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).

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.

Shakespearean March Madness: Round of Sixteen, Part 1

Welcome back to another week of Shakespearean March Madness!

First off, the results of Round 1, Part 3. Titus slaughters Cymbeline’s Queen, 64-11. He’s used to dealing with her type, after all, so this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Matches 10 and 11, however, fall into the “I can’t believe this” category, as Joan of Arc triumphs over Owen Glendower (44-19) and Prospero’s magic wins out over Regan’s ruthlessness (46-17). I can account for Joan’s success by attributing it to affection for her her historical counterpart, but Prospero? Really? Ah well. That’s the way the throw-down rumbles. Finally, in a match that was quite close for a while, Hotspur managed to pull ahead of Othello, 39-29. So advancing to Round 2 will be: Titus Andronicus, Joan of Arc, Prospero, and Harry “Hotspur” Percy.

Today, we welcome the first eight competitors for the Round of Sixteen.

Match 17: Richard III vs Puck

Who wins the battle?

  • Richard III
  • Puck

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Match 18: Lady Macbeth vs Antony

Who wins the battle?

  • Lady Macbeth
  • Antony

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Match 19: Iago vs Edmund

Who wins the battle?

  • Iago
  • Edmund

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Match 20: Queen Margaret vs Goneril

Who wins the battle?

  • Queen Margaret
  • Goneril

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The competition’s getting steep! I’m picking Richard III over Puck, easy. Lady M versus Antony’s a bit harder, not least because of my deep and abiding affection for both characters. But I think Lady M has the edge — we know Antony’s easily swayed by a pretty face with an iron will behind it. Iago versus Edmund is also tough — they’re both ruthless, conniving, unapologetic villains. I think I’m going to be in the minority on this one, but I’m backing Edmund, for sheer scope. Iago brings down a family. Edmund’s involved in the downfall of an entire kingdom. Finally, our first catfight of the competition, and I’m favoring Margaret here. She wreaks more havoc, has a more spectacular extramarital affair, and gets her hands far, far dirtier and bloodier than Goneril does.

These matches will be open till Tuesday, when we’ll find out who advances to the Quarterfinals. Remember that you still have until Thursday to vote on Round 1, Part 4 — Who from our last bracket will make to the Round of Sixteen? Find out Thursday!

Shakespearean March Madness: Round 1, Part 4

Today we welcome the last set of competitors to the arena for the final battles of Round 1.

First off, the four competitors from Round 1, Part 2 who will be advancing to the next round: Iago wins handily over Doll Tearsheet (54-8); our feisty wench might get in a scratch or two, but against this crafty combatant, she’s down for the count. Match 6 surprised me; I thought this one would be closer than it ended up, but Edmund wins a 42-16 victory over King Claudius and advances. Queen Margaret flattens poor Hermia, 56-5, squashing the vixen with as little thought as she would swat a fly. Edmund will have good company going into Round 2, as Goneril defeats Siward in a match which indicates that our voters feel cunning and malice win out over sheer military might (39-15). So, to sum up, advancing to Round 2 we have: Iago, Edmund, Queen Margaret, and Goneril.

Match 13: Henry V vs Katharina Minola

Who wins the battle?

  • Henry V
  • Katharina Minola

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Match 14: Macduff vs Cleopatra

Who wins the battle?

  • Macduff
  • Cleopatra

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Match 15: Macbeth vs Tamora

Who wins the battle?

  • Macbeth
  • Tamora

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Match 16: Enobarbus vs Coriolanus

Who wins the battle?

  • Enobarbus
  • Coriolanus

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My picks (skip over if you want to vote un-influenced): Henry over Kate, easy. She may be full of fire, but he’s England’s greatest warrior-king. No contest. Cleopatra’s another feisty minx, but as wonderful as I think she is in many ways, let’s face it, she’s not much of a warrior, and Macduff’s got righteous fury on his side. Nothing beats righteous fury. Macbeth will take out Tamora, as we already know he has absolutely no qualms about going for women and children. She’ll be too busy imitating anthropomorphic beings to notice that he’s destroying her. Enobarbus vs Coriolanus is, in my opinion, this round’s toughest to determine. Both are capable generals, both trained in the Roman style. I’m going to give the edge to Enobarbus, just because, hey, I like that guy better. Think I’m wrong about any of my picks? Tell me (and everyone else) why!

These polls will be open till next Thursday. On the Ides of March, we’ll start in on Round Two.

Shakespearean March Madness: Round 1, Part 3

Welcome back to the arena! First, to declare the winners of Round 1, Part 1.

