How We Teach Teachers

Google “Shakespeare on your feet” and the first page of search results will reveal that entities from libraries like the Folger, media outlets like PBS, and theatres like the Actors Centre advocate teaching Shakespeare through “play” or “up on your feet” or “actively”. At the ASC, we certainly use that language as well, but the driving idea behind our approach is more about context than the work we see elsewhere.  Context is a term we take very seriously; it involves more than asking students to build models of the Globe or talking about Elizabeth’s life during the era. It really comes down to teaching our teachers and students to think like Shakespeare’s actors did when they approached the text.  Look around you and see the wooden platform, the audience in the light, the clues in the text (for those who don’t have a lot of time to rehearse), so that performance of the words is at the top of students’ minds.  

ASC’s approach to teaching teachers and students is rooted in fundamentals of classroom practice and an understanding of the demands placed on teachers’ time, students’ interests, and Shakespeare’s plays.  We consider setting, context, methodology and materials and address assumptions teachers may have as well as the unique world of the Shakespeare classroom.

Setting: The ASC acknowledges that most of the teachers we work with operate in English classrooms which feature desks, and that there is some difficulty in getting open spaces in many schools.  So our lessons work within those parameters. We believe that learning is individualized, so students can learn most deeply in situations which invite inquiry. We advocate for desks arranged around a playing space to encourage the exploration of scene, arranged in thrust so that students are closer to Shakespeare’s theatre’s architecture.  We advocate for avatars and actors to demonstrate and help define the information but do not advocate that all students must be on their feet at the same time — something that is difficult to do in an English classroom and is not conducive to all students’ engaging with the text in context.

Context: We believe that context is everything. Context means we believe in treating the plays as plays, plays that were written for specific theatrical conditions that students benefit from knowing, and leaving the text in place in the lesson. This means that we do not employ “insult generators” or pull lines out of speeches to “throw them at each other”.  We do not advocate for separate lessons on Shakespeare’s biography, but fold the fact that he was a working actor into every exploration and note that his monarch and the political climate of early modern London may have had an impact on this character or that scene, as it arises. We consider the staging conditions he considered, as a means to get the students and teachers we work with closer to the performance Shakespeare imagined as he wrote the plays.

Inquiry (infinite variety): We create a world of many, many right answers, and we suggest a method of inquiry-based learning — where each student’s answer may differ.  Shakespeare wrote incomplete works; he needed the actors he worked with and the audiences he played for to finish them.  Students are the actors and audience, and they can answer the questions that lead to the infinite variety of choices that continue to make his plays fascinating 400 years later. We encourage students to consider a number of choices — if video comes into our lesson, we use several clips from many different productions to emphasize how many choices are available.

Materials: We provide teachers with materials that are complete and formatted for ease of use in the typical English classroom (black and white, because most schools copiers are not color; few pages dense with information to save paper; and we are working to envision more in the digital classroom — white boards, etc)

Teacher Experience: The ASC realizes that the vast majority of teachers working with students on Shakespeare’s plays have had few classes on the subject and are not versed in theatrical techniques (nor do many want to be; they teach English because it is their passion). We believe that teachers desire to deepen their own learning and knowledge in order to deepen their students’. We recognize that they have limited time in which to add to their knowledge, so we strive to make every minute that they spend in our professional development programs immediately applicable to classroom practice and to their own and their students’ enrichment.  We take the approach that if teachers know more about how these plays work and worked on the stage, they will have a richer understanding of why the plays are worth studying and be able to communicate to a diverse body of learners

Respect:  We believe that teachers’ time is precious and that they learn the most from fellow educators — educators who have the time to prepare detailed and specific lessons and handouts that they can immediately deploy in their classroom. We model those lessons so that teachers can see one approach and adapt each activity to their own style and purpose.  We arrange the lessons in an accessible way so that they can teach the unit in any order and blend the lessons together as they choose, but also provide a scaffolding section (The Basics) so that teachers have a baseline of knowledge from which to begin. We test the lessons and conduct focus groups, then we adjust them as needed, constantly improving the materials we provide and our approach to them. And, we enhance the lessons with feedback and input from our actors and the events that transpire in a rehearsal room, so that we are speaking truth and giving students and teachers the very important insights our actors share in classroom applicable ways.

In short, we aim to create an atmosphere of learning that makes gaining knowledge and engaging in exploration irresistible.  A space in which students dread the final bell because they will have to leave the topic, a room filled with voices and opportunities to state one’s thoughts — while realizing that difference of opinion is beautiful and can be shared respectfully.  A place where the learner can become the teacher and the teacher learns something every time the class convenes.  We believe the way to do that is by empowering teachers, giving students agency, and providing them with tools to examine words and meaning that stretch well beyond the classroom walls.  Even to a 400 year-old theatre, perhaps.

You can learn more about each of these and participate in an active and hands on model of practice at our teacher seminars offer 4 times annually at the Blackfriars in Staunton (the next one is August 3-4) or on site in your district.  Contact sarahe@americanshakespearecenter.com for more information.

A Moment about “Still Star-Crossed” – and other Shakespeare adaptations

Countless adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays span hundreds of years, and the likely candidate for most adapted play is Romeo & Juliet. Most recently, “Grey’s Anatomy” creator and prolific TV producer Shonda Rhimes explores the world of Shakespeare’s classic post tragic deaths.  Aptly named Still Star-Crossed (the show draws its name and plot from author Melinda Taub’s 2013 young-adult novel), Rhimes’s latest work joins the consistently expanding realm of film and television adaptations of Shakespeare.

In her book Shakespeare and the Problem of Adaptation, Margaret Jane Kidnie terms adaptation “an evolving category…closely tied to how the work modifies over time and from one reception space to another”. Accessible to audiences beyond academia, Still Star-Crossed does an admirable job of staying true to the play’s dramatic pathos, while keeping intact the flesh of well-scoured soap-operatic fascinations with shifting alliances that have characterized Rhimes’s evolving television repertory.

The show focuses on named characters Rosaline and Benvolio, who take the place of Romeo and Juliet as Verona’s eponymous star-crossed lovers, and explores their connections to both warring, shambling families.  Still Star-Crossed lifts characters’ names and statuses from both the “original” work (“original” in quotes because even Shakespeare lifted from other sources), and Taub’s book.  

Though it lacks iambic pentameter, there’s a lot about Still Star-Crossed Shakespeare enthusiasts can find to love: integrated casting (an enduring, welcome fixture of Rhimes’ shows), central female characters, brewing political intrigue, and varied romantic relationships.

The show follows a female character who has little to do in the original and is therefore ripe for development. Rosaline (who in Shakespeare’s work was discussed but is not even included in any stage direction, much less possessed of any lines,) is the show’s main female protagonist.  She exhibits qualities evident from Shakespeare’s other heroines while maintaining her own story arc.  As played by actress Lashana Lynch, Rosaline is headstrong, independent, pragmatic, and loyal.  

As in As You Like It, the show features more than one strong female, and she shares qualities with characters such as Lady Macbeth and Volumnia (of Coriolanus). Princess Isabella, the sister of the feud-frustrated ruler of Verona, as played by Iranian actor Medalion Rahimi, is exacting, ambitious, and operates from Verona-walled shadows.

The concept of copyright was foreign to the people of early modern England (approximately the late 15th century to the 18th century).  Plays were licensed, but were ultimately the property of the playing troupe – not of a single author (a practice which fellow early modern playwright Ben Jonson heavily challenged during his time and beyond).  Plays vibing off of Shakespeare’s work proliferated from the early modern period onward. Two examples include John Fletcher’s 1647 The Woman’s Prize, or The Tamer Tamed (a continuation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew) and Nahum Tate’s 1681 The History of King Lear, (in)famous for its happy ending.  Adaptations have also carried over to films in the early 1900s.  Although the mediums are different, observing the plot-related elements present in Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s trilogy Throne of Blood, Ran, and The Bad Sleep Well (adaptations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, King Lear, and Hamlet, respectively) next to Tate’s Lear shows the similarities in the practice of adapting.  Beyond, similarities, though, the choice to include distinct elements, such as some from Japanese Folklore, in the films, influences the action, if not necessarily the events from the plays they borrowed or re-purposed.  Though not influenced by folklore, by contrast, the direct changing of a plot point in Tate’s Lear–that of going from a tragic to a happy ending–subverts the conclusion in ways that can be both shocking and delightful”.

