03
Jan
08

#16: More Table Scraps for Word Nerds

Dear Friends,

I arrived to rehearsal a little early today, so I’ve got time for one last table-work-related blog before we push the tables out of the way and start struttin’ our stuff on the rehearsal floor.

I mentioned operative words earlier as something we look for when we’re scanning the text for clues about how to speak the lines in a way that will make conversational sense of the poetic language.  Here’s something else we look for:

Thesis and antithesis.  Bill loved to set words against each other.  He did it all the time.  I just glanced down at my open script to look for an example and my eyes landed on one immediately:

Viola: And what should I do in Illyria?  My brother he is in Elizium…

There are two examples of thesis/antithesis in those lines.  The first is I/my brother, and the second is Illyria/Elizium.  And there’s a way to inflect those words, in speaking them, to show that the images are meant to be in relation to each other.  Whereas I am in Illyria, my brother is in Elizium.

Here’s a sentence with one thesis/antithesis:

I ate a red apple and a green apple.

Here’s a sentence with two:

I ate a red apple and Bill ate a green apple.

Here’s a sentence with three:

I ate a red apple and Bill ate a green pear.

Get it?

I ate a red apple and a green apple.

I ate a red apple and Bill ate a green apple.

I ate a red apple and Bill ate a green pear.

“I” does not get stressed in the first sentence, but it does in the next two because “Bill” is there to set it against.  “Apple” does not get stressed in the first two sentences, but it does in the third sentence because “pear” is there to set it against.  Can you do four?  I can:

I ate a red apple and Bill puked a green pear.

Identifying the literally hundreds of sets of theses/antitheses in Bill’s plays is always a major priority of table work, because acknowledging them is essential to making the language clear and comprehensible.  When I talk about actors who have an ear for the language, I’m talking about actors who are identifying and acknowledging antithetical words when they speak the lines.

I’ve got time to discuss one other scanning tool.  This one is less universally-accepted than the first two I’ve mentioned.  It’s called the First Folio Technique, which is in reference to Shakespeare’s First Folio, which is the first written, published collection of Shakespeare’s plays.  There’s plenty more to say about the First Folio, but my time’s running out, so I’ll let you google the Folio should you want to, and confine my discussion to the Technique: 

The plays in the First Folio were punctuated differently than they are now.  As time passed, editors changed the punctuation for easier readability.  Proponents of the First Folio Technique argue that in the original punctuation lie clues, given by Shakespeare, for how the words should be spoken.  Here’s a bit of my big monologue, as found in the First Folio: 

This is the ayre, that is the glorious Sunne,

This pearle she gave me, I do feel’t, and see’t,

and though tis wonder that enwraps me thus,

Yet ’tis not madnesse.

So fans of the First Folio Technique point out the following:

1. Unusually capitalized words are important, and consequently deserve stress.

2. Unusually spelled words are important, and consequently deserve stress.

3. Unusual punctuation is also intentional, and important to note.

A few things to say about this.  First, Milwaukee Shakespeare is not dogmatic about this technique.  Paula said in rehearsal something to the effect of: “I think it’s a helpful tool, but only when it works.”  I agree.  I think it’s a neat way to unlock the language – to energize the words and lift them from the page – but I think that relying too heavily on the technique (and this goes for technique, really) can be really limiting.  A big philosophy of many of my teachers in grad school was, “If you can see the technique, then the technique ain’t workin’.”

I mean, the First Folio wasn’t written until after Bill was dead.  He never wrote a word of his plays for publication; many of the plays were presumably written from the memories of his actors.  Many scholars assert that the Folio was written by no fewer than five compositors, each with his own spelling habits and grammatical peculiarities.  So again, I don’t know that it’s useful to get biblical about the First Folio, but as I said, the technique offers a fresh look at the language in a way that is frequently helpful.   Okay– rehearsal’s starting. 

I’ll keep you posted,

kr

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