17 August 2011

The implicit agreement between the actor and the audience.

Henry V is my favorite Shakespeare play. It is most often remembered for the Saint Crispin's Day speech given by the king ere the close of battle on the field of Agincourt (and re-cast by Captain Splinter at opening gate, I might add). But as a writer and an artist, good as it is, that is not my favorite Shakespearean speech from my favorite play.

There is another.

I was reminded of this recently.  On a Facebook group for ren folk, a fellow from California posted a complaint: Why should we even bother trying to breathe some life into the sixteenth century when our efforts are beset on every side by port-o-potties and ice cream vendors and patrons on cell phones?

Why even bother?


Oh, ye of little faith.

Shakespeare would have understood as well as anyone what we're trying to do. Better, I'd wager.  If you do not believe me, look no further than my favorite part of my favorite play: the introduction.  Right there at the beginning, he implores the audience to multiply the one actor into multitudes, to see a man in a paper crown and clothe him as king, to see a wall of canvas and supplant it with a castle.

Everything you need to know to write a novel, short story or play is encapsulated in those lines. And more importantly for our purposes, it contains everything you need to know about the implicit agreement between the actor and the audience.

As we gear up for third weekend, entering our third act if you will, these are words it would do us great service to remember, to hear echoing in our heads when doubts assail us or if we hear someone mumbling about tents and Honey Buckets.

Earlier this week, my wife asked you to post your favorite memories of faire from the first two acts.  Use those memories, siphon the energy from them and close your eyes for a moment. Paint over the popup tents and the stages and the smelly blue boxes and patrons in Stargate uniforms.

Even Shakespeare had to do this. Even he had to remind his audience to help him out. So can you.

O for a muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene.
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars, and at his heels,
Leashed in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all,
The flat unrais├Ęd spirits that hath dared,
On this unworthy scaffold, to bring forth
So great an object. Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O pardon, since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million,
And let us, ciphers to this great account,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high, uprear├Ęd, and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder.
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts:
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance.
Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hooves i' th' receiving earth.
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there, jumping o'er times,
Turning th' accomplishment of many years
Into an hourglass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history,
Who, prologue-like, your humble patience pray
Gently to hear, kindly to judge our play.

Or you can always watch Derek Jacobi do it from Branagh's Henry V movie:

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