Pirates and Pentameter

Recently, as I prepared to write my paper for the upcoming SAA seminar Playhouses and Other Early Modern Venues, I pulled out the binder of material I collected at one of my first Shakespeare-specific ventures, The Rose Playhouse Institute at Shakespeare and Company. When, as a second year teacher, I won the NEH award to study for the summer with the team of Educators in Lenox, Massachusetts, my most vivid Shakespeare experiences were all from high school, community theatre, and my own attempt to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream with my high school students in Texas (let’s just say the special effects were brilliant–trees flew!).  At that time and until I started graduate school, this binder was my biggest link to Shakespeare; in it, I placed everything I thought I needed to direct and to teach Shakespeare. Opening it yesterday took me on a journey back to a time when teaching Shakespeare was harder than it needed to be and I felt like I was winging it constantly.  Don’t get me wrong; the folks at Shakespeare & Company gave us a lot of good information. I learned so much about voice, a lot about taking the text out of context (to help dissolve some fear — my feelings about that I will get to shortly), Elizabethan dance steps, and lessons on tying today’s theatrical practices to Shakespeare (given circumstances, motivation, all the Stanislavsky and Method stuff).  What I didn’t find is anything that cracked the plays, and Shakespeare’s genius, open for me.

Like most high school teachers, I began teaching Shakespeare after experiencing it only in high school classrooms in which we sat and read every. single. word. of the play aloud. Now, I loved that. But I know now that that method of teaching will not work for every student and does a disservice to the author and to the rich material these works contain. Material to mine, figure, construe, and, eventually, apply.  Methods that we want students using when they graduate and pursue further study, careers, and life in general. By the time I reached the status of classroom teacher, however, I had never been introduced to them. Not in high school, not in college, not in community theatre, and not, sadly, at my Institute. I found the tools that help to expand the text in the professional practice at the American Shakespeare Center and in the Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare and Performance Program, both places where we work hard to introduce them to every student and every teacher who crosses our threshold.

My time at the Rose Playhouse Institute was valuable in many ways. It helped shape me as a person; it gave me confidence at a time when I sorely needed it; it supplied me with life-long friendships that I treasure. What it did not teach me how to do is to plumb Shakespeare for meaning.  Instead, sort of like with the recent TEDed video, Why Shakespeare loved Iambic Pentameter, I got a false sense that I knew stuff that mattered. My kids could do text lay-ups, create a sculpture garden of Shakespeare moments, but they couldn’t dig down into a passage, they couldn’t wrestle with the ins and outs of why it mattered. It’s not that the stuff that matters is so difficult, or so hard to teach; it’s that we don’t give it to our future (and present) teachers so that their students can experience the joy of discovering Shakespeare themselves.

In most “on your feet” or “performance-based classroom activities,” the material dodges the matter. It steers clear of looking at too much text (might scare the kids), at text in context (we don’t perform like that anymore), at using the tools Shakespeare’s actors used (they are dead, so they must not be very good).  When, however, we have the ability to study plays across the canon with techniques that take very little time to grasp but that astronomically expand the possibilities for students’ ownership of the text, we are opening the world — and not just the world of just of Shakespeare and literature — to them.  Through this, we say to them: you are good enough, smart enough, and talented enough to get and play with this revered text.

As an example, we worked on The Taming of the Shrew the last weekend in January with teachers from several states and disciplines. Cass looked at rhetoric (I know, surprise!) and early modern courtship as it relates to the play; I, ostensibly, looked at textual transmission (how the play changes from edition to edition) and acting in the play within the play. I say “ostensibly” because I ended up looking at scansion, rhetoric, second person pronouns, and stage directions. Why? Because once you see those things, you can’t un-see them.  Or, to say it another way, once you know their value, scenes and entire plays take on a depth of possibility that students who don’t know them can’t see.  It doesn’t take long to say de-DUM 5 times, or to walk around like a pirate (why a pirate? are we really encountering that many pirates that we use that as our “easy way” into Iambic Pentameter? I digress) but it can make a world of difference in looking at a scene if students know that actors use it as a clue to character and understanding.  Cass has already shared a textual variants activity with you from our study guide, but I would like to dig into that beast a little deeper and show you the things we couldn’t help but talk about last weekend.

