"Let each man render me his bloody hand": Blood on the Ides

On the Ides of March last year, I explored the rhetoric of what is possibly my favorite speech in all of Shakespeare: Antony’s funeral eulogy for Caesar, in which he whips the plebeians into a murderous frenzy. As I was last year, I remain a little in awe of the strange cultural phenomenon surrounding this day. Quotes from Plutarch and Shakespeare are everywhere — and I wonder how many people are consciously aware of whom they’re quoting, or if those phrases have so permeated our world that they’ve detached entirely from their original context.

I make my living now with my head in the early modern era, but I’ve always kept one foot trailing in the classics, particularly in this fOCSinating period where the Republic crashed and metamorphosed into the Empire. Fortunately, Shakespeare gives me fertile territory on which to indulge both of my historical obsessions. And I’m not alone — those of us in the Shakespeare world seize on the opportunity that this cultural awareness provides (carpe occasionem?). Twitter is full of our enthusiasm today, and a video on Pursued by a Bear explores the play’s place in the common consciousness as well as providing an interesting analysis the dearth of really good productions of the show.


This year, I thought I’d take a look at a particularly interesting staging moment which precedes the great speech I explored last year: when Antony greets the conspirators just after Caesar’s murder. Two of the most visually striking moments in Julius Caesar are Caesar’s assassination and the subsequent decision of the conspirators to wash their hands in the corpse’s blood. This scene can pack quite a bit of power — especially in a theatre like the Blackfriars Playhouse, where the actors share light with the audience — but it also lends itself to quite a bit of mess. Blood is something that actors and production companies have to negotiate with, deciding how much to use, what kind to use, where to hide blood packets, whether or not it can get on clothing (and if so, how to get it out; if not, how to keep that from happening). Often, productions choose to stylize the blood in this scene, for those very practical reasons. I will always champion the use of live blood, however, because of what happens later in the scene.

CASSIUS
Where is Antony?TREBONIUS
Fled to his house amaz’d:
Men, wives, and children stare, cry out, and run,
As it were doomsday.

BRUTUS
Fates, we will know your pleasures:
That we shall die, we know; ’tis but the time
And drawing days out, that men stand upon.

CASSIUS
Why, he that cuts off twenty years of life,
Cuts off so many years of fearing death.

BRUTUS
Grant that, and then is death a benefit:
So are we Caesar’s friends, that have abridged
His time of fearing death. Stoop, Romans, stoop,
And let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood
Up to the elbows, and besmear our swords:
Then walk we forth, even to the marketplace,
And, waving our red weapons o’er our heads,
Let’s all cry ‘Peace, freedom and liberty.’

CASSIUS
Stoop, then, and wash. How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown?

BRUTUS
How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport,
That now on Pompey’s basis lies along,
No worthier than the dust?

CASSIUS
So oft as that shall be,
So often shall the knot of us be call’d
The men that gave their country liberty.

First of all, this is weird. There is just no getting around that this is a really strange thing to do with someone you’ve just killed. This is not a bit of a historical culture, not something Romans just did when they killed someone. To me, it reads as Brutus coming a little unhinged. Then, think about how deep you would have to plunge your hands into a dagger wound — likely a puncture far more than a rending gash — to get up to the elbow in blood. It’s pretty gruesome, and I think that the more real and visceral the blood appears, the more the audience is going to feel the grotesque aspect of the scene, rather than dismissing it as, “Oh, a thing people just did back then.” Live blood also gives the other actors a lot to work with — physically as well as figuratively — in terms of how much they are on board with Brutus or not. If at least a couple of the conspirators are visibly uncomfortable with smearing themselves up to the elbow in blood, that also transmits some important information to the audience.

Secondly, it’s ambiguous whether or not Trebonius washes his hands in blood along with the rest of the conspirators. He’s on stage at this point, but as someone who did not actually take part in the stabbing, I think there’s justification for not having him join in the literal bloodbath. You could certainly choose to have him wash in blood at this point, but I think there’s more money in having him hold back, because of what happens when Antony — whom Trebonius detained outside the Senate, whom he kept from coming to Caesar’s aid — enters.

