The Intrepid Traveller: Born Skeptic turns Softie

When it comes to travel, I am a born skeptic.

Everything that can go wrong probably will.  The places we visit won’t be that great. The tour guides won’t tell me anything I couldn’t have learned from reading. The people on the trip may not be a good mix of personalities — or worse, they may all be annoying. The food will likely disappoint.  The days will be too long. Or, too short. The shows can’t be as good as the ones we have in Staunton.  What is the point, really?

I know this cynical view doesn’t sound like a good starting point for the person organizing a trip for 22 participants. To England. For 10 days.

But, I think that, instead of proving the wrong attitude, my take may have made the trip even more enjoyable than it would have been if I had started in a more “Pollyanna-ish” state. Maybe it has to do with my personal adage: If you expect to be disappointed, you may end up being pleasantly surprised — only, in the case of the 2016 ASC Land of Lords trip, “pleasant” would be a huge understatement. I was joyfully, tremendously, thoroughly, and completely delighted by virtually every moment, certainly every person,  and absolutely the experience of the trip as a whole.  

Myth #1: Everything that can go wrong probably will.

Director of Mission and ASC co-founder Ralph Cohen, Academic Resources Manager Cass Morris (or, as we call her, the person in charge of words for Education), and I worked for over a year to put together this adventure we called Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords.  The fact that our fearless (Shakes-Fear-less, to be precise) leader was working on his book, giving a couple of talks a month in various locations across the US, and travelling to Italy for about four weeks immediately before our trip began might have spelled doom for many.

Added to Ralph’s lack of available time in which to provide guidance, Cass and I, of course, hosted our biennial conference for 300 in October 2015, as well as adding a few other conferences and events to our schedule for the Legacy year (400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s death). Because that wasn’t quite enough, we also kept ourselves downright busy with other things like hiring new college prep staff and preparing to move our offices while we were in the UK. All of which should have added up to a trip that didn’t make — or at least, a trip that didn’t make with sufficient numbers for all of our team to attend, but instead, we found just the right number (and right mix) of intrepid souls to join us.

Moreover, excellent communication from Cass leading up to the trip (see her blogs here) built enthusiasm and provided essential facts to help us prepare for the group’s time together in England. With a couple of focused days (pinning down dates and addresses for our coach driver, calling and emailing all of the locations we would visit) and some true turns of luck — Why did flights suddenly drop 5 weeks out from departure? Anyone hear of Brexit (an unexpected boon to our budget)? — and the kindness of the group sales folks in the UK, we nailed every venue and tour guide down, we figured out every visit to the minute, and we began to look forward to a trip that would fill the non-skeptic with delight.

1It’s true, when travelling, the airport is the most likely place something can go wrong, so it proved to be no surprise when, yes, some flights were delayed. By some turn of fate, we still landed 19 of our 22 travelers with little to no delay (though stellar camper Rick M. unexpectedly added an extra leg to his journey in order to make it on time — two legs, if you count the walk between Terminals three and two).  Everyone got through passport control, we made it to our coach (and the amazing driver, Mike, who would guide us down all of the tiny roads one could find in Shakespeare Country) in good time after a lovely catch up and meet and greet in Terminal 2’s Caffe Nero at Heathrow.  What about the other three, you might ask? As Fortune would have it, they were on the same flight and landed the very next day, whereat, we were able to arrange for a car to chauffeur them directly to our lovely lodging in Broadway.

Myth #2: The places won’t be that great.

I just finished the final touches on our expenses, and that meant recalling every place we visited though the receipts they generated.  In 10 days, we visited 15 houses or castles, 10 gorgeous churches, 5 exceptional gardens, took 5 fantastic walks, ate en masse at 5 terrific places, saw two shows at the Royal Shakespeare Company (with some of our campers adding to that number in Cambridge), and saw not only Shakespeare’s birthplace and school but also, we were among the first 300 people in the world ever to see Will’s will in person–that three page document so closely associated with our reason for being in the UK. And, in addition to our own two fantastic faculty members (who gave lectures on almost every place we visited), we heard from four amazing guides, I’m exhausted just thinking about it.  

202But more than sheer quantity, we saw quality places.    My eyes were opened to powerful art at Burghley House, while Hardwick Hall’s architecture blew me away (not to mention a lovely exhibit on Arbella, the Stuart who might have been Queen, had Elizabeth acknowledged her lineage above James’s). Chatsworth’s and Powis’s gardens stunned, and Alwnick connected Downton Abbey, Harry Potter, and Hotspur in ways I had not imagined (but very much enjoyed). The ruins of Ludlow, Kenilworth, and Dunstanburgh presented space for quiet contemplation and re-imagining scenes, while walks to Heddon-on-the wall and Broadway Tower allowed me to get to know our participants better. When one travels with a certain Director of Mission, one should expect to see some churches.  But, oh, the churches we saw.  From the tiny churches like those Heddon-on-the-Wall, and Stanton (pronounced Stanton, believe it or not!), which revealed their periods of growth in architectural details outside and in, to the fantastic cathedrals in York and Norwich, we saw an array of churches which represented the changing faith of Shakespeare’s home land from his earliest History plays through to the period of his last.

Our day in the near-“Disney” Stratford-Upon-Avon was made perfect by a wonderful connection at Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Cait Fannin-Peel. Cait took our program in hand, arranged for a fascinating talk to introduce the ongoing work of the Trust (and won a few donors to the New Place project), she got us into three open properties and gave us a sneak peek of New Place — a site that was two weeks from opening. She didn’t personally arrange for the National Archive to display Shakespeare’s will just on the day we were touring, but I think she could probably arrange — and would — something of that magnitude.  She walked us to Anne Hathaway’s cottage, took us to Hall’s Croft, shared her stories of Holy Trinity (and tried her best to get us into it when a wedding prevented it — then DID get us into it on Monday morning, first thing), made sure we saw the Guildhall and Shakespeare’s school, and basically gave us her Saturday.  We encountered so many people of like generosity, at Chatsworth, at Norwich Castle, and in our lovely hotels, it felt as though England had rolled out the red carpet for us.

Myth #3: The tour guides won’t tell me anything I couldn’t have learned from reading.  

First of all, I knew better than to think this about either of our faculty members. But having had them both in class, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be hearing anything — or not much — new. Boy, was I wrong. If you have the chance to take Mary Hill Cole or Ralph Cohen on a jaunt around England, let me just say, I recommend it.  Mary Hill contextualized every location and made the coach trip fly by as we travelled from place to place.  Ralph has a knack for pointing out the visual clues to history and makes the being there matter.  He also falls into lovely coincidences, like the statue of the Saints Crispin in a Shrewsbury garden that wasn’t even on our itinerary–our leadership seminar uses Henry V’s Agincourt speech in every session we host, so I’ve heard that speech a dozen times in the last year at least–making concrete the words with which I work, and who knew they were the saints of Shoemakers?!

255Then, there were the tour guides. We found four people who not only really knew their stuff, but also, passionately, wanted to share it, in dynamic and delightful ways. Alan, of White Rose Tours  in York (chosen purely because Cass and Lia Razak, our College Prep Programs Manager, are such Yorkists) [Editor’s Note: #whiteroserightrose], led us on a humorous 90-minute excursion with perfectly timed stopping points and, yes, jokes. As it turned out, he is a stand-up comedian, so we were laughing about Richard III and the York wall, while also learning fascinating things about their history. Our Cambridge guides, Chris and Tony of Cambridge Tour Guides, had a gift for engaging the group, and as Alan had in York, for connecting Shakespeare to the surroundings. In York, as it seemed every tourist in the UK decided to visit the day we did, they expertly shuttled us around rambunctious teens from at least a dozen different countries and advised us on where to go and what to do post tour, too. They had a talent for getting us into sites just before a christening or between banquets so we felt like we had found guides with a magic touch — or superior timing, or both. Our staff guide at Alnwick seemed almost as delighted to talk about its use as a location in films from Harry Potter to Elizabeth and shows from Downton Abbey to The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses.  As with all of our exceptional guides, his enthusiasm carried us right past the time set, and we almost all got to stay in Alnwick for the night; the gate began closing around us as we dashed back to the coach and on towards Dunstanburgh.  

