The Tale of the Naughty Spammer

Twelve Months do a Naughty Spammer make

Last summer the American Shakespeare Center hired a new, talented Tour Manager named Darlene. Before coming to the OCS, Darlene worked as an Art Director at a major publisher and spent a semester at a nearby institution of higher education as a Typography professor. Darlene presented herself as professional, thorough, above reproach. Little did she know that, by simply joining the OCS staff, she had started on a pathway to notoriety and repeated email “black-listing.” Several months and 4 new emails addresses later, Darlene is just coming to terms with the precarious moral position her new job has placed her in. Who would have guessed that booking early modern plays with university professors and performing arts centers would lead Darlene to become known as a “Naughty Spammer”? What follows is her story.

12 Months ago

The titles for the Almost Blasphemy tour went to press, and the members of the Shakespeare Association of America, meeting in Chicago, were among the first to see that OCS on Tour would be performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Winter’s Tale, and, the root of all the difficulty, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. The Shakespeareans were, by all accounts, delighted to hear that this rare John Ford play was to be featured in the OCS’s repertory for 2011-12, many a scholar stopped by our table to express his or her delight and share his or her wish that OCS would bring the show to their campuses.

9 months ago

Darlene joined the OCS staff. She immediately went to work filling in the blank spots left in the upcoming 2010-11Restless Ecstasy tour, featuring Macbeth, As You Like It, and Measure for Measure. These titles shot across the Internet without any problem, and Darlene quickly filled the openings, which enabled her to move onto the pressing demands of booking 2011-12.

6 months ago

Darlene began working in earnest to sell the 2011-12 tour, sending out emails aplenty. Strangely, though, her emails were not reaching the recipients. In case after case, Darlene called to follow-up and spoke to patrons who “never got her email.” Darlene and the IT team (actually, the Director of Education and a contracted tech wizard) tried and tried to figure out why Darlene’s emails weren’t going through. Then, there was a break-through. One of Darlene’s contacts called her to report that the University where the contact works had “black-listed” Darlene. Darlene created a new email address (the second of four), and began sending out emails advertising the plays again. Again, the emails failed to make it to their intended recipients.

3 months ago

After creating a third, and then a fourth email address, Darlene realized that her increasing isolation might have to do with the content of her emails. So, she went on a clean up campaign.

Exhibit A: The text from the original email, and the relevant text from the “clean” version follow:


The American Shakespeare Center on Tour

Now Booking the 2011/2012 “Almost Blasphemy” Tour

The American Shakespeare Center on Tour, the touring arm of the American Shakespeare Center

and the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia, presents three plays on its tour:


A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by William Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s theatrical spell is powerful enough to make audiences of all

ages believe in anything. Shakespeare’s ravishing comedy of lovers, heroes, fairies, and

rude mechanicals is his tribute to humankind’s power of imagination.

The Winter’s Tale

by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s magnificent play is a roller-coaster ride from romance to tragedy to comedy

and finally to a place of transcendent beauty that few other works of art have ever gone.

“A sad tale’s best for winter,” says Hermione’s young sonbut after unleashing a wintry tempest

onto his characters, Shakespeare ultimately conjures spring’s miraculous rebirth.

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore

by John Ford

John Ford’s brilliant re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet leads audiences deep into a story

of passion, lust, vengeance, greed, incest, and murder. After almost 400 years, ‘Tis Pity She’s

a Whore‘s tale of forbidden love remains controversial, shocking, and theatrically spellbinding.



The American Shakespeare Center on Tour

Now Booking the 2011/2012 Almost Bl*sphemy Tour…

‘Tis Pity She’s a Wh*re

by John Ford

John Ford’s brilliant re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet leads audiences deep into a story of passion, vengeance, greed and murder. After almost 400 years, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Wh*re’s tale of forbidden love remains controversial, shocking, and theatrically spellbinding.

The moral

By trying to sell Tis Pity She’s a Whore, OCS Tour manager navigated the slippery slope to Naughty Spammer status. What began as an attempt to bring an early modern play to new audiences has ended in four email addresses, multiple black lists and, well, an almost completely sold out tour. If you want to find out what all the fuss is about, maybe you should give Darlene a call and book the tour for your campus. It could be that the email Darlene originally sent never reached you, don’t let Internet censure-ship stop you from booking the OCS on Tour. Oh, do be sure do put (or or [email protected] or [email protected]) on your “protected list” so her emails can get through to you.

Exhibit B:
Facebook conversation about the play title:

Author: Anyone out there have a reaction to the play early modern play title “Tis Pity She’s a Whore”? I just wonder what people think the play might be about just based on the title…

Is that the original Pretty Woman?

Author: ha! ha! That is awesome, K—-. I’m afraid its much more insidious than Pretty Woman–incest, murder, mayhem…la.

Missing subtitle: (‘Cause she’d make a great [insert amusing occupation here]).

Author: ‎: )

‎”That’s my suyster!” – to quote Jonson

M— posted a link to the Lost Plays database and I’m currently compiling a list of the ones I’m having the most fun with, in terms of trying to figure out their plots based on the names alone.

I don’t know, but it is hands down my favorite play.

about a guy who falls in love with a whore and she can’t change her ways???

one of my favorites.

sounds good to me… it must be good

One of my favorite early modern.

Author: good guess, r—. its actually sort of a really screwed up romeo and juliet where those two characters are brother and sister (ewww) and then there is murder and villiany and a heart on a knife.

wow. nasty, odd play though

I got to play Vasques in college. To this date, one of my favorite roles and plays. Incest, revenge, humor, and lots of blood. What’s not to like?

One of my favorite plays! Does that make me all bad?

we put that on in Austin in 2003. A good number of audience members arrived expecting a comedy.

Author: hey M–, who? who did it? how’d it go? just wondering about how one markets this title…when internetisms block the whole “whore” and “incest” bits…

B— F— did. Sadly, the company website is down at the moment, so no lurid copy or gory pictures. But the single most consistent audience response was some variation of “we though this was going to be a comedy” (with “I really want to go take a shower” a close second). It went well. Or maybe it sucked, but we certainly had fun with it, and people seemed to like it. Gasps and audible disgust at all the right places. Great fake heart. Lots of blood.

