Wake-up Workshop: Sweet Smoke of Rhetoric

Good Morning, welcome to the 3rd Wake-up Workshop as part of the 2013 Blackfriars Conference. Run by OCS’s Academic Resources Manager Cass Morris on Friday October 25th from 8:00 to 8:45 AM. This mornings workshop was on the topic of, as you have guessed, Rhetoric.

Morris asked the the group the first question she always asks her students: “what do you think of when you hear the term rhetoric?” Some of the attendees answered with “hard, tedious, and boring”. Morris wants to shift that thinking into one of a tool people can use, not battle against. Rhetoric makes you a better reader, writer, and listener; making it an invaluable tool. Morris proceeded to hand out a paper to the group and asked them to each read one thing and pick out the rhetoric.

The first thing Morris asked is, “Why do we use repetition in life?” Some answers were, to emphasize something, make a point, to help stupid people. After having a attendee read a quote from Shakespeare. the group began to dissect the things they heard and what that could mean about the character. Morris talked about characters with many “b” sounds and “s” sounds in their speeches and how that audience could interpret things about that character. She then cited Duke Orsino from “Twelfth Night,” the many “o” sounds he uses and how it speaks to his character. Having another attendee read another quote, with repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of the sentence, this is known as anaphora.

Moving from repetition to omission, Morris began by handing out another quote “You this way, we that way.” Having two attendees then read a quote from “Othello” to show how two characters can omit together. One attendee then added that the character Iago was not only omitting but also repetition. Morris pointed out that Iago makes points in his speeches by seeming to pass of the point,known as paralepsis.

The next section Morris presented was addition; having a attendee read a bit from “Macbeth” regarding Duncan’s horses. This quote ultimately is saying the horses ran away, they were beautiful, best of the horses in Scotland, and belonged to Duncan. (In a very long way.)  The quote to follow was from Bottom talking about how they would handle the ladies of the court during their performance, as he corrects himself by addition, known as epanorthosis.

Direction is the rhetorical area to follow, having an attendee read a quote that had words in reverse order. The very next quote, “O for a muse of fire…” that shows a reverse build. To make the last thought the biggest thought, though Morris asked what happens when you reverse the reverse, starting big a descending as you proceed. Antithesis is shown in the next quote from the Witches in “Macbeth.”

Morris, for time sake, moved to Substitution; having the quote by Charles to Joan read by an attendee. Personification substitution from a quote by Juliet shows how she is imaginative (as noted by an attendee). “Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.” showing the pun to be a form of substitution.  Showing then how substituting verbs can show high class or intelligence when used correctly or low class when used incorrectly, Cleopatra vs Dogberry.

Leaving the group with some recommended texts, Putnam, Scott Kaiser, Richard Lanham, and silva rhetorica, Morris ended the 3rd Wake-up Workshop.

Colloquy Session VI: Methods II: Pedagogy and Staging: 2013 Blackfriars Conference (10/24/13)

Good afternoon everyone –

This is Molly Zeigler, back again, to live-blog Colloquy Session VI: Methods II: Pedagogy and Staging for the 2013 Blackfriars Conference.  This colloquy session is being held at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel in Salon A on Thursday 10/24/13 at 3:30 on a sunny, if chilly, afternoon.

This is my first time inside the Stonewall Jackson Hotel; it’s a lovely venue.  The Stonewall Jackson Hotel and the Blackfriars Theatre, of course, have something of a close relationship, coming up together as financial successes here in historic Staunton.

Colloquy Session VI:

Chair and Presenter: Rhonda Knight 

Presenters: Christopher Fettes; Bryan Herek; Alan Hickerson; Garry Walton; Jane Wells  (Please note that, unfortunately, Meg Powers Livingston was unable to attend today’s colloquy.)

The session began with introductions and statements regarding panel members’ work and interests:

Bryan Herek is aligned with Chowan University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  His experience and interest is in working with Shakespearean works and materials with minority students.  It has been his experience that working with minority students requires a wide range of approaches and pushes the search for innovation forward.

Alan Hickerson is a school teacher. For 20 years he taught in Charlottesville and now he is out of Athens, Georgia (where he has switched from public education to private).  He has worked with entities in England including the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (both in Stratford-upon-Avon).  In Mr. Hickerson’s class the students are responsible for shaping much of the performance based portion of the curriculum.  His students work with plays and sonnets in performance and presentation.

Rhonda Knight is out of Coker College in Harstville, South Carolina.  She is interested in exploring how to incorporate modern students familiarity and love of the Harry Potter texts with their study and comprehension of Early Modern works, namely Doctor Faustus.  Many students today are so enamored of the Harry Potter stories – quoting it incessantly, referring back to it constantly – that they view other literature through the lens of the love they have for these modern works.  The Harry Potter works may be seen as representative of any current popular trends in literature that may shape today’s students’ views of Early Modern texts.

Jane Wells is aligned with Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio.  She is exploring the tension between modern staging practices, Early Modern practices and conventions, and modern expectations of theatre and performance.  There is a tension between the desire to be original while adhering to perceived expectations of ‘Early Modern’ stagecraft.  Ms. Wells is interested in several questions: What does it mean to view these texts as having multiple meanings and what meaning do we – as readers and audience members and theatre practitioners – impose upon the text?  Does meaning get ‘closed off’ as choices are made – have to be made – in the course of performance?

Christopher Fettes is a graduate student at the University of Central Arkansas (he comes from a strong English literature background).  As a busy dramaturgical intern with the theatre on campus at the University of Central Arkansas, Mr. Fettes was surprised to find that he was expected to perform in a variety of fashions outside of his literary/English-based ‘comfort zone.’  He has been involved with the theatre at the University of Central Arkansas writing program notes, working on lobby displays, and other activities.  He is interested in how the dramaturg is viewed and how the dramaturg’s role is expressed.

Garry Walton is with Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Meredith College is a women’s liberal arts school.  He teaches Shakespeare every semester and it is ‘never boring.’  Part of his teaching is sharing information about productions he has seen with his students.  Sharing production information opens up the body of relate-able information for students (especially students who may not have ever seen a production of a Shakespearean work).

The floor was open to questions to welcome all into the colloquy (the following material is paraphrased – first person will be used when possible):

Please keep in mind that this colloquy (as dictated by the sometime discursive structure of colloquy panels) was fast and loose.  We had excellent conversations and the passion and fervor of today’s educator was evident. I have tried to capture some of that spirit (as best I can). 

Question for the panel from an audience member: What are your experiences teaching Shakespeare to and working with Shakespeare with minority students?

Herek: It is really true that minority students approach this material from a unique vantage.  Many students will immediately go to the well of ‘other.’  They will explore these texts through their own experiences and through the construct of the ‘other.’  I have explored other ways into the texts.  I strongly recommend getting the material on its feet and allowing students to physically engage.  The comedies are best suited for such physical exploration and engagement.

Audience member observation:  Working with a group of students that represents a broad cross-section of society makes for challenges just as it allows for a deeper exploration of possible double or alternative meanings an interpretations of the texts.

Question from the audience: How does space impact the teaching process and the ease of getting these works on their feet (and how does it impact interpretation)?

Knight:  I use both the classroom and theatre spaces with my students.  Using the theatre space allows for a ‘hands-on lab’ experience where different options can be explored.  I often assign a paper wherein students are expected to engage with a possible (and specific) staging issue or difficulty.

Question from the audience: What are some proactive methods for encouraging exploration and engagement?

Walton: Some success is seen with film.  Students often respond positively to working with and writing about film.  Film is a medium that students are comfortable with and it is an easy ‘launching pad’ for discussions of acting, acting choices, characterization, and performance.

Hickerson: I often have my students keep an acting and writing journal.  A journal allows students to keep a record of their process and discoveries while personalizing the experience for them.

Audience member observation: I work with ninth graders and I have found that play is a great way to get these students to a place where they feel comfortable to really explore the material.  Students who are comfortable often find meaning for themselves.

Wells: I love play. It is a great way into this material.  Consider when I learn a piece of Beethoven or Mozart – that work becomes a part of me.  I am then free to play with it (play has served to bring me closer to a piece initially, and it then continues to offer insight).  We are looking for that sort of familiarity and approach-ability.  Once we have that sense of connection, we can continue to easily play and engage with a piece.

Topic suggestion (suggested by audience and direction of conversation): Purpose of teaching these materials; and the language as obstacle.

Fettes:  As an English major I do not come to these materials from a performance perspective.  When I go to the theatre I do not have issues or difficulties with the language.  Dramaturgs engage with many different aspects of text and performance – not all of which are clearly demonstrated in a specific production.

Knight:  Teaching these materials engages students’ critical thinking skills.  Teaching this material can create strong critical thinkers and interested individuals.  Part of this process is to teach students how to be good audience members (as they are expected to be good students or ‘audience members’ in the classroom).  If we want good audiences, we need to explore what it means to in fact be a good audience member.

Question from the audience:  Thanks to the OCS, I teach my students rhetoric. I see it as a way for students to engage mentally and physically with the material.  Do you do much with rhetoric?

Knight: No, I do not do much with rhetoric.  However, I do much with physicality and movement.

Audience member (to Knight): Your work predates our obsession with rhetoric.  (Appreciative laughter.)

Herek:  I do use hip-hop as a way into examining constructed language.

Wells:  Slang can offer a method of approach allowing students to access a small way into the material.

In the interest of time, Rhonda Knight, here, used her ‘chair prerogative’ to re-direct the conversation to Alan Hickerson’s sonnet assignment:

Hickerson:  Students are expected to select one sonnet and memorize it.  It is worked on in depth and paraphrased and explored slowly so that students can see progress.  The sonnet is viewed as a small, complete play – a play that can be handled.  Students engage physically with the sonnet.  Students treat the sonnet as a performance piece and bring it alive.  There are true a-ha moments available within such work and engagement as students begin to understand and see the process from a broader vantage point.

Audience member observation: More a-ha moments are to be found by engaging with the text in small chunks and through a smaller, tighter focus.  Rhetoric can be approached easily and simply by first looking at single words.  Starting small and focused engages students’ critical thinking skills.

Rhonda Knight thanked everyone for their participation and we broke into small groups to touch base before dispersing. 

It was an intriguing discussion.  The educators present were all ‘alive’ with their passions and focus.  It was an interesting afternoon.


Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Colloquy Session #7: Rhetoric

Good afternoon, everyone — Cass Morris here with one of today’s four colloquy sessions: Rhetoric. The participants in this session are: James Beaver, Scott Crider, Fiona Harris-Ramsby, Jane Jongeward, and Kyle Vitale, moderated by Chelsea Phillips. I will be liveblogging this session from 3:30-4:45pm.

Phillips begins by suggesting that the participants introduce each others’ papers, move onto the papers themselves and discussion of the role of rhetoric in  each participant’s larger work, then move on to the responses to each paper. Phillips also encourages the auditors to participate throughout.

We begin with Beaver and Jongeward introducing themselves and each other.  Jongeward’s paper concerns statistical analysis of unfinished lines in King Lear – using mathematics to judge verse irregularities, specifically unfinished lines. Lear has the highest ratio of unfinished lines (11%). Jongeward finds this high proportion significant, as it is “a play full of people who will not listen to each other.” Beaver’s paper argues that the rhetoric used for describing the wood in Titus Andronicus shapes the social relationships on-stage. He notes both the discrepancy between the court and the woods, with the latter perfect for enacting violence, as well as Tamora’s use of rhetoric to effectively build a set. Beaver relates to Latour’s concepts of objects (in this case, the woods) as both social and physical.

Second, Vitale and Harris-Ramsby introduce each other. Vitale’s paper argues that scholarship neglects to account for Elizabethan notions of reverence. He examines how Shakespeare’s attitude towards reverence is complex and uses to satirize and appropriate religious conformity fostered by the Tudor state and reinforced throughout time. Concerned with relationship dynamics of reference, Vitale questions how Shakespeare enacts the bodied act of reverence in royal figures. Vitale argues that Shakespeare collapses the concepts of “crown” and “crowd” through an examination of Richard II. Vitale notes that he is also working with Beaver on “books as gatherings.” Harris-Ramsby’s paper looks at Troilus and Cressida, challenging the notion of Cressida as subjugated female body by arguing that Cressida’s rhetoric fights against that idea and against the external construction of Cressida’s self by others. She looks particularly at Cressida’s use of aposiopesis, arguing that she literally “becomes” that figure of speech. Harris-Ramsby’s larger work looks backwards towards the origins of rhetoric in the construction of character in Greek drama, and how that informs modern theories of performativity.

The third pair is Phillips and Crider. Crider argues that the Macbeths use periphrasis, among other rhetorical devices, for unethical purposes, and that their use of it initially brings them together but ultimately erodes their relationship. He believes that the rhetorical constructions in Macbeth help to illustrate the slippery slope between words and action. Crider comments that he is looking more closely at Ciceronian concepts of rhetoric. He is interested in working with others who are interested in figuration as integrated with the larger world of rhetoric. Phillips is examining instances of repetition in Othello (see the Wordle she created to illustrate). Her focus is centered on the psychological effect of repetition — that the truth of a statement is assumed with its repetition. Phillips looks particularly at Iago’s use of repetition to manipulate Othello, and that his ability to do so decreases after Emilia takes it over. She focuses on three forms: general repetition (from audience or reader perception), intentional repetition (character perspective), and compulsive repetition (spontaneous from character perspective). Phillips argues that Emilia’s imitation of her husband’s rhetorical forms reveals his villainy.

Phillips then opens up to questions. Vitale asks Crider if he’s thought at all about how the play Macbeth itself acts as figuration, presenting an idea for the audience/reader. Crider responds, “My answer at first is, ‘I don’t know.’ But that doesn’t mean I won’t respond.” Crider says he finds that acts of persuasion within a play often act upon the audience in a similar manner. He questions the idea of if a rhetorical figure can, in itself, have an ethical configuration — and concludes that, no, probably not, they have to be examined in context — particularly since the figures generally appear tangled with each other in use. He says he does believe that the figures in the play and the play on the whole do have the potential to move the audience ethically. Vitale further questions if Crider thinks it relates to the early modern/Puritan idea of theatre’s ability to affect the audience. Crider responds that he thinks the play itself negates the probability that the audience would rest at complicity with the Macbeths, since we see the outcome.

Phillips notes that this idea of morality in rhetoric appeared in several of the papers, particularly turning the attention to Harris-Ramsby’s ideas on Cressida as intentionally performing certain figures or as speaking them spontaneously. Harris-Ramsby discusses that, with aposiopesis particularly, it draws attention to the compulsive power of silence. “It depends on how the actress embodies the figure, because there’s a decision to be made as to the duplicity of the figure itself.” Is it that Cressida is overcome by bashfulness, or does she break off her speech in order to reflect? Is she reclaiming some of her own power, working against the constitution of her as duplicitous? Phillips connects this to the silences in Jongeward’s paper — what do we do with these silences? Jongeward notes that her discovery led her to question that, if we see a rhetorical device heavily in use in one play that we don’t see in others, “can we change how we normally see it?” Phillips relates this to how we think a lot about “not seeing” in Lear, but that Jongeward’s paper made her think about other sensory deprivations, particularly “not-hearing”. Crider interjects that “rhetorical figures have a very broad effect.”

Phillips tells the auditors that the group has had a lot of comments on how “rhetoric creates reality” or space, and directs the conversation to that theme. She draws attention particularly to Beaver, to the issue of language “literally creating space” on the early modern stage. Beaver says he wants to “get away from thinking of language as referential,” noting that no stage tree is going to be able to do all the things that Tamora says or implies. And, he doesn’t think the audience expects that. “They want the image of the words conjuring something.” He also notes how Aaron sort of forces her to shift her approach, since she starts out “in the wrong genre.” Beaver notes that Tamora’s speech draws us off into different temporalities, particularly with her use of seasonal vocabulary and her ventriloquizing of other voices.

Vitale has an interesting reading of the first scene of Richard II, noting it as one of the only representations of a “divine king already troubled”. He relates the conversation in this scene to passages from the Book of Common Prayer. He considers that the language, in a way, transposes the audience to the space of a church, importing the desires and meanings of prayer, and the “potential failures of all that that prayer is wrapped up in”, essentially “placing the audience before the Eucharist”. Vitale notes that “reverence is an incredibly invisible term” — oft relied upon, rarely enumerated. Reverence, he claims, was used as both strategy and tactic in the early modern church. Relating to the idea of the forceful use of reverence, Harris-Ramsby says that she thinks that, when we discuss rhetoric constructing reality, we tend to think too restrictively. Troilus and Cressida, she notes, is very much about reconfiguring — and notes that the typical construction of Cressida as a whore is problematic in lights of that subversion. Crider discusses how it relates to the idea of praise and dispraise, and to rhetorical underpinnings of “the sublime”.

Phillips then turns the group’s attention to the performance possibilities of these rhetorical understandings — how does the actor embody them, and what affect does that have on the audience? “Can it be genuine flustration,” Phillips asks (wondering if she can use that as a word) “in one instance” and somewhat intentional and crafty in another? Harris-Ramsby notes that, even if it is intentional, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, particularly seen as a strategy of self-preservation.

Harris-Ramsby then asks to interrogate the notion of persuasive rhetoric as seen in a negative light, especially in Othello, and if that changes when Emilia subverts the expectation, turning it more cathartic and “gets the bad guy”. Phillips replies that Emilia’s repetitive rhetoric starts off with her caught in a cycle, repeating “My husband”, but that she eventually becomes able to use that in order to damn Iago. Phillips notes that these repetitions cue Iago to speak, but also prevent him from speaking — and that she finds something quite powerful about how the character who has had 1100 lines is thus not only silent, but frustratingly silent. The group spends a moment discussing the rhetorical struggle between Iago and Emilia in that last scene, and Harris-Ramsby notes that Emilia’s triumph moves the audience from being passively complicit with Iago to feeling themselves represented and vindicated by Emilia. Phillips states that, “What is really insidious about Iago is that he doesn’t have to repeat things very frequently to make people lose their minds over it.”

Beaver brings up the fact that everyone wrote about rhetoric in tragedies, and particularly the idea of repetition leading into violence, as well as the focus on repetition, either within a trope or of a trope. Phillips thinks it relates specifically to Crider’s points about the relationship between language and action. “Maybe we run out of rhetoric at some point and then have to stab somebody.” Auditor Peter Kanelos notes that, in comedies, “They use rhetoric and then, instead of stabbing somebody, they kiss somebody.” Crider points out that you may have to do either; Kanelos notes that, “if it’s Jacobean, you do both at the same time.”

Crider states that he started look at the Macbeths because he wanted to look at a marriage, not a courtship. He’s interested in how the use of rhetoric to deliberate does eventually force an action on the stage. “If we think of human deliberation as a category, we can then see why speech yields to action.” Vitale relates that to the early modern period’s ideas on theology — and thus, its logic — in a way that the 21st century doesn’t necessarily track. Crider thinks that relates to the romances, with their strong themes of redemption and transformation. Phillips asks Crider if Macbeth’s deliberation seems to grow less frequent; he confirms and says that he thinks it moves from periphrastic to hyperbole to a plain style by the end of the play.

Crider seeks to shift the focus to the idea of how people respond to being treated “with a kind of verbal violence” in Troilus and Cressida and King Lear, and he inquires if Cressida acquires agency in the kissing scene through the rhetorical forms. Harris-Ramsby thinks she is “more performing the complete illogicality of what’s happening to her”. Crider then asks if she rather compels an audience to recognize how her agency has been taken from her. Engaging with an auditor, Harris-Ramsby discusses what choices Cressida has in that moment. When the auditor asks, “Could she pull a Lucretia and kill herself?”, Harris-Ramsby replies, “I think I’d rather just break off my speech.”

Noting that we are nearly out of time, Phillips poses a last question, inspired by a point in Beaver’s paper: Looking at rhetoric and performance as a cycle of reproduction, what is then produced? Beaver says his best answer is, in his text, what Aaron says, “an excellent piece of villany”. Jongeward notes that, at least in the tragic worlds of these plays, what they produce is only destruction, and therefore nothing. Vitale thinks that mere catharsis is too passive; he sees “a call that requires a response of some kind”. Crider wants to know what it is that actors get out of rhetorical consideration of the text. Harris-Ramsby agrees, stating that “rhetoric and performance always intersect at the body”. And Phillips says that that was her answer: what we get is performance possibility.

Thanks to everyone who attended this session! (We had a very full room). This was a great discussion and I think will generate a lot of further thought and study.

