Understand Me Completely

Ordinary people, we are told, ordinarily speak in cliches, bromides, and dotty banalities, and it is the task of the literary artist, of the playwright in particular, to give them expressive and convincing words. This is the practice of Aeschylus and Shakespeare, of Tennessee Williams and Tom Stoppard. The success of heightened language upon the stage is undeniable; Hamlet ponders and Lear rages and the language they utter is as much a spectacle for the ear as the high deeds and carnage are visual spectacles.

But spectacular diction can cause problems. Lear rages, yes, but only the most accomplished actor can give point to his rage and poignance to his lament; often enough our stage Hamlet appears not a thoughtful troubled youth, but a long-winded wimp. We spectators have difficulty in suspending our disbelief; always in our inmost thoughts we know that people really don't talk that way and never did, not in Shakespeare's time, nor in Euripides', nor in our own. Most assuredly not in our own time.

So that there has arisen another tradition of stage diction that we might call the Laconic and that may derive in modern times from Chekhov. This tradition employs, insofar as it can, only the most ordinary words and sentences, the same phrases we hear at the supermarket and in traffic court. It is a poor medium for revealing the secrets of our heart, we think, savorless and without individuality, as drab as galoshes...

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