Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords – Preview #6

While in Northumberland, we’ll spend some time along the erstwhile borderland between Roman Britain and those people that the Romans considered barbaric, uncivilized, and uncouth in the extreme — the Scots. Or, more accurately, the Caledonians, as the Romans termed the people described as “red of hair and long of limb” by the historian Tacitus.

Rome endured uprisings from the conquered British tribes and raids and invasions from the northern Caledonians for most of the first century. Their territory in Britain reached its greatest bounds in 84 CE, when the general Agricola won a massive victory over the Caledonians in northern Scotland. A generation later, however, the Romans had to pull back to Northumberland — likely because Emperor Trajan was pulling legions from Britain to serve in his Dacian Wars. By the time Emperor Hadrian arrived in 120 CE, he determined that the Romans should build a defensive wall 80 miles long, demarcating the border between Rome and the wilds beyond. (Re-enactments of battles between the Romans and the Caledonians take place regularly along the wall today, as you can see below.)

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The exact purpose of the wall is questionable, however. In many places, it is not high enough to serve as a reliable defense, and though the Romans had small forts every five miles along the wall, the expense of patrolling all 80 miles would have been prohibitive. Some scholars have theorized that the wall’s purpose was more symbolic in nature, as Hadrian expressed an interest in defining Rome’s boundaries rather than continuing expansion — and indeed, the Empire began shrinking in size after his reign. Hadrian’s Wall may also have been a way of controlling trade for the purposes of taxation more than repelling invaders.

Hadrians-Wall-007The first major breach of the wall occurred in 180 CE, when the Picts crossed the border, murdered the Roman governor, and initiated the most serious war of the reign of Emperor Commodus. (Commodus is best known for the villainous role he plays in Gladiator, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, but the film Centurion better depicts the war in Britain). By 410 CE, Roman rule in Britain was at an end.

Over the centuries, portions of the wall were lost to building projects and road construction — including a road built to put down another Scottish rebellion, the Jacobite insurrection of 1745. What remains of the wall owes its survival to a lawyer from Newcastle, who bought large sections of land in the 1830s and began restoration projects. In 1987, Hadrian’s Wall was declared a World Heritage Site.

When we visit Hadrian’s Wall, think of what Shakespeare has to say about the conflicts between the English and the Scots — a contentious relationship, even after the union of the countries under King James. In Henry IV, Part 1, Prince Hal imagines the life of Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, living on the border:

HAL: I am not yet of Percy’s mind, the Hotspur of the north; he that kills me some six or seven dozen of Scots at a breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife ‘Fie upon this quiet life! I want work.’ ‘O my sweet Harry,’ says she, ‘how many hast thou killed to-day?’ ‘Give my roan horse a drench,’ says he; and answers ‘Some fourteen,’ an hour after; ‘a trifle, a trifle.’

We’ll also visit Dunstanburgh Castle, an important outpost on the sea. In the 13th and 14th centuries, this castle served as a garrison both for Englishmen fighting the Scots and for Englishmen fighting each other. Possession of the castle switched sides several times during the Wars of the Roses, and by the late 15th and early 16th century, Dunstanburg was falling into disrepair. It was used as a haven for pirates for some time, and though many different owners made efforts at repair, the castle was never fully restored. By the 1800s, poets and artists found it an inspirational destination, representing natural beauty, romantic decay, and the wilds of Scotland.Dunstanburgh_Castle_-_geograph.org.uk_-_924510

In the 20th century, Dunstanburgh became unexpectedly important again, as the bays to its north were deemed vulnerable to amphibious assault during World War II. Sir Edmund Ironside oversaw the construction of defenses, including lines of barbed wire, slit trenches, and concrete pillboxes — which still stand north of the castle today.
Today, Dunstanburgh is owned by the National Trust and maintained by English Heritage. It has become a focus for archaeologists, who have discovered evidence of habitation on the site dating back to the Iron Age. It has also become an important site for conservationists, who advocate allowing the area to remain waterlogged to provide a habitat for numerous bird, amphibian, and insect species.

Next time on the NKSC Preview: the gentle beauty of the Cotswolds!

There’s still time for a few more intrepid travelers to join us on our trip, so if you or any of your friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, or coworkers are interested, learn more on our website — or ask me for more information!

–Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords – Preview #5

AttractionsThe northward leg of our journey will take us to Northumberland, land of the Percys. The family’s most famous son is also the Percy who features most heavily in Shakespeare’s works: the fierce and bellicose Hotspur, one of the chief antagonists of Henry IV, Part 1. Shakespeare places him in opposition to Prince Hal, the future Henry V, going so far as to have Henry IV lament:

Henry IV: Yea, there thou makest me sad and makest me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son,
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue;
Amongst a grove, the very straightest plant;
Who is sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride:
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him,
See riot and dishonour stain the brow
Of my young Harry. O that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
And call’d mine Percy, his Plantagenet!
Then would I have his Harry, and he mine.
But let him from my thoughts.

The Percy family is one of England’s most enduring, and Alnwick Castle (pictured in a 1750 painting, below) has been their seat of power since they were mere barons in the early 14th century. They were raised to the earldom by Henry IV, whom they later rebelled against, but found royal favor again during the Wars of the Roses, where they first supported the Lancastrian cause of Henry VI. The second earl (Hotspur’s son) died at the Battle of St. Alban’s, and the third earl died in the Battle of Towton. Shakespeare dramatizes both of these battles: Henry VI, Part 2 ends with St. Alban’s, and Act 3 of Henry VI, Part 3, featuring the famous scene where a father kills his son and a son his father. After Towton, the family briefly lost their title, but the fourth earl got it back by pledging fealty to Edward IV. From then, the Percys became Yorkists, fighting for Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Though taken prisoner after that battle, the fourth earl evidently won Henry VII’s regard, as the king released him and entrusted him with several prominent government posts during his life.

1024px-Canaletto_Alnwick

The family fared less well under later Tudors. The sixth earl was briefly engaged to Anne Boleyn, until Cardinal Wolsey scolded him into jilting her — perhaps because Henry VIII had already expressed interest in Anne. His brother Thomas took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace uprising against Henry VIII, was convicted of treason, hanged, drawn, and quartered — though considered a Catholic martyr. The seventh earl led the Rising of the North, an attempt to replace Queen Elizabeth I with her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. When the plot failed, he fled to Scotland, was captured, and beheaded at York. The Percys’ apparent inability to pick a winner continued into the 17th century. The ninth earl took part in the Gunpowder Plot against King James I, and the family supported first the royalists, then the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War.

After what could be regarded as two centuries of bad decisions, the Percys settled down, with the family raised to the dukedom in the 1700s. The Percy name has twice fallen extinct in the male line, but been revived when husbands of Percy daughters chose to take the surname — a testament to the family’s enduring legacy. They also have a few interesting American connections — one Percy was an early governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the illegitimate son of the first duke was James Smithson, founder of the Smithsonian Institute.

Downton AbbeyBecause the Percys’ Alnwick Castle is in better condition than many castles from the same period, it has enjoyed fame through film and television, appearing in Becket, Black Adder, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. More recently — and perhaps more notably — its exterior played the part of Hogwarts Castle in several of the Harry Potter movies, and fans of Downton Abbey may recognize it as Brancaster Castle, site of the 2014 and 2015 Christmas specials.

Next time on the NKSC Preview: Hadrian’s Wall and a castle by the sea.

We  do still have a few slots on the trip open, so if you find these previews enticing and have been sitting on the fence, register now to join us in July!

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords — Preview #2

This is the second installment in our series about No Kidding Shakespeare Camp 2016: Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords. March 1st was St. David’s Day, a celebration of Welshness, and so for the second installment of our Land of Lords preview series, I thought I would discuss the areas we’ll be visiting in the Welsh Marches, the territory along the border of England and Wales: Shrewsbury, Powys Castle, and Ludlow.

First up: Shrewsbury, probably the most Shakespearean-ly famous of the sites we’ll be visiting in this area, thanks to the climactic battle in 1 Henry IV, where King Henry, his sons, and his allies overcome the forces of Harry “Hotspur” Percy.

ARCHBISHOP SCROOP
To-morrow, good Sir Michael, is a day
Wherein the fortune of ten thousand men
Must bide the touch; for, sir, at Shrewsbury,
As I am truly given to understand,
The king with mighty and quick-raised power
Meets with Lord Harry: and, I fear, Sir Michael,
What with the sickness of Northumberland,
Whose power was in the first proportion,
And what with Owen Glendower’s absence thence,
Who with them was a rated sinew too
And comes not in, o’er-ruled by prophecies,
I fear the power of Percy is too weak
To wage an instant trial with the king.

