“Enter a messenger”

This is how they get the news in a Shakespearean play; a minor character comes in, with good news or bad, false tidings or true and the plot moves along with an exchange or soliloquy involving major players.

From the internet, artist unknown

From the internet, artist unknown

Nowadays, of course, messages are carried electronically and conveyed instantaneously and continuously. The soldier running in from the battlefield or the maid from the boudoir has been replaced by the journalist standing in the rain by the mudslide or the blogger/ tweeter/ texter/ face-booker tapping the story out on their mobile device. With pictures, of course.

I’m thinking about this because my friend Sylvia and I have just finished our reading aloud together of all the Shakespearean plays, along with the blog http://theplaystheblog.wordpress.com. I wrote about this here. We noticed early on that “Enter a messenger” was the most commonly used stage direction. (It came with variations, the most gruesome of which was, “Enter a messenger with two heads and a hand,” from Titus Andronicus.) Apart from the occasional fight or murder, a lot of the action in Shakespeare’s plays occurs off stage. It’s a demonstration of the dramatist’s genius that this doesn’t matter. (Some modern film makers could take note.)

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I can’t say I remember every play, but I’ve been reminded of ones I’d studied at school or seen performed and gained a few more favorites, such as Henry IV, Part II. It’s pretty commonly known that Shakespeare is the source of many phrases and quotes in common use, but just how many we recognised as we read was extraordinary. Who remembers that “to the manor born,” comes from Hamlet? Or knew that “one fell swoop” is in Macbeth? Now I wish I’d taken note, or at least tallied a count.

Sylvia and I are both sorry to have come to the end of these readings. I’m planning to read along with the new project by Dennis Abrams covering several books (in English) by the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami at wildmurakamichase.wordpress.com. I’m sure I’ll have something to say about this in due course.

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