Myth #4: The people on the trip may not be a good mix of personalities–or worse, they may all be annoying.

61In addition to places and guides, experiences, like breakfast every morning with a different friend to communal meals and banquets and teas, and even a rained out picnic, offered us all the chance to meet new people and deeply engage with their history and relationship to Shakespeare. We mixed up our seating on the coach, took opportunities for extra excursions (there wasn’t quite enough on the schedule already!), and made special dates for dinner and lunch just to visit with new group members.  At one of our first stops, I picked up a card set for one of the people I’d heard talking about wanting to know the Kings and Queens better, and thus began a tradition carried out by Cass, Ralph, and me.  At each gift shop, we would find something for each of our group — special to them. So Sandy, who looked for Green Men in each church, received a book on them at our final banquet. The ever-patient and sweet Ruth, always waiting for her photog husband Warren, found a folding fan to help her wait out his documentary excursions. Notebooks and poetry collections for our writers and teachers, our gorgeous Gay found a blue glass just the hue of her favorite necklace in wait, our “student” Donna will make use of her new book as she finishes earning credit for the trip, and Ed and Lois each got items to further their enthusiasm for learning more about the UK’s royalty. This project was as rewarding for me as for the gift recipients, as I delighted in thinking about them — what made each so special, George’s enthusiasm and kindness, Jim’s quiet intellect, Betty’s “just do it” attitude — and why each was such a special and perfect addition to our group.  

Myth #5: The food will likely disappoint.

162Well, that was just wrong. From our first lunch at The Mermaid in the charming Burford, to our speciality cocktail “Much Ado About Nothing” at Lygon Arms, to the unbelievable seafood at Craster–with a view of the ocean that only made it more sweet, to the meals out with friends–Indian (with an amazing Family size Naan) with Philip, Rick, Betty and Cass, and Scottish with John–to our Traditional Tea at the Swan in Lavenham, and finally, our last evening at the beautiful Felix Hotel, we ate our way through England quite, quite well.

Myth #6: The days will be too long. Or, too short.

When traveling, one must ask oneself if one wants to sit in a room (which would have been a great option at any of our hotels!) or see the places they came to visit.  Our guests felt free to choose, with almost everyone skipping at least one excursion to do something on their own.  Even those who didn’t, I would warrant a guess, enjoyed the easy balance of one day at each hotel stop which kept us close and allowed for some breathing space. We had among us, even, some adventurous types who visited a dance club in York — they shall remain nameless; I was only there to make sure everyone was safe, I assure you.

Myth #7: The shows can’t be as good as the ones we have in Staunton.  

Well… Yes, this part was true. But, what a wonderful chance to see some shows and draw comparisons. The different spaces and the choices made by the productions we saw generated fascinating conversations, and we each benefited from seeing the work.

147Myth #8: What is the point, really?

The point is, when we leave our comfort zone, especially with others, we learn about life in new ways. History feeds the present, perhaps most in Shakespeare Studies, but in many other ways as well.  Perhaps more importantly, and my biggest takeaway on this trip, is that present feeds the present, too.  Present people, present places, present presents, expand minds, hearts, and give way to the sincere hope that we will see one another again. And soon.

The No Kidding Shakespeare Camp convenes annually in Staunton to provide enrichment to fans of Shakespeare and of life, especially those who seek a unique way to fill the hours of their summer.  We built 2016’s Land of Lords trip to celebrate Shakespeare’s legacy in the 400th year since his death. The 2017 topic for our return to Staunton will be Shakespeare and Art. We hope to see you there.

–Sarah Enloe, Director of Education

Book Review: How to Be a Tudor, by Ruth Goodman

HowtoBeaTudorWhat would Shakespeare have eaten, drunk, slept on, dressed in, and smelled like? When would he have broken his fast or eaten dinner? How was his life different in London than when he was living in Stratford-upon-Avon? How did morality, religion, sex, and money affect his interactions with other people? If you’ve ever wondered about the real daily life of the bulk of the population in the Tudor era, then How to Be a Tudor is the book for you.

The book is arranged to take you, more or less, through an average Tudor day, nearly hour-by-hour. Author Ruth Goodman makes sure that you get a good look at both the uppermost and lowest extremes of society, however, she focuses the bulk of her attention on what a day was like for a farmer or an artisan. There are differences between town and country, men and women, young and old, religious and secular — and Goodman touches on all of them, while still paying attention to the overall worldviews that shape them all.

While the format of the book is a generally sensible way to introduce the reader to different aspects of Tudor life, sometimes her information loops in upon itself. There are some redundancies that probably could have been cleaned up, and a few points where a single topic gets disjointed over multiple chapters (particularly the matter of clothing). These are places where it feels like the book’s structure is working against rather than with the writer — but it’s a small detraction, overall.

The great advantage that Goodman has is that her knowledge is not only scholastic, but practical. To the textual authorities of extant written sources, such as household accounts, ecclesiastical records, and early modern household-advice writers such as the prolific Gervase Markham, Goodman adds not only material culture but her own lived experience. As a re-enactor, a museum consultant, and someone involved with numerous documentaries on the Tudor era, Goodman seriously knows whereof she writes: she has lived the Tudor lifestyle as closely as it is possible to do in the modern age.

One of my favorite tidbits involved early modern cleansing practices. We often hear that Tudor folk must have stank to high heaven because they rarely bathed. What Goodman elucidates is that, much like the ancient Romans with their oil-scraping practices, the Tudors simply had their own way of keeping clean and BO-free. It all has to do with linen. Rubbing the body down with a clean sheet of linen every day, plus wearing fresh linen garments, seems to have adequately combated dirt and odor alike. Goodman has tried this herself and states that there was no appreciable scent difference from our modern method of near-daily showers.

This is just one of the fascinating insights that the book offers. You can also learn how bedding changed from the early to the late part of the period, how to dress yourself in Tudor fashion, how to brew your own ale, how to conduct yourself at an alehouse, and even how to plough a field.

What does this book offer for theatre practitioners? As Goodman herself points out, an understanding of early modern life can help you understand early modern jokes:

As people who have spent many years deep in experiments recreating Tudor life, who cook the food, make the clothes, and drink the beer, my friends, family, and I have, without any conscious effort or thought, acquired a fairly Tudor vocabulary. I am regularly surprised when people treat words that I consider perfectly normal as arcane and mysterious. … When my friends and I go to the Globe to see a performance, it is very obvious that we are laughing at least twice as often as the rest of the audience, and not just at the slapstick elements. Shakespeare really is very funny.

An understanding of the reality behind the jokes can help actors help the audience members who haven’t spent their lives studying these things. It can help costume designers translate the clothing-related humor (of which there is quite a bit). It can help directors shape and hone the presentation. And all of that gets you a more satisfying performance.

Overall, this book is quite readable and includes some surprises even for readers who already know the era fairly well. It’s solid social history with enough interesting details to supply a well-painted picture, but for the reader who wants to know more, Goodman also supplies an extensive bibliography of both primary and secondary sources. I can cheerfully recommend this to Shakespeare enthusiasts and armchair historians alike.

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords – Preview #10

Greetings from London! As I sit in the world’s nicest airport coffee shop, where tomorrow we will be greeting our NKSC 2016 travelers, I can share with you the final entry in our preview series: Stratford-upon-Avon, home to William Shakespeare himself.

