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I have a confession to make: I have yet to read a play by William Shakespeare. Pause for gasps and shocks of horror. I know I have mentioned him in some of the posts as, in my view, an indispensable part of thy writing education. And I still stand behind that view one hundred percent. I’ve had a ‘the complete works of’ brickwork in my bookcase for many years and I actually picked up two volumes of Shakespeare’s Dramatic Art at a book market a few months back. His work has been on my to-do list for some time now. And no, I never had Shakespeare in high school.
So, when a few months back, roaming around in yet another bookstore, I saw a sign about the start of a Shakespeare Book Club, it’s not hard to guess what I did. And this week we had the first meeting. The idea is that we read 36 plays, in chronological order, that is in the order that most believe they were written, one per month. Meaning that for the next 3 years, if you choose to stick with it, you immerse yourself in what I now already have dubbed ‘The University Of Shakespeare’. Isn’t that funny? And so very coincidental, being a similar program. I can’t remember if I signed up for this before or after I read about the Immersion Screenwriting Course. As if I am not busy enough already with that, but of course I had no idea at the time. But I don’t think this will interfere too much, it’s also not that intense, it has no real homework, except what you choose to do yourself. The preference is that you read one play a month and process it. Preferably an edition with some introduction and explanation in it, so you won’t be completely lost. And then write down what you notice about it. The language, the story, the characters, the structure and also its faults in it. Yes, this was one shocker for me already. Faults?! I thought his work surely was flawless! But then again, why would it be? There are also many debates that William hasn’t written all of the plays solely by himself. Thinking of how today’s writing goes, that’s actually not that strange. The believe is that his collaborators do come from the same group of actors he was part of and so it is written in the same style. Compare it with today’s writing of TV series, with a creator and a group of writers, who all work on different parts of the episode. Something like that, I’m thinking. Anyways, and then at the book club meeting, we discuss what we have discovered and noticed and learned and the group leader will also elaborate on it.
And you won’t believe this, I hardly did, but this first meeting has already been fruitful and produced a big eye-opener! At this first meeting we already read one scene, as a warm-up, from the first play we will read, ‘The Two Gentlemen Of Verona’, so it wouldn’t all just be introductions about the book club. And I was a fan of the writing immediately! It was a dialogue between Speed and Proteus, two important characters in it and to my surprise I didn’t find it that difficult and LOVED the dialogue, the way they were conversing, although I didn’t understand all the words exactly or all their sub-textual meaning immediately, but that’s what the group leader was there for to explain as we read. The conversation was funny and very ‘normal’, as people talk in normal conversations. Not directly to the point, answering someone’s question right away, but talking around it or commenting on what someone is saying. I loved it. And then, as I was watching a movie the next night, I saw that exactly happen. I noticed exactly that. I call it, for the lack of a better word at the moment, ‘nonsense talk’. Talk about nothing really. But it’s so familiar and recognizable in real life. I will elaborate.
I was watching You’ve Got Mail (1998) and the light bulb literally went on as I was watching the scene where we see Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) at the Fox Bookstore’s brand new office with his dad and grandfather and they talk about the business, how Joe is going to buy the entire inventory of a book store that has just gone under and the competition out there, The Shop Around The Corner comes up as well. While they are talking in the beginning, Joe sits and then also even lays on a couch with some mohair pillows on it, trying it all out. What is not in the screenplay I happen to have, but is in the movie, is the casual comment Joe makes (which I will put in italic), when his dad asks him how much the inventory will cost and Joe says “it won’t be as much as that exquisitely uncomfortable mohair episode there, which is now all over my suit”, after which his dad throws him one of those rollers to get the hairs off, “here you go” and Joe thanks him, these last things also not in the screenplay. This might sound very minor and insignificant, but what clicked for me there and then I noticed it throughout the movie, is again the ‘normality’ of this conversation and the causation. And so not ‘thought up’. In the screenplay none of the sitting and rolling around on the couch with the mohair pillows is described and perhaps not thought up at that time, but it makes sense that you have conversations like that, commenting on what is happening. Little conversation around the real conversation. Just as it happened in that one scene in Shakespeare’s play ‘The Two Gentlemen Of Verona’ I just read the day before. Unbelievable. I was really in awe of this eye-opener. And immediately I thought of the opening scene of my screenplay and immediately thought of ‘inserts’ into the conversations the characters are having. While they are in action. Maybe I should dub them ‘mohair conversations’. PING! This is not a light bulb, this is search lights coming on. Wow! And I haven’t even read an entire play of Shakespeare yet! That’s promising!
Even though I know how influential Shakespeare has been and still is in writing and the language today, many of the sayings we have today are his, I had no idea I would recognize his style, of course I have no idea if this indeed is his influence, so quickly and how much this is actually used in screenwriting today, especially in dialogue. One should think so. But perhaps this is all a fluke and has nothing to do with Shakespeare or his style and this revelation is no revelation at all. But I like to believe so, because I have seen You’ve Got Mail dozens of times, I dare admit, and never have I noticed this. The normality of the conversation. And perhaps this isn’t done in all movies this lightly. Of course, this is a comedy, so there might be more room for that. Another thing on my radar to look out for. Well, I don’t actually look out for it, I just saw it, heard it. Call it luck, call it coincidence. I just think it was a nice example of what I just read from Shakespeare and really liked and then the day after saw in practice in a modern movie. It’s logical that because my brain had this information still very fresh available, it made that connection so quickly and thus making the learning of it stronger. A nice merging of theory and practice.
I am excited about this additional immersion course, at ‘The University of Shakespeare’, class of 2019. I can’t wait to see what other storytelling skills start leaking out of this one.