I have a confession: I love shrieking Shakespeare. And I think there are not enough opportunities to do this. I have had some good moments of very loud Shakespeare because I was very lucky in high school to be part of Shakespeare Society. Many of my best memories in high school involve Mr. Shakespeare in some way. 🙂
I took an Experimental Fiction class in college, and decided to write a rather tongue-in-cheek story about my experiences with Shakespeare Society, and especially one favorite scene I enjoyed performing. Because it was an experimental class, I wrote it in iambic pentameter–with footnotes!
I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be to handle footnotes on a blog, but…well, if it’s good enough for Robin McKinley, it’s worth a shot, right? Sorry if you have to scroll up and down a lot!
Have you ever shrieked out “Plantagenet”
To the unhearing skies stretching above?
I have because I am a proud member
In my high school’s Shakespeare Society.
I am a charter member of the group,
Attending faithfully for three years long.
I count myself a member still at heart.
Often we acted out a scene or two,
Such as a scene most horrible to read,
Of Clifford and Rutland, York’s youngest son.
I can remember doing the scene thrice.
The first was during Shakespeare Players once,
The first time ever I encountered the play.
Young Rutland begged for life to no avail
For every time the scene must end the same,
When mercilessly Clifford slays the boy.
Although I didn’t know the play, I tried
Imagining how Clifford would have felt.
I think he thought that he was in the right.
Next time I saw the scene was once at lunch.
I slammed my hand against a desk quite hard
To make poor Rutland open up his eyes.
Next time was somewhat different than the rest,
Performed at Shakespeare camp for middle-school
Students, at which a friend and I helped out.
I played Clifford and she played Rutland then.
When Rutland died and fell upon the ground,
He crashed right into a trash basket so
Of course we both began to laugh during
My very favorite line of the whole scene.
Which line? The one I mentioned from the start.
I will admit the scene is horrible,
And yet until you have shouted aloud,
“PLANTAGANET! I come, Plantaganet!
And this thy son’s blood cleaving to my blade
Shall rust upon my weapon till thy blood
Congeal’d with this, do make me wipe off both.”
‘Til then you simply have not lived.
 The family name of the House of York, most famous for its participation in the War of the Roses, which was between the Yorks and the Lancasters over the English crown during the 1400s. I don’t know why it isn’t therefore the House of Plantagenet, but it’s not. Anyway, I do know that “Plantagenet” is hard to pronounce but loads of fun to say once you learn how.
 This is a very poetic phrase, in this case referring to the ceilings of various classrooms.
 The present tense is here being used in reference to a state of mind more so than any actual physical state, and on some level is used rather than the past tense because I happen to feel that way. If you follow me.
 Never, ever call it a “club.”
 By which I mean that I was not involved in the founding or formation of the Shakespeare Society, but I was in attendance for the first meeting. Possibly I could say that I was a “founding member” but that seems a little less clear.
 I never missed a single meeting for roughly two years, and started missing only one a month during my Senior year because Book Club had the dreadful impertinence to schedule its meetings during the same time.
 If it’s possible to continue to be a member of a high school group while also being a college student, that’s what I’m doing.
 We were always casual and informal about Mr. Shakespeare, but enthusiastic as well. We very cheerfully performed great works of literature impromptu in the style of skits. It’s the only way to learn Shakespeare.
 It really is a dreadful scene. I highly recommend it.
 Clifford is a soldier fighting on the Lancastrian side. That is to say, King Henry VI’s side against Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York.
 “Thrice” is of course a fancy way to say “three times.” It sounds terribly Shakespearean and it fits the meter better. Iambic pentameter can be rather restrictive, you know.
 Shakespeare Players was not actually part of Shakespeare Society, except maybe in the same way that I am currently part of Shakespeare Society. It was actually a summer theater group (it had too much dignity to be a camp) for high school students, not put on by my high school but consisting of students from my high school (and Shakespeare Society) and put on by the same teacher who moderated Shakespeare Society. Close enough to qualify as nearly the same thing if you ask me.
 I am not exactly familiar with Henry VI, and I still don’t know much about it except three or four scenes that I know very well, having performed them or watched them be performed.
 I believe Rutland is ten in this scene. Suffice to say that he’s a young boy, removed and uninvolved in the warfare, who was studying with his tutor when Clifford came in.
 If ever you encounter a version in which it ends differently, something is horribly amiss and it means that we’ve either slipped into an alternate and parallel but slightly varied universe, or else some director is taking unheard of liberties.
 Clifford’s father was killed by Rutland’s father, which justifies nothing but explains why he is merciless.
 See Footnote #13.
 Is that considered method acting?
 The best, most interesting, and most believable villains are always the ones who believe that they are the heroes of the story. Because after all, don’t we all think that we’re the heroes (or heroines) in whatever situation life confronts us with?
 Clubs—and societies—always met at lunch at my school. I’m not sure why it was at lunch and not after school, but it always seemed to work out rather nicely. It was a small school so we all had the same lunch period, so everyone was always around and generally available for a meeting. Barring, you know, another meeting happening at the same time. See Footnote #6.
 Not one of my better ideas. It really hurt and my hand was red afterwards. However—I stayed in character and finished the scene (this was at the very beginning of the scene, by the way) and didn’t say “ouch” until well after Rutland was dead.
 “How now! Is he dead already? Or is it fear
That makes him close his eyes? I’ll open them.” (Henry VI, Part 3, Act I, Scene 3, 10-11; italics mine)
 Next time I encountered the scene, you know. I suppose that’s implied but there isn’t room in the iambic pentameter format to actually say that above.
 It was a day camp, put on by the same teacher. Similar to Shakespeare Players but shorter, for younger students, and with not quite the same dignity so that I don’t mind calling it a camp.
 It was awesome. We were only paid in sandwiches (lunch every day, you know) but we had a great time and we got to play with Shakespeare and since officially we were assistants, not participants, we didn’t have to pay to attend.
 As you probably noticed, I always played Clifford. I enjoyed it to no end. This no doubt says disturbing things about my psyche. In real life I don’t even kill spiders, let alone ten-year-old boys who are begging for their lives. Just so you know.
 Because that’s always how the scene ends, as I said.
 This is the hazard of performing Shakespeare in a classroom. These things don’t happen on stage at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, I am sure.
 Because really, Rutland lying dead with his head in a waste paper basket is very funny, at least in person. I can’t tell if it loses anything in the telling.
 I adore this line. It is so great to perform.
 You remember back that far, right? It wasn’t that long ago.
 This I have never denied.
 Shrieked as loud as you possibly can, in fact, at least, the way I play it.
 The History of King Henry VI, Part 3 by William Shakespeare, Act I, Scene 3, lines 50-54. You have to realize that Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, is not actually present. Clifford is standing in an empty room in York’s house, standing over the dead body of York’s youngest son, promising him that he will come for him and kill him with the same blade.