18 May 2008

The Play's The Thing




"The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King."
William Shakespeare

When exclaiming "The play's the thing!" we're seldom asked the embarrassing question of what "thing" we mean. Prince Hamlet, however, has something specific in mind. To secure proof that his uncle, King Claudius, murdered Hamlet's father, the former king. In order to do this he includes a few telling lines into a play about regicide knowing that his uncle will be watching at court. Hamlet then waits to see if Claudius will flinch. If Hamlet's plan works, he'll be convinced of the king's guilt and will feel better about taking revenge on his uncle.

It is at the heart of every play that though they are works of fiction, they mirror real life in such a way that the audience says, "I've been there. I know that. I recognize him or her", and somewhere in the middle of a laugh or tear comes a deeper understanding of the human condition. Great plays get recognized as great simply because they contain something universal that at one time or another the audience feels is a part of their life.

One of the best and most often produced is "Our Town". At some point we have seen it in a high school auditorium, on television, in any number of remakes. We have been dragged into playing one of the characters , helped with the scene changes of the minimal staging. Even people who hate theater probably have some knowledge of this Thornton Wilder play that even with being about a small town in a midwestern state, at a time removed from our hectic lives still somehow manages to touch us with moments of understanding.

As you progress through the lives of the characters eventually you come to the realization as spoken at the end "My, wasn't life awful--and wonderful." The ultimate message is that we never really notice the importance of our lives while we live them but a great play can make us sit up and pay attention.


14 comments:

Cheerio said...

That was great. Playing the guitar is quite so cool.

Janna said...

Sometimes I think it would be fun to write plays.
Especially something bizarre and Twilight-Zone-esque.

Kinda like "Jannaverse" meets broadway.
With music and fun costumes and overpriced snacks.

Ok, maybe not.

Still, I enjoyed the Shakespeare lesson. :)

anthonynorth said...

It wasn't so long ago that plays were the main media. Think the Christian Mystery Plays.
They always had a great power to reflect ourselves and society back at us.

the teach said...

We both went to Shakespeare, Jamie, mine's about Lady Macbeth! Our Town is a lovely play. :D

Nancy Lindquist-Liedel said...

My favorite line from any play is still the one we do not mention, "Screw your courage to the sticking place." I use that line all the time. Thanks Will.

If you don't know which play we do not mention, especially in the theater, you can look up William Shakespeare. It also contains my second favorite line, "Cool it with a Babboon's Blood. Then the charm is firm and good."

Stine said...

Our Town is not well known over here - thanks for the lesson, on that and on Will...

Jamie said...

Nancy, "The Scottish Play" is one of my favorites and The Teach did an excellent blog on it today.

Meloncutter said...

I tend to use my social outings to go to rock concerts instead of plays. Maybe I am missing something.

Later Y'all.

Marilyn said...

I love plays but since I had a kid I don't get to them. It's a shame because the local college puts on a great show, I hear.

I never played in one.. not since those Christmas porgrams that they make little kids do.

Sarge Charlie said...

thanks for the link, i will find a way to post that video, he said what I feel.

Travis said...

I think I may be one of the less than 5% of the population that is not so enamored of "Our Town".

But I do so love to go to the theatre anyway.

Gattina said...

I love (almost) all plays and the theatre in general !

This Eclectic Life said...

Great plays, stories, music, or literature always have that "universal" theme. Awful and awe-full. That's life. I loved the video of Iris and Emmy Lou. You find the best music.

Linda said...

I just wish that plays were not so darned expensive to go to these days. My cousin and I used to make an annual trek down to Broadway to see a play every year but the cost is so prohibitive that now we don't even get down to the Shubert Theater in New Haven to see them.