How do actors breathe life into Shakespeare’s texts? How do they take language that’s centuries old and make it sound so real and immediate?
Barry Edelstein, the Erna Finci Viterbi Artistic Director at The Old Globe in San Diego, is one of the nation’s most experienced Shakespeare directors. Twice a year, The Old Globe holds an event called Thinking Shakespeare Live! – a master class where you get to watch actors act and Edelstein direct – in essence, pulling back the curtain on the rehearsal room.
EDELSTEIN: It depends on the guy playing Marcellus doing a take after you say, “The air bites shrewdly.” So, your listeners will have to imagine that in the beat between the two halves of the line that the other guy is looking at you with a look of perplexity on his face and then you’ll get it. Go ahead.
BOGAEV: “The air bites shrewdly.”
BOGAEV: “It is very cold.”
EDELSTEIN: Oh. Right, so that’s, right he doesn’t say “huh” and he doesn’t say, “oh,” but there you go, that’s the idea.
BOGAEV: [LAUGH] Well, I can see it.
EDELSTEIN: Very good, see that’s it, you’re now a Shakespearean actor because we are asking ourselves, “Why am I talking this way?” And it’s never good enough to simply say, “Well, because it’s a Shakespeare play, and that’s how Shakespeare writes.” In the rehearsal room we’re trying to create human reality.
BOGAEV: So, it is this marriage of “Why am I saying these words now?” and “How is the language built?” because this is how you organize your master class, and your teaching, and I think we just talked about heightened language. You also include in these four categories “antithesis.” Now remind us what antithesis in rhetoric is.
EDELSTEIN: Antithesis is… sure. Antithesis is the big, big, big, big thing of Shakespeare. That’s the technique that he relies on really most. And antithesis is very simply opposition.