Enter ANTONYBRUTUS
But here comes Antony:
Welcome, Mark Antony.

ANTONY
O mighty Caesar! Dost thou lie so low?
Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,
Shrunk to this little measure? Fare thee well.
I know not, gentlemen, what you intend,
Who else must be let blood, who else is rank:
If I myself, there is no hour so fit
As Caesar’s death hour, nor no instrument
Of half that worth as those your swords, made rich
With the most noble blood of all this world.
I do beseech ye, if you bear me hard,
Now, whilst your purpled hands do reek and smoke,
Fulfil your pleasure. Live a thousand years,
I shall not find myself so apt to die:
No place will please me so, no mean of death,
As here by Caesar, and by you cut off,
The choice and master spirits of this age.

BRUTUS
O Antony! Beg not your death of us.
Though now we must appear bloody and cruel,
As by our hands, and this our present act
You see we do: yet see you but our hands
And this the bleeding business they have done:
Our hearts you see not; they are pitiful:
And pity to the general wrong of Rome,
As fire drives out fire, so pity, pity
Hath done this deed on Caesar. For your part,
To you our swords have leaden points, Mark Antony:
Our arms in strength of malice, and our hearts
Of brothers’ temper, do receive you in,
With all kind love, good thoughts, and reverence.

CASSIUS
Your voice shall be as strong as any man’s
In the disposing of new dignities.

BRUTUS
Only be patient till we have appeased
The multitude, beside themselves with fear,
And then, we will deliver you the cause,
Why I, that did love Caesar when I struck him,
Have thus proceeded.

ANTONY
I doubt not of your wisdom:
Let each man render me his bloody hand:
First, Marcus Brutus, will I shake with you;
Next, Caius Cassius, do I take your hand;
Now Decius Brutus, yours: now yours, Metellus;
Yours, Cinna; and my valiant COCSa, yours;
Though last, not least in love, yours, good Trebonius.
Gentlemen all: Alas, what shall I say?

Antony comes in and shakes each man’s bloody hand, one by one, and as he names them, it’s hard to feel that he’s doing anything other than marking them down for retribution. And then, at last, he comes to Trebonius, who did not stab Caesar himself, but who was nonetheless instrumental to the plot, the means by which Antony was not there to defend his friend. So if Antony has just shaken six other bloody hands, his own would be quite smeared with blood by this point — which he then transfers to Trebonius. If his hands have been clean till that point, Antony’s gesture makes a powerful statement: Trebonius is, in his eyes, every bit as guilty, every bit as culpable, and Antony is every bit as determined to take him down. So, while you could have Trebonius engage in the blood-smearing earlier on, I think you get greater payoff from saving it for this moment.

An exploration of this and other staging challenges in Julius Caesar can be found in our Study Guide — and the play will be part of the 2013 Actors’ Renaissance Season. I’m going to be serving as dramaturg for that production, so I’m sure next March 15th, I’ll have something new to share. Until then, cavite idus Martii, everyone!

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 24 February 2012

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

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

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

OCS Study Guides now available on Lulu.com

The Education Department is pleased to announce the transfer of 10 full-length Study Guides to Lulu.com, a site which allows both for PDF downloads and for print-on-demand hard copies of the text. This is a vast improvement over our old system, and will increase both the visibility and the accessibility of OCS educator resources.

Much of the credit for this transfer goes to OCS Senior Graphic Artist Lauren Rogers, who not only helped get us onto the website, but also redesigned our covers into this far-more-attractive format. The idea comes from Wordles, which we advocate as a way into the text for some of your particularly Shakespeare-skittish students, since they demonstrate how few words in a play or in a given speech are actually unfamiliar. Lauren found the visuals of the Wordles appealing, and she took it from there, giving us these fabulous new covers:

Yesterday, we received our own hard copies, which Sarah will be taking down to Orlando and displaying at the Shakespeare Theatre Association Conference. They’ve been the source of much delight and merriment in the office:

All of next year’s Study Guides — Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, along with any mini-guides — will go directly to Lulu. I’m so looking forward to the opportunities this new integration will present for us.