TamingSnippetAt right is the page showing different versions editors made of the same passage in 2.1 (by the way, I pulled 9 editions to consider the stage directions in 4.1 and found that every single one constructed them differently — thus painting a different Petruchio). Look at the first 14 lines Petruchio speaks in this passage — ha! another thought, this is 14 lines, the length of a sonnet, but, I digress (again).

Marry so I mean sweet Katherine in thy bed:

And therefore setting all this chat aside

then in plain terms: your father hath consented

that you shall be my wife: your dowry greed on,

And will you, nill you, I will marry you.

Now Kate, I am a husband for your turn,

For by this light, whereby I see thy beauty,

Thy beauty that doth make me like thee well,

Thou will be married to no man but me.

Enter Baptista, Gremio, Tranio

For I am he am born to tame you Kate

And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate

Conformable as other household Kates:

Here comes your father, Never make denial

I must and will have Katharina to my wife.

As we discovered in last Friday’s teacher seminar session, this passage’s stress patterns and use of the informal second person pronoun lends some weight to the argument for the stage direction remaining where the folio places it, and thus, not moving it as later editions do (though, I am pleased to acknowledge that the Arden 3, edited by Barbara Hodgdon, leaves it and other important stage directions from the Folio, in 4.1 for instance, in tact).  It is somewhat unusual, and always revealing for an actor/student, when a pronoun falls in a stressed place. Here, we see four to six pronouns in the stressed position in just 14 lines. Moreover, the nature of the pronouns changes from the informal to the formal to the informal and, finally, back again (the second return to formal coming when the Folio signals the return of Kate’s father).  After we noted all of these things in the group (and pulled our collective hair out with the scansion of the first line–trochee, iamb, iamb, trochee (elision), weird feminine ending? or, entirely trochaic with a catalectic final foot?), we played with it. We made some big choices with the pronoun shifts, trying distance in the formal uses and closer proximity in the informal. We tried being really formal, with Petruchio kneeling the first time he uses the formal pronouns and then transitioning into a more intimate exchange in the informal.

In short, we looked at the text for what clues it could provide. We considered easily identifiable traits like beat and pronouns to create playing choices. We didn’t give just one line; we didn’t gloss over the challenges of the scene. We talked about playing possibilities. We gave the text back to the students (teachers in this case) to make of it what they wanted to. Returning the authority to tackle text is how we roll, and we do it by showing all of the details that are too often not taught but make the text accessible.

Sarah Enloe
Director of Education

PS: For an in-depth guide to exploring those possibilities in the classroom, join us on August 7th for the Summer Teacher Seminar: Shakespeare’s Toolbox.

Study Guide Snippet: The Taming of the Shrew Textual Variants

The Taming of the Shrew is, admittedly, a controversial play. I don’t mind that. I like controversy. It gets people talking. Personally, I have a sort of winding history with the play. As a young teenager, I loved it because I loved Kate. Like my all-time favorite heroine, Beatrice, Kate is witty and sharp and sarcastic. She has an edge to her, too, though, something either dark or sad that I didn’t fully appreciate until later in life. A little later on, I went through a period of stridently disliking the play, partially for feminist reasons, and partially because I wasn’t seeing very good productions. But I was willing to be convinced, and by the time I hit grad school, I was coming around on it. And then, my first year with the ASC, we explored a scene in a Teacher Seminar that blew the doors open for me.

For me, this entire play now hinges on a single stage direction. It’s a tiny change that can seal the difference between Petruchio-as-bully and Petruchio-as-actor/teacher, and that’s the focus of the Textual Variants activity in our brand-new Study Guide. Here’s a sneak peek — and if you want to see it in action, register now to join us for the Winter Teacher Seminar, January 30-31.

Continue reading

Colloquy Session V: Published Text

Doyle Ott

As a circus performer and director, Doyle Ott is interested in how much abuse plays may take, and if it gets a laugh, let it rip. Ott explains that circus and Shakespeare have a habit of feeding off each other.