Stratford is a town in Warwickshire roughly the same size as Staunton, Virginia, with about 25,000 residents. It, however, sees nearly 5 million visitors in a year (would that we were so fortunate!), and most of those do come to see the home of Shakespeare and productions by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It began life in the 12th century as a market town, but soon made its fortune off of Cotswold wool and tanning. Actor David Garrick was responsible for starting up the town’s tourism industry when he held the first Shakespeare Jubilee in 1769. Garrick built the first known theatre in the town for the occasion, nearly in the same riverside location as the modern Royal Shakespeare Theatre, but it was subsequently washed away when the Avon flooded.

Stratford-upon-Avon is also the home of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, an organization caretaking those properties relevant to Shakespeare’s life:

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The current buzz in Stratford-upon-Avon is about Shakespeare’s New Place, his family home from 1597 until his death in 1616. The house passed through various owners until the 1750s, when Reverend Francis Gastrell, annoyed with curious onlookers, first destroyed the gardens, then demolished the entire house. The Birthplace Trust, however, has excavated the site and has been able to reconstruct a floorplan of what the house was probably like during Shakespeare’s lifetime as well as before or after. Evidence suggests that not only did he buy the second-biggest house in Stratford — suggesting that his wealth was already considerable by 1597, even before he had written some of his most famous plays — he also made additions and improvements to it. These revelations give a fascinating look at the home lives of middle class English families during the Tudor and Stuart eras, including information on what remodeling and gardening projects would have been considered status symbols at the time. During our trip, we’ll find out what the neighbors would have had to do to “keep up with the Shakespeares.”

unnamed (1)Originally a farmhouse, the building known as Anne Hathaway’s Cottage was in fact home to the Hathaway family for generations. It was constructed in 1463, and someone of the Hathaway line lived there until 1911. Fittingly, the Birthplace Trust uses this location to educate visitors about Tudor-era courtship, so our travelers will be able to learn about them and envision how William and Anne got their start in life.

Since we are, ourselves, educators, we’re excited to visit King Edward’s School. Though the school’s early records were lost in a fire, scholars believe that, as the son of an alderman, William Shakespeare would have attended King Edward’s as a boy. Originally a religious school from the 13th century, it passed into civic hands during the reign and Protestant reformations of King Edward VI. Along with it came lands, whose proceeds were intended to support the school and the education of Stratford-upon-Avon’s youngsters in the future.

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When Shakespeare has Jacques in As You Like It speak of the schoolboy “creeping like snail, unwillingly”, we can imagine young William doing so in the Upper Guildhall, pictured above. During the summer, school began at 6am and would continue until dark; winter brought a bit of a reprieve, with class starting later and ending earlier, though students were still expected to supply their own candles for the dimmer hours. From the age of six or seven, young Elizabethans would learn the trivium of education: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. If a boy stayed in school long enough, he might move on to the quadrivium, considered essential for philosophy: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. King Edward’s is also likely where Shakespeare picked up the “little Latin and less Greek” Ben Jonson accused him of having, as well as where we can imagine him getting the taste for the stories of Roman authors Ovid, Seneca, and Plutarch.

We’ll also visit Hall’s Croft, the home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband, Dr. John Hall. Described as “a compassionate and diligent physician” by the Birthplace Trust, Dr. Hall preferred the use of herbs and animal extracts in his treatments, as opposed to relying on astronomy or bloodletting. The Birthplace Trust has re-created gardens much like what he may have kept in order to source his own supplies.

Though Shakespeare never wrote of Stratford-upon-Avon in his plays, Ben Jonson made reference to William’s origins in the introductory poem to the 1623 First Folio:

Sweet Swan of Avon! what a sight it were
To see thee in our water yet appear,
And make those flights upon the banks of Thames
That so did take Eliza, and our James!
But stay, I see thee in the hemisphere
Advanc’d, and made a constellation there!
Shine forth, thou star of poets, and with rage
Or influence, chide, or cheer the drooping stage;
Which since thy flight from hence hath mourn’d like night,
And despairs day, but for thy volume’s light.

Hopefully through these locations, we’ll be able to envision the life Shakespeare would have led at home, from boy to man. We’ll also be seeing two Royal Shakespeare Company productions: on July 15th, we travel over from Broadway for The Alchemist, and on July 16th, following our day in Stratford, we’ll enjoy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

So that, dear readers, is the end of this preview series — but only the beginning of the adventure! If you’d like to follow along as we travel, check out the tag #NKSC16 on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I’ll be posting photos throughout the trip.

A Remembrance: Russ McDonald

Shakespeare lost one of his most eloquent teachers and writers when Russ McDonald died unexpectedly in London last week, and our lights at the ASC are a little dimmer as we’ve lost one of our finest friends.

A Professor of English at Goldsmith’s College in London, Russ McDonald was one of the most pre-eminent Shakespeare scholars whose written work appeals equally to the beginner and the expert. For the beginner, his writings give a solid understanding of what makes the work of Shakespeare and his contemporaries so admirable and important. For scholars, his books help us organize the work we do and remind us of the ways in which our Shakespeare enterprises are interconnected, serving as models for both clarity and prose.

But, like the great Early Modern authors he celebrated, he had a remarkable range of interests, as reflected in a bibliography of his works: Russ’s The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare is, in my view, the most lucid introduction to the writer and his works; Shakespeare and the Arts of Language is a comprehensive look at Shakespeare’s literary tools; Shakespeare’s Late Style makes clear both the manner and the meaning of the challenging language in the later plays; Look to the Lady is a study of Sarah Siddons, Ellen Terry, and Judi Dench, each the great actress of her century; and his first book Shakespeare and Jonson, Jonson and Shakespeare is a comprehensive comparison of the yin and yang of early modern playwrights.

His work as an editor includes a handy edition of the most-read plays (The Bedford Shakespeare, with co-editor Lena Orlin) as well as two of the most helpful collections of essays. Shakespeare: An Anthology of Criticism 1945-2000 provides not only the most seminal essays in that volcanic period of Shakespeare studies but also the most helpful explanation of each approach.  His most recent book Shakespeare up Close contains dozens of short pieces that model the kind of close reading championed by his friend (and ours) Stephen Booth.

Alongside the extensive list of his works (which he wrote and researched with such apparent ease) Russ made room in his life for other interests and hobbies: from serving as president of the Shakespeare Association of America to working as the opera critic for Opera Magazine, a job in which he took childlike delight (“I get the best seats at the Royal Opera, and I get paid for it!”).  Music, architecture, plays, Duke basketball, food – Russ knew and savored them all.

Russ was an early fan of the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, bringing our troupe to UNC Greensboro in the early 1990’s before he moved on to teach at Goldsmith’s College in London.  He was one of the first keynote speakers for our Blackfriars Conference, reprising his role in 2013 when we honored his professor George Walton Williams.  The last time he spoke on the Blackfriars stage was in March at the celebration of the life of founding ASC Board member Tom Berger, one of Russ’s dearest friends.  Together Russ and Tom provided a latter-day version of the apocryphal “wit combats” of Shakespeare and Jonson, demonstrating more of a clever ballet of words than an aggressive fight. It was my great fortune to have heard them so many times at play.

Now, so unexpectedly to lose Russ in the same year as Tom is a great sadness for me; but, beyond my personal loss, his going has dimmed a joyous and generous light in the world of Shakespeare. He’s left behind a certain and twinkling sense of how lucky we are to have such a beautiful and, as Russ would say, delicious thing as his words.  Russ’s great talent was sharing that delight with us all.
We send our condolences to his wife and colleague Gail and to their son Jack.  

