Charlton Heston on Shakespeare
The actor Charlton Heston recently died after a life happy and rich with family, film and theatre success, and the political work of defending the individual right to bear arms and the equality of every American citizen. Heston was often found on Civil Rights picket lines in the 1960s. The grandson of an Englishman, Heston adored Shakespeare, and as an actor had no doubt that it was the actor Shakespeare who wrote Shakespeare's plays.
Responding to a scholar who insisted that the Earl of Oxford was the author, Heston wrote -
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. . .
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 piece in the Weekly Standard includes a wry quote from Laurence Olivier.
To see Heston acting in Shakespeare on film, look for him as the Player King in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet. To read about Shakespeare's wife, scroll down.