After warm ups, a new game and a breathing exercise, I asked the group if they were getting bored with the Hamlet monologue yet. They said that while they like it a lot and have enjoyed working on it, they are ready to move on. I had all of the monologues from last session with me, including the ones we hadn’t worked on, so we decided to divide up into two groups, each group working on one piece, and see what we could come up with. Group A worked with Ariel’s monologue from The Tempest that begins, “You are three men of sin…” This group was made up entirely of women who were in the last session as well. Group B, all “newbies," worked with Macbeth’s “Is this a dagger which I see before me…” I suggested that they start by reading the pieces aloud and talking about their first impressions. While they worked, I went back and forth between the groups to listen and to offer suggestions or information.
Group A’s first impressions were that Ariel is punishing some people, saying, in effect, “Suffer, but don’t die.” They were absolutely correct in this. I gave them some more background on the story and characters and encouraged them to break it down, bit by bit, to glean what more they could.
Group B got that their piece is heavy, that Macbeth is guided by fate, and that he is hallucinating. They were also right on track. I mentioned that something people debate about Macbeth is exactly how much he’s guided by “fate” and how much is his own free will. They were intrigued by that. As with the other group, I suggested that they break it down further.
I went back to Group A, who had found a parallel between the piece and their own situation. “Ariel is saying that even though she’s punishing them, it’s their fault,” said one participant. “It’s like we say in prison: ‘If I hadn’t broken the law, you couldn’t do this to me.’” What a great discovery. I helped them out with a few words they didn’t know and then encouraged them to get on their feet and “perform” it together, since there are multiple characters in the scene.
Group B, meanwhile, identified a shift in Macbeth from the beginning to the end of the piece. They found that, while at the beginning he is hallucinating, wracked with guilt and unsure, by the end he is completely determined. As with the other group, I asked them to begin “performing” the piece to find some more of the emotion underlying it.
After taking some time to do this, we all came together. Group B sat in the audience, while Group A stayed onstage. I asked them to perform without giving any back story to Group B, so we could see what could be gotten out of the piece that way, each participant in the group taking a turn reading the monologue. From the first reading, Group B understood that the other characters were scared and confused, that they were all on an island, that their swords were heavy, and that Ariel was invisible. That’s a lot to get out of a first reading when one is not familiar with the entire play! The next participant who read committed much more to the emotions in the piece, so that Group B gleaned that she was angry, that there was a storm, and that this was pay back. The third participant to read went very slowly, and Group B understood more of the language this time. They got that these were sinners and that the spirit was trying to make them crazy.
Group B then gave it a shot. The first reading gave Group A the impression that Macbeth was going to try to kill someone with a dagger but was conflicted and questioning himself. From the next reading, they understood further that maybe Macbeth was imagining the blood on the dagger, envisioning what he wanted but hadn’t yet done, and was confused about where the dagger came from and if it was real. The third reading didn’t give them much more information, but they definitely got a sense of confusion from her.
They really enjoyed this exercise and got a sense from it of how, even with minimal rehearsal, one can get the gist of these pieces. They all agreed, though, that more rehearsal and performing them in context would help a great deal.