The adaptation train shows no sign of slowing down.  Indeed, our own Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries Project at the ASC seeks to build of modern canon of contemporary companion plays that vibe off and are inspired by Shakespeare’s work.  Recent concern has been expressed of Shakespeare’s plays and those of his contemporaries being cast out of theatres in favor of their modern day kin, perhaps most notably after the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Play On! Initiative launched in 2015. But there’s no cause for concern, dear friend. Past and future adaptations of Shakespeare’s works are beautiful reflections of his masterpieces, and they can only help us recover the joy and accessibility of Shakespeare’s plays.

Still Star-Crossed airs Saturdays at 10|9c on ABC.  Full episodes are online at ABC.

The Nurse and Juliet: Underappreciated Connections in “Romeo & Juliet”

In Ben Curns’ “Notes from the Director” program note on our 2016/17 Hungry Hearts touring production of Romeo and Juliet, he cited the enduring, universal divisions evident in Shakespeare’s Verona – families, genders, classes – as well as how they, now more than ever, strongly resound in today’s world the thematic (and universally-charged) importance of love over hate. The title characters, despite their families’ seemingly perpetual and reason-absent conflicts, unite and thrive together under the auspices of love. Though under entirely different auspices, the Nurse – employee to the Capulet family, servant, advisor, wet nurse, and, ultimately, mother figure and friend to Juliet – share love and loss in spite of the obvious distinction, and division, of class.

Employment as a household servant in early modern England was a major sector of the English economy (Spicksley, 678). For those of ages 15-24, as an inevitable step in the life cycle of early modern lives, service provided secure employment, board and lodgings in their employer’s household, and a small cash income for many adolescents before they embarked on marriage in their mid to late twenties (Woodward 141). Steeped in status, Juliet and the Nurse’s relationship in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet at first evidences one such the straightforward, easy-to-follow dynamic of status in early modern Europe, wherein lower status individuals are employed in service to those of higher status (nobility). Thus, their relationship is based in status and loyalty. Shakespeare demonstrates his acknowledgement and knowledge of such through the proliferation of this and a myriad of colorful, complex status-based relationships in his works (labourers, servants and otherwise).

When I refer to the term ‘status-based’, I relate to the definition I used in my MLitt (Master of Letters) thesis “Gal Being Pals: Status-Based Female Relationships in Shakespeare”. Coined as the “Bechtol Test” (after professor Doreen Bechtol of Mary Baldwin University’s Shakespeare & Performance graduate program), I provide the following qualifications:

  • Two women make up the relationship;
  • one woman is of higher status (mistress) than the other
    (servant/gentlewoman);
  • the woman of lower status does work/labor for the higher status woman in
    some definition/capacity;
  • the two women are not related by blood or marriage (“sisters”)
  • the two women must share at least one scene;
  • the two women must have some familiarity with each other (“alliances”)

As evidenced by their first scene shared of the play, Juliet and the Nurse beckons a recognizable status-based relationship: the Nurse readily recalls Juliet as “the prettiest babe that e’er I nursed” and demonstrates a close, tender relationship with her: “were not I thine only nurse, I would say thou hadst suck’d wisdom from thy teat” (1.3). Using the qualifiers above, we see the two women Juliet (acting as mistress) and the Nurse (acting as, well, nurse) make up a status-based relationship, are not related, share five scenes together, and are familiar enough to regularly joke around with each other (as evidenced in 2.5, when the Nurse makes Juliet impatient with the forbearance of her news from Romeo).

Despite the above evidence, in the case of Romeo & Juliet’s Nurse, author and Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom, in his book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, would not consider her to be an example of a positive status-based relationship. In his research, he affirms his own belief that the Nurse, by abandoning Juliet in her time of need, places her own concerns above those of her mistress, thus displacing her devotion in favor of her employers, the Capulet family. With this logic in mind, Bloom is correct. The Nurse is concerned about her fate. What Bloom forgets, however, is how the Nurse’s unspoken fear of losing job thematically ties back to her concern for Juliet’s safety. Female servants had less job security than their male counterparts. As mentioned by author and fellow Shakespeare scholar Alan Bray in his book The Friend, women servants were not as freely employed. More importantly, the Nurse’s concern for Juliet effectively aligns with guidelines to those in service in early modern conduct manuals.

Dorothy Leigh, in her 1616 courtesy manual/early modern self-help book A Mother’s Blessing, concerns her readers with a child’s idleness and an aim to keep them from being such (58-9). Juliet does not stay idle (for long). The Nurse, following Juliet’s instruction, seeks Romeo about the prospect of marriage. With this action, the Nurse doubly acts as her messenger and her proxy. She also, however, keeps Juliet in suspense. The Nurse, after sending Juliet up and down a rollercoaster of frustration for her news, tells her to “hie [herself] to Friar Laurence’s cell” and get married to Romeo already, though it would be against her parents’ wishes (2.5). With this action, and the ones in the scene prior, the Nurse allies herself on Juliet’s side three-fold: proxy, messenger, and confidante.

In direct contrast to these loyalty-immured actions, things take a turn for the worse in Act Three, Scene Four. In the wake of Tybalt’s death, proverbial excrement hits the proverbial fan: Juliet reveals to her parents that she wishes not to marry Paris, and that she would rather marry Romeo. Naturally, her parents do not take this well. After Lord and Lady Capulet threaten to disown her, the Nurse does not rush to defend her. She then proceeds to tell Juliet to follow her parents’ orders, to marry Paris.

I think it best you married with the county….
Romeo’s a dishclout to him: an eagle, madam,
Hath not so green, so quick, so fair an eye
As Paris hath. Beshrew my very heart…
Your first is dead; or ’twere as good he were,
As living here and you no use of him.

Following this exclamation, Juliet can only reply:

JULIET
Speakest thou from thy heart?
NURSE
And from my soul too;
Or else beshrew them both (3.5. 217-227)

The repetition of beshrew and heart between them both is worth of note, if only for the last lines’ finality, mutual use of rhetoric (which showcases the Nurse’s intellect), and the ensuing vibrato. The finality of such also reminds both Juliet and the Nurse about their roles, which reflect their statuses within their “within”. Juliet remains the daughter of a noble (upper-class) family, and the Nurse as a lower-class, wage-earning servant of same. Both parties are expected to follow orders, and to act as the parts indubitably embedded into their lives. In the context of the Nurse’s “divided” duty to Juliet and to her employers, Shakespeare here daylights an internal, insoluble problem of class-based friendships, and a significant one at that. The Nurse, as seen in the exchanges above, has so far acted as ally and proxy to Juliet, following in these steps her love and devotion to her mistress. Within and after Act 3, Scene Three, however, she chooses to weigh, and ultimately follows, the will of her employers Lord and Lady Capulet against the will of her young mistress. It is evident that she still loves Juliet; in spite of this, the Nurse must serve the Capulet family above all else, and, ultimately, above the wiles of a teenage girl. Juliet is a member of the Capulet family; however, she is not the Nurse’s employer. By putting her job above her loyalties, the Nurse bestrews her own heart; to Juliet, though, she swears by it and her soul.

Ultimately, the Nurse, out of love for Juliet, tells her charge to follow her parents’ wishes, and, as a result, creates again a chasm-wide gulf between class and camaraderie. Out of love, the Nurse tells Juliet to stick to the status quo. Out of love, the Nurse follows her needs of her employers over her own. Out of love, so many events in Romeo & Juliet occur: Romeo and Juliet meeting and falling for each other; the Montagues and the Capulets holding fast to their families; their families’ eventual, hard-won reconciliation and, thus, the creation of community through shared loss. Though these divisions exist within both the world of Verona and our own, love, its different kinds (romantic, platonic, familial), and its ability to burn through hate was palpable in early modern England, and remains so today.

*Passages of this blog post have been repurposed from Buttitta’s MLitt thesis.


Sources:

Bray, Alan. The Friend. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2003. Print.

Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead, 1998. Print.

Buttitta, Madeleine Alyssa. Gals Being Pals: Status-Based Female Relationships in Shakespeare. MA Thesis. Mary Baldwin University, 2017 (TBD).

Curns, Ben. ” ‘Here’s Much To Do With Hate But More With Love.’ ” Notes from the Director: Romeo and Juliet. American Shakespeare Center, 2016. Web. 07 June 2017.

Kussmaul, Ann S. “Servants in Husbandry in Early Modern England.” The Journal of Economic History, vol. 39, no. 1, 1979, pp. 329–331. JSTOR.

