Saturday, September 30, 2017

Memorizing Shakespeare: a Report from the Trenches

Paul Giamatti as Friar Lawrence
Given the busyness of the work week, I have had to content myself with just "passive" study of my lines in the upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet; I listened to my recording of eight or more times a day, as well as performing several read throughs.

But in the strength of my Saturday morning coffee, I knew I needed to make serious headway. A week from today is the first "Stumble Through" of the whole show with full cast, and I really want to be basically "out of book" when that happens. 

Mnemonic Qualities of Shakespeare

There is something I have noticed about how William Shakespeare writes. It seems to me that there are significant mnemonics built into the lines themselves. We know that Shakespeare was also an actor in his own productions. I don't know if anyone has ever suggested this before, but perhaps the Bard intentionally crafted his plays so that they would be easier to memorize. Perhaps that is even a piece of the puzzle for why he became so enormously successful--if you make the actors love your work, they are in a position to lobby for your shows to go on.

Now, some of the things I think make it easier to memorize than other works can also be described as literary devices. Even so, let me describe what I mean.

My part, that of Friar Lawrence, has several lengthy speeches. There's really no other way to memorize than to confirm you have a line, add another, and then confirm you have both, et cetera. And so the challenge, however obvious this sounds, is remembering what the next line is when you are finishing reciting one! 

In my first speech, while rhyme makes memorizing easier (but for some reason my speeches stop rhyming after Act II), the Bard has also built in some repetition internally in concept and words that helps me anticipate the next line:

The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb;
What is her burying grave that is her womb,
And from her womb children of divers kind
we sucking on her natural bosom find. (II.3)

Another example:

Fear comes upon me:
O, much I fear some ill unlucky thing. (V.2)

He also employs immediate repetition, which, for me anyway, serves almost like a mental pause, allowing me to think forward and get ready for what's coming:

Amen, Amen! but come what sorrow can, (II.6)

Come, come, we will make short work (II.6)

What simpleness is this! I come, I come! (III.3)

Take heed, take heed, for such die miserable. (III.3)

What could also be intentional alliteration equally serves to remind me of the next phrases:

Do thou but close your hands with holy words,
Then love-devouring death do what he dare: (II.6)

Hark, how they knock! Who's there? Romeo arise!
Thou wilt be taken. Stay awhile! Stand up; (III.3)

Progress Report

At any rate, I had a very productive day. I successfully recited, more than once in a row, nine of my eleven pages of lines from memory. After Church tomorrow we have an anniversary party for our priest and his wife, but in the evening I intend to make a new recording of my lines, which will include more inflection, now that I'm very versed in them.

Monday is the only day this week I am not scheduled for rehearsal after school, so I intend to come home and memorize the final two pages and be ready then in the context of practicing lines with the other actors to truly start moving them from mere recitation to full acting.

Opening night is November 2nd! Alright, I'm doing one more full read through before I relax...