Tag Archives: Shakespeare


CHARISMA: Synonyms: allure, appeal, attractiveness, charm, glamor, magnetism, pizzazz (or pizazz).  Example: Her acting skills were recognized and her significant screen charisma widely acknowledged.

I was told in speech class that from Ancient Greek χᾰ́ρῐσμᾰ (khárisma, “grace, favor, gift”), from χᾰρῐ́ζομαι (kharízomai, “I show favor”), from χᾰ́ρῐς (kháris, “grace”), from χαίρω (khaírō, “I am happy”) is easily translated for speech or drama as “ham,” as in “hamming it up.”  Some have it; some don’t.  It’s a divinely conferred gift or power.  Yet it is luck, too.

A drama can be “a composition in prose or verse presenting in dialogue or pantomime a story involving conflict or contrast of character, especially one intended to be acted on the stage,” known as “a play.”  Simply put, and easy to remember, it is “character portrayal in action.”

We’ve all had or have basic Aristotelian dramatic lives, with beginning, middle, and–of course–The End.  Some lives are more dramatic than others–cover life-stories on People or Time, historical, political, religious lives.  Some longer than others; some “snuffed out,” like brief “candles in the wind,” sadly “before their time.”

Yes, our lives are a series of ups and downs: Rising Action, Falling Action, with Complications and Crises and Climaxes–and Denouements, for good measure.  As Kurt Vonnegut put it so well, “So it goes.”

Therefore, aside from the “usual” “dramatic” entrance at the “miracle” of birth most of us make, and then our daily living, careers, jobs, opportunities,  few of us have or have had the actual opportunity to play out a drama or two on a stage, to “tread the boards,” before an audience.  “LIGHTS!”  “CURTAINS!”  –complete with rehearsals and line readings and memorizations, greasepaint, and costuming.

I never had a burning desire to have my name in Broadway lights or my name in Playbill.  Yet I did have some exciting times with theater/theatre and drama, both teaching and acting.

What did I know without ever having had an acting course?  Where did it all begin?  How does it go, “Once upon a time…”?

Doing puppet shows for the kids in the neighborhood when I was in elementary school, I was known as a “ham” for some time.  I remember in 7th grade being in the front of the classroom, sitting on a wooden stool, dressed in a fuzzy men’s bathrobe (my dad’s): “Bah!  Humbug!”  My lines uttered in my first great “stage” production!


My career took off!  Smaller roles were offered me as I progressed, a few high school plays, bit parts, minor roles.  (I did have trouble with memorization, a definite downside for one seeking a stage experience.)  Roles in college were limited, though I performed in at least one theater-in-the-round production, and in the musical Oklahoma, when I was a junior.

One important dramatic lead I had was in The Potting Shed, a 1957 play by Graham Greene.  The psychological drama centers on a secret held by the Callifer family for nearly thirty years, a mysterious moment that occurred in the family’s potting shed.  Family members recall the event, but “vital lies, simple truths” left a son rejected by his father, alienated from his family, and alone in the world.

Potting Shed cover

I had the good fortune to play Father Callifer, the whiskey priest.  No other part has moved me more or had a greater effect on my later life.  [Some other acting I also did as a member of a folk-singing group.]

And then it was over, I thought.  College ended.  “English-Philosophy Major seeking work”: My jobs included hospital orderly, parts-man for a large electronics company, and USPS mail-truck driver.  Then the big break, not at all planned as part of my “career goals” (my Uncle Bill thought I would make a great salesman): full-time teaching, with benefits and perks.

My first teaching job in 1963 paid $4500 a year and “Have you any drama experience?”  “Of course.”  “That’s another $250.  We have a new auditorium and stage.  You’ll be the first drama coach.”  And into the fire of the crucible I went, to be tested.

Brother Orchid was the first real play I ever “directed.” 


Based on a 1940 movie in which Edward G. Robinson plays an orchid-loving gangster (!), Little John Sarto, who aspires to “real class.”  It’s a good ‘40s gangster movie, and a delightful play for an all-boys /men’s high school.  Our total budget was $100.00.  My wife was the make-up artist, using her best “putting-on-her-face” skills to a bunch of young men who probably have never forgotten the newlywed-wife of the newly-initiated English teacher/Drama Coach.

The play is fun to do and fun to watch.  Sarto the Gangster is being usurped by another mobster (Humphrey Bogart).  Not wanting to be “rubbed out,” Sarto escapes to and hides out in a monastery.  Pretending he would like to become a monk himself, with humor and plot twists and resolutions, the gangster who likes flowers decides to become Brother Orchid, and does find real class.

The play was a hit, with its good acting, homemade sets, and parents’ support and help in the wings.  Delightful.  And I was re-hired for another year, this time to teach juniors and seniors, and to do one major play.  So goes the history: Stalag 17.  Success, and more homemade sets and another $100 budget.  Then, my best production in my third year, mostly with seniors, many who were now “drama-savvy,” was Twelve Angry Men.

12 angry men cover

The father of one of the lead “actors” organized a party for cast and crew.  The seniors were moving on; I was leaving the school for a new adventure in college teaching.  My drama career was over.  Not a long run, by many standards, but a few opening nights and a few successes.

