Wandering through Wordles, Part the Third

Those of you who have been following the Education blog for some time are by now familiar with our work on Wordles. We use these word clouds primarily to introduce to students the idea that Shakespeare’s vocabulary is not what can make reading Shakespeare difficult. It helps to eliminate some of the fear, to look at all the words set out in this way, and to notice that there are very few, if any, unfamiliar words. Most of those which are strange will either be names or places, or else are fairly easy to figure out the meaning of once restored to their context. We include this as part of our Basics section in OCS Study Guides, and we can use it as a bridge into discussing rhetoric (ie, the order the words come in — usually what can make a passage difficult, and usually something that conveys character information). But, as I’ve discussed before on this blog, I’ve also discovered that distilling scenes into Wordles can reveal other information as well, about how Shakespeare is directing the audience’s focus, what information he chooses to share or to conceal, how he sets a mood, what topics are important for that scene.

I’m in the process of creating a blended Study Guide for both the Henry IVs and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and while building the Wordles for those plays, I noticed something that I haven’t been able to get over. Take a look at the Wordle for the first 100- lines of Henry IV, Part 1:

1H4-100Wordle

The two largest words, repeated most frequently, are “news” and “now”. Closer examination of the text shows that those most prominent words gets repeated four times — not, actually, a whole lot, which tells me that there isn’t a lot of repetition in the first 100 lines of the play. (And what does that, in turn, tell us about the verbal choices made by King Henry and Westmoreland?). A lot of the other oft-used words are names of people involved in the battles — but, considering the low degree of repetition overall, just getting said twice can increase a word’s prominence, as is the case with “Douglas” and “Mordake”. What information is Shakespeare giving us about the energy of this first scene? To me, it bespeaks a sense of urgency — but somewhat unfocused urgency. Henry isn’t just dealing with one problem here; he’s dealing with several all at once. As I can see by this Wordle, he’s having issues with Earls. He’s having issues with his son. He’s having issues with Scotland. These are all news, and they are all immediate issues he needs to solve.

So, that was interesting enough on its own, but then I did the Wordle for Henry IV, Part 2:

2H4-100Wordle

There, again, the largest word is “news”, and here, there is a higher frequency of repetition: “news” occurs seven times in the first 100 lines. The speaker for the first 40 lines is an anthropomorphic representation, not a historical character — and it makes sense that Rumour would have its mind on news, news, news. That fixation carries through the first scene as well, and many of the other repeated words reflect the characters’ concerns: Northumberland is waiting for word of what happened at Shrewsbury, of which Harry prevailed, of who will come home, of how the rebellion fared.

I asked Sarah what she thought would be the largest words for the first 100 lines of Henry IV, Part 1, and her guess was something like mine would have been: king, Henry/Harry, England. That would seem reasonable. Those are, after all, the major concerns of Shakespeare’s English histories. Take a look at the Wordles for the first 100 lines of Henry V and Richard III:

H5Wordle-NEW

R3Wordle-NEW

So what is it about the Henry IVs that makes them different? How is the energy different at the top of the play, how does that trickle through the following scenes, and, most importantly, what good can any of that do an actor? These are the questions we’re asking teachers and students to consider when they begin examining the language of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and we hope it will lead to fruitful exploration.

“You must translate; ’tis fit we understand.”

Sarah works with students during a Little Academe.

Sarah works with students during a Little Academe.

As ever, I find myself wrestling with “Shakespeare in Translation.”  I have been invited, as part of the Shakespeare Theatre Association Executive Board, to travel to Brazil for 10 days next month to serve as an adviser on a reconstructed Globe that the Instituto Gandarela is looking to build.  Never mind that this is a trip to Brazil (!!!) or that I will get to work with the amazing Peter McCurdy, the builder behind Shakespeare’s Globe and their new indoor playhouse, The Wanamaker (and a good friend to the OCS). As I prepare for this trip, I am wondering how to get past our condemnation of “No Fear Shakespeare”-style translations (as so eloquently argued by our friends at the Folger Shakespeare Library) yet fight the good fight for Shakespeare in other languages.

