Sunday, 23 April 2017

Shakespeare Stressed/Unstressed by Steve Gladwin

One of the great joys of being a 23rd of the month blogger is that I always get to do Shakespeare’s birthday. The fact that this date may well be inaccurate is neither here nor there because if you have any interest in writing or literature, or have been variously bullied, persuaded or cajoled into studying it, Shakespeare is an ever present.

More or less everything has been written, dreamed or conjectured about Shakespeare. There may be one or two plot quantum leaps to make still, for example a confused Will turning up as potential velociraptor fodder in the latest installment in the Jurassic Park franchise, or even being an occasional guest blogger here on ABBA, (oh go on someone!) By and large however we’ve pretty much exhausted the possibilities with The Bard.

One thing Shakespeare would almost certainly not have had the benefit of is counselling and it’s that somewhat odd idea that is the subject of this blog. Before we proceed though I have an apology to make.

A year ago I expressed my excitement and enthusiasm about the appointment of Emma Rice, the former director and performer in Kneehigh and Theare Alibi as the new director of the Globe Theatre. Sadly Emma’s tenure did not work out and she is already set to leave in 2018. I do hope I didn’t put the mockers on this stage of her career and wish her all the best in finding somewhere new for her extraordinary talents.

One thing Emma Rice or any theatre director would have easy recourse to in this day and age, is a whole range of therapeutic help which sits outside medicine and more often than not deals with the problems of the mind as much as the body. Should we wish we can choose between Reiki and Alexander Technique, Reflexology and Indian Head Massage, Sports Massage and Hypnotherapy. Just imagine if any of this had been around in the time of Shakespeare and Burbage. Instead of relying on the gorging powers of the humble leech or close examination of stool samples, the Lord Chamberlain’s/King’s Men would instead learn how to align their chakras or correct their posture. Foot massage would be a way of helping poisons to pass more easily through their systems and Big Margaret in Cheapside would be someone you paid to deal with shin splints rather than more earthy diversions. You can only imagine how much fun the people of Elizabeth and James the First’s London would have with such a fund of new alternatives to occupy them.

One of my greatest bugbears about Shakespearian knowledge or scholarship is not the argument that someone else wrote some or all of his works, (just read the plays and see a theatrical as well as a written craftsman at work and try to imagine Francis Bacon or Edward de Vere writing in the voice of the poor or country folk), but the idea of this thing called authentic Shakespeare performance.

This mistaken notion comes because people see the results of the quarto or folio editions as representing how the plays themselves were written. This is clearly not the case and indeed the editions were put together by Heminges and Condell as a collection to celebrate the work of their friend and fellow actor, rather than a fair representation of what the actual rehearsal scripts looked like. It’s accepted now that these were likely a right mess with scrawls, doodles, mistakes and possibly the equivalent of Tudor phone numbers and ‘Dick was here’ type graffiti. They would not have been a solid whole but a mismatched collection of parts for a single actor which would later have to be reassembled in retrospect as an article you could actually sell to the public. Most significantly, and far more like a latter day shooting script, more or less everything was subject to change either by the cancelling or addition of new material or by the improvisation of the actor in the role. After all, actors in a live bear pit like the Globe or the Curtain would rarely be able or inclined to stick to the words as written.

But what about Will Shakespeare himself, the man charged with the task of producing the words and parts? It always makes me laugh when people talk about the beautiful language which he, (no doubt) composed and this mistaken belief of how eloquently and slowly it must have been spoken to the groundlings. The truth is that until the nineteenth century the theatre was a place of raucous noise and disruption where anyone not enough on their game was seen as prime pickings for the wit of hecklers and well-aimed rotten fruit. Our cerebral view of Shakespeare’s theatre simply didn’t exist until people invented it as a way of preserving performance practice that never was in aspic. The real thing was far more interesting.

Meantime our Will is upstairs sweating it out with a scene or soliloquy and he’s promised the actors the next act in time for the first run through and just where is it going to come from? He is early on in his career, the time of Titus and the early Henrys, when he is still slightly star struck in the wake of bright Kit Marlowe.

Obviously our boy’s going to do alright, but just in case he struggles, we’re going to give him a leg-up courtesy of a bunch of helpful twenty first century children’s writers. The members of this particular self-help group come from the Charney retreat of 2015.

Here you go then Will. A few suggestions for looking after yourself as a writer. The often unfunny editions are sadly mine own.

Drink lots of water.
Keep getting up from your desk/quill/candle.
Unfollow anyone who’s having more success than you. (Or nearest equivalent)
Don’t spend too much time in self-congratulation.
Make sure you have a really good friend. (Rules out most critics).
Get a dog, which is perfect writer’s assistant.
Have a writing location without a computer. (Not difficult in your case!)
Practice Mindfulness
Put together a nice writing critique group. (Maybe not the lads downstairs)
Use an egg timer.
Do some gardening.
Practice your breathing and meditation. (Beats leeches anytime!)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. (Erm!)
Have a hot bath. (Preferably with a hot companion)
Have friends who aren’t writers.
Avoid the ‘if I can just’.
Invite your unpublished self-round to tea.
Don’t eat chocolate etc.
Eat plenty of chocolate etc.
Listen to audio books. (Or Burbage reciting his lines)
Bathe in the power of fan love. (but look out for the obvious stalkers!)
Write light as well as dark.
Write in notebooks in pencil.
Listen to the right music. (Say John Dowland’s Twenty Golden Lute Greats)
Rest when you need it.
Lead a more balanced life.
Pick things each day that make you happy. (Molly from the dairy say)
Know that you’re not alone. (Kit Marlowe and Tom Kydd have struggled there before you but you didn’t get tortured or stabbed in the eye).
Build a shed.
Use a footrest. (A suitably willing small child may do for this)
Have writer friends, (but not Robert Greene!)
Eat four squares of chocolate. (There’s a bit of a theme developing here!)
Exercise the friend muscle
Be where you are.
Review your day.
Practice alignment.
Tell yourself you are not just a writer. (maybe trying for a spot on the Elizabethan X-Factor?).
Say ‘no’ and don’t feel bad.
Read comfort books.
Be happy.
Eat dark chocolate. (See what I mean?)
Use comments feature in Word. (Alternatively treat yourself to a new quill).

To that I’d like to add a couple of additions.
Leave town at the first sign the plague hits.
Don’t do that special performance of Richard the Second.

There you go our Will. You’ll be fine.

Oh sorry - almost forgot.

Happy Birthday mate.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed being a fly in the attic at Will Shakespeare’s first therapy session as much as I have. Apologies to all my friends at Charney 2015 for making merry with their genuinely useful advice. Comments or complaints on a parchment please to –

Steve Gladwin - 'Grove of Seven' and 'The Year in Mind'
Writer, Performer and Teacher
Author of 'The Seven' and 'The Raven's Call'


Sue Bursztynski said...

Another thing those badly-put-together scripts would have been for was pirating. I bet Will had as many headaches as we do, and there was no law against it in those days.

I always imagine Shakeeare as the kind of man who'd go to the pub with you, as long as you were paying. ;-) Otherwise there would be a bunch of actors talking shop and paying no attention to the fans in the corner.

Sue Purkiss said...

(Just to say that Steve is having trouble with internet access at the moment - otherwise I'm sure he would have replied to your comment, Sue!)

Penny Dolan said...

Great tribute to the Lad, Dan. I think - after a day at a conference on Broadcasting - that I'd advise him to keep all his hustling skills at the ready, too.