Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Poetry on the Hoof: It’s not Shakespeare’s Birthday

Its not Shakespeare’s birthday
But the anniversary
of his death day.
What is there left to say
About a writer who made generations sweat with dismay
About their innate inability
To comprehend the way
The people parleyed
In those days?

His iambic pentameter
His turns of phrase
Were well made
Worthy of praise.
But why would those, lazy in their attention,
Who failed to be swayed
By his ornate writing display
Useful during  great state occass-ions,
Ask, does he really matter any more?

The doubters do not have much say
About his undoubted reputa-tion
That much cannot be doubted.
Was he gay? Many ask
But this is not the question to ask of Mr. Willy the Shake.
No, we should use his death day
To celebrate his poetray
And rhyming capabilities
Which put the rest of us to shame.

Pitch a Film on a Friday! A Beggarly Account of Empty Boxes: a 5 minute Romeo and Juliet with a cast of 1 and 2 dummies

It’s Brighton Pier, late Autumn. There’s an end of the pier show about to take place in the theatre, late on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s cold, desolate. Signs are banging in the wind, advertising…

“Father Larry presents…. Shakespeare as you’ve never seen before! Come wonder at the marvels of modern science!”

A lacklustre audience of end of the pier visitors drift out of the theatre and idly kick their heels around, waiting for the start of the main attraction – Father Larry.

A shifty looking Vicar – Father Larry – rushes up the pier, straightening up his dog collar, adjusting his trousers, wiping the lipstick off his collar and generally trying to tidy himself up and make himself respectable. He avoids the audience gathering by the front door of the theatre and squeezes himself through the stage door whilst no-one is looking.

He’s had a quick couple of scotches in the interval as a desparate attempt to continue the audience suspension of disbelief for the final 30 minutes of his show. He heads back stage to his dressing room, avoiding the stage hands and curses of the theatre manager.

Back stage, Father Larry’s dressing room. 2 large cane crates are placed in the centre of the room, with two large ventriloquist dummies left carelessly on top of them, limbs askew, clothing untidy. One’s a dummy of a young girl – Juliet – the other of a young boy – Romeo.

They both are trying to hold a conversation with other dummies which are stored away in the crates. It becomes clear they’re from two warring families – both are exhorted to return back to where they came from – their crates – by their families inside the crates and both agree that’s what they’ll do as soon as they’re physically able to do so.

They can’t stand the sight of each other as it happens anyway – they trade insults relentlessly and try to move their wooden bodies into a position where they could be taken back to the bosom of their families.

Father Larry crashes into the dressing room, swearing and sweating profusely. He’s been told that unless he sharpens his act up, he’s out of a job from the end of the afternoon. It’s been a disaster out there on stage and he’s got minutes to redeem himself and his act. His livelihood is nearly over.

He gets hold of the dummies angrily and tries manipulating them to talk to each other, to care for each other. They do as he says – although we sense their own individual dummy reluctance.

He acts out their family quarrels, disputes and expectations and urges them to love each other, much against their will. They comply but find subtle ways of resisting – falling of their crates, asking for a gottle of geer, that sort of thing.

He gets angry and bullies them into doing as he decides. He forces them into uncompromising sexual positions. They resist, he breaks them up, one by one, piece by piece. His act and livelihood are falling apart before his eyes.

When the pieces of the dummies have been flung across all corners of the dressing room, he realises what he has done. He’s distraught and tries putting them back together again, in vain. He tries to exert his religious influence on them, but to no avail. “A plague on both your houses!” he hisses at them. They both end up badly and violently damaged, strewn across the floor of the dressing room.

There’s a knock on the door. The second half of the show is about to begin. His time’s up. He has no option but to go on stage, empty handed. He tries playing out the role of the dummies himself but the audience see through him and drive him off stage.

