On 10 October, Globe Education held the inaugural Shakespeare’s Globe Book Award lecture, celebrating the work of this year’s winning author Abigail Rokison. The award is designed to support young scholarship and is granted to a first monograph which has made an important contribution to our understanding of Shakespeare, his theatre, or his contemporaries.

Abigail’s book, Shakespearean Verse Speaking, was the unanimous choice of the illustrious panel of judges, which comprised Dr Farah Karim-Cooper (Head of Courses and Research at Globe Education, Chair); Professor Laurie Maguire (University of Oxford); Professor Ann Thompson (King’s College London); Professor Michael Dobson (Director of the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham), and  Professor Graham Holderness (University of Hertfordshire).

In a fascinating lecture on her work, Abigail explored how theatrical direction and editorial decisions in printed play tests influence actors’ delivery, looking particularly at trends in verse speaking over the last thirty to forty years.

She focussed first on line endings, considering two contrasting approaches to delivery. Many directors in recent years have advocated pausing and breathing at the end of each line of iambic pentameter, regardless of the sense of the text. Others, meanwhile (Abigail included), favour an approach in which the actor follows the meaning of the speech and the punctuation to guide their breathing.

With the assistance of Globe actor Philip Cumbus, Abigail presented extracts from a number of Shakespearean speeches, each delivered using the two contrasting methods. The effect was striking – the audience’s reaction to the text, and their understanding of the character, varied considerably depending on the delivery.

The second half of the lecture concentrated on approaches to delivering short lines (i.e. those with fewer than ten syllables). Again, Abigail considered two varying techniques, looking first at the effect of pausing at the end of short lines for a time equivalent to the number of ‘missing’ syllables. She then considered the dramatic effects that can be achieved by immediately continuing on from short lines, and how this has the potential to create a sense of urgency, excitement or pace in the performance.

Abigail concluded the lecture by examining changes in both printing techniques and theatrical practice (such as the use of cue scripts versus full parts) over the last 400 years, and illustrated how such changes have themselves influenced verse speaking.

As part of her prize, Abigail is giving further talks about her work at the Times Cheltenham Literature Festival (11 October), and at the Shakespeare Institute later in the year. Anyone with an interest in acting, theatre practice or publishing would be well advised to snap up a ticket and buy the book.

Eleanor Lovegrove, Press & PR (Globe Education) 

Did you attend the lecture? Do you think actors should adopt the ‘pause and breathe’ approach or ‘follow the meaning of the speech, using punctuation to guide their breathing’?