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Friday, June 13, 2014

Choose Your Own Shakespeare


If you are a student or teacher, I think you will really enjoy this idea.

I was reading a book recently when it introduced me to a concept that really appeals to me -- Imaginative Meditation.

St. Ignatius of Loyola taught his followers to meditate on gospel stories and unleash their imagination. He taught them not to just read the gospel stories but to enter them, to imagine the sights and sounds and smells. Instead of just being a spectator to the story, they were taught to become participants in the story.


David Tennant as Hamlet?


I think this would be an excellent exercise for students, for teachers, or really for anyone, to further appreciate Shakespeare's plays, and enjoy them in a very different way.

If you meditate imaginatively on Shakespeare's plays, you no longer just read them. You will experience them as if they are happening.

So, what play would you choose? Your favourite? Is it "Romeo and Juliet" or "Macbeth" or "Hamlet?"

Choose one, and as you read it, try to imagine that there is another character in the play, and that character is you.

As you read the scenes, imagine that you talk back to the characters, or imagine that the characters are talking with you in mind. 

One of the great things about this exercise is that you can be in every scene, and see everything and know everything that's going on.

If you know everything going on, and maybe you know the story already, then you might know what happens before the other characters do. Do you warn them? Do you withhold information from them? Or do you let the action happen without your involvement? I recommend you become an active participant and imagine what you could say to the other characters.

If you are in "Hamlet" you can be in the royal court in the beginning when Claudius explains his marriage to Gertrude. You can speak to Claudius and maybe warn him that Hamlet will have his revenge. After all, Claudius has taken the throne away from Hamlet. Claudius has usurped Hamlet's throne.

When Hamlet's father died, the throne should pass to Hamlet, not to his uncle. It is one more reason why Hamlet is so upset in the beginning.

Go as far as you want with your imagination. What are you wearing? Are you a courtier or a servant, or one of Hamlet's friends from the University? Is it a large hall or not? Is it cold? Do you wear a hat? You get the idea.

You can even cast the characters with your favourite actors. Do you like David Tennant as Hamlet? How about Benedict Cumberbatch? Or maybe Ryan Gosling? Why not? It's up to you. It's your imagination.


Ryan Gosling as Hamlet?


You can also speak to Hamlet. He mourns the loss of his father. He is confused by the sudden marriage to his uncle. He has lost his crown to his uncle. 

You could warn him that Claudius has killed his father. Imagine that you are leading Hamlet to the conclusion that he must take revenge.

When Hamlet meets the Ghost of his father, you can try to convince him to believe the Ghost, and heed what the Ghost is saying.

Imagine that whenever Hamlet turns from the other characters and speaks an aside, one of his famous soliloquies, imagine that he is speaking to you in private. 

Imagine that his aside is not just a soliloquy. Imagine that it is a back and forth dialogue, a conversation between Hamlet and you. 

When he says "To be, or not to be, that is the question--" what would you say back? He is talking about killing himself. Would you encourage him to die, or would you try to talk him out of it? Of course, you would try to talk him out of it.

When he next says "Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer the Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune, or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles, And by opposing end them?" he is asking you a question.  

What do you say? 

You could say "Hamlet, you know what you must do, you must take up arms against Claudius. After all, he stole your crown!" 

You could say "Hamlet, you have to stop thinking so much about it and make a decision! You must either fight for your crown or leave Denmark! Now choose!"

You could say "Hamlet, stop being so melodramatic."


Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet?


I hope that you enjoy this Imaginative Meditation method of reading and experiencing Shakespeare.

I worry sometimes whether students are enjoying Shakespeare as much as they could in the classroom. I know that while I enjoyed reading Shakespeare as a student, it did not light my imagination at the time. It took years of reading his plays to really feel passionate about them.

If you are a student, you might think that reading Shakespeare's plays like this is a waste of time. 

But I promise you that even if you don't start to like Shakespeare more this way, at least your imagination will get a good workout. I hope that you enjoy playing with the plays however you want.

In a sense, it is taking the play and making it interactive, like a video game.

What made Shakespeare a great writer was his imagination. What makes every artist unique, whether it's Picasso, or Beethoven, or Damien Hirst or Lady Gaga, starts with their imagination. They imagine something and they create it. 

But they can't create it without imagining it first. They spent years developing their imagination.

Here's a very funny video of Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson having fun with Shakespeare. It's sort of like Imaginative Meditation:




Cheers,


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