BWW Blog: Shakespeare Is Scary
Does the name William Shakespeare intimidate anyone else? Last semester, I was in an acting class and the second half of the syllabus was dedicated to Shakespeare monologues and sonnets. I had never read a Shakespeare play before and I was petrified. However, during the course of the semester, I learned ways to approach this material and I grew to enjoy it. Here are some tips that helped me get more comfortable with performing a Shakespeare monologue:
Find some good resources. The Oxford Dictionary which can be found online or through your school's library database is a great tool for defining words that you don't know. No Fear Shakespeare is a website that you can use to get a general concept of what your monologue or scene is about. However, if you really want a full understanding of the text I would do the research individually and use No Fear Shakespeare as a last resort.
Approach the text with an open mind. You have to understand the text before you are able to interpret it. Use your resources to define any unknown words and to understand any metaphors and why they were used. After this process, you are able to identify the thoughts of the piece and connect them. At this point, you can figure out who your character is speaking to and what their objective is.
Ask yourself why Shakespeare used that specific literary device. The text is full of repetition, rhymes, metaphors, antithesis, and lists. Take advantage of them. They are there for a reason, find out why. When you discover the purpose of them it gives you so much more to play with. Look for the operative words and don't be afraid to emphasize them.
Understand the structure and punctuation. Research iambic pentameter. It is important to understand the importance of the syllables and which are stressed and unstressed. Take note of any punctuation and its significance. Punctuation supports inflection, breathing, and meaning.
Memorize thought by thought. Some find it difficult to memorize a Shakespeare monologue because of the language. Break down each thought into your own words. Think about what is he/she trying to say here. This will help provide structure. The language will come naturally eventually, but only when you fully understand what your character is trying to say.
Play with the piece. When rehearsing, it is important to practice at full volume and on your feet. Try different things, see what all is there. Always aim for what you are now, and not what you did last time. The piece will change with you, do what is alive. Keep in mind that this is the best that this character can do. What does that mean for them and why. Keep it active, make discoveries in the moment. Think about what is at risk for your character. The only way you are going to get comfortable with it is by playing.
Hopefully, these tips will help you approach Shakespeare with a little more excitement and curiosity.