One of the more interesting cultural initiatives that came out of the £9.3 billion splurge of the Olympics, was a week of pop-up Shakespeare in which undercover actors “ambushed” shoppers and tourists in Covent Garden with chunks of the bard.
A woman stops you in Covent Garden to ask for directions to a restaurant you’ve never heard of. In the midst of confessing your ignorance she remarks:
O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
The courtier’s, scholar’s, soldier’s, eye, tongue, sword,
Th’ expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
Th’ observ’d of all observers- quite, quite down!
I love the idea of this. So much so, I wish they’d taken all £9.3 billion of our taxes and instead of sinking it into an orgy of patriotism, unleashed thousands of actors, each one bursting with 100s of memorised monologues and poems, onto the streets of every town, city and village in the UK for a whole year. Or even ten years. £9.3 billion would pay 10,000 actors 100,000 pounds each. (Ten grand a year is “doing well” if you’re an actor.)
Now the Olympics were Whizz! Bang! Wallop! FAB! but they weren’t that whizz-bang-wallop. A ten-year, 10,000 actor job-creation scheme, that would have been something worth crowing about.
The reason I’m rambling on about Shakepeare is that I’m learning a monologue at the moment, a monologue which I’m planning to produce next week in the same pleasurably disconcerting way as Mark Rylance’s popper-uppers.
This be it, from the last Act of The Tempest:
Learning these lines has been a reminder of just how damn good Shakespeare is. Do we need to remind ourselves from time to time just how good WS be? Yes we do.
At some level, as a culture, we take him for granted. Some of his most memorable lines now sound to our ears like the most hackneyed of Beatles’ songs. When was the last time, if ever, you had a listen to Let It Be, or All You Need Is Love?
But around and in between the over-familiar lines still lies so much magic and wonder.
What I love about this “poem” is that through Prospero, one can unleash what amounts to an existential howl at all this useless beauty, this human-despoiling desecration of the world and our weirdly inconsequential place in it. And yet the visceral rage and sadness of the sentiments sit mercifully “contained” in the iambics of the verse, like a small child wrapped in a Khanga, a Bilum, a Rebozo, or any of the other baby-carriers that preindustrial women use(d) to keep their infants close.
What you get when you learn Shakespeare in this way, is catharsis without injury to the self or to those you love. Psychic-bloodletting with no attendant shame or ego-destabilisation. Surely the Holy Grail of therapeutic intervention, the Nirvana of a good emote?
Shakespeare’s plays are packed with these experiences. All yours as long as you’re willing to put in the memory-work.
Here’s a great website for finding the one you need: http://www.shakespeare-monologues.org/