Battle_of_Shrewsbury_1403_01981Shakespeare stays reasonably close to the historical story: Henry IV was actually on his way north, ostensibly to support the Percys against the Scots, when he learned of their treachery. Henry swiftly changed directly and managed to reach Shrewsbury before the Percys could capture the town. Owain Glyndwr’s forces did not arrive in time to bolster Percy’s forces, allowing the king to cross the River Severn, cutting off Percy’s line of retreat. (At right, a 1781 imaginative illustration of the Battle from Thomas Pennant’s ‘A tour in Wales’)

Percy did have aid from his uncle Worcester, including some excellent Chesire bowmen who, according to one chronicle, made the king’s men fall “like leaves in autumn”. One arrow struck Henry, Prince of Wales — Shakespeare’s Prince Hal — in the face. He recovered, but was permanently scarred.

As in Shakespeare, Walter Blount was killed by the Earl of Douglas. Hotspur was killed not by Prince Hal in single combat, however, but during the charge, apparently due to an open visor. As Shakespeare depicts at the start of 2 Henry IV, there was some initial confusion about whether Hotspur or Henry IV had died. Had it not been for Hotspur’s death, the rebel forces might have won, as the king’s forces sustained much heavier losses.

The 1403 battle isn’t Shrewsbury’s only claim to frame, however. The town has ancient roots, serving as a capital for pre-Roman Britons and as the outpost of Viroconium for the Roman legions. Anglo-Saxons took over the area and built fortified earthworks in the 9th century; the Welsh tried to take it back in 1069, but were repelled by William the Conqueror. Shrewsbury came to further prominence during the late middle ages thanks to the flourishing wool trade. Today, the town retains its largely unaltered medieval street plan and boasts over 660 historical buildings, including several examples of timber framing from the Tudor era.

Powis CastleAerial North Castles Historic Sites

From there, we’ll cross the border into Wales itself, to Powis Castle (above), seat of a dynasty of Welsh Princes. It takes its name from the ancient Kingdom of Powys, a territory covering much of current Wales and Shropshire. (We can blame the English for turning that y to an i in the name). Owain Glyndwr, Shakespeare’s Own Glendower, was descended from these princes, and it was on that basis that he rebelled against King Henry IV at the turn of the 15th century.

Glyndwr proclaimed himself Prince of Wales and began his revolt in 1400, taking territory and castles throughout Wales. In 1405, he signed the Tripartite Indenture with Edmund Mortimer and Henry Percy (Hotspur’s father), an event which Shakespeare places before the Battle of Shrewsbury. Despite this alliance and help from the French, however, the rebellion foundered after 1406.

Owain remained free, a guerilla leader, and was never seen alive after 1412. He is presumed to have died somewhere between 1415 and 1421. However, he was never captured, nor was his body ever found, and so rumors of his survival continued for many years. He has since become something of a Robin hood figure for the Welsh, a noble and legendary hero.

And really, what better legacy could we want for the man whom Shakespeare has claiming:5f1b88d89a94476481b1cf3519e5fe1c

GLENDOWER
at my birth
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
The goats ran from the mountains, and the herds
Were strangely clamorous to the frighted fields.
These signs have mark’d me extraordinary;
And all the courses of my life do show
I am not in the roll of common men.

We’ll finish the day with tea in Ludlow, a market town in Shropshire that’s about 28 miles south of Shrewsbury, nestled in the bend where the River Corve meets the River Teme. The de Lacy family, who came in with the Normans, began building Ludlow castle in the late 11th century, and the area rose to prominence during the Plantagenets’ various attempts to conquer Wales.

Like the town of York, Ludlow also featured heavily in the Wars of the Roses. The Duke of York (later executed in York) used it as a stronghold early on, but Lancastrian forces captured it in 1459 at the Battle of Ludford Bridge. When Edward IV became king, he set up the Council of Wales and the Marches at Ludlow and sent his son, Edward, Prince of Wales, to live there. The prince was there when his father died, and that is what brings Ludlow into prominence in Shakespeare. In Act Two, scene two of Richard III, Richard and the Duke of Buckingham discuss fetching the prince from that stronghold.

