Heston hears Shakespeare’s cries and whispers

Rick Moran reviews Charlton Heston’s legacy on film. Diana West reviews the odd Heston obituary published by USA Today. And the Weekly Standard posts Heston’s eloquent letter to the editor on Shakespeare, a letter elicited by Paul Cantor’s biting review of Joseph Sobran’s book arguing that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s works. Heston cites his theatrical struggles with Shakespeare: “I began working on the plays when I was in high school, and I guess I’ve played his people more than any other current American actor. I know how they defeat you, leave you bleeding on your knees in the sand, aching to try again.” He contrasts these struggles with the experience of reading Shakespeare:

Being a writer, Sobran misreads Shakespeare as academics do: He treats him as a writer. I know, there he is on the page, but that’s not where he or his plays live. Shakespeare leaps alive in air, in the spoken sound of his words. Only actors really understand this, though audiences sense it subliminally, in performance. When you’re redacting the plays in rehearsal, you make the changes in terms of the sound as much as the meaning. Also the pauses.
That’s what Shakespeare did as actor/manager. His plays loom so massively over all the other writing in the world because of his sublime gift, but it was a poet-player’s gift. He created those men and women to live on a stage, seen in light and sudden dark, heard in cries and whispers. Exploring them there reveals more than a lifetime in a library can.

Heston’s letter reminds us of another dimension of the huge loss marked by his death.
Via Michael Goldfarb.
UPDATE: Reader Karen Barth adds:

I recently watched Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” again, and was struck by the brilliance of Heston’s performance as the Player King. I don’t see this mentioned in the lists of his triumphs, but it certainly is one.

And don’t miss the tribute by the Washington Post’s estimable film critic and novelist Stephen Hunter: “A persona carved in stone.”


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