Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 24 February 2012

A few notes and points of interest from the world of Shakespeare studies this week:

  • London’s Globe Theatre has awarded its first PhDs to Sarah Dustagheer and Penelope Woods. These women are both friends of the ASC: Woods presented on audience studies at our 2009 Blackfriars Conference, and Dustagheer observed an Actors’ Renaissance Season, giving presentations to the MBC MLitt/MFA program on the differences between playing the Globe and playing the Blackfriars Playhouse. Congratulations to them both, and to the Globe for enacting this joint degree-awarding venture with Queen Mary, University of London, and King’s College London.
  • The new “Shakespeare’s Sisters: Voices of English and European Women Writers, 1500-1700” exhibit at the Folger Library challenges the notion that early modern women didn’t write (or, as Virginia Woolf famously asserted, that, if they did, they must have been driven mad by the frustrations of it). The exhibit celebrates such notable female authors as Veronica Franco, Lady Anne Clifford, Lady Mary Wroth, the Mancini sisters, Aemilia Lanyer, Aphra Behn, Susanna Centlivre, and (my personal favorite early modern woman) Lady Mary Herbert. If you can’t make it to DC to see the exhibit in person, selections from it are also available online.
  • This week, the ASC welcomes alumni from Dartmouth College for a weekend of entertainment and scholarship. Peter Saccio, the Leon D. Black Professor of Shakespearean Studies at Dartmouth College, was the editor of A Mad World, My Masters for the Middleton Complete Works. Saccio gave a public lecture last night, detailing some of the textual oddities of the script and what that can mean for the stage, and will give several private lectures to the Dartmouth group throughout the weekend.
  • Education Week featured an article on the challenge educators face when attempting to tie their lesson plans to Core Curriculum Standards. “Their current materials fall short, and there is a dearth of good new ones to fill the void.” ASC Study Guides (now available on lulu.com!) feature not only guidelines for fulfilling Virginia’s Standards of Learning, but also the U.S. Core Curriculum Standards.

As a final note, remember that you still have a few days to get in your nominations for the 2012 Shakespearean March Madness. I’ve already heard support for Hotspur, Cassius, the Duke of Cornwall, and Richard II. Pitch your pick for this no-holds-barred brawl here.

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits — ‘Anonymous’ Edition

As I’m sure you’ve all noticed, a movie came out last week which, despite its risible nature, seeks to ruffle feathers in the world of Shakespeare studies. Many scholars would rather not dignify the nonsensical issue with a response (not to mention our reluctance to give Emmerich more free publicity), but the matter has pressed itself sufficiently that the community has responded. If Anonymous realized its own fictional nature and were not attempting to masquerade its inventions as fact, perhaps we wouldn’t have such a problem, but because Emmerich has taken to the media, smugly pronouncing himself the savior of truth, and because Sony has begun distributing supposedly “educational” packets to high schools (I’ve seen them; they’re alarmingly misleading and ethically irresponsible) — those conditions provoke the defense that Shakespeare deserves. The kid gloves have come off, and rather than dancing delicately around the issue, many scholars have attacked the issue head-on and free of hedging. I submit here, for your perusal, a smattering of the reviews and opinions published in response to the Anonymous absurdity.

