Shakespeare Solved ®

Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mark Rylance in New York Times

There is a great article in the New York Times about actors who perform Shakespeare, and it highlights the current productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III with Mark Rylance.

Mark Rylance

I saw both plays recently, and you can follow these links to read what I thought of them: Twelfth Night & Richard III.
In the article, I especially liked what the critic wrote about how Mark Rylance “always seems to be breathing the same air we do.” He is making these characters less remote, and more immediate and real.
The other part of the article I liked was about the “English style” of acting Shakespeare, the formal Shakespearean style of acting in the manner of Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud. 
That style of acting is on the “wane” and actors like Mark Rylance represent a rebellion against it. His career at Shakespeare’s Globe has been an effort to “shake things up.”
When I began the research for my versions of Shakespeare’s plays, I realized that Shakespeare and his fellow actors performed the plays for the Elizabethan audiences without any style. They didn’t act. 
They just performed them as enthusiastically and energetically as possible. They tried to keep their audiences as entertained as possible at all times.
I think the great actors of Shakespeare’s time didn’t rise to the top because of the school they went to. They were the best actors of the time because they were the most ruthlessly entertaining players around. They knew how to work an audience and keep your attention riveted on them. 
If they acted in the “English Style” they would have been booed off the stage. 
With all due respect to Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Kenneth Branagh and many other very fine actors (whose work I greatly admire and appreciate) I don’t think Shakespeare would understand what they were doing. Their style of acting would confuse him.
When I saw Mark Rylance as Olivia and Richard III, I saw one of the very few current actors who understands how to work an audience in the same way as the Elizabethan actors. I thought he did a fantastic job, but I also think he didn’t go far enough. 
The New York Times article  also mentions Mark Rylance's “animal cunning” as an actor. 
This is very funny, because one of Shakespeare greatest challenges as a playwright was to compete for audiences with the bear-baiting rings. 

The audiences in the Elizabethan era loved watching a real bear get mauled to death by hounds, or watch the bear destroy the hounds. 

These kinds of matches still exist today -- just think of cock fights, or dog fighting, or bull fights. Pakistan has bear-baiting to this day.
So, when Shakespeare wrote a play, he had to satisfy an audience that could just as easily go see animals kill each other. 
Imagine you are an Elizabethan merchant, with your spouse, walking on the streets of Bankside London, in 1599.
Your spouse wants to see Romeo and Juliet, but you want to go see a bear get killed.
Where did you go -- to the Beare Howse or the Play Howse?

That was Shakespeare's challenge. He had to make Romeo and Juliet, and every other play he wrote, as entertaining as animals killing each other. 
He could put a duel in the play, or some sword battle scenes like in Henry V.
Not every Shakespeare play has battles and duels, but he did have to write stories that were as entertaining and as full of twists and surprises as a match between a bear and hounds.
When I watched Mark Rylance perform, he did have an animal cunning. He understood that sometimes he was the hound, ripping apart a bear -- like when he played Richard III looking at the young Princes as if they didn't have long to live. And then he later understood that he is the bear, ripped apart by the hounds -- when Richard III is killed at the end.
I am excited to see this newer style of acting, and less of the formal “English Style.” 
With your support of this blog, hopefully one day soon we will get to see Shakespeare’s plays performed in the way that he originally intended -- fast, funny, and ruthlessly entertaining.

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