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Neil Freeman: The Work

My work is about possibilities and imagination, which may seem very strange to say when at some stage it asks the reader/student/theatre person to look so very carefully at what has been set down on paper.

Printed words, in themselves highly abstract, can generate the most personal, sensual response in readers of any age.  Simply from interaction with words on paper or computer screen, the reader can enter the magical kingdom of “what if” –  perhaps “what if there were a dragon/civil war and a monarch?”, and from this first step it’s but a short step to complete personal immersion, imagining “what if I were the monarch (or the dragon)?”.

What can stimulate a reader is not simply the intellectual or the sense-memory of the words, but also the way they are arranged on paper.  Our current orthography (the way of setting words down on paper) concentrates on the accuracies of grammar, syntax and spelling.  It takes a rare author or publishing house to flout these rules in order to make a point.  Thus while James Joyce could write a completely unpunctuated chapter of stream of consciousness to establish Molly Bloom’s (day)dreaming in the final chapter of Ulysses, and Russell Hoban could establish a new vocabulary (complete with strange spellings and sentence structures) in his post nuclear Ridley Walker, the Canadian playwright James Reaney’s attempt to a establish a similar convention in one of his early plays was completely undone by his would-be publishers, who sent back galley-proofs with all his peculiar (i.e. non-grammatical) punctuations and spellings completely ‘corrected’.  While children may be stimulated more by the idea of a cow going ‘mooooooooooooo’ than by a description of the animal ‘lowing mournfully’, adults are usually expected to be more ‘literary responsible’.  Yet both descriptions are equally valid, the ‘mooooooooooooo’ appealing directly to the senses, the ‘lowing mournfully’ relying more on the intellect to trigger the magical “what if”.

Shakespeare was an actor as well as a writer, a man of theatre not a poet restricted to the classroom or the library and the age in which he wrote possessed a supposedly more primitive yet more flexible system of orthography than ours and so his plays continually offer these imagined, magical “what if” sensual words and phrasing. Consequently how things are set in these first printings as well as what hold myriads of extra tiny details of human behaviour and all its foibles no longer directly available thanks to the grammatical tidyings of most modern editions.  In Elizabethan/early Jacobean writings the intellectual and the sensual are both available from the printed page (just look at the first setting Henry V’s doubts in his speech “Upon the King . . .” and compare it any modern edition, or the countless line structure alterations between the first setting of Macbeth and any of today’s texts).

My work aims to show the differences between the way the texts of Shakespeare were first presented to the world, and the way they appear now, and what extra intellectual and sensual clues they might contain.  This is not done in any way to insult or belittle current practices but simply to say “there may be some extra information available to you from the way the plays were first presented, information automatically encoded in that often derided as “messy” first orthography.

In essence readers/students/theatre folks are faced with the same plays in two different formats, edited according to entirely different principles to satisfy totally different demands – and my work and the publications outlined below will never suggest “first texts good, therefore modern texts bad”, but rather show how the two texts often offer different choices to the reader, choices which will have an enormous impact on the magical “what if” that might be established and explored.

For those new to the wonders of the original printings of Shakespeare’s plays perhaps Shakespeare’s First Texts or any of the three Audition books would be a good starting point.  From there it would be an easy step to either the individual paperback Applause First Folio Editions of the plays or the full thirty-six play First Folio Facsimile, The Applause First Folio In Modern Type.

Welcome, and enjoy!


A Brief Introduction To “Me” (for more pertinent details please see the links to biography and testimonials)

Best described by the title of the Paul Simon song “Still Crazy After All These Years”, and having hastily abandoned in quick succession careers in accountancy, social research, social work, and advertising (much to the relief of the various clientele left behind), Neil Freeman is a teacher, director, text coach and actor.  Currently Associate Professor Emeritus (of Theatre) at the University of British Columbia in Canada he is also a Master Teacher with Shakespeare & Company (USA) and Text Consultant to several other USA and Canadian theatres.  His range of teaching, coaching and directing ranges from the fifteen year-olds in youth companies to high-school teachers, through university level students (undergraduate and graduate in both liberal arts and the top-ranked professional training schools) to professional theatre companies and individual actors.  Below you will find forty-four different publications listed, all available as hard-copy and most in electronic format, as well as two new series of texts (the so-called Rhythm Texts and the Parallel Texts) available predominantly in electronic format though special arrangements can be made for print copies of these works too.  You will also find descriptive material as to potential workshops that might be offered.