So Tell Me Again About This Barton Fellow?

As I continue through Playing Shakespeare I’m becoming more intrigued.  I don’t really know anything about this Barton who runs the show.  Are these people in his workshop professional actors who are doing him a favor, helping him to demonstrate techniques to a mostly off-screen audience of younger, less experienced actors? Or when Ben Kingsley asks a question, is he honestly the student to Barton’s teacher?  Yes, that Ben Kingsley.  Gandhi.  Holding a script and asking Barton questions about how to play a scene. There’s a moment I watched last night when his “students”, Kingsley among them, encourage Barton to do a passage to show them what he’s talking about.  They give him this speech, of all things: KING OF FRANCE

Where is Montjoy the herald? speed him hence:
Let him greet England with our sharp defiance.
Up, princes! and, with spirit of honour edged
More sharper than your swords, hie to the field:
Charles Delabreth, high constable of France;
You Dukes of Orleans, Bourbon, and of Berri,
Alencon, Brabant, Bar, and Burgundy;
Jaques Chatillon, Rambures, Vaudemont,
Beaumont, Grandpre, Roussi, and Fauconberg,
Foix, Lestrale, Bouciqualt, and Charolois;
High dukes, great princes, barons, lords and knights,
For your great seats now quit you of great shames.
Bar Harry England, that sweeps through our land
With pennons painted in the blood of Harfleur:
Rush on his host, as doth the melted snow
Upon the valleys, whose low vassal seat
The Alps doth spit and void his rheum upon:
Go down upon him, you have power enough,
And in a captive chariot into Rouen
Bring him our prisoner.

And at the drop of a hat he’s right there, boom, whole speech, in character, as a demonstration of what he’s talking about (in terms of his students “not going far enough”).  They even ask him about how he chose to pronounce certain words, and he specifies when he chose the Folio pronunciation. Who the heck is this guy? All of the other actors, Patrick Stewart included, refer to a script when doing relatively well known passages such as from Julius Caesar or Merchant of Venice.  And this Barton fellow riffs off the above, which is basically a whole sequence of proper names – French names, no less! – without so much as a pause?  Maybe it was a good editing job (this is video, after all), but it was quite impressive, I have to say!

14 thoughts on “So Tell Me Again About This Barton Fellow?

  1. I totally did not intend to tell you to RTFM. My response was overly brief and I apologize.

  2. I think it might have more to do with who Barton was. These actors were all members of the RSC. They would have had a certain respect for Barton, that would likely have made them defer to him, and find themselves in a student/teacher position with him.

    Additionally, I'd point out that as an actor myself, I've seen people who are very experienced ask questions of their director of the kind that you see here. Its in the actor's nature to want the kind of feedback they are seeking.

  3. Having worked with the first folio text, I can honestly tell you, that there's no better tool an actor can use for working with Shakespeare.

  4. Thanks for the … brief? answer. In computer circles I think you just told me to RTFM.

    For the benefit of those looking for something a little more than Wikipedia links, this is more the kind of thing I was looking for: (lifted from the Wikipedia page)

    Barton possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare and is known to be able to identify one of his plays from a single line of text. He is a legend in the classical theater world, rumored to have chewed razor blades during long rehearsals early in his career. A story is told of Barton getting so into his directorial work giving notes one night, that he fell into the orchestra pit, climbed out, and dusted himself off before resuming. A great deal of the success of RSC is attributed to Barton and his unrivaled wisdom of language, verse and character.

  5. I think I mentioned something about his genius… 🙂 and that they were ALL there to learn from him. He's a teacher of teachers of Shakespeare.

  6. No worries, Phil :). I probably should have linked his wikipedia page to begin with.

    JM, I'm beginning to see your point. If it was Patrick Stewart doing this guy a favor, I'd see it. Likewise if it was Patrick Stewart 40 or 50 years ago, before he'd really "made it", I'd understand it. So to see the combination, seeing actors who we know full well are top of their craft (Gandhi came out in 1982, basically the same as this series) still sitting and behaving as students to this guy, well, that is mindblowing.

    And again, though I may be reading into it, it appears to me that Sir Ian is one of the few (if only) speaking to Barton like an equal. He's certainly the first to say "I don't think I agree with you, John."

    And I'm only one DVD into it!

  7. It's why I'm such a boring motor mouth about it all! Before I found out about people like Barton, Patrick Tucker, Roger Rees,the RSC teaching staff, the First Folio, and Riverside Shakespeare, I knew virtually nothing about Shakespeare, and wasn't really interested in learning any more. They changed all of that for me. Now, as you can see, I want to do little else. And I was a professional actor long before I came to the revelation.
    Glad you're enjoying it Duane! –And love the fact that you're reporting on it so well.

  8. My Bible. Don't leave home without it 🙂

  9. And P.S. Phil,

    I use it to teach not only classical acting/directing, but Shakespeare in general, and acting in general. I've written 3 syllabi of varying degrees for different situations and/or age groups based upon the technique derived from the Folio. And I've used it for adaptations of the plays for elementary and high school students. And of course, for anything I direct and/or act as dramaturge for, it's indispensable. As you know, it's what Barton and Peter Hall base their teaching on. You're so right. What a tool it is.

  10. Have you or your readers ever discussed original pronunciation – the plays as they might have been spoken in Shakespeare's time? E.g., David Crystal's original pronunciation production of R&J at the Globe, or John Barton's OP production of Julius Caesar in the '50s? Just curious.

  11. I think there was some discussion–how in-depth I don't remember, Louis. Duane (the shakespeare geek himself) would know better than I. I'm a big fan of both David & Ben Crystal. The orig. pronunciations are important to me because of the rhyme, rhythms, and spellings; even if you don't go with it it's nice to know the options are there.

  12. I believe you gents are looking for this one:

    At the time I was a bit bewildered by the scope of tackling Shakespeare down to the syllables (reminds me of my old math teacher who would tell students that they put the emphAHsis on the wrong syllAHble), but Barton is bringing me around to what you people are talking about :). I can't begin to fathom doing it for myself, but I can appreciate the value in why one would want it done.

  13. My thannkes; the verrie onne, O Geek du Shakes.
    (what's up with the double consonants?) 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *