An Introduction to Shakespeare

Hi everyone, it’s Lauren and this is the
first video in a series that I’m doing on the plays of William Shakespeare. I’m
going to be looking at Shakespeare in context, Shakespeare in performance and
giving some tips and advice on how to read Shakespeare and also doing some
separate videos really analyzing some of his plays, so if there’s any
requests that you have, any specific parts of Shakespeare or certain plays
that you want me to focus on, let me know in the comments below and today’s video
is just going to be a really brief really brand-new overview, sort of a
Shakespeare 1010 for people who maybe who are interested in learning a little bit more about
Shakespeare but don’t really have any experience or have had really bad
experiences in school. Starting from the very beginning, Shakespeare was born in
1564 in Stratford-Upon-Avon which is a small town in the middle of England. He
was married there, he had three children and then sometime later left them all
behind to move down to London to pursue his career as an actor and playwright. He
was part of a group of players called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and they
performed in several different theatres in London, they also toured the country,
until about 15 99 when they opened their own theater – The Globe, a replica of which
is in London which you can go and what plays in today, and this was an open-air
theatre. The stage is covered, so the actors stay dry but if it rains all of the
audience standing in the pit below get wet Although Shakespeare’s language is very
poetic and I do enjoy reading his plays his plays weren’t really written to be
read they are written to be performed so understanding the context in which they
performed really helps you understand what’s going on in the plays and Shakespeare’s
motivation for some of the things that he’s doing. So we can roughly
divided Shakespeare’s plays into about two areas, the first area is when he’s
performing under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and plays of this
time tend to be historical plays which are really fashionable and also a lot of
comedies are written at this time. It’s important to remember with the history
plays in particular that these are not being written from a position of
objectivity because Queen Elizabeth is a Tudor monarch and she is the current
reigning monarch, and there is a lot of Tudor propaganda which turns up in some of
these plays that Shakespeare’s writing particularly Richard III Quick English history lesson here!
Richard III was the king before Elizabeth’s grandfather, Henry VII and he
was killed in battle during a time called the Wars of the Roses and since
he was killed and basically usurped by Henry VII, it was really
important for the Tudors to depict him as a terrible cruel and evil king
which he is depicted as in ‘Richard III’ The second part of Shakespeare’s career
takes place under the reign of King James I who is a Stuart king and
his group of players, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men is changed to become
the King’s Men and they have a much closer relationship with the monarch and
there is a change in the type of plays that he’s producing at this point, they’re not
so much comedies and really literal historical tragedies. They’re a little bit more
complex such as Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and The Winter’s Tale, they are all
written in this period. We also notice some themes which are probably appealing more
to King James’s taste, who was really obsessed with magic and witchcraft and
those sorts of things appear in Macbeth and The Tempest. At this point the King’s
Men are also given a theatre to perform in during the winter months because you can
imagine in The Globe being open air can only be performed in summer, it would be
too cold in the winter otherwise, but performing plays indoors is actually
kind of a new and interesting concept and allows the players to try out some
different techniques with special effects. It means that they can make the
stage dark for the first time, they’ve never been able to do that before and the
use of candlelight is very interesting and important and comes back in lots of
Jacobean plays. Now we come to the part which a lot of people seem to struggle
with with Shakespeare and that is the language itself. So firstly you have to
remember that these plays were written 400 years ago and language and certain
words, certain meanings is very different to how we speak now. Not only that, you’ve
got to imagine that these players are performing these words, performing these
speeches in front of audiences who don’t have very much set, there’s not very
much special special effects as we know them today, people might be standing in
the cold for hours on end to see these plays and the key isn’t just a tell a good
story is also to capture the imagination of the audience and also maybe explain
stuff that can’t be portrayed them visually. For example with plays like
Henry V you can’t have a massive battlefield on the stage, it just isn’t
possible and they can’t do it justice to the audience