I think you said it: Incest, Murder, Mayhem…La!

Just as gruesome as Revenger’s Tragedy, which has my current top spot for a Jacobean tragedy.

Before I ever actually read it, I figured it would have something to do with a woman cuckolding her husband. Don’t remember for sure if I thought it was going to be serious or funny.

I LOVE this play! In terms of marketing…how about “The play that closed the theaters” cause I’ve always though this was the one that pushed the Puritans over the edge. Or “Romeo and Juliet with a twist” which will at least let people know to expect a tragedy.

People really should know that “whore”=tragedy. When there are whores in comedy, they turn out to be maids. Or plot devices.

Author: Thanks guys!

(Posted by Cass for Sarah, who wrote the article, but who is en route to the SAA Conference today).

Shakespearean March Madness: The Final Four

Ladies and gentlemen, we are down to our last four competitors, and it’s quite a set. From the quarterfinal matches: Richard III, by now quite used to dealing with manipulative females, takes out Lady Macbeth, 38-22. On the other hand, clever and ruthless Queen Margaret outwits Iago, 34-20. Titus Andronicus just barely managed to edge out in front of Prospero, taking a late-game 27-22 victory, while Henry V won handily over Macbeth (39-6) — not a good day for Scotland. These results give us our Final Four: Richard III, Queen Margaret, Titus Andronicus, and Henry V.

Semifinal 1: Richard III vs Queen Margaret

Who wins the battle?

  • Richard III
  • Queen Margaret

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Semifinal 2: Titus Andronicus vs Henry V

Who wins the battle?

  • Titus Andronicus
  • Henry V

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So we have a grudge rematch and a battle between two legendary generals. Tough calls all around, but I’m going with Margaret and Henry. This is the opportunity for vengeance that Margaret’s been waiting for, and I think she’ll make the most of it. As for Henry, I think he’s just plain got more staying power than Titus. That English longbow will do for the legions, and Henry can outwit and outmaneuver Titus on the leadership side.

Who do you think deserves to move on to the finals? Vote and discuss your choices! These polls will be open till Thursday — a shorter time frame, so make your decision and stand up for your chosen competitor soon.

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 25 March 2011

This week: the value of teachers and the quality of education, some international news, and a slew of focused essays on Shakespeare’s works.

  • An international panel is encouraging the U.S. to raise teachers’ status. Cass says: Whenever this topic comes up, I remember the fantastic speech Sam Seaborne makes in an episode of The West Wing, when he says that schools should be palaces, that teachers should be making six-figure salaries and that the competition to be the best should be fierce. Why aren’t teachers held to the same standards and given the same respect (and salaries) as doctors? Surely they hold a place of equivalent significance to a society’s success.
  • At the same time, U.S. colleges are getting praise from the Brits (who are currently facing their own struggles with education). Sarah says: Hmmm, maybe we do some things right…
  • This article about students texting in class has an interesting link to Shakespeare — towards the end of the article, the teacher discusses methods she’s taken to switch things up in her classroom and encourage her students’ attention to stay on her and on their work rather than on their phones — and one of those methods is getting students up to act out scenes from Hamlet rather than just reading them. Cass says: I wonder if this might be a way to convince some teachers who are still reluctant about classroom staging to give it a try — after all, if your student has a text in his hand and everyone’s eyes on him in the center of the classroom, he’s probably not going to be whipping out his smartphone for a Facebook update.
  • The British education secretary has proposed an initiative to get students as young as 11 reading 50 books a year. Cass says: I think this is a great idea, and I’m confused by all the hullabaloo it’s generated. On the one hand, folk are saying that the government shouldn’t be mandating literature, that they shouldn’t be giving citizens a required reading list (and, it’s worth noting, they aren’t — the proposal has some suggestions, but no forced list), and on the other hand, some are saying that if students just read any fifty books, what’s the point? If they just read “junk,” what’s the benefit? Shouldn’t quality matter more than quantity? Well, I can’t see how getting students — or adults! — reading more is a bad thing. I’d rather someone reading fifty trashy romance novels or than someone who reads nothing at all. Brain candy books have merit, too — your imagination and the language centers of your brain get stimulated whether it’s classic literature or not. In order to get them reading quality, you first have to get them reading at all.
  • In an age when celebrities like Victoria Beckham declare that they’ve never read a book in their lives with no apparent shame or dismay about that, it’s encouraging to see this list of the 15 Most Well-Educated Celebrities.
  • Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust has had a series of Shakespeare debates featuring students aged 15-18. Cass says: I love this idea. From the quotes this article displays, it looks like it’s really getting the students into the nitty-gritty of the play, making them think critically about the character dynamics and the human emotions swirling about in Othello.
  • An interesting op-ed, in the wake of the earthquake in Japan, on how Shakespeare’s words can help cope with grieving.
  • An essay from a Catholic perspective on Henry V and the idea of a “just war.” This essay looks both at Shakespeare’s text, the historical reality, and the scripture relating to declaring war. Cass says: Even if you’re not Catholic, it’s an interesting read, and something worth a dramaturg’s notice.
  • Open Shakespeare has an intriguing essay examining the Macbeths’ marriage. The author asserts that Lord and Lady M are the only “real personalities,” the well-developed characters in the play (Cass says: Not sure I agree there — I would argue that Banquo and Macduff have a fair bit of depth going on as well) and that they are “Shakespeare’s happiest married couple.”
  • The British Museum will be hosting a “blockbuster Shakespeare show” in advance of the 2012 Olympics. “London 1612: Shakespeare’s Theatre of the World … will explore the role of the capital as an emerging international city 400 years ago, interpreted through his plays. The blockbuster show will include more than 150 exhibits, including important paintings from national and private collections, rare jewels and manuscripts including a First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays.” Cass says: As though I needed more things tempting me into a trip to London.

