With preparations underway for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s return to Ann Arbor, both University officials and English professors have placed considerable effort in promoting the RSC’s upcoming productions of “Coriolanus,” “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and the national premiere of Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children.”

Among the means of promotion was an early glimpse at the workings behind the troupe last night as Michael Boyd, the newly appointed artistic director of the RSC, presented a lecture at the Ann Arbor District Library. Boyd discussed the power of Shakespeare’s plays and demonstrated the vivacity of Shakespeare’s language in several passages that he said he found most unusual in the playwright’s work.

“It is a use of language that connects the lungs to the heart and mind,” he said. “There is a vigor and movement in his work that has a boldness of experiment.”

Boyd emphasized the duality of discourse in Shakespeare’s writing, citing the agonizing deliberation in Hamlet’s monologues and the construction of Shakespeare’s sonnets as a proposition followed by a counter-proposition. Boyd argued that Shakespeare inherited this sense of duality from his experience in Renaissance England, which forced him to reconcile notions of the upper class and the lower class, Protestant and Catholic, and London and the countryside. Boyd maintained that the space between the dualities in Shakespeare preserves his lasting appeal, allowing scholars and performers to explore the domain within the polarization to uncover hidden truths.

“Shakespeare has a pathological inability to hold a thought without simultaneously holding an alternative to that thought,” Boyd said. “Paradox and antithesis sound like dry sorts of words, but in Shakespeare they’re brilliant – and he’s not even directly in control of them.” Boyd’s lecture attracted a large audience of Ann Arbor residents, including University academics and students. Spectators filled about 100 seats in the auditorium, forcing many attendees to stand or sit in the cramped aisles.

LSA senior Sarah Gutin said the tension within Shakespeare’s duality particularly fascinated her.

“I really like what he said about Shakespeare existing in the space between the lines that he writes,” she said. “At the end of the play, it’s not like a work on canvas. The play dies every night. He takes that space between the actor, the stage and the audience and over time still conveys it so well.”

Boyd took the role as the RSC’s artistic director after having collaborated with the University and the University Musical Society to bring Shakespeare’s first tetralogy of histories to Ann Arbor in 2001. These productions led him to receive the prestigious Olivier Award for Best Director in Britain, comparable to the Tony Award in the United States.

English Prof. Ralph Williams expressed considerable praise for the director’s work while introducing Boyd last night. “Even the sometimes cynical London critics called it one of the greatest productions of the century,” Williams said. “He’s learned to give the airy nothing of Shakespeare’s words a way of habitation and a name.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.