Word has it (how I wish I could personally confirm) that the productions at Shakespeare’s Globe in London last summer as part of the Globe to Globe celebration were stunning and amazing explorations of theatrical production.  I have personally, and to my delight, had the opportunity to see Der Brudermord, a German translation of Hamlet directed by Christine Schmidle at the Blackfriars Playhouse.  The play was fun, and I didn’t have too much trouble following the story, despite it being in German (full disclosure: I am familiar with the English version).  I thought the experience brought me closer to what German audiences seeing the play in English in the 17th century may have experienced, but I didn’t note any particularly stirring phrases or textual expertise that stirred me to embrace the play as I did when I saw Hamlet performed for the first time by Khris Lewin on our stage.  At that performance, the “nunnery” rang in my ears, the “rant” struck my senses, the players “did not saw the air too much,” and I knew why.

My original training, in Theatre Arts, should provide a clear answer to my questions about these translated productions.  Good theatre, good productions, good performances should satisfy the quandary. But, since immersing myself in the performance of Shakespeare here, I find that I cannot break those things from the text. From the words. From the arrangement of the words to form verse, to shape rhetorical figures, and to provide clues like embedded stage directions.  Our practice is so engaged with the methods we think Shakespeare and his actors engaged with (see Tiffany Stern’s Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan, see the American Shakespeare Center’s Actors’ Renaissance Season podcasts, see our current education workshops list), that I don’t know where to begin with the question.  But I would love to start a conversation. Are you an ESL/ELL student who loves (or, for that matter, hates) Shakespeare? Are you fluent in language other than English and have read (or written) translations? Are you a professor in Japan or Taiwan (as some of our Conference attendees are) who is working with students? What are you focused on when you discuss or play with Shakespeare? Do you find that Shakespeare has an influence on Portuguese? Or French? Can you recommend a place for those of us engaged in building a Global network of Shakespeare theatres (including education departments) to go to find a common thread for exploration with our foreign language students and audiences?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and, working with Cass and Kimberly and our fabulous interns, to finding ways to make the work with do with all of our students deeply engaging and illuminating.

–Sarah

“If’t be summer news, smile to’t before”

Accolades for OCSTC 13 Session 1 CampersWhoever dubbed this time of year “the lazy days of summer” sure didn’t work for OCS Education. We’re much more about “the very Midsummer madness”. Perhaps most prominently, this is the time when we host the annual OCS Theatre Camps for high school students. We’re in the  middle of Session 2 now, with students deep into work on The Taming of the Shrew, Richard II, and Ben Jonson’s Volpone. Their final performances are on Sunday, August 4th. Though it can sometimes feel like the camps dwarf all other activity during the summer, they are far from the extent of OCS Education’s aestival programming — and this year, we seem to have more going on than ever before.

Since 2010, we have also held a summer camp for adults, the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp. This summer, we’re taking the show on the road and heading to London for a week exploring Shakespeare’s old haunts. Several friends of the OCS, including MBC Professor Mary Hill Cole, archaeologist Julian Bowsher, eminent Oxford scholar Dr. Tiffany Stern, Globe Education Director Patrick Spottiswoode, craftsman Peter McCurdy, and director and actor Nick Hutchison, are graciously sharing their time and expertise with the group. Our travels will take us to many important London monuments, as well as some lesser-known gems, including: the Bloomsbury and Covent Garden districts, the Globe, the new Wanamaker Theatre, Shoreditch, St. Bartholomew’s, St. Paul’s, the National Portrait Gallery, several of the colleges of Oxford, the Blackfriars District, Guildhall, the Inns of Court, Southwark Cathedral, the Museum of London, the British Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, where Ralph is delivering a lecture on the early modern Blackfriars Theatre and our Blackfriars Playhouse as part of the “Shakespearean London Theatres” series. We’ll see A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth at the Globe and One Man, Two Guv’nors at the Haymarket. We’ll also be exploring London’s culinary delights, from traditional pubs to Thai and curries. It hardly seems possible with all of those scheduled wonders, but we’ll also all have some time to explore the city on our own. (I’m hoping to catch a musical in the West End on one of our free nights, since, as I’ve confessed before, musical theatre is another of my great loves). Since I’m something of a photo-hound, I’m sure I will return with many, many pictures of our adventures, so look for those on Facebook and in an upcoming blog post, and if you follow me on Twitter (@OCS_Cass), I’ll be posting real-time updates with hashtag #NKSC13.

