…and all the men and women merely players.”
I love my Shakespeare. I suppose it is to be expected when I trained as an actor for 3 years and have been involved in theatre from a young age. Recently my parents asked me to come
to a Shakespeare Party they were hosting, and perform some speeches at some point during the evening. I thought to myself that this was going to be interesting as it is not the same as performing on a stage. Doing speeches without the context of the story or the other characters is quite a challenge – especially with a small audience of Shakespearean novices. Now – I do not say this unkindly. In fact it was quite lovely to realise that I knew quite a considerable amount more about this subject than all of the guests! And of course for most people, Shakespeare is a distant classroom memory.
So, here was I, Shakespearean scholar and actor extraordinaire, introducing my speeches with a little tit bit of context from the plays before reading a variety of soliloquies. I started with a bit of Henry V – the prologue in fact:
Oh for a a muse of fire that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention. A kingdom for a stage, princes to act And monarchs to behold the swelling scene. …But pardon, and gentles all, The flat unraised spirits that have dared On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth So great an object…. O, pardon! since a crooked figure may Attest in little place a million; And let us, ciphers to this great accompt, On your imaginary forces work.
Not the whole speech, but you get the point! I was really trying to say – “don’t expect to much – it’s just me in a garden with a folder of Shakespeare’s speeches”. I worked my way through some of the old favourites (although I avoided To be or not to be like the plague!). A bit of Romeo & Juliet; followed by some Hamlet; something a bit lighter with my Bottom (from Midsummer Night’s Dream!); King Lear and Macbeth made an appearance each; some summer fun with Rosalind from As You Like It (versatile – why thank you!); I even through in a couple of sonnets. As my section drew to a close I began to realise that I was pretty much shouting in my parents garden at about 10.30pm. Lucky Godalming! Cultured shouting is always best I say. So we closed the evening’s recital with one of Shakespeare’s more famous speeches, from As You Like It – All the World’s a Stage… The speech is made by a melancholy chap called Jacques – and here it is in full:
….All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms. Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the canon’s mouth. And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances; And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slippered pantaloon With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
That Shakespeare manages to span centuries and cultures to hit on universal truths about being human is extraordinary. I remember watching a documentary on the BBC which was presented by Felicity Kendal, in which she spoke about the influence of Shakespeare in India. How unlikely that a man from 16th Century England should be able to write plays that even now – and even in completely different cultures, like India’s astounds me. I don’t know much about Shakespeare in India, but apparently it’s a big thing. HERE is an interesting article from last year about it. And THIS is at least a small section of that documentary about Felicity Kendal in India.
If you know more, then I’d be interested to hear about it. I have never seen any theatre in India – perhaps this is something I need to remedy next time I get out there? If only I had a bit more time when I’m out there.
- Shakespeare Wallah (myoldaddiction2.wordpress.com)
- Review: Springboard Shakespeare: King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, By Ben Crystal (independent.co.uk)