Richard III handily wins over Sebastian (67-7), utterly annihilating the hapless young duelist. In a shocking come-from-behind victory, Puck wins out over Aaron the Moor (40-27). This one really surprised me; I know I voted for Puck, but I was honestly expecting to have backed the wrong horse. Lady Macbeth easily disposes of Charles the Wrestler, though from the score (55-13), a few of you think that Charles managed to get a few licks in before. Finally, Mark Antony manages to take down Tybalt Capulet (41-29), as the King of Cats proves he isn’t quite a match for the ruthless Roman. So, Richard, Puck, Lady M, and Antony will be advancing to the next round.

But we’re not quite done with Round 1 yet! We still have 16 combatants to test, and 8 of them take the field today.

Match 9: Titus Andronicus vs Queen to Cymbeline

Who wins the battle?

  • Titus Andronicus
  • Queen to Cymbeline

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Match 10: Owen Glendower vs Joan of Arc

Who wins the battle?

  • Owen Glendower
  • Joan of Arc

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Match 11: Regan vs Prospero

Who wins the battle?

  • Regan
  • Prospero

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Match 12: Hotspur vs Othello

Who wins the battle?

  • Harry “Hotspur” Percy
  • Othello

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I need to mull over a couple of these, so I think I’ll withhold my thoughts for the time being.

These polls will stay open until next Tuesday, and you still have until Thursday to vote on Round 2. If you need a reminder of the combatants’ strengths and weaknesses, check out the Intro Post.

ETA: After a bit of consideration, these are my picks: Titus over the Queen, no contest. That man is not only lethal but crazy. The Queen talks too much but waits too long to take action. She’s toast. Glendower v Joan is tough, because they’re both enemies of the English who associate with unearthly spirits. I’m pulling personal preference here — having played Glendower once upon a time, I have a great affinity for the man and his ability to call spirits from the vasty deep. Plus, I like Wales more than France, so, Glendower it is. I call Regan over Prospero, because while Prospero may command the elements, he also pulls his punches. All that forgiveness for his enemies? That is not the bloodthirsty spirit we’re looking for. Regan takes action and she takes it decisively. Hotspur versus Othello may be one of the most even matches we’ve had yet; they’re both military commanders, both have excellent reputations, and both have a bit of a temper on them. I’m going to go with Hotspur, because the many descriptions we get of his aptitude are just so much better than the ones we get of Othello. So, those are my opinions — tell me yours!

Shakespearean March Madness – Round 1, Part 2

Our second set of matches:

Match 5: Iago vs Doll Tearsheet

Who will win the battle?

  • Iago
  • Doll Tearsheet

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Match 6: Edmund vs King Claudius

Who will win the battle?

  • Edmund
  • King Claudius

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Match 7: Queen Margaret vs Hermia

Who will win the battle?

  • Queen Margaret
  • Hermia

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Match 8: Siward vs Goneril

Who will win the battle?

  • Siward
  • Goneril

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These polls will stay open till next Thursday. The last two sets of Round One will go up next week.

My thoughts (scroll on if you want to keep your thoughts uninfluenced till after you vote!): I’m going to root for the underdog in Match 5, and say that while Iago’s busy monologuing, Doll slips a dagger out from her bodice and guts him with the ruthless efficiency of a true tavern wench. Match 6 is tough, because both of these guys are calculating, conniving planners. I feel like they’d be circling each other in the shadows for ages before either actually struck out. Ultimately I’m going to go with Edmund, not solely out of lust, but also because he actually has battle experience, whereas Claudius seems to fight from a distance. Match 7 breaks my heart. Poor Hermia. She drew the short straw. She’s one of my favorite girls in all of Shakespeare, but I’m pretty sure she’s going to get annihilated by Margaret in no time flat. Finally, between Siward and Goneril, I’m going to go with the English general. Goneril may be a nasty piece of work, but I don’t think she actually does all that much directly. Siward, on the other hand, is reportedly the greatest soldier in all of Christendom, so he must be pretty impressive to have earned that rep.

Thanks to everyone who’s voted in the first four matches so far — and don’t forget, if you need a refresher on the combatants, check out the Intro Post.

Shakespearean March Madness: Round 1, Part 1

Today we welcome the first eight competitors to the arena. Who will advance to the next round? You decide!

Match 1: Richard III vs Sebastian

Who wins the battle?

  • Richard III
  • Sebastian

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Match 2: Aaron the Moor vs Puck

Who wins the battle?

  • Aaron the Moor
  • Puck

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Match 3: Lady Macbeth vs Charles the Wrestler

Who wins the battle?

  • Lady Macbeth
  • Charles the Wrestler

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Match 4: Mark Antony vs Tybalt Capulet

Who wins the battle?

