Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords – Preview #1

This is the first of a series about No Kidding Shakespeare Camp 2016: Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords. Over the course of the ten-day trip, we’ll be staying in three wondrous hotels. The farthest north of those is Middleton’s in York. York has been a center of power throughout the history of the British Isles. During the Middle Ages, its distance from London meant that it could almost function as a separate political entity. Understanding the city better will be a way of getting a grip on the War of the Roses that Shakespeare stages in the plays about Henry VI and wraps up with Richard III.

Among the things we’ll do is walk some of the walls of York, which are a mere 7 minutes from our hotel. ​​York has more miles of intact city walls than anywhere else in England. While city walls were once common, even crucial to York2a city’s survival, most have deteriorated in the modern age. York’s extant walls are not entirely contiguous, nor all from the same era. The first walls were built in 71 AD, around a Roman fortress on the River Ouse. Little of this original stonework remains, but some can be seen in the Multangular Tower in the Museum Gardens.

A legion at the time encompassed 5500 men, and their presence encouraged trade with enterprising locals. Through these interactions, the fortress eventually grew into the city of Eboracum, a busy port and cosmopolitan provincial capital. The Emperor Hadrian visited this fortress in 122, on his way north to plan his great frontier wall (the focus of a future Preview Email!), and Emperor Septimius Severus made it his base of operations for campaigning in Scotland in 208.

The city went into decline following Rome’s withdrawal from Britain. By the 9th century, the walls were in poor repair, and when the Danes (“the Great Heathen Army”) invaded in 867, renaming the city Jorvik, they demolished all the towers except for the surviving Multangular. The Danes buried what was left of the Roman walls beneath earthbanks and wooden palisades. These were badly mangled during the 1069 “harrying of the North” that followed the Norman invasion and brought the northern counties under William the Conqueror’s control. The majority of the remaining walls, encircling the medieval city, date to the 12th-14th century and were built during the reigns of some early Plantagenets: Henry III and the three Edwards.

York1There are four main gatehouses, or “bars”, which restricted traffic in medieval times and served as tollbooths. Initially the walls also had 6 secondary gates and 44 intermediate towers, stretching over 2 miles encompassing the city and castle. York was an important outpost during the Plantagenet wars with Scotland, so much so that Edward I actually moved the seat of government to York in 1298. In the 15th-17th centuries, York and the surrounding county were the sites of many battles and sieges during the Wars of the Roses, various Tudor rebellions, and the English Civil War. (The map at left dates to 1617).

The walls of York play their largest role in Shakespeare in Henry VI, Part 3, which features several scenes that actually take place on the walls as the two factions, each a branch of those ever-contentious Plantagenets, struggle for control not just of the city but of the nation. Early in the play, the Duke of York is captured by the Lancastrians, and in giving his execution order, Queen Margaret taunts:

Off with his head, and set it on York gates,
So York may overlook the town of York.

Margaret’s later reference to the head, when welcoming Lord Clifford to York, suggests that a prop may actually have been placed upon the “walls” — the gallery above the stage — to add to the gruesome spectacle:

Welcome, my lord, to this brave town of York.
Yonder’s the head of that arch-enemy
That sought to be encompass’d with your crown:
Doth not the object cheer your heart, my lord?

We’re unlikely to encounter anything so appalling on our trip, but we may pass by the very spot at Micklegate Bar (below) where the Duke’s head once stood, bearing a paper crown.

Micklegate_Bar

In 1800, the Corporation of York applied for an Act of Parliament to demolish their walls, as London and other cities were doing (since none of them had been invaded by ground in quite some time). They were met with fierce opposition from the populace, however, and instead of being torn down, were restored starting in the mid-19th century. Today they are a Scheduled Ancient Monument — just waiting for us to tread the same paces that legionaries, nobles, rebels, and monarchs have for nearly 2000 years!

For more on the history of York and some great interactive maps of the city and its walls, visit historyofyork.org — or join us to see for yourself in July!

Exciting Opportunities for Teachers This Summer

The Valley’s trying hard to break through the chill into more spring-like weather, but at OCS Education, though, we’re already thinking ahead to summer! I just wanted to take a moment to showcase three chances that teachers have in June, July, and August to learn new techniques for invigorating their classroom exploration of Shakespeare.