"Not Amurath an Amurath succeeds, but Harry Harry": Political Rhetoric in Inaugural Speeches

Last week, America engaged in one of its grandest celebrations of the power of democracy: an inauguration ceremony. Amid the pomp, parading, and pontificating, I started thinking about transfers of power and assertions of the right to rule in Shakespeare. How do various rulers express themselves, what does a ruler’s first speech tell you about his or her intentions, and how can actors use that information on the stage?

I began with a rhetorical analysis of President Obama’s 2009 and 2013 inaugural addresses. (A note on attribution: While I am aware that the President employs speechwriters, since I don’t know how much of this might have been their work and how much was his input, I shall err on the side of treating the speaker as I would a character). What sticks out to me the most is that President Obama is a man who appreciates the Rule of Three. Tricolon, the repetition of words or syntactical structures in series of three, is a powerful device. The human brain likes sets of three, though the precise neurological reasons why this may be the case are indistinct. Three is enough items to define a series and show some sort of progression from start to middle to end, which may provide the brain’s reasoning powers with satisfaction (especially in persuasion or in comedy). It may also relate to human memory storage, as three seems to be  an ideal number for the brain to hang onto. President Obama uses this structure many times in both inaugural addresses. Examples often come in threes — “through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall;” “from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown” — as do predicates to a single opening subject: “We have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

President Obama’s 2009 Inaugural Address

The President also has an interesting relationship with polysyndeton, the repetition of conjunctions, often buckling it together with the tricolon. When he speaks of the hardships the American people have faced in recent years, he often injects more conjunctions into his sentences: “these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked;” “none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.” He also uses this when he talks in broad strokes about what the future will need (“We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil”) and when appealing to America’s plurality (“what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names”). Using polysyndeton in this way underscores the tricolon, making the listener hear each unit separately. While it can often be a device which indicates a speaker’s lack of control over his words, President Obama’s employment seems deliberate. He seems to invoke it when he most wants to appeal to a sense of larger community, to the things that bind the entire country together, rather than those things which affect particular regions or groups. The expansiveness of the device mirrors the expansiveness of his message.

He also seems to appreciate anaphora, the repetition of beginning words, phrases, or structures — often in threes, as with “Together, we determined; Together, we discovered; Together, we resolved.” In his 2013 address, he begins many successive paragraphs with “We, the people,” invoking one of the most recognizable phrases related to our government and one which emphasizes the collective nature of the American populace. In what was probably the climactic paragraph, he used “our journey is not complete” five times, each with a predicate addressing a different challenge facing American citizens today. He also employs judicious use of epanorthosis, addition by correction, generally at the end of paragraphs, to strengthen a point already made or to add evocative details. That epanorthosis often blends with anadiplosis, repeating the last word or structure from the end of one phrase at the beginning of the next, a technique which chains thoughts together in a way that allows them to build and expand while still retaining a strong connection to the initial message.

President Obama’s 2013 Inaugural Address

The specific words which the President repeats are also significant. The Wordles of both speeches show, unsurprisingly, the repetition of words like “America,” “nation,” and “people.” What I find to be the interesting difference are the two words with the largest change between 2009 and 2013 — “new” and “must.” President Obama’s 2009 speech keyed in on the differences between what he offered and what the past eight years had been, as well as on the implications of America electing its first black President. “Newness” was a big deal in 2009. Now, in 2013, his message has shifted somewhat. “New” is still there, but smaller, while “must” has grown to be the largest and most-repeated word, outstripping even “America” and “nation.” The greater focus is on action — on what he believes America must do now to move forward. Other repeated words like “journey” and “requires” echo this shift from imagination to deed, from optimism to practicality, from the first step of a process to an effort begun but not yet completed.

So what is the ultimate synthesis of all of these devices? President Obama, in his inaugural addresses, speaks to the “united” part of United States, employing rhetorical figures which expand rather than those which narrow. He uses far more devices of repetition and addition than of omission; devices of direction tend to build or to create contrast, not to disrupt expected syntax structure; his devices of substitution mostly involve a typically political use of the passive voice, not a reliance on metaphors or symbolism. (See the OCS’s Roads to Rhetoric for more information on these categories). The overall effect is expansive and inclusive. His adherence to the Rule of Three not only creates harmony for his listeners’ brains, it also allows him to provide details in a meaningful way, calling on the experience of as much of the audience as possible and thus drawing them in to his message.

Despite the many transfers of power in Shakespeare’s plays, he rarely gives us a speech of the inaugural sort. More often, when a new king takes the throne, we next see him in conversation — either with his peers, his family members, or with dissolute characters that he needs to do terrible things for him. Only a few characters make public addresses, either to the court or the commons, immediately following their OCSension to the throne (and obviously, there are a few key differences between our method of choosing new rulers and the methods that typically occur in Shakespeare’s plays).

One of the most overt examples of this kind of speech in Shakespeare is, itself, a kind of second inauguration. In Henry VI, Part III, Edward IV does not give a big speech when he first takes the throne from Henry VI, but he does address the court when he wins it back after Henry’s brief reclaiming. The speech (left) is somewhat flowery, full of metaphors for his own party and for their vanquished foes. He arranges a series, listing those he has conquered. The series decreases in number, from threes to twos, but increases in nearness to himself, as he moves from those not directly related to him to his cousins Warwick and Montague. Edward provides each set of foes with a vivid descriptor of bravery and honor. Should an actor color these descriptions with pride, with regret, or with some combination of the two? Shakespeare leaves the choice of why Edward feels compelled to list his fallen enemies to us. Does he mark out these deaths because he feels secure now, or is he remembering how tenuous his hold on the throne has been? Is he more reminding himself or his audience?

He then abruptly turns personal, addressing himself not to the court at large but to his son in particular. Whether or not the conversation becomes private at this point or not, however, is a determination for an actor and a production. Edward could as easily be using the address to his son to underscore his own line of succession, demonstrating to all observers that he has reclaimed the throne not just for himself but for his dynasty, as he could be offering young Ned private advice. Is the shift in focus more personal or more political? Shakespeare leaves that open for our interpretation.

Perhaps the most famous political evader in all of Shakespeare is Claudius in Hamlet. Sarah and I frequently use him and his first public speech as king as an example of how Shakespeare uses rhetoric to demonstrate that a character is being deliberately difficult. Claudius comes to the throne under circumstances that would be awkward even if he weren’t a murderer: marrying his dead brother’s wife, leapfrogging over said dead brother’s legitimate son, and doing it all with unseemly haste. So when it comes time for Claudius to address his court, he does his best to bury the lead:

Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death
The memory be green, and that it us befitted
To bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom
To be contracted in one brow of woe,
Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature
That we with wisest sorrow think on him
Together with remembrance of ourselves.
Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen,
Th’imperial jointress to this warlike state,
Have we, as ’twere with a defeated joy,
With an auspicious and a dropping eye,
With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole,
Taken to wife.

Claudius’s full text from Hamlet, 1.2

It’s no wonder that students take a look at that and panic, and I imagine Claudius’s courtiers would have been just as bemused by his linguistic acrobatics. I encourage students to untangle sentences like this when they encounter such disordered syntax (hyperbaton in general, or anastrophe, if only two words are inverted), to put them back together in the order that makes the most syntactical sense — and then to ask why Shakespeare, who was perfectly capable of writing simple sentences, chose to have a character speak in this fashion instead. In this case, that exercise would yield you something like “Discretion hath fought with nature so far that we think on Hamlet, our dear brother, with wisest sorrow together with remembrance of ourselves, though the memory of his death be yet green, and (though) it befitted us to bear our hearts in grief and (for) our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe. Therefore we have taken to wife our sometime sister, now our queen, the imperial jointress to this warlike state, as it were with a defeated joy, with an auspicious and a dropping eye, with mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage, weighing delight and dole in equal scale.”

Even untangled, it’s a bit of a mess, but flattening out the kinks does help you to see exactly what Claudius has done, especially in the second sentence, where he moves the subject (“we”), verb (“have taken to wife”), and object (“our sometime sister, now our queen”) as far away from each other as possible and also puts them in the wrong order. By the time any listeners have ironed out what he said, he’s on to the next part of his speech, concerning a potential invasion by Fortinbras of Norway. It’s an impressive dodge, though not quite the sort of thing you’d hope for in a politician’s inaugural speech.

King Henry’s full text from Henry IV, Part 2, 5.2

Another semi-public speech has the ruler addressing the matter of his deceased predecessor, though less scurrilously than Claudius. In Henry IV, Part 2, the title character dies, allowing his son, Henry V, to take over. Father and son had a contentious relationship (in Shakespeare, at least, less so in history), but Henry didn’t murder him, so he has nothing to hide in this first speech. Henry’s challenge is rather to assert his authority when for so many years he has allowed both his family and the public to think of him as a wastrel. Now is the time to “pay the debt [he] never promised” back in Henry IV, Part 1. Similar to President Obama, Henry takes a few moments to set out what he intends, and he uses tricolon to do it: “And with his spirit sadly I survive, / To mock the expectation of the world, / To frustrate prophecies and to raze out / Rotten opinion, who hath writ me down / After my seeming.” We also see an example of polysyndeton in this speech: “Let us choose such limbs of noble counsel / That the great body of our state may go / In equal rank with the best govern’d nation; / That war or peace or both at once, may be / As things acquainted and familiar to us.”

Henry uses a lot of hyperbaton and anastrophe, but not in the way Claudius does, to tangle his meaning. The disorder rarely extends out of a single line or clause, and the irregularities are simple to understand and to unravel, unlike Claudius’s deliberate verbal entanglements. These inversions are of the pattern that Dr. Ralph Cohen has suggested are indicative of an education in Latin (a syntactically unfixed language, where adjectives generally follow nouns and verbs their objects), generally used in Shakespeare by rulers or by clergymen. They express formality, education, and high status; Henry begins with fewer of them and more of his old conversational tone, peppered with oaths and parentheticals, but as he transitions further into King Mode, he uses hyperbaton and anastrophe to signal both his awareness of his new status and his capacity to fulfill it.

