16 September 2002
Sticking to the text / Falstaff
From: Robert Hamilton email@example.com
Q: Later this year I am playing Falstaff in a specially commissioned
play adapted from Henry IV pts 1 and 2, with a bit of Henry V thrown in
for good measure. There is a mountain of literature (of
suitably Falstaffian proportions) written about the character. When you
have tackled roles such as Richard III and Prospero where there are
similar amounts of secondary literature, are you tempted to read them, or
do you advocate just sticking to the texts?
A: I don't envy you Falstaff, although your version sounds
exhilarating so long as you don't include that tiresome pudding of
Merry Wives of Windsor, where the best male part is undoubtedly Master
I bet academics go to town on Falstaff Lord of Misrule etc.
etc. Well no- one can play the Arden notes and you won't need to either
once you concentrate on the man's relationships with his fans, his
soldiers and his Prince. There's a telling line from Shallow in Henry
4th part 2 reminiscing about his youth: "Then was Jack Falstaff, now
Sir John, a boy and page to Thomas Mowbray Earl of Norfolk". To think the
lad Falstaff could be in Richard II as well as the other histories.
But the point is he is a survivor and as such represents (oh dear here I
am sounding like an academic) the nation. Forget that he is an old man
easier to act that than any representative!
As for me, I don't read outside the play (by Shakespeare or
anyone else) unless I get really stuck and the director ain't directing
Q: I had the greatest opportunity so far in my life of being able to play
Malvolio in a full run of 'Twelfth Night' (I was the youngest in the cast
being only 16 and a girl!) at Winedale and my school. I know you played
Sir Toby Belch, how was that role for you, having to literally become the
size of the 'world'!
A: My first Shakespeare when I was twelve was playing Malvolio in the
garden scene. A great part that I want to play in its entirety one day.
I've played Toby Belch twice a much larger but less rewarding part, the
engine of the play's plot with all the best laughs creamed off by Andrew Aguecheek if you aren't careful.
Shakespeare on Screen / Merchant of Venice
Q: Please bring Shakespeare back to the screen now that Gandalf the
Grey is behind you for greenlight support. Do you have any plans for
making another Shakespearean film?
A: Whilst writing my own adaptation (with Rhidian Davis) I was
convinced that Merchant of Venice is due a film version. The eponymous
Antonio is a wonderful part. I am not as confident as you that Gandalf's
wizardry stretches much beyond the confines of Middle-earth. Hollywood is
a world elsewhere.
From: Joel firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: My students are currently reading Titus Andronicus and have seen a
very well done local production of it. Some of our scholarship has
suggested that it wasn't written by Shakespeare, or that at most he
polished up the verse on an existing work. Is it any more than an
Elizabethan slasher flick?
A: It is surprising how often Titus is rediscovered as being a
workable, thrilling horror story. I recall Peter Brook's stage production
with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh which astounded my generation. More
recently the Royal Shakespeare Company did it again at Stratford-upon-Avon
with Deborah Warner's small-scale version with Brian Cox as Titus. Then
look at Anthony Hopkins in Julie Taymore's very impressive film.
Shakespeare in the USA
From: email@example.com Oona
Q: I think it is fair to say, having taught English for a year in the
States, that the educational systems are lacking in their teaching of
Shakespeare; therefore, it is difficult for a young American, such as
Grant Chapman, to whom you responded, to receive the education- without an
EXCELLENT teacher, to fully obtain the knowledge of the Shakesperean
Language. I have many friends who studied Skakespeare at University in the
States, and it was only then that they were able to understand the
rudimentary aspects that are taught in the UK. What do you think of
Shakespearean studies in the U.S?
A: I am not familiar enough with the United States educational system
to comment, although I think you may be over-optimistic about the current
standards of teaching in British schools! Shakespeare is no longer, for
instance, on the national curriculum.
Q: I am currently in a production of King Lear, playing the Duke of
Albany and I am having trouble understanding my transition from
'milk-livered man' to actually standing up to and confronting Goneril in a
very forceful manner. I have noticed that Shakespeare often gives his
actors dramatic reversals in character without much to justify it. What if
I witnessed 3.7, where Goneril plots to pluck out Gloucester's eyes. I
feel that if I witness how despicable she really is then I can justify my
'you are not worth the dust which the rude wind blows in your face'. At
the same time, I think it would be more believable to the audience as
A: There are, as you say, many moments when Shakespeare asks the actor
to turn on a sixpence. These dramatic reversals are not a problem for the
audience as long as the actors believe in them. You might discover that
Albany has not been as weak as others assume all along, although his
witnessing act 3 scene 7 is plausible. If it were such a good idea,
however, I wonder why Shakespeare didn't think of it first?
From: Brad.Reed@libraries.claremont.edu Bradford Reed
Q: MacBeth's transformations seem to happen at least as much between
scenes as onstage (e.g., between regretful exit for having killed Duncan
and re-entry for the murder's discovery, after hearing the Sisters'
additional prophecies but before appearing upon the battlements, etc).
What would you suggest to an actor for his offstage-time in this role?
What was your experience between-scenes?
A: Shakespeare can elide time somewhat, so that the expectations of
naturalistic drama are not relevant. But I would recommend keeping an eye
on what must have happened while the character is offstage, whilst
realising that it is onstage that almost all the action will take place
and that Macbeth's soliloquies (packed with thought and feeling) are a
more vital challenge to the actor than his offstage life. The first
entrance of Macbeth must match up to the descriptions of his feats as
reported to Duncan by the bloody sergeant. I was always grateful not to
have to deliver to the audience the physical prowess which makes Macbeth
such a hero to his king and nation.
From: Todd Bonny
Q: The recent re-release of the film version of Amadeus got me to
thinking. Since there was a tape available of your performance as Macbeth,
do you know if there were any made of your stage performance in Amadeus?
A: I expect the Broadway production was recorded on video for inclusion
in the Library of Congress's collection or somesuch, where it could be
privately viewed. There is certainly no commercially available version.
Q: Could you explain the difference between a "classically trained"
actor and one who is not classically trained. To that end, is to be
"classically trained" the same as to be "Shakespearean"?
A: Neatly put. In UK any actor will include Shakespeare in his notion
of the classics, pre-eminent amongst or alongside the other great
dramatists British and foreign. I am not keen on these terms as they
suggest a limitation in an actor's ability or ambition. Familiarity with
the classics should not discount an actor when a new play is being cast.
Conversely time and again, actors can make a startling debut in
Shakespeare without any previous experience of the classics.