  • Mark Antony
  • Tybalt Capulet

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My thoughts: Sebastian may be a fine duelist, but his innocent nature doesn’t stand a chance against Richard III. I suspect Sebastian “gets lost” on the way to the field of battle and turns up in a ditch three weeks later, half-eaten by wild dogs. Aaron versus Puck is a bit tougher — Aaron is ruthless, vicious, and malicious, but Puck has magic on his side. I’m going to go with Puck, because insulting the Fae is never a good way to start the morning. Charles could probably take Lady Macbeth in a fair fight based solely on physical power… but do we think Lady M is going to fight fair? I doubt it. One of those drugged possets will have found its way into his morning protein shake, and he’ll be down for the count. As for Antony and Tybalt, I have to confess personal prejudice here — I adore Mark Antony, so I’m giving the edge to him out of sheer affection. Besides, tough Roman soldier that he is, I doubt he’d put up with any of Tybalt’s prancing about and delicate footwork, and a thin rapier isn’t going to do much against a Roman shield.

Think I’m wrong about any of my picks? Tell me about it! Argue with me (and each other) in the comments or on Facebook.

These polls will stay open until next Tuesday, and then we’ll find out who advances to the next round. If you need a refresher on any of the combatants, visit the March Madness Intro Page for their bios.

March Madness – Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!

So, inspired by The Shakespeare Standard asking on Twitter last week which Shakespeare character we thought would win in a bar fight, I decided it could be entertaining to celebrate March Madness by pitting some of Shakespeare’s greatest combatants against each other, Mortal Kombat-style.

For the month of March, I’ll be posting links to polls here, on Twitter, and on Facebook, so that our readers, fans, and friends can vote on who they think could take whom in a no-holds-barred match. Whoever gets the most votes will move on to the next round.

Meet the competitors, listed here in alphabetical order (the first round of matches will be randomly generated, so the numbers here don’t represent any kind of seeding).

1. Aaron (Titus Andronicus)
Also Known As: the Moor
Preferred Weapon: scimitar, psychological warfare
Bio: A force of pure destruction and malevolence, Aaron keeps company with Tamora, Queen of the Goths, though no one knows just how he ended up in Scythia. His list of evil deeds is long, as he proudly boasts: “I curse the day… wherein I did not some notorious ill, as kill a man, or else devise his death, ravish a maid, or plot the way to do it, accuse some innocent and forswear myself, set deadly enmity between two friends, make poor men’s cattle break their necks.” There seems to be literally nothing he won’t stoop to perform.

2. Charles (As You Like It)
Also Known As: the Wrestler
Preferred Weapon: brute strength
Bio: Through his fame as a wrestler, Charles gained the patronage of Duke Frederick. Of his own skill, Charles says, “I wrestle for my credit; and he that escapes me without some broken limb shall acquit him well.” Charles is not without honor, as he attempts to dissuade young men to whom he might do considerable harm from fighting with him — but for those who insist on challenging them, he will leave them with “little hope of life” in them.

3. Claudius (Hamlet)
Also Known As: King of Denmark
Preferred Weapon: poison
Bio: Claudius prefers to do his killing subtly, through poisons, whether administered through the ear, through a pearl in a glass of wine, or on a blade. He’s also willing to hire out for his murders, going so far as to enlist the King of England in his schemes. Cunning and crafty, Claudius knows how to kill a man so secretively that “even his mother shall uncharge the practice and call it accident.”

4. Cleopatra (Antony and Cleopatra)
Also Known As: Egypt
Preferred Weapon: her own hands, the powers of Egypt, political acumen
Bio: The Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra is one of history’s most powerful, forceful, and fOCSinating women, who took as her consorts two of Rome’s greatest generals, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Though she largely wields power through other agents, and though in general she prefers langorous indulgence to the field of battle, when she gives vent to violent inclinations, hapless messengers best beware: “I’ll unhair thy head; Thou shalt be whipp’d with wire and stew’d in brine, smarting in lingering pickle.”

5. Coriolanus (Coriolanus)
Also Known As: Caius Martius, “thou Mars!”
Preferred Weapon: legions
Bio: Coriolanus begins his career as a celebrated hero-general of the Roman armies, but when politics of the great city turn against him, his quest turns to one of vengeance that puts all of Rome in fear. He allies with his former enemy, Aufidius of the Volscians, and a Roman senator thereafter says of him: “When he walks, he moves like an engine, and the ground shrinks before his treading: he is able to pierce a corslet with his ye; talks like a knell, and his hum is a battery… What he bids be done is finished with his bidding. He wants nothing of a god but eternity and a heaven to throne in.”

