As you’ve probably noticed, Shakespeare has utterly taken over my life lately, in the form of weekly readings over Zoom. If you missed my first Project Shakespeare wrap up you can read that here, but now we’re done with month #2, which is a little surreal to think about. Anyway, let’s talk through these plays:
As You Like It
my role: Celia
The thing about As You Like It is that it’s… really fucking weird?! The conflict that’s set up in the first act never really materializes into anything (what even happens to Frederick?), character development happens entirely off-stage or without reason (Oliver’s a good guy now! because… Celia needs a husband!), there is an OFF-STAGE LION ATTACK? IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FRENCH FOREST?, there’s a wedding in which two people are married by… an actual god?! What even is this play???! (Potentially a satire of the pastoral genre, I know; still, regardless of its intentions, it’s weird as hell and it’s hard to totally warm up to.)
But it’s equally hard not to be at least a little charmed by it. The friendship between Rosalind and Celia is one of the most pure and touching female friendships that Shakespeare wrote, and I had a blast playing Celia, who starts out sweet and simple and becomes increasingly more jaded and frustrated by Rosalind’s shenanigans, while still lending her support. Celia is truly the unsung MVP of this play. Though, shout-out to Patrick for his minute-long dramatic entrance as Jaques (Jay-kweez).
my role: Laertes
I mean… it’s Hamlet. This is actually only one of two Shakespeare plays I ever studied in school (the other being Macbeth), so I feel like I have a stronger grasp on it than some others, and I do enjoy it immensely.
As a group, I think we were all a little nervous about Hamlet – it was only the second tragedy we’ve done after Macbeth, and Macbeth is still a ‘fun’ play in a way that Hamlet isn’t. The prospect of putting on a 3+ hour Zoom production of Hamlet was a little daunting, but those 3+ hours positively flew by. We divided the role of Hamlet into two (everyone knows that Hamlet is a massive role, but for context, he has twice as many lines as Prospero in The Tempest, which is… already a massive role), jokingly into Ham and Let, and both halves of our Ham/Let duo brought so much heart and passion (and sass) that it was a joy to watch. The two other clear stars that emerged were our Claudius and Ophelia; two characters I’ve never given much thought to, Claudius being so easy to portray as a mustache-twirling villain and Ophelia being The Generic Tragic Ingenue. But Abby brought such a pathos and humanity to Claudius that this monologue gave us all chills, and Pamela broke all of our hearts with her tender portrayal of Ophelia. Really incredible acting all around this week.
Comedy of Errors
my role: Solinus
Following Hamlet, we opted for the shortest play. And what an unexpected breath of fresh air this was! All I knew going into this was that it was one of Shakespeare’s earlier plays and that it was about two sets of twins and mistaken identity, and, indeed, that’s pretty much all there is to it. Heavy on the commedia dell’arte vibes, Comedy of Errors is just an unapologetically stupid romp, and I enjoyed every second of it. Its short length is absolutely part of its charm, because it smartly does not overstay its welcome (these dumb characters already take far too long to catch on to what’s happening), but by the time it ended I think everyone wanted another hour of it.
my role: Edmund
I actually have no words for this experience but I’ll try to come up with something. King Lear is my favorite Shakespeare play – I’m utterly obsessed with the high-stakes drama and scale of tragedy. It’s also thematically satisfying and narratively ambiguous in a way that REALLY works to my tastes, and I think it has the most devastating ending of any Shakespeare play. Edmund is my favorite character – he’s the one I’ve always been the most compelled by, and I think he’s one of Shakespeare’s more interesting villains. Because in a lot of ways, he’s set up to be a sort of underdog hero – most of his ‘thou nature art my goddess’ monologue appeals directly to the audience and is actually disturbingly compelling. Because yes, who among us has not been screwed out of something we deserve; why shouldn’t he fight for what’s been denied to him by unjust social custom? Of course, that’s up until his line ‘well then, legitimate Edgar’ when the monologue takes a turn for the sinister and you realize that Edmund’s ambitions are naturally at the expense of his own family. But even after he is set up as the play’s chief antagonist (along with Goneril and Regan), his motives remain clear and cogent and perversely sympathetic – and his dying moments show a flicker of tenderness toward his brother that suggest that power for power’s sake was never the goal so much as being accepted by the family that he betrays – and I am unendingly interested in untangling the knot that is his character.
Anyway, much as I love Edmund, I felt nervous about requesting him. If you’ve been following the roles I’ve been taking, you will see a very clear pattern: Straight Good Men and ingenues. Both of which I’ve had a lot of fun with, but neither of which require a whole lot of… acting? (Or at least, you can get away with less acting; I should put it that way.) But I decided fuck it, I would never have this opportunity again and I would be kicking myself if I requested Cordelia out of fear (though I do quite like Cordelia).
Everything about this production was magical. I know it probably sounds hyperbolic to call it a production, but the caliber of everyone involved blew me away. (You can watch the eye gouging scene here; I truly cannot recommend it highly enough.) Abby and Rachel choreographed that scene beautifully and Abby, who was a brilliant Gloucester, played the rest of the show with a blindfold on. Maggie played Kent’s disguise with an Irish accent; Ashley played Edgar with FOUR ACCENTS. And Pamela and Chelsea were the absolute heart and soul of this production as Lear and Cordelia respectively; I have chills just thinking about the final act and how much the two of them broke my heart (and has there ever been a more chilling line than ‘Never, never, never, never, never’). Anyway, it’s hard to evaluate your own performance with any kind of objectivity, but I am proud of having pushed myself out of my comfort zone for this, as playing Edmund was an absolute dream and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Doing a play a week has been brilliant but I’m finding it a little hard to move on from this one!
So that’s that! Up next: Much Ado About Nothing. Stay tuned for the next installment in a month.
Shakespeare question of the day and in honor of me memorizing both ‘thou nature art my goddess’ and ‘this is the excellent foppery of the world’ this week – what’s your favorite Shakespeare monologue? Comment and tell me!