Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 3

In his third blog post, Liam discusses the England scene (IV.III): the questions the scene poses for his character and the exercises used to try and answer them.

Transcript of Podcast

In his third blog post, Liam discusses the England scene (IV.III): the questions the scene poses for his character and the exercises used to try and answer them.

The England scene (Act IV, Scene III)

We’ve been working on the England scene, discussing how you go about playing a scene where you find out your whole family has been killed. Where's the script for your wife and children being ‘savagely slaughtered?’ What emotions are running through the character at that moment? Macduff knows the horrors of war and killing. He has some frame of reference for these emotions, but what exactly will he feel when his family is affected? These questions seemed a bit daunting to me at the time.

I am an actor that is used to a three and a half week rehearsal period, so when the third week arrived and I had not made any concrete decisions, I began to panic. Fortunately this morning we have spent a substantial amount of time exploring the England scene, the scene that has been posing many questions. By examining this scene, I feel as if I have exercised my actor's muscles, focusing upon particular problem points. I feel as if this morning's exercises have more clearly defined the scene itself.

The England scene (IV. III) is really my central scene, because it's a turning point for Macduff and you could argue that it's a turning point for the play. It's a crucial moment because Macduff begins to reveal his true feelings, snapping at Malcolm in the process. Malcolm responds with an ‘OK and I’m bringing an army.’ For me this action creates a turning point. I get what I want and I can see a solution or at least a potential solution to the problem. There's a real middle feeling that the scene changes something changes, something turns. In that scene, Malcolm seeks to convince Macduff that he is worse than Macbeth. As the character, I have all sorts of questions running through my mind. I keep thinking, what am I going to do? Where am I going to go? Is Macduff going to go and do some kind of suicidal one-man charge on Macbeth? I completely understand at the moment his impulse to leave Malcolm because of his disgust, but I keep thinking where are you going?


In order to grapple with some of these questions, we have been going through various exercises. We started off this morning with a verse exercise physically beating out the pulse of the verse in each line. This exercise is helpful because it objectifies the words, helping you to focus on very specific details. I find it helpful as a starting point because you can’t do anything when you’re beating out the pulse except think about the mechanics of making noises in your mouth on that beat. You can’t bring emotion or anything else to it artificially. When the pulse seems to go against the natural instinct of the words, you know there's something happening there and it makes you stop and think about it.

Tim, [Carroll, Master of Play], asked me at one point to play the England scene neutrally as if I was unaffected, because that would be infinitely more interesting than an actor pretending to feel or feign emotion. It all seems very perverse, because although we were using a word like neutrality, the scene was very full emotionally. It's full in the sense that there is a space around it which allows the audience's imagination to work. You’re not forcing something upon them. So maybe by ‘performing’ less in the moment when Malcolm receives the news, I’m allowing the audience to imagine the experience for themselves. Because who am I to tell them or show them how someone would react in that circumstance? All I can do is try and react.

These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and change frequently as the rehearsal process progresses.

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