From the AV Club:
AVC: So much of Shakespeare is about analyzing the verse, about understanding the subtleties of the language. When you sit down as an actor and start looking at one of his plays, how do you approach that question?
TH: I think it’s really about trying to communicate the power of the writing to the audience in the most vivid and accessible way. Like most rhetoric, if you own the images, if you own the language, if you own what you’re saying, it will always be expressed. It will always be understood by your audience. So it’s really just enjoying the relationship that you instinctively have with the verse. I feel it’s a very instinctive approach, and images always pop up in my head. I suppose the unconscious thing that’s happening is when I’m speaking the verse I’m seeing the image myself. I’m working on Coriolanus at the moment, and there are some moments in that where he refers to the enemy, Aufidius, he says, “He is a lion that I am proud to hunt.” It’s a very easy thing to see, but whenever I say the word I see the lion. And what an extraordinary thing to say about your opposite number. Or he’s before the gates of battle, he says, “Now put your shields before your hearts, and fight with hearts more proof than shields.” You’re like, [Exhales.] “I’d follow you into battle.”
I think the writing is just so visceral. In the Henry plays, for example, I find it very inspiring. Henry V is presented with an army who are outnumbered 10-to-1 to the French and they’re dispirited, tired, and dying of dysentery. They are unquestionably going to lose. They are the underdogs. And he appeals to something ancient called honor. And he says,
“By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honor,
I am the most offending soul alive.”
It makes me want to pick up a sword and fight for him.
“God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honor
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have.”
And I don’t really know how I process the lines, which apart from the fact that it lifts me up and into it in a way.
“Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.”
It’s like, “You’re either in it to win it, or you’re out. I’m giving you a chance to leave, now.” In terms of my relationship with the verse, it’s very hard to articulate quite how I work with it apart from that I get very excited about it and it draws me toward it. The rhythm of it, the language of it, and I think he’s such an instinctively compassionate and intelligent writer that quite often the language of the character tells you everything you need to know about what that character is thinking and feeling at that moment.
In Henry V, I think the things that he says in certain moments surprise Henry V himself. There, sieging the French castle of Harfleur, he sees his entire army running away. They’ve made a breach in the wall. They’re running away, and he says, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” Because it’s such a famous line, it’s become quoted out of context, but when you think of it, it’s actually him saying, “No, one more time. Let’s try and make a break through this castle wall one more time.” “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. Or close the wall up with our English dead.” It’s like we either go through, or we’ll close the wall back up with dead bodies. And then makes this extraordinary thing,
“In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;”
Those images are just like, “It’s all well and good in peacetime [to] be humble, be still, be gentle, but when it’s wartime unleash the beast.” I mean, Survivor wrote a rock song about it, “Eye Of The Tiger.” It’s the same image. It’s the same stuff.
“Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On!”
Al Pacino tried to do it better in Any Given Sunday, but it’s the best locker-room speech in the history of dramatic literature. So yeah, that’s how I approach the verses. I find it amazingly inspiring and contemporary.
Labels: Language, Shakespeare, Tom Hiddleston