Exploration and Revelation: The Winter 2012 Teacher Seminar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCS Education in 2012-2013

The announcement is officially out, the Facebook Jeopardy game is complete, and that means I can share OCS Education’s plans for the upcoming year. If you’ve missed the information elsewhere, here’s the American Shakespeare Center artistic line-up for 2012-2013:

Summer
The Merchant of Venice
The Lion in Winter, by James Goldman
The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Fall
Cymbeline
King John
The Merchant of Venice
The Lion in Winter, by James Goldman
The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Holiday
A Christmas Carol
Santaland Diaries
, by David Sedaris
The 12 Dates of Christmas, by Ginna Hoben

Actors’ Renaissance
Julius Caesar
The Country Wife
, by William Wycherly
Henry VIII
The Custom of the Country
, by Francis Beaumont & Philip Massinger
Two Noble Kinsmen

Spring/Tempt Me Further Tour
Twelfth Night
Love’s Labour’s Lost
The Duchess of Malfi
, John Webster

What does this mean for Shakespeare Education at the OCS? For a start, throughout the year, we’ll be offering Student Matinees of The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Cymbeline, A Christmas Carol, Julius Caesar, Henry VIII, Twelfth Night, and Love’s Labour’s Lost. To complement these opportunities to bring your students to the Playhouse, I’ll be preparing brand-new full-length Study Guides for The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Twelfth Night, as well as revising (and, quite possibly, adding to) last year’s Julius Caesar guide. I will also produce mini-guides for Cymbeline, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and Henry VIII.

We will, again, have four Teacher Seminars in the 2012-2013 season. On August 10th, we’ll be looking at that perennial curriculum favorite, Romeo and Juliet (for which I will also be producing a full-length Study Guide), where both the construction of the language and the complex interplay of comedy and tragedy provide many opportunities for exploration. Our Fall Seminar, September 14th-16th, will focus on The Merchant of Venice and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I’m excited to tackle the challenge of these two off-kilter comedies, from the racial tensions in Merchant to the troubled ending of Two Gents. Both plays are full of emotionally charged moments, opportunities for audience contact, and clever, fast-paced language, all of which make wonderful fodder for teachers. As we did in 2011 with The Comedy of Errors, we will be linking these non-curriculum plays with their more-frequently-assigned cousins, in order to provide teachers with the greatest opportunity to incorporate staging with study. We also champion these plays as ideal for teachers who are tired of always retreading the same material. The Merchant of Venice and The Two Gentlemen of Verona will provide intrepid educators with a new, invigorating approach to Shakespeare’s word- and stagecraft.

Our Winter Seminar, February 2nd-3rd 2013, will focus on Julius Caesar, a play I can never get enough of and can’t wait to return to. That play features so prominently two of my favorite things to talk about: rhetoric and audience contact. Those two elements define Caesar for me, more than anything else, and they provide wonderful avenues for making the play exciting for students. Our Spring Seminar, April 12th-14th 2013, will focus on Twelfth Night: frothy fun with some dark undercurrents. I look forward to reawakening some of the same topics I’ve looked at in As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors, and Much Ado about Nothing — twins, gender-bending, gulling, etc — as well as exploring the role of music on the early modern stage.

Throughout the year, we’ll continue to hold our lecture series, on select Wednesday and Thursday nights, prior to the evening shows. We’ve moved the timing of these events to 5:30pm, which will allow attendees enough time to go get a quick bite or a drink at one of downtown Staunton’s fabulous eateries before the show begins. I’m pleased to announce that this year, we will have both a Dr. Ralph Presents lecture and an Inside Plays workshop for every play in the Fall, Actors’ Renaissance, and Spring Seasons. We’re especially pleased that this will allow us to offer audiences some more insight into the shows which are enjoying their Blackfriars Playhouse premieres in 2012 and 2013. See the schedule on our website for more information.

