John Barton is a director known for his work with the Royal Shakespeare Company after co-founding it with Peter Hall in 1960. Indeed, Barton directed Royal Shakespeare Company productions for over 40 years and is credited to be a key aspect of the success the company has celebrated over the years.
John Barton has worked with, directed, and explored Shakespeare with many notable actors and actresses such as Sinéad Cusack, Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley, Sir Ian McKellen, and Sir Patrick Stewart. In 1982, these explorations were captured in a BBC series called Playing Shakespeare.
The series consisted of nine episodes exploring ways in which the actors could better acquaint themselves with Shakespeare’s text and how to act it out on stage to not only entertain and engage with the audience, but to make the subtitles of the text and power of the words known to the audience as well.
One thing I noticed while watching the series is that John Barton, along with his fellow actors, explore themes and give advice that is not only apt for other actors, but for writers as well.
Here are just a few quotes from the Playing Shakespeare series that I think transition from acting to writing very nicely.
Ben Kingsley (on creating a character): “What is our motivation? Our objective or our aim or our intention?
This is a question authors should be asking themselves about their characters, whether they are writing a short story, a novel, or a play.
John Barton: “Though we are exploring something complex, we ought to make it simple.”
I think this holds true for writing as well as acting. We writers can convey complex ideas in simple language. Just because the idea is complex, doesn’t mean our language has to be. We want to allow the reader to follow along with us, not be bogged down by dense text.
John Barton (on delivering a line): “Sometimes it’s better to just stand there and say it.”
This is great advice for your characters. Sometimes they just need to say whatever it is you need them to say to move the text along. Don’t be afraid to be direct and simple in your writing to get the story moving along.
John Barton: “Until we love individual words, we won’t love language and if we don’t, we won’t be able to use it properly.”
I can’t say this sentiment any better than Barton did. This quote holds true for anyone who works with words – from writing them to delivering them to an audience.
John Barton: “Now, that’s a rather useful piece of direction by Shakespeare, isn’t it? Each new world, each new world in a sentence qualifies what has gone before or changed the direction of that sentence. The principal is the same with antithesis – if you don’t set up one word, you won’t prepare for another to qualify it.”
Shakespeare knew it, Barton recognized it, and you can benefit from it. Antithesis is a useful writing tool, but beyond that understanding that each word in your project is related and building on the last word helps you build a more solid piece of work. No word or idea in a project stands alone.
John Barton: “I don’t believe that most audiences really listen to a complex text unless the actor makes them do so.”
This holds true for your writing as well. If you deliver something dense and complex to a reader, chances are they aren’t going to read it unless you compel them to by, well, making it compelling.
The entire BBC series Playing Shakespeare is available on YouTube.Com, so if you like these quotes and would like to hear more, I encourage you to check the series out. I enjoyed it and found it useful, and I’m sure you will too.