Starting in the 1800 across Europe and America there were clowns who had solo Shakespeare and performance acts. Acts were introduced to by short speeches and full of physical comedy.

In the 1800 circuses would mount versions of Shakespeare histories and battles.

Audience would have been familiar enough with the plays to recognize the verbal parody of the Shakespearean clowns.  Most circuses would boast a Shakespearean Clown or Jester.

The scenarios in which Shakespeare’s language was used were often little related to original scenario, for example “to draw or not to draw” referring to a tooth ache.

One clown was referred to as “the Shakespearean Jester” and another “the Touchstone of the circus”

The repartee of Shakespearean clowns was influenced by Shakespeare’s description of York in Hamlet.

The clown evokes Shakespeare’s name to lend himself authenticity as a fool.

Dan Rice was a prominent Shakespearean clown in the United States.  His costume recalled Uncle Sam, and he didn’t wear clown white, he was more jester than buffoon.

Another famous Shakespearean clown, Wallace, once worked with Rice on short notice, Wallace played high status fool, and Rice took the place of the lower status clown, playing off of Wallace’s pretensions.

In 1849 the Rose Olympic Circus was built where Othello, and Richard II were performed by actors described as second rate actors but first rate clowns.

Shakespearean clowns had to have enviable knowledge and experience of Shakespeare’s works in order to parody them so effectively.

Lack of documentation leads many to discount them but relevant to Shakespeare performance tradition.

Iska Alter and William Long

Sidestepping feuds over who wrote what in Romeo and Juliet Alter and Long examine a few key important storytelling differences between the First and second Quarto publications.

First seven scenes of Q1 and Q2 are similar, but the variations they have are very import and inform context and content that inform audience about the play.  Differences abound even in title pages and in the opening Chorus. In Q1 the prologue starts out “Two household, both friends in dignity” which sends a very different opening message than the version in Q2 “Two households, both alike in dignity.”

Servants and their conduct differ slightly in Q1 and Q2.  The space they occupy is quite different because the servants dominate action in Q1, which suggests that comic action dominates the scene whereas Q2 is bawdier and the action shared more among the servants the young men of the family and the Lords.  Q2 also names 3 out of 4 servants who appear.

In Q1 “I” is used more in this scene and in Q2 “we.” What might this mean?

In their entrances in Q1 Benvolio and Tybalt don’t speak, but in Q2 we immediately are given clues to their characters by what they say. In Q2 Benvolio has a better idea of how fight affects city and the families. In Q1 everyone just stars fighting, in Q2 we get to know the characters a little better.  Q2 folio presents citizens entering fight led by officer.

When Lord Capulet and Lord Montague join the fight with their wives resistance are we meant to laugh at the sight of old men attempting to use their long swords?

In Q1 the Price’s speech after the brawl is shorter than in Q2.  However, it is not merely the length of the respective speeches, but prince’s condemnation is fiercer in Q2.

Q2 folio gives us are presentation of the destabilizing effects of the feud.

Arlynda Boyer

Plague, Playing, and Printing

A new narrative about Shakespeare’s writing history.

Ms. Boyer points out that gaps in the publication history of Shakespeare’s plays coincide with outbreaks of plague.

Most quartos boast of diverse and sundry performances, which could only happen out of plague time.

What if the plays weren’t published because they weren’t being performed?  Plague interrupts playing, which in turn interrupts publication.

Playing and plague shared a relationship, opponents blamed theater for plague infection partially because they believed that theaters offend god.

For plays to resume totally mortality rates in London would have to stay under between 30 to 50 people a week for 20 days depending on the date.

Privy Council was so anxious to ward off infection would often close theaters at the smallest risk.

1603 1 in 5 would get the plague that finally ended in late 1609. Shakespeare wrote some of his darkest plays during this period, not knowing when they would be performed.

Quarto publication followed performance between 18 months to two years on average. But if plague interrupted performance for too long this formula was shaken and if plague lasted even longer we have to wait for folio for the publication of the play.

