Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Advice for Graduates

 By Peggy O’Brien

At St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s 2015 commencement, Michael Tolaydo—both in honor of his long and distinguished career there and in honor of the graduating class—was asked to send

Michael Tolaydo (Image: Peggy O'Brien)
Michael Tolaydo (Image: Peggy O’Brien)

the graduates off into their futures with some Shakespeare.  We share it with you here because he is an important part of the Folger Education family.  His knowledge, creativity, guidance, and humor have enabled countless teachers across the country to up their teaching Shakespeare game—and will continue to do so. 

On a beautiful May morning, overlooking the St. Mary’s River, this is what he said:

 

CONGRATULATIONS GRADUATES!  Soon after you leave St. Mary’s College, you will– in the months and years to come–have many interviews and meetings with folks who are looking for employees.  I want to remind you that too often we try to impress the interviewer by presenting what we think they are looking for.  And in doing so, we interpret what we think are signals in their facial expressions and tone of voice.  When we react to those signals, we end up presenting  a mixed image and presence of who WE are.

Your strength is in you. Not the mask you think that you need to project.  The genuineness of who you really are is more powerful than any mask you might project as you are trying to please.

Great actors do not ‘make believe.”

Great actors make YOU believe.

The best advice I know that reminds me of this is from Shakespeare:  Hamlet’s advice to the players (3.2.1):

 

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced
it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth
it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and
beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. O,
it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious,
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very
rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the
most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable
dumb shows and noise. I would have such a fellow
whipped for o’erdoing Termagant. It out-Herods
Herod. Pray you, avoid it.

Be not too tame neither, but let your own
discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the
word, the word to the action, with this special
observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of
nature. For anything so o’erdone is from the purpose
of playing, whose end, both at the first and
now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to
nature, to show virtue her own  feature, scorn her
own image, and the very age and body of the time
his form and pressure. Now this overdone or come
tardy off, though it makes the unskillful laugh,
cannot but make the judicious grieve, the censure
of the  which one must in your allowance o’erweigh
a whole theater of others. O, there be players that I
have seen play and heard others praise  (and that
highly), not to speak it profanely, that, neither
having th’ accent of strangers nor the gait of
woman, pagan, nor man, have so strutted and
bellowed that I have thought some of nature’s
journeymen had made men, and not made them
well, they imitated humanity so abominably.
O, reform it altogether. And let those that play
your clowns speak no more than is set down for
them, for there be of them that will themselves
laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators
to laugh too, though in the meantime some necessary
question of the play be then to be considered.
That’s villainous and shows a most pitiful ambition
in the fool that uses it.

Go make you ready.

 

(slightly edited)

 

Peggy O’Brien is the Director of Education at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Follow her on Twitter at @obrienfolger or send her an email at pobrien@folger.edu.

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