Leigh, Dorothy. The mothers blessing. Or, The godly counsell of a gentle-woman, not long since deceased, left behinde her for her children. Containing many good exhortations, and good admonitions profitable for all parents to leaue as a legacy to their children. London: John Budge, 1616. Early English Books Online.

Shakespeare, William, et al. The Norton Shakespeare. 2nd ed. ed., New York, W.W. Norton, 2008.

Spicksley, Judith M. “The Economic History Review.” The Economic History Review, vol. 64, no. 2, 2011, pp. 678–679. JSTOR.

Woodward, Donald. “Early Modern Servants in Husbandry Revisited.” The Agricultural History Review, vol. 48, no. 2, 2000, pp. 141–150. JSTOR.

Shakespeare’s Mom Was Definitely Better At This Than We Are (But We’re Trying Anyway) #WorldBakingDay

Hi!  We’re Beth and Jeremy two home bakers from the American Shakespeare Center.

DSC_4532At the ASC, we recover the joy and accessibility of Elizabethan theatre, but today we’re on a mission to find out if the Elizabethan kitchen is worth recovering too!

We’ve got ​​a 1658 recipe (found here), turned our baking brains on, and watched enough Great British Bake Off to figure this out.  The recipe is pretty vague, so we’ll probably try out some variants and see what works best.

Take a pound of ſugar finely beaten, four yolks of Eggs, two whites, one half pound of Butter waſht in Roſe-water, fix ſpoonfuls of ſweet Cream warmed, one pound of Currans well pickt, as much flower as will make it up, mingle them well together, make them into Cakes, bake them in an Oven; almoſt as hot as for manchet, half an hour will bake them.

The journey begins . . .

Jeremy looks it up and finely beaten sugar is probably just sugar.  Powdered sugar was called “white powder” which sounds like cocaine and we didn’t have time to buy that.

DSC_4533We’re making rosewater (don’t tell the neighbor but we clipped her rose bush) because we couldn’t find it at a supermarket anywhere near us.  Turns out rosewater is exactly what you’d think it is and super easy to make at home (and useful to keep around!).

DSC_4527

We actually found currants at the supermarket (no indication as to whether or not they’re “well pickt” though)!  We got chocolate chips too because YOLO.   Jeremy says the currants just taste like raisins.  Beth disagrees.  To her, they’re a “weird, tiny raisin.”  Fundamental difference.

Neither of us feels entirely confident about the order of ingredients.  Beth feels like this is probably an “all in one/mix it all together” type thing but Jeremy feels like the butter and sugar should be creamed first.   We go with Beth’s instincts.

Some Notes on the Process, Measurements, and Temperature

DSC_4542

What does being “wafht” in rosewater mean?  Should we rinse the butter in rosewater?  We opt to  add just a couple of tablespoons and mash it together.

We used Google to figure out how much a pound of sugar is, but you could also use a kitchen scale or just guess!

We used a tablespoon for a “fpoonfull.”DSC_4556

There’s no set cooking temperature and we have no clue what a “manchet” is or how hot it should be baked.  We preheat at the tried and true 350°F.

Anyone trying this recipe at home should definitely experiment with all of the above.  We want to hear how it turns out.

Time to Mingle

DSC_4559Then we used Ye Olde KitchenAid mixer to “mingle” sugar, butter, flour, cream, and eggs because our peasants were busy in the fields.  We looked up some other recipes which instructed the reader to beat for a full hour.  We’re not about that.  KitchenAid to the rescue!

“As much flower as will make it up” – what the heck does that mean?  We’re going to attempt multiple flour combinations to see what gives us the best (i.e. least terrible) result.  But, let’s get real, with butter, sugar, and eggs, it will probably taste good.

We start off with just two cups of flour.  The consistency resembles more of a thick batter, so we’re baking it in a muffin tray to see what we get. (Say hello to our assistant, Sunny.)

DSC_4566

Then, we add more flour, probably a cup and a half but at this point we’ve ditched the measuring cups.  Jeremy calls it a very “tacky dough” and the dough yelled “YOU’RE TACKY LOOK AT THAT SHIRT.”  We decide these are best as a typical drop cookie.

DSC_4579

Another cup and a half (ish?) of flour, and the dough resembles shortbread – crumbly, but still holds it’s shape.  All tackiness is gone!  We press these into small cakes and we’re ready to go!

DSC_4580

Into the Oven

We don’t really trust the recipe’s suggested guideline of thirty minutes, so we’re going to check them every 10.

DSC_4584

10 minutes in and they’re looking pretty good.  Still got a way to go!

20 minutes in and batch two are ready to come out.

22 minutes and and batch three are good to go.

30 minutes and batch one is looking good.

Let’s taste!

Batch 1

These are by far the most “cake”y by modern standard.  They’re light, fluffy, and buttery.  The lack of any kind of extract or zest makes them taste kind of plain, but the rosewater comes through nicely on the finish.  (Also, we totally know muffin papers aren’t historically accurate.)

Batch 2

Beth says this batch tastes like cream of wheat.  Jeremy has never eaten cream of wheat so he can’t agree or disagree.  She grabs a chocolate chip variety and – “Oh my god those are so much better.  God I could put those away.  I’m so hungry.”  The rosewater isn’t coming through on this batch at all, probably because the extra flour has neutralized it.  All in all these are pretty underwhelming.

Batch 3

This batch is dry as bones.  They’re decent enough to eat fresh out of the oven (meh but edible).  But after cooling for a little over an hour they’re hard as rocks.  Don’t even try these in your home.  Stick with 1 or 2.

Moral of the Story

Baking is fun!  Eliza-baking is like a riddle, with a pinch of myftery, and a dab of rosewater.  We learned that the modern advances in baking are truly magical, but that these Elizabethan bakers could make a truly tasty cake.

Introducing “Kids” to Shakespeare: Part 3

In this blog series, I’m reviewing the suggestions from “The Nerdy Book Club’s” December post “Ten Books to Introduce Kids (of Any Age! Adults, too!) to Shakespeare.Last time I looked at Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and Street Love by Walter Dean Myers. This one will look at The Cake House by Latifah Salom and Ophelia by Lisa Klein.

 

The Cake House by Latifah Salom

cakehouseI actually enjoyed this book quite a bit. The Cake House is  loosely based on Hamlet: it’s about a 13 year old girl, Rosaura, whose mother picks her up in a rush one day to flee her maybe-abusive father, Robert (it’s unclear if he was just kind of mean, or not at all? Apparently 13 is too young to form any memories…). Rosaura and her mother, Dahlia, run to her lover Claude’s house, but Robert follows and shoots himself in the face in front of Dahlia and Claude. Unhappy in her new life, Rosaura struggles to support her unstable mother while attempting to balance new relationships with her step-dad, Claude who she isn’t sure she likes, and his son, Alex, who she is certain she likes, all while being haunted by the ghost of her shot-in-the-face-father. To cope, she strikes up an incestual relationship with her new step-brother, to whom she gives her 14-year-old virginity. Like I said, Hamlet.

Truncated, joking summaries  aside, Salom has a really great novel here. Rosaura is an interesting character and the book approaches some dark topics and themes, drugs, depression, haunted pasts, teenage sexualtiy, and functionless families, through the lens of a very young, but strong, narrator. Like the titular character in Hamlet, she struggles to understand the messages from her deceased father and his relationship to her mother’s new husband. Unlike Hamlet, Rosaura never considers murdering anyone and actually has a good head on her shoulders. She is a smart girl, with a passion and skill for photography, and Salom does a lovely job imaging this teenager.

Although Salom does not litter her novel with direct quotes from Shakespeare, I like to think that she chose to characterize Claude’s house, the “Cake House,” because it’s a Danish.

(Pastry jokes are the best jokes.)

Ophelia by Lisa Klein

I really enjoyed this book. I think Klein did an excellent job weaving together her opheliaimagined backstory with scenes that I know like the back of my hand. Hamlet is arguably Shakespeare’s most studied, produced, seen, and read play (it’s a close race between that, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it isn’t really something that can be quantified), and Klein completely reinvents the narrative, while specifically matching the famous scenes we expect to see. Lisa Klein, PhD., is a Shakespearean scholar with a special attraction to the domestic culture of Renaissance women, and she has published many articles on poetry of the time, Queen Elizabeth, and women’s needlework. She got into (self-titled) children’s writing because she was “reading lots of children’s books” with her sons and subsequently organized a local conference on “Writing for Children,” even before she’d ever done it. Ophelia was her first book, though she now has two historical fictions (one on the Civil War and one about early Roanoke colonization), and three more Shakespeare adaptations/reimaginings (one that draws from Macbeth, a mash-up about Shakespeare the person and the Dekker/Middleton play The Roaring Girl, and a compendium of Shakespeare’s comedies). I’m seriously considering picking up the Macbeth adaptation when I finish this list of ten.

