Yesterday the Royal Shakespeare Company marked the day on which William Shakespeare was born, and died – 52 years later, and 400 years ago – with live performances from the Bard’s home-town, Stratford-upon-Avon. One of the highlights was this sketch, in which several actors argue over how to deliver arguably Shakespeare’s most famous words. Do yourself a favour and watch them.
The sketch revolves around the fact that Shakespeare was an incredibly generous playwright, whose work allows, invites, even depends on, genuine partnership with the players. ‘To be, or not to be. That is the question.’ can be delivered in a great many ways, the weight changing depending on which word or words are stressed, each offering providing its own invitation and challenge to the audience.
The writers of the works collected in the Bible were just as generous. That is why the Bible must be read aloud, not silently. Why it must be read aloud, in public, by as wide a selection of voices as possible; and why it ought to be read aloud even when reading it alone, turning the words over and over in search for the rendition that is best-fitting to the ‘player’ – the one who proclaims – and the production – or, context in which they are performing (by which I mean to refer to the work of the people and not a falsehood) for which they are rehearsing.
Notable among these performers of biblical works is God himself. Christianity does not teach Scripture as written by God (though in practice a great many Christians believe to the contrary, that it was). Rather, God is both inspiration – as Shakespeare was inspiration for the performances last night – and a player who breathes life into the work, making it come alive.
You don’t have to be a famous actor to deliver these lines. But it does help to be part of a company of players. And to rehearse together.