Shakespeare moved companies during first plague of 1593.

During the long 1593 closure Shakespeare wrote Venus and Adonis and Rape of Lucrece.

Only Lear, Pericles and Othello were published in quarto out of nine plays written in plague the 1603-1609 plague years, Pericles may have been sold by co-writer because of hard financial times.

Julius Creaser and As You Like It are thought to have been written in 1599 but not published until folio, even though there wasn’t a large plague outbreak during this time. However, anything that interrupts performance influenced publication.  In June-October 1599 Henslowe records no income, but plague was virtually unknown. This is one of the only instance where not all playhouses closed and opened together, it may have been financial difficulty at Rose or may perhaps improvements to the playhouse. In times of unrest a crowd could turn violent quickly State and city were on edge all summer long, it is possible that this was the reason that the theaters were closed down.

Closures continued through 1613 on and off.

The one thing Early Moderns new about plague was that it spread in crowds, so playgoers may have been staying away, which might have deterred publication.

Amanda Finn

Nothing is so funny as a man in drag unless you’re the butt of the joke.

Changing the spelling of Epicene’s name changes the emotional feel of the play

2008 edition of Johnson’s work limited the stage direction of the elaborate clothing removal.

Epicene means sexless or neuter in Geek.

Epicene was a common name for sexless characters so Early Modern audiences would not have been as shocked by the twist ending

Not one character in Epicene is meant to be taken at face value.

At one point an editor decided that removal of clothing was unnecessary and to just removing the wig.

The revelation in act V exposes the men as the fools that they are.  Removing clothing is more shocking than removing a wig to show definite proof of gender, this is a pivotal scene for nocking men off their pedestals and destroying their social position.

While the men are acting effeminately towards everyone the women are acting mannish. Epicene is the only women who acts the way that a character earlier in the play defines as “womanish.”

Considering the lack of stage directions from this time, it seems unjust to remove this one.

Mathew Vadnais

Plays of the Queen’s Men influenced Shakespeare’s writing style as well as content.

Queens’s Men were designed to divide to reach the most places possible.

Playwrights would not have been able to write for specific actors.

In order to make performance cue parts easier developed strategy of longer speeches and easily recognized cue lines.

The demands of a company that broke and came back together made playwright focus on structure.

By pairing plays with later Shakespeare history plays we see same speech percentages.

Book Review: The Bookman’s Tale, by Charlie Lovett

BookmansTaleThe Bookman’s Tale is the story of Peter, an antiquarian bookseller who, in the midst of grieving for his recently-departed wife, finds what appears to be a Victorian-era watercolor of her, pressed inside an old copy of Edmond Malone’s An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers (the book exposing William Henry Ireland’s forgeries of Shakespearean manuscripts). Though he knows the painting can’t possibly be of his wife, he feels compelled to find out the identity of both painter and subject. Hunting down this information leads him to stumble across an early edition of Robert Greene’s Pandosto, the source material for The Winter’s Tale. While this would be an extraordinary find on its own, what makes this particular book even more astonishing is the marginalia: a series of notes apparently written by Shakespeare as he composed his play. Peter thinks that he may have realized his life-long dream to find evidence proving once and for all that Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him, but he knows enough of the history of forgeries to be wary of deception, and so he sets out on a quest to determine the book’s authenticity. He’s not the only one on the trail, however, and people with a lot to lose if Pandosto proves authentic are willing to kill to preserve its secrets.

The book moves along three separate but interrelated storylines: the first set in 1995, when Peter finds the copy of Pandosto and goes on his quest; the second set in the 1980s, when Peter begins his career in rare books at college, and which also charts his relationship with Amanda from their first meeting to its tragic end; and the third spanning from 1592 through the 1870s, tracking the transmission of one copy of Pandosto through time and through the exchange of many hands. The historical plotline delves into the world of playmaking and printing in the 16th and 17th centuries, showing what a cutthroat business it really could be, driven by rivalries, egos, and personal vendettas. Of the three storylines, the least relevant to the driving plot is the 1980s thread — but that is the storyline which gives this book its heart. It’s what makes you care about Peter, and it’s what makes you feel that his quest matters not only scholastically, but personally as well. It also provides a lot of the connective tissue which ultimately ties the loose ends of the story together, because the reader gets to see Peter learn his trade as well as learn to come out of his shell and engage with Amanda’s family and friends.