Summer is also a great time for Educator Resources. In 2011, we began hosting Summer Seminars in addition to our already-established school-year programs, and two weeks ago, we hosted the 2013 Summer Special Teacher Seminar, welcoming teachers from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Michigan. This seminar was a “Class to Cast” special, focusing on methods of producing a Shakespeare play in the classroom or as an after-school activity. We covered everything from cutting and doubling to audition techniques, from tablework to blocking and embedded stage directions, from marketing to music. You can hear the playlist we built for The Comedy of Errors on Spotify, and the Study Guide we used is available on Lulu. Here are just a few of the comments we received from teachers who attended this seminar:

  • “This was the best and most useful workshop I have ever taken.” — Martin Jacobs, Lincoln High School, Ypsilanti MI
  • “I would love to attend Class to Cast again. I feel comfortable with Shakespeare as an English teacher, but I knew very little about directing. This seminar gave me a good sense of the overall process of putting on a show, including things like stage management and marketing, which, as an English teacher, I probably would have overlooked. I learn something new and understand my prior knowledge even better every time I come to a seminar, so I would definitely come back. … Most of my other professional development experiences have been full of generalities without actionable suggestions. I can see direct applications of the techniques from this seminar, such as scansion, reading from cue scripts, and cutting the text, to my classroom.” — anonymous
  • “AMAZINGLY helpful! I would recommend this (and have!) and will be returning.” — Jeffrey Cole, Director of Education, Henley Street Theatre/Richmond Shakespeare
  • “I am used to attending seminars that are presented in a strictly academic manner. This seminar called upon me to participate fully, heart, mind, and , body in exciting ways. … I would not hesitate to recommend the seminar to a high school drama or English teacher. My first thought at the end of each day was that I didn’t want it to end. My first thought at the completion of the seminar was, “When can I take another OCS seminar?” The instructors were extraordinarily knowledgeable, creative, and articulate. Now, I understand why so many of the people taking the seminar return again and again.” — Barbara Johnson, Drama Instructor, Faith Christian School
  • “I will be back for sure! This was an AWESOME workshop! … Cass and Sarah were exceptional hosts and provided a wide-reaching program that really helped to capture and address some of my hesitance with approaching Shakespeare. With greater confidence, I plan to embrace the Bard this upcoming fall!” — anonymous

We were thrilled to welcome so many enthusiastic educators, and we thank them for being willing to step outside of their comfort zones for a few days. Best of luck to them as they take on the challenge of directing in their schools! And we hope to see everyone back for future seminars.

Summer is also, as Sarah noted back in June, high tide for our flow of interns. Our offices are teeming over with eager students, working on a variety of different projects. Just this week, we welcomed Ellington, a rising senior at Oberlin University, who will be working on media and technology for us. Jess, who will be with us through the fall, is preparing dramaturgy packets for the upcoming Actors’ Renaissance Season. Emily has joined the World’s Mine Oyster troupe, preparing materials for The Merry Wives of Windsor as well as helping with their workshop prep. Self-described “jack of all trades” intern Sadie is helping out with Hospitality, Development, and the Box Office, and Sara has delved into our archives. To keep up with our fabulous interns and their research, following the OCS Interns’  Blog.