June 22nd-26th, we’ll be up at JMU in Harrisonburg leading a Content Teaching Academy. Sarah and I are tremendously excited about this, as it’s a chance for us to squeeze a full model Shakespeare unit into a single week. Using Julius Caesar as an example text, we’ll go through all the building blocks of scansion, rhetoric, staging conditions, audience contact, and more, and then we’ll use those as a scaffold for exploring characters and performance choices, as well as the ideas of theme and tone that your students will be expected to address in standardized tests. Attendees are eligible for 30 hours of professional development credit, and for an extra fee, can receive three hours of university graduate credit from JMU. This is really an incredible deal — nowhere else are you going to get such value in such a short time. Learn more and register now!

Teachers are also invited to attend the week-long No Kidding Shakespeare Camp, July 20th-24th. This year, we’ll be exploring the theme of Social History, looking at the cultural, religious, economic, and interpersonal aspects of the early modern world that shaped Shakespeare and his playmaking, through special lectures from Ralph Alan Cohen, Mary Hill Cole, and Steven Urkowitz. Through these sessions and the workshops led by OCS Education staff, teachers can earn 20+ hours of professional development credits. We’ll also have our usual festive schedule of rehearsal observations, field trips, a cast party, and of course you’ll get to see the shows of the OCS Summer Season. Here are just a few of the ways that past participants have described NKSC — If these entice you, registrations are open through the OCS website.

  • “I found this to be one of the top experiences that I have had at OCS.”
  • “I enjoyed talking to other campers and finding out about everyone’s diverse backgrounds. I appreciated that we all came to Shakespeare in different ways.”
  • “I walked away with not only practical knowledge, but with some new insight into myself”
  • “This is a unique opportunity to learn about Shakespeare’s world from top-flight experts, including the OCS’s own Ralph Cohen, in the most casual and friendly settings imaginable. You’ll come back with a much more in-the-bones feel for the circumstances the plays were born in.”
  • “This was truly a time to rejuvenate myself as a teacher and Shakespeare enthusiast. Thank you OCS!”
  • “It was a splendid feast— Shakespearean, cultural, and historical , for the mind, body and spirit”

If you can’t make a week-long commitment, never fear! We’ve got a single-day Summer Teacher Seminar on August 7th. This year, the Summer Seminar will focus on Shakespeare’s Toolbox — the basic components of his texts that allowed him and his actors to create their plays. We’ll be going deep and narrow into not just the mechanics but the application of meter, rhetoric, and Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions, so botteacherseminar08120030-1h teachers new to OCS methods and our frequent flyers will find valuable insights. This is, in some ways, an expansion of what we’ll be teaching during the Shakespeare Association of America Conference in Vancouver later this week — but here, we’ll be on our home turf with more workshop hours to devote to giving you all the tools you need to make Shakespeare a hit in your classroom. Register now to join us in August!

We’re absolutely thrilled that we have so many opportunities to engage with teachers in the coming months. We want to put the lessons learned on-stage at the Blackfriars Playhouse into as many classrooms as possible, because we know that these methods change the way students experience and think about Shakespeare. As one of our frequent seminar attendees says, “My students LOVE Shakespeare and get excited from the moment they see the classroom re-arranged.” Get your students eager to rush to your class, and spend some time with us this summer!

Winter/Spring 2015 Playhouse Insider

The latest edition of the Playhouse Insider is now available for purchase in the Box Office! Here’s a sneak peek at the goodies within:photo (6)

  • An interview regarding “Bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst” with Sarah Fallon, who has played the role of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew three times.
  • A look at the amazing Aphra Behn, the woman behind The Rover — and some of the complicated gender politics of Restoration England.
  • Professor Stephen Purcell of the University of Warwick discusses how The White Devil has “flummoxed” readers and spectators throughout history.
  • From Penn State Harrisburg, Professor Margaret Jaster tells us why she keeps bringing her classes back to the Blackfriars Playhouse for Little Academes.
  • Meredith Parnes, frequent resident of the gallant stools, on what’s kept her coming back not just to the shows but to the Blackfriars Conference and the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp as well.
  • Actors John Harrell and Kate Eastwood Norris, the first to portray Benedick and Beatrice at the Blackfriars Playhouse, share their memories and their thoughts about Much Ado about Nothing 11 years later.
  • Dane CT Leasure, MBC MFA graduate and Artistic Director of Rubber City Shakespeare, discusses his experiences working on the special effects of Rogue Shakespeare’s 2014 Doctor Faustus.
  • Our Playhouse Manager, Melissa Huggins, provides some insight on how the OCS’s costuming practices are “following an original practice without consciously trying”.

Stop by soon and get all these insights into the shows of the Actors’ Renaissance Season and the Method in Madness Tour for just $5!