I received this book from the publisher, in exchange for a review, and I will freely admit that I had a lot of reservations — and I will just as freely admit that they were all, thankfully, rendered irrelevant. I worried this would be yet another Da Vinci Code knockoff, and while I have nothing against that genre of book in general, the quality can be alarmingly varied. I worried it would have an anti-Stratfordian bent, because I have learned to be leery when I see phrases like “prove the truth about Shakespeare’s identity” on book jackets. I worried that the dead-wife angle would make it too maudlin, too Gothic for my personal tastes. I’m very happy to say that, as it turns out, I had nothing to fear on all three counts.

The biggest problem, I think, is that the summary really doesn’t do the book justice. For one thing, it makes it sound like the book is a lot more about the painting and the Victorian angle, when the far greater focus is on textual transmission and the development of the Shakespeare brand through the centuries. It’s also not nearly as mournful in tone as the jacket makes it out to be. Peter is a strong protagonist without needing to be an action hero, and I appreciate him for that. He is, definitely, a scholar and a bookseller, and at no point during the story does he morph into a super-spy or an Indiana Jones. He remains what he is, using his intelligence, his inquisitive nature, and his training in the field of early modern publishing to hunt down the mystery. I also appreciated that Lovett could give us an introverted protagonist with social anxiety problems and still have him be a strong character. Peter struggles a lot, both early in the 1980s storyline and in the 1995 storyline, with social interaction, but the reader gets to see him learn how to deal with that. He finds his safe spaces and safe people. Unfortunately, since Amanda was the one who drew him out to begin with, after her death, he retreats from the world and isolates himself entirely — so a lot of the story isn’t just his quest to find the truth behind Pandosto, it’s about him finding closure with her death and learning to be that more-adjusted version of himself again, even without her. It’s a deeper and more emotionally satisfying angle than I was expecting the book to have, and it strengthens the narrative.

Some of the twists and turns are a little predictable, but that doesn’t bother me much. After all, as Shakespeare so often reminds us, knowing the plot isn’t the same as knowing the story. The Bookman’s Tale is less a fast-paced thriller and more a historical-psychological exploration with a dash of mystery, and I appreciate that Lovett didn’t seem to feel much need to hammer it into another form. The threat of danger towards the end is the only place it gets a little Da Vinci Code-y, but even there, The Bookman’s Tale strains plausibility far less than other books in this genre. There were only a few details throughout which I found far-fetched, such as a professor of Shakespeare at an esteemed university never having heard of Q1 Hamlet (but perhaps, in the 1980s, that could have been true?). The secondary romantic interest felt a little tacked-on and unnecessary. The book definitely would have worked just as well without that aspect, but Lovett also isn’t too heavy-handed about it, so it’s easy to ignore.

I can cheerfully recommend The Bookman’s Tale as a great summer read for any Shakespeare enthusiast, but particularly, I think, for the kind that we get at the Blackfriars Playhouse. There’s more substance here than to your typical novel of this sort, and a lot more “Easter eggs” slipped in for the benefit of readers-in-the-know. I think our scholarly friends will appreciate the attention to detail which Lovett gives the history of textual transmission. The sections set during Shakespeare’s lifetime are full of wonderful details, intriguing cameos, and cheeky off-hand references. Lovett clearly knows his stuff when it comes to the playhouses and the print culture of early modern England. The Bookman’s Tale would actually be a great companion book to Shapiro’s Contested Will, in some ways, because it takes a fictionalized look at the true history of how Shakespeare mania grew over the centuries into a force which spawned forgeries and erroneous theories. It just released this week, so pick it up at your local bricks-and-mortar or on Amazon.