Ludlow_Castle_as_seen_from_the_tower_of_St.Laurence's_Church

Above, you can see the medieval town of Ludlow as it appears from St. Laurence’s, the parish church. Ludlow remained important in the Tudor period, remaining the headquarters of the Council of Wales and the administrative center for the Welsh territories. It was also where Prince Arthur, son to Henry VII, wed Catherine of Aragon.

So much for Wales! Next week: Hardwick Castle and the tale of Bess, Mary, and Elizabeth.

We do still have room in the trip, so if you enjoy beautiful venues, good company, excellent conversation, and all the history you can shake a stick at, register now!

Colloquy IV: Bilingual Shakespeare

Hello everyone – Liz Bernardo again, here to blog this session. This Colloquy IV is on Bilingual Shakespeare. The chair for this session is Joe Falocco of Texas State University. The presenters for this session are Ian Borden of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Tyrone Giordano of Gallaudet University, and Michael Saenger of Southeastern University. This session is in the Augusta Room of the Stonewall Jackson Hotel. Live blogging of this session runs from nine to ten fifteen this morning.

Borden explains his presentation What if Shakespeare Wrote for Actresses? Examining the Work of Lope de Vega as a Lens of Possibility for 21st Century Productions of Early Modern English Drama. Borden wonders if we have a skewed understanding of female characters on the early modern age due to Shakespeare writing for male actors, even in female characters. He speaks to the differences between Restoration female characters, who had greater liberty than female characters in early modern drama. He states that the early modern stage always reinserts female characters into the patriarchal system. He draws comparisons between early modern plays and de Vega plays in Spain. Borden talks about de presenti vows in The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster and the censurship of the Duchess who lives outside of the cultural norms. He notes that in de Vega’s version, the Duchess’ moral standing stays in tact. He compares the two and points out that the British version focuses on violence, which is not central to the Spanish version. He compares the Shakespeare and de Vega versions of Romeo and Juliet. Borden has scholars read from a translation of a scene from the de Vega version of the story. He points out Julia’s active role in the Spanish version and the comedic, rather than tragic, ending in the British version. He hopes to enlighten our views of female characters of the early modern stage by a comparison to their Spanish equivalents.

Saenger’s Shakespeare and Multilinguistic Affairs looks at conections between Ben Jonson and Shakespeare’s language. He speaks to the iconography of Shakespeare as a unifying force in English language. He speaks that modern cultures, especially cinema, undoes Shakespeare’s English. He speaks about adaptations, that must confront issues of language. He speaks about the dilemmas of performance to modernize or not and the ever-expanding contexts that Shakespeare is performed in. He states that adaptations are now the norm, rather than radical. He points out that cultural adaptations now often mix languages. He states that Shakespeare’s London was multilingual, hosting many Protestants, both in the streets and in the translated and printed books. He states that many linguistic modes mingled in Shakespeare’s day. He points out Shakespeare’s mix of languages, such as French in Henry V and Welsh in Henry IV Part I. He points out that Shakespeare’s foreign and magnetic Cleopatra implies the unreliability of English language in the presence of foreign influences. He states that several influences entered the English language since Shakespeare’s day. Saenger states that Shakespeare engaged in interlinguistic engagement, just as we live in a multilingual environment today.

Falocco begins his presentation with an introduction. He speaks of a desire to produce The Comedy of Errors where the characters from Syracuse speak English and the characters from Ephesus speak Spanish. In the production of this play, Falocco realized that several times characters speak English and Spanish to each other. He found the opening scene with Egeon difficult to translate between the two languages, which he solved with the creation of a character named The Bilingual Soldier who translated and acted out the speech into the new language. He explains that the Bilingual Soldier used a version of southwestern Spanish that “killed” in Texas.

Giordano signs his presentation with a translator. He states that he is in charge of the Folio exhibit that comes later this year. He shows a video about Shakespeare and translation issues with American Sign Language. The video comes from a project, #transformSHX. He explains that he does bilingual Shakespeare because Shakespeare is so ingrained into the curriculum, but translators must translate the text. He explains that the adaptation of the texts can be very limited and that often the deaf community must start at step one. He adds that there is a strong resistance to Shakespeare in the deaf community, but states that exploring Shakespeare with the integration of the deaf experience aids in embracing Shakespeare.