Klein creates a vibrant history for Ophelia and her family, sweetly weaves Ophelia and Hamlet’s courting and secret marriage, and rewardingly gives her readers an “after” for a young woman with hardly any voice in Shakespeare’s play. Having seen Hamlet numerous times and worked on it with my MFA company just last year, I still know the scenes and lines pretty readily. Ophelia narrates her own story, day-to-day, and takes us through Shakespeare’s scenes that she is in. Klein imagines that Polonius’s ambition is what gets them into the court, but Ophelia’s wit and success are what build her a personal relationship as one of Gertrude’s waiting ladies. She works hard for her Queen, and Gertrude favors her. Hamlet courts Ophelia in secret because of their difference in status, and the two finally elope in secret with Horatio as a witness. Unfortunately, their first night together as husband and wife is interrupted when Horatio enters their nuptial chamber to tell Hamlet that the ghost is back, and he needs to come see it. Hamlet eventually reveals his revenge plot to Ophelia and she feels that keeping his secret and being a dutiful wife is directly contrary to being a faithful subject to the Queen. At first, she agrees to parade their love as if that is the cause of Hamlet’s feigned madness, but his cryptic nature and cruel outbursts are too real for her to differentiate. Because we already know what happens, the dramatic irony is doubly striking as we wait for him to kill her father. Knowing the king’s secret, having no living father, present brother, or sane husband present in the court cause Ophelia to  fear for her own life, and she flees. Horatio helps her fake her death and she goes to a nunnery in France. It’s adorable and perfect. She arrives safely and shortly thereafter learns of Laertes and Hamlet’s duel and deaths. While she struggles through her grief, she thrives as an apothecary and healer for the nunnery, but never takes vows. She remains a free woman and eventually gives birth to a son, which she names Hamlet, after his father.

As I mentioned, Klein cleverly weaves everything that happens in Elsinore through the Shakespearean scenes that we expect to see. When Ophelia longs to re-deliver the remembrances that Hamlet gave her, the scene begins after the “To be or not to be” speech, and we get to read Ophelia’s inner monologue instead of hearing Hamlet’s constant soliloquies. Same thing happens for the play-within-a-play. Ophelia narrates her worry at Hamlet’s boldness to stage such an accusatory fiction for Claudius. Most creatively, we learn that the madness scene is an intricately detailed part of Horatio and Ophelia’s plan to fake her death. Each flower that she gifts is chosen with accusatory accuracy, and her mumblings are specific with the hope that Gertrude will understand her secret thoughts. The mash-ups are refreshingly beautiful for such an overdone, known story.

My favorite thing about the novel is the nunnery business. Although Klein’s intertwining of Ophelia’s thoughts with Shakespeare’s play are clever and truly new, the completely invented plot of what happens after is so important to the novel that she created, because it isn’t about Hamlet. The infamous Dane no longer matters in the third part of the book, or rather, he matters only as he relates to Ophelia’s growth. Rather than female characters that are only defined by their theatrical relation to the men that surround them, Klein final chapter provides a completely original literary equality.

 

So far, Ophelia is definitely my favorite on the list. Once again, I encourage people looking to be interested in Shakespeare to experience the plays of Shakespeare themselves. However, Ophelia is a really good read. Maybe I like it so much because it isn’t just a retelling of the stories we already know, or an attempt at cleverly creating backstory for narratives that never needed it, but somehow it is a compilation of both of these things in a completely new way.

 

Next time! Something Rotten by Alan Gratz and Illyria by Elizabeth Hand

Hungry Hearts Homecoming

The Hungry Hearts tour is back in the Playhouse, bringing Romeo and JulietThe Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Our Town back to the Blackfriars stage and adding the time-traveling adventure Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)They’ve been on the road since September, with a respite back home for the Holiday Season.

Here are some of the highlights of this year’s tour:

  • The Hungry Hearts tour visited 47 cities in 19 states, reaching over 25,000 people.
  • In those 47 cities, the tour performed 75 shows, conducted 69 workshops, and held 15 talkbacks.
  • In 2016-2017, the tour had more two-show days than ever!
  • We had five new venues and 38 repeat venues, and this was our third year in a row with 70+ shows.
  • Smallest town Hungry Hearts performed in: Clarksville, Texas, population 3100
  • Largest city Hungry Hearts performed in: New York City, population 8 million
  • The largest house the troupe performed for was at the University of Buffalo, with an audience of 1400 high school students.
  • The Hungry Hearts truck, fully loaded, weighed 21,000 pounds.
  • That truck traveled 18,000 miles (and suffered only one breakdown).
  • The troupe did 262 loads of laundry.
  • 17 Crabs had their moment in the spotlight! You can catch up on their adventures on Twitter: @ASC_Crab.

Catch Romeo and Juliet, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Our Town, and Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) at the Blackfriars Playhouse, now through June 11th.

Introducing “Kids” to Shakespeare; Part 2

In my most recent blog post, I reviewed “The Nerdy Book Club’s” December post “Ten Books to Introduce Kids (of Any Age! Adults, too!) to Shakespeare.” (And I’ll be continuing the series in my next three posts). Last time I looked at The Fool’s Girl by Celia Rees and King of Shadows by Susan Cooper. This one will look at Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and Street Love by Walter Dean Myers. The creator of the list of ten introductory books, Andi Diehn, says that both of these books can be used to introduce kids (of any age!) to Romeo and Juliet. Unfortunately, both of these books imagine poor facsimiles of Shakespeare’s star-crossed families, neither book really follows Shakespeare’s plot, and one was (dare I say it) better as a movie.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

You will rarely hear me suggest this to anyone, but you could probably just skip Marion’s book and watch the movie (the two “movie is better than the book” exceptions which prove the rule are Forrest Gump, which is a rotten book and Big Fish because the movie is just better). I guuuuuuuuess Marion’s book is like Romeo and Juliet in that there are two characters who fall in love who probably shouldn’t, because the narrator and main character of the story, “R,” is a zombie and the bad-ass, post-apocalyptic teen-rebel without a cause, Julie, is alive. Other than similar names for many of the characters, that’s really where the plot comparison ends.warm_bodies_book_cover

R > Romeo Montague

Julie Grigio > Juliet Capulet

Perry > Paris

Nora > Nurse

M > Mercutio

R is a zombie who is progressing (regressing? reversing? reincarnating?) back to being alive. He has comprehensive thought, can mumble a few syllables, can control his blood lust for brains, dreams, has memories, and, most importantly, falls in love-at-first-sight with Julie Grigio, “Julie Cab” to her friends, because she “just seemed more like a Cabernet.” Julie and R meet when R and his best friend, “M,” ambush Julie’s scavenging team and R kills Julie’s then-boyfriend, Perry, and brings her back to his home where they bond over Frank Sinatra and a sympathy to the permanently-youthed zombie children. There are other zombies that develop similar advancements to R’s, but at a slower rate. Comparatively, those that have decayed too far, known as “boneys,” focus only on recruiting and training “fleshies” to fight the living to ensure the presence and growth of the zombie population. Eventually, Julie goes back to the Stadium, a city built inside of an abandoned sports stadium, and R follows her and sneaks in. That’s about it as far as Shakespeare’s plot goes. There are a couple fun moments of similarity – when R observes Julie talking to herself about having met him and what difference does it make anyway that they’re different, and when her best friend Nora reveals that she is studying medicine to become a nurse – but nothing else.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t recommend this book as a Shakespeare substitute. However, this book does have a lot of other great themes about diversity and discrimination and how those things can cause cruelty in our world. So if you’re looking for a strange mash-up of a little more than a cliche love story and a traditional zombie thriller, than go ahead and give Marion’s book a shot. Even though the plot of this book doesn’t really collate with the plot of Shakespeare’s play, Marion created fun supplemental reading that is unexpected and imaginative.

