What do you see in your mind’s eye when you read the following stage directions from Shakespeare’s plays?
• Thunder and lightning. Enter three witches. (‘Macbeth’)
• Enter [Bottom] with the ass-head (’A Midsummer Night’s Dream’)
• Enter Titus like a cook, placing the dishes (‘Titus Andronicus’)
• Enter the Ghost (‘Hamlet’)
• They heave Antony aloft to Cleopatra (‘Antony and Cleopatra’)
• Enter Richard Duke of Gloucester (‘Richard III’)
• [He] holds her by the hand, silent (‘Coriolanus’)
• Enter Ophelia distracted, playing on a lute, and her hair down, singing (‘Hamlet’)
• They stab Caesar (‘Julius Caesar’)
• Romeo begins to open the tomb (‘Romeo and Juliet’)
Is it a stage production that jumps to mind or a film version? Is there a particular performer that you associate with the role? If you do not know the plays – what do you imagine is going on that calls for stage directions such as these?
I’m fascinated by the fact that we will all be seeing very different things in our minds as we read through this list. As I put the list together I found myself thinking of – the witches in Fuseli’s painting – Tim Supple’s Indian ‘Dream’ – Antony Hopkins’s Titus – Greg Hicks’s ghost –Jane Lapotaire’s BBC Cleopatra – Laurence Olivier’s Richard III – Toby Stephens’s Coriolanus – Kate Winslet’s Ophelia – John Gielgud’s Caesar dripping with blood – and Leonardo DiCaprio entering a candlelit cathedral.
I’m struck by the fact that some of these things have stuck in my mind because I liked them very much – others because I found them unusual – and some because they made me think about the play or a particular moment in a different way. Either way – these are now the things that are triggered in my memory when I think of these moments – these are my Shakespearian ‘knee-jerk’ responses if you will. If you’ve just experienced a Shakespearian ‘knee jerk’ reaction of your own on reading this – first of all make sure you are sitting down! – and second, please share.