Why IS Shakespeare so daunting?
The author of the book, The Shakespeare Audition, Laura Wayth has explained why some of us find Shakespeare so overwhelming. Is it the old English? The accent? Believe it or not it’s something else entirely. Read below for to find out why Laura Wayth thinks Shakespeare shouldn’t make you scared but excited.
I kind of hate calling him “The Bard,” don’t you? But that’s what people often call Shakespeare. In medieval Gaelic and British culture, a bard was a professional poet employed by a patron (be it a monarch or nobleman) to write. Shakespeare is called The Bard because many people consider him the greatest poet that ever lived. And the idea that Shakespeare is first and foremost a poet is important for us to think about.
You see, the thing that probably makes you afraid of Shakespeare is the very thing that makes Shakespeare easy and fun. Shakespeare is poetry.
Although Shakespeare wrote prose, the majority of his work is in verse, aka poetry. Poetry has a specific shape and structure. Poetry has some rules governing the way it’s created. Once you learn those rules and that structure, Shakespeare begins to make perfect, exquisite sense! The rules that shape the creation of poetry give the actor a kind of roadmap to follow. Learn how to read the map, and the road to Shakespeare-land rolls out before you and your performance springs to life. Once you understand the form, you unlock the key to actor fun and freedom. I’m going to give you an idea of how to do this in a little while.
But first, let’s talk a little more about this dreaded P word—poetry. It sounds so formal, doesn’t it? It seems like something reserved for Valentine’s Day, or something archaic, ancient, and separate from our own experience. It seems fancy and formal and not how we express our truth. The biggest complaint I get from students who are new to Shakespeare when
they speak his words goes something like this: “But I just don’t feel like I’m being honest.” This is the single biggest problem actors have in approaching Shakespeare—they just don’t feel truthful speaking his words. And being truthful, after all, is the thing we actors value the most. To not feel truthful on stage is to feel fake, fraudulent, disconnected, self-conscious, and downright get-me-off-the-stage wrong.
But let’s think of it another way. Poetry isn’t our normal, everyday kind of truth. Poetry is greater than that. It offers an uplifted, larger-scale truth connected to all of humanity and to the divine. It isn’t the way we speak—it’s bigger and more powerful. So let’s think of poetry like an even greater revelation of our thoughts and of ourselves. Let’s think of it like music.
A song or a piece of instrumental music can take us to a place that is emotionally poignant and full of energy, encapsulating human experience even better than ordinary speech could. Music contains images. It is dense with a kind of information that we can understand not only on an intellectual level, but viscerally. Music can communicate what speech alone cannot. A violin can sing what someone’s heart is feeling. A driving rhythm can capture all that is raw and primitive in our individual or collective experience. A soaring line can lift us up. A minor key can bring us to a down and dark place. Poetry does this. And poetry does this because poetry is a kind of music.