 

–Ralph Alan Cohen

 

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords — Preview #9

We’re just 20 days out from greeting our #NKSC16 attendees at Heathrow Airport. In this, the penultimate trip preview, I’m going to bring you back to the location that started the series off: York.

unnamed (3)York is very much a city built on its medieval footprint — though its history goes back much farther than that. As I discussed in the first preview email, York dates back nearly 2000 years. Known as Eboracum to the Romans and Jorvik to the Danes, York assumed much of its current shape — and much of its current architecture — in the 13th-15th centuries.

When we visit The Shambles, we’ll see how closely connected modern York is to its elder self. Known as “the most medieval street in England,” the Shambles was for centuries home to York’s butchers and meat markets. The street is mentioned in the Domesday Book compiled by William the Conqueror, and much of its architecture dates to the 1400s, including its famous overhanging buildings and timber-frame structures. (And if the Harry Potter fans are thinking that picture looks a bit familiar, you’re not wrong — The Shambles formed the visual inspiration for Diagon Alley).

The name “Shambles” likely comes from the (somewhat more gruesome) Anglo-Saxon word “fleshammels” — literally, “flesh-shelves”. Though the word long pre-dates Shakespeare, perhaps he did not have Henry VI use the term coincidentally during the opening confrontation in Henry VI, Part 3:

HENRY VI
Far be the thought of this from Henry’s heart,
To make a shambles of the parliament-house.
Cousin of Exeter, frowns, words and threats
Shall be the war that Henry means to use.
Thou factious Duke of York, descend my throne,
and kneel for grace and mercy at my feet;
I am thy sovereign.

unnamed (4)York Castle may not look like much, but for centuries, it had it where it counted: Standing between the River Ouse and the River Foss, this was once a prime fortification in Northeast England. William the Conqueror built it as part of the “Harrying of the North”, during his 1068-1070 campaign to secure this region of England.

York Castle grew from a simple wooden motte and bailey castle to a more complex limestone structure in the 13th century, when both King John and King Henry III used it as a personal fortress. Investment in its maintenance waned in the 15th century, however, and though Richard III intended to make extensive repairs, the Battle of Bosworth Field and his death there interrupted the plans. Queen Elizabeth I was advised that the castle no longer had strategic purpose, and it fell into significant disrepair until it was shored up as a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War. Some buildings were later used as prisons, as was common with decrepit medieval castles, and now all that stands of the original structure is Clifford’s Tower (seen above).

York’s grandest and most famous structure, however, is York Minster.

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The cathedral seat for the Archbishop of York, York Minster is the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, and it is another testament to the city’s long history. Christianity had a presence in York from at least the 4th century, though the Venerable Bede mentions chieftain Lucius of Britain calling for missionaries in 180. The first church on the site was built in 627 — a rush job, needed to baptise Edwin, King of Northumbria. Archbishop Walter de Gray began construction of the Gothic cathedral in 1215 and building continued all the way through its consecration in 1472. Despite rebellions, arsonist attacks, and freak lightning strikes that set the roof on fire, York Minster has been continually preserved as the pride of the city. Its flying buttresses were innovative at the time of its construction, and the cathedral features some of the best examples of Gothic sculpture in the country — look for angels, demons, animals, and humans adorning the walls.

unnamed (6)More than half of England’s medieval stained glass stands in York Minster. Across the nation, many of these works of art fell victim to anti-Catholic fervor during the English Civil War, but the stained glass at York Minster appears to owe its survival to the Lord General of the New Model Army himself — Thomas Fairfax, a Yorkshireman. York Minster’s stained glass features the East Window, pictured here, which is the size of a tennis court and depicts the story of the world from Genesis to Revelation; the Five Sisters Window, the nation’s only memorial to the women of Great Britain who lost their lives in the First World War; and a beautiful rose window commemorating the unification of the Houses of York and Lancaster.

The next Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords preview will be the last, and I’ll be discussing the home of the man himself: Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords – Preview #8

As we sojourn through East Anglia, we’ll travel through two English counties with long and illustrious histories. Norfolk and Suffolk are among the longest-inhabited areas in England — in fact, in 2005, archaeologists found evidence of habitation in Norfolk up to 700,000 years ago. Through Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Danes, and Normans, these areas remained vital for their fertile farmland and their proximity to the European mainland.

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Norwich Cathedral, pictured above, is an excellent example of East Anglia’s long and sometimes turbulent history. It stands in an area once inhabited by the Iceni — the famous Celtic tribe whose Queen Boudicca rebelled against the Romans in the first century. Because of the disruption caused by frequent Danish raids (like those seen in Edmund Ironside, a play in the Shakespeare apocrypha), no permanent cathedral could be established until after the Norman Conquest. Work began in 1096 and continued through 1140, using cream-colored Caen limestone brought up the river through a purpose-built canal.

The cathedral was damaged during riots in 1272 and repaired over the next two decades. After that, work began on cloisters, but interruptions to building (including the Black Death visiting England in the 1340s) meant that they were not completed until 1430. Many of the ceilings were redone in the 14th and 15th centuries, and the spire was rebuilt completely after being struck by lightning in 1480. Like London’s theatres, the cathedral fell victim to the Puritans during the English Civil War. A mob stripped the building of its Catholic adornments, destroyed stonework, pulled down monuments, and even fired their muskets into the walls; at least one musketball remains lodged there to this day. Repairs began during the reign of Charles II, and other additions and renovations have continued to the modern day, making Norwich Cathedral a quilt of English architecture through the ages.

Norwich Cathedral also has an unexpected Shakespearean connection in one of the men buried there: Sir Thomas Erpingham, who lends King Henry his clothes to go among the men in disguise in Henry V, was a major benefactor in the 1420s.

unnamed (1)We’ll also travel to Norwich Castle, built by the Conqueror himself sometime before 1075. Norwich Castle was for many years the only castle in the region, and it played a role in the Revolt of 1173-1174, when Henry II’s sons rebelled against him (an event some of you may remember being referenced in The Lion in Winter). Converted to a prison in the 1220s, the castle then became a prison in the 13th century. It retained that usage until it’s conversion to a museum in the 1880s — following some alterations made in the late 18th century by Sir John Soane, whom some of you may remember from visiting his house in London during our 2013 trip.

Fittingly for such an important region of England, the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk have been influential throughout the centuries. You might remember Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, in Richard II, or the Suffolk who begins as a Marquess in Henry VI, Part 1, is made a Duke in Part 2, becomes Queen Margaret’s lover, and is then murdered by pirates.

SUFFOLK:
Come, soldiers, show what cruelty ye can,
That this my death may never be forgot.
Great men oft die by vile bezonians:
A Roman sworder and banditto slave
Murder’d sweet Tully; Brutus’ bastard hand
Stabb’d Julius Caesar; savage islanders
Pompey the Great; and Suffolk dies by pirates.

The Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk were important in the Tudor Era as well: Charles Brandon, the first duke in the title’s second creation, was a close friend of Henry VIII and later his brother-in-law, after he married Henry’s youngest sister, Mary. (Fans of The Tudors will remember the handsome Henry Cavill in the role). All of Brandon’s sons died either before him or shortly thereafter, and the title was briefly recreated for Henry Grey, father of Lady Jane Grey — who was executed for treason a mere three years later, after trying to place his daughter on the throne.

