Last Sunday BBC Radio 3 presented a programme called Still Will; a beautifully poetic exploration of the silence in Shakespeare. The programme was conceived and presented by my friend Laura Barton who made excellent use of her knowledge of music and acoustics throughout the piece.
We were encouraged to think of the language as notes- a musical score that rises and falls, with the director as conductor, and actor as musician. Listening was a huge feature of the piece, or, more precisely, how we listen and what we hear.
It got me thinking about the space between words and what words often can't express. Shakespeare is brilliant at expressing the seemingly inexpressible. He's equally brilliant at saying nothing when words just won't suffice - Nothing. “Nothing my lord” – Cordelia (King Lear, I.i). Contrary to Lear's “Nothing will come of nothing” (I.i) response to his daughter, we know that the opposite is exactly true.
Silence, quiet, stillness can speak volumes. It's interesting to think about how much language Shakespeare gives certain characters and when he takes it away from them.
Kate in The Taming of The Shrew is an interesting case in point. For a great deal of the play she is rendered silent, quietened by others in a bid to "tame" her. When she does speak, however, she expresses herself most precisely. Hers is a language of protest and disbelief and she becomes quieter and quieter with the realisation of the madness that surrounds her. Her last speech in the play is one of the longest of any of Shakespeare's female characters - why does he give her voice at this point? What is she truly expressing? Actors and directors have to tackle this thorny issue head on and it's a moment of theatre that lots of people have plenty to say about.
This week on Digital Theatre Plus, Lisa Dillon discusses her approach to getting under the skin of this complicated role and her view on what taming Kate really means. The language, or lack of it, the moments of silence, guided her through and for her the end moment was a triumphant symphony of words celebrating her free spirit.
The rest is silence.