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Let’s Explore Hamlet with Parts and Cues and Highlit Text

In this post, I want to show you how you can use Parts and Cues and Highlit Text to explore a character in a Shakespeare play, and the character we’re going to explore is Hamlet himself. If you get familiar with this example, you’ll be able to explore any character in any of the plays we’ve published.

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We ‘re going to start that exploration in ‘Parts and Cues’ mode for a number of reasons:

  • It let’s us focus on Hamlet and his lines, without being distracted by all the other things that are going on in the scene.
  • Speaking Hamlet’s lines lets us start turning words on a page into words spoken – and felt – by a character
  • It’s what Shakespearean actors did – they were given a script which only had their lines (and their cues) in it.
  • It’s what an actor does on stage, speaking the lines in response to a cue.

So let’s get going. To start, click on the following link, which will open up in a separate tab in your browser. You’ll need to switch back and forth between this tab, with the instructions, and the other tab, which will show the script. So here’s the link for you to click on:

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The new tab opens up at A1S1 of the play Hamlet. If you scroll down the script, you’ll see that Hamlet doesn’t speak any lines at all in this scene. But before we move on, it’s worth noting that you can get a good idea of what happens in the scene, even though all you see is the entrances and the exits, and the cues for them. In fact this is so handy, that a list like this of all the entrances and exits and their cues for all the scenes in the play was hung up back-stage, in the tiring-house, in Elizabethan / Jacobean theatres. For some reason, it was called the platt.

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But let’s move on. We want to see some of Hamlet’s lines. Let’s go on to A1S2. You can do this by clicking on the A1S2 button, at the top or bottom of the script. In fact, you can click on any of those buttons to go to that particular scene. Which ever scenes you choose to look at, let’s end up back at A1S2.

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If you scroll down the script in A1S2, you’ll see that Hamlet has some lines in this scene. Before his lines, you’ll see the stage directions,  and it should be clear that Hamlet enters at the beginning of the scene and then quite a lot happens before he speaks. Each of his lines has a ‘cue’  (on the line above his speech, in red, and right-aligned).

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Now, for those of you who are new to this, the next step is probably the hardest one to take. Try saying the lines out loud, rather than just reading them.This may feel a little uncomfortable, or make you self-conscious, but  by speaking the lines out loud we start to feel the emotions of the character, and that is what this exploration is about – what Hamlet is feeling.

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So, say the line out loud. Have you done that? Did it make you feel uncomfortable? Then say it again and again until you feel quite happy about speaking out loud. It’s really important to speak the lines out loud . If we read them, they stay inside our head, but if you speak them out loud, you add sounds to the sense. The words can then affect  the character’s emotions.

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Hamlet has three lines before he has what one might call a ‘speech’ (starting ‘Seems’, Madam – nay it is, I know not ‘Seems’….). Say those three lines before this speech again and again until you have lost all discomfort at speaking out loud. Once the discomfort has gone , we can move onto Hamlet’s first speech. It is clearly a response to something said by his mother.

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Read the whole speech. There may be some words which you don’t understand, but don’t worry about that – we can find out what they mean later with Google Search, or whatever tool you like. Don’t go into your intellect now, instead, try and feel what emotions come when you hear these lines spoken out loud, and make sure you express those emotions when you speak the lines.  Most speeches don’t have one emotion, they have many, so expect different feelings to emerge during the speech. One of the many delights of a Shakespeare play is feeling the complex interplay of emotions in each character.

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After you’ve read the speech out loud three or four times, you may feel it’s time to move on. A little further down the script you’ll find the first of Hamlet’s soliloquies: ‘Oh that this too too solid Flesh would melt….’. You may want to have a go at that, using the same approach, or you may feel that’s a little ambitious right now.

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We’ve been looking at Hamlet’s speech in ‘Parts and Cues’ mode until now, but we can also see it ‘Highlit Text’ mode, so now I’ll show you how you change from one to the other. First you need to scroll to the top  of the script.  To the right and higher than the A?S? buttons you’ll see a gearwheel. This gearwheel lets us change the script settings. To change from Parts and Cues display to Highlit Text mode, you need to do the following:

  • Click on the gearwheel to open up the settings window.
  • Just above ‘Content to show’ you’ll see two options ‘Show Parts and Cues’ and ‘Highlight Text’. Click on the radio button to the left of ‘Highlight Text’.
  • Click on the gearwheel again to close the settings window.