Thanks to the generosity of Viking Press, the ASC will be hosting a giveaway contest, wherein one of our lucky followers will get a free copy of The Bookman’s Tale. We will have details on that giveaway for you in a separate post early next week.

The Rabbit Hole of Textual Oddities

This story started innocently enough. One of my current projects is to complete a full metrical and rhetorical analysis of Romeo and Juliet (as I did for Julius Caesar last year), but in order to begin that, I first have to complete a full check against the Folio. At ASC Education, we like to return to the 1623 First Folio to recover stage directions, emotionally inflected punctuation, and other textual variants which editors have sometimes obfuscated over the years. This practice can lead to a lot of intriguing discoveries; little did I know that one such curiosity yesterday would end up devouring a significant portion of my morning.

While checking 1.4, where Mercutio and Benvolio attempted to cheer Romeo up as they head for the Capulets’ ball, I ran across the fascinating error at right: Hora. as a prefix, presumably for Horatio. There is no character in Romeo and Juliet named Horatio, though the stage direction for this scene does specify the presence of “five or six other Maskers, Torch-bearers.” ‘How odd,’ I thought. ‘I wonder if that error is in the Q2.’ The 1599 second quarto of Romeo and Juliet is the other reliable text for this play; most modern editions conflate elements from the Q2 and the Folio to arrive at their preferred version of the text (though many slip in elements from Q1 as well). As you can see below, yes, the 1599 Q2 does contain this error — even more explicitly as Horatio. The Folio, then, simply retains what Q2 shows.

So I wondered, ‘Huh. How strange. Does this error exist in Q1, then?‘ A quick check revealed that: no, it doesn’t. These lines are not in Q1, which jumps straight from Romeo’s “So stakes me to the ground I cannot stirre” to Mercutio’s “Give me a case to put my visage in,” skipping the pictured section of dialogue entirely. So how did the wandering speech-prefix come about? (And ought I to call it a prefix-errant?).

The simplest explanation is basic printer error: speech prefixes and names were often struck as sets, rather than assembled from individual letters. This practice is why the prefixes and names within the verse generally appear in an italicized font rather than the plain text. It’s easy to imagine, then, that a Horatio, struck for some other play, somehow got mixed in with the Mercutios intended for this scene, and that the type-setter’s quick fingers grabbed it and placed it without the type-setter consciously noticing the incongruity. It’s possible, though I suspect far less likely, that the printer did strike the speech prefix Horatio for this single instance. Perhaps Shakespeare wrote Horatio once where he meant Mercutio (in simple Italianate error, or perhaps thinking of another role the same actor played) and that error stayed in the fair copy or prompt book Creede received to set the type off of. Other similar errors exist, as in the editions of Much Ado about Nothing which have Kemp instead of Dogberry — but each of those gets used more than once. It seems less likely that Creede would create and strike a new full-length nameplate to use only once, so, for the intellectual exercise, I decided to pursue my first theory.

I was at first only tickled by this appearance, amused to picture Hamlet’s best friend getting ready to go to a party in Verona. Did he take a weekend trip away from Wittenburg? Did he decide to move south after the tragedy at Elsinore? Fanfiction-like possibilities abound. But then I remembered — the Romeo and Juliet Q2 was printed in 1599. The first quarto of Hamlet wouldn’t be printed for another four years, so it’s unlikely that the speech prefix was struck for Hamlet‘s Horatio. The light amusement began to grow into a prickling curiosity. What character could it have existed for, then?

The only other Horatio who jumped to my mind is the gentleman in Thomas Kyd’s A Spanish Tragedy — which, as it turns out, had a quarto printed in the same year as the Q2 of Romeo and Juliet in which this error originates. Ah-ha! This seemed to fit my theory perfectly. How easy to make the error if both plays were being printed at the same time, or at least within a reasonably close amount of time — especially since both are full of Spanish/Italianate names.

So, I went to Early English Books Online (EEBO) to find out, first, who printed the Q2 Romeo and Juliet, and if that was the same printhouse that put out the 1599 Q3 of The Spanish Tragedy. Answer: No. Thomas Creede printed the Romeo and Juliet Q2, while William White had the 1599 Spanish Tragedy. The next-earliest Spanish Tragedys were in 1592 and 1594, printed by Edward Allde, so there’s no strong connection there, either.

