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Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Think of a very adept Shakespearian actor, going out on stage and beginning the prologue to Henry V: "O for a muse of fire, that would ascend / The brightest heaven of invention..."

Now think of the the same actor doing it, but with power point slides projected on a screen. Would the words on the screen add or detract from the actor's performance? If the actor were any good at all, the mere words projected there would certainly detract rather than adding anything. The speech is all about how the audience has to supply the scenery with their imagination, how language works to create mental images: "Into a thousand parts divide one man / And make imaginary puissance." "Think, when we speak of horses, that you see them, imprinting their proud hoofs in the receiving earth." The prologue asks for the indulgence of the audience, because the means by which the spectacle is to be performed are very poor. The stage is a "cock pit" with "narrow walls," while the objects to be depicted are larger-than-life. What the speech implies but doesn't say is that this poverty of means masks the great power of language and voice alone to transfix the public.

Think about this the next time you want to give a power point presentation. Even without being a Shakespearian actor, you could accomplish a lot with the means at your disposal. I do a rousing version of Henry V myself.


Dame Eleanor Hull said...

You understand the words. What if you were declaiming them to people who had never seen a horse, who had no idea what a "cock pit" is if not on an airplane? Pictures of horses and the sort of cock pit Shakespeare had in mind would help a great deal for that audience.

Jonathan said...

Right. Images are fine, but you wouldn't project the exact words you are saying a screen, placing emphasis on a grayer medium (print) instead of a vibrant one (voice).