Sunday, October 11, 2009

Two Hours’ Traffic…But Talk Fast!

BardBlog’s got a good point, noting the difference between the prologue from Romeo and Juliet clearly saying “two hours’ traffic of the stage”, and with the more accepted feeling that Shakespeare must be 3 or 4 or even 5 hours long.  Why the difference?

It’s all in how quickly you deliver the lines, apparently.  “Stop acting between the lines!” he tells us. 

Shakespeare’s plays (and most other classical works) are not natural everyday speech, it’s thought and action. When people criticize Shakespeare saying “nobody talks like that!” smack them. I mean, say, “That’s the point!” People think a lot faster than they speak, and if the verse is thought, then the words need to move a lot faster than natural speech.

Of course there are times when the verse should be spoken slower, and maybe even (gasp!) pause.

I guess I’d have to see it.  Somebody show me a scene and say “These people are playing it too slow” and then show me that same scene and say “It should have gone more like this.”  Then I’ll understand better what’s being discussed here.


JM said...

It's what I think has been mentioned here before.
Branagh, and those like him, seems to be speaking "naturally". The words flow more like "common speech", with ease, out of his mouth.--he seems to be comfortably exchanging his thoughts with another character--or in monologue/soliloquy, with us. In that way, the larger than life language and character, quite contrary to the lofty ideas they might be expressing with the added difficulty of flowery, mellifluent phrasing, actually becomes more "real". In Shakespeare, an actor must EARN a pause, by knowing WHERE a pause actually IS; not write one in where there isn't one.(Which is the habit of most Method actors in America. The playwright becomes the 'second citizen' to the actor's "emotional interpretation".) Since Will was writing FOR actors, he took care of a lot of the business of "interpretation" within the structure of the verse itself.

A little while back, I directed a 2 hour
version of R&J I had edited down to what I knew was considerably more than the "normal" 2 hours run-time. I had done it intentionally. The actors, ranging from professional to Masters candidates, to semi-pros in theatre, still didn't know about the concept. Consequently, I had to play rowing coach for a couple of speed thrus as fast (faster, even) as they could speak, to get across to them the idea of "acting ON the line" instead of in between, using the words as tools--not hindrances. They came in at 2 in performance--in fact a little under-average 1:57-8.

People wonder why those English types just seem to do it better. I found the answer when I studied with teachers that had studied with RSC teachers and directors. It's because of their focus in training on the Words FIRST. This is a fact that has obvious consequences very few here want to admit. --It ain't just those cool accents.

"Words, words, words." "Speake the speech I pray you as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you Mo-u-th it..." :)

Gedaly said...

Thanks for the link. :)

A production of Richard III I'm working on is full of these moments. The majority of the cast and crew isn't very Shakespearienced, so it's hard to get the idea across. There are many pauses between the words and lines. The show not only becomes 3 hours because of it, but the stakes are lower, the energy is low, the acting gets unspecific, and the audience gets bored.

I can't think of any really good examples of this on film that I could recommend. Perhaps parts of the Ethan Hawke Hamlet, but I'd have to watch it again to be sure. Maybe some YouTube performances of high school/college productions...