Shakespearean March Madness: Quarterfinals, Part 2

Winnowing the field even further, I present the results of the Round of Sixteen, Part 2: Titus Andronicus takes out Joan of Arc with Roman efficiency (35-19). Somehow, Prospero manages to edge out Hotspur in one of our closest matches so far, 25-23. Maybe he revived Glendower and called in some extra magical aid. In our battle of the heroes, the good Macduff falls to the military prowess of Henry V (33-17). Finally, Macbeth, Bellona’s bridegroom, takes the victory over Coriolanus (35-14). These victories give us the final two matches of the Quarterfinals:

Quarterfinal 3: Titus Andronicus vs Prospero

Who wins the battle?

  • Titus Andronicus
  • Prospero

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Quarterfinal 4: Henry V vs Macbeth

Who wins the battle?

  • Henry V
  • Macbeth

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My picks: Titus and Hal. I think there’s no contest in Quarterfinal 3, but then I’ve thought Prospero should’ve been out since Round 1. Some of you who keep voting for him need to tell me why I should think better of his combat skills than I do. However much of a Cinderella story he’s been so far, I think his time is up. Sarah is telling me that he has grace and shows mercy, which makes him a better person than Titus, sure, but that isn’t going to protect him against a ruthless, half-mad killer. Titus goes for the throat whereas Prospero pulls his punches, however magical those punches may be, and at this stage in the game, it’s time to go for the jugular. Henry versus Macbeth is a bit tougher for me, because these are both heavyweight hitters. Ultimately, though, I pick Henry V, because while Macbeth is great when it comes to subterfuge and sneaking around, Hal’s spent his share of time skulking about in the dark as well, so I don’t think Macbeth would be able to use the cover of darkness to get the drop on him — and when it comes to pitching open battle in the light of day, no one does it better than the hero-king.

Think I’m wrong? Tell me why! These polls will be open until Tuesday, and you still have until Monday to vote on Richard vs Lady Macbeth and Iago vs Margaret. Help decide who advances to the Final Four, and who pays the ultimate price for failure.

Shakespearean March Madness: Quarterfinals, Part 1

The contestants are falling fast and furious now, readers. From the first part of the Round of Sixteen: Richard III outwits the mischievous Puck, although our merry wanderer of the night makes a decent fight of it (48-37). I’ll warrant that mis-shapen Dick wasn’t counting on so much spirit from the sprite. Antony, on the other hand, hardly presents a challenge at all for Lady Macbeth, whose wiles and determination make a quick end of him (63-13). In the battle of the self-admitted villains, Iago takes the edge over Edmund (50-30). We can only assume Edmund got trapped up in some family drama and lost his concentration. Finally, for the catfight, Queen Margaret puts an end to Goneril’s ambitions (47-24). There’s only going to be one queen of this isle, and if Margaret has anything to say about it, she’ll be French. These results leave us with our first quarterfinal matches:

Quarterfinal 1: Richard III vs Lady Macbeth

Who wins the battle?

  • Richard III
  • Lady Macbeth

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Quarterfinal 2: Iago vs Queen Margaret

Who wins the battle?

  • Iago
  • Queen Margaret

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We’ve winnowed out the weaklings, and we’re left with some really fierce competitors. Any of these four deserve to move on, ruthless, conniving, bloodthirsty schemers all. Ultimately, though, I’m going to take a stand for my gender and root for both of the ladies.

These polls will stay open until Monday, when I’ll announce our first semi-finalists. You still have until Thursday to vote on the Round of Sixteen, Part 2.

Spring 2011 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival – Session 3

We return for the third and final session of the Spring 2011 Thesis Festival.

Characters Performing for Characters in the Plays of Philip Massinger, by Brian Falbo (MLitt candidate)

Brian begins with a quick introduction to The Roman Actor and the scene presented by Katie Crandol, Elizabeth Rentfro, and Liz Lodato. Brian then states that he divides performance-within-plays into two major categories: frame performance (plays, masques, religious ceremonies, and legal proceedings) and natural performance (deceit, manipulation, disguise). The Roman Actor contains examples of both types, often layered upon each other. He also distinguishes the on-stage, in-play, scripted audience from the in-theatre audience (who, he notes apologetically, matters less for the purposes of his thesis). In The Roman Actor, the eponymous actor, Paris, presents an idealized version of theatre, with the ability to instruct virtue. Brian then looks at the arbitrary political executions and murders of retribution, relating them to the frame devices and examining Domitian’s use of theatre as thought-control on his audience. Domitian’s attempts fail entirely, because “theatre is suggestion and not thought-control,” and Domitian has to resort repeatedly to his only real power – that of life and death over his subjects, executing those who displease him by failing to get the message of the performance. After Massinger displays Domitian’s failure three times, he moves to the Empress, whose failure is different in that “she attempts to make the theatre conform to her life,” to the extent that she genuinely fears the death of the actor in whom she is interested; the Empress is incapable of separating role from actor. The blurred lines culminate when, during another performance, Domitian takes a role and then uses a real weapon and kills the actor Paris. In Paris, Domitia, and Domitian, Massinger presents three extremes of theatre, all of which critically fail, suggesting that “a compromise of all three viewpoints is a possible” reconciliation — though Massinger does not suggest how to go about finding that middle ground. Brian suggests that this play, Massinger’s first as a house playwright, may be Massinger’s “manifesto,” a demonstration of three extremes of theatre which he vows not to stray too near to.

