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Barton's Playing Shakespeare

            John Barton's acting guide Playing Shakespeare is an excellent tool for any actor serious about learning the craft, and in particular for actors who want to truly develop a skill for acting in Shakespearian productions. The series began as a video workshop done by the RSC for a British TV station and went on to such acclaim that it was eventually extended into a multi-segment video series on the acting of Shakespeare. Barton later published this material into his book.
             Barton begins his examination with a look at Shakespearian language. He focuses on the "heightened language" of Shakespeare's texts. He presents the common problem faced by actors in having difficulty performing the heightened language and yet maintaining a sense of "naturalism" that has been ingrained into them since birth. Barton explains that both of these facets must be in balance if Shakespeare's text is to have a meaningful presentation. He then proceeds to explain how Shakespeare used the language within his texts - through the use of textual clues, Barton asserts the meanings that Shakespeare hoped to present to his actors. He demonstrates how Shakespearian passages will inform the actor on how they should be read in order to define the intentions of a character clearly to an audience.
             In the second half of his book, Barton dives more heavily into Shakespeare's texts to further illuminate perceived ambiguities pertaining to the clues provided by Shakespeare himself. He presents details in Shakespearian speeches that are the very clues from Shakespeare which serve, if recognized, to give the performers the definite ideas that Shakespeare hoped to communicate about his characters. Among these Barton presents textual passages that do not mean exactly what is perceived on the surface, very ironic passages, thereby giving performers a new viewpoint on which to base their characterizations, and he discusses the various inconsistencies - the extreme emotion mixed with intellectual thought all during the need to balance the heightened language with a naturalistic performance - a daunting task for an actor.

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