  • James Shapiro, author of Contested Will, took to the New York Times in defense of Shakespeare: “Promoters of de Vere’s cause have a lot of evidence to explain away, including testimony of contemporary writers, court records and much else that confirms that Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him. Meanwhile, not a shred of documentary evidence has ever been found that connects de Vere to any of the plays or poems.”
  • The Times also has a piece by Stephen Marche, which not only disapproves of the attempt to portray the film as educational but also derides the conspiracy theory in general: “No argument could ever possibly sway the Oxfordian crowd. They are the prophets of truthiness. ‘It couldn’t have been Shakespeare,’ they say. ‘How could a semiliterate country boy have composed works of such power?’ Their snobbery is the surest sign of their ignorance.”
  • An editorial in the Washington Post sought out opinions from James Shapiro, the Folger’s Michael Witmore, and eminent period scholars Eric Rasmussen and Stephen Greenblatt.
  • Simon Schama advises, simply, “Don’t buy it” in regards to Emmerich’s spurious claims. “None of which would matter very much were there not something repellent at the heart of the theory, and that something is the toad, snobbery—the engine that drives the Oxfordian case against the son of the Stratford glover John Shakespeare. … The real problem is not all this idiotic misunderstanding of history and the world of the theater but a fatal lack of imagination on the subject of the imagination. The greatness of Shakespeare is precisely that he did not conform to social type—that he was, in the words of the critic William Hazlitt, ‘no one and everyone.'”
  • A public radio commentary fights the idea of privilege attached to the Oxfordian theory: “I could never stand before a class of high school students and tell them that great writing, and a deep understanding of humanity can only be achieved by the educated elite.”
  • Woman About Town links the “controversy” to other conspiracy theories. “It was only as the centuries passed and Shakespeare’s work began to be seen as the pinnacle of artistic achievement that it was that ‘doubts’ emerged. And the biggest reason appears to have been plain old-fashioned snobbery and frustrated romantic yearnings.”
  • Jonathan Hobratsch for the Huffington Post presents 10 reasons why Shakespeare is Shakespeare.
  • Slate.com has a movie review, complete with podcast, demonstrating that even objective reviewers with no dog in the fight find the whole premise absurd. The podcast is particularly interesting for what the reviewers have to say about the relationship of modern actors to the conspiracy. Another article on the same site asserts the need to defend Shakespeare: “To remain silent in the face of stupidity this blatant is to acquiesce to a kind of culture-destroying ugliness. … Most of all, I hate the way they pride themselves on the vain, mendacious conceit that they’re in on a grand historical secret deception that only they have the superior intelligence to understand. It’s an insult to everyone else’s intelligence if they’re taken seriously.”
  • James Ley challenges Sony’s choice to promote the fictional movie as educational: “There is something pernicious about the way Anonymous is being promoted. The ‘teach the controversy’ strategy, beloved of those whose arguments are on the wrong side of the evidence, is now apparently so normalised that an implausible work of speculative fiction can be brazenly offered as an exercise in historical revisionism and an educational tool.”
  • Skeptical Humanities also challenges the movie presenting fiction as fact: “So, no, Anonymous is NOT just a movie: it is a huge propaganda machine that wants desperately to sway viewers and students.”
  • Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson, from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, have written an e-book which they’ve made freely available. Shakespeare Bites Back synopsizes the argument nicely and also advocates that we stop using the term “anti-Stratfordian” and begin calling a spade a spade with the term “anti-Shakespearean”. Additionally, Edmondson and Wells discuss the issue in a short podcast, Wells has a piece in the Telegraph, and a series of posts from back in June demonstrates that Shakespeare solidly wins the debate.
  • Finally, the Utah Shakespeare Festival solicited responses from a number of scholars and practitioners from Shakespeare institutions around the country. When they asked the ASC for our thoughts, Sarah was kind enough (and brave enough) to let me reply — so if you want to know what I personally think about the issue, my argument is encapsulated there in a 500-word essay.

I’m also in the process of finally reading Shapiro’s Contested Will, which Simon & Schuster sent to me for a review, so hopefully I’ll be able to post that soon. It’s also worth noting what several of the scholars who’ve weighed in have pointed out: this conspiracy is not something that dominates the field of Shakespeare studies. It is a distraction from real work. As entertaining as it sometimes is to spork a ridiculous fiction, I think we’ll all be quite pleased when the movie flops (as it’s reportedly doing), the hype dies down, and we can go back to arguing about the finer nuances of scansion, pedagogical technique, and the merits of Q1 Hamlet.

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits – 22 July 2011

A smattering of links for you today, on performance and education:

Hope everyone’s keeping cool!

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits – 24 June 2011

Just a few links for you this week, with a focus on the idea of what Shakespeare continues to mean and what appeal his plays continue to have in modern society.

  • A blog post asks “Do we stage too much Shakespeare?” Or, rather, are theatres staging the same few plays too many times? Cass says: Not a problem at the Blackfriars Playhouse, given how many near-unknown (outside of academic circles, at least) plays we revive each year. Who’s ready for Tamburlaine the Great this fall?
  • From London, we have some more information on Shakespeare’s prominent place in the Cultural Olympiad of 2012. Celebrations will include televised versions of the plays, a series of plays staged by foreign companies at the Globe, and a two-part documentary by Simon Schama. With some wondering why Shakespeare takes so much precedence as England’s cultural ambassador (over others like Dickens, Austen, Chaucer, or the Bronte sisters), Schama says first that Shakespeare has a more universal, less-Angleophilic appeal than many post-Industrial authors, and that unlike Middle English authors like Chaucer, “The amazing thing about Shakespeare is that if you actually deliver Hamlet, or Romeo and Juliet, to teenagers they actually do get the language.”
  • Our Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen gave a radio interview yesterday with WOSU in Columbus, Ohio on the enduring appeal of Shakespeare in modern life. Dr. Cohen discusses the interplay between actor and audience that Shakespeare and other early modern authors offer — the interaction which makes theatre a fundamentally different form of art than movies.
  • Our college prep theatre camp started up this week — If you want to follow along with their activities, check out the ASCTC Blog, and come out to see their final performances on July 10th.

