Posts Tagged ‘paraphrasing’

As we are now halfway through the rehearsal process for our third play, Henry V, it has become abundantly clear that I am a bit late to give any kind of timely account of our rehearsal process. So instead, I’ll address a couple of rehearsal tools that are special (if not unique) to the American Shakespeare Center, which may prove for more concise and consequently less tedious reading on your part. Because even if I were capable of making a post about each day’s rehearsal, who in the world would want to read it? One of my fellow troupe members (Mr. Josh Carpenter) wittily opines that the only truthful answer he can ever come up with to the question, “How was rehearsal?” is “Moderately productive.” Which our illustrious tour manager (Mr. Aaron Hochhalter) aptly rephrased as “We didn’t get a lot done, but we didn’t get nothing done, either.”

And rephrasing is the Rehearsal Tool subject of the day, only here it is rephrased as ‘paraphrasing.’ Before we begin rehearsal, we are expected to have all of our lines paraphrased. But, as we shall see, I think that paraphrasing should really be called by the fake word ‘synonymising,’ as long as we’re in the business of making language precise. Because a paraphrase of a line might go something like this:

The taming-school? What, is there such a place?The school to make someone more docile? What, does a place like that exist?

 Instead, we’re supposed to replace each word in our lines with its closest synonym, without altering the syntax. So, my actual paraphrase for this line of mine in Shrew was:

The mastery-academy? Why, exists there so-named a location?

The point of this exercise (as I take it) is not only to make us intimately acquainted with the meaning of each of our lines prior to the start of rehearsals, but also to appreciate why Shakespeare chose each word. And, most usually, to discover with some frustration that there is no word so perfect for the object, situation and emotion as the one Shakespeare used. It’s extraordinarily useful in gaining a knowledge of the kinds of words my characters use, and what cues Shakespeare is giving the actor in the very word choice.

For example, it’s important to note that Portia is using the metaphors of the courts of law in her very first scene in the play. So, “The brain may devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper leaps o’er a cold decree,” is not the same as “The mind may construct rules for the spirit, but a fiesty disposition bounds over a dull pronouncement.” And naturally, so much emotion lives in the sounds of words, so all the sharp sounds in “You give your wife too unkind a cause of grief” is completely lost in the laughable “You bestow on your spouse an extremely unfriendly reason for misery.”

We then shared our paraphrases during the table talk for Taming of the Shrew and Henry V; we would read through the scene with our paraphrased lines, and then read through Shakespeare’s text with special attention to the cues he’s giving the actors in the natural scansion of the lines. We all paraphrased our lines for Merchant (which took about a month for me), but we didn’t end up going over them in rehearsal–but the work had been done, and that’s where the greatest usefulness comes in!


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