Our Staged Reading series also continues in 2012-2013, with four dynamic titles: the anonymous Edward Ironside (October 28th), an early English chronicle play full of patriotic glory, violent energy, and inventive language; George Chapman’s An Humorous Day’s Mirth (November 4th), where jealous husbands, absurd courtiers, lapsed Puritans, and lustful monarchs collide; Aphra Behn’s Restoration hit The Rover (March 24th, 2013), a quick-witted and wickedly wanton comedy where a group of amorous English exiles revel their way through Naples; and The Insatiate Countess (April 28th, 2013), by John Marston and collaborators, a play of merry widows, virtuous wives, and subverted theatrical conventions. We’re in the process of making some exciting changes to how the Staged Readings operate, and we’ll have more information on that for you as the year progresses.

And, of course, summer 2012 will be full to the brim with camps for Shakespeare enthusiasts of all ages. OCSTC Session 1, June 17th-July 8th, tackles Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, and John Lyly’s Gallathea, while Session 2, July 15th-August 5th, takes on Much Ado about Nothing, 1 Henry VI, and Francis Beaumont & John Fletcher’s A King and No King. Our Midsummer Day Camp for ages 9-12, July 9th-13th, moves from the light-hearted comedies of the past few years to the high-octane thriller, Macbeth. Finally, the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp for adults, June 25th-29th, will explore Movement — both the movement of the actor on stage and the movement of plays from one playhouse to another and out on the road.

It’s almost hard to believe that here we are in January 2012, already planning for April 2013, but that’s the way of it. The whole education team is looking forward to a full and fabulous year — we hope you’ll be joining us for these explorations into early modern staging.

‘Richard III’ Study Guide Now Available!

I am tremendously pleased to announce that the OCS Study Guide for Richard III is now available for purchase online! We’ve got lots of juicy information for you in this one, stuffed as this play is with amazing language, fOCSinating characters, and active staging requirements.

As usual, I have a ten-page preview for your preliminary enjoyment. This Study Guide includes the following:

  • The Basics: Getting your students on their feet, working with iambic pentameter, paraphrasing, exploring rhetoric, and turning your classroom into an early modern stage.
  • Line Assignments: A way to give your students ownership over a small section of text, which they will use in further language-based activities and staging explorations.
  • Rhetoric: Stichomythia. Quick, back-and-forth dialogue characterizes some of the play’s most memorable scenes. How does Shakespeare use this device to engage the audience’s affections?
  • Perspectives: Cursing — No, not that kind of cursing. This activity goes to the heart of what power a play can invest in words. Does Margaret really bring down the House of York with her invective language, or does she merely prophesy what was already destined to occur? Your students will explore some of Shakespeare’s most inventive insults and deliciously antagonistic vitriol to determine the relationship between language and fate.
  • Staging Directions: Richard III has some of Shakespeare’s most explicit and detailed stage directions, uncommon for the early modern stage. Your students will explore what information those directions offer versus the information embedded in the text of the play itself.
  • Perspectives: Richard’s Reputation. What was the historical reality of Richard III’s reign, where did Shakespeare get his ideas about crookbacked Dick from, and how can an actor use this information in performance?
  • Staging Challenges: Haunting Richard and Helping Richmond. Your students will explore ways of bringing Richard III‘s supernatural elements to life.
  • Textual Variants: While the 1623 Folio is the longer text and the version more closely related to Shakespeare’s sources, the earlier quartos may reflect changes made for the stage or while the company was touring the provinces. Your students will explore the transmission of text and how those alterations can change the overall impression of the play.
  • Rhetoric: Richard and the Audience. In Richard III, Shakespeare created one of his most enduringly memorable characters, and Richard’s relationship with the audience is critical to his legacy. But how does Shakespeare craft that relationship?
  • A guide to producing a 1-hour version of the play in your classroom

And that completes the set! All of the Study Guides for our 2011-2012 artistic year are now complete, and you can preview any of them before purchasing your downloadable PDF. We also provide hard copies to educators who attend our Teacher Seminars — join us next month for Much Ado about Nothing and Richard III. Teachers who bring students to matinees can receive download access by contacting .