So, once the summer ends, do things slow down at all? Not in the least. As soon as schools are back in session, we begin welcoming groups for tours, workshops, and Little Academes, as well as starting our regular Student Matinee schedule and the Blackfriars Lecture Series. Our Fall Teacher Seminar is October 4-6th, focusing on Romeo and Juliet and All’s Well That Ends Well. And, of course, the 7th Blackfriars Conference occurs at the end of October. Acceptance letters for plenary papers and colloquy sessions will go out next week, and then we set to work finalizing the schedule, arranging banquets, preparing entertainment, printing programs and nametags, arranging catering, and shepherding all the other miscellany that go into making the Blackfriars Conference a unique and valuable experience for all of the scholars and practitioners who attend. Like the OCS’s Artistic Department, performing shows 52 weeks a year, OCS Education is truly a year-round institution, and we hope that you’ll come to the Blackfriars Playhouse soon — or talk to about bringing our Education Artists to you, wherever you are.

Midsummer Madness: Science, Social History, and Shakespeare

Today, those of us in the northern hemisphere observe the summer solstice. It’s a great time of year, finally warm enough for the beach and the pool, students are out for the holidays or will be soon, the fireflies are out, honeysuckle and roses are in bloom, and the long hours of sunlight mean you can stay out on the porch well into the evening. With such bounty and festivity, it’s no wonder that Shakespeare wrote a whole play set on this holiday: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

But wait? Why Midsummer? Isn’t this the beginning of summer? Why the temporal-linguistic confusion? The answer to that has to do with two things: the difference between astronomical seasons and meteorological seasons, and the difference between how we reckon seasons now versus how folk from the classical period on up through the early modern period reckoned them.

Graphic representation of how axial tilt causes the seasons, from NOAA

Science first: Solstices and equinoxes are determined by the earth’s axial tilt — not, as is a common misconception, by the distance from the sun. The earth will actually be at its aphelion, the farthest point from the sun, around July 5th, and at its perihelion, its closest point, around January 3rd. On June 21st, though we are farther from the sun, the earth’s tilt means that the sun falls in line directly over the Tropic of Cancer at 23.5° north latitude. This means that the northern hemisphere gets more of the sun’s energy during this time, and the southern hemisphere gets less. Six months from now, all that will be reversed; the sun will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, at 23.5° south latitude. What I find really fOCSinating about all of this is that it tells us just what a fragile habitable zone the earth exists in. A little more or less distance, a little more or less axial tilt, and the earth or parts of it might not be able to sustain any kind of life.

Of course, the exact way in which axial tilt affects the weather in any given location is pretty complex. Areas closer to the equator have less difference from season to season, whereas areas closer to the poles see wide variations. Since water and land heat at different rates, proximity to oceans can determine how quickly or slowly an area heats up into summer weather. Those heating and cooling rates also affect how precipitation systems form and move, which is why we tend to get more thunderstorms — and, in the North Atlantic and much of the Pacific, more hurricanes — from mid-summer through early autumn. Queen Elizabeth might have had axial tilt to thank, at least in part, for the freak August storms that helped to finish off the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Thermal lag graphically explained by Accuweather

Because of these variations, meteorologists assign different seasonal designations based on, well, the weather. For temperate zones in the northern hemisphere — like the US and England — this means that meteorological summer begins June 1st, autumn on September 1st, winter December 1st, and spring on March 1st. These dates mark the transition point for each season. The hottest point of summer for these regions falls well afterwards, mid-July through early-August, because of something called “thermal lag” or “seasonal lag,” which has to do with the varying rates at which the earth’s land, water, and atmosphere absorb all of that solar radiation. Since it takes a while for all of that to reach equilibrium, we don’t feel the heat of being pointed right at the sun until a few weeks later.