6. Doll Tearsheet (Henry IV, Part 2)
Also Known As:
Mistress Dorothy
Preferred Weapon: knife
Bio: A wench of the Boar’s Head, Doll has been through more than her fair share of barfights and has had to chase off unwelcome customers. Scrappy and uncowed by the soldiers and mercenaries who frequent Mistress Quickly’s establishment (or by the local sheriff), Doll can curse with the best of them: “Away, you cut-purse rOCSal! you filthy bung, away! By wine, I’ll thrust my knife in your mouldy chaps, an you play saucy cuttle with me. Away, you bottle-ale rOCSal! you basket-hilt stale juggler, you!”

7. Domitius Enobarbus (Antony and Cleopatra)
Preferred Weapon: legions
Bio: Friend to and follower of Mark Antony, Enobarbus is a brilliant tactician and a famed general for, as he says, “It cannot be denied what I have done by land.” Knowing his, and Antony’s, strengths, he urges Antony not to meet Octavius’s forces on the water, where they will be at a disadvantage: “No disgrace shall fall you for refusing him at sea, being prepared for land.” He is also one of few men with the courage to stand up to Cleopatra, flatly telling her not to distract Antony when others would cower from her wrath.

8. Edmund (King Lear)
Also Known As: the Bastard
Preferred Weapon: sword and dagger, malicious letters, charisma
Bio: Embittered by his illegitimate inheritance, Edmund first contrives to dispossess his brother Edgar, then becomes embroiled in the plots surrounding King Lear’s throne, playing the sisters Goneril and Regan off of each other. He is, by his own admittance, “rough and lecherous,” and Edgar condemns him as “false to thy gods, thy brother, and thy father; conspirant ‘gainst this high illustrious prince; and from th’extremest upward of thy head to the descent and dust beneath thy foot, a most toad-spotted traitor.” Unscrupulous and unflinching, Edmund has no hesitation in provoking mayhem and disaster.

9. Goneril (King Lear)
Also Known As: Lear’s eldest daughter, the Duchess of Albany
Preferred Weapon: poison, minions
Bio: After taking over the rulership of half the kingdom following her father’s abdication and her sister Cordelia’s disgrace, Goneril turns her father out into a storm, ends up at war with France, falls in love with Edmund, orders the assassination of Gloucester, plots the murder of her own husband, and poisons her own sister. Aggressive and ruthless, called a tiger, a fiend, and a “gilded serpent” by her husband, Goneril’s fierce determination makes her a fearsome opponent.

10. Harry Percy (Henry IV, Part 1)
Also Known As: Hotspur
Preferred Weapon: broadsword
Bio: Son to the Earl of Northumberland, Hotspur’s battle prowess is such that it makes King Henry IV wish that “it could be proved that some night-tripping fairy had exchanged in cradle-clothes our children where they lay.” He defeats many noble Scots in battle and takes them prisoner, then later thumbs his nose at the Welsh prince Glendower. Prince Hal, his opposite number, describes him as “He that kills me some six or seven dozen of Scots at a breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife, ‘Fie upon this quiet life! I want work.'” Hotspur is bellicose by nature, never at ease, ever-restless, and with the skill on the battlefield to support his warlike desires.

11. Henry V (Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2; Henry V)
Also Known As: Hal
Preferred Weapon: broadsword, inspirational speeches
Bio: The royal rebel, Henry begins as a dissolute prince whose “reformation, glitt’ring o’er” his faults turns him into one of England’s most celebrated monarchs. He becomes a valiant warrior in his own right, and also knows how to stir the hearts of other men, telling them to “imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood.” He leads his army to victory at the famous Battle of Agincourt, using tactical skill and sheer willpower to overcome formidable odds.

12. Hermia (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Also Known As: vixen, acorn, “minimus of hindering knot-grass”
Preferred Weapon: fingernails
Bio: A gentlewoman of Athens, Hermia isn’t afraid to get physical, especially if she thinks someone is stealing her man. Don’t let her diminutive stature fool you, for, as she says, “I am not yet so low but that my nails can reach into thine eyes.” Such is her power that it takes two full-grown men to restrain her from clawing Helena’s eyes out during their silvan catfight, for “though she be but little, she is fierce.”

13. Iago (Othello)
Also Known As: ancient Iago, honest Iago
Preferred Weapon: rumors, dagger
Bio: A force of malevolence, Iago indulges his jealousy to the point where nothing will do but the complete annihilation of those he sees at fault, with no care for any innocents swept up in his plots. Iago crafts his words to make Othello believe his wife has betrayed him and to spur Cassio into engaging in a drunken brawl. When his wife exposes his crimes, he murders her without a flinch. He then refuses to explain himself: “Demand me nothing: what you know, you know:
From this time forth I never will speak word.” Iago will bring down your world while smiling in your face.