He staggers woodenly down to the end of Brighton Pier, unable to shake off the dummy mannerisms that he’s adopted. His complexion has turned grey, his eyes – a mad staring look, his mouth – fixed in a permanent grin. “Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow,” he mutters to himself. He stares out at the sea, tears rolling down his cheeks whilst still continuing to smile.

Tips for Business Start Ups: Careful with that metaphor, Eugene and other lessons from Shakespeare and Pink Floyd

King Lear, Act IV, Scene 6 (Enter Gloucester and Edgar in peasant’s clothes)

Gloucester        When Shall I come to the top of that same hill?
Edgar               You do climb it now. Look how we labour.
Gloucester        Methinks the ground is even.
Edgar               Horrible steep. Hark, do you hear the sea?
Gloucester        No, truly.
Edgar              Why then your other senses grow imperfect by your eyes’ anguish.
Gloucester       So may it be indeed.

In this scene in William Shakespeare’s King Lear, Edgar, son of the nobleman Gloucester, pretends to take Gloucester to Dover Cliff after one of Lear’s daughters, Regan, and her husband Cornwall, have blinded him due to his alleged treason. Edmund waits as Gloucester prays to the gods to forgive him before falling to the ground – in the mistaken belief that he has thrown himself off Dover Cliff. Gloucester quickly revives from his ‘fall’ – but is still unaware that there was no cliff to fall from.

The imaginary cliff in King Lear was a useful metaphor for the process I used in the first half of my PhD: and soon I became aware that other post-grads were using some equally intriguing metaphors. Mountains, fog, mazes were all pretty common – but one colleague saw his as a gigantic toad sat in the middle of a one way street in front of a brick wall. I’m not sure if he ever completed his process.

The metaphors we use to steer our businesses by are critical and whatever your metaphor of choice, you need (to be liberal with the words of the Pink Floyd track) to Be Careful with that Metaphor Eugene.

Using Titanic metaphors for developing your business will end in tears (floods of them); if you see your business as a canoe paddling down the river, try and adjust your thinking of rough times as white water rapids rather than as an imminent waterfall; if it seems there is a light at the end of the tunnel, try to encapsulate it as an end of the tunnel, and not a train rushing down the track to meet you.

Shaping your own metaphors is a powerful way of learning, developing your business and telling your own story in your own (or even Pink Floyd’s) words.

Practical Text Deconstruction: giving some Shakespeare the once over in Germany

I worked with seven Theater Pedagogik students from the Osnabruck Technische Fachhoch Schule.  My workshop intended to explore how the eight elements of Bojeian story deconstruction might be applied to a piece of Shakespearian text in order to see how and whether that text may be re-presented as a text of inclusion, as opposed to the text of exclusion that Shakespeare texts can be portrayed as.

My session began with a simple name game played in a circle:  I name myself, throw a small pocket size German-English dictionary to a workshop participant and suggest they repeat the exercise.  Before long, all participants have picked up the idea and are beginning to establish the names of the other members of the group.  I develop this game eventually by plucking at random a word out of the dictionary, repeating my name then throwing the dictionary to another participant, again suggesting that participants repeat the exercise.  I encourage participants to pick any word, quickly, whether this be German or English, comprehensible or incomprehensible.  I accelerate the game so that participants eventually build up a chain of six words, five of which are taken from the dictionary, the sixth being their name.

I then request the participants to write the words onto flip charts I have attached to the wall.  I encourage them again to write quickly, with little time to consider of reflect on what they are doing. Once up on the wall, I ask members to construct an imaginary story using the six words of another group member, but using additional words as they see fit.  Eventually, short stories are generated by each of the group members about the other group members.  Given these short stories are based around six random words, the stories themselves display remarkable levels of abstraction, illogic and fantasy.  Nevertheless, members construct stories which are intelligible to varying degrees: the point being made here that human’s abilities to generate meaning is deeply ingrained in our psyche and that our powers of interpretation and meaning-making are perhaps as essential as our ability to breath and digest and reproduce. We focussed on three of the deconstruction techniques that Boje and Dennehy propose, in particular:

Reinterpreting the hierarchy: writing a letter is frequently about trying to present a  story from one point of view: introducing a second point of view which distorts and attempts to force its own control on the emerging narrative means that story writers are constantly reassessing and reinterpreting the hierarchy they are trying to establish.

Establishing rebel voices: the automatic letter writing exercise – especially in larger groups acts to deny the authority of the one voice.

Denying the plot: these writing exercises are designed to confound plot at all stages of its possible grip.

Tracing what is between the lines: constructing words from six random words encourages participants to trace and generate what is not said by filling in the blanks and imagining possibilities, however ludicrous or far-fetched.

After these warm up exercises, I then present participants with two pages taken from Steve Gooch’s Cut Shakespeare version of The Winters Tale. Apart from the Gooch technique of presenting his cut version of the play in a mix of bold and ordinary type face in the document, I provided no other contextual or explanatory information about the play.  Participants claimed not to know anything about the play at all and a number of them professed difficulties with understanding the language. This prompted a discussion about the status that Shakespeare has within the traditional literature canon and how this compares with the place of Goethe in Germany.  Students’ alienation from the text thus provided a metaphor of disability within the group: in one sense students could be seen, if viewed through a medical lens, as having a deficit in that they had a lack of intelligence to grasp a text presented to them: in another sense, if viewed through a social lens, the text had the effect of disabling them as there were no immediately apparent mechanisms open to them which would assist them in accessing the text.

However, participants were open to attempting to read the piece and began by identifying particular phrases – whether in bold or in ordinary type – which caught their attention. These phrases were discussed and possible meanings established.  I confirmed for participants that there was no right or wrong answers in this process.  After some initial caution in the process which I interpreted as participants wanting to know whether they were giving me the right answer or not, they continued to work on the pieces in two groups: one group of three men participants, and one group of four women participants.  The two groups then developed their own interpretation of the texts which they presented back to an invited audience of other students after about 15 minutes preparation.

The men’s group presented a non-verbal presentation in which the ‘king’ – identifiable by his posture and mimed cape – issued control of his kingdom and subjects through the use of visible computer remote control which he wielded at random both at imaginary characters in the play and to the audience in an apparent attempt to control their words and actions.  This control was in vain though: as he continued his attempts at control, the two other actors – who take on the role of off-stage, stage managers, steadily removed parts of the set and his costume whilst he was apparently oblivious to their actions.  Eventually his set and key costume elements – wooden blocks and scarf – were taken away from him and he was left with nothing apart from the ability to curl up, foetus like, on the stage floor.  The presentation ends in silence and finally, on applause, the actor acknowledges the audience and the presence of the two stage managers within it.

The performance was touching and regarded sombrely by the audience. We were left with a picture of a dying, reducing king whose influence and power was steadily declining.  We were encouraged to feel pity for him: a far cry from the usual portrayal of Leontes, the king in the ur-text, who is portrayed as a man who suffers from extreme jealousy which leads him to lock up his wife (and thus brings about her eventual ’death’) cast his new born daughter into the wilderness and lose his son into the bargain.  In this scenario, the text has been decentred from a  performance intended for two actors playing within Shakespearian conventions, to a performance for one solitary actor performing to an unseen multitude of other characters off stage as well as two actors playing the roles of two stage managers.

The women’s group however produced a piece which was far more pantomimic in character.  They produced a script which was performed in a graphic, comic style.  A narrator announces characters who gesture or offer a few words at particular moments to reinforce the words of the narrator.  They played with theatre conventions of the stage curtain (by using the black out curtains of the rehearsal room in a mock theatrical manner) and stage lighting (by switching the overhead neon lights of the room off abruptly at the end of the presentation).  They bow together, as a company at the end of the performance with tongues firmly in cheeks. The script they produced is as follows.