My next task (already in-progress) is to update last year’s guides for Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, The Comedy of Errors, and As You Like It with the newly expanded Basics section. Once I’ve completed the upgrade, I’ll move on to the Study Guides for the 2012-2013 artistic year. What will those be? I can tell you… next week! Artistic Director and Co-Founder Jim Warren will be announcing the 2012-2013 lineup tomorrow night, before the opening of Much Ado about Nothing, and after that, I’ll be able to detail which of them will be our school matinee and Study Guide shows. Stay tuned next week for that information — or, join us at 7pm Saturday night and hear it from Jim!

‘Much Ado About Nothing’ Study Guide Now Available!

At last! I get to share the Study Guide for my very favorite play, Much Ado about Nothing. As I noted in a previous post, I’ve enjoyed this one tremendously, and I’m already super-excited about getting to work through these activities with attendees at our Winter Teacher Seminar.

Shakespeare Education: Much Ado about Nothing Study GuideHere is a ten-page preview for your enjoyment. This Study Guide includes the following activities:

  • The Basics: Getting your students on their feet, working with iambic pentameter, paraphrasing, exploring rhetoric, and turning your classroom into an early modern stage.
  • Line Assignments: A way to give your students ownership over a small section of text, which they will use in further language-based activities and staging explorations.
  • Too Wise to Woo Peaceably: Benedick and Beatrice are one of Shakespeare’s finest couples, witty and brilliant and endearing. Better than all of that, however, they’re both fantastically smart — and in this activity, your students will explore the rhetoric of their scenes and discover how Shakespeare uses their language to show the audience that they deserve each other and belong together.
  • Perspectives: Slanderous Tongues. Much Ado about Nothing‘s plot revolves around an issue that your students experience every day in high school life: rumors. Your students will examine the language of slander in Much Ado and will relate Hero’s unfortunate situation to their own lives. What words hurt the most? On what basis can a girl’s reputation become ruined? How is reputation different from a male perspective?
  • Dogberry: Before malapropism was malapropism, it was something else entirely. From everlasting redemptions to odorous comparisons, your students will discover the comic gold that is Dogberry’s creatively mistaken vocabulary.
  • The Gulling of Benedick and Beatrice: Your students will explore the staging requirements of two of the play’s best comic scenes, when Benedick and Beatrice each hear their friends conspiring against them. Where can you hide the eavesdroppers so that the audience can see their reactions — critical to the success of the scene — without breaking the imaginative fiction that allows Benedick and Beatrice to believe that their gullers are unaware of their presence? These scenes take advantage of early modern staging conditions in creative ways, and working through them will get your students thinking actively about thrust staging, universal lighting, and audience contact.
  • Staging Challenges: Kill Claudio. Shakespeare’s plays rarely fit neatly into the categories of comedy and tragedy that we’ve created for them, and a key example of this in Much Ado about Nothing is the moment when Beatrice challenges Benedick to prove his worth to her by killing the man who dishonored her cousin. Through active staging, your students will explore different potential interpretations of this scene and will determine which version they feel tells the best story.
  • Textual Variants: The earliest printed versions of Much Ado about Nothing have several textual oddities — oddities which reveal that this play may be more closely related to Shakespeare’s original manuscript than any other in the canon. Activities on speech prefixes and stage directions will walk your students through an examination of the transmission of text in early modern London.
  • Production Choices: A guide to producing a 1-hour version of the play in your classroom.

If you would like to purchase a downloadable PDF of this or any other OCS Study Guide, just visit our website. I’m already well into work on the Study Guide for Richard III — the last for this artistic year! After which, my plan is to bring the 2010 set up-to-date with the modifications we introduced for the 2011s, and then I will start work on 2012.

