Taking your dream role among the roster of Shakespeare characters available is already a challenge in itself. Most of the time, The Bard of Avon manages to dish out characters that are not 2-dimensional. It’s a given. Nothing is totally good or bad. In fact, most of them involved personalities that are neither good or bad which really says a lot about how these characters are ahead of their time.
What made these roles memorable? It’s the tragedy as presented in the way human beings react to the situations presented to them. Theater has a way of influencing public opinion in a way that most political speeches can’t perhaps because the best actors have a way of presenting the frailty of the human will power. It touches the audience that makes the story relateable, they become instant conversation fodder for months in the community where they got staged. Now who could they be?
– Richard III
One of the earliest characters that Shakespeare wrote with a clear dark streak, this is one of the earliest characters that The Bard of Avon wrote that is unapologetically evil, at least in the vision of the person who wrote the play. So the challenge on the part of the actor assigned with this role is portraying him as someone evil without looking too caricature-ish. Remember that there are some scenes where he had to pretend to be someone not interested with power in order to gain more power. That’s how layered the role is – a testament to Shakespeare’s talent as a playwright with human behavior as basis of his characters. Despite the politically-charged storyline, actors throughout the years managed to assume this role and get away with it. Presenting it today might still ruffle some feathers knowing the slightly biased interpretation but that perception would still rely on how the actor chose to give life to this character onstage.
– Julius Caesar
Speaking of biases, Shakespeare tried to strike a balance story-wise with the play “Julius Caesar”. As a character though, while doing your own research by browsing through data available online, much about the character is based on the playwright’s perceptions of the prominent Roman. It is a similar with unapologetically evil characterization as that of Richard III except that as a character, he cared less about what people around him thought hence the “ear” comment. That eventually led to a tragic end that was earlier than expected in the play. Playing this character ran the risk of looking too brash or too arrogant to the point of parodying the typical Roman leader.
If ever there is one amoral character that can be played for laughs and still come across as challenging, it would be Falstaff. This is one character that was intended to be funny without the character realizing how much of a tool he has become. This was evident in the play “The Merry Wives of Windsor” where he was so confident in trying to woo 2 women that he did not even bother writing 2 different letters to them. While this role is written with a very fat guy in mind to play him, some versions feature an actor wearing a fat suit since his gut often served as proof of his gluttony and high sense of self. The biggest challenge for an actor is how to make Falstaff funny without the character realizing how his attitude has turned him into a laughingstock that his opponents found too easy to fool in an attempt to beat him in his own game.
Now we find a character that may not really be evil but was pushed by his own ambition. He just didn’t realize that he aspired to be king one day if not for the 3 witches he encountered and his wife, Lady Macbeth, discovering their prophecy. He killed the king and all potential heirs that he managed to find. He then grew overconfident over the prophecy (yes, another prophecy) that no man born of a woman can ever kill him. The challenge that an actor faces in portraying this role lies in the character development from being a dutifully obedient knight to throne usurper to paranoid king filled with insecurities to an overconfident decorated warrior. Very different from previously mentioned roles as those involved a consistent mean streak compared to playing Macbeth.
And speaking of insecurities, we now move to perhaps the lead character with the worst insecurities ever written, “The Lion of Venice”, Othello. Have you ever wondered how a warrior as decorated and accomplished as he is, he would easily be swayed into thinking that his wife, Desdemona, is being unfaithful to him? It says more about Othello than the person feeding him the misinformation, Iago. The character development can be compared to that of Macbeth except that Othello had a scarier temper. The challenge that actors face when playing this role is how to snap, kill and later, weep, while still looking manly. Remember that apart from being heart-broken for being made to think that Desdemona is cheating on him, his ego is also bruised. Othello may have been many things, but he is not a wimp. Think manly tears.
– King Lear
Now while we are at the topic involving words that meant to sway, while Iago sang platitudes to Othello at the expense of Desdemona’s reputation, the 2 daughters of King Lear flattered their father expecting to be favored of a larger slice of the pie of inheritance. Splitting his inheritance based on verbal assurance of his daughters’ love for him, it sure made a case on his state of sanity or lack of it. The harsh realizations of the kind of daughters he ended up having pushed him to madness, the kind of retirement from power that he did not expect. Despite having 2 endings to pick, the toughest challenge that this role poses is infusing senility into the fall to insanity. The actor need not be of advanced age. Just old enough to act the part of someone “nag-uulyanin” (dementia) aggravated by the corrupt world that he has witnessed.
Finally, the craziest role in this list, the title role in “Hamlet”. When Hamlet chose to mourn his father’s death than celebrate his mother’s wedding to his uncle, he went crazy. He felt himself losing his grip on reality but still managed to grasp at straws just in time to plot vengeance against his uncle whom he thought poisoned his father to usurp the throne. The biggest challenge to the actor (read: moi) is playing the role of a character who’s halfway into insanity. Halfway because as much as he can feel like losing his head, it was not totally natural. Since his own head is messed up, he found it fitting to mess with everyone’s heads as well. The consequences were tragic, of course. And perhaps the best way to handle this role is to lose all inhibitions and just snap.
Such colorful characters that makes you think that Shakespeare studied human behavior at close range in order to come up with memorable personalities in his plays. These are the kind of roles that the actors that are most serious with their craft constantly aspire for. This explained best why I consider Hamlet as my pride and glory. And I would appreciate it very much if you would go out of your way and see the remaining performances of Hamlet at DITO Bahay ng Sining. Dates and ticket prices are on the poster itself. For more updates like special deals and other theatrical productions that I will be participating in, please like my official Facebook page, Kuya Manzano Fan Club, and follow me on Twitter @kuyamanzano. Gracias!