14. Joan of Arc (Henry VI, Part 1)
Also Known As: Joan la Pucelle
Preferred Weapon: French army, demons
Bio: Born a simple peasant girl, Joan’s visions and apparent godliness earn her a position leading the French army. King Charles dubs her “an Amazon” who “fightest with the sword of Deborah,” while the English curse her as, “fell banning hag” and a witch who “by fear, not force… drives back our troops and conquers as she lists.” When the tide begins to turn in favor of the English, Joan shows herself willing to stoop to demon-summoning to achieve her ends. Whether a sinner or a saint, Joan routs the English army several times, proving her a dangerous opponent.

15. Katharina Minola (The Taming of the Shrew)
Also Known As: Kate, “plain Kate, bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst”
Preferred Weapon: household objects
Bio: Stuck at home with a bratty younger sister, Kate’s had a lot of time to build up a lot of rage. She’s not afraid to strike those who displease her, whether her sister or her suitor, and she once broke a lute over a man’s head. The hapless would-be music teacher suggests, “I think she’ll sooner prove a soldier. Iron may hold with her, but never lutes.”

16. Lady Macbeth (Macbeth)
Also Known As: Queen of Scotland
Preferred Weapon: cunning words, drug-laced possets
Bio: Married to a Scottish thane, Lady Macbeth has high ambitions. She engineers the assassination of King Duncan after inviting evil spirits to “fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty.” When Macbeth fails to leave the murder weapons, Lady Macbeth takes them back herself so that she can “smear the sleepy grooms with blood” to implicate them. Lady Macbeth suppresses compassion, gentleness, femininity, and weakness, all in the name of working her and her husband’s way to the crown.

17. Marcus Antonius (Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra)
Also Known As: Antony
Preferred Weapon: Roman army, Egyptian navy, rhetoric
Bio: Protege to murdered Caesar, Mark Antony describes himself as “a plain blunt man,” though Cassius calls him “a shrewd contriver.” Following Caesar’s death, Antony first stirs the common people against Brutus and Cassius and then defeats their powers at Philippi. Though he later worries that his love for Cleopatra may have unmanned him, with one of his officers stating that “those his goodly eyes, that o’er the files and musters of the war have glow’d like plated Mars, now bend, now turn,” Antony nonetheless takes on Octavius’s forces with the courage of a true Roman.

18. Macbeth (Macbeth)
Also Known As: the Thane of Glamis, the Thane of Cawdor, King of Scotland
Preferred Weapon: daggers, broadsword
Bio: Initially one of King Duncan’s trusted thanes and a hero of battle, Macbeth, consumed by a prophecy that he will be king, murders Duncan in his sleep. Macbeth then goes on to engage in wholesale slaughter of anyone and everyone that might be a threat to his reign, including his friend Banquo and the wife and children of the mistrusted Macduff. He thus earns a reputation as “bloody, luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful, sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin that has a name.” Ambitious and bloodthirsty, Macbeth continues fighting even when the odds and fates turn against him.

19. Macduff (Macbeth)
Also Known As: the Thane of Fife
Preferred Weapon: broadsword
Bio: Macduff puts on “industrious soldiership” after Macbeth slaughters his wife and children, leading armies alongside Prince Malcolm and Siward of England. He doesn’t waste words bantering, declaring “My voice is in my sword” when he challenges Macbeth. Haunted and determined, Macduff is a man who has nothing left to lose, and that makes him fearsomely dangerous.

20. Othello (Othello)
Also Known As: the Moor of Venice
Preferred Weapon: sword, pillow
Bio: An accomplished and capable general, Othello wins the trust of the Duke of Venice so wholly that the Duke sends him “against the general enemy Ottomans” to defend the island of Cyprus. Othello feels secure in the good opinion of the Duke and his advisers, stating, “
I fetch my life and being from men of royal siege”. Othello’s weakness is in a jealous temper, which causes him to lash out violently.

21. Owen Glendower (Henry IV, Part 1)
Also Known As: Prince of Wales
Preferred Weapon: Welshmen (and women), spirits from the vasty deep
Bio: At his birth, “the front of heaven was full of fiery shapes, of burning cressets; and … the frame and huge foundation of the earth shaked like a coward.” He mounts a rebellion against the English domination of Wales, the last which Wales would ever wage. Wild, exotic, and declaring himself “not in the role of common men,” Glendower claims magical powers in addition to his prowess on the battlefield.