The Dukes of Norfolk were, if anything, even more notorious during the Tudor reign, patriarchs as they were of the tumultuous Howard dynasty, a wide-spread, highly politically-involved, and recalcitrantly-Catholic family. The first duke (of this, the third creation of the title) died at Bosworth Field, fighting on the side of Richard III; his son eventually got the forfeit title restored to him. The third duke (pictured below in a portrait by Hans Holbein) was among those who maneuvered to make his niece, Anne Boleyn, Queen of England — as depicted in Shakespeare and Fletcher’s Henry VIII — and who then turned on her when Henry tired of her, even presiding over her trial. Another niece, Catherine Howard, became Henry’s fifth wife — and also fell from grace, almost taking the entire Howard family down with her.unnamed (2)

What finally landed the third duke in the Tower was his connection to the Earl of Surrey, who tried to overthrow Henry late in his reign. He narrowly escaped execution for treason, saved only when Henry VIII himself died before the sentence could be carried out. He remained in the Tower throughout the reign of Edward VI, only released and restored to his properties by Queen Mary. The fourth Norfolk couldn’t keep out of trouble, either: in 1569 he was imprisoned for plotting to marry Mary, Queen of Scots, and in 1572, he was implicated in the Ridolfi plot to put King Philip of Spain on the throne with Mary, restoring Catholicism to England, and was subsequently executed. The title lay in abeyance until restored to the Howard family by King Charles II.

We’ll finish the day with tea in Lavenham, a sweet little village in Suffolk known for its well-preserved medieval and Tudor architecture. Once one of the wealthiest merchant towns in England, thanks to its wool trade, Lavenham is now a prime day trip destination for anyone exploring East Anglia.

Guest Post: Thou Art Translated: Magic and Meaning in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

During the month of June, ASC Education is featuring the shows of our 2015-2016 Artistic Year in a series of guest posts!

A Midsummer Nights’ Dream appeared in our 2015 Summer-Fall Season. Lia Fisher-Janosz is a forensics coach and drama teacher at the Overbrook School in Nashville, Tennessee.


Thou Art Translated: Magic and Meaning in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by Lia Fisher-Janosz

How are magic and meaning made? Why are magic and meaning made? The answers to these questions stand at the center of Shakespeare’s magnificent play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the search for the answers was (at least in part) what the American Shakespeare Center’s 2015 production and a related Fall Teacher’s Seminar were about.

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Gregory Jon Phelps as Nick Bottom, 2015. Picture by Lindsey Walters.

Our search took us directly into the text itself, as one might guess.  It is in many ways a triune entity; in its one world are three, those of the would-be thespians or “rude mechanicals,” the court and the lovers, and the fairies.  When the boundaries between these three worlds start to cross and blur, magic has either just occurred or is about to do so; at the very root of this phenomenon is not a what, but a where—the wood.

With Director of Education Sarah Enloe and Academic Resources Manager Cass Morris leading us into the forest and back again, we started on the first day by considering the concept of actors playing actors and some insights that can be gleaned (and even some insults that can be gleeked) from the characterizations of the “hard-handed men.”  Next, we explored the traditions associated with courtship and match-making in the Elizabethan era, and we found our perspectives and assumptions somewhat challenged. From there, on the second day, we went on to explore how Shakespeare wrote, and with what purpose (tetrameter=magic!).  Finally, our journey culminated in a visit with Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, the ASC’s founder and Director of Mission, and also the director of the ASC’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which we had the distinct pleasure of seeing later that afternoon.  Dr. Ralph’s direction gave a nostalgic nod to the charm and delight of cinema’s earlier days—magic-within-magic-within-magic, via movies-within-plays-within-plays.  He explained why he made some of the choices he did, but also focused on the prevalence and importance of invisibility in directing and teaching Dream (and in the play itself), and upon what he believes is the “heart of his [Shakespeare’s] mystery,” Titania’s speech about her votaress.

If you thought to read of everything we listened to or learned or loved, know that I will not be the one to fetch and deliver to you such trifles and rich merchandise; for as Walt Whitman wrote:  “Not I, not anyone else can travel that road for you, you must travel it for yourself…You are also asking me questions and I hear you, I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself.”  I give just a glimpse, and tantalizing it is, to my way of thinking.

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John Harrell and Sarah Fallon as Oberon and Titania, 2015. Picture by Lindsey Walters.

Ah yes, thinking!  The workshops and performances held at the American Shakespeare Center make you think; they literally provoke thoughts not previously stirred and rouse the imagination from slumber into waking dream.  In this instance, I was prompted into a positively frenetic tarantella of ideas during the ride home from Staunton, one that included, among other things: impressions of Helena, Hermia, and Hippolyta each being a face of the Triple Goddess, for how could it be coincidental that all three names begin with the same letter, also the letter with which the name of a goddess of the moon commences? (the moon, which happens to be mentioned more in A Midsummer Night’s Dream than in any other Shakespearean play); the notion of the entire play being a “dream sequence,” sprung forth from one of Bottom’s fantastical nocturnal illusions; and theories about who the changeling boy really is, and the arrival at the decision that he must be one and the same as that boy who’s perjured everywhere: Love.  Whether or not any of these perceptions hold any weight or water is irrelevant; the point is that they were inspired in the first place.  Dr. Ralph mentioned during the course of our discourse that the play “is about the great gift of the theatre.”  Inextricably linked to this gift is another, freely given by Shakespeare and by the ASC and indeed by all who participate in the theatrical experience, and this is the gift of inspiration, and of communal magic.

Now I’ve touched that standing center stone and found that what’s in hand is gold.  So, what were and are the answers to those questions, then?  How are magic and meaning made?  In sooth, I know only what I myself think the answers are.

The words magic and imagination share the same ancestors:  the (Old) Persian maguš, the Greek magikē, and the late Latin magica, which refer to those mysteries that are part and parcel of the art of the magi, or sorcerer.  Magic and meaning related to it are created by and in the human mind, birthed by the imagination and the intellect, which bring about the enchantment and understanding within and without.  In the case of Shakespeare’s plays, and those who perform and watch them, the enchantment and the making of meaning occur through the written and spoken word, and the spell is mutually cast.  Why are the magic and meaning made?  To paraphrase Dead Poets Society’s John Keating:  we make them because we are members of the human race.  We simply must.

James Joyce—himself an admirer of Shakespeare who loved the Bard’s “radiance of language”—wrote that “we’re all fools in God’s garden.”  We are all just as foolish—and as wise—in Shakespeare’s woods, and a little bit of Nicholas Bottom lives in each of us, Everyman that he is.  If this be true, then it’s we who are translated, transformed utterly by the magic that is worked on us and in us by this play.  Better still, we aren’t lost in translation, but found.

Guest Post: “Justice, justice, justice, justice” – A Lawyer’s Look at ‘Measure for Measure’

During the month of June, ASC Education is featuring the shows of our 2015-2016 Artistic Year in a series of guest posts!

Measure for Measure appeared in our 2016 Actors’ Renaissance Season. Kimberly West is an ASC Trustee and a practicing lawyer. She teaches Shakespeare and Trial Advocacy at the Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama.


“Justice, justice, justice, justice” – A Lawyer’s Look at Measure for Measure
by Kimberly R. West, J.D.

Consider a city where vice runs rampant – brothels proliferate, drunkenness is the norm, all forms of sexual perversion are available for a price, and the city’s wealthy youth mingle with street operators. The police skirt the edges, either incompetent or venal. The mayor of the city has turned a blind eye to these problems. The laws governing public morality remain on the books but have not been enforced for some length of time. Where are we? Times Square in the early 1980s? Saigon pre-1975? Welcome to the Vienna of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. It is a place we recognize.

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Patrick Midgley as Pompey and Ginna Hoben as Mistress Overdone, Measure by Measure, 2016. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

In this Vienna, the ruling Duke of “dark corners” abdicates his office, dons a friar’s habit, and thus disguised undertakes a mission of spying on the state of morality in his city. (Keep in mind that the party line for a Reformation audience casts friars and nuns as prima facie villainous). The dubious nature of such an undertaking is reinforced by the war raging in the region with the King of Hungary; all of the Dukes must reach an agreement with Hungary or attack. The smoke of battle hangs heavily over the action of the play, further darkening the atmosphere and highlighting the deadly absurdity of the Duke’s actions in leaving his post.

