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   FINDING PRACTICAL MEANING
   When we read a play, we use imagination. Thinking "as if" is
   imagining. But in order to imagine well, we must understand the basic
   issues when a dramatist writes for the stage.
   
   RECOGNIZING "THE GAP"
   Like other dramatist who are men of the theatre   and we have such
   examples as Sophocles, Moliere, and Goldoni   Shakespeare wrote plays
   which have "a natural gap" between the meaning the words have in
   themselves and the meaning which the performers give them. A great
   playwright knows the skills of actors and the meanings they can
   convey. In the same way that a composer creates a score, the dramatist
   writes a play for others to interpret. The words on the page provide
   one kind of meaning: they are the skeleton for a performance. When the
   actors speak the text they provide a meaning that gives the skeleton
   flesh and blood   and life. But the meaning which one actor conveys is
   not necessarily the same as that of another actor in the same role.
   They are different people; they have different thoughts, ideas,
   feelings and emotions. In my production of The Taming of the Shrew
   (Leeds University, 1954), I played Christopher Sly in the Induction;
   when we took it to Germany the same year, the actor playing Gremio was
   not available, so I had to double the two parts. This doubling
   provided a new balance to the ensemble, and people who saw both
   thought it emphasized different meanings. We must allow for "the gap"
   as we read Shakespeare's plays, and imagine the play taking place
   before us.
   
   FILLING IN THE MEANING
   Then we "fill in" the meanings given to us by the text. We recreate
   the possibilities of the script within the play world, an imagined
   world in which people (performed by actors) live and breathe. This
   type of re creation forms a major contrast with the novel. the printed
   novel, as we read it, is also a fictional "world," but it is a work of
   art in itself. The play world is not. a great dramatist writes the
   script so that we can "fill in" the meanings, and only then is it a
   work of art. We "fill in" the meanings on several levels.
   
   On LEVEL 1 we imagine the events "as if" actors are playing them "here
   and now," in both space and time. We do so through questions that
   actors and directors ask. Where does the first scene of Hamlet take
   place? What does it look like? What is the atmosphere? What does each
   actor do there, moment by moment? Does the atmosphere change during
   the scene? How do we feel "now" in comparison with how we felt a
   minute ago? Space and time are the key issues to address in any play.
   
   These questions lead to LEVEL 2. At this level we reach questions that
   are specifically asked by actors, such as:
     * What does Hamlet think as he says, "To be or not to be"? "To live"
       or "not to live" is an important question. Hamlet must be in great
       personal difficulties to ask himself that. He then asks if it is
       "nobler" to do one thing rather than another. What does he mean by
       "nobler"? Actors have to know what people mean before they can
       adequately perform roles.
     * Is there a distinction between what a person thinks and what he
       says? In some cases there is a difference. When Richard
       Gloucester tells his brother Clarence he will help him while he is
       in the Tower of London, he is lying   he is actually about to
       arrange for him to be killed.
     * Is there a distinction between what a person consciously thinks
       and what he means unconsciously? When Olivia asks Viola in Twelfth
       Night what she thinks of her face, or when Claudius tells Hamlet
       he regards him as a son, what are Olivia's or Claudius'
       unconscious thoughts?
     * What will Hamlet do physically when he says, "To be or not to be"?
       Will he move his arms? Will he stand still or move   and, if he
       moves, where is he moving to, and why, and how?
     * When actors perform together, in pairs or groups, slightly
       different questions arise. What is Romeo thinking of when Juliet
       speaks to him from her balcony? How will the nuances of her
       performance affect Romeo? And how will the players achieve these
       effects?
       
   On LEVEL 3, we allow for the "filling in" that specific actors do. We
   ask such questions as how would one actor play Romeo in the balcony
   scene in comparison with another? Or how would different actresses
   play Juliet in that scene? If the reader has little experience of
   "live" theatre, then comparisons of performers in film or television
   might be made   though they perform in a smaller, more intimate way
   than players on a stage, who act in a grander, larger manner. We might
   "cast" these performers as the people in the play as we read it.
   
   Finally, we must ask the LEVEL 4 type of question. What stage objects
   do the actors use, and how do these objects affect what happens?
   Viola, in Twelfth Night wears the costumes of a woman and of a man.
   These affect her movement: she can stride about in the male costume,
   but an Elizabethan bodice and skirt restrict her movements. when
   Launce enters in Two Gentlemen of Verona with his dog, Crab, is it a
   real dog, or is it imagined (like the rabbit in Harvey)? What is done?
   Why is it done? And how is it done? The answers will greatly affect
   the action of the play. In the Battle of Shrewsbury, Falstaff, a
   "gross, fat man." is a coward. When I played Falstaff in 1 Henry IV
   (Leeds University, 1953; Colne valley, 1959), I wore armour, a heavy
   helmet, a sword, a dagger, and a heavy padding around my body. During
   the play I had to fall on the ground and act as if Falstaff were
   pretending to be dead. Later, I had to carry off the body of Hotspur,
   a big man also in armour. As an actor, I had to ask in both instanced
   how Falstaff would do it and how it could be done. Such questions
   illustrate the practical nature of the plays. These questions we do
   not ask of novels.
	*excerpts from Richard Courtney's book Shakespeare's World of Death:
   The Early Tragedies. Pages 13   15.
     _________________________________________________________________
    This page is maintained by [1]Gary M. Munro
    ([2]hamlet@compusmart.ab.ca).    Last modified on April 12, 1996.

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2005-2006 Theatre UAF Season: Four Farces + One Funeral & Godot'06
Film-North * Anatoly Antohin
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