22. Prospero (The Tempest)
Also Known As: the former Duke of Milan
Preferred Weapon: magic (borrowed from books)
Bio: Exiled by his own brother, Prospero has had thirteen years on an island to hone his magical talents, and now he commands great and terrible elemental powers. With the help of the spirit Ariel, he can summon great storms, bewitch minds, and inflict pain; he also employs “elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves” and goblins to do lesser tasks for him. His tempest creates “wild waters” and a sky that
“would pour down stinking pitch, but that the sea, mounting to the welkin’s cheek, dashes the fire out.”

23. Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Also Known As: Robin Goodfellow
Preferred Weapon: magic (his own)
Bio: The “merry wanderer of the night,” Puck uses his own fairy magic to wreak minor havoc in the world. He can alter his own size and voice, can “put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes,” and transforms Nick Bottom into a monstrosity, a man with the head of an ass. Though Puck lives at Oberon’s command and mostly uses his power for pranks, he could prove a true terror if he ever used his magic for true malice.

24. Queen (Cymbeline)
Preferred Weapon: poison
Bio: Wife to King Cymbeline and stepmother to his daughter Imogen, the Queen wants the crown for herself and for her son. To get it, she plots to poison both Imogen, who she sees “as a scorpion to her sight,” and her husband, to whom she intends to minister “a mortal mineral, which, being took, should by the minute feed on life and lingering by inches waste” him. Venomous and vicious, this evil Queen will stop at nothing to achieve her goals.

25. Queen Margaret (Henry VI, Parts 1-3; Richard III)
Also Known As: Margaret of Anjou, “she-wolf of France,” “tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide”
Preferred Weapon: English armies, womanly wiles, curses
Bio: Married to King Henry VI, Queen Margaret quickly grows despairing of her husband’s weakness. When the Wars of the Roses start, Margaret takes over the governance of the war herself, leading the Lancastrian armies to victory. She taunts the fallen Duke of York with a handkerchief dipped in his own son’s blood and gives him a paper crown before helping Clifford stab him to death. When the Yorkists gain the throne, Margaret lingers on, cursing them, “Long mayst thou live to wail thy children’s loss; And see another, as I see thee now, deck’d in thy rights, as thou art stall’d in mine!” Margaret is a force of nature, fierce in defending her interests, brimming with bitterness, willing to throw off her woman’s role and assume power for herself.

26. Regan (King Lear)
Also Known As: Duchess of Cornwall
Preferred Weapon: dagger, armies
Bio: Like her sister Goneril, Regan takes over half the kingdom when her father abdicates, and she also takes up with the bastard Edmund — though unlike Goneril, she waits until her husband is dead to do this. When it comes to bloody business, Regan has no compunctions about getting her own hands dirty, assisting directly in the murder of a servant. She is also responsible for blinding Gloucester and turning him out into the storm. When Regan does an evil deed, she sees no reason to do it halfway, declaring, “All vengeance comes too short which can pursue th’ offender.”

27. Richard III (Henry VI, Parts 2 and 3; Richard III)
Also Known As: “misshapen Dick,” “Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog!”
Preferred Weapon: sword, daggers, barrels of wine
Bio: Born misshapen and deformed, Richard declares that “since I cannot prove a lover… I am determined to prove a villain.” He shows himself vicious and brutal in war, cunning and malicious in peace, stirring up rumors so that his enemies turn on each other, and not hesitating to betray those who have supported him in the past.
He hires murderers to kill his brother Clarence, usurps the throne of his nephew, young King Edward V, then has Edward and his brother killed, and poisons his wife so he can marry another. In his own words: “Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile, and cry ‘Content’ to that which grieves my heart, and wet my cheeks with artificial tears, and frame my face to all occasions…. I can add colours to the chameleon, change shapes with Proteus for advantages, and set the murderous Machiavel to school. Can I do this, and cannot get a crown? Tut, were it farther off, I’ll pluck it down.”

28. Sebastian (Twelfth Night)
Also Known As: Roderigo
Preferred Weapon: rapier
Bio: Son to Sebastian of Messaline and twin brother to Viola, Sebastian survives a shipwreck and washes up in Illyria. When he makes for the Count Orsino’s court, Toby Belch mistakes him for his sister, disguised as Cesario, and challenges him to a duel, which Sebastian soundly wins. Though he apologizes to Olivia for wounding him — “I am sorry, madam, I have hurt your kinsman: But, had it been the brother of my blood, I must have done no less with wit and safety” — he proves himself a skilled duelist, or, as Andrew Aguecheek puts it, “the very devil incardinate.”

