The End of Shakespeare’s Verse? Part III

Three chairs are set up on stage for Giles Block, Patrick Spottiswoode, and Abigail Rokison.

Spottiswoode welcomes everyone back and alerts the audience that we are also honoring Anne Thompson whose work will be shown in a conference later in the year.

Rules for discussion, could you stand up and speak clearly and state your name and institution.

Emely Strong ASC intern: During this conference there seem to be two different standards of judging the accuracy of the text theory and practice.

Block:  I don’t see why there needs to be a conflict between those two. Clearly, there is a conflict when one feels the necessity to cut and maims the text in some way, but we all need to cut. The public won’t notice if you leave half a line standing by itself, what they do notice is if you lose the rhythm of the language. This iambic rhythm is something that binds us together because it is beating as your heart and my heart.

Rokison: I’m arguing against rules because rules bind instead of free. I would like people writing books to do historical research first.

Karoline Szatek, Curry College outside of Boston, She liked that they gave the actors in the last session someone to work off, when the actors would talk to the graduate students in the upstairs would close in the space and open up his thoughts.

Block: When someone begins a speech they don’t know how they’re going to end it.

James Keegan University of Delaware and from the ASC: I enjoy your books because they have a profound humility. Rules about verse can do damage because they are used as a stick. We have to be conscious of the text and its origin. One of the trickiest things for me as an actor (in Marlow and early Shakespeare) is the regularity of the line, and having to fight the regularity of the line.  I think Shakespeare wants us to pay attention to the line. I think in Shakespeare’s career we move from a declaratory style to more intimate style.

Jim Casey High Point University: I noticed that when the actors started talking to (the not there in reality) Lady Macbeth their stresses changed.

Block: I certainly feel that it is not all iambic but there are a lot of trochaic beats. I go trochee hunting. There are a lot of lines where you can make a choice. Which is more easy?

Casey: I thought the reading was better when they changed the stress and made it less like something that could become monotonous.

Block: One thing I feel is that in those fifty line speeches you want to be dividing them in to different thought units, each though unit has its different color. Finding how one though morphs into or prompts another.

Keegan: In Shakespeare’s Metrical Art he does that. You build, and then you come down again, it is an interesting coming together of the formalist and method versions

Block: When Tamburlaine first played I imagine that people were amazed at how he just kept building.

Rokison: I try to get students to try and scan the passages. and I don’t tell them which words are trochees and iambic because they have to find it for themselves. Don’t imagine that every metrical irregularity is doing something because that’s another rule.  William Proctor Williams was saying that he was editing Haywood’s plays at the moment. At the begining of his career he didn’t use any shared lines and then as his career when on he used more and more.

Lawyer in the audience says only bad thing is that Shakespeare’s plays don’t leave much for copywrite litigation.  A professor he knew got very excited about Rokison’s book and her ideas on rules and line endings.

Rokison: I think some of those line endings might be rather useful, but I have never played Macbeth so I don’t know, but I think pausing after a line ending can be useful, but it is about exploration. Whatever happens with these line endings if you do take a suspension at the end of the line it does throw emphases to the front of the line.

Don Wiest, Utah University: Thank you for your healthy skepticism of rules. I noted your preference to begin with folio punctuation.

Block: I go to it because it is lighter than most modern punctuation and it encourages flow. I think it might because to the way Shakespeare writes. If Hand D was Shakespeare and in the midst of un-punctuated flow there are two commas and then in another speech there are many commas as if to indicate someone who is really distraught.

Michael Henry a classicist from Staunton: With Euripides you can date the plays without the external dates because of the way the meter works. Can you do that here, is it linear?

Rokison: With Haywood there was an increase in the use of shared lines, but not in lines that were just sort.  I’d love to do more looking at Shakes contemporaries.

Peter Holland: When I was relineating Coriolanus there were many places where someone relineated the lines because compositor could not stand to have “And” at the end of a line, but that is part of what makes Shakespeare great. This morning with the actors I kept hearing different internal rhythms in their speeches.  I think these rhythms matter.  Shakespeare wants us to notice.

Block: I agree with what you are saying. I love the stuff we can’t give voice to. There are lots of words that are repeated in those speeches.  It is all very subjective.

Holland: I think I want the actors to find more of the complexities rather than fewer.

Rokison: Perhaps we should go back to giving rhetoric classes.

Dr. Ralph Cohen of the ASC and Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare and Performance program: What we are more and more interested all the time here is studying prose, and remember that these people knew a hundred to a hundred and twenty figures of speech.  It offers the actor a way to hear what Peter is hearing. It isn’t at odds with it.

Dr. Matthew Davies of Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare and Performance program: I would add the rhetoric of sound is very important, scan and don’t stop there, note the sounds, the repetitions.

Rokison: I have my students take away the consonants and just use the vowels. I think the danger in this business is with inexperienced actors and you point out a figure of rhetoric and then that is all that gets stresses.

Virginia Vaughan, Clark University: I was interested in Block’s back-story about Lord and Lady Macbeth and I think it is interesting to find out the physiology behind the story.

Block: In Hamlet there is the back story of what went wrong with Old Hamlet and Gertrude, and in Lear, why does he love Cordelia best? I sometimes think Macbeth is like Hitchcock; just when you think everything is alright you hear an owl screech.

Stephanie Howieson, Rouge Shakespeare/Mary Baldwin MFA: Just because Lady Macbeth says he swore about something he could have said “no I didn’t,” so there may not be that story before the story.

Block: I think in a play that you have to take everything as literally as you can, Shakespeare takes us to extremes in small ways or in big ways, like how many times words like “all” or “never” appear as the first word in a line. There is no wastage in Macbeth. I think she says “you swore to me” and I think he knows he has.

Frances Cooper, independent scholar: What about long lines?

Rokison: A few. Sometimes they are what Peter Holland just said, it is hyper long because a compositor changed them, or pronunciation changed, or mistakes were made and a crossed out words got in, but there are some really long lines. Like in  Richard II you go from regular rhymed lines and then finished with a hyper … Bolingbrook cuts the whole thing off with a hyper metrical line.

Block: I think frequently longer lines happened in the latter plays. Just feel where the five stresses are even in long lines, in the actual speaking of it the extras don’t count.

Joe Stevenson: There are people out there who will almost refuse to speak the verse I feel that I have an answer to this. Macbeth: They have tied me to the stake I cannot fly.” Many people say “they have” but if you scan it should be “they’ve.”

Block: I think verse is speech, that’s all.

Stevenson: the “ion” ending, “They say the lark makes sweet div-is-ion,” do we add the extra syllable ?

Rokison I think an actor should hear it but not say it.

Iska Alter, independent scholar: You were talking to the actors about repetition of the “S” sound in listening to the speech there are different types of “S” sound. Is there a way to make a distinction? Because they register quite differently.

David Landon, Sewanee: The University of the South: I worked with Marion Richland, she always said the verse is like the trellis, and the speech is the vine going through the trellis, and every now and then there’s a flower.

Rokison I use a musical bars metaphor to explain that not every musical bar has quavers and crotches… do you call them that here? No?

Block: I think nine times out of ten people say the line and they get it right, and that’s because Shakespeare wrote it right.

Spottiswoode: Perhaps we should have a moment of silence for the people who brought verse to us.  Thank you for all of you for contributing and thanks to Giles and Abigail for helping us to look with our ears.