My Most Painted Word
Greetings to all you Pigeon Creek fans and Shakespeare aficionados out there!
I’m Scott Wright and it’s my turn this week.
“Hamlet” has been one of my favorites almost since the first time I read and saw it back in high school, and when I learned that PCSC was going to be presenting it this spring I couldn’t help feeling a little excited.
It wasn’t long before I began thinking, “I could play Claudius…”
Then they actually gave me the role.
Pleased at first of course (-and pleased still, for all that…), as I began reading and researching the script, that small voice that reminds me every so often that I’m not all that, started getting a little louder.
Here I was looking at a role in the play that some might call Shakespeare’s masterwork – one of the greatest works in the English language – a character that has been dissected and analyzed by literary types all over the world for centuries, and played by such actors as Basil Sydney, James Earl Jones, Patrick Stewart, and Derek Jacobi – to name just a few.
Feeling just a little intimidated now…
But once we got into rehearsals the general wackiness and sense of fun that infuses this group quickly winnowed away any doubts.
Everyone in the group attacked the text with a gusto and seriousness that is truly a thing to behold.
Now, I’ve been a self-described Shakespeare geek for quite a long time, but after being involved with Pigeon Creek for a few shows (“Hamlet is my fifth…) my Shakespeare-geekness-quotient has increased conspicuously.
Under the influence of the brilliant Katherine Mayberry I’ve gone from being simply an enthusiast to the point where I now find myself unconsciously working out scansion, curiously intrigued by the variations of rhythm within the rigid structure of iambic pentameter and intensely fascinated with the minutiae of punctuation…
I found and downloaded a facsimile copy of the 2nd Quarto edition (the “good” quarto) so that I could directly compare its spellings and punctuation with the modern editions, and bought the 2nd volume of the two-volume Furness edition that I’d been missing ever since I found Volume 1 in a used book store back in college, so that I could see the 1st (“bad”) quarto and look for more character clues…
It’s a frightening and wonderful thing she’s done to us…
But in rehearsals we began to look at it from an actor’s perspective – seeing the characters as real people, looking to bring life to their actions and words, discovering the relationships between them and the feelings they express (-or don’t express…) for each other, creating something more than two-dimensional literary characters.
It would be easy (and a bit lazy) to make Claudius a cardboard cut-out villain, but Shakespeare created very few of those kind of characters and Claudius is not one of them.
No one in the play ever says that Claudius is a tyrant or a bad king. No one (except Hamlet…) seems to think that he’s done anything particularly wrong by seizing the throne and marrying his brother’s wife… (Though it would probably have been bad form to have said so…)
In fact, whatever reasons he may have had for murdering his brother – whether for power, or for a woman, or both – he’s doing his best to appear a genuinely nice guy – at least in the beginning.
Claudius’ fratricidal act seems to have set in motion a series of events that will inevitably bring his carefully constructed world crashing down around him. Whenever something unexpected happens he lashes out in a desperate attempt to re-establish order – which he never quite manages to do, as each attempt seems to spin things further and further out of control. At last, he turns again to secret, cold-blooded murder as the only way to get back on top of things, but the result is that nearly everyone around him – including his queen, the promising young Laertes, and he himself suffer the same fate as his intended target.
So the challenge then will be to bring to life a man with a heart - a heart that loves, that feels loss, and sadness, and regret, but whose envy, ambition, lust, and fear lead him to commit the primal eldest act of jealousy…