Philip Cumbus, Globe actor and education practioner worked with Globe Book award winner, Abigail Rokison, in her lecture: Shakespeare’s Globe Book Award, to illustrate the different approaches to Shakespearean verse reading.  Philip has graced the Globe stage many times as an actor, most recently appearing in The Globe Mysteries and Much Ado About Nothing (both 2011).

In this post Philip gives us an actor’s insight into Shakespearean verse speaking. 

You can read the initial post on this subject, here.

How do you think Shakespeare should be spoken?

For me, Shakespearean verse speaking should be instinctive. It is about combining personal, interpretative ideas with as much attention to the detail and form of the verse as possible.

I leap into the text and feel what the words and character give to me. This guides the decisions I make about the delivery. Once I have gotten a feel for it I apply the techniques of good verse speaking.

I explore a text by breathing at the start of every verse line and noting where the iambic rhythm alters and changes. I try to be quite strict and see what this can bring out of a piece of text. However, sometimes the practicality of a performance means that we have to abandon some of our own verse- based discoveries.

I believe that by honouring the structure of the verse actors can discover more ideas and choices regarding how to deliver the text, which can enrich our own instinctive interpretation. It is through exploration of the verse, rhythm and line endings that we reveal why it is imperative to perform Shakespeare.

Are there any techniques or theories, other than those proposed by Abigail that you employ ?

I use all of the techniques that Abigail mentioned in her lecture- Using a passage from The Winter’s Tale to demonstrate, in one example she read; following the thoughts of the character, and in the other she followed the verse structure.  In following the verse structure I think we tap much further into the emotion of a character and not just their logic.

She talked about the effect of pausing at the end of short lines for a time equivalent to the number of ‘missing’ syllables but very often it is the long lines which give us a clue into what a character might be doing or feeling. Knowing when the iambic rhythm is being shaken out of balance or when extra beats are added can be a good way of getting to grips with the psychology of a character in a particular moment. By breathing in the middle of thoughts and not just at the end we start to allow an emotionally human beat to come through and characters start to sound more real.

I search for the physicality of a piece of text. I let the types of words used, their sound and the muscularity needed to speak them filter into my own body. Physically inhabiting the text/characters like this makes performing on the Globe Stage in front of 1500 people considerably more enjoyable. It is all too easy to get stuck in one’s head with Shakespeare, and this can be incredibly stifling and scary when dealing with the large, open Globe stage

How do editorial decisions affect your performance on stage?
In performance we are using a text that we have rehearsed with for four or five weeks. Usually in a rehearsal process you have time to look at how a script is put together and how the editorial decisions might differ between versions. We then pick and choose from the various decisions depending on where we believe the character is coming from.

On stage the choices you make as an individual in terms of breath, speed, variation and thought lengths have a massive impact on both the actor and the audience. It changes how an actor feels, stands and moves, and therefore how the audience is affected by, and responds to the character.


 Philip Cumbus