Street Love by Walter Dean Myers

street-loveWalter Dean Myers is an important children’s author and poet who dedicated his career to creating and representing diversity in children’s lit. Myers’s website says that he was responding to the unfortunate statistic that even though about half of American children are a race other than white, fewer than 10% of children’s books published in 2013 were about minorities. His biography also claims that he has “won more awards than any author for young adults.” While Myers is undoubtably a significant and prolific presence in children’s lit and I think his works are wonderful suggestions for readers of any age, I am not sure why this book is included in this list. This stylized, blank-verse narrative has nothing to do with Shakespeare. Diehn justifies Street Love’s inclusion in her list with the blurb “Two kids from opposite sides of the socioeconomic tracks fall in love and despair at ever being accepted together. Sound familiar? Romeo and Juliet are reborn amidst the street sounds of Harlem and it’s edgy and beautiful.” To which I reply, “No… that does not sound familiar.” Mostly because while Myers gives us two teens from different socioeconomic backgrounds, Shakespeare gave us “two households both alike in dignity.” People always seem to think that Romeo and Juliet’s families were of different statuses, which is not the case. The Capulet’s have fancy parties and a daughter eligible for a Count and kinsman to the Prince. Meantime, Romeo spends all of his free-time with another royal kinsman, Mercutio. Both the Capulets and the Montagues are equally wealthy. Secondly, the families in Street Love aren’t feuding. There is a character who picks a fight with Damien (Myers’ supposed Romeo substitute), but he has no connection or relation to Junice (“Juliet”) at all.

Although I would absolutely never ever recommend this book as an introduction to Romeo and Juliet, or even as supplemental material, I would recommend it as lovely poetic narrative. Myers’ poetry is beautiful and his elegant internal rhymes make this blank-verse narrative soar. But it ain’t Romeo and Juliet.

 

Next time! Ophelia by Lisa Klein and The Cake House by Latifah Salom

 

2017 MLitt Thesis Festival Session 3

Back again for the third and final session of the 2017 MLitt Thesis Festival, 4:45pm-6:45pm.

Brooke Spatol – “I shall study deserving”: A close look at illegitimacy in Shakespeare’s England

Spatol will be using her presentation not to prove an argument, but to inform, so she opens by giving us what the argument of her full thesis is. She focuses on the isolation of bastards in a societal setting. Spatol gives accounts of the lengths parishes would go to in order to prevent bastards from ending up on their tab, including physically dragging a woman in labor over the parish line. Re-enactments of the welfare relief efforts under King James dealt more with the mothers of bastards than with the children themselves. She frames the harsh conditions for these mothers before having actors portray the end of 1.1 of King John, where the Bastard and Lady Faulconbridge discuss parentage.

She identifies the first form of isolation as domestic. Women would go to great lengths to deny their bastard children, and Spatol provides an example of a woman who had plastered her breasts to prevent lactation from giving her away. Other women would abandon their children at church’s or at wealthy men’s doors. Fathering an illegitimate child was seen as shameful and financially burdensome, but with no tests to prove fatherhood, men could more easily slip their responsibilities. Spatol connects the emotional effect of this domestic isolation to Don John in Much Ado about Nothing.

Societal shame attended bastardy in the views of Elizabethan society. Spatol discusses several historical precedents which posited bastards as proof of sin, naturally unclean, and infamous, even if later legitimized. Bastards also struggled financially, as it was difficult for parents to leave money or property to their illegitimate children, even if they wished to — and many did not wish to. Inheritance of names was also a point of dispute.

Spatol then has Chad Marriott present Edmund’s famous “Now gods, stand up for bastards” speech from King Lear as an example of an illegitimate son musing on his state. Spatol encourages us to engage with the bastard characters not as automatic villains, but as humans.

Mary Finch – Pulped Shakespeare: The Origins of Paperback Shakespeare in America

Finch begins by inviting the audience closer so that they may fondle the old books she has brought for everyone’s delight. She asserts that while mass market paperbacks have a somewhat denigrated reputation, their very accessibility may be “the first line of offense” in convincing potential audiences that Shakespeare is not hard or Old English. Finch began her research by looking into the first appearances of paperback Shakespeare in America. The initial difference between mass market and trade paperbacks was the venue in which they were sold: mass markets were sold at gas stations and other common locations, while trades were sold to universities. A series of discoveries led her to find paperbacks in America dating as far back as the 1830s.

Finch’s thesis will examine Shakespeare’s cultural place in the American 19th century as well as printing practices of that era. She notes that, despite the jettisoning of many British traits during and after the Revolution, Americans never gave up their love for Shakespeare. As Shakespeare’s popularity grew, so did the demand for accessible editions of his works — which in turn spurred greater popularity. Finch cautions that she cannot make a claim to which came first, the accessibility or the popularity.

By the 1860s, publishing was a boom industry in America — and an industry rife with espionage and back-stabbing. Finch relates the tale of Edwin Gin, an ambitious and determined young man who went from bookseller to publisher. His first publication, a Shakespeare textbook, was a passion project for him, and he intended to provide an edition ideal for teachers and students. When he updated the Hudson collection, he redesigned their format for ease of use. Finch notes that extant copies have typically been rebound and redesigned (as paperback-bound copies were unlikely to survive).

Later decades produced “library series” editions from “pirate publishers” – generally cheap both in their editing and their production. Houghton’s Riverside Library Series, however, offered a sturdy format with commentary. This had the effect of raising the standards of cheap reading. Gin went on to challenge the textbook monopoly held by the major publishers, not only with his own editions, but also by decrying the low standards of theirs. Gin’s passion for egalitarianism in publishing translated into other charitable works and activism as well, but he never lost sight of his goals of making Shakespeare accessible to the masses. He worked with a teacher, Kitteridge, whose philosophies of teaching sound remarkably similar to the mission statements of the ASC and the MBU S&P program. In 1939, the Kitteridge Shakespeare was first published, anticipating the rise of Penguin, Dover, and Folger editions that would become popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Finch finishes by crediting Edwin Gin with contributing to the ubiquity of Shakespeare in publication in America today.

Clare Boyd – None But Women

Boyd introduces her thesis by way of her love for Margaret of Anjou. In her research, she arrived at the idea that the England of Shakespeare’s histories is dependent upon the performance of gender by the monarchs. She centered her research in the Henry VI plays, positing that the plays are preoccupied with the masculinity of the monarch – or the monarch’s lack of masculine quality. She identifies four modes of femininity: idealized femininity, realistic femininity, transgressive femininity, and masculinized femininity. Boyd notes the difficulties in defining terms with a field as broad and complex as gender studies, particularly when trying to apply terms backwards in time.

In the Henry VI plays, the power of the men of England is shown as broken after the death of Henry V and the victory over the English by a French shepherdess. In 1 Henry VI, we see a “eulogy for masculinity” when the young king’s uncles dispute over the regency. Shakespeare sets Henry VI in contrast to paragons of virility and valor, such as his father and Talbot. “If the king cannot claim full masculine status, then the nation itself is in grave danger.” She notes that the word “effeminate” underscores the coding of Henry’s peace-loving qualities. Boyd suggests that Henry VI lives up not to his father’s masculine ideals, but to feminine ideals as put forth in conduct books of Shakespeare’s era. By the end of Part 1, Suffolk suggests that in order to produce a suitable heir, Henry must be matched to a woman who has the masculine qualities of valor and courage that Henry lacks. Boyd points out that though Margaret will later be mocked for unfeminine qualities, Shakespeare first paints these qualities as those which make her an ideal queen. Boyd argues that Margaret first appears, however, with the demureness and virtue expected of an ideal woman, adhering to the conduct books’ traid of ideal traits: obedience, chastity, and silence.

In 2 Henry VI, Margaret begins by performing feminine virtue before the lords of the realm, in contrast to Henry, who cannot perform the necessary masculinity. Only when alone with her now-lover Suffolk in 1.3 does Shakespeare start to show Margaret’s power and transgressive qualities, particularly when she discusses her husband’s deficiencies. “It hasn’t taken Margaret long to notice the masculine power vacuum in her kingdom.” Margaret then begins to perform the anti-ideal, showing herself to be envious, vain, vindictive, and unfaithful. By Part 3, Margaret has entirely taken over the masculine role: defending her son’s inheritance rights, the murder of Rutland,  the humiliation of York. Boyd argues that the death of Rutland is seen as more heinous than the death of Prince Edward largely because it was done at the bidding of and celebrated by a woman.

