I love memorizing poetry, from Shakespeare to Luci Shaw, from Donne to Chesterton, and so I thought I’d share a post with some of reasons for I love poetry—and, of course, plenty of excerpts from what I’ve memorized!
In a time when we casually associate memorizing things with drudgery, I want to point out first of all that memorizing and reciting worthy poetry can be a joy. I know that memorizing is a tough skill to learn; I used to be very bad at it. It was years before I really appreciated Psalm 23, one of my early memorywork pieces. But my mom persevered and made me keep on working on memorizing, and now I’m memorizing on my own, choosing poetry and working on it. Memorizing and reciting poetry is probably my best consciously-developed habit, and mostly I do it for joy. I just love the words, love reading them and memorizing them and reciting them. It’s truly a wonderful thing to have some of the great heights of the English language kept always with you, almost made a part of you, like having mighty genii ready at your call. It is beautiful and joyful to memorize these words combined by skill and the gift of God into forms that can choke up your throat and make your heart go differently and your eyes feel odd when you recite them.
Death, be not proud, though some have called theeJohn Donne, “Holy Sonnet X”
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so…
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
This post is part of a series on memorizing Shakespeare. Last week, we talked about getting ready to memorize—how to understand what Shakespeare means and how to pronounce it. Next week, we’ll discuss practicing Shakespeare and getting ready to perform.
At this point, you should have read your part over aloud a few times, and you should have a fair idea of what it means. Now it’s time to memorize!
The main thing here is speaking aloud and repetition, plus repetition and repetition.
Let’s imagine that you want to memorize Hamlet’s part in Hamlet I.ii. Your first few lines will come in this chunk of dialogue:
I love Shakespeare: I love reading Shakespeare, I love hearing Shakespeare, I love watching Shakespeare, I love costuming Shakespeare, and I love performing Shakespeare. And I know I’m not alone in this—Shakespeare’s work is eminently delightful to tongue and ear, and a great deal of fun to try to bring to life. Before you can perform, however, you need to memorize. And memorizing Shakespeare can seem very daunting!
If you do it right, though, memorizing Shakespeare can be interesting and enjoyable. I’ve memorized several hundred lines of Shakespeare, and in this series of posts I’ll share some pointers on how to memorize both conversations and monologues.
This week’s post is about how to understand Shakespeare and get ready to memorize it. Part 2 will be about memorizing the lines, from dialogue to monologue.
Read and understand
You can’t do a good job performing what you don’t understand. Part of your job as an actor is to interpret the play, to come before your audience with the words and show their meaning. Shakespeare is quite often confusing. However, when the lines are well delivered, the actor can help the audience to understand what they mean. Besides, though it’s possible to memorize by rote without knowing what you’re talking about, you’ll have a much better—and more entertaining—time if you understand what your lines mean!