“Perchance to Dream”: Shakespeare’s Dream Imagery within Early Modern Dream Culture, by Melissa Tolner (MLitt candidate)

Melissa begins by introducing the concept of dreams, in personal, scientific, and historical terms. She cites several sources for dreamlore in early modern England: Greek and Roman sources, medieval English folklore, and religious texts. She also notes the overlap of dream symbolism with sympathetic magic and the occult. Additionally, she covers the history of publications of books on dreams and dream interpretation in the 16th century, which included such strange notations such as “if one ate lettuce in one’s dream, death would follow.” Melissa suggests that dreams on stage bridge the gap between realistic story and overt allegory. She examines dreams within Richard III, beginning with Clarence’s dire premonition (presented by Bobby Byers and AJ Sclafani), full of macabre imagery, designed to move audience sympathies to align with Clarence. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Melissa examines Shakespeare’s inheritance of themes from medieval traditions and Chaucer’s, with Nick Bottom’s dream speech presented by Angelina LaBarre. Melissa also notes that A Midsummer Night’s Dream contains only a single actual dream — Hermia’s nightmare in Act Two (which Angelina also presents). Melissa then moves to Romeo and Juliet and Mercutio’s speech about “the fairy’s midwife,” better known as the Queen Mab speech (presented by Elizabeth Rentfro and AJ). She compares this discussion with Romeo’s description of his ironically optimistic dream in 5.1, where the audience witnesses Romeo analyze his own dream. Melissa concludes by commenting on the point of intersection between Shakespeare’s audience and our own as the key place for finding the transcendent meaning of dreams on the stage.

“I told you, if those should holde their peace, the stones would cry”: Drama and the Emergence of a Caroline Culture of Censorship, by David Ashton (MLitt candidate)

David begins by reminding us of the dates of the Caroline reign (1625-1649, Charles I’s beheading) and of Carolina drama (1625-1642, the closing of the theatres). He then introduces his focus: what did playwrights have to say about censorship and how did they contend with it? As a point of reference, James I exercised censorship twice as often as Elizabeth had, but Charles I exercised censorship five times as much as his father. David details the various (and numerous) institutions which Charles directed or constructed to deal with matters of censorship. He then contrasts these methods with the actions of Parliament over the authority of the King, first banning playing on Sundays in 1641, then closing the theatres entirely in 1642. David introduces the scholarship of Annabel Patterson, who focused on the idea of examining “functional ambiguity” within early modern drama. He then shares his working definition of censorship. David then moves into looking at specific hearings on censorship of printed works and the 1000-page polemic against theatre, Histriomastix, written by William Prynne, for which Prynne was tried in Star Chamber for slander and libel against the King and his people. David identifies this trial (late 1632-early 1634) and its judgment as the turning point for censorial efforts in the Caroline era. Prynne’s downfall found its way into several plays of the period, as playwrights enjoyed themselves at his expense, and James Shirley, who went on the attack against Prynne, rose to a prominent position in court. David notes that this sequence of events shows that the theatre was not always at odds with the censorial authorities, but sometimes benefited from their actions. David concludes by linking these events to the idea of a “culture of censorship” in the Caroline era.

What a marathon of a day it’s been — Congratulations to all of the presenters for their fine work!

(Read more from Session 1 and Session 2).

Spring 2011 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival – Session 2

We’re back for Session 2 of the MLitt/MFA Festival, with five presentations between now and 4:30.

What Would Will Do? Contemporary Playwrights Writing for Shakespeare’s Globe, by Katy Mulvaney (MLitt candidate)

Katy begins with a staging of the first words spoken on the stage of the new Globe, introducing her concept of producing new works in the early modern architecture. Katy argues that the new Globe presents an opportunity to synthesize modern sensibilities and theatrical conventions with the advantages offered by the early modern space, as well as to explore the points of conflict and contention between theatrical expectations in the two eras. She gives examples from plays by Peter Oswald, written for Shakespeare’s Globe, which parody the early modern conventions of staging darkness and asides to the audience. While these examples call out some of the suspensions of disbelief necessary in Shakespeare’s plays, they also toy with the audience’s expectations in a way that pushes normal boundaries and explores new avenues. She also discusses other ways of involving the audience, whether pulling a volunteer to take the place of an actor, or placing actors in the galleries to augment the feeling of discussion in a crowded hall. Katy argues that new plays produced for the Globe can explore opportunities the stage presents that early modern plays do not. During the Q&A, Katy says further than the most frequent early modern staging condition that new playwrights seem to explore is audience contact.

The Pyrotechnique Story: Commanding Dragons, Devils, the Natural and the Celestial, by Maxim Overton (MLitt candidate)

Maxim begins by apologizing for the lack of explosions in his presentation (and acknowledges that we have a right to be disappointed that he’ll be setting nothing on fire). He goes on to say that his research indicates a dearth of scholarship on the practice of special effects in early modern theatre. He argues that the two most significant inventions of the 15th-century in Europe were the printing press and gunpowder, and that while we in the early modern theatrical community have discussed much about the former, we have given almost no thought to the latter. Maxim connects the idea of special effects with the appearance and visual representation of magic on the stage, particularly the intersection of magic and scholarship, using Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay as his primary example. He argues that fire was a necessity (or, at least, that an acting company must have considered it a necessity) to represent a demon, dragon, or hellmouth, escalating the creature in question from the mundane to the magical. Maxim then moves on to a consideration of Dr Faustus, where the eponymous character has already gained command of every other scholarly discipline and now moves on to demonology. His first attempt at summoning yields a dragon, and Maxim argues that the accompanying stage direction indicates use of pyrotechnics. He refers to Sarah Keyes Chang’s 2010 thesis which posited that the dragon was a puppet, but Maxim considers that a puppet “would not be horrible enough” or “memorable enough to, twenty years later, be depicted on the title page.” He goes on to describe other places in the play where the presence of devils and magic suggests further use of fireworks, including the potential for “fire-breathing masks” or a costume which was, itself, on fire. (He also notes that there are four or five examples of such a costume “going badly”). During the Q&A, Maxim notes that the advance of gunpowder changed pyrotechnics and fire from an element of light, heavenly characters to dark, evil, satanic characters; fire became a threat rather than a source of comfort.