Falocco states that a unifying theme seems to be a call for diversity in theatre. He then opens the floor for questions. Student Melinda Marks asks Falocco the extent to which he workshopped his bilingual production of The Comedy of Errors. Falocco replies that the actor translating to Spanish as the Bilingual Soldier in his production would live-translate the Egeon speech every night. Marks points out that the Spanish speaking characters in the play seemed to rely more on hand gestures than language.

Student Sophia Beratta also asks Falocco if he was troubled to speak his English role (Egeon) with a translator (the Bilingual Soldier) translating what his words. Falocco replies that he did not have trouble. He adds that neither his Dromios nor Antipholuses experienced confusion too, whom he double cast into both roles with one pair speaking English and another pair speaking Spanish. He clarifies, with a question from Marks, that the production brought doubles on at the end of Comedy of Errors.

Beratta asks Giordano how ASL handles Shakespearean prose and verse. He explains that different hand shapes and repetition illustrate verse onstage and that audiences can see the meter and rhythm change to prose onstage with sign language. He states that other staging elements also help to amplify the changes. Marks asks a question about Shakespeare in international sign language. Lindsey, Giordano’s translator, speaks about translating Shakespeare into sign language in foreign countries. She states that translators in this case can either work from a translation to their native language or the base English text in order to translate to sign language. She points out that different colloquialisms appear locally. Giordano explains a difference between signing and gesturing and states that there are different sign languages for different cultures, even within the same native language. Giordano calls for translation straight to ASL from the original Shakespeare text. He hopes to develop a set method of translation for the future.

A scholar asks how signing works in Shakespeare with occupied hands. Giordano demonstrates that signing can still occur when the hands are in use. He states that violence and fight is different, but points out that ASL actors can play with both the fight and the language, which becomes solid in the rehearsal process. Falocco asks about different languages in sign language, particularly of British Sign Language productions. Giordano states that there have been BSL productions of Shakespeare. A scholar asks if there is a difference between BSL and ASL productions of Shakespeare. Giordano states that differences would depend on the direction. He also states that signing bilingual performers will honor the hearing audiences, but that hearing performers often do not honor deaf audience members.

Falocco ends with a plug for BXSW in Texas and encourages scholars and students to submit to present a paper at the conference. He encourages those within driving distance of Austin to travel to visit the conference.

Podcast Archives: 2009

2009 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2009 Spring Season

2009 Summer and Fall Seasons

Winter-Spring 2014 Playhouse Insider Now On Sale

The Winter-Spring 2014 issue of the Playhouse Insider, celebrating the shows in the Actors’ Renaissance Season and the World’s Mine Oyster Tour, is on-sale now in the Box Office and will soon be available for purchase through our online shop. CoverWith this magazine, we hope not only to introduce readers to the fascinating shows in these seasons, but also to provide a spectrum of viewpoints from the wonderful scholars, artists, and audience members who love these plays as much as we do.

In this issue:

  • Frequent ASC patron and blogger Adrian Whicker discusses his love for the Actors’ Renaissance Season and chronicles his reviews on the Mid-Atlantic Traveler.
  • Amanda Trombley, Director of Education at the Southwest Shakespeare Company and MBC MFA graduate, delves deep into her experience playing the role of Evadne in a 2011 production of The Maid’s Tragedy.
  • Jade Eaton, ASC patron and No Kidding Shakespeare Camp participant, compares Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters with Richard Bean’s adaptation One Man, Two Guvnors and tells us why she’s so excited to see The Servant of Two Masters at the Blackfriars Playhouse.
  • Eliza Hofman of Chicago’s Two Pence Theatre, another MBC MFA grad, shares her insights on the role of Celia in As You Like It from the 2009 MFA production directed by Ralph Alan Cohen.
  • University of Delaware Professor Emeritus Lois Potter analyzes the performance history of Othello, with special attention to how the central roles have developed over time.
  • ASC actors René Thornton Jr. and Benjamin Curns talk about playing Othello and Iago with an MLitt class in a conversation recorded by Kim Newton, ASC Director of College Prep Programs.
  • A Dramaturg’s Corner features five things you might like to know about Henry IV, Part 1, including a family tree to help you keep all of those dukes and descendants straight.
  • Former ASC actor Daniel Kennedy relates his discoveries and experiments in directing Richard II for the 2013 ASC Theatre Camp.