So, we now call June 21/22 the “first day of summer” because our common lexicon has sort of split the difference between these concepts. It’s the day when we begin moving further away from the sun, axial-tilt-wise, but when our region is just starting to head towards the hottest and stormiest part of the year. The shifting of the weather seems to have influenced Shakespeare when he wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

TITANIA
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men’s morris is fill’d up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:

England was experiencing particularly nasty, wet summers in the mid-1590s, and Shakespeare has Titania describe how her quarrel with Oberon has disordered the seasons and caused storms and floods. Summer and winter have become mixed-up. Comparing Titania’s description to accounts of English weather from 1594-1597 is one way that scholars have worked to date the play’s composition.

And now, the social history: While earlier civilizations like the Sumerians and Egyptians tended to measure seasons by floods and harvests, European societies from the Greeks forward marked seasons by the passage of the sun and stars.  The beginnings of each season were actually on the cross-quarter days — February 1st, May 1st, August 1st, and November 1st. Many East Asian calendars also followed this distinction, and many continue to do so to this day. Those cross-quarter dates became important holidays for the Celts, and those festivals were later merged with Christian saints’ days and holy days — February 1st’s Imbolc became Candlemas, May 1st’s Beltane became May Day, August 1st’s Lughnasadh became Lammastide, and November 1st’s Samhain became All Hallows’ Day. Solstice and equinoctial holidays were not as important for Celtic and Germanic cultures, but various associations still bled over. The Christian calendar created quarter days on or around the 25th of those months: Lady Day in March, Midsummer in June, Michaelmas in September, and Christmas in December. Apart from being religious observations, these were also the days in England when taxes and rents were due. Moveable feasts like Easter and Pentecost tend to fall near some of these dates as well, though not in every year, thanks to the way in which the liturgical calendar calculates them.

St. John's WortFor Shakespeare, the strongest summer holiday correlation may have been to either St. John’s Eve, celebrated on June 23rd, or possibly St. Peter’s Eve, celebrated on June 28th. Both festivals frequently involved bonfires and feasting, while other rituals focused on purification of or by water, connecting to St. John’s role as a baptist. Many folk medicinal traditions collected around St. John’s Eve  and Day as well. It was considered the best time to collect certain kinds of plants, including St. John’s Wort (pictured at right), used to treat mild wounds, menstrual cramps, snakebites, among other things. St. John’s Wort was thought in the Middle Ages to be particularly good at driving out demons — and it is now used in the modern day as an anti-depression treatment. Exactly which other plants were associated with the holiday tends to vary by local tradition, but they were often those used in herbal remedies to ease pain — and perhaps for this reason, the holiday has often had a connotation with witchcraft and the supernatural. Jumping over the St John’s Eve bonfires was meant to prove virility in men and to help maids find their husbands, the ashes from those fires were thought to bring good luck to homes, and roots gathered on St. John’s Eve were said to be particularly powerful in love spells. Some of these customs continue to the modern day in certain Catholic populations, with notable celebrations in Ireland, Spain, France, Quebec, and New Orleans. These traditions of magic and fertility may resonate in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the “little western flower” and “Dian’s bud” that Oberon and Puck use to enchant Titania, Lysander, and Demetrius.

Midsummer also had theatrical connections long before Shakespeare: this was the favorite time of year for the mystery play cycles, local religious pageants put on by trade guilds in major cities and towns throughout England. Though mystery plays were officially banned by King Henry at the beginning of the Reformation, many continued to perform or were illegally revived through Elizabeth’s reign, and they likely influenced the earliest playwrights of the early modern era. We’re doing our bit to celebrate at the OCS by offering 20% off the Study Guide for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and tonight we officially open Romeo and Juliet, thought to be written at about the same time as Midsummer. You can see similar threads in the two plays, not only through language and the focus on courtship and romance, but also in the season. Romeo and Juliet takes place in mid-July, two weeks before Lammastide. Perhaps Friar Laurence’s fixation on herbal remedies has to do with the gathering that took place on St. John’s, just a few weeks earlier?

Book Review: Shakespeare’s London, by Stephen Porter

ShxLondonShakespeare’s London: Everyday Life in London 1580 to 1616 is a thorough and detailed look at the English metropolis during the early modern period. While other books have taken similar approaches, none have honed in quite so specifically on a particular place at a very particular time. Porter uses not just Shakespeare’s life but his time in London as his fenceposts, and this allows him to delve, as we like to say in OCS Education, deep and narrow into a moment in history.