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 10 June 2011

Just a few links today: Shakespeare reaching across language boundaries, new research into old records, and a good laugh for the end of your week.

  • “Shakespeare as a Second Language” examines using Shakespeare to reach students in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Langauges) classrooms. The author of the article believes that Shakespeare shouldn’t be “saved for high school English class or reserved for only gifted students,” but that early experiences with his works can have great benefits.
  • Speaking of the benefit of Shakespeare to other languages, the “Learning English” website has a radio feature on Shakespeare’s treatment of law, justice, and human conflict.
  • Shakespeare in the Park not for you? How about Shakespeare in a Bar? As the website posits, “Where else can you sit next to Caesar after his death and share a pint as you both watch the rest of the story unfold?” Cass says: This sounds like such an entertaining way to spend an evening — Who’s up for starting this at Zynadoa or The Mockingbird?
  • On the more erudite end of things, research into Tudor England coronary reports has revealed a possible inspiration for Ophelia’s drowning. Cass says: Whether or not you buy into this possibility, the article is worth reading just for the Darwin-Award-worthy list of accidental deaths. Who knew that Christmas games and maypoles could be so dangerous?
  • Is theatre good for you — as in, potential-health-benefits good? Is it possible to overdose?
  • And finally, if you need a laugh, check out cracked.com’s 6 Most WTF Moments in Shakespeare (this article has an adult language warning) — and as a bonus, one of the pictures for King Lear is from an ASC production! So what do you think? Does the article feature your favorite moment of stage insanity? Or did they miss out on something spectacular? Cass says: If that author thinks Shakespeare has some crazy stuff going on, we need to introduce him to Middleton and Ford. (And, er, as always on the Internet, don’t read the comments if you value your sanity).

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits – 3 June 2011

This week: debates about the value of a degree, and some insights into acting.

  • There’s been quite a bit of hullabaloo in the news cycles recently about the value not just of a college education, but of the economic advantage given by one degree over another. Turns out that majors like engineering, math, and computer science earn 50% more than the humanities. (Cass says: Raise your hand if this comes as a major shock to you). The idea of “gainful employment” may soon be affecting how much college students pay for courses — or how much they’re allowed to receive in loans. (Choose a low-earning major? Like, say, English or education? Sorry; we’re cutting you off).
  • The humanities, however, aren’t taking this lying down. One clever article assumes Shakespeare’s voice for its rebuttal. Another op-ed states, “No matter how much they earn or don’t earn, no one can ever take from them their poetry, literature, music or art. Many, probably most, never lose their love of Shakespeare, Mozart, Cezanne or whatever the source of their youthful passions.” Cass says: And for my part, I’d rather have the job satisfaction I have right now than be making twice as much in a job that made me miserable.
  • And, for what it’s worth, President Obama’s new education plan includes strategies for teacher retention.
  • The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC Santa Cruz reports exploding popularity for its adult-learning programs. The ASC encourages lifelong learning through programs at the Playhouse and by hosting excursions for the Road Scholars program.
  • British actress Eve Best, currently on stage at the Globe in Much Ado About Nothing, talks about performing Shakespeare, including this tidbit on cross-gender casting: “There’s something really interesting about crossing genders because you’re no longer caught in the sexual politics of your part… I think with some roles like Lady Macbeth and Isabella [in Measure for Measure] as an actress one is always trying to exonerate the character slightly. When you cross genders you don’t have to worry about that stuff – it’s unbelievably liberating.”
  • ABC News has a lovely piece on the art of acting, as voiced by 81-year-old actor Christopher Plummer, which includes thoughts on how his approach to acting Shakespeare has changed over time.

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 20 May 2011

This week’s Imprimis features several articles on non-traditional approaches to getting students to enjoy Shakespeare, as well as some thoughts on the enduring place of Shakespeare in modern culture.

  • This blog post examines different versions of Hamlet (Q1, Q2, and F1) through Wordles.
  • A new play uses Shakespeare to talk about issues of teen bullying. In “Cruel to Be Kind,” rehearsals of As You Like It are disrupted by harassment, and it’s up to Shakespeare to set things straight.
  • The BBC is running a new recitation and performance competition for secondary schools: “Off By Heart Shakespeare,” through which they hope to show that “the best way to get to know and love Shakespeare is by performing his words.”
  • “How do you get kids into Shakespeare? Get to them before they know it’s supposed to be tough” — a lovely article on teaching Shakespeare through performance. Cass says: This is exactly my philosophy, and it’s why we’re so enthusiastic at the ASC about our summer programs for teenagers and pre-teens.
  • Then, check out 7 Quirky Ways Students Learn Shakespeare for some more exciting, performance-based approaches that teachers and students are exploring around the country.
  • An article from The Huffington Post about the new Shakespeare High documentary also suggests that bare-bones Shakespeare, without elaborate costumes, sets, or lighting designs (rather like how the ASC performs…), could be the answer to keeping theatre and the arts alive in our current era of budget-slashing (when the arts are too often the first thing on the chopping block).
  • This blog post relates current technology-induced changes in the English language to the revolution of vocabulary during the early modern period. Cass says: Interesting premise, but I’m not quite sure that netspeak is as ultimately beneficial as Shakespeare’s creative inventions.
  • Finally, the Staunton Newsleader has given Shakespeare his own page. This aggregate collects Shakespeare-related news within Staunton, from the ASC, and from around the world.