Too Wise to Woo Peaceably

The Much Ado about Nothing Study Guide should be ready soon (and I hope I’ll have a 10-page preview for you on Monday), and I just have to say, I’m enjoying this one more than probably ought to be allowed. I’m enjoying it so much, in fact, that I couldn’t wait until the release to tell you what a good time I’m having.

Much Ado about Nothing is my favorite play, and this has never been a secret to anyone who knows me. It was not the first Shakespeare play I read, but it was the first one I saw in performance, at the age of 12, in the little theatre in the basement of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. From that night on, it was all over for me. Much Ado had won my heart, and nothing since has had any power to tempt it away.

There’s a lot that’s good in this play — the satire of courtship between Claudio and Hero, the insidious villainy of Don John, the overconfident antics of Constable Dogberry — but for my money (and I suspect for many others’ as well), this show is all about Beatrice and Benedick. They are both the head and the heart of the story, the greatest wits and also the characters who demonstrate the most tremendous emotional depth. I think theirs is the most emotionally real of all of Shakespeare’s love stories, not least because it’s a more mature affair than many others. Benedick and Beatrice have loved and lost and hurt before; Beatrice tells us this flat-out, though Shakespeare tantalizingly never elucidates the circumstances of their shared past:

DON PEDRO
Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of

Signior Benedick.


BEATRICE
Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave
him use for it, a double heart for his single one:
marry, once before he won it of me with false dice,
therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.

I like this glimpse of backstory not only for the magnificent potential for emotional nuance that it gives performers, but also because it provides Beatrice and Benedick with a more solid foundation on which to build a relationship. If they only fall in love with each other because their friends trick them into it, that would make them fairly shallow people, and it would not inspire a lot of hope for a successful future — but if the love is already there and just needs to be rekindled, that paints a much brighter picture.

I’ve been working on an activity that I just can’t wait to test out with the participants of our Teacher Seminar in February, examining the progression of their relationship through an analysis of how they use language. Shakespeare shows the audience, so clearly, that these two are meant for each other. No one else in the play uses language quite the way they do. For all the banter, quips, and Beatrice and Benedick are the only two who so consistently take each others‘ words, fire them back across, and set up for the next volley.

The rhetoric shows us not only how smart they are — and these two characters are some of Shakespeare’s most verbally intelligent creations — but how well they work together. At the beginning of the play, those shared words and mimicked rhetoric are part of the battle, a game of one-up-manship they play with each other. By the end of the play, however, Beatrice and Benedick are using those same figures in a completely different way; instead of combating each other, they’re working together, building off of each others’ words instead of trying to tear each other down. There’s still an element of challenge there — essential, I think, to their relationship — but it’s no longer with the end goal of destruction. Beatrice and Benedick prove themselves a delightfully matched pair. From the “gay couples” of Restoration comedy to the comedies of manners in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the “screwball” comedies of the 1930s and 40s, and the sitcoms of today, their legacy is certainly a magnificent one.

‘Henry V’ Study Guide Now Available

The OCS Study Guide for Henry V is now available. I got to stretch my historical muscles and revisit my medieval studies roots for this one, which was a real treat for me.
Here is a ten-page preview for your perusing enjoyment. Activities in this guide include the following:

