Word Words Words are what come to mind when we are first asked to think of Shakespeare. The man wrote brilliant words! But he also wrote incredible characters with vast emotional range and complex inner turmoil, which cannot only be expressed in words.
Here in DC there is a theatre company called Synetic (pictured up left), which tells stories through a movement combination of mime, dance, and acting (but mostly without words). Since the success of one of their original completely silent pieces “Hamlet, the rest is silence,” they have done a “Silent Shakespeare” every spring. Without words, this company manages to convey an entire story in 90 minutes, without losing the intent of the text – even if the text itself is cut completely. But is it still “Shakespeare” if we’re not using his words?
One of our activities for students is a “Dumbshow” recreating the Mousetrap scene from Hamlet, though we encourage other scenes to be considered. How do you convey the purpose of the scene without words?
1. A King and Queen enter together.
2. The King dismisses his wife. The Queen exits.
3. The King goes to sleep.
4. A Murderer enters, lifts the crown off of the king’s head and kisses it. The Murderer pours poison in the King’s ear.
5. The King dies. The Murderer exits.
6. The Queen enters, and tries to wake the King. She weeps over his body.
7. The Murderer enters with gifts for the Queen. She refuses them.
8. The Murderer offers himself to the Queen. She accepts him.
9. The Murderer places the crown on his head and exits with the Queen.
Have several groups of students perform these actions, deciding for themselves the best way to act as the characters. Then read the Mousetrap scene from Hamlet (Act 3, scene 2) with them and have the groups perform the spoken version using their emotions from the silent scene. How did performing silently affect their spoken performance? Did speaking make it easier to convey?
Of course, those of you on Summer Break may not be able to try this activty until you’re back in school, but what are your thoughts on “Shakespeare without Words”?