On Writing

Shakespeare Acting Classes & Lessons in Meter

It's a shortcoming of my skills as a writer just a single day in this class made me profoundly aware of.

I’m shit at reading meter. For a self-professed Shakespeare nerd, truly scanning iambic pentameter and the emphases that set the tempo of Shakespeare’s verse has always been something to which I’ve passed with the old “smile and nod” when it comes up. What I do understand is characters, so I’ve always enjoyed approaching Shakespeare from a character/motivation standpoint to drive my readings.

This past weekend, I took my first Shakespeare scene study class, and it’s an interesting challenge being tasked to understand characters by the meter and tempo of Shakespeare’s verse less than context/humanity. In the class, we took turns doing cold reads of various speeches from different plays, and our teacher directed us on how the meter should affect our cadence and emphases, and subsequently communicate character intent and meaning.

I had fun with my speech, a bit from the Friar in Romeo & Juliet where he berates Romeo for so quickly moving on from Rosaline to a new woman. I won’t copy the whole speech here, but I will cite one line in particular the director gave me a note on against my original read: “women will fall.” Ironic given the recent events in the news, but his guidance on the emphasis of meter forced me to lend extra stress to fall than my cold read had.

Why? Because this is a priest, so the word fall is more than mere verb, it’s a grandiose sentiment of salvation. The word bears greater stress in the meter because it bears greater and profound meaning for him.

The same definitely applies to prose, and it’s a shortcoming of my skills as a writer just a single day in this class made me profoundly aware of. I signed up for these classes on a long standing nostalgic whim: I moved away from theater and performance midway through college so it’s been over a decade since I’ve done any acting, which I used to love. Aside from being fun, it opened up my mind to a new perspective- and I think that’s always important for writers to remember. Whether it’s a new hobby, or even taking a new route on your commute: open yourself to new experiences, things, and even people.

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