  • The Basics: Getting your students on their feet, working with iambic pentameter, paraphrasing, exploring rhetoric, and turning your classroom into an early modern stage.
  • Line Assignments: A way to give your students ownership over a small section of text, which they will use in further language-based activities and staging explorations.
  • Staging Challenges: Dealing with Canterbury’s seemingly interminable Salic Law speech — and turning it into an exciting exploration of language and performance opportunities. The Salic Law speech may, at first, seem to represent everything your students fear most about Shakespeare: an enormous block of text, spoken by a high-ranking official, which doesn’t appear to say anything of importance. This activity will help you show your students that there is humor for the mining in Canterbury’s digressions, and that the entire speech is a set-up for a grand punchline.
  • Perspectives: How does Henry craft his language in order to motivate his men? And is he really such a glorious leader, or is there some disconnect between the Henry that the Chorus celebrates and the Henry that Shakespeare shows us in action? This activity examines the examples of leadership, both positive and negative, presented in Henry V: heroic Henry, not-so-heroic Henry, the flippant Dauphin, the aging Charles VI, the brusque Fluellen, and others. Your students will relate Shakespeare’s various portrayals of leadership to modern politics, and will examine Henry’s methods of motivation as compared to modern military recruiting techniques.
  • Perspectives: The Battle of Agincourt stands as one of England’s most famous victories, but what were the historical realities? Were the English outnumbered 6-to-1? 10-to-1? Or just 4-to-3? Your students will explore contemporary accounts, secondary sources, and modern research to cast new light on the version of events Shakespeare portrays. They will also discuss the place that Agincourt holds in the English narrative of national identity and will explore what similar moments in American history hold that same position for us.
  • Rhetoric: Henry V is one of Shakespeare’s very best speakers. He fits his speech to the occasion and his listeners remarkably well, changing his tenor, his vocabulary, and his rhythms for greatest appeal. Your students will examine those conditions throughout their exploration of Henry V, but how does Henry speak when he is alone with the audience? In this activity, your students will explore how Henry uses devices of repetition and substitution in order to build a rapport with the audience.
  • A variety of scenes for alternative stagings.
  • Production Choices: A guide to producing a 1-hour version of the play in your classroom

If you would like to purchase a downloadable PDF of the Henry V Study Guide, or of any of our other Study Guides, please visit our website. I’ve already begun work on the next offering: Much Ado about Nothing — It’s my all-time favorite play, so I’m quite excited about it.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Study Guide Now Available

The OCS Study Guide for A Midsummer Night’s Dream is now available on our website. And, I promise you, this one’s a lot of fun. Midsummer has so much potential for playing, and I think we’ve found some ways to really bring that to life in classrooms.

Here is a ten-page preview. The Study Guide contains the following activities:

  • The Basics: Getting your students on their feet, working with iambic pentameter, paraphrasing, exploring rhetoric, and turning your classroom into an early modern stage. These sections include, for your benefit, the first 100 lines of text, already marked-up, to use as a model in the classroom.
  • Line Assignments: A way to give your students ownership over a small section of text, which they will use in further language-based activities and staging explorations.
  • Metrical Magic: Examines the performance clues provided by the shifts between normal iambic pentameter and the unusual trochaic tetrameter, the rhythm of spellcasting. The moments when a speaker transitions from one form to the other provide the basis for performance choices. Does the unusual meter call for music? A different physicality? How can actors emphasize the mysticism of what’s going on in those moments?
  • Staging Challenges: Titania’s Bower explores the opportunities presented by the early modern stage. When Titania falls asleep on stage, where can she be placed? She can’t be too much in the way of what’s going on, but she also needs to be close enough for Oberon to ensorcel her and for Bottom to wake her. Students will experiment with different options and determine which they think is most effective.
  • Perspectives: Courtship Rituals examines the social context of the romantic troubles in the play. How would Shakespeare’s audience have perceived Egeus’s ruthless inflexibility and Hermia’s defiance? What implications of pre-contracted betrothals are in the play?
  • Staging Challenges: Actors Playing Actors. The well-meant shenanigans of the Mechanicals can illuminate some potential clues about Shakespeare’s own theatrical world. In this activity, your students will first explore the rehearsal process that Quince, Bottom, and the rest display, and then will prepare their own production of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’. We expect the result to be far more mirthful than tragical.
  • Perspectives: Fairies explores the changing nature of the fae in literature, from its darker origins in English folklore to the benign transformation effected by the Victorians and Disney. Students will choose a source as inspiration for costume design in their vision of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  • Textual Variants: Examines a curious difference in speech prefixes between the Quarto and Folio versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which I discussed in my last post).
  • Creative writing exercises based on the play, involving imitating Pyramus’s questionable poetry or giving relationship advice to one of the lovers
  • A guide to producing a 1-hour version of the play in your classroom

If you would like to purchase a downloadable copy of the study guide for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or any of our other available titles, please visit our website. Next up on the slate: Henry V.