Angelo, an untried deputy, is left in charge of “mortality and mercy in Vienna”. Under the Duke’s rule, the “strict statutes and biting laws” of Vienna have not been enforced for fourteen years (by some counts nineteen years – it seems no one is sure how long this state of affairs has existed). The Duke confesses the impact of his failure on the city: “liberty plucks justice by the nose / the baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart / Goes all decorum.” Angelo assures him that the law in Vienna will no longer be a “scarecrow,” but will see strict enforcement. Shakespeare immediately gives him an opportunity to do so. Vienna has a law on its books which prohibits fornication on pain of death. Lucio, a wealthy and promising young man, has impregnated Juliet, his fiancée. Angelo sentences Claudio to death as an example to all of the bite of the law.

Now, you say, while we thought we recognized the setting, we have left anything resembling modernity, and Shakesfear sets in – we simply can’t understand or relate to such a silly, archaic plot. Really? As you read this, fornication remains on the books as an offense in the State of Virginia – Section 18-2-44 of the Code of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Enacted 200 years ago, the law has not been enforced since the middle of the 19th century. While the Virginia Supreme Court invalidated the law in 2005 in Martin v. Ziheri, 607 S.E. 2d 367, following the US Supreme Court precedent of Lawrence v. Texas, the Virginia legislature has so far declined to repeal it. Adultery remains a crime on the books as well. And Virginia is for lovers?

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Jonathan Holtzman as Angelo and Alli Glenzer as Isabella, Measure for Measure, 2016. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Within this recognizable framework, Shakespeare explores justice, judicial decision-making, strict construction, lenity, and hypocrisy. Predictably, Angelo spectacularly falls, first sexually, as is fitting with his treatment of Claudio, and then murderously, ordering Claudio’s death despite the presumed Isabella’s acquiescence to his demands. These themes are not unique to Measure for Measure. In the areas of contract law and slander, Shakespeare sets up elaborate legal plot devices (or call them moots/hypotheticals used in the training of lawyers then and today) in many ways mirroring those of this play. For example, The Merchant of Venice explores the outermost limits of the enforceability of a commercial contract, and Much Ado about Nothing centers on the use of circumstantial evidence (think also Othello, The Winter’s Tale) in testing proof of infidelity. Both The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure star eloquent female advocates (all the great lawyers in Shakespeare are women!). Isabella, Claudio’s sister and soon to be a “sister” of the Order of the Poor Clares, pleads for her brother’s life with words echoing Portia’s pleas for mercy to Shylock to forego Antonio’s pound of flesh. Both Measure for Measure and Much Ado about Nothing poke fun at law enforcement — the inimitable Constables Dogberry and Elbow are sleuths of rare linguistic abilities.

Yet Measure for Measure, first performed and published well after Merchant of Venice and Much Ado about Nothing, differs in tone from the other two plays. There are no green spaces of renewal, redemption, and transformation in Vienna. Structurally, a trial scene in Measure of Measure concludes the play – unusual in the legal procedural timing of Shakespeare’s trials. It is noteworthy that The Merchant of Venice and Much Ado about Nothing culminate in double weddings. In the last forty-eight lines of Measure for Measure, however, the Duke orders not two, but four. Ironically, only one of these marriages is consensual and not coerced – that of Claudio and Juliet. There is little joy in the Duke’s match-making – Lucio ordered to marry a whore he has gotten pregnant; Angelo captured with the infamous bed trick which seals him to Marianna; and Isabella left speechless at the Duke’s proposal. Little wonder Measure for Measure has been labelled a “problem” play by scholars and audiences alike. Perhaps it is because this play, like no other in the canon, takes head-on the problematic question of legislating morality.

In Measure for Measure Shakespeare gives us two trial scenes, one at the beginning and one at the end of the play. Trials appear in two-thirds of Shakespeare’s plays – unsurprising, since lawyers and law students were (and are) a prime audience for Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare likely ate, drank, and argued with the lawyers and law students who frequented the pubs and private houses around the Blackfriars Theatre and the Inns of Court. The raw materials of legal life are transformed with great accuracy into Shakespeare’s drama.

The first trial scene occurs in Act 2, Scene 1 immediately on the heels of Angelo sentencing Claudio to death in Scene 1. In Scene 1, Escalus argues for a lesser punishment on the ground that Angelo, too, is subject to temptation. Angelo responds:

‘Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus,
Another to fall. I do not deny
The jury passing on the prisoner’s life
May in the sworn twelve have a thief or two
Guiltier than him they try. What’s open made to justice,
That justice seizes. Who knows the laws
That thieves do pass on thieves?
2.1.18-25.

Who indeed? Perhaps the litigants in Scene 2, which offers the very funny spectacle of the trial of Pompey, a pimp, with his witness Froth, a customer and a gentlemen of means, for the case of Constable Elbow’s wife. In a Kafkaesque mode, the trial proceeds until it becomes clear there is no coherent charge (Elbow speaks in the malapropisms of Dogberry) against Pompey for doing anything to Elbow’s wife. Escalus, left alone to try the case when Angelo leaves earlier with the advisory verdict of “whipping them all,” rules: “truly, officer, because he has some offenses in him that thou wouldst discover if thou couldst, let him continue in his courses till thou know’st what they are.” (2.2.193-196). My law students wittily staged this scene as an episode of “Night Court,” and highlighted the implicit textual echo of the Claudio and Juliet plot as a charge that Pompey has gotten Elbow’s wife pregnant. The surreal chaos of this scene, however, ends in a form of justice: no one is whipped, although all are warned. Intent, it seems, is to be treated differently than action.

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The cast of Measure for Measure, 2016. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

The same result concludes the second trial scene and the end of the play – actions, not intentions, result in liability. No spoiler alert here – the multiple revelations at the end of the play await your trip to the Playhouse to view the different slants on the extremes of strict construction and disregard of the law that emerge in the last scene of the play. When Isabella cries for “justice, justice, justice, justice,” the Duke agrees, “An Angelo for Claudio, death for death / Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure; / Like doth quit like, and measure still for measure.” (5.1.465-468). Then Marianna pleads for Angelo’s life, and in kneeling to join her, Isabella secures her place as one of Shakespeare’s great advocates of law seasoned with grace, redemption and forgiveness. As Isabella puts it, “For Angelo / His act did not o’ertake his bad intent, / And must be buried but as an intent / That perished by the way. Thoughts are no subjects, / Intents but merely thoughts.” (516-519).

We, the audience as jury, have the final verdict on the world of this play, and it is indeed a troubling, indeed problematic play – grappling with tough issues essential to an ordered society. Recognizing the familiar terrain of this world, I submit, results in the conclusion that Measure for Measure should be acquitted of being a “problem” child, and join the ranks of Shakespeare’s great legal plays.

Guest Post: The Real Magic of ‘The Tempest’

During the month of June, ASC Education is featuring the shows of our 2015-2016 Artistic Year in a series of guest posts!

The Tempest appeared in our 2016 Actors’ Renaissance Season. Patrick Midgley is an actor who has worked with the ASC both in residence and on tour, a personal trainer, and a director who just opened his first show at Hoosier Shakes.


The Real Magic of The Tempest
by Patrick Midgley

At the 2015 Blackfriars Conference, Jeremy Lopez began his presentation with a refreshingly abrupt thesis: “Really good stuff happens in Act Three, Scene One.”

The audience burst into applause.

But Dr. Lopez was not satisfied.  If you assert that Shakespeare follows any kind of rule, you’re in for trouble, and Dr. Lopez knew this.  Shakespeare writes in iambic pentameter, sure, and that’s a fixed and regular pattern: a rule for writing.  But when Shakespeare breaks his rules — or follows someone else’s, seemingly inexplicably — that’s when the really really good stuff happens.  He takes rules, genres, and styles and transforms them into something new, something entirely his own.  Something sublime.