Yet even with this intention, the erstwhile cheeky Prince Hal can’t seem to keep from messing around with people. In the first section of this scene (right), he addresses his brothers — several of whom have been more dutiful sons than he, the heir, had been. What’s most interesting to me in this segment are the frequent reversals. Look at all the times Henry begins a clause with “Yet” or “But.” Each of those marks a shift in focus, as Henry moves from telling his brothers to grieve, then not to grieve, then back again. Is this genuine conflicted emotion on Henry’s part, or is he yanking his brothers’ chains? It depends on the sort of Hal the production wants. He then moves on to mess with the Lord Chief Justice, feigning anger and resentment against him because the Justice brought the law down on Hal’s head in his younger days — only to perform a heel-face-turn after the Justice explains himself, commending the magistrate’s sense of duty and impartiality. The prince’s pranks were written in larger and cruder strokes, but Henry the King retains an impulse to manipulate people into corners to see how they will react (as we see further in Henry V, when he similarly tricks the soldier Williams). How much Henry is enjoying this is something the actor can use those “yets” and “buts” to show. The frequent diminutives, turning his proper name “Henry” into the informal “Harry,” play into this as well, undercutting his authority even as he asserts it. How much of an invitation to formality is this? He can call himself Harry, but how well would he take it from someone else, even one of his brothers? And how does it play different from when he calls himself Harry in front of his troops in Henry V? Those answers depend on the Henry in any given production, but the rhetoric devices in play indicate that, from the start of his reign, Henry seems determined to keep others on their toes.

Shakespeare also gives us one interesting female example of the assumption of power, and that in a comedy: the Princess-turned-Queen in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Her speech is not public in a grand proclamation sort of way, but nor is it entirely private. She addresses it largely to the King of Navarre, deferring his declarations of love until a more fitting time, but there are both nobles and commoners present as well, to witness her first moments as a sovereign monarch. She uses some of the same devices as Henry, particularly with regards to hyperbaton and anastrophe (“Your oath I will not trust”; “There stay”; “Change not”), but she also uses epizeuxis, immediate repetition, twice (“No, no” and “Challenge me, challenge me”). This forcefulness may be necessary to exert her will against a fellow monarch’s. Perhaps Navarre is trying to interject, but her repetition prevents him. Perhaps she has to reinforce these things for herself.

Whether a head of state has been democratically elected, taken a throne by force, or inherited it from a predecessor, his or her first official speech in office can bear great weight as the first chance to influence the public or to display newly-assumed power. What a ruler chooses to display — or to conceal — in that first public speech can provide a lot of character information about that figure (whether real or fictional), and examining the rhetoric of those speeches can help reveal those clues.

"Some to the common pulpits and cry out": Political Rhetoric (Part 1)

Every four years, it becomes a really great time to be a rhetoric geek.

My head got turned to this topic by an article from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Affairs detailing the differences in structure between Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention last week and Ann Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention the week before. As measured by the Flesh-Kincaid readability levels, Ann Romney “set a record for delivering a speech written at the lowest grade level in convention history by the wives of presidential nominees,” speaking on a 5th-grade reading level, while Michelle Obama broke the record for highest grade level in a spousal convention speech, above the 12th-grade level. Flesh-Kincaid mainly measures by words in a sentence and syllables in a word, looking at those complexities to determine readability. Despite this higher difficulty level, however, Mrs. Obama received rave reviews of her speech, even from conservatives. Though pundits and audiences alike gave both women favorable ratings, Michelle Obama’s speech seems to have had broader appeal, in spite of — or perhaps because of — its greater complexity.

Looking at Wordles of the two speeches reveals that the higher rating for Mrs. Obama seems to come from longer sentences and more complex sentence structure, not necessarily more difficult or more polysyllabic words. Both speeches have accessible vocabulary, and, as is so often the case with political speeches, they share a lot of key words between them. Ann Romney and Michelle Obama both also have idiosyncratic verbal tics that slip into their sentences — for Mrs. Romney, it’s “just;” for Mrs. Obama, “you see.”

Ann Romney’s speech at the RNC, 28 August 2012
Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC, 4 September 2012
In addition to the lower Flesh-Kincaid rating, Mrs. Romney’s speech is also rhetorically simpler. She uses a lot of repetition — not in of itself a bad thing. Devices of repetition can be hugely significant and, when used skillfully, immensely persuasive. But Mrs. Romney failed to structure her repetitions in a fruitful way. They come either at rote, simple anaphora at the beginning of successive phrases, unmatched with any devices of direction like auxesis or chiasmus that could drive a persuasive point, or else they come at random, entirely devoid of pattern. This method of structuring a speech actually fights against the brain. If you intentionally break a pattern, the brain will latch on to the “one of these things that’s not like the other;” if you never set a clear pattern to begin with, however, the brain will spend a lot of energy trying to figure it out or to force one — and that can be subconsciously frustrating. The brain likes harmony, and when devices of repetition set it up to expect a pattern but none emerges, that discord can create negative emotions rather than positive ones.

Her devices of addition also create a similar problem. While doing the markup of Ann Romney’s speech, I sometimes found it difficult to find the end of a parenthetical phrase. The delineation between main thought and sidebar was not always clear. That lack of distinction is something else that challenges the brain in a non-productive way; when it has to work too hard to untangle a sentence’s syntax, it stops listening to what meaning those words are actually conveying. That can be an effective speaking technique if (like Claudius in 1.2 of Hamlet), you want to obscure your main point — but it’s hardly the goal of a speech at a national political convention. A little like Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mrs. Romney at points gives the impression of a speech that is “like a tangled chain; nothing impaired, but all disordered.” Where Mrs. Romney’s speech succeeds is in arranging contrast. Many of her arguments follow a “not this, but this” structure, which can be particularly persuasive in a political context, since it pits one set of ideas (and ideals) neatly opposite another.

Mrs. Obama’s speech uses many of the same devices, but structured with a more clearly delineated system of rise and fall. She uses isocolon (parallel structure) and auxesis (the arrangement of a series) to particularly good effect several times. Her devices of addition tend to be in the form of superlative descriptors rather than tangential parentheses. She uses anaphora, but in a more condensed format than Mrs. Romney does. Ann Romney began a series of paragraphs with “You know” and then “I want to talk to you about,” but these paragraphs were of uneven length, often with other matter in between, weakening the effect of the repetitive device. Michelle Obama, on the other hand, tended to use shorter sequences closer together, as when she said, “Every day, the people I meet inspire me. Every day, they make me proud. Every day, they remind me how blessed we are to live in the greatest nation on earth.” In this way, Mrs. Obama links the anaphora together with tricolon, the power of three, and with auxesis, building from one idea to the next to the greatest. These devices, particularly when yoked together, give the brain a sense of harmony to appreciate, subconsciously making the listener more receptive to the speaker’s ideas. Mrs. Obama also uses more rhetorical questions than Mrs. Romney, giving the audience greater opportunity to enter into a dialogue, even if only imagined, with her — another tactic that draws a listener in and creates a kind of alliance. Mrs. Obama’s greatest rhetorical weakness is probably an over-reliance on polysyndeton — excessive conjunctions, particularly at the beginnings of sentences. It’s another way of verbalizing a pause, and it tends to be more noticeable when looking at the speech on paper than when actually listening to it.

The differences between these two speeches made me think of Brutus and Antony in Julius Caesar. After killing Caesar, Brutus enters to explain his actions to the plebeian mobs. It is the only point in the play where he talks in prose rather than in verse. Prose and verse do not always point to a class difference — in plays such as As You Like It, high-status characters often speak in prose — but in Julius Caesar, the split is fairly distinct, with the commoners speaking in prose and the aristocrats speaking in verse. Brutus talks to the plebs on their level. Antony, on the other hand, doesn’t talk down to the plebs — he stays in verse and uses elegant language, but he does so in such a way that renders the increased complexity ultimately more persuasive.

Out of curiosity, I ran Brutus’s and Antony’s speeches through a Flesh-Kincaid analysis. Brutus comes in at a mid-7th grade reading level, Antony at a high-9th. (Both are above the play’s average of a mid-6th grade level). What I like about this analysis is that it demonstrates something phenomenal about rhetoric: it’s not just the words, but also the structure in which you place those words that matters. Check out the Wordles for each speech:

Brutus’s eulogy, Julius Caesar, 3.2

Antony’s eulogy, Julius Caesar, 3.2

Neither character uses terribly difficult vocabulary. Antony’s higher grade level comes more from longer and more complex sentences than from polysyllabic words. Yet something about Antony’s speech grips an audience more, despite the higher difficulty and the verse structure. His rhetoric allows him to bring the audience along on a point, rather than badgering them as Brutus does, and so we are more likely to feel “on his side.” He doesn’t have to talk down to us to be one of us.

As a side note, the analyzer I used also provided some suggestions for improving readability, advising me to look at altering the following phrases,which made me think about what beauty of language and what persuasive power might be gained or lost by restructuring for easier comprehension:

“Hear me for my cause, and be silent, that you may hear: believe me for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour, that you may believe: censure me in your wisdom, and awake your senses, that you may the better judge”
“The question of his death is enrolled in the Capitol; his glory not extenuated, wherein he was worthy, nor his offences enforced, for which he suffered death.”
“You all did see that on the Lupercal I thrice presented him a kingly crown, Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?”
“When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept: Ambition should be made of sterner stuff: Yet Brutus says he was ambitious; And Brutus is an honourable man.”

There’s also an appeal to pathos, another, less quantifiable aspect of rhetoric, in Brutus’s and Antony’s speeches that I heard reflected in Ann Romney’s and Michelle Obama’s. Pathos is the appeal to emotion. This appeal involves the speaker knowing his audience and what will appeal to them on a personal level. Values, morals, fears, and affections may all play a part in a pathetic appeal. At its most basic level, pathos is when a speaker makes the argument all about the audience, rather than about objective fact or about himself. Brutus and Ann Romney both appeal to the red button words — for Brutus, “honor,” “valor,” “wisdom,” “love;” for Mrs. Romney, “America,” “moms,” “hard work,” and, again, “love” — by way of getting to their audiences’ hearts. Consider the following selection from Brutus’s speech:

As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I slew him. There is tears for his love; joy for his fortune; honour for his valour; and death for his ambition. Who is here so base that would be a bondman? If any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman? If any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so vile that will not love his country? If any, speak; for him have I offended. I pause for a reply.

And now this selection from Ann Romney’s:

I don’t think there’s a woman in America who really expects her life to be easy. In our own way, we all know better! And that’s fine. We don’t want easy. But these last few years have been harder than they needed to be. It’s all the little things — that price at the pump you just can’t believe, the grocery bills that just get bigger, all those things that used to be free, like school sports, are now one more bill to pay. It’s all the little things that pile up to become big things. And the big things — the good jobs, the chance at college, that home you want to buy, just get harder. Everything has become harder.

