A Voice in the Shadowlands

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

As a theatre geek, it is almost a requisite to like Shakespeare. I’m not sure when the rule was passed, but it was and there are very few things that can get you out of your obligation. I, however, have never been coerced into loving the Bard.

Sure, the man had very few (if any) original story-lines, but most folks will tell you that good theatre is simply stealing an idea and giving it a twist. Where Shakespeare truly shines are his characters and his words. Words have power. Great words can make great changes. It’s one of the things I love best about theatre. A crowd comes into a theatre. They laugh or cry or reminisce and, if the play is truly a good play, when the crowd leaves they bring with them new or different ideas.

Shakespeare has a challenge in the modern world, though; speech has changed a lot since the late-16th century. Add to this the fact that Shakespeare’s plays (in fact most plays) are written to be seen and not read and this becomes more challenging. Top that off with thousands of school kids being forced to read Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar and the rest under the watchful eye of a school teacher pressed to meet requirements more than teach a love for literature and the challenge starts to look like Everest.

Its similar to how a lot of people feel about Christianity. People hear how wonderful the Christian experience is supposed to be (and don’t get me wrong, it is) and then they sit to read things from a book that was written long before their time or sit in church while they were exposed to the gospel to a point of numbness. But then again, Scripture while edifying to read, is truly meant to be lived and presented to the world.

See, it doesn’t matter how well you know the written word. I’ve seen many times where a new actor to Shakespeare thinks that a true show of mastery is to rattle off all the ‘thees,’ ‘thous’ and archaic terms and allusions at a million miles an hour. Impressive? Maybe if you’re doing a fast rap. The words, though, are dull. The jokes are lost. The innuendo fades. The true proof you know what you’re talking about comes from bringing the words to life so that they breathe emotion and a modern audience can join in the experience that groundlings in the Globe had. The oft confused “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” moves through the muddlesome minds of the masses, past what seems to be the meaning (Hey, Romeo, where are you?) and, clear as a bell, Juliet’s try heart-cry of “Romeo, why couldn’t you have come from any other family? Why does it have to be my family’s sworn enemy?”

Paul seemed to understand that a performance packs more punch and is more clearly understood than just the written word. While Hamlet said, “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king,” Paul wrote a letter to Titus. In this short letter, Paul hits to the heart of the matter. In a world where Christians and Christianity are misunderstood, Paul reminds Titus to teach his congregation to not just know but to live Christ. The reason? Because living Christ can draw people to him.

Jaques in As You Like It is right. All the world is a stage. We’re all actors with entrances and exits, but does our act pack a punch? It doesn’t mean that everyone will understand or appreciate it. Good actors get panned all the time. What we need to be sure of, though, is that our audience got the point. Oh, and before I forget, what’s wonderful in both Shakespeare and the Christian walk is that you never get so good you can’t get better. There’s always something deeper to explore, some mystery that we can make clearer.

So, brush up your Shakespeare…


N.B. – A mea culpa for the bad grammar earlier. If we shadows have offended, hopefully now it all is mended.


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