Boyd concludes by reiterating that Margaret’s transgressive womanhood takes the place of Henry’s deficient manhood. As she is not a king and a man, but a queen and a woman, she ultimately cannot succeed any more than Henry could, however. The Henry VI

Kim Greenawalt – “Say nothing; I’ll speak all”

Greenawalt distills her directing project on silent characters into two questions: “Why this scene?” and “How will this inform your thesis?” She defines her term “silent character” as a character with extended stage time who does not speak or a character who has run out of scripted lines but is still on stage. Her methodology sought to understand early modern silence, to engage with modern theatrical practices such as Viewpoints and neutral mask, and creating performance art.

Greenawalt discusses the difference between modern notions of silence as complacence to early modern perceptions of silence as falling into four types: foolish silence, eloquent silence, resistant or tactical silence, and chaotic/deadly silence. Greenawalt notes that many silences may blend various types, but that nonetheless these categories were a useful starting point for exploring a character’s silence.

Greenawalt then offers a demonstration of gestural score accompanied by music as a rehearsal practice, using five actors. After her actors move through a gestural score, she encourages them to explore the space, thinking about its architecture in particular. The actors then begin using the components of their gestural score to tell impromptu stories as they encounter each other on the stage. After the actors finish the exercise, Greenawalt discusses the process of discovery through non-verbal communication.

Turning to Measure for Measure, Greenawalt states that she sought to create performance art that would provoke thought and emotional response from the audience in relation to characters who might not usually receive much audience attention. Greenawalt notes that different audiences at different times of day had varying responses to the visual stimuli provided by her performance art. Greenawalt hopes that her explorations and discoveries of her performance art work could help inform a director’s choices when it comes to silent characters. Her actors then demonstrate scenes from Measure for Measure using those explorative methods centered on physical performance: first rehearsing with the exaggerated gestural language, then using that gestural language to present a realistic but emotionally heightened performance.

2017 MLitt Thesis Festival – Session 2

Back from 1:45pm-4:30pm for Session 2:

Glenn Thompson – “My Voice is in My Sword”: Defining and Understanding Dramatic Violence in Early Modern Drama

Thompson’s presentation opens with a highly sneaky attempted murder by Josh Willliams, aborted when Thompson declines to engage in combat. Thompson intends to examine how violence shapes a story and how the story shapes the violence. “Entering with a sword does not constitute violence”. Thompson identifies two modes of working through stage combat: text work and rehearsal work. Text work identifies the violence on the page, and rehearsal work negotiates the enactment of the violence on the stage.

His methodology on text work begins with the simple instruction: Read the play. Thompson notes that while this may seem obvious, it is nonetheless important to return to the play and read it fresh, since even if you think you know it well, you have likely changed since you last encountered it. Thompson then notes specific questions to ask while reading to clarify the motion of bodies on stage, such as: What is the major action of each act? Who is on stage when? After reading and re-reading, then he is ready to identify the moments of violence in the play. This may include both on- and off-stage violence, as either can move the story.

After identifying all the moments of violence, Thompson then determines the specific conditions and needs of each moment and categorizes them into four types: inciting incidents, reported violence, concluded violence, shown violence. For today’s presentation, Thompson will focus on the inciting incident – specifically within Macbeth. The violent image of the “dagger of the mind” is an inciting incident because it drives the action of the play. Williams assists by enacting the speech from 1.7, as Thompson points out the various lines which imply not just violent thought, but violent action. In this speech, Macbeth “is speaking himself into action by imagining the action”.

Thompson then discusses the importance of “inciting incident” violence, noting that it is no less important than the other modes, because it sets us up for the story. This moment is crucial for creating “purposeful dramatic violence” later on.

Madeleine Buttitta – Gals Being Pals: The Moral Complexities of Shakespeare’s Status-Based Female Relationships

Buttitta begins by discussing Queen Elizabeth’s early habits of using noblewomen not only as confidantes but as her proxies and representatives. In Shakespeare’s plays, Buttitta sees a similar relationship: a woman in service who utterly devotes herself to and performs morally ambiguous deeds on behalf of her mistress. She looks particularly at the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet and Paulina in The Winter’s Tale and seeks to examine the issues of “agency and authority” at play.

Buttitta moves to a discussion of class distinction and status in the early modern period. Status-based relationships she defines as those character dynamics where one character has superior social/class status to the other. To narrow further, for this thesis, she is looking at a relationship of two unrelated women who share at least one scene, where there is  a status difference between them and one is in service to the other. She turns her attention to the relationship between Desdemona and Emilia, then to Juliet and the Nurse. Buttitta asserts that the Nurse’s concern for Juliet aligns with guides for conduct seen in writings on service in early modern England, even to the point where she counsels Juliet to give up Romeo.

Buttitta examines status markers in Paulina’s speech, noting how Paulina defines herself in relation to both Hermione and Leontes. Even when chiding Leontes, Paulina still addresses him with deference. She only chooses to call him “tyrant” when she has to defend not only Hermione but the infant daughter as well. Buttitta centers Paulina’s words as the cause of Leontes’s reformation, giving the servant considerable power in an otherwise status-driven relationship.

Buttitta moves to a discussion of early modern views of friendship which could often be exclusive of women and that a sexist bias in scholarship has shaped the study of female characters in Shakespeare up to this point. Buttitta argues, though, that female characters can have morally complex relationships worth examining from a scholastic viewpoint.

Katherine Little – The French Shades of Shakespeare’s Henriad

Little introduces the intersection of her major fields of study: Shakespeare and French. In this thesis, she focuses on the Henriad: Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2, and Henry V. She begins with an examination of Richard II as he is described by the gardener, then in his own words, as he unwittingly predicts his own fall from power, as he exists in contrast to Bolingbroke. Little argues that Shakespeare’s characterization reflects the cultural and linguistic associations of each king, with Richard representing the Norman French elitism and Bolingbroke representing the more egalitarian English mode. As such, Richard II has a distinctly different feel than the plays that follow, existing almost entirely in the privileged world of the court, with little attention paid to the populace.

Little goes on to assert that the style of the verse in Richard II is also reflective of this difference. Concerned with pomp and circumstance, a certain amount of hedonism, an elaborate language, Richard II is more aristocratic and more French — and uses a higher percentage not only of verse but of rhyming verse than do the Henry plays. She looks particularly at rhymed couplets. The Lancastrians, however, rhyme less frequently and are “more economical rhetoricians” than Richard and those of his faction.

Henry IV “looks both forward and back”, with speaking modes that are somewhere between Richard and Henry V. Henry V’s language represents the shift to English and commoner-friendly language. Little describes the IV and plays as less poetic, more action-packed. “The further the plays get from Richard II, the more prosaic they become.” As Prince Hal in 1 Henry IV, the character “has been able to divest himself of regal ceremony”; when he is king, the play contains slightly more verse — as well as French dialogue. Henry V gains credibility “from his down-to-earth Englishness”.

Little moves next to a discussion of the French-speaking scene between Katherine and Alice. She argues that the inclusion of this scene indicates that French was still a part of English heritage at this time, despite the implication that the French are only to be mocked. She also discusses how Henry attempts to draw Katherine into English-ness, even moving to the use of the English diminutive “Kate”. Katherine however, answers him in French; “Henry fails to convert her French tongue”. Little suggests that this complicates the narrative of English dominance. She also notes that Henry even sees his own progeny as half-English, half-French, thus including French in his legacy. She concludes that “no amount” of analysis can fully strip the French-ness either from the play or from England and English’s history with France and the French language.

Nick Ciavarra – That Is the Question

Ciavarra introduces that he intends to examine what he has termed “rhetorical character analysis”. He then welcomes “Jonas” to the stage to do some impressions — not very good ones, but in acknowledging that, Ciavarra notes that “Jonas” nonetheless uses repeated phrases and gestures to key in the audience in on who he is supposed to be. Ciavarra relates this to the phenomenon of parody accounts on Twitter, “capturing the sense of the person in the words, subject matter, and grammatical” representations. Ciavarra uses these examples to point out to us that: people talk differently.

Ciavarra discusses the nature of the passive voice in use in politics as a pattern of speech that we can attach to a type of “character” in real life – particularly, to politicians. He discusses several key devices attached to certain of Shakespeare’s characters, noting that “Brevity is the soul of wit” is only funny because it plays against Polonius’s established preference for macrologia, excessive wordiness.