The appeal in each speech is broad, designed to reach as many people as possible. The speakers hit the points that they believe matter most to their audience, and they do so in a way that makes it all about that you, the listener, rather than about the speaker. On the surface, this technique seems like it ought to be an effective tactic. It feels inclusive, and it demonstrates that the speaker knows what the audience cares about.
So why is it that the method taken by Antony and by Michelle Obama seems to generate greater emotional response?

Look at this selection from Antony’s speech:

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
You all do know this mantle: I remember
The first time ever Caesar put it on;
‘Twas on a summer’s evening, in his tent,
That day he overcame the Nervii:
Look, in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through:
See what a rent the envious COCSa made:
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabb’d;
And as he pluck’d his cursed steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar follow’d it,
As rushing out of doors, to be resolved
If Brutus so unkindly knock’d, or no;
For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel:
Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him.
This was the most unkindest cut of all;
For when the noble Caesar saw him stab,
Ingratitude, more strong than traitors’ arms,
Quite vanquish’d him: then burst his mighty heart;
And, in his mantle muffling up his face,
Even at the base of Pompey’s statua,
Which all the while ran blood, great Caesar fell.
O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!

And now this from Michelle Obama’s:

I loved Barack just the way he was. You see, even back then, when Barack was a Senator and presidential candidate, to me, he was still the guy who picked me up for our dates in a car that was so rusted out, I could actually see the pavement going by in a hole in the passenger side door. He was the guy whose proudest possession was a coffee table he’d found in a dumpster, and whose only pair of decent shoes was a half size too small. But see, when Barack started telling me about his family, now that’s when I knew I’d found in him a kindred spirit — someone whose values and upbringing were so like mine.

Though the subject matter is vastly different, the approach is similar: draw the audience in with specific moments, rather than broad subjects. Antony talks about what he remembers, but links it to the audience’s observations, and then he draws an explicit picture of Caesar’s death for those who were not there to see it. Mrs. Obama begins with her personal recollections, so specific that they could belong to no one else, then moves into more abstract values only once she has that grounding. Personal anecdotes, more than sweeping generalizations, tend to strike a greater emotional chord — even if those generalizations are the red button words that people tend to key in on. Brutus wasn’t wrong to mention honor and valor, any more than Ann Romney was wrong to mention America and motherhood. But where Antony and Michelle Obama outstrip their opposite numbers is in the details — in making the subjects of their speeches (Caesar and Barack Obama, respectively) more personal and relatable to all of their listeners, no matter how removed or lowly. Antony and Michelle Obama evoke pictures of minute details rather than painting with a brush so broad as to remove the scenery entirely. Even at her most specific, Ann Romney refers to periods of life, things that could have happened at any time or in any place, rather than giving the sense that she has one moment crystalized in her mind. Pathos works more effectively when the audience can feel a speaker’s passion, and specific details enhance that sense, while generalizations obliterate it, but it also gains persuasive power when mated with that touch of ethos, the personal credentials and evidence of experience. Blending the two appeals together buttresses one type of persuasion with the other, and this multi-faceted approach often has the ability to reach more people with greater potency.

I’m thrilled that the election cycle draws greater attention to eloquence and elocution. You don’t have to perform a Flesh-Kincaid analysis on every speech you hear. You don’t have to do a R.O.A.D.S. markup (unless you’re like me and it simply amuses you to do so). You don’t even have to own this awareness of rhetoric to know what it is that you like about one speech and what fails to grab you about another. But knowing rhetoric will help. As I tell students (of all ages) every time I lead our Sweet Smoke of Rhetoric workshop, this awareness, even on a basic level, will just plain make you smarter. It makes you a better writer and speaker, but it also makes you a better listener, and that may be even more important on a day-to-day basis.

I love rhetoric, and as I said at the top of the post, election years are an excellent time to have that fOCSination. We listen more acutely during this time than is usual, and the media draws more attention to how politicians get their points across, because good ideas alone won’t carry the day — a candidate must be able to express those ideas in a way that appeals and persuades. So in honor of this, I’ll be posting an ongoing series of Political Rhetoric posts. Next up, hopefully: How much of President Clinton’s famous charisma is rooted in his rhetoric? How does that help a politician work a crowd? We’ve already seen a bit from Antony, but I would like to look at some of the great speakers of the history plays: Buckingham, Talbot, Henrys IV and V, Richards II and III. Who uses rhetoric to connect with the audience, and who ends up isolating himself?

OCS Theatre Camp and the Four Little Words:

Camper:   Um, excuse me? I think I may have a spondee?
Asst. Director:   Spondee? Spondee? Really? That sounds serious; you should put something on that.
C:   Ha, ha! I see what you did there.
AD:   What, my using your question to create epizeuxis?
C:   Epizeuxis? Epizeuxis?
AD:   See, I totally just got you to turn ‘epizeuxis’ into an epizeuxis. 
C:   Epizeuxis, epischmooxis!
AD:   Well, now that is not epizeuxis, epizeuxis is an immediate repeat, epishmooxis indeed! Now, how do we feel about epanorthosis?
C:   Bless you.
AD:   Nice one. But what I was going to say –
C:   Don’t start, I know what epizeuxis and epanorthosis mean, I’m just choosing to ignore you.
AD:   Touché.
C:   Now seriously, if I do have a spondee what do I do with the rest of it?
AD:   Well, I hear that if you slap a pyrrhic on a spondee it will clear the whole thing up in a matter of days. But, careful, now, that could just be an old wives tale.
From the 2012 OCS Theatre Camp Production of A King and No King.
Photo Courtesy Pat Jarrett.

C:   Funny…O, you mean…hey, that might actually work.

AD:   Why don’t you try it several ways and see which you think is best and go with that.
C:   But I want to get it right.
AD:   I can’t write you a prescription – ‘Take two trochees and call me in the morning.’ It’s your performance, so, you look at the clues, you try them out, and you then decide. Make it yours – that’s what makes it right
C:   I’m not used to that.
AD:   Welcome to camp! Give yourself a chance. I think you’ll find you have all the tools you need and that if you do your homework, commit to your choices, and believe in yourself, you’ll be great.
C:   Okay. I mean, thanks. I mean…so, you’re not going to tell me?
AD:   You are going to tell you. You are smart, funny, talented…by the time the show opens you will know that you are smart and funny and talented and will also be bold and confident and brilliant. And that, my friend, is…
C:   My cue to go try it?
AD:   Well, I was going to say ‘polysyndeton’. But, yeah, go try it, try ’em all! You can totally do this.
C:   Okay, I’ll give it a try!
That exchange is not, in fact, regarding treatment of an infectious disease, but about how to pronounce a line of verse. And, it is a typical back and forth between student and staff here at the OCS Theatre Camp for teens. Yes, we do spend a lot of quality time learning rhetoric, scansion, and other terrifying things. Yes, we design our curriculum with the goal of helping students explore language in a way that will help them to do better in their English classes, their AP tests, their college applications, and their performance skills. And it, in fact, does do all of that. But that is not the primary objective of our work here at the OCS Theatre Camp. 
I like to kick off each session by introducing students and families to what I believe are the four hardest words for students to say in any of Shakespeare’s texts and reassure them that by the end of camp they will be able to say all four. They are, in OCSending order: o, alas, alack, and I. Why, are these the most difficult to say you ask? Well, try them. You, yes, you, try them – it’s way more fun than you might imagine and not at all embarrassing. Really.
You can do it, just start with ‘O.’ Try to say the full word, don’t swallow it, really pronounce the whole thing. Let’s do it together: ‘O.’ Now try: ‘O for a muse of fire’. Now try it out loud. Don’t shorten that ‘O.’ Really say it like you mean it. See, that was a bit embarrassing at first, but, once you stopped worrying about the embarrassing feeling it was a cake walk. Nicely done. 
If you survived that, and I’m sure you did, try ‘alas.’ It’s okay if that one feels a bit silly when you start, just try it again. Remember now, out loud, do them all out loud.  ‘Alas.’ Now try: ‘Alas, how fiery and sharp he looks.’  It’s much easier if you really say ‘alas’ before you go on to the rest of the sentence. It’s counter-intuitive, I know, but it works, so resist your inclination to pretend it isn’t there.  Also, that one happens to be from a comedy, so really make a big deal of it, for comedic effect. It’s okay to feel silly here since you are, in fact, trying to be silly.  ‘Alas, how fiery and sharp he looks.’ Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! That was great. And I’m totally laughing with you, not at you, because, after all, you made it funny. Well played. You may have noticed that if you just go for it you feel a lot less silly because you are trying to be silly and then you sound downright serious and everyone will respect you for it. Neat trick, huh? Good job!
From the 2012 OCS Theatre Camp
Production of Henry VI, Part 1.Photo Courtesy Pat Jarrett.

Now, moving on to the really ridiculous one. Try ‘alack.’ Don’t forget the ‘ck’ sound at the end there. It’s more important than you might think, as it gives you the chance to separate that word from what comes after it. So, try it again, ‘alack.’  It’s one of those words you say when something has really given you pause, so take the time to allow the realization to set in as you say: ‘Alack the day’. If any line is going to make you look around and see if anyone is listening, it’s that one. It tends to make everyone a bit self-conscious. But, let’s just work through it together, and soon you will be glad you committed to it fully. ‘Alack the day.’ Now try the whole line: ‘She’s dead, deceased, she’s dead, alack the day.’ You can’t quit the exercise now! Just trust me, we’ll go there together. The only way to deliver that line and not feel like a real jerk is to completely give yourself over to it. Just embrace that word ‘alack’ like it is your life line – because it is. It is what keeps you tethered to the audience. If you skipped quickly over that ‘alack,’ the audience would not see your character realize how the world has changed for her forever. You see, here, you are the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. You’ve discovered that Juliet is ‘dead’ and have told her mother and now, on this line, have told her father. After ‘alack the day,’ the Nurse does not successfully connect with another onstage character until Juliet’s parents, Paris, and the Friar have exited. Then she has one line to the musicians, and you never see her again. The Nurse goes down her own rabbit hole of despair, and if the actor wants the audience to journey down that hole with her, it happens through the way she communicates ‘alack the day.’ So, spew all of the vitriol you can at Juliet’s dad by telling him three times of her demise, remind him of the part he played in her death, then really take in what it means for you, the Nurse, that she is gone. ‘Alack the day’ is the gate that holds back the flood of lamentation that follows, so hold on to every word as you say them. ‘She’s dead, deceased, she’s dead, alack the day’. See, now you don’t feel silly at all. Now you feel like a character that has the power to fully connect with the audience and have them journey with you. Well done.

