Shakespeare: More than Words, Words, Words

First-Folio-William-Shakespeare
“There is a world elsewhere.” -Coriolanus

Early this morning, I finally finished my project of reading each and every single Shakespeare play. This was something that I had decided to do awhile back, but as it happens life gets really busy. But recently, I really kicked my project into high gear and I managed to finish.

It is a weird feeling, you know, finishing something like this. I still remember the first time that I read Shakespeare—it was Romeo and Juliet, when I was 13 years old. Of course, as you would expect it was for my English class in high school. I remember that it was followed by Julius Caesar the following year, then Macbeth, and finally Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, and Titus Andronicus to close out my high school career.

I will be the first to admit that I was not completely enraptured by Shakespeare the first time I started reading his work. It took some time to get into it, but I am extremely grateful that it happened and it was for sure worth waiting for.

Macbeth was the play to hook me on Shakespeare. Specifically, it was the scene with the three witches, ending with “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes”, which is still my favourite scene in his plays even now that I have finished each one.

I love each of Shakespeare’s plays, so it is very hard to choose my favourites, but if I were to do it, I would have to pick, in no particular order: Macbeth, Merchant of Venice, and Coriolanus.

Beyond finding his writing beautiful and poetic, there are 3 quite different reasons why these plays made the top of my list. For Macbeth, it is the simple fact that it is the first play that made me fall in love with Shakespeare (although many plays since made that happen all over again). In the case of The Merchant of Venice, I was able to learn some important lessons while reading it. This can partially be attributed to the fact that I was analyzing this play for a group project, but it was also the first play that I read after Macbeth, so I was in the beginning of my love for Shakespeare and was trying to absorb every single word as much as I could.

The scene that sticks out for me in The Merchant of Venice is the three caskets scene. Well, three scenes actually, when everything is taken into consideration.

“All that glisters is not gold; Often have you heard that told: Many a man his life hath sold But my outside to behold: Gilded tombs do worms enfold.”

To round out this group, I have Coriolanus. Back in January of this year, I purchased a ticket to a National Theatre Live broadcast of Coriolanus from the Donmar Theatre in London, England. I took myself out to the theatre that particular night, because I needed a treat. It had not been the best of times, but watching that broadcast was absolutely amazing. Each of the actors did a phenomenal job, and even though I had read the play prior to watching this, the ending still made me gasp and let out a little shudder. Really, watching that broadcast proved to me why Shakespeare is meant to be watched on stage instead of read, although I personally get a lot of enjoyment from reading his plays.

They are lyrical, beautiful, timeless…everything. The plays that William Shakespeare wrote are more than words, words, words.

Best Wishes,

Jessica

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National Theatre Live: Coriolanus at Donmar Warehouse

Last night I had the pleasure of going to my local movie theatre for a broadcast of Coriolanus from the Donmar Warehouse in London, courtesy of National Theatre Live. Before I get into what I thought about it, I’m going to provide a summary/overview of what the play was actually about (taken from the Donmar website).

“When an old adversary threatens Rome, the city calls once more on her hero and defender: Coriolanus. But famine threatens the city, the citizens’ hunger swells to an appetite for change, and on returning from the field Coriolanus must confront the march of realpolitik and the voice of an angry people.”

The play features a fantastic cast, including Tom Hiddleston in the title role, Mark Gatiss as Menenius, Deborah Findley as Volumnia,  Hadley Fraser as Aufidius,  and Birgitte Hjort Sørenson as Virgilia.

The Donmar Warehouse is a small theatre, housed in a building that actually was never intended to be a theatre, but still manages to work quite well. For this production, it features a minimalist set, with the first few feet of the back wall painted red, a ladder, chairs for the actors, and graffiti/lighting. At first this may seem like it’ll take away from the effect of the play, but I found that it did not. In fact, I feel like the minimalist design allowed me to focus on the actors rather than the set design. The scene transitions are amazing and intense, featuring some heavy music set to the tone of the play.

The acting in this play was extraordinary. I feel like stage actors have to work quite a bit harder in terms of memorizing lines as they essentially get one take when performing. Every single one of the actors in Coriolanus was above par, particularly Tom Hiddleston, Deborah Findley, and Mark Gatiss.

Despite how Coriolanus is a tragedy (and we all know how those go with Shakespeare), Mark Gatiss’ character, Menenius, provided the audience with a little bit of comedic relief to diffuse the tension. This was done mostly in his tone and inflections on certain lines, even through a single word here or there, proving his acting prowess.

Deborah Findley was Volumnia, Coriolanus’ overbearing mother who actually wants her son to be injured (or die for that matter) to bring honour rather than return unharmed. Her monologues during the play are amazing, and she really owns her scenes, especially the one right at the end.

Tom Hiddleston—I’m sure he was the reason a number of people came to see Coriolanus in the theatre I was at (or, at least, the two people in front of me). I will admit that I am a fan of his other work and that played a role for me (mostly in that was how I heard about this broadcast), however I do absolutely love Shakespeare and probably would have gone to see this production whether he was in it or not (had I known about this broadcast). His performance as Coriolanus was absolutely jaw-dropping, right from when he burst onto the stage. One moment you would see him yelling at the top of his lungs to a tear or two rolling down his cheeks. He had the most to handle, in my opinion, in terms of costume changes and makeup. His re-entrance covered in blood- wow. What was even more chilling however, was the shower scene and his screams of pain while cleaning the wounds. He was on top form throughout the entire production, and his final scene looked incredible and quite real. I actually had to cover my mouth in a gasp at the end, despite knowing how it ends plus that it clearly was not real.

Overall, I think that this production of Coriolanus is the best play that I have seen—which is significant considering I have seen a Shakespeare play live on stage (in person) before, and not just via broadcast. I would highly recommend that if you live in London to see it live, and if you don’t to watch out for the encore presentation in February. It is definitely worth it and you will not be disappointed.

Best Wishes,

Jess