HYDERABAD: Soliloquy. This word, having its roots in Latin, is synonymous with Shakespeare. The Bard’s plays resonate with soliloquies as his characters delve deep inside their own psyche and fish out thoughts interwoven with darkness and light. They present the same in their speech as they talk to their ‘other’ self which is different from monologue.
An important device of drama, Shakespeare made many of his characters deliver their soliloquies that became eternal in the world of literature; a very famous one spoken by Prince Hamlet in the tragic play ‘Hamlet’: “To be or not to be”, finds mention in various productions all over the world as the poet’s characters and the themes are universal in nature. That’s how to mark the 400th death anniversary of the poet, city-based theatre group Nishumbita staged several soliloquies of Shakespeare in a two-hour long play held at Ravindra Bharathi on April 23. Titled ‘Soliloquy - A Night with Shakespeare’ the play saw a houseful of audience.
Linguistic scientists believe that soliloquies featured in later works of Shakespeare were deeply influenced by French philosopher and author Michel De Montaigne. Shakespeare, of course, didn’t read him in French. He read the philosopher’s words in translation done by John Florio. And it’s not easy to stage the pieces written by one great man who was influenced by another great one. But the way artistes of Nishumbita carried the show was incredible, more so because they performed not one, not two, but 16 soliloquies.
The stage that was set was not so grand. But it was the blend of music, delivery of soliloquies and enlivening of characters that set the stage alive. The first scene started with mischievous and humorous Puck from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
The soliloquy was funny about Puck’s rant of how Titania fell in love with the ass after Puck replaced Pyramus’ head with that of the animal. He even imitated an ass’s braying on the stage. It would have been more interesting to open the play with another soliloquy as the same might have brought immediate connection to more serious and famous soliloquies that Shakespeare is known for. Puck’s soliloquy is not so important, director Dr. Ram Mohan Holagundi could have started with the soliloquy with the character of Helena from the same play instead of Puck.
So what is it that still draws huge postcolonial crowds to watch a series of soliloquies by the Bard?
Different notions of worship and not-worship follows, but the poet knew his craft well and wanted to stabilize himself financially and socially and hence, put all the elements of drama in place balancing contradictions of psyche and society in themes that are universal and still relevant after more than four centuries. No wonder then the auditorium roared with thunderous claps when ‘King Lear,’ played by Arjun Menon, delivered his soliloquy in the fits of madness after his kingdom is taken away from him. The play of lights and eerie music brought the ‘filial ingratitude’ of a mad king’s rambling as among the finest lines that Shakespeare ever wrote.
The facial expressions of Sowmya Ram, playing sensual-powerful-yet-grief stricken royal persona of Cleopatra right after Mark Antony’s death, display the grief that even the heart of a royal, a demi-god, that
Cleopatra would call herself, couldn’t take. The movements of supporting artistes around her completed her tragic soliloquy in the play.
Another soliloquy delivered by Desdemona, played by Faria Abdullah, in ‘Othello’ was heart-wrenching. But when the same artiste played the doomed character of Juliet of the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ the frailty of the character broke through her face and her voice, when she sang the lines of soliloquy.
The world-famous soliloquy of ‘Hamlet’, played by Vinay Nallakadi, could have been more powerful as the lines “to be or not to be is the question” pertain a lot more on the complex subject of universe and death. “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come” we may know not, but if tales of Shakespeare are to be carried to posterity, theatre needs stages like these.