the speech.
I then get students to perform the speech out aloud. I tell them that they can either do it with the walking or to stand still and give the sense of the walking, direction changes and thoughts while using words and breath to give the sense of movement and change.

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Barroll, L. 1991. Politics, Plague, and Shakespeare's Theater: The Stuart Years. Cornell University Press. Ithaca.
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Berry, R. 2005. Changing Styles in Shakespeare. Routledge. London.
Foakes, R.A. 1990. "Playhouses and Players", in Braunmuller, A.; Hattaway, Michael, The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama, Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.
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