Now, those three little words originally appeared daunting, but turned out to be very powerful when you wrapped yourself fully around them. What made them daunting was that you don’t typically use them on a daily basis. So why would the word ‘I’ be clustered with those three? Most people use that one every day. Well, let’s just try it in a line: ‘Now I am alone. O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I.’ Here is a moment where you have to open yourself up to the audience in a vulnerable and honest way, and Shakespeare makes sure that you do because the line is constructed without a single contraction. You can’t cheat and say ‘I’m.’ You have to say ‘I am’ and ‘am I.’ Now, when was the last time you yourself said the word ‘I’ in a vulnerable and honest way without a contraction? Exactly. Imagine for a moment that you are in an educational system that has to teach to the test. There is a right answer – your teacher, your school, your school district all get paid based on your ability to get that answer right. Imagine that you are living in a world where the expectations are incredibly high. Media bombards you every minute of the day to remind you what you are supposed to do, to be, to become. Imagine that you are somewhere between 13 and 18 years of age. Now, to that whole quiet room of actual people who are staring at you, waiting for an answer, and yes, the lights are on so you can see them all waiting, please say, ‘Hello, I am’ and then say your name. When was the last time you did that? No cheating – when did you really do it, with no contractions, no shortening or speeding up of words, no apologetically dipping of your head. You can’t hide the word ‘I’ by speeding into the contracted ‘m.’ You have to say the whole word ‘I,’ then say ‘am’. Try it now, out loud, ‘Hello, I am’ and then your name. Yep. That’s that difficult one. Try: ‘Now, I am alone.’ Welcome to life as a typical teenager. 
Here at the OCS Theatre Camp our number one priority is helping our students embrace the remarkable person that each one of them already is. We do it through collaborative work. We ask them everyday to teach their peers, to learn from one another, and to become comfortable with the idea that world holds endless possibilities for each of them. By exploring the rhetorical devices that are in every line of text, the students gain confidence in their ability to structure their own arguments in order to engage with anyone they meet in any situation. They analyze literature better and, as a result, write better essays that are well-worded, concise, and critical. They learn to ask why. They learn to explore many choices and that the one they choose is right because they chose it. They learn that each song, each dance, each scene is always better when they fully participate in it. They learn that their fellows rely on them and that they are necessary. In performance they are vulnerable and honest and brave. They learn that the world is a better place with them in it. But, most importantly, here at OCS Theatre Camp, they learn to say the word ‘I,’ to play the very best role in the world, that of being themselves and reveling in the performance every single day. And they are brilliant at it. 

To learn more about attending Theatre Camp or having our Educational Residency team come to your school, please follow this link: http://www.americanshakespearecenter.com/v.php?pg=76 

Julius Caesar: Adventures in Dramaturgy, Pt 1

In my capacity as Academic Resources Manager, I deal with a lot of text. I prepare sides and scripts for workshops and lectures, and I insert the text for relevant scenes into our Study Guides. This process always involves some editorial judgment calls — looking back to the Folio, determining how much of the scene to include, deciding whether to trim some bits out of the middle to narrow an activity’s focus, etc. It’s been a long time since I cut a full script, however. The last time was in 2006, when I directed Romeo and Juliet in undergrad — and I knew far less about textual studies then than I do now. I’m going to be serving as the dramaturg for the 2013 Actors’ Renaissance Season Julius Caesar, and as part of that process, I’ve also taken on the responsibility of cutting the script.

The thing about Julius Caesar is that you don’t have to cut a lot. The play runs 2438 lines in the Folio, the only early modern version that we have (I got off easy, not having to compare to any quarto editions). We aim for about 2300 lines for a show, with the goal of a two-hour production. I knew going in that I was probably going to want to trim slightly more than that, however, for a few reasons. One is that this is going to be the first show in the Ren Season, so it certainly can’t hurt to trim down what the actors have to tackle in those first three days. Another is just to tell a tighter story; there are lots of moments in Julius Caesar that, while certainly not unplayable (particularly with such talented actors as the OCS is fortunate to have), aren’t always as gripping as they might be. Shakespeare spends a lot of time showing off his Plutarch, but some of those references may seem obscure or downright bizarre to a modern audience. My inner Latin geek appreciates them; my practical side can trim them without suffering too great an attack of conscience. Finally, knowing that this is going to be the most-played school matinee of the artistic year, I knew I wanted to streamline the text for maximum appeal, to key in on the relationships that define the play, the overlap and tension of those political friendships.

The trouble, though, is that there’s just so much good stuff in this play. Take Cassius, for example, who talks more than anyone except Brutus (possibly only because he dies before Brutus). At first glance, you would think that the play could do with a lot less of him and not suffer terribly. So much of what he says, however, is such delicious language. He’s a spitfire, choleric and quick-tempered, but no less eloquent for that temper; rather, it seems to fuel and fire him, leading him to cram his speeches with vivid detail, incisive observations, and inventive structure. Cassius is also useful as a contrast to Brutus, not just as a matter of character, but rhetorically as well. Cassius has a complex elegance in his speech which Brutus utterly lacks; in order to get through to Brutus, Cassius has to try different tactics, and it’s always the least sophisticated one that elicits a response. Cassius is, in many ways, far, far cleverer than Brutus; it shows in his political canniness (as in his desire to do away with Antony as well as Caesar, recognizing an inevitable threat, and in his awareness of military realities in Acts 4 and 5), and it also shows in his use of words. Shakespeare’s language clearly juxtaposes Cassius’s political astuteness and practicality with Brutus’s blunt honor and intractable morals. This dynamic is not only interesting but critical to the operation of those relationship dynamics that so interest me — and yet, I know, those long speeches are where attentions will be most likely to wander. So I had a challenge: to balance the need to cut something with the desire to preserve all the character information that the language provides.

Then there are the minor characters. Could I cut that line from Decius Brutus or Metellus Cimber? Well, sure. The play would lose nothing imperative. But then that pretty well excises his reason for being in the scene; I don’t want to make a character extraneous, and I don’t want to rob an actor with a smaller track in this play of a potentially juicy moment (and since Brutus, Cassius, and Antony thoroughly dominate the line count, there are a lot of smaller tracks).  So, how to balance this? How to keep the sensation of a bustling Rome, crammed with ambitious men and craven followers, while still making cuts that will help the production to present a clear and focused story? Or how about a character like Portia? Certainly, I could trim some of her speeches down — but she really only gets the one scene to connect with the audience. I couldn’t bring myself to butcher those moments, but to justify keeping all of that intact, I had to find something else to sacrifice elsewhere.

I ended up taking a very surgical approach to the text, trimming from within speeches rather than hacking out large sections in their entirety. A line here, a line there — it adds up, and eventually, I had cut over two hundred lines, but never more than a few at a time. Occasionally it hurt my rhetorical soul a bit, to excise some repetitions or additions — but that was the choice I had to make. If the rhetorical form was crucial to the moment, to the character’s persuasive approach, I kept it, but if it seemed extraneous, if the character had already made his rhetorical point, I could consider it for the chopping block. Consider the following:

You are dull, COCSa,
And those sparks of life that should be in a Roman
You do want, or else you use not.
You look pale, and gaze, and put on fear,

And cast yourself in wonder,
To see the strange impatience of the heavens:
But if you would consider the true cause
Why all these fires, why all these gliding ghosts,
Why birds and beasts from quality and kind,
Why old men fool and children calculate,
Why all these things change from their ordinance,
Their natures and pre-formed faculties,
To monstrous quality; why, you shall find
That heaven hath infus’d them with these spirits,
To make them instruments of fear, and warning
Unto some monstrous state.

That anaphora (repeated beginnings) in the middle is an interesting structure, and there’s no denying that it adds something to this speech. But, this is something Cassius does almost every time he has a speech of more than ten lines, so it’s not as though it is an unusual device or one which makes a unique point; we’ll hear the same device elsewhere, and the audience will still know that Cassius is given to repetition and to over-emphasizing his point. Those lines also have some nice evocative language — but, we’ve had plenty of descriptions of the strange portents in this scene already, and we’ll have more in 2.1 and 2.2. By cutting this, we’re not losing anything we don’t get elsewhere. On the other hand, in the following:


And why should Caesar be a tyrant then?
Poor man, I know he would not be a wolf,
But that he sees the Romans are but sheep:
He were no lion, were not Romans hinds.

I had initially marked that final line for cutting, but I ended up putting it back in. In some ways, it’s redundant. The audience hears the predator-prey analogy and understands it; why do we need a second iteration? Because, I think, there’s a critical symbolic difference between a wolf and a lion. The second analogy, then, is almost corrective — Cassius grudgingly granting Caesar the association with a nobler animal, but only by comparison to the other craven Romans. The first analogy could then read more like, “I know he would not be a predatory, but that he sees the Romans are but prey,” whereas the second reads more, “He were no great and powerful man, were not Romans weak and yielding.” The connotation is different, and so I retained what originally seemed a redundancy. We also hear about a lion stalking the streets and a lioness whelping in the streets, and so I think it’s important to retain that association of the lion with Caesar.

The largest change I made was for purely practical reasons: our Ren Season has twelve actors in it, and the opening of 3.1 calls for fourteen characters to be on-stage simultaneously. Thirteen enter together, as per the Folio stage direction:

–then, only ten lines in, Publius speaks, though he has no written entrance. So, I struck Lepidus for that scene (he never speaks and no one refers to him) and I combined the characters of Publius and Popilius into one figure. That necessity led to a little creative cutting and line reassignment, but it seems to work. Our actors will still have a challenge to untangle, though, as that still leaves twelve characters entering simultaneously at the top of 3.1, plus someone to conduct the Flourish — and two of them will have to change from having been Portia and Lucius in 2.4.

Before I sent the cut script off to Artistic Director Jim Warren and Associate Artistic Director Jay McClure, I gathered a few of my friends to do a read-around of the text. With only five people in the room, I anticipated we’d be doing a lot of talking to ourselves, but that actually wasn’t the case as frequently as I’d expected. Because Brutus, Cassius, and Antony control so many scenes, most characters end up reacting to one of them rather than to each other. Just doing that read-around taught me a lot about how the various scenes function. Hearing the cut text aloud was helpful; I actually ended up highlighting more lines that I think I could cut, if we needed an even shorter script — if someone wanted to do a 90-minute version, for example, I think I would have no trouble at all getting it there. I gave Cassius a few lines back after this read-around, I snipped a few lines elsewhere to compensate, and I now have some good ideas about what else we could trade off if someone wants other lines back in. I feel quite positive about it, on the whole; I don’t think I slaughtered any sacred cows, and the surgical approach means that, hopefully, most audience members won’t notice the omissions at all.