Who, then, is Horatio? How did this speech prefix sneak in? I felt compelled to push my theory farther. If we accept our Occam’s-Razor-Compatible explanation of a wandering prefix from something else originating at the same printhouse, then what other plays and books were that printer putting out around the same time, and was there a Horatio in any of them? Between 1597 and 1599, Creede printed six other plays, including the 1598 Richard III, John Lyly’s Mother Bombie, and the anonymous Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, as well as a lot of prose histories. I skimmed through a couple of the plays — no Horatios (though, as a side note, skimming just the stage directions in an unfamiliar play can give you an interesting perspective on it. The Comicall Historie of Alphonsus apparently includes a brazen head, Venus and the Muses, Medea and Iphigenia having a conversation, and at least one murder). I, sadly, do not have the time to look through all of the narrative histories and discourses to see if Horatio appears in the text of any of them. As such, I have no notion where this error originates, who that first Horatio was that ended up reveling with Mercutio and Benvolio, and I may never have that curiosity satisfied. Such is often the travail of academia.

Why does any of this matter? I recognize that, while I found this to be a wonderful scavenger hunt and an entertaining game, not everyone is thoroughly geeky enough to share those effusive emotions about a relatively minor textual variant. So what’s the practical application? Well, that has to do with the choices editors have made in repairing the error over the years. Every modern edition of Romeo and Juliet that we have here in the ASC Education office assigns those lines to Mercutio. It makes sense. He and Romeo are enjoying a back-and-forth. But… they don’t have to be Mercutio’s lines. Would anything change by giving them instead to Benvolio? It would certainly make him more involved in Mercutio and Romeo’s conversation, part of their lively sparring, not separate from it. What sort of a different Benvolio might that yield for the entire production? I don’t know, but I’d like to give that option back to production companies and classroom discussions so that we can find out.

Exploration and Revelation: The Winter 2012 Teacher Seminar

This past weekend, we held our Winter Teacher Seminar, a two-day event where participants attend workshops and lectures and see two of the plays of the Actors’ Renaissance Season. Thanks in part to a generous grant from the Richard and Caroline T. Gwathmey Memorial Trust, more educators than ever were able to join us – and we had a group from diverse teaching backgrounds: middle schools, high schools, and universities, public and private, military and religious, as well as some professional acting companies and arts organizations. We also had participants join us from as far away as Florida and Pennsylvania, as well as representing 16 cities and counties within Virginia. It was so exciting to have such a full, enthusiastic group with us for the weekend. I always feel so energized after these events, so full of joy for the work that we do together and for the new avenues of insight these educators feed back to me.

Saturday’s workshops focused on Much Ado about Nothing, Sunday’s on Richard III. Ralph drew connections between the two plays, and how each has its moments of invited and inappropriate laughter, and each its moments inviting or castigating silence. He drew a correlation between these moments on stage and in the classroom – after all, there are times teachers desperately hope that their students laugh at a joke, and there are times teachers abhor hearing laughter. He also encouraged the teachers to find their own personal hook within the play, something that calls to them and energizes them, and to teach those moments. Teaching requires no small part of vulnerability, to lay out the things you care for to what may often seem an unruly mob of the disaffected and cynical.

Saturday morning, we also modeled one of the activities out of the Much Ado about Nothing Study Guide. This one was my baby, and I’d been looking forward to working through it with our seminar attendees ever since I wrote it back in November – so I was actually fairly nervous heading in. Like any teacher, I have had, on occasion, something I’m really excited about flop rather pathetically when brought to the table. I always learn something from that experience – how I might need to tweak the activity, toss out elements that aren’t working, or graft a new idea on – but failure isn’t exactly pleasant to go through, however constructive it may ultimately be. So, heart in my hands, I stepped up to lead this workshop. And it went wonderfully(!).