I’ve seen plays, professional and non-professional, fewer operas, and have watched many, many movies (visual cinematic screenPLAYS).  I have my favorites of each: West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet), La bohème, Phantom of the Opera, Macbeth (dark and bloody-hell), Shakespeare in Love (a favorite, a love story about acting and drama and Shakespeare–and, of course, mystery); the movie and play-within-a play A Chorus Line; and my favorite?  Of all of Shakespeare?  Movie (and its versions)?  Othello: Ah!  War, jealousy, sex, intrigue, love, racism, murder, suicide–and that green-eyed monster JEALOUSY.  What great drama!

Looking back now at all my directing and acting, the happy and the sad, the fun and the serious–all part of my dramatic life–I reflect upon my brief tale, no woe, just good drama, and great memoriesofatime.  Because of all this, in many ways I do appreciate acting, plays, and movies more since I have been “there”–not making movies, but the acting part.  The hard work part.  And, that part that got me high school yearbook recognition: “DRAMA CLUB.”  Reward enough.

How to end here?  “Our revels now are ended”?  Or maybe, “All’s well that ends well”?  I thought I might end with Macbeth’s familiar lines: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player // That struts and frets his hour upon the stage // And then is heard no more.”  (Macbeth 5.5.23-26)  Powerful.  But not uplifting, though “dramatic” enough.

No, I thought I needed a real Swan Song, that which represented and summarized all my life and the liveliness of My Dramatic Life:








 “The rarer action is // In virtue than in vengeance.”  The Tempest 5.1.27-28 

“Are there any dates that are important to remember?” “Well, your birthday, your wife’s birthday, your mother’s birthday for sure, and Shakespeare’s birthday. NEVER forget your wedding anniversary.

. . .

On April 23, 1616, many will be celebrating the life and works of William Shakespeare, though it is the 400th anniversary of his death on that day. (Some speculate he may also have been born on the 23rd in 1564). Death is certainly part of many of his plays: dead bodies in Romeo and Juliet, bodies lying about in Hamlet, bloodied messes in Macbeth.

Yet there is also joy and happiness, and love and justice, friendship and mercy, drunken silliness, and even magic, sprites, ghosts, and witches writ large in his story telling.

And some good history, some bad history, some sad history–war, defeat, executions, conspiracy, deceit. Good rulers, bad rulers. (Alas, even some made-up history.)
So this is a time of remembering, for some reason, any reason, no reason. Some of what he wrote might just be worth remembering. “This above all: to thine own self be true.” (Hamlet 1.3)

. . .

*“He jests at scars that never felt a wound.” (Romeo and Juliet 2.2 1.)

*“We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.” (The Tempest 4.1.156-158)

*“O, I am Fortune’s fool!” (Romeo and Juliet 3.1)

*“The fault, dear Brutus, is not with our stars / But in ourselves that we are underlings.” (Julius Caesar 1.2)

*“But I do think it is their husbands’ faults / If wives do fall.” (Othello 4.3.87-88)

*“It is excellent / To have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous / To use it like a giant.” (Measure for Measure 2.2)

*“The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.” (The Merchant of Venice 1.3.99)

*“Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy. / It is the green-eyed monster. . . .” (Othello 3.3.165-66)

*“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” (Romeo and Juliet 2.2.43-44)

*“Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.” (Macbeth 5.5.23-28)


Freytag wrote about structure of five-act plays. Shakespearean formalist critic of the first rank. His Pyramid formula is used as a tool for intelligent appreciation, leading to further enjoyment. “Wow! That is really neat!”

The structure of the play becomes dynamic: every event falling into place, every word and image seen as leading to an effect, every action adding to the interest and suspense of the plot. (Story is who, what, when, where. Plot is how, why. “She bonked him over the head with the frozen lamb roast” = story [line] “because he is leaving her” = plot.)

Easy explanation of analysis done in 1863:250px-Freytags_pyramid.svgHowever, TV writers, fiction writers, and dramatists cannot be so simple. Twists and turns of plot. Story changes. Things happen. If not, readers and audiences would hoot and holler.

So, here is how it really works, since “drama” is “character portrayal IN ACTION.”

Introduction (Prologue), Rising Action, Exciting Force (or Exciting Force, Rising Action), Crisis, Climax (the Crisis is NOT the climax: the crisis is deciding what to do; the climax is the result of, the decision), Falling Action. THE PLAY COULD END HERE. “BOOO! BOOO!” “I want my money back!” But wait: There is more. Problems/Complications, then Denouement (happy) or Catastrophe (sad), finally, the Ending (Epilogue).

Try it out: Gnomeo & Juliet; Gone Girl; “The Open Boat”; Hamlet; Grey’s Anatomy; Die Hard; Gravity; DaVinci Code; The Sixth Sense; “The Lottery”; Interstellar; Balto.

Here are some bits and pieces: Where/how do they fit? “We got it just in time!”; “To be or not to be”; witches on a beach making (a) pot (of stew); didn’t get the promotion; iceberg; “You have cancer.”; a perfect storm; finding a diary; “And they lived happily ever after.”; commercial break, score is 101-99, with ten seconds to go; “Oh, no! The tire is flat!” plane crash in Alps; “I left my wallet at home, Officer.”; antidote did not arrive in time; “Once upon a time,…” The End. Fin. Finis. -30-

Thank you, Mr. Freytag, for showing us the way. Now what about deus ex machina?

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