So, we’ll see how it turns out. Once Jim, Jay, and at least one actor have looked at it, I’ll get the final comments back, and then I’ll start preparing the cue scripts. That process will be a whole other adventure with this play, and one which presents some fOCSinating possibilities (for which I feel I should probably apologize to our eventual Antony in advance). But that, Dear Readers, will be another blog post.

Wandering through Wordles, Part the Second

When I began building last year’s set of Study Guides, I devoted a post to the Wordles which we include as part of the Basics unit. OCS Education uses Wordles as a device to introduce students to the idea that Shakespeare’s language is their language, that the vocabulary is familiar, not alien. Handing students who are new to Shakespeare a block of uninterrupted text can be intimidating, and the so-called “line of terror” at the bottom of many editions only augments the students’ assumptions that they won’t understand without explanation. Breaking the words down through a Wordle, however, demonstrates the accessibility of the language. In most instances, the only completely unfamiliar words will be proper nouns — place names and character names. When students find a challenging word that is not a proper noun, we tell teachers to move back to the text itself; usually, the word’s meaning is apparent in context. This method is an easy introduction to Shakespeare’s language and can help remove some of the fear that many students experience when first engaging with the text.

Last year, I discovered that Wordles of the first 100 lines can also illuminate something about the plays themselves, as well as what Shakespeare seems to be calling attention to in the first five minutes of a show. As I begin working on the 2012-2013 set — Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona — I’ve started constructing a new series of Wordles. So, as a bit of a teaser for these upcoming Study Guides, I thought I would share the discoveries I’ve made in these new examples.

To begin, here’s Twelfth Night:

The first 100 lines of Twelfth Night stretch over almost two full scenes: Orsino lamenting to his court about Olivia’s persistent rejection, and Viola the Illyrian shore, mourning her supposedly drowned brother. The biggest words here are “love” and “brother”, and those clues wrap up the relationship dynamics of the play pretty succinctly. Both have a focus in both of the opening scenes; Olivia has recently lost her brother, and uses that as the basis for rejecting Orsino’s suit, and Viola thinks her brother Sebastian has drowned. The other words that stand out to me are “may” and “perchance.” There’s an emphasis on the subjunctive mood, which, in a strange way, sort of highlights the impermeability and the uncertainty that dominates this play. The subjunctive mood is one of desire and doubt, wishes and maybes. Everything is “perchance;” everything exists on unstable ground when we start, and the lines of certainty only become more blurred as the play goes on.

Next up, Romeo and Juliet:

I think, from this Wordle, you get a sense of the challenging atmosphere in the first 100 lines of this play. We see a lot of address happening — “sir,” “thou,” “thee” — so we know, right off, that characters are speaking to each other and that they are, judging by the pronouns, being informal. We also see a lot of active verbs, such as “bite,” “draw,” “stand,” and “strike,” as well as other words indicative of a fight — “sword,” “quarrel,” “hate.” The first 100 lines of Romeo and Juliet set a mood of combat and aggression, and that much is evident in the vocabulary Shakespeare uses. We also get the names of the factions involved, the Capulets and Montagues.

Next, The Merchant of Venice, and I’ll confess, this one cracked me up:

Why did this crack me up? Well, as I’d been looking over these first 100 lines, I turned to Sarah and said, “It feels like all anyone does in the first scene of this play is walk up to Antonio and say, ‘Hey, man, you look terrible, what’s wrong?’ Seriously, it just keeps happening.” And then I did this Wordle, and lo and behold, our largest words? “Sad” and “Antonio.” The Wordle verifies my perception of what’s going on in this opening scene. Apart from that, we see a lot of other words related to emotions — “laugh,” “merry,” “love,” “like,” “wearies,” “melancholy,” — as well as some words introducing the mercantile aspect of the play: “worth,” “ventures,” “merchandise,” “fortune.” It’s interesting to me that Shakespeare foregrounds both of those spheres in these first five minutes, demonstrating the complicated links between love and fortune (and between personal merit and financial worth) right from the start.

Finally, the Wordle for the first 100 lines of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which is interesting in a rather different way from the others:

At first glance, this one is rather weird, and might have you thinking that Two Gents is some kind of pastoral comedy. Why on earth would “sheep” and “shepherd” appear so large? I love this example, because the Wordle actually points at the rhetoric. Those words appear in repetition in the following exchange:

Sir Proteus, save you! Saw you my master?

But now he parted hence, to embark for Milan.

Twenty to one then he is shipp’d already,
And I have play’d the sheep in losing him.

Indeed, a sheep doth very often stray,
An if the shepherd be a while away.

You conclude that my master is a shepherd, then,
and I a sheep?

I do.

Why then, my horns are his horns, whether I wake or sleep.

A silly answer and fitting well a sheep.

This proves me still a sheep.

True; and thy master a shepherd.

Nay, that I can deny by a circumstance.

It shall go hard but I’ll prove it by another.

The shepherd seeks the sheep, and not the sheep the
shepherd; but I seek my master, and my master seeks
not me: therefore I am no sheep.

The sheep for fodder follow the shepherd; the
shepherd for food follows not the sheep: thou for
wages followest thy master; thy master for wages
follows not thee: therefore thou art a sheep.

Such another proof will make me cry ‘baa.’

Proteus and Speed engage in stichomythia, the rapid exchange of lines (as do Sampson and Gregory in the beginning of Romeo and Juliet), and they layer this with punning and repetitions, including antimetabole, the repetition of words in inverted (A-B-B-A) order. The prominence of those terms in the Wordle, then, doesn’t introduce us to a large overarching concept of the play, but it does hint at what the tenor of the play will be. This sort of bantering humor continues throughout the text, between many different characters.

The biggest word in this example, though, is “love” — right from the beginning, that’s what Valentine and Proteus are talking about, and that’s what they’ll keep talking about throughout the entire play. The tensions between romantic love, friendly love, and self-love are what drive this play, and Shakespeare opens by having his two male protagonists discuss when love is real and when it isn’t, during which they repeat the word “love” seventeen times.

Since OCS Education began using Wordles as a tool in our Study Guides, we’ve had great responses to them. These are a great way for a teacher to begin the class discussion of the play on an accessible level, easing students away from their fear and into a discussion of the text. For more information, check out our Study Guides, available as PDF downloads or print-on-demand hard copies through lulu.com.

Too Wise to Woo Peaceably

The Much Ado about Nothing Study Guide should be ready soon (and I hope I’ll have a 10-page preview for you on Monday), and I just have to say, I’m enjoying this one more than probably ought to be allowed. I’m enjoying it so much, in fact, that I couldn’t wait until the release to tell you what a good time I’m having.

Much Ado about Nothing is my favorite play, and this has never been a secret to anyone who knows me. It was not the first Shakespeare play I read, but it was the first one I saw in performance, at the age of 12, in the little theatre in the basement of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. From that night on, it was all over for me. Much Ado had won my heart, and nothing since has had any power to tempt it away.

There’s a lot that’s good in this play — the satire of courtship between Claudio and Hero, the insidious villainy of Don John, the overconfident antics of Constable Dogberry — but for my money (and I suspect for many others’ as well), this show is all about Beatrice and Benedick. They are both the head and the heart of the story, the greatest wits and also the characters who demonstrate the most tremendous emotional depth. I think theirs is the most emotionally real of all of Shakespeare’s love stories, not least because it’s a more mature affair than many others. Benedick and Beatrice have loved and lost and hurt before; Beatrice tells us this flat-out, though Shakespeare tantalizingly never elucidates the circumstances of their shared past:

Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of

Signior Benedick.

Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave
him use for it, a double heart for his single one:
marry, once before he won it of me with false dice,
therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.

I like this glimpse of backstory not only for the magnificent potential for emotional nuance that it gives performers, but also because it provides Beatrice and Benedick with a more solid foundation on which to build a relationship. If they only fall in love with each other because their friends trick them into it, that would make them fairly shallow people, and it would not inspire a lot of hope for a successful future — but if the love is already there and just needs to be rekindled, that paints a much brighter picture.

I’ve been working on an activity that I just can’t wait to test out with the participants of our Teacher Seminar in February, examining the progression of their relationship through an analysis of how they use language. Shakespeare shows the audience, so clearly, that these two are meant for each other. No one else in the play uses language quite the way they do. For all the banter, quips, and Beatrice and Benedick are the only two who so consistently take each others‘ words, fire them back across, and set up for the next volley.

The rhetoric shows us not only how smart they are — and these two characters are some of Shakespeare’s most verbally intelligent creations — but how well they work together. At the beginning of the play, those shared words and mimicked rhetoric are part of the battle, a game of one-up-manship they play with each other. By the end of the play, however, Beatrice and Benedick are using those same figures in a completely different way; instead of combating each other, they’re working together, building off of each others’ words instead of trying to tear each other down. There’s still an element of challenge there — essential, I think, to their relationship — but it’s no longer with the end goal of destruction. Beatrice and Benedick prove themselves a delightfully matched pair. From the “gay couples” of Restoration comedy to the comedies of manners in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the “screwball” comedies of the 1930s and 40s, and the sitcoms of today, their legacy is certainly a magnificent one.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Hamlet Conversations

Christina Sayer Grey here for the last presentation of the 2011 Blackfriars Conference. It’s been a lot of fun to live-blog for you all this week. Enjoy!

Ralph announces that this panel was suggested by Rene Thornton, Jr.

Moderator: Matt Davies

Hamlets: Khris Lewin (2005 at the Blackfriars), Benjamin Curns (2007 at the Blackfriars, Actors’ Renaissance Season, Q1), James Ricks (2001 at the Blackfriars), John Harrell (2011 at the Blackfriars), and Thadd McQuade (1995 with SSE, also played Hamlet in the German MFA project)

Matt says that the purpose of this panel is to talk about what it means to play Hamlet here versus playing him elsewhere. This panel will be in the format of an extended talkback.

