Aural Sensibility and Interpreting Shakespeare: Developing Modern Approaches to Compositional Dramaturgy in Hamlet and Macbeth

Kathryn Roberts

Abstract


Today we consider theatre to be a visual performance medium, relying primarily on imagery for the creative expression of ideas. However, in conducting a historical study we find that theatre’s prioritization of imagery over sound is a relatively late development in dramatic style. Prior to the twentieth century, practitioners on the stage relied heavily on the medium of sound and auditory experience to communicate with their audiences. This raises some important dramaturgical questions when producing historical plays for modern audiences: what role do soundscapes and music play in accompanying dramatic representation on stage? Moreover, how should sound and music be used with a historical play to make it accessible and engaging for a modern audience? The dramatic works of William Shakespeare are useful sources for answering these questions. This paper will examine the evidence of aural conventions in Hamlet and Macbeth in the Elizabethan theatre, and compare these against recent productions of these plays. This will demonstrate differences in our modern interpretation of meaning in sound, and offer solutions to how we might make Shakespeare’s work accessible to modern audiences.

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