On the 20th September, 2012, The Shakespeare Code’s Chief Agent, Stewart Trotter, is going to lead a one day workshop at London’s prestigious Actors Centre…..
….on ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnets as Drama’.
Here is a piece he has written for The Centre…..
Why did William Shakespeare write the Sonnets?
It all started as a commission from Mary, the second Countess of Southampton…..
Her seventeen year old son, Henry, was refusing to marry his guardian’s grand-daughter. And as his guardian was Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth I’s Secretary of State….
…..this was a serious matter.
It involved a £5,000 fine – £2 and half million in our money.
Sonnet sequences were all the rage in the stately homes of England – so Countess Mary asked Shakespeare to produce seventeen sonnets on the joys or marriage and fatherhood for Henry’s seventeenth birthday. Henry……
…..more interested in young men at the time, didn’t want to know…
But Shakespeare got hooked on the form and used it for every purpose imaginable: to woo, to flatter, to seduce, to attack, to apologise, to assert, to boast, to cringe, to despair, to praise, to argue, to excuse, to confess, to insult, to meditate, to persuade, to arouse, to satirise, to warn, to immortalise, to condemn, to prophesy, to forgive, to grieve, to accuse, to pray, to explain, to threaten, to justify, to insinuate, to mock, to moralise, to comfort, to worship, to disturb, to propagate, to intimidate and to amuse.
He would sometimes send the Sonnets as letters – sometimes he would read them aloud. In either case the intention was the same – to make an ACTOR’S impact on the reader – to enthral him and change him as Shakespeare changes himself. For the Shakespeare of the fourteenth line is often very different from the Shakespeare of the first. He goes on a journey of discovery in each Sonnet and often has NO IDEA AT ALL where he is going to end up.
And the Sonnets themselves present no coherent philosophy. Indeed they are often comically at variance as Shakespeare’s feelings for his loved ones change from rapture to repulsion. They are telegrams from his heart – charged with the feelings he is undergoing AT THAT PARTICULAR MOMENT. One thought leads to another in the chaotic way that is life itself.
The Sonnets are the raw material for Shakespeare’s plays. There isn’t a single emotion in the drama that Shakespeare hasn’t lived through himself. As such, the Sonnets are a treasure trove for the actor. The more they are understood and worked on, the more colloquial and natural they become.
They should be a part of every actor’s repertoire.
And part of every actor.
You might also like to read: The Dedication to Shakespeare’s Sonnets Decoded