Arts & Culture

'Holistic Shakespeare' teacher Debra Charlton talks about experiencing The Bard

ARTworks of Beaufort is featuring holistic Shakespeare classes.
ARTworks of Beaufort is featuring holistic Shakespeare classes. KRT

For as popular as Shakespeare has become, many still distance themselves from the plays themselves, unwilling to attempt to grasp the language. Even actors themselves may not fully understand the dialogue.

Professor Debra Charlton tries a different approach to understanding The Bard.

Recently retired from Texas State University, she is leading classes for actors and teachers at ARTworks in Beaufort based on her book "Holistic Shakespeare: An Experiential Learning Approach."

Charlton, a former actor herself, explains how Shakespeare's works need to be experienced.

Question. What do you mean by "teaching Shakespeare holistically"?

Answer. As an actor, you need to come with not just an understanding of the language but an alert and active and relaxed body and voice. You also need to understand the context. These workshops break down the process of teaching Shakespeare. I'm a believer of an experiential approach in the classroom; people actually getting on their feet and voicing the language. I think you find an ownership as a student when you do that.

Q. You talk about putting Shakespeare's plays in context. What is a good example of that?

A. Take the character of the apothecary in "Romeo and Juliet," for example. When we think of an apothecary today we think of a pharmacist, someone with a fairly high social status. But the apothecary in "Romeo and Juliet" is a drug dealer. He was living on the edges of society.

Social hierarchy was so embedded in Shakespeare's day. It's very important for the actors to understand that. It allows them to understand the frame and context of each of the characters. We may discuss alliances among characters and how through kinship or friendship that may allow them to creep up a rung or two in society and how that would affect their character.

Q. What is it about Shakespeare that people still find interesting?

A. He's been around for a long time for certain. 2014 is the 450th anniversary of his birth. It was the way he used his words that transcends any other writer. It still resonates today. Many of his plots were borrowed from other sources; many of his comedies date back to Roman times. But he made these plots his own through how he used his words. When you speak Shakespeare's words they have such truth and authenticity.

Q. When did you know that you had this level of interest in Shakespeare?

A. I started as an actor and found that the classical work was what I found the most interesting and challenging. ... To me Shakespeare is the quintessential theater artist. He was an actor; he was a businessman who owned a share in his company; and he was a poet. He understood theater in a way few other people ever have.

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