Contest: Best Collective Noun for a Group of Hamlets (the best one I’ve heard, A Sulk of Hamlets)

Q: Why do you think that Hamlet chose you?
T.M.: I think that’s a question for the directors.
J.H.: I think I’m a Polonius, but I never saw Hamlet on my path. It was always something for other actors to do, so I never paid much attention to it. I never thought I would play it and I never thought I wanted to. The Hamlet you see now is what I, personally, see the play to be from a very virginal perspective.
B.C.: It was my 2nd Renaissance Season. I had had really terrific parts in the first season, but I wasn’t carrying any of the plays. When I heard they were planning to do the Q1, but I didn’t know what that meant. I just asked to have my mind floated along in the pool of names, just to consider me. My understanding of Hamlet is that its unique in that the lead character has a scene with every other member of the company.
M.D.: Hamlet is interesting because Hamlet is the only character who really knows what’s going through the whole play.
K.L.: First gig out of college. I was 21 and I was the understudy for Hamlet. I remember sitting at the first rehearsal, and the guy playing Hamlet seemed too old to play Hamlet to me. That’s when I felt that Hamlet chose me. And then when I finally played him for real, at 33, that miraculously felt like the perfect age.
J.R.: That sense of being chosen – “why is this happening to me?” and using that. You get to have a relationship with everyone else onstage with you.

Q: Why is this role considered the testing ground for actors? What is with the prestige? Does it deserve its reputation?
B.C.: Of course it does. It demands of the actor a lot of different things. You have to build relationships with every other in the play and, in this space, build a relationship with the audience. And, you’re in 90% of the play. That, in a way, makes it easier. You don’t have time backstage to get nervous.
J.H.: Shakespeare as a cultural figure seems to get lucky sometimes, but the thing about Hamlet as a great part makes me, as an actor, way more self-conscious about performance than I’ve been in any other part. And that’s a big factor in the part, too. The role and the actor ramify in that part. It doubles the experience.

Q: Which is the character that you, as your Hamlet, most connected with?
J.H.: Horatio, which surprised me.
K.L.: It’s amazing – I really felt a special connection with all of the characters at different times.
B.C.: For me, it was the ghost, hands down. Shakespeare writes this amazing scene – “I know you have a million lines before and after this scene, but in this moment “‘list.'” The ghost gives the best pieces of advice to the actor playing the role in this speech. The ghost has so much to say, and Hamlet is required, in that moment, to listen.
J.R.: The ghost, as well. We really played with tenderness in that scene. The audience, though, was the relationship I paid the most attention to. I tried to befriend them as much as I could.
T.M.: It’s much more for me about the actors playing the roles than a particular character on paper. Horatio, though, is an enormous challenge. What is he doing there except to act as a witness and a fellow audience member. The room can alter it quite a bit, of course.

Q: Hamlet’s Theatricality – for Hamlet the audience becomes a major character that he has to deal with. How much did the audience become a mirror for you, playing at the Blackfriars?
B.C.: It made the role way easier. If I had to do it in the dark, I’d find the role much more challenging. “To be or not to be” – the inclusivity of the pronouns.
J.R.: I found it liberating and very comforting. We miss a huge opportunity when we put up that 4th wall. To that extent, the role becomes the actor.

Q: Hamlet can, in some ways, be an isolating part, but in this space, he’s never alone in a very obvious way.
J.H.: I’ll buy that.

K.L.: To the other Hamlets, how did you use the house for soliloquizing? Stagecraft-wise?
J.H.: I started by doing the “too, too solid flesh” speech in the DSR corner. That first speech is nerve-wracking and that acted like a security blanket almost.
K.L.: From center stage, that first speech made me feel like an insect under a microscope.
B.C.: That speech is a place where you feel like you’re being judged as an actor as well as the character.

Q: How have Original Practices affect your develop of the role? What was the relationship of O.P. to your Hamlets?
B.C.: OP version of special effects. How can we use “magic doors” and sound cues for the ghost? Ostensibly, the scene calls for five people, but it’s really an all-call for the supernatural elements.
K.L.: I did Hamlet two years later in a traditional theatre, we had lights and fog, etc. Was there a precedent for using mist?
Lauren Shell (from the gallery): Yes.
J.H.: I like how this kind of space…the advice to the players – making this really advice to Hamlet from himself. It made for a very interesting little puzzle when relating to the role and this space.

Q: Hamlet wasn’t a Blackfriars play, it was a Globe play. Hamlet ribs the groundlings and some scholars have said that it make him an elitist. Are there groundlings in this space?
J.H.: You are being ruthlessly upstaged by the players. There are always people who are WAY more interested in the dumbshow than in anything Hamlet says.
T.M.: In this space, the groundlings are above in the gallery. It’s very tangible, that split and it’s very exciting. Different communities/audiences on different levels.

Q: In this space, does Hamlet then throw the “groundling” lines up rather than down?
J.H.: I always pick the one person on the stools who isn’t paying attention because there is one, inevitably.

Q: A show of hands for who has or is about to play Hamlet – What’s the experience watching someone play Hamlet in this space?
A (Justin): It seems like such a wonderfully intimate venue. It’s enclosed and you can feel like the audience is always so close.
Q: And you did your Hamlet in a graveyard?
A (Justin): We started in a 19th-century opera house and I felt it was harder to reach the audience in that space than it was outdoors.
A (Daniel): This space is quite similar to the Winedale space. It’s surrounded by audience on three sides. You can touch/get in the face of someone in the front row. It allows you to connect very personally with the audience members, convince them that they’re the person about who you’re talking.
A (Bob): Outside in central Texas. It’s very hot. The challenge of the role is less about the lines than just the physical exercise involved in performing the role. At Winedale, audiences are constantly fanning themselves and shifting around. It makes it impossible for the actor to stay still the whole time. Added to the manicness of the character.

Q: In “all occasions,” there is a passage – “will and strength and means…” 26 consecutive monosyllabic words, begins and ends with a caesura. So, basically – pause, 26 monosyllables, pause. Have you thought about what that’s all about?
J.H.: The leaden ratio – that speech happens at the moment the audience most palpably wants Hamlet to shut up. And, you are out there saying something that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Q: Act – motive, intention, and performance. If you apply that concept to what Hamlet is saying –
J.H.: If he just changed to the past-tense “If I HAD cause and will…” it would make so much more sense.
T.M.: I think that the thing is what Mamet called the ‘Kitten monologue’ – someone grinding the play to a halt with a jarring, nostalgic moment. It’s like a play-sized caesura. It’s a different flavor for Hamlet. He can misrepresent himself to himself, self- deception. I think it’s an interesting moment that, if you’re looking for fluidity, continuity, and rationality, it’s clear why it gets cut, but it can be a moment where Hamlet and Fortinbras can suss out the differences in their characters.
K.L.: I didn’t do it here, but I did it elsewhere. And it’s interesting – it’s the last big speech, it’s the only one not at the castle. And it’s the turning point after which he acts – he deals with R&G, he gets involved with pirates, he gets his revenge. He becomes this sort of action hero-y character offstage.
J.H.: And, I found it incredibly easy to memorize.

Q: Offstage – why do you think Hamlet goes to Ophelia’s closet and what it he trying to do there?
J.H. [laughs]: What are they generally trying to do there?
B.C.: If you believe that he goes there directly after the ghost scene, he goes there to tell the person he trusts the most, but when he gets there, he remembers he’s sworn to secrecy and so stands there in silence. He hopes to find a support system, but can’t.
K.L.: It’s one of those near misses. Like, if only that servant could read and didn’t have to ask Romeo…
J.R.: Jim had us rehearse that scene to get a reference point.

Q. In this particular theatre, we’re willing to join you on an imaginative journey, do you think it matters how old Hamlet is?
J.R.: Modern audiences certainly relate to college Hamlet and his buddy Horatio. I think it assists their understanding.
K.L.: It is such a wonderful role, and I want to see all kinds of different Hamlets. I want to see Hamlets of all kinds.

Q (Maxim): If you could give yourself advice as you were playing Hamlet, what advice would you give?
B.C.: Ask for help. In a season with no director, I was really fortunate to have Rene as Horatio and he set aside time to sit with me as I worked the soliloquys. Rather than feeling like you have to carry the show, take in as much information and feedback as possible.
J.R.: I would tell myself…give myself permission to fail. I came in with a lot of preconceived notions and couldn’t allow myself to let them go.
M.D.: It brings up the thought – is this the sort of role you should really play twice?
J.H.: I wish I could have been able to relax about it.

Q: Is it difficult, as Hamlet, to be directed? Since it’s such a dominating part?
T.M.: Not at all. I think I would have been a lot more at sea if I hadn’t had Ralph as the director. The director can be a very useful pressure to create a clear form. Otherwise, the part could just spill everywhere.
J.H.: The best directors at least give you the illusion of ownership. I feel that I can answer for everything I’m doing on the stage.
J.R.: I felt that Jim was an ally and really helped in fleshing out each of those relationships, one by one.
B.C.: It’s great to be asked a lot of questions. As to ownership, the answer is yours. A good director won’t tell you the answer but encourage you to ask the question.

Q (Paul Menzer): To Ben, could you talk about doing the Q1, a Hamlet that is familiar and so different.
B.C.: I always thought that “there’s the point” would get a giggle because it’s jarring. But, the Q1 feels like the difference between an action film to an arthouse film.
K.L.: It’s just so exciting to have that feeling.
T.M.: The German translation version is structured differently even from Q1, but there are still recognizable bits. And those were the moments where the audience could get onboard with something familiar before something strange and jarring happened. Hamlet is in our cultural consciousness and there are a lot of people who may not know the play well enough to be jarred greatly by the differences.

Q (Casey Caldwell): On the subject of Folio and Q1, what is it like working with a play that has different, somewhat competing versions?
B.C.: Simply, I ignored all the other versions.
K.L.: I had a fifty email exchange with the director that was like a bargain – bartering lines. I did miss some stuff that wasn’t there, but how long do you want to make the evening? Every line can help you as an actor.
J.H.: We worked from the Oxford and Jim had done the cut. And, usually I’m a bargainer, but in this case, I just went with it. I only asked for one line back. And then, trying to learn the Q1 sequence was very confusing. I had learned Hamlet’s path one way and that was Hamlet. So, learning that different version of the character was cool.

Q (Rene): Is there a part of Hamlet that you don’t like?
J.H.: Osric. I don’t understand why he’s there and I don’t think I ever will.

Q (Tom Berger): When you offer a conflated version of Hamlet, that doesn’t exist. It’s a 19th century play.
J.H.: It’s really a 21st-century play. We’ve taken these pieces and played with them more.
T.M.: But, it only matters if you’re trying to authorize it in some way. In the playing of it, does it really matter?
K.L.: It adds to the mystery of what is this Hamlet.

Collective nouns: A Procrastination, A Prevarication, A Bedlam