Ciavarra moves to examining the ways that the MBU S&P program engages with rhetoric and identifies it as an “oratorical” engagement. He would like to look at rhetoric as a means of better understanding characters. This is not entirely about performing the rhetoric, but also about developing a character’s internal world. Rhetorical character analysis searches for a character’s preferred rhetorical patterns and attempts to draw conclusions based on those findings. He refers to Anna Northam’s thesis which explored the personification of certain devices.

Ciavarra then moves into a discussion of his case study of Iago. He notes the need to first identify a dominant rhetorical form. His first assumption, that Iago asked more questions than anyone else, proved statistically inaccurate, as he asks only one more than Othello. Then he qualified questions by whether or not they are rhetorical, and by that mark, Iago supercedes the other characters, particularly during moments of high persuasion. Ciavarra discusses the manipulative nature of the rhetorical questions: “If you ask a lot of rhetorical questions, you’re probably the villain. Sorry.” Tyler Dale presents Iago’s “What’s he then that says I play the villain?” twice; once, as written; a second time, with the rhetorical questions re-written as statements. Then he and Ciavarra repeat the experiment with a bit of dialogue between Othello and Iago. Through this, Ciavarra points out not only the manipulative nature of rhetorical questions, but also how they provide Iago with plausible deniability. Rhetorical questions put the “logical onus” and burden of proof on the auditor rather than on the speaker. Ciavarra concludes by asserting the importance of rhetorical analysis in an actor’s toolbox.

Elizabeth Areopagita Bernardo – When Cultures Collide: Shakespearean Remediations Today

Bernardo’s presentation opens with two examples of “remediation” – a form of adaptation that takes a work from anywhere other than the early modern period, putting it into Shakespeare’s verse forms, and creating a communication between cultures. Remediation transmutes a cultural work from one moment in time to another as well as from one form of art to another. For this thesis, Bernardo will focus on the remediations of Star Wars and Sleeping Beauty.

Bernardo notes that, like Star Wars remediator Dosher, she attempted to adhere to iambic pentameter as close as possible, with few irregularities. She also discusses the advantage of giving silent or near-silent characters in the source material more lines on stage. She employed shared lines for lovers Aurora and Philip. Bernardo also discusses using alternate verse forms, such as Dosher’s haiku-speaking Yoda or her own tetrameter-using evil fairy. She also used a chorus to sum up action that was difficult to stage (such as flying and fights).

Bernardo then comments on other conventions, such as using a sonnet to wrap up the play. She also used prose to set some characters aside from the others, as did Dosher. To demonstrate, Luke and Boba Fett engage in battle, with Fett speaking in prose to indicate his lower status; Bernardo used prose to indicate characters’ drunken state.

Bernardo advocates for remediations as a counterpoint to the cultural view of Shakespeare as hard or too highbrow. “Translating pop and geek culture into Shakespeare’s format” may help to make these forms seem more accessible, and to make them seem more like play than like work. “The desire to emulate Shakespeare’s forms and styles” hits on retrospection and introspection that Bernardo finds amazing, and she sees in it a potential to reach new audiences.

2017 MLitt Thesis Festival Session 1

Welcome to the live-blog for the first session of the MLitt thesis festival, brought to you by Cass Morris, ASC Academic Resources Manager. This session will run from 9am to 12:30pm.

Tyler Bruce Dale – Cat on a Wooden Roof: Staging Modern Theatre in the Early Modern Style

Dale begins by asking for volunteers to fill the gallant stools on-stage. His thesis examines the development of reviving early modern practices and suggests pushing the exploration further by applying those practices to plays not written for an early modern space. He has focused on three characteristics common to the early modern and postmodern theatre: site specificity, minimalism, and the revelation of artifice.

On site specificity: Dale traces the history of the term and notes its power in dissolving the hierarchy between performers and audience, gives the audience agency rather than leaving them as passive viewer. This focuses on how architecture affects performance. Minimalism fulfills a similar set of purposes: spectators become creators, “creating content in their minds” to fill out the scene before them. Dale cites the Chorus of Henry V asking the audience to “peace out our imperfections with your thoughts”. Dale focuses on the positive experience of the audience being asked to use their imaginations, resulting in “deep investment” in the storytelling. Dale identifies the revelation of artifice as the most important of these three characteristics, with particular focus on the practice of direct audience contact. This contact invites the audience to join in and collaborate in creating the performance.

Dale goes on to discuss how television became, in the 20th century, the dominant form of media in American society, thus affecting all other forms of media, including live theatre. He then challenges this thought, noting that in the past twenty years social media has overtaken television as the dominant form of media. This marks a transition from the economy of reproductive media to one of participation. Dale notes that the early modern style, as exemplified by Shakespeare’s Globe and the Blackfriars Playhouse, now exist at a crux. He asserts that the success of these theatres and others like them will depend upon their commitment to continual experimentation, including the adaptation of 20th and 21st century plays to a 16th century space. He cites the ASC’s 2016 Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, then moves into a discussion of his work on a scene from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He notes the difficulty in applying audience contact purposefully in such a situation. He contrasts the difference in naturalistic theatre, where the characters have no conception of a world outside the fiction, with early modern works which depend upon that awareness of the external audience.

Molly Seremet and Shane Sczepankowski then present a scene from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by Dale for the Blackfriars Playhouse. Afterwards, Dale expresses his hope that we have seen the potential flexibility of modern plays for production in the early modern space.

William Leavy – Kill the Prisoners

Leavy begins by stating that he sought to demonstrate that Shakespeare articulated the national character of England through the actions of his characters, and he chose to focus on Henry V for its historical precedence. He focuses in on the troubling incident when Henry determines to execute his disarmed French prisoners, and he asks how an audience is meant to reconcile that action with the portrait of Henry V as a national hero.

Leavy then leaps to another topic, begging the audience’s pardon for doing so: his travels in Europe. He was recently in Ghent, noted for a 12th-century castle museum which features an exhibit on torture. Currently, the exhibit has a component focusing on waterboarding. Leavy connects our current controversy over the practice to the cultural view of killing prisoners during Shakespeare’s lifetime, as either a war crime or a justifiable action.

He then moves into a discussion of English legal tradition, beginning with the Magna Carta and the concept of rule of law over the prerogative of the monarch. He compares the mandates of the Magna Carta to continental practices at the time, then discusses the resurgence of torture and other extrajudicial practices in England during the Tudor and Stuart dynasties. Leavy then brings this concept back to the crucial moment in Henry V and its historical precedence, asserting that Henry V may have relied upon the notion of “extreme circumstances” as justification for his actions. He also connects the thought of torture to the concept of violence as entertainment, such as the bear-baitings that Shakespeare’s plays had to compete with for audience.

Leavy also discusses the intended torture and murder of Arthur in King John, the “orgy of depravity” in Titus Andronicus, acts of cruelty in The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure, beatings and other cruelties in The Taming of the Shrew, Benedick’s promise to “devise thee brave punisments” for Don John in Much Ado about Nothing, and the vicious prank played on Malvolio in Twelfth Night. He then hypothesizes a mental exercise imagining the writing of Twelfth Night in the age of the Geneva Convention, which creates in Feste a clown who commits war crimes. Returning to Henry V, Leavy notes that Shakespeare has Gower and Fluellen justify the execution of the prisoners by relating the story of the French soldiers killing the “boys and luggage” — but then undercuts the effect by having Fluellen move to a comparison of Henry’s treatment of Falstaff and Alexander’s accidental murdering of his friend.

Sophia Beratta – Coin Flippery: The Study of Dramatic Determinative Variables in Shakespeare’s Canon

Beratta opens with a revisiting of prior years’ jokes regarding her physical similarity to Catie Osborn who, after a coin flip, takes over reading the thesis presentation. Beratta/Osborn notes the ubiquity of coin flips in modern society, including the NFL use of a coin flip to determine the start of games and the theatrical presentation of coin flips in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Beratta/Osborn introduces DDV: dramatic determinative variable – an element of chance to change something in the course of a production as a whole. Beratta/Osborn argues that introducing an element of chance creates excitement for audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with the plays. She cites recent examples where use of a DDV determined something about the production, such as which actors would play which parts or whether a production of Hamlet would use the quarto or folio sequence of scenes. Hamlet is a frequent subject of DDVs, perhaps because its overall story is so well known. Beratta/Osborn relates a story where bored high school students were “transported” when a DDV led to the impromptu casting of a middle aged black woman as Hamlet. The goal of the production was “to find the Hamlet in everyone”, using a diverse cast to reach the concept that Hamlet could be anyone. Beratta/Osborn also notes the use of celebrity casting to inspire this excitement in audiences.

