Exposing a texts deeper meaning through close reading.
My note taking process is expansive and concise. For plays I very carefully search the text for unexposed meaning by breaking down its meter, poetic diction, and context. For films my technique shifts away from the text itself, focusing on how the scene is built.
First the rhythm and sound of the passage must be established. In Shakespeare’s plays, like Henry V Shakespeare remains in iambic pentameter for most lines written. Shakespeare will often draw attention to critical information and shifts in the text by breaking meter. First record each lines syllable count, then make a notation for each line that has broken meter. After this I read through the passage, translating each line into a modern context and writing out the narrative of the story. Once I have finished the passage I begin to read the footnotes. Often times I find the footnotes explain context as well as explaining common idiom for the time. I return to each line that breaks meter, paying attention to Shakespeare’s decision in poetic diction, looking up descriptive words for alternative meaning. I find that often Shakespeare will use words with slippery meanings in order to foreshadow the future, or expose underlying truths. I also look at the historical figures Shakespeare mentions because they often draw parallels with main characters.For example, in Henry V Shakespeare decides to mention Alexander the Great, a military commander that succeeded early in life, but suffered an untimely death. As I work through the text I take notes cataloging my ideas and interpretation of the text in order to solidify it into memory. After I have finished looking at the source I begin to look at the context of the scene. I ask how does the setting dictate the meaning and begin to work to draw conclusions about the text.
With films my approach is drastically different. I begin by listing the six key elements of film, making and explaining their representation in the scene. For script I start the scene by highlighting portions of the text taken out, then consider why these elements have been taken out of the play. Often times I find that Shakespeare will reiterate key elements of the plot. These key elements are often times the parts taken out in order to streamline the text and keep it moving forward. Then I move to direction, which is often best represented in the scenery. For example, in the scene of Kurowsawa’s, Throne of Blood, Macbeth meets the Old Hag in the forest; the two characters are encompassed by fog in a dark and dreary forest, creating a dark foreboding emotion. Next I begin to look at Camera. Camera angles are often used to bring focus towards, or away from certain areas of the scene. I make note of when camera angles tend to look up towards a character, I find that this, along with close ups, implies their leadership. Close ups can imply leadership because it tends to indicate the character having something of importance to say. Next I look at the acting. In Kurosawa’s film the characters are often in constant movement, however in Branagh they are much more still, bringing focus to the script. I also look at the style of acting, considering if it is traditional western movie acting, relating closer to theater acting, or if it is untraditional. Each characters interpretation provides a look towards the director’s goals for the scene. Music creates each scenes emotion. I find that often when I have a difficult time interpreting a scene the musical score underlines the director’s intentions. The absence of music is often notable because it has become uncommon. Finally, I look at the editing of the scene considering why they made their decisions, to best understand why a movie or scene is edited in a certain manner, it is important to research when the film was made and how it was produced. For example, in Orson Welles, Chimes at Midnight, the editing is unusual because the filming process was stretched over the course of two years and he was unable to retain the same actors for the films entirety.
After working through each of these steps I determine whether the scene was successful in its goals. Usually success means creating emotion inside of the reader or watcher, however for Shakespearean movies and theater each scene must be held to a higher standard. The scene must not only display that emotion but also adequately unearth the depth of Shakespeare’s plays.