Lecture 1, Course Introduction
Lecture 1, Course Introduction ENG 209
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This 2 page Class Notes was uploaded by Miranda Browning on Wednesday August 17, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to ENG 209 at North Carolina State University taught by William Shaw in Fall 2016. Since its upload, it has received 51 views. For similar materials see Intro to Shakespeare in English at North Carolina State University.
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Date Created: 08/17/16
How to Study Shakespeare’s Plays o Get the proper edition—sit down and read, even re-read. Try to learn the spirit & meaning of the play from the perspective of actors. o Re-reading: highlight, write in margins, take notes, sticky notes, etc. Don’t be afraid to use the text as a “workbook”—thus, work the book! Brings a better understanding and appreciation to the work. o Read each play twice- listening to the text is also beneficial. o With careful reading be sure to note characters names, highlight important passages, remember character views on conflict. o Use a journal to think about the plays and be able to form critical judgments—i.e., “this is good or this is bad--& this is why” o Read the “Introductions” after reading the play. Perhaps, you may want to refer to a plot summary first—can be found on Spark Notes and other internet sources. May provide a road map for you before getting into the play. o Suggested that you read background material in the Study Guide on Moodle. Shakespeare as Dramatist o Originally wrote his plays to be performed in the Globe Theatre, writing them as a script—writing the characters, dialogues, stories, etc. o Then, he would make copies and hand out the scripts to the actors, members of the Repertory Company. Companies of actors had to be sanctioned & protected by members of the noble classes. Actors during the middle ages were considered beggars and vagabonds, traveling around from town to town seeking permission to perform before an audience for meals, room and board, or payment. So, in order to perform in London, they had to be under protection by Lord Chamberlain, the King, etc. o Actors were men that Shakespeare knew very well—such as lead actor, Will Kemp, the comic actor. No female actors during this time, which would eventually change in 1660. o Pictured in the lecture is a photo of the Globe Theatre—Shakespeare was writing for a particular space. An “open air” theatre that seated between 2,000 and 3,000 people. The size of the stage was approximately 43’ wide, 28’ deep, and 5’ high. If you notice the open space before the stage, this is where the penny grounders stood—such as the poor people of London, the students, the apprentices, the craftspeople, etc. They would squeeze into the space and stand for the duration of the play. o Audience was truly “global”- three tiers in addition to the standing space- where the upper classes would sit in the top/highest tier, middle class in the lower tiers. Theatre/Acting Conventions o When beginning to read the play, read it not only as a student trying to understand the meaning of the play- but, also read for Theatre of the Mind, or, in the perspective as a director/actor. o So, imagine you are taking these words given to the actors and develop an understanding of how they should be standing, how to recite, how to move/gesture, how to relate to the audience, etc. o Blocking and Movement Grid imposed over the stage space where actors are placed within the grid- hierarchy of importance in the stage space. Downstage is where the most important characters in the scene should be standing, where less important characters are upstage. o Speaking the Verse—very important to actors is that they follow the iambic pentameter line (10 syllables to the line where the rhythm is picked up in a kind of heart-beat tempo) o Relationship to Audience--actors always had to be conscious when moving around the stage to where people were. o Dr. Shaw then draws out a sketch/overview of Shakespeare’s stage. Toward the back of the stage, there were upstage left/right entrances, a backroom, and a balcony/loft above where the musicians played, and even a trap door underneath (used for graveyard scenes, war scenes, etc.) o The less important characters would provide a “human background” while more important characters would be toward the front of the stage speaking out toward the audience in a more visible area within the grid. Principles of Blocking: Hierarchy of Stage Space o For reiteration, the important characters in a given scene are center stage and down stage, while the less important character are up stage. The grid of the stage provides the shorthand for explaining movement and “blocking” on stage. o When you have many characters on stage, the most important characters take center stage while less important characters take upstage right and left. However, when you have this many characters on stage there should be a symmetry of physical arrangement. Such that, it looks like a wedding photograph (with bride & groom in middle, best man and maid of honor outside of them, and then rest of bridal party on the outside). Principles of Movement o Only the speaking character will move on stage, except for simulated stage conversation. Such as the ballroom scene in Romeo and Juliet—where background characters are not frozen in time but instead simulating stage conversation through moving their mouths and light murmurs. o Upstaging occurs when other characters are moving while the main character is speaking—thus, diverting attention from the character the audience should be listening to. o All movement should be choreographed, and nothing should seem aimless or nervous. o Movement itself should derive from the requirements, suggestions, and/or implications of the text and actor’s understanding of their character. So, when you understand what it is you are saying—it gives the actor a clue into how to speak, gesture, and move around stage. o In physical scenes, such as duels, dances, brawls, and drunk scenes—they require a special kind of choreography, in most times very extensive and requiring a lot of rehearsal. Shakespeare as Poet o Up until the 1970s Shakespeare taught in the universities and was always taught as a poet and wordsmith. Such that it was something to be studied out of a library and out of a book—in that it could never be fully appreciated in the theatre. o In formal criticism—we look at the plays to determine/understand: What is the play saying: the storyline, the important characters, repeated motifs, imagery, symbolic meaning, illusions, etc. o Among other approaches to the text: Historical: how the life/times of Shakespeare and how certain events in his own life and the life of England have impacted his work Psychological: help gain insights into the thinking of the characters Shakespeare has created—what motivates them and makes them behave in the way they do (such as Lear and Hamlet) Sociological: what about the life and times of when this play was written. Such that when we read Taming of the Shrew, understanding the role of women in society can give insight into what Shakespeare is getting at with his play. Cultural: attitudes about women, marriage, love, madness, etc. Performance: coming to understand a play by actually doing something about it and acting it out. Thus, understanding what types of things they have eliminated/added from the text to the performance, the setting, etc. o Just some among many approaches to the text—in which we will explore more as the course continues.
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