Episode 69 - What's Hecuba to Him, or He to Hecuba?


O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
For Hecuba!
What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears.



As mentioned in this episode, antithesis is one of the central keys to unlocking Shakespeare’s language. Simply put, it’s a word or group of words set against its opposite. The contrast between the two juxtaposed ideas - the antithesis - enriches the imagery and depth of thought. The actor must play the antithesis in order to highlight the meaning of the text. Some recognisable examples of antithesis in Shakespeare are:

To be, or not to be. . .
Fair is foul, and foul is fair. . .
What he has lost, noble Macbeth has won. . .

Michael MacLiammoir was an Irish actor, writer, and co-director of Dublin’s Gate Theatre for much of the theatre’s history. He wrote a splendid memoir called All For Hecuba - An Irish Theatrical Autobiography. It’s out of print and rather hard to find online, but if you happen upon it in a second-hand shop, don’t hesitate!