Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Each New Voice

This afternoon we sat in on the design presentations for Folger Theatre‘s upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet. From a practical point of view, we need to see how the Theatre space will be changed so that we can adjust for our programs which take place onstage; but from the perspective of a fan of Shakespeare, it’s so exciting to see – each time – how this company at this point in time takes on a familiar play to tell a new story.

For example, director Aaron Posner says that his inspiration for this production came out of a conversation with his wife, actress Erin Weaver (who will be playing Juliet, and will also be joining us for our Romeo and Juliet set free workshop), in which they discussed the moment in which Juliet decides not to face the consequences, not to run away, but to end her life, instead. It’s nice to say that it’s the culmination of the story of a whirlwind romance in which two people were never meant for anyone but each other and her decision not to go on without him is romantic as well as sad – but, says Posner, “that’s not a story I can relate to.” Exploring, instead, what kind of world shapes Juliet in this direction and makes her choice not only one borne of love, but also of necessity, tells a different story than we might be used to as an audience.

“It’s a hard play to cut,” Posner added, since the language is so good and everything seems important to the story. The words are so familiar – they’ve been said hundreds of thousands of times – but each inflection and each decision made by Aaron and his cast of actors will tell a different story from each production that came before it. That’s something truly wonderful about Shakespeare in performance, anywhere in performance – In classrooms or theaters, amateurs to professionals – each person brings something new to the table to tell a new story with the same words.

Have you seen this play in performance recently, or read it with your students? What sort of discoveries did you make? Did anything change the way you perceive the play for good?

One Comment

  • I find Posner’s approach to reading the text to be highly effective. Such an approach, emphasizing not only what is said, but how it is said, and by whom, not to mention the way words in Shakespearean plays accumulate their own meanings through context, is more likely than most to recover lost levels of innuendo and indirect argument embodied in the Shakespearean plays.

    For example, why does the word “ring” occur 43 or more times in *Merchant of Venice*. We know that “bred,” “head,” and “nourished,” all rhyme with “lead,” for Portia has her musicians illustrate the principle for us. But what does “ring” “rhyme with”? Ian Haste determined that the word “Ring” is printed, as capitalized, in a typical folio, is so many that the compositors seem to have run out of capital “R”s. Gosh. Whatever had they in mind?

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