so they have to use their words, they have to use the language to really evoke
the atmosphere. So this descriptive poetry that he uses can get a little bit
flowery and to a modern audience seemed to get a little bit off topic, but you’ve got to
perhaps put yourselves in the shoes of the audience who are listening to these
passages.Shakespeare also uses a lot of myth, a lot of stories that his audience
would have been really familiar with in the way that these days we might watch a
lot of World War II films or read some books which are fairytale retellings
because those stories are sort of in our collective consciousness and Shakespeare
uses stories of recent history such as the Wars of the Roses which were not
really long ago for his audience and he also uses allusions and comparisons to
characters in Greek and Roman mythology and well-known folktales because these
are stories that his audiences would have been really aware of and it’s just
a metaphorical way of setting the scene and explaining and the emotions and
motivations of the characters. And this is why I would really advocate listening
to Shakespeare being read aloud, by someone else or reading and out to
yourself or watching an adaptation of one of his plays either on stage or
film. Not only can the language itself be a little bit tricky at times but also
the structure I think people can find alienating. So Shakespeare uses two
different types of structure depending on who’s speaking and depending on the nature of the
speech or the scene. He uses prose for more colloquial chatter when people are
talking to each other, being funny or when characters are of a lower status
and then he uses verse for his epic grand speeches and often when characters
are of noble blood. Now the verses, although it doesn’t often rhyme, it does
sometimes, and they are written in iambic pentameter. Now I’m sure you’ve
heard that phrase before I’m sure it was banged over your head at school, and it
really is very simple, so breaking it down, a penetameter is basically a set
of five pairs of syllables we know that pent (pentagon) is five, it’s five sets of
two syllables which means actually the whole sentence itself is ten syllables
but it’s more like ONE and TWO and THREE and FOUR and FIVE that is a penetameter. Iambic
pentameter flips the rhythm of that on its head a little bit and it means that
the stress is always on the second syllable rather than the first so rather than ONE andTWO and THREE and
FOUR and FIVE it’s more like da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM
To BE or NOTto BE that IS the QUEStion that his iambic pentameter. Simple!
Another reason I think it’s a really good idea to watch a production or an
adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays is the way that his place have been written
down and preserved there aren’t a lot of stage directions in there which can make
a reader perhaps imagine the characters just standing on stage and giving a
really long monologue and that there’s not much going on, and you really need a
director to bring this stuff to life When these plays were written, the actors
didn’t get a whole play as you would these days, they literally got their
parts written down just with the last line of the person speaking before them
so that they knew their cue so that when they heard that line they knew that that
was then their turn to speak so there wasn’t really a play as such
which existed in one form for the actors to work from so the stage directions and what was
going on would have just been happening while the play was being rehearsed and
they haven’t all been written down However there are actually a lot of
visual jokes in Shakespeare and gestures which you can see in people’s words
they’re reacting to, but it’s not obvious that that’s what other characters are
doing so if you are new to Shakespeare I think it really helps having someone who
deeply understands that text bring it to life before your eyes and it just helps
with the comprehension for example there’s a scene in As You
Like It where Rosalind walks on stage and says ‘Well this is the Forest of
Arden’ and that’s just a line when you read it down because she’s saying ‘oh
we’re in the forest’, but if you saw her on stage in a blank and empty wooden
state and she goes ‘Wwell this is the Forest of Arden!’ that’s actually quite funny (if you’re
actually a professional actor and not me) and that’s quite a funny visual joke for
the audience but it’s something that you wouldn’t get on a first read. So I hope
that has whetted your appetite somewhat and given you a little bit of
background into who Shakespeare was and how and why he was writing these plays.
Like I said I’m going to be doing some small videos really focusing on a couple
of his plays, perhaps ones that you’re studying at school maybe Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet
and really going through the language of them, so if there are any that you
would really particularly like me to make a video on please let me know make sure that your subscribed to get all
of the videos in this series and I will see you next time, bye!


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