R3 Experiment : The Plan

So I’m tackling Richard III, as I mentioned, and blogging as I go. 

One major question right out of the gate is, “What exactly does this mean? How does one approach a new play?”  It’s not like I’m constrained to wandering down to the local Barnes & Noble and picking up the paperback edition.  It’s safe to say that I’ve got access to a wider variety of resources than that 😉  Not only is there a complete works over on my bookshelf over there, I’ve got the works locally on my laptop and on my phone, not to mention easy googling.

“No Fear” editions that claim to do a <shudder> line by line translation of the play are not an option. If you need to ask why, I point you to 6 years of Shakespeare Geek archives. 🙂

However, it’s also not reasonable to just jump in and read the play.  “Performed, not read!” everybody’s been screaming for years.  Not to mention, in my particular situation it’s just unrealistic so sit down for any amount of time with a Complete Works and all the necessary reference material, and still get a coherent first read of the story.  I see that as more the kind of thing to do after multiple reads, when I can better dig down into specific analysis.

So, performance.  Performance, performance. An argument I’ve always made against “Go see it!” is that this is easier said than done. You can’t just snap your fingers and have a live show of every Shakespeare play, you have to take what you can get.  And right now I don’t know of an R3 in my area.

Well, then, what about movies?  I will get to the movies – the McKellen, most likely, both because it is available for streaming on Netflix and also because his footnoted script is available online and I can follow along.  Once I’ve done that I’ll probably come back around and check out the Olivier version.

Middle ground?  Audio.  I have plenty of time with my iPod (driving, yard work, etc…) which is currently filled with just podcasts and science fiction novels.  Shakespeare Teacher’s recent post on the best of Shakespeare on Audio gave me the idea.  But you don’t have to run out and drop the bucks for Arkangel
, when Librivox is around.  For those that don’t know, Librivox offers free MP3 readings of many public domain works, including of course Shakespeare.

So, there’s my starting point.  It’s currently Saturday afternoon, I’ve got the McKellen R3 in my Netflix queue, and the Librivox recording on my iPod.  I will have to back up my listening with reading, as it’s obvious after just the first few minutes that some “Who is speaking now?” context is needed when doing nothing but listening.  But I can work with that.  My game plan is to listen whenever the opportunity presents, back up with reading when I get a moment, and play catchup with the movie version for a few minutes every night before bed.

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9 thoughts on “R3 Experiment : The Plan

  1. When I want to listen to an audio version of a play, I must read along. Otherwise I just get completely lost, even in shows I know quite well.

    I think there is an option that you haven't explored though, and one that is much easier to achieve than it first seems. The other side of "Performed, not read." is "Perform, don't read."

    When I want to approach a completely new text, I read it aloud. Preferably with friends so I don't have to do all the parts myself. I am meeting with a group this week to read through Macbeth, which is not new to me but is new to some of the others joining us.

    It is much simpler than it sounds. With social applications there is absolutely no barrier besides scheduling. Particularly the "huddle" feature of Google+ is *perfect* for this kind of thing. A bunch of people sit in front of their screens, and they can all hear *and* see each other and their scripts at the same time. It's literally as easy as clicking a button. There are plenty of other software options too. I have not used Apple's "facetime" app, but I think it basically works the same way.

    It really is a great way to get the feel and rhythm of a play. I have no doubt that if you chose a time, you'd have plenty of readers willing to join you. I'd be first in line.

  2. Okay, here's my suggestion:

    I would recommend that you start by watching the McKellen movie. Just enjoy it as a movie and don't worry about anything else.

    I say this because that particular film is very accessible. The language is updated just slightly, and McKellen eliminates anything that requires prior knowledge of any of the Henry VI plays. It's also visually stunning and features top-notch performances across the board, which articulate the characters, plot, and themes of the play quite clearly.

    Bottom line: you will get the play from this movie. You can fill in the details later, but this is the introduction that will give you the frame to place them in.

    Oh, and thanks for the link love. Appreciated as always!

  3. Thanks for the tips. I'm deliberately not rushing straight to the McKellen (or, any) movie because I don't want that visual to be the one that I forever have in my head, you know? His will end up being the definitive rendition to me, and I think that'll do a disservice to my ability to fully appreciate the text.

    Re: reading aloud, I suppose I should tackle that one of these days, but it's just never been "me". Let me work my way up to that. I've never been surrounded (in non-digital life) but Shakespeare friends, so even though you're right that I could pretty easily gather a group of online folks pretty easily, it's still a hurdle to me that needs to be overcome. My recent "I do interviews" post about Skyping in with classrooms was a step in that direction, to interact on some other level than posts and comments. I move slow. 🙂

  4. Looks like a good project. I think any approach can work as long as it's not the only thing you do. I remember the guy who wrote "Hamlet's Dresser" (is that the title) talking about always having a copy of the play he's currently working in his back pocket and just dipping into it at every opportunity. It comes together over time. The only method you mentioned that does NOT work for me is the audio. I can only enjoy that when I'm really familiar with a play.

    Reading aloud is a great idea, but so is just gathering a reading group. When I wanted to do Lear for the first time (in 2003), I offered to teach a "How to Love Shakespeare" adult ed class, and instantly had a group of ten who were willing to have conversations about Lear with me. We spent four weeks on it. It was pretty magical. I know it's a personal thing. I always learn best in conversation.

  5. I've often thought of that, Gary – an adult ed "How To Love Shakespeare" class. How exactly does one go about doing that? I'm not even really sure where to begin.

  6. Let me chime in with this, straight from the lecture notes (the page numbers are from the Dover Thrift Edition, but you can figure out the reference pretty easily in any edition):

    Five Things to Know Before Reading Richard III

    1. When Clarence says his name is George on page 2, he's not lying. He's George, Duke of Clarence, and his title usually denotes him throughout the play.

    2. When no one pays any attention to Margaret when she starts talking on page 16, it's all right. All her speeches are aside (until she advances on the next page).

    3. Margaret is the widow of Henry VI, the king Edward IV took over from (after his side killed Henry VI in the civil war).

    4. Elizabeth, wife of Edward IV, has children from a previous marriage–they are the Marquis of Dorset and Lord Grey.

    5. She also has a daughter, also named Elizabeth. She'll become important later in the play.

    There! Now you're all set!


    P.S. Oh, one more thing. The best way to read Richard III is in the 1597 Q1 printing–the first edition, in other words. If you can't get your hands on one, just read this (the next best thing):



  7. Don't forget about "Looking for Richard" with Al Pacino. It's a bit dry at times, but an interesting look at what it takes to make a play from the actors' pov's.

    They also do a LOT of explaining.

    NC Greg

  8. You know, this project might turn out absolutely fascinating – look at all the tips and resources! Where'd you pull those questions, KJ? Are those like "most commonly asked questions" from the first scenes or something?

    Anon – I always forget about Looking for Richard, thanks for the reminder. For some reason I've got it stuck in my head that that one's about Richard II. Don't know where I got that idea.

  9. Thanks, Duane! It's such a fantastic play in many respects, but it has a huge cast that is daunting–especially to audiences not deeply versed in medieval English history (i.e., Americans). Years of teaching have taught me that these are the five stopping points for students. They confuse and baffle without some preliminary explanation. But with that explanation, things so smoothly.

    Until Anne agrees to marry Richard, of course. Then we're back (almost) at square one!


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