29. Siward
Also Known As: “An older and a better soldier none that Christendom gives out”
Preferred Weapon: broadsword
Bio: Reported to be the finest military leader England has to offer, Siward marches on Macbeth in command of ten thousand men. He values the arts of war above all else, and when he hears of his own son’s death in battle, is concerned only that his son died like a man, having fought well: “Had I as many sons as I have hairs, I would not wish them to a fairer death.” A career soldier and one who doesn’t flinch from death or injury, Siward will be an intimidating foe in any battle.

30. Tamora
Also Known As: Queen of the Goths, Empress of Rome
Preferred Weapon: her sons
Bio: To avenge herself on Titus Andronicus and make him know “what ’tis to let a queen kneel in the streets and beg for grace in vain,” Tamora helps to orchestrate the rape and mutilation of his daughter and the deaths of his sons. She callously ignores Lavinia’s begging, instructing her sons, “Away with her, and use her as you will, the worse to her, the better loved of me.” When she gives birth to a mixed-race child with Aaron, she orders the babe killed rather than have it expose her infidelity. Pitiless and merciless, Tamora gives no quarter because she never received any.

31. Titus Andronicus
Preferred Weapon: the Roman gladius, kitchen utensils, baked goods
Bio: Titus initially wins victory over the Goths, losing 21 sons in the bargain. He stabs another son for the crime of defiance. He cuts off his own hand because he thinks it will save two other sons from execution. He slays Tamora’s two sons and bakes them into a pie, saying, “I will grind your bones to dust and with your blood and it I’ll make a paste, and of the paste a coffin I will rear and make two pasties of your shameful heads, and bid that strumpet, your unhallow’d dam, like to the earth swallow her own increase”. He then holds a dinner party where he feeds Tamora her own sons, kills his own daughter, and stabs Tamora to death. His ruthlessness pretty much knows no bounds, making Titus a tough competitor to beat.

32. Tybalt Capulet
Also Known As: King of Cats
Preferred Weapon: rapier and dagger (trained in the Spanish style)
Bio: Choleric and hot-tempered, Tybalt defies the Prince and his uncle Capulet to pursue his feud with the Montagues. Mercutio describes him thus: “He fights as you sing prick-song, keeps time, distance, and proportion; rests me his minim rest, one, two, and the third in your bosom.” Tybalt defeats Mercutio in a duel, provoked by Mercutio’s taunting and Romeo’s apparent cowardice. Tybalt hates peace as he hates hell, and he fights with nigh-unparalleled skill.

Does magic count more than might? Should competitors’ armies count in their favor? Should a character’s eventual downfall be taken into account? You decide! And argue about it — comment here or and our voting posts throughout the month to try to sway the opinions of the masses.

Tomorrow, I’ll post polls for the first four matches — so be ready to decide who you think should get the KO!

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 18 February 2010

An eclectic mix of links this week, covering a range of topics. We’ve also started posting some of the most relevant Shakespeare news to our Facebook page, so you can keep a watch for information there as well.

  • Shakespeare is Everywhere: The New York Times has published an article which mostly focuses on the abundance of Shakespeare currently showing in the Big Apple, but which also discusses Shakespeare’s lasting appeal and how to entice audiences that might be a touch jaded.
  • A piece from the Dakota Student on the importance of the arts: “Why is it so essential that we support the National Endowment for the Arts, arts education, and the arts in general? Beyond the economic benefits, there are many more. How about the fact that nearly any recent study on the subject links academic success with exposure to and participation in the arts? The values of creativity, leadership, and innovation that the arts foster are more good reasons. Also, the arts provide an opportunity for community citizens to interact and communicate via mediums that have no right or wrong answer and no winner or loser. The arts celebrate heritage and express culture, as well as promote diversity, tolerance, and ultimately, a value in individuality.” Sarah says: I couldn’t have said it better myself… though I keep trying!
  • Michael Kaiser, President of the JFK Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, asks: “What’s wrong with the arts?”
  • Teachers and students demonstrating how to learn Shakespeare by doing and by acting rather than by reading alone. Sarah says: Now that’s what I’m talking about!
  • Additionally, another school discusses the advantages of introducing primary school students to Shakespeare.
  • Stephen Greenblatt discusses the possibility of Shakespeare as a re-writer and the ephemeral nature of writing composition today.
  • The UK Guardian discusses the language lessons of the King James Bible (which turns 400 this year, and which Shakespeare may have had a hand in composing), including that familiarity with KJV Bible versions makes Shakespeare’s plays more accessible.
  • Pajiba.com reviews the best and worst modern Shakespeare adaptations. Check the list out and see if you agree with their assessment.
  • Three women have been honored for their letters to Juliet, singled out from the 40,000 missives that Juliet Capulet of Verona received this year. The Juliet Club strives to respond to every message in the language in which the original author sends it.

