In the child’s story "Jack and the Beanstalk", the giant living at the top of the beanstalk says, “Fee-fi-fo-fum!” In Shakespeare's "King Lear," the character of King Lear cries, “Fie, fie, fie; pah, pah!” Shakespeare uses many “oaths” and exclamations throughout his work.
In Act III, Scene I of William Shakespeare’s "The Tragedy of Macbeth," Banquo tells Macbeth that he will ride as far as he can before supper. The word “twain” derives from the Old English word twegen, simply meaning “the number two (2).” Essentially, Banquo states that he will be riding in the dark an hour or two if his horse is slow. (Poets frequently use “twain” instead of “two” at the ends of lines for rhyming purposes.)
Composed probably in 1606, Shakespeare’s use of the word “epicure” in "Macbeth" is particularly interesting because at that time, “epicure” was considered “archaic” that is, rare in the early 1600s present-day usage. The meaning of Shakespeare’s “epicure” is taken from the philosophy of an ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus (341–270 B.C.E.) An “epicure” is a person that disbelieves in God (the divine government of the world,) and in an afterlife spent in either Heaven or Hell; this is also a person who recognizes no religious motives for conduct.
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” (a.k.a. The Scottish Tragedy) is a story about one man’s guilt – a story about one man’s journey into madness. The real horror is what we don’t see. Try reading Macbeth in this light and perhaps you will have a keener understanding of the real horror which ideally should be in the reader’s imagination.
In Act IV, Scene III of Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” Malcolm tells Macduff that even someone who has morals and integrity may cave under the pressure of a demand from their king. Malcolm is referring to Lucifer (the Devil.) In most religious traditions, Lucifer is considered the most intelligent (the brightest as in genius) and the most outstanding (the brightest or best) of God’s angels. In addition, Malcolm is saying that Macbeth was once the brightest and best and now he acts a lot like Lucifer.
A famous passage from Shakespeare’s play "The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet" uses the word “wherefore” and its meaning is often misunderstand: in Act II, Scene I, Juliet says, “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?”
In Act IV Scene III of William Shakespeare’s historical play Henry V, King Henry (Harry) delivers a speech that reflects a certain patriotic glory. The soldiers of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne division commonly refer to themselves as a “Band of Brothers” a line found in this speech. Read Henry’s speech below and ask yourself why Twenty-first century soldiers would identify with its Sixteenth-century sentiments; particularly the lines, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. / For he today that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother.”
Even before I had heard about the Shakespeare Behind Bars program, I was astonished at how powerful Shakespeare’s words are. Shakespeare has inspired many people I personally know. The plays have entertained and delighted audiences for centuries. But in my wildest dreams I would have never believed how life-changing being a part of a Shakespeare production could be. Matt Wallace, Director of the program says this about the inmates: “Their courage and character continue to inspire me.”
One may believe that there isn’t much room for “improv” in a Shakespeare production because the text that is, Shakespeare’s words are usually the star of the show. Directors have cut lines to modernize some of the plays to a manageable two-hour performance (Stratford is notorious for this method.) Purists argue that it just isn’t Shakespeare when artistic adjustments are made – whatever the reason. I admit that simultaneously I am intrigued by and repulsed by the thought of removing scenes or lines. Matt Wallace found a workable balance in his Shakespeare Behind Bar’s production of The Merchant of Venice.
One of the most striking observations about the actors in the Shakespeare Behind Bars program is that because they usually have never actually seen the play staged that they are rehearsing, their emotions are pure and unaffected by others’ performances, which gives their interpretation a nuance rarely seen or attempted in this Twenty-first Century world of You Tube, mp3, Netflix, and Internet television channels.