So Dr. Lopez’s presentation began by examining the exceptions to the “Good-Stuff-In-Three-One” Rule.  He looked at plays like Othello, where in 3.1 a clown — heretofore unnoticed, and conspicuously out of place — enters and cajoles the audience into making bonfires.  Antony and Cleopatra served as another exception: there, 3.1 is a rather unremarkable scene starring Ventidius, Silius and a dead Pacorus in which the two living characters debate the merits of remaining unremarkable when you’re under the employ of remarkable men.  In As You Like It, you’d expect to find Jaques’s “All the world’s a stage” speech, but instead you find a discordant scene between Duke Frederick and Oliver, in which the Duke commands Oliver to find Orlando and bring him to court, dead or alive.  Dr. Lopez suggested that 3.1s that aren’t “really good” are worth considering, because they often serve as the world in which the play could or should exist: the calm and rational 3.1 between Cleomenes and Dion, for example, which starkly contrasts Leontes irrational, tyrannical court.

But what about the 3.1s that don’t challenge Dr. Lopez’s rule?  The ones where “really good stuff” really does happen?  As I sat listening to Dr. Lopez’s presentation, I recalled all the 3.1s that I had experienced at the American Shakespeare Center.

During the 2011 Hamlet, I sat backstage and listened to John Harrell deliver Shakespeare’s most famous speech: “To be, or not to be”.  During the 2014 Macbeth, I played the First Murderer to James Keegan’s daunting Thane and agreed to murder Banquo and his son Fleance.  And most recently, in the 2015 Midsummer, I stood behind a curtain in the musicians’ balcony, twirling a whirligig while Rick Blunt’s Puck ambushed the Mechanicals’ rehearsal.

Henry V’s 3.1 begins with “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, / Or close the walls up with our English dead!” In Love’s Labour’s Lost, Berowne discovers, to his horror, that he is head over heels in love, and in Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice realizes the same.  In The Merry Wives of Windsor’s 3.1, Falstaff finds a way to use a buck basket as a getaway vehicle.  King Lear’s 3.1 is the storm.  If you’re going to fall in love, take an impossible risk, or give a great speech, 3.1 is the place to do it.

5943895140_43286861df_oBut there was one 3.1 that transformed the way I look at Shakespeare and acting more than any other scene.  It was one of the most terrifying and rewarding scenes I’ve ever played because it was one of the simplest.  All I had to do was look a beautiful girl in the eye and convince her that I loved her with all my heart, soul, mind, and body.

There’s nowhere to hide in a scene like that.  You’re either true or false.

That particular 3.1 was in The Tempest.

The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s later plays, probably his last solo effort, and it falls into a category that modern scholars call Romances.  The ASC has staged two of Shakespeare’s Romances at the Blackfriars Playhouse  in the last two years: Pericles, starring Greg Phelps in the title role, and The Winter’s Tale, starring James Keegan as Leontes and Abbie Hawk as Hermione.

If you saw either of those plays, Shakespeare’s “rules” for a Romance will be familiar to you.  First, there is a potentially tragic event introduced early in Act 1: remember the threat of Antiochus’s “public war or private treason” in Pericles, or Leontes’ sudden fit of jealousy in The Winter’s Tale.  So something bad happens.

Don’t worry!  The “something bad” gets tied up by Act 5, but there’s a hitch: it all hinges on a very, very unlikely act of forgiveness or reunion between family members.  Remember how impossible it seemed that Thaisa (Sara Hymes) and Pericles (Gregg Phelps) could ever be reunited?  She had presumably died in childbirth and then been cast into the ocean in a sealed coffin, only to be resurrected by Cerimon’s magic, and then hidden away as a priestess in Diane’s temple in Ephesus.  But somehow, thanks to the gods’ (eventual) kindness and Pericles’s silent strength, the two find each other once again.  And then there’s Leontes, perhaps most unlikely of all: he has to  first forgive himself and then be forgiven by his best friend, his wife, and his daughter for an unforgivable act of tyrannous cruelty.  The reward for his redemption comes through Paulina’s patient magic — or,to put it another way, through her potent art.

So while you might guess that the “Romance” plays are more about the young lovers, they’re actually more focused on redemption and reconciliation.  In fact, the real heroes of the Romances are older characters like Paulina and Pericles whose superpowers are patience and endurance.  And while you might guess that because Shakespeare wrote Romances later in his career, he’d be more likely to ignore classical plot structures, Shakespeare seems to become more interested in structure as he matures.

Both Pericles and The Winter’s Tale challenge the audience to keep up with an almost impossible structure.  In Pericles, Shakespeare swiftly cuts across Antioch, Tyre, Tarsus, Ephesus, Pentapolis, and the Mediterranean Sea (got all that?).  And in The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare swiftly cuts across sixteen years just a few lines–and you’re encouraged to go with it by none other than the living embodiment of Time Itself.

Neither of these gambles sounds like something that “should” work on stage.  But they do, beautifully so, and the reason is twofold: (1) Shakespeare trusts your imagination to do the work, and (2) Shakespeare is the greatest playwright the world has ever seen.

Those two things are probably related.

The Romances are as vast as a human lifespan.  It’s as if, late in his career, Shakespeare was beginning to fit the enormity of human life to the endless possibilities presented by a theatre of the imagination.  He was celebrating the fact that the theatre could do anything with the help of an audience–fly across the world or resurrect the dead, for example– and suggesting that the perhaps the most important thing we can do is to learn to forgive each other.

The Tempest mostly follows the rules of the Romances.  It’s a play about monsters and magic, storms and shipwrecks, the savagery of nature and the ultimate power of forgiveness.  There’s a musical fairy who can turn himself into fire and lightning, a cast-away court of conspiracists, drunk clowns, and a dance party hosted by goddesses.  With all that magic and splendor and supernatural ceremony, can you imagine how incredible 3.1 must be?  It’s Shakespeare’s big finale, and the stage is set for the most miraculous scene ever seen.  And here’s how it starts:

Enter FERDINAND, bearing a log.

Not quite what you were expecting, is it?

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The Tempest’s 3.1 is a quiet, sincere love scene between Miranda and Ferdinand.  In the exact center of the play — its very heart — the clouds part, the monsters hide, and even the most mighty magician in the whole world has to sit quietly and watch.  Two young people who think they might love each other encounter each other, alone for the very first time, and tell each other how they feel.  They talk about what they’re afraid of.  They talk about what they hope for.  And they talk about how beautiful the other one is.

MIRANDA
Do you love me?

FERDINAND
O heaven, O earth, bear witness to this sound
And crown what I profess with kind event
If I speak true! if hollowly, invert
What best is boded me to mischief! I
Beyond all limit of what else i’ the world
Do love, prize, honour you.

MIRANDA
I am a fool
To weep at what I am glad of.

This is real magic.  No spell in Prospero’s book or magical feat performed by Ariel can make these two people fall in love and begin the long, hard, wonderful journey of a shared life.  It’s up to them.  They choose it.

Of all Shakespeare’s magnificent, brilliant, and bottomless 3.1s, this is my favorite.  When I played Ferdinand to Miriam Donald Burrows beautiful, feisty, sincere, and hilarious Miranda in 2011, I had only to look her in the eye and speak the truth to her.  It reminded me that acting in Shakespeare’s plays can be an expression of our noblest selves.

Shakespeare has always made me want to be a better person and reminded me of what is most important in my life.  I hope you’ll come back this winter and see two new people play Ferdinand and Miranda.  I’ll be playing the sea monster and not the prince for this go-around.  I hope you’ll love it.  Because, after all, really good stuff really does happen in 3.1.

