The Conscience of the King
I’ve always approached any of Shakespeare’s characters that I have the honor to play, with an open mind and blank canvas. Preparing Claudius was certainly no exception, but came with some new discoveries.
Now, I always begin my process with characterization in the external sense, like what do others say about my character, and what does my character do that is implied in the script. So, without giving too much away…those things said by others, well…aren’t very flattering. However, I saw conflict in what Claudius did or tried to do, in contrast to what was said of him.
I as Claudius, first reach out to Hamlet, desiring him to stay and be cared for at home. I next, try to find out what is truly troubling him, by inviting Hamlet’s old friends to the kingdom. However, what truly is Claudius’ motive? Out of this question is where my discoveries began into the wild ride of Claudius’ journey in and around the play.
I found that Claudius is conflicted, again without giving too much away, Claudius seems to say one thing in the beginning, but we begin to learn and see that his actions don’t match that motive. Claudius’ thoughts are often on the present, but working from past events. Bringing me to my next discovery, which effected my own character preparation…line memorization.
I have been performing Shakespeare for two decades, and have played numerous role types, with all styles of speech structures within Shakespeare’s world, but Claudius truly posed the most difficult in memorization.
Of course, I have aged in those two decades and memory skills can fade a bit, but I really feel that Claudius’ struggle shows in his thought and speech pattern. This pattern of struggle carried over into my grasping his thoughts, and committing them to memory. It was frightening that for the first time, I had a very hard time remembering the next train of thought. But, I used this fear to build the character, and feed it to the lines, which brought to light Claudius’ “rage” as Hamlet calls it.
In the struggle of working to recall the lines and structure, I was able to better understand Claudius in what I was given by the playwright in the script, that struggle and my objectives for my character. From there, I could then consult with other actors to finalize the arc of my role.
My conclusion…Hamlet is not the only character dealing with conflict with Denmark.