“What Imports This Song”: Transmitting Ballad Allusions in Hamlet to the Post-Modern Practitioner, by Michael Allen Hollinger (MLitt candidate)

Michael examines the references to popular songs written into Hamlet, allusions which are now lost on modern audience. His presentation opens with two poems, presented by Clara Giebel and Elizabeth Rentfro, the first comprised of lyrics from early modern songs, the second of lyrics from songs from the past fifty years. Michael points out that while we may not recognize any of the lyrics from the first poem, most of us could point out many, if not all, of the references made in the second poem. Michael questions first if it’s possible to make the early modern allusions as recognizable to modern audiences as they were to the original audiences; “The answer is no.” How, then, can practitioners approach the material in a way that illuminates meaning? He admits that the thesis is, in the words of Dr. Menzer, “productive trouble, working without a clear solution.” Michael seeks to open the discussion and to provide an avenue for further exploration in production. Looking at a song of Ophelia’s, he first sets the lyrics to the modernly-recognizable tune of “Scarborough Faire,” then attempts an invented melody, then finally to “Camptown Races” (all sung by Clara Giebel). He argues that the the melancholic first two options were superior to the third, upbeat tune, “unless you want Ophelia to look completely cracked-out.” In his next example, Hamlet (AJ Sclafani) and Polonius (Shannon Schultz) have a conversation in which Hamlet quotes or near-quotes several times from a ballad called “Jepha, Judge of Israel.” Without any tune, the allusions pass the audience by. AJ and Shannon then present the scene again, this time with all of the ballad-originated lines to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface,” then a third time, mixing speech and melody. The second staging makes Hamlet appear a little goofy, while the third staging explicates the point that Polonius is missing the reference, but may contain too little of the actual tune for the audience to recognize it. In a fourth staging, Polonius tries to acknowledge Hamlet’s allusion, but doesn’t know the tune. Michael explains that each tactic attempted during rehearsal “tells us something different about the characters,” and that exploring the ballad allusions in this way can open up many doors for interpretation. Shannon, AJ, and Elizabeth give another example, from the gravedigger scene, in which Michael identifies the gravedigger’s song as one out of “Tottel’s Miscellany.” He notes that the actors decided that the gravedigger could sing either a recognizable modern or an invented tune, as long as it is upbeat and cheerful, based on Hamlet’s reaction. In another interpretation, Michael switched the verses in Hamlet for different verses from the same song, these focused more on the subject of death, thus at once more appropriate and inappropriate for the gravedigger. Michael argues that the switch allows a modern audience to recognize more easily Shakespeare’s possible intent with the allusion. Michael argues that musical allusions in performance are certainly not foreign to modern audiences, and that he hopes that productions will work to discover Shakespeare’s possible intentions through the original allusions and then work to make those intentions clear on the stage.

Playing Women Playing Men on the Blackfriars Stage, by Linden Kueck (MLitt candidate)

Linden states that her research began with a question: “Why was the early-modern English stage willing to take boys for women, and why are modern audiences willing to take women for men?” She argues that gender hierarchies remain present in casting practices and audience reactions. She focused on three productions: Kate Norris as Richard III, presenting a female actor as an adult male character, Vanessa Morosco as Helena in All’s Well That Ends Well, a female actor as a female character, and Denice Burbach as King Henry in 2 Henry VI, a female actor as a male but young and perhaps feminine character. Linden then gives over the stage to her doppleganger, Glenn Schudel, to re-enact first a conversation with Ralph Cohen (presented by Amanda Allen). This conversation illuminates some reasons behind OCS casting choices, including the choice never to change the gender of a character, as well as the roughly 8-4 male-to-female ratio amongst the actors. The conversation also probes the tendency of men playing women to be a “send-up,” and the tendency of females in male’s roles to be “functionary.” Female actors are required to adopt male traits seriously; the same is not often required from male actors regarding femininity. Next, Maxim Overton enters as another Linden for excerpts from her interviews with Jim Warren (presented by Bonnie Morrison). In the interview, Jim noted that, early on in the OCS’s history, some female actors had been unhappy playing even large male roles. The discussion also includes physical signifiers of femininity (such as hands-on-hips) and costuming; Jim noted that he tries to eliminate aspects that make the audience think about the actors as women. Maxim-Linden adds that, in more recent years, more female actors have been willing to audition for male roles. When it comes to performing gender, “mOCSulinity becomes creation by negation,” while femininity is prosthetic. The scene shifts to Amanda Allen as Linden and Glenn Schudel as Kate Norris, in a phone interview focusing on Kate’s performance as Richard III and on her current Hamlet project. Kate noted that she “didn’t try to suppress anything… I don’t take away anything that I am,” rather focusing on adding traits pertinent to the character. She also spoke to a “sense of entitlement” in male characters and to the need to figure out how to “take up more space… spread my legs wide” because that was a more mOCSuline assumption. Speaking to the response from audiences, Kate stated that she felt like it made them feel like they could do anything, like it called attention to the taboo about men playing women. Amanda-Linden went on to discuss the OCS practices of reducing feminine features through breast bindings, whereas men add false breasts and padding, relating it to Kate’s idea about women feeling the need to take up less space whereas men feel entitled to take up more space. Next, Bonnie Morrison as Linden re-creates an interview with Vanessa Morosco (Maxim), wherein Vanessa talks about the difference between watching female characters react to others and seeing Helena in All’s Well tell the audience about herself. Female characters tend to have fewer lines and few or no soliloquies, depriving them of opportunities to connect with the audience as strongly as the main male characters do. Linden also asked Vanessa what role in Shakespeare she would most like to play, leading to Vanessa stating that she would “like to live in some of the larger male roles for a while.” Linden herself retakes the stage, joined by all of her doubles, to sum up: the theatre needs to acknowledge the extant gender hierarchies and the implications of casting, and then to use theatre to challenge rather than reinforce gender constructs. She concludes that the OCS should push further, moving female actors past purely functional male roles and male actors past purely comic female roles. During the Q&A, Linden explicates that she asked Glenn to send-up femininity, Maxim and Amanda to try and play her specifically, and Bonnie to try and portray a typical female scholar, as a way of exploring the different options for portraying a female character on the stage.

