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Saturday, April 02, 2016

Shakespeare And Me At University

FTwo years ago, I blogged about some of my experiences with Shakespeare. Here's the link. Do read it if you haven't! And feel free to comment. It's a good post if I do say so myself. It could do with some more reading.

But now it's a special Shakespeare month worldwide, as he died in this month four hundred years ago.  I'd rather celebrate his birth, but let's think of it as a tribute to his life.

Shakespeare. 1610-16. Public Domain.

So, today, I'm going to share some memories of performing Shakespeare.

I was a student at Monash university. We had a very enthusiastic lecturer, Dr Bartholomeusz, whose opinion was that as Shakespeare wrote  his plays to be performed, his students should be doing that. We were offered the chance to skip one essay in exchange for appearing in the English Department production of Coriolanus, one of the plays we were studying in second year.

Coriolanus. Richard Westall 1800. Creative Commons

Dr Bartholmeusz also had a theory, based on a drawing he'd seen, that in historical plays such as the one we were doing, the aristocratic characters performed in appropriate historical costume, while the rest wore contemporary dress. So, as Third Citizen,  Second Officer(actually Cleaning Lady), etc. I wore modern dress of a lower class variety. Keen to get my role of Third Citizen right, I looked up Harley Granville-Barker, a Shakespeare critic who had, apparently, set out to describe every single character in Shakespeare. And I do mean every character! I discovered that Third Citizen is "a man who likes the sound of his own voice." Sounded good to me!

I was chosen to play the standard bearer in the battle scene. That meant rushing on, waving it around and being shot down with an invisible arrow almost immediately. It also meant I got to wear a Roman soldier's uniform. Unfortunately, the breastplate was rather too big for me; when I fell to the stage during dress rehearsal, instead of dying immediately, I found myself choking on the breastplate that had pushed up under my chin as I fell.

"Susan, what are you doing?"  demanded Dr B, who was directing.

"Choking to death, I think," I replied, struggling to get up.

Then I had to rush off, change costume and appear again as Second Cleaning Lady, sweeping up the palm leaves from Coriolanus's triumphal entrance to Rome. Later I had to change again for my role of a couple of messengers.

Still, it was a lot of fun.

During my university years I also got to be Ariel in a performed reading of The Tempest. Dr B decided to play Prospero. He'd had his wife in mind for the role of Ariel, as she could sing, but on learning that I'd hoped for the role he compromised: I could act the role, she did the singing of Ariel's songs. It was nice of her to agree. 

I built my costume from a leotard, embroidered with sequins that suggested Ariel's functions. It was, on the whole, a pleasant evening, as English Department functions were.

Finally, we did The Winter's Tale in my fourth year. I'd hoped to be Perdita, but it was not to be. Instead I played a lady in waiting and the shepherdess Mopsa, the Young Shepherd's girlfriend. She got to sing, and we were very lucky to have the services of Helen Gifford, a composer who had written music for professional performances of Shakespeare. We - the lady playing shepherdess Dorcas and I - went to the composer's home to learn our song, along with the lecturer playing the con artist Autolycus. That was a delightful evening too. 

Autolycus, 1828 - Public Domain

When the play was over, we went to someone's home for the cast party and I first heard "She Moved  Through The Fair", sung by the lecturer who had played the Young Shepherd(when we were on stage, he'd whispered, "Nothing...nothing..." to me. I asked him what he was doing that for and he replied, "I'm whispering sweet nothings in your ear."). He had a wonderful - very Irish - voice - and the song sent chills down my spine. It intrigued me enough to learn more about the song and that kind of music.

While I was doing these plays I had also learned about Renaissance music from a member of the cast, who was the music arranger. I've loved it ever since. 

Well, those are some  of my experiences in Shakespeare. Who has some more to add?


Lexa Cain said...

I think acting in plays is a very good way to learn the stories and their author. It's a real hands on approach and will undoubtedly stick with students for a long time. You sure got a work-out with all those costume changes! LOL

(Thanks for dropping by my blog! The A-Z Challenge is a blog hop in April of every year. Everyone chooses a theme and does a post for each letter of the alphabet during the month - except for Sundays off - and they're encouraged to visit other hop members. I've seen the hop go up to 3k participants, though this year it's under 2k. The point is to get to know more people and increase your visibility/following. I did it once and used "Haunted Places," but the effort of researching 27 posts far outweighed any increase in blog traffic or book sales I saw. And the effort to visit & comment on hundreds of blogs during the month is exhausting.)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Yes, we certainly got a lot out of those performances! Thanks for explaining the A-Z thing - I think it might be a bit much for me, but I have to take my hat off to those who have a go.