Would you like to write for an upcoming issue of the Playhouse Insider? Email Cass Morris to find out more.

St. David’s Day and Welshness in Shakespeare

Did you know that March 1st is a holiday? Well, actually, according to Wikipedia, it’s several, including Independence Day for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Roman Matronalia, and Beer Day, celebrating the end of prohibition in Iceland. But for those of an early modern bent, it’s most important as St. David’s Day, honoring the patron saint of Wales.

Though little is actually know about the saint’s life, he is supposed to have died on March 1st in 569 CE. St. David’s Day has been celebrated by the Welsh since the Middle Ages, and seems to have come to prominence as a day of national pride during Welsh resistance to the Norman Conquest. Both St. David and his day remained important to the Welsh throughout their struggles with the English in the subsequent centuries. Observance, in the modern day as in the medieval, involves parades, wearing the national costume, recitation of Welsh literature, and turning daffodils or leeks into accessories — a practice Shakespeare refers to in Henry V:

Welsh Guards affixing the leek to their caps, 1921

Welsh Guards affixing the leek to their caps, 1921

FLUELLEN
Your grandfather of famous memory, an’t please your
majesty, and your great-uncle Edward the Plack
Prince of Wales, as I have read in the chronicles,
fought a most prave pattle here in France.
KING HENRY V
They did, Fluellen.
FLUELLEN
Your majesty says very true: if your majesties is
remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a
garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their
Monmouth caps; which, your majesty know, to this
hour is an honourable badge of the service; and I do
believe your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek
upon Saint Tavy’s day.
KING HENRY V
I wear it for a memorable honour;
For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.
FLUELLEN
All the water in Wye cannot wash your majesty’s
Welsh plood out of your pody, I can tell you that:
God pless it and preserve it, as long as it pleases
his grace, and his majesty too!
KING HENRY V
Thanks, good my countryman.

In a subsequent scene, Fluellen comes into conflict with the boastful swaggerer Pistol, who mocks the Welsh Captain and his nationality. Fluellen cudgels Pistol, quite possibly with the very leek he then makes Pistol eat, stating, “If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek.”

Wales occupied a somewhat strange place in the worldview of early modern London. The Welsh were still seen in many respects as foreigners. They were, since the Act 1536 Act of Union, subject to English law, but not fully English themselves. Many at this time did not even speak English, and common observance noted strong accents in those who did (the sort of accent Shakespeare writes into Fluellen’s dialogue, above, with consonant shifts confusing Ps and Bs, as well as Ts and Ds). On the other hand, the Tudor dynasty was part-Welsh itself, and earlier centuries’ conflicts between the English and the Welsh had died down. Wales had helped Henry VII win his crown, and the country was now the jumping-off point for wars with Ireland. Shakespeare’s plays illustrate England’s mixed acceptance and ostracization of their near neighbors.

Though it will be somewhat after St. David’s Day, audiences at the Blackfriars Playhouse will be able to see a lot of Welsh-ness on stage this spring when 1 Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor return home from tour. In these two plays, Shakespeare presents two very different views on the Welsh. In 1 Henry IV, the English speak of Glendower as a near-mythological terror, and Glendower himself readily builds on this larger-than-life legend (however little Hotspur thinks of his prophetic birth and self-proclaimed magical powers). The stories the English characters tell about their Welsh opponents are terrifying — they consort with devils, they mercilessly slaughter defeated foes, and their women perform unspeakable transgressions upon corpses. Both Glendower and his daughter, Lady Mortimer, give the lie to rumor a bit. Though Glendower embraces and encourages his supernatural legend, he shows himself educated and cultured. He speaks in perfect, unaccented iambic pentameter, just like the English nobles, and seems far less inclined towards random violence than report would have it. Lady Mortimer speaks no English, but through her song and as an object of desire for both Mortimer and Hotspur, she represents an English exoticization of another culture. However much a threat the Welsh might be, there is something attractive about them, too.

p039-z4By contrast, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare writes a Welsh buffoon in the character of Hugh Evans. Evans displays no element of threat whatsoever. Instead, Shakespeare calls on other, more humorous stereotypes about the Welsh, including a pronounced accent and an utter lack of pith. Evans displays a tendency towards circular speaking and repetition that reflects English prejudice of the Welsh as an overly garrulous people. There are also a great many jokes about cheese (an early modern equivalent of our current cultural conceptions about Wisconsin). Despite these slights on his nationality, however, Evans appears to be an integrated and valued member of the Windsor community — if no less ridiculous than many of his neighbors, certainly not a wide margin moreso, either.

