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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Theatre Thursday: Slings and Arrows

When I was a much younger actor, I was told by a slightly older actress - upon whom I had a considerable crush - that "Shakespeare has no subtext." Because I was very young, and because she was very beautiful, I accepted that statement as gospel at the time, but, in truth, I never fully grasped that concept. It was a phrase I would hear many times from many graduates of acting programs in years to come, but it still has never made a lot of sense to me. Perhaps this is one of those concepts that was stated at one point in the acting schools, misunderstood but accepted, and then repeated ad nauseum until it became "law."
Or perhaps there is some part of it that I simply do not understand, but, if Shakespeare indeed has no subtext, then how do we get such variance in the performance of the same scene (Act 3, Scene1 of Hamlet) from:

Sir Richard Burton

Kevin Kline

Kenneth Branagh

Sir Laurence Olivier

Mel Gibson

David Tennant

Sir Derek Jacobi (my personal favorite)

and Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Yeah, okay, I was just kidding with that last one. Incidentally, I did not forget Ethan Hawke's version of the same speech, unless by "forget" you mean "deliberately and mercifully omitted."

Anyway, how is there not evidence of subtext in each of these performances? Is there something I just don't understand? Is it simply a matter of semantics? Is this really just a ploy so that I can post several different actors performing the same scene in one blog entry as a matter of curiosity and novelty?
Hard to say. Hard to say.


Prof. Jenn said...

It just means that you don't have to do a lot of objective-digging and intricate Stanislavskian analysis. A Shakespearian character always tells you what s/he wants. They may lie to another character, but they'll always tell the audience (in a soliloquy) first. That's all. It doesn't mean a variety of actors won't be different, because the words are the same.

BTW, this famous speech isn't a soliloquy. Ah-ha!

Brady Darnell said...

Like I figured: semantics.

Now, I didn't think that Ophelia's presence onstage necessarily disqualified this as a soliloquy. I just thought it made it a non-traditional one. Of course, that may just be a matter of semantics as well.

Prof. Jenn said...

Totally semantics.
No, not Ophelia's presence--she enters after the speech is over. Heh. Ehehe.