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On First Looking Into Shakespeare Part Three

Written by The Reader, 25th August 2011

Here is the final installment of Megg Hewlett's diary about getting over her fear of The Bard. If you missed the first two, you can read them here: part one / part two.

How will it be, I wonder, as I set up the room?  People begin to arrive, greet each other, make a cup of tea and settle in.  Shona arrives and I feel such relief.  It is so good to see her.  ‘Sorry’ she says, ‘I had something on last week and couldn’t make it’.  ‘It is great to see you again’ I say.  She does not know what it actually means to me to have her here again.

We begin by reminding ourselves what has happened and begin to realise how complicated it is.  Lots to explain and I get myself in a muddle trying to make sure everyone understands.

Noel says ‘can I play Don John, the bad one’?

We assign roles and I ask Barbara if she wants to take a role.  She looks worried and anxious and I say, ‘what about Claudio?'  She says okay.

Then we start reading, finishing off  act 2 scene 1.  Act 2 scene 2.  The vicious hard-hearted Don John and his side kick Borrachio plan the nasty scheme to cause maximum distress and chaos to Hero and Claudio.  We can all see what is going to happen and feel like shouting out as if we are in a pantomime ‘look out!  behind you!’  But we can do nothing other than read on.

When we get to Balthasar singing his song, Noel refuses to sing - Sigh No More.  No problem…whatever it takes to keep this show on the road, I’m your woman, so I  sing it and find that almost everyone starts to sing with me.  Just as well really as my voice on its own is pretty dire!  Cuddled up among the other 6 or 7 voices it’s not so bad!  We make a great and glorious sound and get caught up in the rhythm and rhyme.  Thankfully, Balthasar takes up his role again.

Barbara’s part is not small and she reads it very well.  I can see her confidence rising as she looks at me for confirmation and I smile at her letting her know I can see her effort and achievement.  It is only the second time she has ever read in two years of attending the group.  Barbara has told the group she is severely dyslexic and can’t read and here she is reading Shakespeare aloud in a group!

We complete act 2 scene 3 and manage act 3 scene 1, all in an unhurried and easy way and end the session with Robert Herrick’s ‘To the Virgins, To Make Much Of Time’.

There is a buoyant mood in the group as we slowly pack up and get ready to leave.  Nobody seems in a hurry and I overhear people congratulating Barbara on reading her role so well.  Magic.

The Rest

It takes us six weeks in total to read the play.  The pace has felt good, not too fast, but we are ready to finish now.  The reading does require extra effort in order to understand.  And such a lot happens in the action.  It is important to remember who else is on stage and what the other actors would be doing at the same time as those who are speaking as this can dramatically alter the meaning and impact.  There is a surprising amount of complexity to keep up with and I was aware of some people’s confusion at times.  Slowing down definitely helps.

Not only is the Shakespearian language very different to what we are used to but much of the way of life is also strikingly at odds with what we know.  The idea that a woman’s worth is almost zilch if she is not a virgin on marrying or that a father would rather his daughter dead than discover she was not a maid on her wedding day takes some getting used to for a modern audience – well, it did for our group!

The visit to the Globe production of Much Ado About Nothing is in September and most people seem keen to go.  We discuss watching the play on DVD and they want to do this too so a date is arranged.  It has been hard, at times, to imagine the action of the play as we read.  Viewing the DVD or theatre production will let us see what we have been reading as it was meant to be experienced - as a dramatic production.

As a facilitator reading Shakespeare with a group has definitely required more of me.  Largely this is because I am not confident myself with the language and I must put in extra effort to understand.  I found myself at times needing to do quite a bit of explaining to ensure people were able to follow.  Sometimes it is a fine line between letting people work it out for themselves and explaining.  However if people get bored because the words begin to not mean anything then that doesn’t work either.

Have a wide range of capacity in the group is also a juggling act as a facilitator.  Some people have understood it all and don’t need help but others struggle and finding a way to make sure they can keep up without singling them out is a skill in itself.

On reflection it seems to me that people are happy to have read the play and are also pleased to move on to something else.  Shona says to me while we are making a cup of tea:

It is difficult to read but I did notice it getting easier the more we read.

Another person tells me that she thinks next time (NEXT TIME!!) we should read Twelfth Night or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

4 thoughts on “On First Looking Into Shakespeare Part Three

Maria Tierney says:

Well done, there was an awful lot going on in your head, apart from the play, which was hard enough in itself. Facilitator – it’s a difficult role isn’t it.

jennerous says:

Hi Maria, yes that is so right. Reading something easier frees up some of the space in the brain to focus on things other than the text. But reading something more challenging gives a great sense of achievement which is worth the effort I think.

jane says:

Hi Megg
I am on holiday but couldn’t resist checking in to get the next installment – so glad it turned out well for your group… achievement and a half! An encouraging and lovely post Jane x

jennerous says:

Thank you Jane, sometimes we don’t know whats in us until we ‘have a go’ so it has been a good experience for me. I have a group copies of The Winters Tale and look forward to a group choosing to read it!

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