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When you do that, you’ll find that you can now see all the speeches in the scene, with Hamlet’s speeches highlit. You’ll also find out that there’s a lot of speeches before Hamlet  speaks at all. ‘Highlit Text’ lets you see Hamlet’s speeches in the context of the whole scene. You’ll also frequently find that other characters say things which help explain your character’s actions and speeches, and what other characters in the play think of him, whilst  ‘Parts and Cue’s lets you focus on your characters lines. Both are helpful in exploring a character’s character.

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If you want to explore more of Hamlet, and particularly the famous soliloquies, you might like to go to the following scenes by pressing the A?S? buttons in the Hamlet script:

  • A1S2: Oh that this too too solid flesh….
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    Now you’ve read that soliloquy, you might like to hear three of the Edinburgh Shakespeare Playreading Group read the same soliloquy:

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  • A2S2: Oh what a Rogue and Peasant Slave am I…. (and the welcome to the Players)
  • A3S1: To be or not to be….
  • A3S4: Hamlet berates his mother.
  • A5S1: Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him Horatio…..

One final thing. You may have noticed that there were a lot more options in the settings window. I don’t want to explore them all at the moment, but there are a few that can help you explore any character in the plays we have published. To do this, let’s go to one of my favourite, complex  characters – Malvolio, in Twelfth Night.

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Normally, you’d get to Twelfth Night by clicking on the link to Twelfth Night on the home page (https://pllayers-shakespeare.com), but to make things easier, here’s a link that takes you straight there:

Now to see just Malvolio’s part in Parts and Cues you need to do the following:

  • Click on the gearwheel to open up the settings menu
  • Click on the radio button to the left of ‘Single Part’ – this lets you select one character
  • Click on the down-arrow on the list of characters and a window will open up showing all the characters
  • Select ‘Malvolio’ from the list
  • Click on the radio button to the left of ‘Show Parts and Cues’
  • Click on the gearwheel again to close the settings menu and the new settings come into effect.

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Malvolio isn’t in A1S1 of Twelfth Night so click on the next scene button until you get to a scene where he has some words. You might be surprised to find how many scenes pass before he appears.

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You may find this post quite difficult to follow, but it gives you the ability to explore any character in the plays we have published, and can give you hours of fun. When you feel confident in using this, then maybe it’s to get together with one or two friends, and use our Let’s Play section to play scenes together.

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Let’s play!

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Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’
Players-Shakespeare.com

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3 Responses to "Let’s Explore Hamlet with Parts and Cues and Highlit Text"

  • Eliza Langland
    January 20, 2017 - 10:32 am Reply

    I enjoyed reading this. And it’s a great and encouraging start to anyone feeling their way into Shakespeare. I hope you get lots of feedback on how people respond to your guidance. And I hope many do. The sentence “Don’t go into your intellect now, instead, try and feel what emotions come when you hear these lines spoken out loud” is, I think, good advice. When, perhaps later but more simply than many expect, the rhythm of the text becomes second nature to the player, the effect is to bring Shakespeare’s words and characters and his story to thrilling life. Theatre as alchemy.

    • Richard Forsyth
      January 20, 2017 - 10:43 am Reply

      Eliza,

      Thanks for the feedback – much appreciated. Maybe one day you’ll tell us how best to make ‘the rhythm of the text becomes second nature to the player’.

      It would be really good to get input from other players who love Shakespeare about how to explore his texts.

      Thanks again,

      Richard Forsyth

  • Eliza
    January 20, 2017 - 10:56 am Reply

    Practise. Exercise. Breathe. But start with your sage advice about disengaging the intellect. Then, and only then, you can start working on observing the meter, acknowledging where it flows from verse to prose and vice versa (and why). So often the actor is tempted to approach Shakespeare the other way round, expecting it to be difficult, looking at the text like an exam full of trick questions instead of into it like a fascinating rock pool. More of this anon. For sure.

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