Beratta/Osborn moves on to discussing the 2016 RSC Doctor Faustus where the lighting and extinguishing of matches determined who would play Faustus and who would play Mephistopheles. Beratta/Osborn suggests that this DDV theatricality not only heightened excitement, but also set the mood for the production that the audience was about to see. Beratta/Osborn then presents two different versions of the famous Kate/Petruchio spat in 2.1 of The Taming of the Shrew, demonstrating that DDV can necessitate alternate versions of blocking the same scene to allow for the differences in actor strength and size.

Beratta/Osborn notes the potential of DDV practices to keep return audiences interested, since they may experience a different play if they return to see the production more than once. She then presents the Hal/Hotspur fight from 1 Henry IV dependent upon a DDV that could change the ending of the play – determining whether it is Hotspur or Hal that dies. The same lines, reassigned between the two characters, can thus create an entirely different scene. Hotspur regrets Hal’s death, but finishes off Falstaff with violent rancor. The original audience, Beratta/Osborn notes, reacted with laughter — but she asserts that it came at least partly from surprise and shock. She argues that DDV can reinvigorate centuries-old plays by playing against audience expectations and reviving a sense of discovery in them.

Chad Marriott – Everyman and the Audience: An Exploration of Staging Conditions

Marriott begins, after a digression on the nature of shortening a 50 page thesis for a 25 minute presentation, with a short explication of the action of Everyman. He discusses the difference in effect upon the audience created by early modern staging conditions and 19th/20th century proscenium conditions. The audience’s reciprocal reaction is crucial to the creation of a play, and Marriott explores how the physical playing space can shape that reaction.

Marriott cautions against conflating “staging conditions” with “staging conventions”. He then discusses the notion of “sacred spaces” in theatre and suggests that early modern conventions, in eliminating the barrier between actor an audience, extends the sacred space for the actors, though not for the audience. A darkened auditorium “fixes” the sacred space within particular boundaries. Marriott then has actors present a scene from Everyman as though in a theatre with those boundaries, refraining from engaging the audience. The scene seems, even on a first watching, to have many opportunities for audience address, but the actors turn outward typically only when addressing “God” by way of the rose window at the back of the house.

Marriott discusses how an exit through the audience can make the audience feel “left behind” in the same manner as a character remaining on stage. Shared lighting creates a “varying sacred space”, and Marriott has his actors present the scene a second time, in this iteration moving through and frequently engaging the audience.

Marriott ends by advocating for the consideration of role of both actor and audience in shaping a production. Taking the audience into account when preparing a production will “increase specificity and improve the experience of the audience.”

Garrett Schwalbach – Need Advice on Starting a Theatre Company? Early Moderns Would Like to Share…

Schwalbach introduces his thesis examining the creation of a theatre company in the current economic climate. He suggests that future entrepreneurs may benefit by discarding many current common practices and instead taking inspiration from the financial underpinnings of early modern theatrical business. The dominant business model today is the not-for-profit model: a theatre company can file as a NFP by fulfilling certain requirements There are currently 1750 NFP companies. Benefits include access to grants and the tax-deductible nature of donation to these companies. Schwalbach shares graphs of income (in earnings and contributions) for NFPs for the past ten years. Expenses for these companies follow a similar rate of increase as the income. Schwalbach then relates these graph to “the profit margin” – changes of unrestricted net assets and explains the practice of endowments and the difference between restricted, temporarily restricted, and unrestricted assets.

Schwalbach moves to considering the audience: as audiences have stagnated or slightly decreased in the past ten years, NFPs have also decreased. Paid personnel at NFPs, however, have increased. He states that this is because “a non-profit has to grow”, because all money taken in must be fed back into the programming, which necessitates the presence of more administrators.

Schwalbach then shifts to examining the business practices of early modern companies such as The King’s Men. He compares their success to that of their competition. Schwalbach takes the time to explain how patronage, assets, and capital worked for these early modern companies and how the process of shareholding affected the flow of money into and out of the theatre. Shareholding had no guarantee of profit, thus investing the shareholders in the success of the company — as a result, the shareholders were often directly involved in the theatrical process. As an example, Schwalbach discusses Shakespeare’s role as a businessman, shareholding in the King’s Men to make his fortune.

Schwalbach proposes that future companies look at the idea of individual investment. He relates the early modern theatrical model to that of modern bands, whom he believes are applying this system successfully. He suggests that theatres might benefit from changing to this business model rather than continually fighting the restrictions and other challenges of NFP status. The need to meet these challenges results in higher ticket prices, which then stagnates audience growth and reduces the accessibility of theatre to marginalized groups. “When you’re doing a not-for-profit, a lot of things are out of your hands.” But, Schwalbach argues, investing in yourself gives you more control and a greater ability to produce art.

Jessi Scott – Lost in Translation: The Treatment and Disappearance of Macbeth’s Porter and Othello’s Clown from Stage to Screen

Scott opens with a knock-knock joke, a tribute to Macbeth‘s Porter: “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Othello’s clown.” “Othello’s clown who?” “Exactly.” She moves to discussing the weight assigned to tragedies versus the supposed lightness and inconsequentiality of comedies. She notes that the roles of clowns in tragedies often end up cut from performance, particularly when the play is translated from stage to film.

In examining 14 Macbeth films, Scott found that the Porter appears in nine of them, but several cut the role down to only the equivocation or only the dirty jokes portion of the scene. Othello‘s clown, however, appears far less frequently. Only Trevor Nunn’s filmed production retain the Clown’s lines. While there is humorous material, “the jokes from the script aren’t included.”

Scott notes that, two weeks ago, her thesis took a turn as she learned more about the process of film-making and how that process might relate to the decision to cut or keep the tragic clowns. She discusses the use of forced perspective in film, which can shape the story and the emotional weight of certain objects, moments, or characters. She suggests that, as the clown is often a conduit for the audience, the absent audience in film undercuts the need for and power of that character model. Scott posits this as a key challenge of film directors: “How does one engage with an audience that isn’t there?”

Scott posits that the time of cast and crew, rather than the run time of a film, may determine the presence or absence of characters or scenes. She discusses her own process of wrangling with external factors during a film shoot as an example, then shares the resulting film with the audience. Scott ends by stating that, as we need to laugh in dark times, retaining the comedy inside of tragedies is an important choice.

Allison Jones – Shakespeare for the Early Elementary Classroom 

Jones begins by noting the increasing call for teachers to introduce Shakespeare to students at younger ages, but that few resources exist for that age group (particularly those with no or low reading skills). Many approaches rely heavily on theatre games, “more a generalized exploration of theatre with Shakespeare as a handy frame”. Jones is hoping to develop activities that will center Shakespeare’s language while still calling upon young students’ sense of play.

Jones discusses the goal of the RSC to introduce students ages 5-9 (early elementary) to Shakespeare, recommending that students be exposed to Shakespeare “no later than age 11”. Jones reached out to members of the Shakespeare Theatre Association, and while many agreed that children as young as preschool or kindergarten could enjoy Shakespeare, not all have programs designed for those students. Jones believes that a focus on play is a strong avenue to follow, as it taps into the natural inclinations of children towards imagination and experimentation. She explores an extended definition of “play” and relates how Shakespeare can meet the definition even for young children. Though adults may often “play” as well, she notes that children do not share the “dismissive attitude” that many adults have towards leisure activities.

Young children are also at an ideal age for exposure to the language of Shakespeare, as their language acquisition skills are “highest until the age of 6”. Introducing children to the vocabulary and grammar of Shakespeare’s plays assists in “transforming the archaic and obsolete to the familiar” — as such, students exposed to Shakespeare early will likely not find its language as difficult later on in life.

Jones discusses her experience in leading a workshop on iambic pentameter with a group of second and third grade students. Victoria Buck assists her by demonstrating components of the workshop. Jones discusses the relation of the rhythm of nursery rhymes and the importance of patterns in children’s play to teaching Shakespeare’s meter. The students explored vocal and physical ways of enacting the meter, and Jones compares this to the typical actions accompanying the rhyme “Ring around the Rosy”. She welcomes a group of three early education students to the stage to demonstrate. Dividing a speech between students, one line apiece, exposes the entire class to a larger section of text without placing too much burden on any one student. Jones then moves to demonstrating how she related music to those lines to augment the sense of movement and rhythm.

Back at 1:30pm for Session 2!