Imprimis: Link and Tidbits, 29 April 2011

A birthday and a wedding have dominated the Shakespearean news cycles (and my Twitter feed) over the past week — Did you celebrate either? Both?

Finally, I want to wish all the best to the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Their Royal Highnesses Prince William and Princess Kate. “Heaven give you many, many merry days!”

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 22 April 2011

Just a few tidbits from the past couple of weeks:

  • Ever wondered what your brain looks like on Shakespeare? Now you can know! Scientists have conducted neurolinguistic experiments to suss out just what Shakespeare’s rhetoric does to the processing centers of your brain. It turns out that the brain enjoys the challenge of unusual syntax and receives a satisfying reward when it unravels Shakespeare’s linguistic riddles. Cass says: Scientific proof that my obsession with rhetoric is well-founded!
  • This article on Shakespeare and leadership cites our very own Director of Mission, Ralph Alan Cohen. The ASC works with the Federal Executive Institute several times each year to train government officials in leadership techniques, and we welcome any other corporate institutes to sign up for our leadership workshops.
  • This thoughtful essay examines the poignancy of Shakespeare’s perspective on parenting in The Tempest.
  • A new approach to Shakespeare and queer theory: “Rather than referring exclusively to homosexuality, ‘queer’ should encompass everything and anything odd, eccentric, and unexpected, such as the fairy queen Titania falling in love with the donkey-headed Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or King Lear’s complicated take on the limits of the human.”
  • An appeal for aid from a substitute teacher, hampered by educators who are letting their students get away with reading “modern translations” of Shakespeare. Sarah says: This breaks my heart. What I want to do more than anything in the world, is reach the teachers who fear Shakespeare and get them past it and into the realm of comfort, so that their students–our future audience members and–more importantly?–leaders will be able to speak well and appreciate deep text and the humanity Shakespeare so well portrays.

And don’t forget: Shakespeare’s 447th birthday is tomorrow! Join us at Gypsy Hill Park in Staunton on Saturday, from 10:30am-1pm, or at the Playhouse on Sunday, from 4:30pm-6pm, to celebrate with the ASC.

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 8 April 2011

Greetings, all — I hope your April has started well. This week we have a smattering of links, several focusing on Shakespeare’s influence outside of the scholastic world:

  • We’d like to give a shout-out to the Empty Chair Theatre Company, a production company based in Arlington, Virginia, founded in 2007 by Julia Sears and Elizabeth Nearing, both veterans of our ASC Theatre Camp (Young Company Theatre Camp, or YCTC, as was). Many of their staffers are also alums of our program. This summer, they’ll be producing Twelfth Night and Titus Andronicus, and word is they’ve even snagged a night performing at the Folger Theatre. The company also has a blog, if you’d like to keep up with their projects. We are so proud of our camp alums, and we wish them so much success and joy in their endeavors. Doreen says: I can attest to the professionalism and high standards that these women value in their work, and I respectfully consider them colleagues and collaborators, both philosophically and creatively, in the endeavor of making of dynamic Shakespearean theatre.
  • The NY Times claims that Shakespeare invented teenagers — What do you think?
  • Utah Shakespeare has delved into using performance to teach Shakespeare. One teacher comments that students who normally “would be sitting in the back twiddling their thumbs or punching someone next to them” are engaged by and interested in more active learning processes. Imagine that!
  • This article details some of the ways scholars attempt to date Shakespeare’s plays. It has an Oxfordian bent, though, trying to re-date plays to correct for de Vere’s 1604 death. Cass says: And blatantly ignoring topical references and plain common sense, while they’re at it.
  • BigThink.com is hosting a month of “How to Think Like Shakespeare.” The project is designed to imagine how “studying Shakespeare enriches the various disciplines—from neuroscience to business to psychology and beyond.” Author James Shapiro is among the panel of experts commenting on Shakespeare’s applicability to many different realms of life.

And no, I’m not even acknowledging that Anonymous travesty.