Shakespeare’s words are being spoken aloud and incredibly close… not by actors on a grand stage such as The Globe, but by Bard enthusiasts meeting at each other’s homes in Wellington.
The group called Shakespeare Aloud get together once a fortnight to do a read-through of one of the comedies, tragedies or history plays…
For anyone who found it torture to study Shakespeare at school it will seem bizarre that anyone would volunteer to spend an evening like this, yet in fact the group has reached out to many who had previously been turned off the Bard by bad classroom experiences.
The idea for the group came from Nigel Smith, a former teacher who lives in Rockwell Green. He believes that reading aloud is the best way to bring the great poet’s words to life.
But although he has always been a Bard fan, it was a revelation for him was that reading Shakespeare Aloud could be so enjoyable… and he has been pleasantly surprised by the popularity of the group.
The meetings began in September and they even marked Shakespeare’s birthday this year with a read through of Macbeth at Taunton Library.
Nigel explained how the idea for the group emerged: “I had been going to a University of the Third Age group that was meeting to explore Shakespeare’s plays through watching DVDs. I was very anxious about joining it because I used to stutter terribly, the thought of being asked to read Shakespeare in aloud… I thought I’ll never cope with that, but I was pretty sure it would never happen, and it didn’t. We just watched plays and talked about them.
“But then I began to get interested in speaking Shakespeare’s words. I found a book for actors about speaking Shakespeare aloud and I thought if I’m not going to act it, can I actually speak it instead?”
He discussed the idea of starting up a group to read Shakespeare aloud with one of the other members of the original U3A group, Bridget Hodges.
Group co-founder Bridget says: “I had done Shakespeare at school and was thoroughly put off as many people are. Then when I started teaching English to adults I got into Shakespeare.
“I got talking with Nigel about how people watch Shakespeare or read Shakespeare or even act Shakespeare but never just read it aloud, thinking about the words and trying to understand.
“We got together with some friends who also wanted to read Shakespeare aloud and we were really surprised by how it’s taken off.”
The group kicked off in September with the controversial comedy of the sexes The Taming of the Shrew.
“We chose that play because it is full of contention and people object to the final speech that Kate makes apparently about the subjugation of women,” says Nigel. “So I thought that’s going to be really interesting because it’s going to spark discussion.
“Our original readings involved me doling out parts to people at random, but after a bit we found that that wasn’t the best way to get most people involved and so we then just let everyone have a turn.”
So now they read in sequence which means that everyone gets their fair share of big speeches. Readers often stop in the middle of a speech to discuss the meaning of a speech then a discussion ensues.
Nigel adds: “I remember one person getting to the end of a big long speech and saying at the end ‘I haven’t a clue what I’ve just read’ so we said ‘let’s have a look at this’. There is something quite wonderful about reading his words aloud and coming to a greater understanding. He wrote the words to be spoken. If we just read the words we don’t get the speech. ”
But isn’t the language too difficult?
Nigel says: “In fact only about 5 per cent of Shakespeare’s words are unfamiliar to us, it’s not the words generally that is the problem, it’s the nature of the poetry that’s difficult.
“Shakespeare uses words in unusual ways. As a result of that we are puzzled for a brief moment which puts us into a state of heightened awareness. But I think the mystery of why his words are so engaging we don’t have the answer to, it’s like ‘why does music move me?’. It’s still a puzzle.”
Want to know when these dear friends will go once more into a speech? Check out Shakespeare Aloud’s Facebook page shakespearealoudsomerset or the website at sites.google.com/site/shakespearealoudgroup/.