Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Colloquy Session VI: Shakespeare’s Life and Times: Contributing Context

Welcome to the 2015 Blackfriars Conference Colloquy, “Shakespeare’s Life and Times: Contributing Context.”   Kate McPherson of Utah Valley University and Kate Moncrief of Washington College chaired the colloquy session.  Dwight Tanner of UNC-Chapel HillWilliam Jones, Associate Professor of English at Murray State University and Karoline Szatek-Tudor of Curry College presented their papers as part of the colloquy.

Internet Shakespeare Editions has been operating now for fifteen years. The website,http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/,  includes a section covering Shakespeare’s ‘Life and Times’.  Michael Best originally created ISE as a CD-ROM in the late 1990s, and today the website receives 250,000 internet hits per month.  The idea behind the website’s organization has been for the user to be able to read its contents as a book, from the beginning of an article to the end of another.  Now, in a three- to five year-project, the site design is being overhauled, converting it into more of an encyclopedia format.  The website’s bibliographies have not been revised in over ten years, Professor Moncrief disclosed, but the ISE intends to update all of them as part of the site’s overhaul.

The Internet Shakespeare Editions site is designed to be user-friendly to high school students, and in keeping with this intended purpose, articles are limited to a length not exceeding one thousand words.  Footnotes are presented in the form of pop-up boxes.  Each page of the website includes one or two relevant images.

Ongoing pedagogical projects will allow educators and researchers to update and revise the information on the ISE website. Edition editors will be able to click on individual topics and make suggestions.  Today’s colloquy session is devoted to discussion of International Shakespeare Edition’s website, in particular the section entitled “life and Times,” as well as the discussion of five brief articles which the site’s continuing updating project generated.

The five authors named above presented their papers, beginning with Professor Jones who talked about his web-piece, “Shakespeare and Satire,” and he distributed copies of his paper, “A 1599 Poem in Praise of Shakespeare?”  He read aloud the subject of his paper, the 1599 John Weever poem to Shakespeare, “Ad Gulielmum Shakespeare” (“To William Shakespeare”) which in his view criticizes the playwright’s “Ovidian passion.”  Professor Jones uses this poem in his classroom, he told attendees, as a discussion topic for his students, presenting them with an opportunity to weigh in on the ironic tone and the satirical object of Weever’s poem. “Ad Gulielmum Shakespeare” demonstrates, as Professor Jones put it, the passive/aggressive attitude that Puritans leveled against playwrights and Shakespeare in particular.  A contemporary of Shakespeare, Weever was an aspiring poet and would-be playwright as well as a churchman.  Shakespeare may have used Weever as at least partial inspiration when he created the part of Sir Andrew Aguecheek in his play “Twelfth Night.”

UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student Dwight Tanner discussed his piece, “The Plague.”  Tanner’s article explores contagion, treatment, bureaucracy, and the plague’s impact on Early Modern Theater, particularly the impact it had upon theater owners.  The piece examines quarantine practices of the period and includes an example of a plague-victim, a man named ‘Decker.’  During the discussion, Professor Moncrief tried a site search to see how easily users can navigate to Tanner’s piece.  Eight years ago, Moncrief explained, the site managers integrated a rudimentary mobile app, and she wanted to see if it still functions and how it could be improved.

Professor Szatek-Tudor discussed as well as distributed copies of her paper, “The Twitters and Tweets of Shakespeare’s Birds in his Early Modern Plays.”  Shakespeare cited fifty-nine species of birds in his plays, though his bird allusions diminish in number in his later works, Szatek-Tudor claimed.  Shakespeare wrote about birds of prey as well as birdsas prey.  Professor Szatek-Tudor also talked about Shakespeare’s use of birds as verbs, giving as an example how Shakespeare wrote that Falstaff “quails” in fear.  She mentioned she is working on the History Plays and at the moment is looking for editing help with this.  The Professor distributed to attendees copies of an “Ornithological Chart of Some Birds in Shakespeare’s Plays” in addition to her paper.  Her chart classifies twenty-one different species of birds while grouping them under six separate classes, including “Land Birds” and “Water Bird.”  The Quail, for example, appears listed beneath the class of birds called, “Galliformes.”

Professor Moncrief discussed her article, “Childbirth.”  In the Early Modern period, a woman typically had six to ten children, she informed listeners.  Moncrief read a Jane Sharp quote from her paper and described the rest of its contents, including her paper’s references to Shakespeare’s plays, “Pericles” and “The Winter’s Tale.”  Most women spent their lives, she went on to tell attendees, pregnant or recovering from their pregnancies.  Her article explores the social impact of the culture’s views of morality and how that culture judged women, often disparagingly, by their pregnancies and childbirth.  The Professor discussed mortality rates in the session when she was asked about that, but she informed her listeners that she took that topic out of her piece over concerns of exceeding her article’s 1000-word length.

Lastly, Professor McPherson talked of her piece, “Early Modern Anatomy,” which explores anatomy as both subject of learning as well as spectacle.  She distributed to each attendee a copy of an illustration of The Anatomy Theatre at Leiden, circa 1540, which depicts the dissection of a human cadaver in an Early Modern operating theater.  Cadavers for dissection and study came from the gibbets and from other public executions.  The fascination with anatomy in that time period affected the depiction of dead bodies onstage to suit audiences’ demands for greater realism, she explained.

Blog posted by Bill Leavy, M.Litt. student, Mary Baldwin College graduate program in Shakespeare and Performance.

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