Who Done It? A Case for Collaborative Authorship in Arden of Faversham, by Daniel F. Trombley (MLitt candidate)

Dan posits a two-author theory for Arden of Faversham, based on the notable disjuncture in the text. He notes that he will present scenes from the beginning, middle, and end of the play which best explicate the duality (with Melissa Tolner, Jonathan Haas, Liz Lodato, and Stephanie Tschetter acting). The first scene presents the plotting of a murder and concurrent promise of a marriage in somewhat comic strokes, along with fairly heavy-handed, though fast-paced, exposition. The language in the second scene changes considerably, with previously dull characters breaking out into surprising poignancy and demonstrating a deftness with literary allusions that they do not possess elsewhere. Further scenes continue to underscore the volatile nature of the text and the inconsistency in characters’ speech. Dan notes that there may be other elements at play as well, such as the impermeability of the text in early modern print culture, confusing the issue of transmission from original manuscript to what we have extant today. Dan then leads us through a history of the theories surrounding the authorship controversy of Arden of Faversham and the complications of attribution studies. During the Q&A, Dan introduces the idea of the “apocrypha texts,” whereby scholars have subjected various plays to a series of textual tests; a play which fails three is considered not-Shakespearean, but as many as nine failures may still be considered to have a Shakespearean hand in it.

And now we’re off for a dinner break (which I think ought more properly, at this hour, to be termed a tea break) — back at 5:30 for the final three presenters.

(Read more from Session 1 and Session 3).

Spring 2011 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival – Session 1

Good morning, all. Today at the Blackfriars Playhouse, thirteen students from Mary Baldwin College will give presentations on their MLitt and MFA projects. These presentations are a required portion of the thesis project for all candidates. The OCS education team will be live-blogging throughout the day-long event. The first session runs from 9:30 to 12:25.

Mediated Dramaturgy: Using Technology to Improve Different Forms of Dramaturgy, by Paul Rycik (MFA candidate)

Paul begins by apologizing for the pun in his title, noting that his thesis focuses on the use of media technology, but that “mediate” as a verb does not necessarily include components of media. How, then, Paul posits, is a dramaturg a mediator? Paul then explicates the job of the dramaturg within the Actors’ Renaissance Season and the specific needs and requirements of the actors working under the ARS’s rehearsal conditions. These demands led him to create a combination of social media, web material, digital videos, and conventional dramaturgy packets. Paul moves on to describing his process in producing material for 3 Henry VI: a packet for glossary of terms, costume suggestions, video biographies of major characters, websites built for the pertinent historical background and geographical details, and a blog documenting his ongoing research. He then demonstrates how he used the blog to answer questions for actors during the rehearsal process, giving the example of exploring a possible textual variant in King Henry’s lines. He also showed the audience his video biography of Richard, Duke of York, with Michael Wagoner (an MLitt first-year) narrating over a series of portraits, battle illustrations, family trees, and other visual information. Paul explains how the combination of visual and auditory information allows for greater fluidity in presenting information than a traditional packet would. Another aspect of Paul’s project, playing deformity, involved information from his MLitt thesis, offering a production history of Richard Crookback. Paul concludes by speaking on the responsibilities of a dramaturg and by noting that dramaturgy is, by its nature, a continuing process.

Shakespeare’s Chaucer, by Matthew Charles Carter (MLitt candidate)

Matthew prefaces his project with a critique of source studies, suggesting that simply knowing what Shakespeare used as a source for a given play isn’t enough. He says his thesis includes three arguments “that the proverbial book is not yet closed.” He begins with the parity of literature on the subject, as only two main books on Shakespeare’s sources currently exist. He discusses the many possible sources for Troilus and Cressida, then introduces Geoffrey Chaucer (Kimberly Maurice) and William Shakespeare (Maria Hart) to discuss the biographical similarities and differences between the two authors. Matt then moves to looking at a linguistic and rhetorical comparison between the texts, specifically looking at the character of Pandarus and the devices erotema, anthypophora, and interrogatio. Kim and Maria, along with Paul Rycik, Monica Tedder, and Riley Steiner present scenes from Shakespeare’s play along with staged segments of Chaucer’s poem. Matt then relates the use of rhetorical devices to the sexual euphemisms and circumlocution prevalent in both the poetry and the play. Matt then relates the play’s sparse production history to its literary origins, presenting arguments that the play “right from the start, was seen as a literary artifact” rather than as a playing text; Matt, however, argues that Shakespeare recognized the performative elements of Chaucer’s original and brought them to the stage. He concludes by restating his belief in the value of source studies.

Recovering London: Editing a Forgotten Script for Performance and Study, by Glenn F. Schudel (MFA candidate)

Glenn begins with the unusual publication history for A Larum for London, then asks the question, “Why would I spend so much time on a play no one cares about?” His answer: “This play is a lot of fun,” featuring bloodthirsty Spaniards, devious Belgians, a cannon discharging, lots of violence, and “a violent, jaded, one-legged protagonist named Stump.” Glenn connects his love for this play with the OCS”s tendency to revive obscure scripts. He moves on to the question of why anyone should edit an early modern playscript, and he suggests that a fair bit of it has to do with job security for “specialists in a fairly small field.” Glenn discusses the tendency of these specialists to gloss over the printing oddities and idiosyncrasies of early modern text while reading. While experts make these changes somewhat automatically, casual readers may not be able to adjust as swiftly — thus, the need for the production of edited texts. He introduces the frequent use of the long-s in A Larum for London and the confusions and potential embarrassment it could cause for teachers using an un-edited text where an “s” might easily look like an “f”, with the example, “the babe that sucks.” Other difficulties include inconsistencies in speech prefixes, syntactical errors, and unspecific directions. Glenn sums up his job rather neatly: “Every bit of clarity one can get is helpful.” Glenn calls for volunteers to do a cold reading, one of an unedited prologue and one of an edited epilogue: Bonnie, reading the prologue, stumbles through the reading, despite being, as part of this program, familiar with textual oddities, while Angelina, reading the edited epilogue, has no trouble either understanding the words herself, nor relating them to the audience. Glenn admits that “this is probably not a radical point that I’m making,” but it nonetheless proves that the job needs doing. His textual difficulties, he states, began with the title page, indeed, with the title of the play itself: A Larum or Alarum? How accurate is the subtitle, The Siedge of Antwerp? As Glenn notes, the 1914 Seige of Antwerp is notably absent from Renaissance drama; the 1576 Spoil of Antwerp, also known as the Spanish Fury, however, was a well-known event and a touchstone for Englishmen full of anti-Spanish sentiment. Glenn then calls up two more volunteers to read a passage, then says, “I’m going to dramaturg you. Don’t worry, it’s painless, usually.” He explains that the odd phrase “a Faulcon and two Harguebuz of Crocke” has several historical connotations lost on modern readers, which he would need to footnote in his edition. His visuals demonstrate that the “faulcon” is a rather solid and respectable type of small cannon, while a “Harguebuz of Crocke” appears to be “a goofy guy firing a gun on a stick,” explaining a character’s consternation at its use. Glenn concludes by noting that there is a lot of work left to be done in bringing this text up to standard.

