Rob Clare

Rob Clare is a freelance Shakespeare specialist and an actor. He attended the Central School of Speech and Drama in London and has acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as serving as a specialist there. His work as specialist has also taken him everywhere from to the National School of Drama in New Delhi, to the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, to prisons across the United Kingdom.
Interview Excerpts

ROB CLARE: Clearly the text is very often dense, very often highly figured. If the actor commits to that with expressive power then it can very well be that the listening audience is—is closed out from the experience; that they perceive somebody who is massively connected, passionately involved in their own delivery of the text, and so on.

But it washes over, like a kind of tide—tidal wave of sound. It sounds impressive but it doesn’t necessarily engage. That—that—that it’s impregnable in a sense, that—that we don’t understand the language and we sit back in awe of it or impressed by it but we don’t actually hear it and—and we don’t have as acute a sense we may have of the language being created in the moment as we look for sometimes in other—in other—in performance of other text.

On the other hand, there is an approach to the Shakespearean text which is simply to speak it very, very simply—almost uninflected; almost to throw it away. And although that can achieve a great degree of naturalism, again, we don’t necessarily feel that we understand what’s being said. The actor clearly does.

But what’s happening is they’ve translated the text for themselves and are simply, in a way, running the translation loop in their heads, while they say the Shakespeare, as if it makes perfect sense. And again, we may be excluded from that.

So the trick is—if it’s a trick at all—the challenge, let’s say, is to—is to find ways into the text that celebrate and use and harness the—the virtuosity and the specificity of the language, but in such a way that it seems to be coming from the—the actor themselves, living—and helps to identify the moment through which the actor is living, it helps to identify the dramatic moment, to illuminate—if you like—the game. To illuminate what’s happening in the play.


ROB CLARE: Well, one of the things we’ve got to make sure we’re doing with the Shakespeare text is still, however it—however many times we may have seen it interpreted by others, making it seem as if we are saying for the first time and that these are our words, because of the moment that we find ourselves in. Not that we’re quoting it or fitting into some pre-existing template or living up to some idea of how it should be delivered.

That—that takes you to the B+ zone of—of Shakespeare theater, it does not take you to the zone where it’s truly alive and—and thrilling for the audience and they feel that they are a part of it. We must feel that we have individual and collective ownership of the text, not that we’re just some channel for what was intended four hundred years ago by—by this strange, god-like creature that—that delivered it to us in the first place.

He was an actor writing for actors, he was one of a team, and I think his texts are imbued with that—with that sense, that actors have to make it theirs and have to make it personal, as if it’s coming from their own guts and their own brain rather than from some—as—as some channel for—for somebody else who’s got some brain.


ROB CLARE: A high-school teacher has a problem, which is that the students often have to write essays or get through examinations, things which are assessed where they indicate their understanding of the text. So you’re going to stay in a zone that’s pretty literal. If—if the character says this in the book, then they must mean it and that must therefore reflect their character.

You are bound to get readings of the characters which are a little bit more two-dimensional if you’re studying it as literature and text. But if a teacher can bear in mind that the real glory of these texts is revealed in the theater, not—not within the classroom.

That’s not to say that they can’t be studied in the classroom. There’s so much to admire. Of course there is. But the true glory of them is as they come to life in front of us in the theater. So if you can—in any way you can think of, allow that to inform your process in teaching them, that’s great.

What does that mean? It means perhaps showing them films of it. And especially if you can them films of the same scene interpreted in radically different ways by different productions and different ac—different actors, that’s great. That’s not easy to do. That requires quite a lot of digging about. And—but—but if you can actually show that they’re flexible and open to different kinds of interpretation, that’s—that’s great.

But many teachers may be scared of that because they’re scared of confusing the kids and ending up with confused essays or—or—or—or, you know, analyses of the text. The kids have got to be got through assessed hurdles and that’s tricky. And that’s why, personally, I wish we didn’t have to study these texts as literature.

Although that study may help us to get to grips with them a bit, it—it often stops us from seeing them as flexible and—and open to interpretation, because the teacher sits there and tells us, oh, it’s about this and the characters are like this. And their true glory, it seems to me, is in their flexibility.