The exploration is an active one, examining how language can inform character choices in the various sparring matches between Beatrice and Benedick. Participants – with the help of the rest of the class – look for moments when one character repeats the other, builds on a metaphor the other started, or arranges contrast of some kind. What the seminar attendees discovered – as I’d hoped they would – is that while Beatrice and Benedick use the same rhetorical devices with each other in three different scenes, the way they use them creates three very different moods, from the aggressive sparring of 1.1 to the tender hesitation of 4.1 to the playful equilibrium achieved in 5.2. We make these devices visual and kinetic – to appeal to different kinds of learners – by having our Beatrice and Benedick peg nerf balls at each other each time, highlighting the verbal tennis match they engage in. It was great to see at what moments one of them (usually Beatrice) was able to score more points.

I love this activity for how it demonstrates several different advantages of performance-based learning: first, how Shakespeare creates these characters as so right for each other. No one else in the play – even in a play as full of quick wits as Much Ado is – can quite match their verbal dexterity. Second, the activity highlights that “infinite variety” of performance choices Sarah and I are always talking about. The rhetoric gives actors – and students – not an answer, but the grounds on which to make a decision. Our avatar Beatrices and Benedicks were able to offer so many alternatives on even the smallest moment – it really drives home that idea of performance-based learning. Finally, this activity appeals to many different kinds of learners, as it involves verbal, textual, visual, and kinetic elements. Everyone from the class clown to the shiest member of the class has a place in this activity. I think all of those elements came across for our seminar attendees, and I’m so pleased I got to share this workshop with them.

You can view a sample of this workshop in-progress on YouTube:

The Gwathmey grant also allowed us to bring two guest speakers to Staunton, giving our participants the chance to interact with scholars whose research bears a direct emphasis on the plays they saw and their classroom activities. Chelsea Phillips, a veteran of MBC’s MLitt/MFA program and now a third-year Ph.D. student at Ohio State University, came down to share thoughts related to her dissertation: the presence of pregnant bodies on stage. This discussion is particularly relevant this year, as Miriam Donald, who plays Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing and the Duchess of York, among other roles, in Richard III, is visibly pregnant. We wanted to offer teachers – especially those bringing their students to see one of those two productions this year – the benefit of Chelsea’s research into the historical precedent of pregnant actresses playing non-pregnant roles, in order to give them a solid grounding on which to base classroom discussion. Chelsea also works on Ohio State’s partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company implementing the RSC’s Stand Up for Shakespeare program in local schools, making her a valuable resource on Shakespeare in the classroom. On Sunday, Carter Hailey joined us for a lecture-demo on textual variants. Carter has taught Medieval and Renaissance literature, Shakespeare, and textual studies at Washington and Lee University, the College of William and Mary (where yours truly was one of his students), Sweet Briar College, and Georgetown University, and he publishes on matters bibliographical, lexical, and editorial. In addition to discussing the textual histories of Much Ado about Nothing and Richard III, he shared Hailey’s COMET, a portable optical collator of his own design and construction, which provides critical editors with a new way of examining variants between texts. We synthesized Carter’s lecture with an exploration of how to use textual variants in the classroom as a way to give students greater ownership of the text, allowing them to realize that there is no One Shakespeare to Rule Them All – rather, that the text as they see it has already passed through the hands of many compositors and editors, and that they may make choices based on this awareness.

So, that was the weekend. As ever, I wished I had more time. There’s always so much more to say, more staging moments to discuss, more of Shakespeare’s word- and stagecraft to explore. I’m already looking forward to our spring seminar, in April, when we’ll be leaping into A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Winter’s Tale. I’m also going to be releasing a survey soon, both to our seminar participants and to anyone who’s purchased a Study Guide from us, asking for feedback on the information and activities we provide. It’s interesting to have to examine what it is I need to know from our teachers – a sort of backwards self-evaluation. I’ll be putting their feedback into practice when I start – very soon – building the Study Guides for next year. My first endeavor will be Twelfth Night, as we already have folks booking the touring company asking for it. I love seeing so much advance enthusiasm for the ASC’s synthesis of education and performance. I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who joined us this past weekend, and I sincerely hope we’ll see you all again soon.