Let’s face it: nobody makes it out of high school or college without learning at least a little bit of Shakespeare.
Still, how you feel about the Bard may vary depending on who you are. Though English majors are sure to enjoy his mastery of language, others have complained that as time passes his work becomes harder and harder to understand. There’s no doubt that the language that Shakespeare used was pretty different than the English we speak today. Part of the problem is that we’re usually reduced only to reading Shakespeare on the page.
The words he has written are entirely different when they’re read out loud.
Seeing Shakespeare’s plays on the stage breathes new life into these old words.
When was the last time you saw one of Shakespeare’s plays live? For most of us, the answer is probably never (or at least not for a very long time). Because of this distance from the work, we may have our own ideas about how exciting or emotional his writing is—and many of these ideas are wrong. Fortunately, some of these performances take on a life of their own after being shared on social media.
One such performance by Andrew Scott recently went viral on Facebook.
The clip was posted by BBC Two and shows Scott performing the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet.
Though everyone has undoubtedly heard those famous words before, we don’t always remember what they actually mean. Most of the time, we picture them delivered in a very over-the-top or theatrical way… a way that actually gets away from their real meaning. In his performance, Scott brings out the raw emotions of what the speech is really about! The character Hamlet is debating suicide, and he imagines the peace it might bring him… before wondering what might come after death if he made such a choice.
Needless to say, Scott’s performance is very accessible and still so moving!
So far, the clip has been viewed nearly five million times on Facebook.
Still, Scott’s performance isn’t the only version of this speech that’s available to view on the internet. Another actor who has since gone one to Hollywood (and international) fame also did a version of this famous speech back in 2014. That actor was Benedict Cumberbatch, now better known for shows like Sherlock and movies such as The Imitation Game. Though Cumberbatch’s interpretation is similar to Scott’s in some ways, Cumberbatch brings a different and anxious energy to the same words.
Regardless, his take is definitely still worth a watch:
Though we could go on and on, the last version we’ll include is from a performance put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
For those who don’t know, the RSC is a British theater company based out of Shakespeare’s home town in Stratford-upon-Avon. The company has a long history of putting on Shakespeare plays and trains its actors to be devoted to his work as well as their own craft. In one performance from 2018, actor Paapa Essiedu takes an entirely new tack on the famous speech that gives it a surreal and out-of-body feeling. Although his version of it is a bit stranger, it is no less emotional than the others—in fact, he has tears in his eyes the entire time!
Of all the performances of these words that we’ve seen, this one might be our favorite:
As these videos show, there are so many different ways to read the words of Shakespeare’s famous plays—or any play, for that matter!
Though we may have read some plays in high school or college, the experience of seeing them live is entirely different. These dramatic words need to be given energy by performers to truly take on all the energy their creator intended for them! If you enjoyed these, there are no shortage of other readings available on YouTube as well. Still, if you watched all of these, which one was your favorite? Did you ever have to read Shakespeare on-stage? Let us know all your thoughts in the comments below.
Be sure to check out Andrew Scott’s full performance in the clip below:
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It's Shakespeare's birthday so here's Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" speech, performed by Andrew Scott! 📜🎭🎂
Posted by BBC Two on Monday, April 23, 2018