Early Modern Murderesses, by Asae Dean (MLitt candidate)

Asae prefaces her presentation with readings from murdering females (and a hapless victim), given by Linden Keuck, Amanda Allen, Katie Crandol, and Johnny Adkins. She notes that early modern authors had their templates from Greek and Roman (specifically Sencan) dramas, and then distinguishes between the murderous woman and the murderess. The murderous, working through a proxy, takes after Electra, the murderess, taking action herself, takes after Clytemnestra. She then lists examples of each type, then goes into the victims (lovers, would-be lovers, husbands, rivals, etc) and the reasons for murder (revenge, fury, greed, etc). She notes her surprise that more of her murderesses are stabbers than poisoners, considering the cultural fear of marital murder via poison. Asae then presents a few examples of the murderesses of early modern drama. Her first example, Bel-Imperia in The Spanish Tragedy, does not begin as a murderess, but initially seeks another form of revenge. Asae suggests that Bel-Imperia demonstrates both excessive grief and heated passions, and that Bel-Imperia “learns to dissemble” from her murdering brother. She contrasts Bel-Imperia with Evadne from The Maid’s Tragedy, who begins sexually deviant and unrepentant, married to an honest man to cover her affair with the king. Where Bel-Imperia’s brother is the (inadvertent) source of her darker thoughts and actions, Evadne’s brother brings her back around to virtue — which she then expresses by murdering her royal lover. As Asae points out, “For Evadne, murder is an act of penance.” Both Bel-Imperia and Evadne stand by their murderous actions, however. In The Bloody Banquet, Thetis initially regrets her murder of her former lover; her husband then offers her the choice to eat her lover’s hewn limbs or starve, and Thetis chooses to eat. If her husband wants her dead, he will have to kill her. During the Q&A, Asae expands on the differences between the murderous and the murderess and on the gendering of murder.

The Physics of Contranymy: Indefinition, Sublim(inal)ity, and Play, by Zachary Brown (MLitt candidate)

Zach begins by prefacing the struggles of “meaning-making” in language. He states that he wants to investigate the signifiers attached to the word “pharmacon”, meaning most simply ” a drug,” noting that it can mean either “remedy” or “poison,” which does not do justice to the variant nuances attached to the original Greek term. He connects this idea to Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet in his 2.3 speech regarding the dual uses of certain flowers. Zach then discusses the complications of meaning that can arise from grammatical errors or ambiguities, using the example of the lack of definite aural difference between “insincerity” and “in sincerity” in Measure for Measure. Further passages out of the play suggest that the ambiguity in language mirrors the weaving-together of sincerity and insincerity in the characters’ words, actions, and intentions. Zach explores the contranymy of many words in the English language, where words that sound alike mean opposite things, which would be obvious on the page but may not be easily distinguished in speech, including “raise/raze.” He also examines the various meanings attached to Lucio’s name, meaning “light” in Latin, and with “light” bearing several variant connotations in early modern English (illumination, lack of weight, promiscuity), and finally connects all of the ambiguity to the actions of the Duke. During the Q&A, Dr. Menzer points out that, by telling us about the sincerity/insincerity difference which Zach argues depends on its subliminality, he may have erased that effect for anyone who has listened to this presentation or who reads this thesis; Zach suggests that, in action, the subliminality will take over again, that it’s possible to watch the play without consciously thinking about the ambiguities.

That’s it for Session 1 — We’ll be back at 1:30pm for Session 2, with five more MLitt candidates.

(Read more from Session 2 and Session 3).

Shakespearean March Madness: Round of Sixteen, Part 2

Welcome back for the second half of the Round of Sixteen! But who will be competing? For that, I have to announce the winners from Round 1, Part 4: Katharina Minola puts up a good fight, but she’s no match for England’s hero-king, and Henry V wins that bout 44-10. Our other fighting ladies in this bracket, however, gave the gentlemen a run for their money. Macduff just barely squeaked ahead of Cleopatra (28-25), and Macbeth didn’t have much more of an advantage over Tamora (31-23). Finally, in the battle of the Roman generals, Coriolanus‘s brutal drive wins out over Enobarbus’s more indulgent nature, 30-19. So that’s Henry V, Macduff, Macbeth, and Coriolanus advancing to the Round of Sixteen, giving us today’s matches:

Match 21: Titus Andronicus vs Joan of Arc

Who wins the battle?

  • Titus Andronicus
  • Joan of Arc

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Match 22: Prospero vs Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy

Who wins the battle?

  • Prospero
  • Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy

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Match 23: Henry V vs Macduff

Who wins the battle?

  • Henry V
  • Macduff

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Match 24: Macbeth vs Coriolanus

Who wins the battle?

  • Macbeth
  • Coriolanus

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My picks: Titus makes short work of Joan la Pucelle. Her claims to divine guidance aren’t going to wash with him, so I feel he’ll have no problem dealing with the Gallic trollop. I put Hotspur over Prospero, easy — if he isn’t cowed by Glendower, he’s not going to be impressed by Prospero’s airy spirits. Hal versus Macduff is a hard one, not least because I think very highly of both fighters and have affection for them both. I think this will be a close match — What makes a man fight harder, inspiration or despair? Being of an optimistic nature myself, I give the edge to inspiration, so I think good Henry V will triumph. Finally, for Macbeth versus Coriolanus, I’m just not sure. I may have to wait for some opinions from the rest of you before I make my decision on that one.

