April 11, 2011

'Talk Like Shakespeare Day' doth approach

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- What ho! methinks Talk Like Shakespeare Day doth approach, nigh unto a fortnight hence.

April 23 ‘tis William Shakespeare’s 446th birthday, and the occasion for a playful holiday, Talk Like Shakespeare Day. It also has special significance at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

SIUC presents one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, the tragedy “Macbeth,” with a run April 28-May 1 at the McLeod Theater. Talk Like Shakespeare Day falls conveniently not quite a week before opening night, providing an excellent opportunity to get in the Elizabethan spirit.

Mary Lamb, professor of English and a Shakespeare expert, said that Shakespeare’s works have permeated our popular culture, so much that his words are in our minds whether we recognize the source or not.

“His phrases and words are a common part of our cultural baggage,” she said. “If we are going to use his words, let’s do it full-scale and enjoy Talk Like Shakespeare Day. Let’s have a really good time with it!”

Lamb suggested the best way to get into the spirit and to make the language more familiar is to begin by watching a Shakespeare movie. And there are many! (A guide to “talking like Shakespeare” follows.)

“Shakespeare is meant to be seen, he’s not really meant to be read,” she said. Not only will seeing actions along with words make the play easier to follow, she added, but also the language seems much more natural after just a few minutes.

Lamb said Shakespeare continues to be a theater staple and a never-ending source of quotes, images and vocabulary in part because of the unique challenges he faced.

“The secret to Shakespeare’s greatness is the Globe Theater,” she said. “He had to be flexible and complex because of the audience. He didn’t dare offend the upper classes, which provided the financing for the theater. But, unlike today when tickets at professional theaters are often very expensive, a large part of the audience was made up of the lower classes in the cheap seats. If they didn’t like the play, they might throw things and shut down the play. So he had to address both these audiences. That forced him to be complex and to provide at least two perspectives.”

Today, she said, directors have many choices when it comes to how they will present Shakespeare, and that keeps it fresh.

Each play has its unique challenges, of course. Lamb referred to the common problem of finding a Juliet for “Romeo and Juliet” who can handle the role but is still young enough to play it. Olusegun Ojewuyi, associate professor of acting and directing in the Department of Theater and director of “Macbeth,” listed swordplay and stage combat among the challenges in presenting “Macbeth.”

“There is no one single version of a Shakespeare play,” Lamb said. “This seems to be more true for Shakespeare’s plays than for other plays.”

There will be more information on “Macbeth” forthcoming, but for now, prithee, gentlefolk all, be not smudges nor jackanapes and instead mark thee well the date and play thee well the part. Hark on this -- since April 23 is a Saturday, thou hath leave to put on thine antic disposition for the whole of the week.

How to Talk Like Shakespeare (from www.talklikeshakespeare.org)

• Get rid of “it” whilst talking like Shakespeare. Say ‘tis, t’would, t’will, is’t?

• When in doubt, add “eth” to the ends of words. “He trippeth,” “she laugheth.”

• Nay is no, aye is yes.

• Learn your thee, thou, and thine. “Thou” is used instead of “you” as the subject of a sentence. “Thee” is used instead of “you” as the object of a sentence. “Thy” is used in place of “your” except when the following word begins with a vowel. In such a case, use “thine.” “Ye” is the equivalent of “y’all.”

• Learn your doth, hath and art. “I art,” “he/she/it doth,” “thou dost,” “thou hath,” “he/she/it hath,” and so on.

• Greetings and farewells are easiest for those not comfortable sprinkling their speech with Elizabethanisms. Try “Good morrow” instead of “Good morning,” or “How sayest thou?” for “How’s it going?” To say goodbye, try “Fare thee well,” if you mean to be polite, “Out upon thee,” if you do not.

• Toss in “methinks,” (I think, possibly, in my opinion) “mayhaps,” (maybe, an evasive way to say no) “in sooth” (truly, really, I’m not playin!), or “wherefore” (why, therefore).

• Titles, which we don’t much use, were mandatory in Shakespeare’s day but fun in ours. “Madam” or “Mistress” works with the ladies generally, but if you’d like to be specific, “goodwife” for a pleasant woman, “fair damsel” for a beautiful one, “lass” for a young one, or “wench” for when you’d like to be slapped all work well. For the gents, “sirrah” is appropriate generally, “master,” if speaking to someone you ought to impress, “Your Worship” if you’d like to lay it on thick, “goodman” if you are trying for neutrality. You can call any of your friends “cousin” and be authentic. “Magistra” is appropriate for your teacher.

For longer Shakespeare quotes, try www.absoluteshakepeare.com.

For more information about SIUC’s production of Macbeth, stay tuned, or visit www.theater.siuc.edu.