Isn’t there a traditional way of speaking the verse that most Shakespearean actors use?

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Yes, there is a 'traditional approach' to the speaking of the text, especially the verse. We will make use of that approach, along with a practical study of phrasing, rhythm and phonetics that will raise your awareness of the structure and built-in power of the poetry.

But what do you mean when you say the word ‘traditional?’

Bear in mind, that the generally accepted style of speaking Shakespeare tends to slowly change and evolve with every generation, as the innovations of technology continue their unstoppable course, rendering what might be fashionable today quite out of favor tomorrow. Tradition is not a set or static event; it is surprisingly fluid.

If you listen to early recordings of Shakespearean performances from the years following the invention of Edison’s phonograph in the 1880’s, moving forward in time, you’ll be amazed at the differences. If you’d like, you could start here, by listening to Herbert Beerbohm Tree doing Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” back in 1906. Then, listen here, to Richard Burton in 1964, and here, to Kenneth Branagh do the same speech a full 90 years later, in 1996. Or try this: listen to Dame Edith Evans’ 1964 version of Sonnet 18- “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” and then enjoy Peter O’Toole’s rendition in the 2006 film ‘Venus.’

Dame Sybil Thorndike’s 1922 Lady Macbeth was recorded for our benefit, especially if we later take in Dame Judi Dench’s unforgettable 1979 Lady Macbeth.

Coached by Sir John Gielgud in the 1953 film of “Julius Caesar,” Marlon Brando’s Mark Antony blew the roof off the traditional style that Gielgud himself had helped to establish. Later, in 1960, Gielgud recorded 3 of Macbeth’s speeches, but the challenge to that tradition had already been thrown down by the bold, young Brando. Naturally, the changes found their way home in the diversity of the American culture. Enjoy this brief 1981 documentary of Meryl Streep & Raul Julia in “Taming of the Shrew” in Central Park.

Jumping forward into the 21st century, compare Mark Rylance’s 2003 Richard II to Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s approach way back in 1906, and you will see and hear how much things have changed in the span of 100 years. What you will witness is the slow but steady evolution of each generation’s ‘traditional approach’ to speaking Shakespeare’s text. The most recent example of this ongoing evolution is clearly articulated in an interview with the sensational British actor, Andrew Scott, discussing his approach to the role of ‘Hamlet’ in the 2017 Almeida Theatre production of the play in London.

Within the never-ending balancing act between form and content and while acknowledging that form often liberates the soul, the S&B workshop will usually err on the side of content, letting form follow function - or as we often say, “What Before How.”


Marci LeBrun