How to Speak Shakespeare

How to Speak Shakespeare
Cal Pritner and Louis Colaianni
September 2001
How-To & Reference
6 x 9

In How to Speak Shakespeare, authors Cal Pritner and Louis Colaianni teach readers how to make sound and sense out of the Bard. Their methods have taught thousands of people—from high school students to English literature and theater arts graduate students, from beginning actors to professional actors—how to understand and effectively communicate the poetry of Shakespeare.
In order to make the book user-friendly, the authors have organized it around passages from Romeo and Juliet. The material has been tested successfully with high school students, graduate students, amateur actors, and professional actors. The authors' teaching method is essentially a simple three step process: Test Your Understanding, Stress for Meaning, and Celebrate the Poetry. Classroom and rehearsal-tested exercises are included along with additional background on Shakespeare and his work.

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This book is the culmination of over twenty years of teaching and research into the challenge of how to speak Shakespeare. We have dedicated ourselves to a basic challenge: how to help actors communicate Shakespeare’s ideas and stories clearly for audiences. How to Speak Shakespeare features a step-by-step process for speaking Shakespeare clearly and intelligently, using only one Shakespeare play for its examples: Romeo and Juliet.
Our process is based on sound yet simple principles that have proven effective for a wide range of students: from eighth graders to undergraduate theatre majors to MFA students to professional actors. It’s been “classroom-tested” and “rehearsal-tested” in schools and theatres from coast to coast including: Illinois State University, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, the Missouri Repertory Theatre, the California Institute of the Arts, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the California State Summer School for the Arts, and the American Conservatory Theatre. It has also been taught to faculty leaders of the International Thespian Society from across America.
In our effort to make How to Speak Shakespeare as accessible as possible, we make no assumptions about what you “know” about Shakespeare. We offer “Additional Background” in case you’ve forgotten the difference between Elizabethan and Jacobean, or between a “First Folio” and a “Quarto.” Except for a copy of Romeo and Juliet, no “accessories” are required.
So, let’s get to work! It’s Shakespeare and it’s worth the effort.
Cal Pritner
Louis Colaianni

The Basic Sequence
Step One: Test Your Understanding.

Shakespeare’s words are 400 years old, and they often don’t have the same meaning today as they did back then. How do you deal with this?
a) Look it up in the dictionary.
Eventually you’ll want to check some words out in the Oxford English Dictionary (your local college, high school, or public library should have the OED in print or on cd-rom), but for our demonstration exercises, you won’t have to.
b) Paraphrase.
Try saying it in your own words, as closely to the text’s meaning as you can get; that’s the way to make sure you’re understanding what you’re saying.
Step Two: Stress for Meaning.
a) Find the rhythms. Most of Shakespeare is written in verse. We’ll help you find the verse’s rhythm.
b) Syncopate for meaning.
We’ll show you how to vary the rhythm of the verse, or “syncopate” it, for meaning and communication.
Step Three: Celebrate the Poetry.
Shakespeare wrote poetically. In order to give full expression to Shakespeare’s poetry, the actor/character must be aware of basic expressive tools that the text employs.
a) Use the Punctuation.
Understanding Shakespeare’s punctuation helps the actor speak the text meaningfully. Carefully followed, Shakespeare’s punctuation provides a roadmap for the organization of characters’ thoughts. In many cases it also dictates rhythmic shifts in the text.
b) Repeated Sounds.
The characters play with repeated sounds. Repeated sounds, including “rhyme,” “assonance,” and “alliteration” are clues for meaning and expression.
c) Connecting the Key Words and Phrases.
Key words include:
1) Action words (usually verbs).
2) Naming words (usually nouns)
3) Amplifying, explaining, and contrasting words, such as “auncient” and “new” or “civill hands” and civill bloud”

© 2001 Cal Pritner and Louis Colaianni