Schauspielerin: Es gab einmal einen König.  Dieser König hatte eine sehr gute Königin.  Doch die Königin gehörte einer feministishcen Bewegung an. Immer wieder schrie sie: Erhängt alle Ehemänner!  Und ihr Mann, der König sagte: Du bist ein Teil vom Nest voller verräterinnen.  Er wart ihr sogar vor, der sahn sie ein Bastard, und nicht von ihm selber.  Als eh ihr eines morgens den Hals umdrehte, schrie er: Nimm den Bastard! Der Sohn reif verstört: Ich bin nichts, bei diesem guten Licht!

Licht aus.

Alle: Besser!

In summary, both groups managed to significantly rewrite the Shakespeare text presented to them using the elements of story deconstruction described previously.  The text work particularly offered participants to use the eighth element described: resituation: i.e the ability to find a new perspective, one that resituates the story beyond its dualisms, excluded voices of singular viewpoint.  Participants reauthored the story so that the hierarchy was resituated and new balance of views was attained.  They re-storied the text so as to re-present dualities and margins and thus scripted new actions.

Whilst this process took place over only a few hours on a Friday afternoon, it offers a number of possibilities that can be used in further text workshop exercises, particularly with groups of participants who may have felt traditionally excluded from participating in an integrated interpretation of a Shakespeare text.

(Extract from The Puppet Question revisited: movements, models and manipulations; reflections on cultural leadership)

The Saturday Guide: 8 steps of story deconstruction

The application of story deconstruction processes can play a catalytic role in telling new stories about Valentines Day and other commercial festivals.

A model of narrative deconstruction is offered by Boje and Dennehy (1993)  below.

1. Duality search make a  list of any bipolar terms, any dichotomies that are used in the story,  Include the term even if only one side is mentioned. For example, in male centred and or male dominated organisation stories, men are central and women are marginal others.  One term mentioned implies its partner.

2. reinterpret the hierarchy.  A story is one interpretation or hierarchy or an event from one point of view.  It usually has some form of hierarchical thinking in place.  Explore and reinterpret the hierarchy  (e.g. in duality terms how one dominates the other) so you can understand its grip.

3. rebel voices.  Deny the authority of the one voice.  Narrative centres marginalise or  exclude.  To maintain a centre takes enormous energy.  What voices are not being expressed in this story? Which voices are subordinate or hierarchical to other voices?  (e.g. who speaks for the trees?)

4. other side of the story.  Stories always have two or more sides.  What is the other side of the story (*usually marginalised, underrepresented or even silent?)  reverse the story, by putting the bottom on top., the marginal in control, or the back stage up front.  For example, reverse the male centre, by holding  a spotlight on its excesses until it becomes  female centre in telling the other side; the point is not to replace one centre with another, but to show how each centre is in a constant state of change and disintegration.

5 deny the plot.  Stories have plots, scripts, scenarios, recipes and morals.  Turn these around (move from romantic to tragic or comedic to ironic).

6. find the exception.. stories contain rules, scripts, recipes and prescriptions.  State each exception in a  way that make its extreme or absurd.  Sometimes you have to break the rules to see the logic being scripted in the story.

7. trace what is between the lines.  Trace what is not said.  Trace what is the writing on the wall.  Fill in the blanks.  Storytellers frequently use ‘you know that part of the story’.  Trace what you are filling in.  with what alternate way could you fill it in  (e.g. trace to the context, the back stage, the between, the intertext?)

8. resituate.  the point of doing 1 to 7 is to find a new perspective, one that resituates the story beyond its dualisms, excluded voices of singular viewpoint.  The idea is to reauthor the story so that the hierarchy is resituated and new balance of views is attained.  Restory to remove the dualities and margins.  In a resituated story there are no more centres.  Restory to script new actions.

Its worth seeing how you might apply this to love stories to see how the stories of relationships can be re-presented, re-communicated – and re-enacted.