Next week, OCS education will be super-busy with the Poetry Out Loud competition, a day with the Federal Executive Institute, and the first of our Little Academes for the semester. Be sure to keep a watch on Twitter for updates on all of our events.

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 7 January 2011

Quite a few links for you this week, since we took a break from posting them over the holidays.

  • Just in time for the new semester, a list of Top Ten Tips for Studying Shakespeare. Sarah says: A good collection of recommendations.
  • A blog entry proposes approaching Shakespeare in the classroom more like a rehearsal. Cass says: A lot of the techniques here are similar to the ideas we build into our study guides. The more alive and active the text feels, the more the students get the idea that they’re working on something real, the easier it is to comprehend.
  • Can you judge a production company by their Romeo and Juliet? This blogger thinks so.
  • This workshop announcement from the University of Sheffield brings up a great point about the intersection of the literary and theatrical worlds. Cass says: The announcement also points out why we have the Romantics to blame for the idea of Shakespeare-as-literature-only (and I always like it when I have more reasons to blame the Romantics for things).
  • Addressing Shakespeare’s relevance, a professor at West Virginia University has written a paper linking Shakespeare to law school.
  • “Bringing the Bard behind Bars in South Africa”: With one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, South Africa has begun exploring new ways to rehabilitate offenders — and, as it happens, turning them into actors might be just the thing.
  • An opinion piece in The Washington Examiner critiques the NEA’s Poetry Out Loud competition. Cass says: We support Poetry Out Loud at the OCS — we even host one of the competitions — because we firmly believe in the value of reading verse out loud, but this article still makes some interesting points, particualarly regarding the competition’s selection bias towards modern poets over the more metrically regular verse of previous centuries. It’s not often these days that someone takes up in favor of stricter verse against free verse, so I’m pleased to see that.
  • An article in favor of technology as the future of education. Cass says: The author favors giving classrooms over to computers as entirely as possible, with teachers merely “facilitators” rather than actual instructors. I can’t help but feel that he’s missing something. I’m all for more focused use of technology in classrooms, but a computer can’t inspire, it can’t make something great for you — and a computer, no matter how well you program it, will never be 100% prepared for all of the questions and surprises that can arise from students. That human element is always going to be necessary.
  • Along those lines, here are a couple of articles debating one school district’s decision to bring iPads into the classroom. Interestingly, both articles use Shakespeare as an example. Cass says: I feel a little torn about this. I think the best argument in favour of the iPad (or other similar devices) is the textbook thing — great to cut down on paper, great to get rid of the weight in backpacks — and electronic devices offer so many more opportunities. You wouldn’t have to conform just to the standard textbooks used by the state. Teachers could choose for themselves what texts they wanted students to have access to. And it would also allow easier access to some of the great educational web resources that are out there. On the other hand, though, I feel more and more like more money should be put into the actual teaching at schools. Money to train teachers, to teach teachers, to give them the tools, rather than just using technology as a crutch. And, hey, maybe even money to pay teachers what they deserve someday. I also find it interesting how often Shakespeare is the catch-all for “education.”
  • And speaking of Shakespeare-as-litmus test, he’s also been brought into the recent controversy over a decision to publish a sanitized Huck Finn. Apart from the more generic Bowdlerization accusation, some commentators have opined that changing words for understanding is one thing; changing them for political-correctness is quite another. Even author Neil Gaiman got into it on Twitter, saying, “It’s public domain, so you can make Huck a Klingon if you want, but it’s not Mark Twain’s book.” Cass says: This is an interesting controversy for me, because it asks that question we frequently have to ask when cutting plays for performance: When have you changed so much that it’s no longer the author’s original work? Only the most stalwart of purists would say that you can’t change a single word (a tough argument to make, particularly in cases where we have quarto editions different from the First Folio). But when have you gone too far? If you cut 20 words? 20% An entire character? An entire scene? All the naughty words? Is it still Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice if you tone down the anti-Semetic language? Is it still Shakespeare’s Othello if you sanitize the references to Moors?
  • On the more light-hearted side of things, a man is re-enacting Will Kempe’s famous Nine Days Wonder, planning to morris dance from London to Norwich, to raise money for a community vegetable garden. Cass says: To my English friends, please, I beg you, if anyone sees this, post the video.
  • Hot on the heels of Miramax announcing Shakespeare in Love 2, we’re now hearing about the possibility of Shakespeare in Love: The Play.
  • Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the OCS has a considerable staff contingent attending the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference in Colorado. If you (like me) aren’t there but wish you were, follow the hashtag #STAA11 on Twitter. Our own Amy Wratchford and Sarah Enloe, as well as Richmond Shakespeare’s Grant Mudge, have been diligently Tweeting.

Enjoy your weekends!