Guest Post: Delightfully Ridiculous: Recovering the Joy in ‘Midsummer’

During the month of June, ASC Education is featuring the shows of our 2015-2016 Artistic Year in a series of guest posts!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream appeared in our 2015 Fall Season. Kate Powers is a director who has worked with the ASC multiple times; her most recent project was directing Twelfth Night at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility. This article first appeared in the 2015 Summer-Fall edition of the Playhouse Insider.


Delightfully Ridiculous: Recovering the Joy in Midsummer
by Kate Powers

When Artistic Director Jim Warren first invited me to return to the ASC to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the 2011-2012 Almost Blasphemy Tour, my heart broke just a little because I love Love LOVE working at the ASC, but I was not especially keen to direct this particular play.

Midsummer is notoriously easy to stage badly; actors and directors frequently get sucked into a misapprehension that if they just put all those rhyming couplets to work, it will be funny.  Midsummer is nearly all in rhymed couplets, which means two successive lines of verse where the final words rhyme with one another.

6426997723_75d53b5270_oIt looks like this.  Better yet, read this aloud to yourself so you can hear it:

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.  (1.2)

Or,

The King doth keep his revels here tonight;
Take heed the Queen come not within his sight;  (2.1)

In fact, if the actors do hit all those rhymes as hard as they can, they fairly quickly stop making any sense, in part because they very often also fall into one steady rhythm once they set their sails toward all those rhymes.  The actors start playing the gist of the speech, rather than fighting for what they want, line by line, word by specific word.  Then they have to create a lot of stage business to cover the fact that they don’t completely understand what they are saying, and before anyone realizes it (indeed, no one may ever realize it), the audience is laughing in spite of Shakespeare rather than with Shakespeare.  Directors also often decide that the way to create fairy magic is to use a lot of glitter instead of using the language that Shakespeare gives to the Fairies themselves.

I’ve seen many mediocre productions of the play where the actors bang mercilessly on the rhyme, slaves (not collaborators) to the iamb; where Titania and Oberon declaim rather than act; where Puck is just odd without paying attention to the clues in the text.  John Barton, director and brains behind the BBC Channel 4 Playing Shakespeare series, said, “Blank verse is probably the very centre of the Elizabethan tradition and perhaps the most important thing in Shakespeare that an actor .  .  .  needs to get help from.” As I dove headlong into my preparation and research, I discovered that there were certain speeches or moments in the play that I couldn’t recall ever seeing staged to my satisfaction.  These moments of disappointment became the kernel of my approach to directing the play.  I was determined to revivify these moments, to make them active, to make them cohere and, yes, jump.

As I worked with the actors playing Titania and Oberon to eschew magical, breathy, glitter-infused Liv Tyler / Middle Earth declamation in favor of using their heightened language as well as their full voices to passionately pursue what they want from one another, to fight like hell for what they want, as I collaborated with the actors playing the four lovers to discover how each character uses the language differently to achieve their desires, as we all dove into the world of the play, I discovered that I am not anything like bored with this nearly perfect play.  On the contrary, the reason we keep doing it is because it is so good.  I was blaming the faults of myriad productions on the play itself.  My rehearsal process at the ASC, while seeking to recover the joy for the audiences around the country, helped me to recover the joy, too.

Part of the director’s task is to ask what the play is about, to ask how each scene illuminates that ‘about’ and to collaborate with the actors to mine the text for meaning.  Directing is discovering the staging that embodies that textual understanding.  Director Richard Eyre writes, “Meaning above all.”

6427176803_ba916f1726_oWhen she first encounters Oberon, Titania has a 32-line speech that teems with adjectives and classical references; she berates Oberon for all the ways in which the natural course of human and animal life as well as the seasons have been disrupted because she blames him for the disturbances.  It is not a glittery, breathy weather report; it is not just pretty speech.  It is a scathing indictment of the tension between them:

                     … The spring, the summer
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries; and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which.
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension.  (2.1)

Titania is angry with her husband.  They are having a fight.  This is not time to breathily declaim and bat her beglittered lashes.  She needs to rally all the points that will help her win the argument and cause him to amend his ways.  And while she doesn’t win, per se, she angers Oberon further as they argue.  It is out of this fight, and her refusal to give him something he wants, that his plan to “torment thee for thy injury” grows.  Titania and Oberon’s lovers’ quarrel mirrors and refracts the passions, misunderstandings, hurt, anger, and jealousy that we see in the four young Athenian lovers, that we glimpse in Theseus and Hippolyta, and that Bottom, Peter Quince, and their company inadvertently lampoon in their play.  If we miss the fight, we might miss the resonance as well as the motor of the action.  And if the actor declaims prettily rather than using these words to fight for what she needs, then we will certainly miss the fight.

Harley Granville Barker, a director, Shakespeare scholar, and clever redhead, wrote, “Let us humbly own how hard it is not to write nonsense about art.”  He wrote this in his preface to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is a kind of nonsense that becomes art.  In no particular order, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is love, sex, wooing, (spoiler alert!) wedding, upsetting one’s parents, taking the occasional woman by storm (or at least by conquest), magic, moonlight, misunderstanding, transformation, and all the domains that there adjacent lie.

It is easy to get cynical about producing A Midsummer Night’s Dream or A Christmas Carol, but we don’t just produce them because they make for good box office.  Unpack that cashbox a minute:  people buy tickets to these plays because they love them.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream is gateway Shakespeare:  if people have a ‘helpless laughter, tears of joy streaming down their face’ experience with this play, they’ll come back to see more challenging pieces.

We love this play, we produce this play, we come see this play because of the rich and multi-faceted ways in which it shows us how ridiculous we are and how essential love is.  Through the four social strata of the play (aristocracy, gentry, laborers, and immortals), we discover a sense of wonder, a sense of play, the fragile relationship between order and chaos, the danger inherent in passions suppressed or denied.  Through the very structure of his language – from rhymed couplets to blank verse to intense shared verse lines and back again — Shakespeare shows us relationships fraying and fracturing, recovering and healing.

Many of us have made impulsively bad decisions in pursuit of love; we can probably all remember foolishness once upon a summer night.  Helena’s fairly clear-eyed, for instance, about the rose-colored glasses she wears for Demetrius:

Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love can transform to form and dignity,   (1.1)

but Helena wants Demetrius back so intensely that she is willing to risk her best friend’s life on one last chance at love.  Titania loves Oberon, but she’s not about to give him that changeling boy; petulant Oberon is quite prepared to force her hand by whatever magical means necessary.

6427059901_0a3e6521cb_oDreams can be wonderful stuff, but they often careen out of control.  Moonlight can be romantic, but it casts shadows.  Both can skew our perceptions in alarming ways, firing our imaginations to suspect the worst, the sexiest, the cruelest, the most frightening.  The line between a dream and a nightmare can be thin and full of fissures.  Is it a nightmare because it ends badly or wakes you with a start?  Does it remain a dream because it has a happy ending?  When or how does it cross over from one to the other?  A happily moonlit playground and a dark, scary forest can be bordered by the same trees.

Dreams and nightmares are both difficult to recall in sharp detail upon waking, drifting ephemerally away as one struggles to remember.  Like snowflakes and productions of Midsummer, no two are quite alike.  The four Athenian lovers and Titania come to a new understanding through their experiences in the forest; they find their way to a new or restored love, even as they strive to recall the details.  Bottom seems happily unaware of his transformation, but his company’s performance of Pyramus & Thisbe casts into relief all of the heated emotions of the forest journey.  For all of the strife, upset and discord, no one has died; no one grieves.  The “story of the night told over /… grows to something of great constancy.”  (5.1)

The churlish Samuel Pepys saw a production of this play in 1662, and observed in his diary: “To the King’s Theatre where we saw Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life.”  The play is ridiculous, but we hope it is delightfully so, and filled with the rich complexity, wonder and joy of new love discovered and old love savored.