Bard Bits: Getting the Point
Shakespeare is known for his wordplay. He is less acknowledged for his swordplay. He could act, direct, write, and he could wave a sword quite well. Shakespeare’s audiences liked to be entertained and the Bard aimed to please. His plays had a combination of drama, comedy, and action. One audience pleaser was a swordfight.
These days theatre doesn’t depend on one brilliant person to create play wonderment. There are many essential components such as costume and set design, directors, producers, actors, sound, and choreography. Choreography usually involves dancing. It can also mean another kind of fancy footwork: sword fighting. A fight director’s goal is to make the audiences believe the characters are trying to smite one another. The smiting has to be convincing without injury. This is tricky stuff, as I learned.
When I studied Hamlet at the Folger Shakespeare Summer Academy a few years back, we, of course, studied the play’s text, and we also studied the great duel in the last act by studying how to fight with swords. Actually we fought with wooden dowels. And yes, it was lots of fun and really cool.
We stopped traffic in Washington DC. That’s saying something.
When I brought my new understanding of Hamlet to the classroom I brought back how to stage fight. It became a high point to the curriculum. There was a rumor that my AP students signed up for my class because of the opportunity to bash one another with my duck taped yardsticks. I tend to think it was because of my other teacherly attributes. Nevertheless, those who signed up earned the caveat of learning how to stage fight.
At the end of the unit students would pair off and after demonstrating the basic five moves they would create their own routine. Swordplay helped students understand how Shakespeare created tension in the last act of Hamlet, at least that’s how I justified the inclusion into the curriculum.
No injuries during our sword fights. Can’t say the same for the swords. A few causalities. Thank goodness for duct tape.
After learning the basics of stage fight students readily joined in and were invited to show off their “homework” to the rest of the class. For myself, I better appreciate fight scenes, especially sword duels, having somewhat been there, done that. Shakespeare knew how to keep his audiences interested by throwing in some action to the plot. And I learned that getting students up moving about (bashing each other under supervision) goes a long way into keeping my classroom audience interested in the curriculum.
Shakespeare knew how to get to the point of his stories–keep them on the edge of their seat. Same goes for teaching.