Porter is nothing if not comprehensive. The book wends its way through many aspects of early modern life, particularly with regards to economic realities and social conventions of the common citizens of London. Porter devotes a lot of time to industry and mercantilism, and not unjustly, since trade formed the basis for London’s explosive growth in following centuries. He discusses the various neighborhoods and their relative statuses at length, and the pictorial sections of the books include a number of illustrative maps (though, since they are early modern in origin and scaled down to fit the page, these are not always easy to read). Throughout the book, Porter liberally mixes primary source accounts in with his narrative, adding valuable details to the picture he’s painting. I particularly appreciated that during the heavily economic sections of the book, since it gave the real human interest factor back to what would otherwise have been a rather dry summary of trade deals and market fluctuations.

Major events to do with monarchs and nobles only get coverage for how they affected the bulk of the populace. One of my favorite examples has to do with King James’s influence on the cloth industry. England had always done quite a lot of trade in both heavy broadcloths and lighter linens, but typically sold them overseas “in the white,” undyed. English dyers just weren’t as adept as those in other countries, nor could they dye as cheaply, so although finished cloth fetched a higher price, England had chosen to rely on its strengths and focus on creating a huge output of undyed cloth. In 1614, King James decided, on the advice of a wealthy alderman (who, coincidentally, lent the king money), that the country would, from then on, only export dyed cloth. The Dutch responded by banning imports of dyed cloth, since that was one of their major industries. James then banned the export of wool, the main raw material which the Dutch used. This trade war did not go well for the English, who did not have the expertise to turn out quality material in high enough quantities to match previous sales of undyed cloths. In 1617, with the entire industry in England threatening to collapse, James changed his mind, with the Privy Council declaring that it was ‘now his Majesty’s pleasure and resolution not to disturb the trade of whites with any further essay, but to leave the same to the train and course of trade now in practice and according to the use before the former alteration’ (116-117).

The book also does a great job of tying the social history into the world of the plays. Porter frequently refers to various plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, illustrating how the temporal reality of London found its way into so many stories on the early modern stage. Playwrights like Dekker and Middleton often put London itself right up onto the stage, and Dekker was also a pamphleteer, whose observations about the world around him tell us much about life in the era. Shakespeare may never have written a city comedy, but that definitely does not mean that his London was absent from his plays. Porter relates the conmen and petty criminals of London to Mistress Overdone’s customers in Measure for Measure, and he suggests that “Shakespeare’s metropolitan audience at The Winter’s Tale no doubt smiled at the pretentiousness of the newly-rich shepherd and his son’s shopping list for their sheep-shearing feast,” based on recognition of the produce and spices traded out of London to country burghers (120). He points out that the Boar’s Head tavern in Henry IV was likely the same as that in Great Eastcheap, near to where the Lord Chamberlain’s men then played in the winters. The diseases and pestilence mentioned in so many of his plays were those that the people of London lived with and feared spreading. Any Shakespearean reference to apprentices reflected the vast population of young men in the city who, while vital to the economic structure, were also apparently prone to lethargy and rioting. Shakespeare’s London clearly lives in his plays, no matter if they’re set in Italy, Egypt, or Bohemia.

