Once more unto the breach with the Bard

Scott Kaiser may never have written his new book about Shakespeare's way with words if it weren't for the epizeuxis. That, he once explained to an actress, is what you call a repeated word with no words in between, as when, in "Romeo and Juliet," Juliet says, "Sweet, sweet, sweet nurse."

"Why didn't you just say so in the first place?" the young woman asked.

Why indeed, he thought.

So he drew on his years of working with actors on the art of speaking the words of Shakespeare on stage to write "Shakespeare's Wordcraft." In 17 seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Kaiser has been voice and text director on more than 80 plays, many of them built on some of the greatest prose and poetry in English. His writing credits include the OSF's streamlining of William Shakespeare's three Henry VI plays into two parts and the play "Splittin' the Raft."

The new book analyzes the rhetoric used in the creation of lines such as "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!" "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" and "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!"

You can just look at a line "I must be cruel only to be kind" or "York not our old men spares" and sense that they are examples of rhetorical devices.

But which ones? There's the rub. As Kaiser says, much writing on the subject is impenetrable academicese filled with Latin terms and mind-numbing definitions. This book is for readers who love Shakespeare but don't have a doctorate in English.

Many savvy playgoers can identify simile, paradox, irony, hyperbole. But how many are up to snuff on the likes of anastrophe (words out of normal order), pleonasm (use of redundant words to enrich a throught) or syllepsis (using a word with two others, each understood differently)?

Kaiser for the most part dispenses with such terms, listing, for example, the anastrophic "York not our old men spares" in a chapter on disorder under the heading of "Word Order." Simple. If you think Young Clifford, who speaks the line in the Second Part of King Henry VI, sounds like Yoda, so does Kaiser. He also brings in by way of illustration such renowned modern wordsmiths as Groucho Marx and Yogi Berra.

He treats Macbeth's line "Take thy face hence" without using the term synecdoche (use of a part for the whole, or vice versa), of which the use of "face" for "self" is an example. The line is listed under the category of "substituting an element or part of a thing for the thing itself."

This is one of the least discursive books on the complex use of language you can imagine. Following the credo that 'tis better to be brief than tedious, Kaiser identifies nine devices widely used by Shakespeare and illuminates each in chapters with titles like "Reverberations," "Transformations," "Order" and "Disorder." Topics such as paradox, exaggerations, personification, curses and nicknames are explored using simple definitions, modern quotes and examples.

There's a concise discussion at the start of each chapter, followed by examples. Cleopatra's "A hand that kings/Have lipp'd, and trembled kissing" is filed under "Body Parts Used as Verbs." Simonides' "Your presence glads our days"? is under "Adjectives Used as Verbs." Natch. Categories get as specific as shared final couplets to end a scene.

Central to Kaiser's method is his belief that young people are becoming ever more adept at processing visual information while their ability to analyze complex language atrophies.

"Shakespeare's Wordcraft" should find a home among actors, directors, teachers and students and Bardophiles of all stripes. Kudos to Kaiser for bringing order to glorious complexity.

Does it explain Shakespeare's genius? No. Does it give you a look inside his toolbox. Yes (a metaphor, come to think of it).

"Shakespeare's Wordcraft" is Kaiser's second book. His first, "Mastering Shakespeare: An Acting Class in Seven Scenes," is published by Allworth Press. Both are available at OSF's Tudor Guild Gift Shop, 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.

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