Thursday, June 23, 2011

Playing Shakespeare; or, What Fry and Laurie were Parodying

Playing Shakespeare. Dir. John Carlaw and Peter Walker. Perf. Trevor Nunn, John Barton, David Suchet, Alan Howard, Michael Pennington, Patrick Stewart, Lisa Harrow, Jane Lapotaire, Ian McKellen, and Ben Kingsley. 1979-1984. DVD. Athena, 2009.

Fry and Laurie's amazing parody (for which, q.v.) may have its origin in something else amazing: Playing Shakespeare. The four-disc set contains some of the most astonishing Shakespearean actors of the age talking about how best to act.

Here's a short clip. In it, Ian McKellen is asked to enact the first line of The Merchant of Venice with several different shades of emotion and subtext.

It's one line, but its delivery can be so extraordinarily telling. Fry and Laurie have fun with it by imagining an acting coach concentrating all that energy on one word. They make it ridiculous—but there's still some truth behind their ridicule. Not every word in Shakespeare can bear such a multiplicity of interpretation. But many—and perhaps most—of them can.

Links: The Film at IMDB.
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Anonymous said...

While searching the library for "Playing Shakespeare" I found this intriguing title: "Will Power: How to Act Shakespeare in 21 Days."

Your comment, dear Blogger?

Hermann Fan

kj said...

The flippant answer would be . . .

"Give a man five acts, and you treat him to a play. Teach a man to act, and he'll play some every day."

More seriously, any member of Shakespeare's acting company would have learned two or three new plays and acted in three to five old ones in a twenty-one-day period!

Less seriously, didn't Olivier follow the method recommended by that book?


Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

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