My biggest criticism of Shakespeare’s London is that I think this book could have benefited from a different organizational structure — perhaps by sub-dividing chapters or by simply having more chapters. There are only eight in the 250-page book, and so each one has a lot of topical ground to cover. As a result, sometimes the sense of storytelling is rather haphazard. A few chapters get a little “info-dump”-y, while others seem to have a strong narrative which then gets derailed. The best example of that is when the section on printhouses and print culture comes in the middle of a chapter which is otherwise about demographics and the early modern life cycle. The information is both interesting and useful, but it sort of comes out of left field. Printing also doesn’t get a mention in the index (which seems to focus more on proper nouns than on broader topics), so if you picked this book up specifically looking for information on that subject, it would be difficult to suss out where to find it. Information about the playhouses and playgoing culture is also scattered through a few different chapters. On the whole, though, Shakespeare’s London is chock-full of fantastic, detailed information, much of it straight from the original sources. I think it’s most comparable to David Cressy’s Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England: a compendium of information, almost overwhelming at times, but providing a wonderful window into the lives of everyday citizens who just happened to live four centuries ago. Shakespeare’s London is one of the “suggested reading” texts for the upcoming No Kidding Shakespeare Camp, and I’m looking forward to taking its insights with me as we travel through London in a few weeks.

Dr. Ralph Presents: Twelfth Night (2013)

American Shakespeare Center Co-founder and Director of Mission, and Mary Baldwin College Professor Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen delivers a pre-show lecture on William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, with special input from eminent Shakespeare scholar Stephen Booth, before a live audience at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, VA, on April 10th, 2013.

Dr. Ralph Presents: Twelfth Night
File Size: 40.8 MB; Run Time: 42:23
Please note: This lecture was recorded on Ralph’s iPad; we apologize for any fuzziness.

Hit the cut for the text which Dr. Ralph used during this lecture.

Continue reading

Blackfriars Backstage Pass: Twelfth Night

In this edition of the Blackfriars Backstage Pass, OCS actors Lexie Helgerson, Jacob Daly, Seth McNeill, David Millstone, and Andrew Goldwasser discuss their work on William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with OCS Co-founder and Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen. This podcast was recorded on May 3rd, 2013.

Blackfriars Backstage Pass: Twelfth Night
File Size: 48 MB; Run Time: 50:01

“You were inspired to do those duties”: The Amazing Work of OCS Interns

At the American Shakespeare Center, we are fortunate to have a name that attracts people with talent.  Of course, anyone who sees our shows recognizes the talent onstage, and that of the costumers, perhaps even the props person. Some will credit the directors, a few will think about the other artistic staff members: our amazing Associate Artistic Director, the Stage and Tour managers.  What I appreciate more and more, though, as every summer arrives, are the talented interns who come to spend their summers with us.

2013 Intern Elizabeth Floyd (right) at the OCS offices with College Prep Director Kim Newton (left)

2013 Intern Elizabeth Floyd (right) at the OCS offices with College Prep Director Kim Newton (left)

Applications for positions in marketing, development, management, education, and artistic start rolling in as early as September, and our various department heads begin battling for the students most suited to their needs.  We have students from Pennsylvania and from the University of Nebraska, and we’ve welcomed Utahans and Ohioans and folks from as close as JMU.  Conversations in staff meetings turn from “I don’t really have time to take care of that immediately,” to “My intern arrives this week, we can has him/her to take on that project.”  We begin developing long lists of wishes — research, formatting, filing, blogging, tracking — and divvying up tasks amongst departments.  And then, blessedly, they arrive.

In education, we strive to give each intern an over-arching project that is their start-to-finish focus and that meets their career goals.  Then, we add the fateful clause at the tail end of their contract, “And other duties as required.” Oh, that clause. That clause can encompass the interns attending workshops to give us feedback, going to rehearsals to develop ideas for new programming, stuffing envelopes, writing instructions, checking digital text against folio text, and so much more.  That clause, that one clause, is what makes us look forward to the interns’ arrival.  Certainly, we are excited about their projects, about getting to know these smart and talented people who will be leaders in Shakespeare, theatre, arts management, business and elsewhere, but the relief that settles on our staff when we realize that we can actually check some dreams off the list is, as Mastercard says, priceless.

