The first time I read “Hamlet,” I thought it was overrated.
I’m a Philistine, I know. But, now that I’ve seen “Hamlet” performed multiple times both on stage and screen, I am reformed –– I love it as a thing of beauty.
Reading the Bard’s work only, and not performing it as well, sells Shakespeare short. Shakespeare’s plays are for performing, his poems for passionate reading.
The rhetorical richness of a Shakespearean sonnet or martial speech cannot be grasped without oral presentation. An excerpt from one of his plays, even read aloud, does not possess the power found in the complete performance of the work.
You should participate in Shakespeare, whether in the Arb or not.
Shakespeare’s works should not be performed just because they are written so. Rather, they should be performed for the same reasons that his plays and poems make such rich studying within the “Studia Humanitatis.”
Playing a role in a Shakespeare play places you in the midst of history. The very nature of the play presents a rich view of Elizabethan and King James’ England. Portraying a character in Shakespeare transports the actor back in time and back in mind.
Reciting the poetry of Shakespeare’s words or owning them as a character in the play forces you to internalize the beauty more than simply reading aloud does. As the mercurial phrases dance and roll across the tongue not only is your speech elevated, but your thought is as well.
Not every Shakespearean role is elevated. Not all actors play Hamlet. In high school I performed the parts of Sir Toby Belch in “Twelfth Night” and Bottom the Weaver in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Sir Toby Belch lives up to his name as a belching drunkard. Bottom lives up to his own name as well. The man is an ass.
While the characters of Belch and Bottom are not themselves elevating, and while their lines consist mainly of ridiculous jokes, the roles teach much. Shakespeare engineers scintillating puns and allusions into their lines: references to Greek mythology and classical literature. Questions of philosophy and ethics shape the characters and move the plots forward.
Admittedly, the elements of classical, medieval, and modern liberal arts and humane studies can be discovered and internalized through the academic study of Shakespeare. But, the human side of Shakespeare, the catharsis, the vicarious living and lesson learning, is only found in the performance. Becoming the character, acting, ushers you into Shakespeare’s world of poetry, rhetoric, philosophy, ethic, literature, and the rest. You become part of the story and it of you.
As Shakespeare says in “As You Like It”: “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players; / They have their exits and their entrances, / And one man in his time plays many parts.” You are all actors. Performing Shakespeare is practice for life.