Monday, March 19, 2007

'Will and Me'

A recommendation : Dominic Dromgoole's Will and Me is subtitled 'How Shakespeare took over my life' and is packed with enthusiasm, humour and wisdom. Dromgoole is now the Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre. He writes an engaging account of how completely Shakespeare has been in his blood since early childhood, and stitches Shakespeare's writing into his own personal, intellectual and professional biography.

Dromgoole's attitude is that Shakespeare, in Walt Whitman's words, 'contains multitudes', that the Bard's works are full of the mess of life, good and bad. He's refreshingly unprecious about the plays, not pretending that every moment of every work is genius, and insisting that easy patterns cannot be enforced on the drive of the stories. The shape and mood of Will and Me enact this : it's freewheeling, rambling, often sentimental. But there's also plenty that is considered and thought-provoking.

On the comedies: 'how quick and light is the twist of the coin that can turn despair to joy.'
On character : 'Certain actors, Judi Dench as a prime example, have a voice that makes you care for them. With her, it's a little catch in the throat, a curl of sleepy sensuality, a gentle dancing humour. It doesn't matter whether villain or saint, you get pulled towards the humanity. Shakespeare's gift was that, however preposterous the situation, he makes you care for every one of his characters. They all have that catch of humanity in their voice.'
On learning how to play Shakespeare : 'keeping it light, and fast, and not signposting intentions, just speaking. About the nature of subtext, the sewage system that runs underneath all great writing and gives it its own electric tension. About the clumsiness of great dialogue, its scrappy messiness, and how a smooth speech articulating its own meaning is often a terrible one. He wrote speech, not speeches. He heard and reproduced the crackle and spark, the myriad small tensions that make it alive.'
On the less famous, less 'important' characters : 'His speciality is the non-heroes. the confused, the human - the scrappy and the messy. They are there to show how we are 95% of the time. When we're awkward and self-conscious; when we stumble and fall; when we're gossipy and small. They are the people who love to hover close to the action but are frightened to join in. They are among Shakespeare's sharpest creations, and they are us.'


John Fanagan adds : Julian passed Will and Me and I read it all in one afternoon. It really is a terrific book : funny, wise and passionate (rightly, in my view) about Shakespeare.

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