Given that this year is a Blackfriars Conference year, that clause is even more meaningful to me personally.  When we implemented a “blind” reading committee as part of our selection process in 2011, I knew there would be some work involved.  I could not have imagined just how much formatting, futzing, and focusing it would take to actually make this initiative run. But that year, I had Brenna.  She swooped in and took 24 hours worth of headaches off my hands.  This year, Sarah — a wonderful recommendation from our dear friend Carole Levin at UNebraska — is making it possible for me to focus on new initiatives like our Consortium, and on overdue edits for our Playhouse Insider and camp plays, with the knowledge that I will still be able to get the abstracts to my committee on schedule. Ah, breathing. What a thing it is!

Intern Jane Jongeward (right) at the 2011 Blackfriars Conference

Intern Jane Jongeward (rightmost) at the 2011 Blackfriars Conference

We’ve had some wonderful interns over the past several years, and I want to acknowledge each of their contributions and thank them for their work.  I take a great deal of pride in seeing them go on to become professors, run their own theatre companies, direct plays, and, even, intern for other theatres (though that last one is harder).  So, thanks to Kyle, Megan, Liz, Nuri, Carla, Sarah, Sara, Natalie, Amy, Rachel, Elizabeth, Mara, Grace, Maria, Kimberly, Abigail, Kendra, Jessica, Madeleine, Elena, Alex, Emily, Molly, Jane, Lia, Amy, Melissa and anyone I may have missed.  You have transformed our department with your work and we at the OCS are forever grateful to you for picking up those other duties, or, as Shakespeare puts in in Cymbeline, “You were inspired to do those duties…” And you inspired us in so doing.

Some of their comments:

  • Kelley McKinnon was a wonderful supervisor and always was available for questions or concerns. She made me feel welcome in the rehearsal space and welcomed any feedback that I had on what I was observing. The internship also provided a good opportunity to watch the OCS actors through an entire rehearsal process. I was also solicited by the director at times for my feedback on the actor’s character development, which I appreciated because it allowed me to think critically and creatively, as well as make me feel like I was actually a part of the process.
  • I was always treated with respect and support. Interning at the OCS really feels like you are a valued part of the company and that the work you do matters.
  • Everyone in the education department helped and supported me. I hope my own work helped them in some way.
  • I felt like I was a necessary part of the process, and wasn’t just doing busy work.
  • The department was helpful in creating a fun, lively environment. I never felt excluded or patronized, and was thanked every single day after work. I always felt like I was getting things done and making progress, and Jenny and Erin always made me feel like part of the OCS family.
  • I took the internship to see how a theatre ran and what a theatre degree could do for me outside of traditional roles. My time with the OCS has helped me focus on what it is I would like my theatre degree to turn into in the future.
  • The internship helped me develop research, communication, and management skills that will be useful in any field I pursue. When I entered the internship I had limited knowledge of the skills required to complete the internship but I acquired those skills quickly and can apply them to any job. The internship was a learning process that has set me up to succeed in any job I strive to attain.
  • This internship gave me some great experience working with great people that I hope will help me continue to learn how to make connections and pursue work in professional theatre.
  • Incredible opportunity to watch the process of one of the best Shakespeare companies in the country. Would recommend to anyone!
  • The OCS inspired my current career path. In the best of all worlds I will be working for a theatre with similar ideas and goals. Everything I did and/or learned to do I will most likely do again; from the more glamorous tasks, such as doing research or analyzing verse, to the mundane, such as archiving and office moving.

–Sarah

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

BookmansTale

As promised, thanks to the generosity of Viking Press, OCS Education is pleased to host a giveaway contest for The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett. In case you missed my review, I will reiterate that this was a wonderful, creative, and scholastically responsible historical mystery novel, and I highly recommend it for Shakespeare enthusiasts — particularly of the breed that I know frequents the Blackfriars Playhouse. So, this is your chance to get a copy for free, straight from the publisher — just in time for the summer holidays!

All you have to do to enter is tell us: What show in our 25th Anniversary year, opening June 21st, are you most looking forward to, and why?

We will randomly select a winner from the submissions and make our announcement on Friday afternoon. Please note that due to the publisher’s restrictions, the winner must have a U.S. mailing address.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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