These polls will be open until next Thursday. Don’t forget to vote on the Round of Sixteen, Part 1, and check back next week for the Quarterfinals.

The Ides of March are come…

You can’t get around the Shakespeare-oriented Internet today without discovering that it’s the Ides of March. The #idesofmarch tag on Twitter is pretty interesting — varying degrees of clever jokes, historical facts, and complete nonsense, with a lot of people saying RIP Caesar and even more saying “Watch out!” or that they hope nothing bad happens today. The Ides of March has become, through a slightly weird cultural association, a bad-luck day, inauspicious, much like Friday the 13th. I wonder what Caesar would make of it to know that, two thousand and fifty-five years later, his death remains so prominently remembered. I also wonder how much Shakespeare has to do with that — Would Caesar’s legacy remain so prominent if not for Shakespeare’s dramatic presentation of his death? Would Plutarch and Suetonius be enough to prick the memories of western civilization? I don’t think we can ever know — You can’t prove a negative, after all. But I was a classicist in a former scholastic life, so I’ve read my Roman historians like any good Elizabethan schoolboy would have done, so I can say this much for certain — Shakespeare certainly told the story in more dramatic and exciting way.

Given the day, I thought it might be a nice opportunity for a mini-lesson on rhetoric. I use Mark Antony’s eulogy for Caesar (or, at least, the first chunk of it) as my standard example for rhetorical exercises, because it’s just so beautifully constructed. It’s genius for the character within the world of the play, and it’s genius for what it tells an actor playing the part. I had the great fortune last week to test out my rhetoric workshop (still very much a work-in-progress) with groups of visiting students from Colorado College and the University of South Dakota. As giddy as I get playing with rhetoric on my own, it’s so much more exciting to bounce ideas off of other people, lead them through what I know, and then see what they find that I didn’t notice.

So. Mark Antony, grief-stricken but already plotting revenge, convinces Brutus and Cassius to let him speak at Caesar’s funeral. Brutus goes first, giving a prose speech where he explains that he killed the tyrant though he loved the man. When Antony steps up, he’s initially fighting a losing battle. He addresses it thus:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest–
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men–
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

I wish I had a way to put my rhetorical markup in the blog, but I don’t think the system will support it, so I’ll have to talk you through instead.

The dominant devices in use are those of repetition and those arranging contrast. He repeats key words throughout the speech, reminding the audience both that “Brutus said he was ambitious” and that “Brutus is an honorable man.” What I like is the build; he starts out just repeating words (polyptoton on “grievous”), then he moves into phrases, then, by the end, it’s full lines (diacope and epistrophe). There’s a sort of confidence-building you can see in the way Antony structures his repetitions. But why repeat those words specifically? Well, the very repetition of those ideas forces his audience to call the truth of them into question. Each time he says Brutus is honorable, he’s making the plebs wonder if that is, in fact, the case. That he mates the repetition with carefully seeded rhetorical questions (erotema) amplifies this effect. The focus on honor is also Antony’s way of avoiding blame; no one can accuse him of inciting the people against Brutus if he keeps telling them that Brutus is honorable. What one of the students in our workshop pointed out last week is that the repetition could also be a way of re-hooking the audience if he senses that he’s starting to lose them, to pull them back in. In this way, the rhetoric gives acting clues not just for Antony, but for the plebs as well.

Antony’s devices of direction are sometimes of building force (auxesis), but more often of arranging contrast (antithesis). His either-ors contrast Caesar’s generosity with his supposed ambition. He wants his audience to draw distinctions between what they knew about Caesar and what Brutus said about Caesar, between Caesar’s actions towards the people and Brutus’s claims of ravenous ambition, and then to decide for themselves that Brutus was wrong to kill him. Whereas Brutus had to justify his actions, Antony doesn’t have to justify anything. He simply lays out facts about what Caesar did, what ambition should look like, and what Brutus said, and lets the plebs drawn their own conclusions. This contrast works hand-in-hand with the repetitions, as noted above. By circling around to the same ideas over and over again, he reels the audience in, taking them by degrees away from their allegiance to Brutus.

So, what does this tell us about Antony as a character? What clues does it give an actor? As one of the students in last week’s workshop said, he’s smart. Smart as a whip, in fact. The devices he uses are clever, and all the more so because he’s using them while under emotional duress, grieving for a friend, and with every awareness that the mob could turn violently against him. But Antony keeps it together. He presents his ideas clearly, and the constant repetitions seem to indicate that he knew from the start of the speech where he wanted it to go. He knows how to bring his audience along with him; the rhetorical questions, the contrast drawn by his antithetical statements, and his use of repetition lead the plebs to his way of thinking without his having to tell them directly what to think. They get there themselves, and that’s so much more effective for Antony’s purposes. His thoughts have a distinct and recognizable pattern.

Until the very end of the speech, he seems very much in control of his words, but then he breaks off, overwhelmed by emotion — a device known as aposiopesis. The end of the speech presents choices for an actor: Is Antony truly overwhelmed with passion, forcing him to break off his speech, or is he playing the emotion up to win the pity of his audience? Considering how methodical Antony has been up to this point, I would say that the emotional outburst is a calculation, another way Antony is manipulating the crowd. But an actor could definitely choose to play it differently, to show Antony as more emotional, and to connect his real heartbreak to his desire for revenge that much more strongly. One of the greatest things about rhetorical analysis is that it so often isn’t about finding the “right” answer — it’s about discovering options.

There’s so much I could say about this speech and this play — I didn’t even touch on Antony’s use of metonymy, and of course his address to the plebs goes on for another 130 lines or so, with plenty more rhetoric to pull apart. But all of that will have to wait — fortunately, I get to write a Study Guide for Julius Caesar, and we’re holding a special Teacher Seminar for it in August, so I’ll have plenty of time and plenty of opportunities to keep engaging with these fOCSinating words.