Shakespeare also shows a different angle on the idea of Welsh magic. Whereas Glendower claims mystical power and summons music-playing spirits from the air, Hugh Evans is as solidly Christian as they come — an actual parson without the hint of devilry about him. Until, that is, he takes on the personage of a demonic fairy in order as part of the trick against Falstaff. Shakespeare turns the idea of Welshness that he presented in 1 Henry IV on its head, and continues to develop it in Henry V with the character of Fluellen (he who righteously defends the honor of the leek). Fluellen is somewhere between the two extremes: prone to loquaciousness and to fits of temper, but a capable military commander, full of heart and utterly loyal to King Henry.

For more on Shakespeare’s treatment of the Welsh, see the upcoming ASC Study Guide Henry, Hal, and Falstaff, on sale at Lulu and in the Box Office during the Spring Season.

Wandering through Wordles, Part the Third

Those of you who have been following the Education blog for some time are by now familiar with our work on Wordles. We use these word clouds primarily to introduce to students the idea that Shakespeare’s vocabulary is not what can make reading Shakespeare difficult. It helps to eliminate some of the fear, to look at all the words set out in this way, and to notice that there are very few, if any, unfamiliar words. Most of those which are strange will either be names or places, or else are fairly easy to figure out the meaning of once restored to their context. We include this as part of our Basics section in ASC Study Guides, and we can use it as a bridge into discussing rhetoric (ie, the order the words come in — usually what can make a passage difficult, and usually something that conveys character information). But, as I’ve discussed before on this blog, I’ve also discovered that distilling scenes into Wordles can reveal other information as well, about how Shakespeare is directing the audience’s focus, what information he chooses to share or to conceal, how he sets a mood, what topics are important for that scene.

I’m in the process of creating a blended Study Guide for both the Henry IVs and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and while building the Wordles for those plays, I noticed something that I haven’t been able to get over. Take a look at the Wordle for the first 100- lines of Henry IV, Part 1:

1H4-100Wordle

The two largest words, repeated most frequently, are “news” and “now”. Closer examination of the text shows that those most prominent words gets repeated four times — not, actually, a whole lot, which tells me that there isn’t a lot of repetition in the first 100 lines of the play. (And what does that, in turn, tell us about the verbal choices made by King Henry and Westmoreland?). A lot of the other oft-used words are names of people involved in the battles — but, considering the low degree of repetition overall, just getting said twice can increase a word’s prominence, as is the case with “Douglas” and “Mordake”. What information is Shakespeare giving us about the energy of this first scene? To me, it bespeaks a sense of urgency — but somewhat unfocused urgency. Henry isn’t just dealing with one problem here; he’s dealing with several all at once. As I can see by this Wordle, he’s having issues with Earls. He’s having issues with his son. He’s having issues with Scotland. These are all news, and they are all immediate issues he needs to solve.

So, that was interesting enough on its own, but then I did the Wordle for Henry IV, Part 2:

2H4-100Wordle

There, again, the largest word is “news”, and here, there is a higher frequency of repetition: “news” occurs seven times in the first 100 lines. The speaker for the first 40 lines is an anthropomorphic representation, not a historical character — and it makes sense that Rumour would have its mind on news, news, news. That fixation carries through the first scene as well, and many of the other repeated words reflect the characters’ concerns: Northumberland is waiting for word of what happened at Shrewsbury, of which Harry prevailed, of who will come home, of how the rebellion fared.

I asked Sarah what she thought would be the largest words for the first 100 lines of Henry IV, Part 1, and her guess was something like mine would have been: king, Henry/Harry, England. That would seem reasonable. Those are, after all, the major concerns of Shakespeare’s English histories. Take a look at the Wordles for the first 100 lines of Henry V and Richard III:

H5Wordle-NEW

R3Wordle-NEW

So what is it about the Henry IVs that makes them different? How is the energy different at the top of the play, how does that trickle through the following scenes, and, most importantly, what good can any of that do an actor? These are the questions we’re asking teachers and students to consider when they begin examining the language of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and we hope it will lead to fruitful exploration.