Wednesday, July 28, 2010

TSI 2010 - Final Thoughts

My students are always asking me what my favorite book or movie is. And I’ve reached a point where I’ve experienced so much of both that picking a favorite is no longer a sensible activity. Do I like Lolita more than Angle of Repose or Great Expectations? The Incredibles more than Good Night, and Good Luck or Cool Hand Luke? At some point, one just wants to respond, “why choose?” I like blue and purple.

So I’m not going to try to isolate one favorite aspect of the Teaching Shakespeare Institute. There are too many moments, lessons, and people to single any one out. I could go on about Mike Lomonico taking my favorite Shakespearean film clip lesson to the next level by breaking student responses into different film-making components. Or Sue Hench’s masterful ability to structure a student-centered experience. Or Stephen Dickey changing much of what I thought I knew of Twelfth Night. Or Synetic Theater’s silent production of Othello. Or Amber Caron’s awesome “why is this man head-butting a cat” presentation. Or Kevin Costa prefacing every question with an experience or book recommendation I wanted to follow up on. Or Chris Lavold’s “Joe Shakespeare” moment. I could go on.

One moment, though, captures the excitement I felt throughout my four weeks at the Folger – finding the Statutes of the Realm. My research paper ended up focusing on witchcraft in Macbeth. To prepare I had read Marston’s The Wonder of Women, or The Tragedy or Sophonisba and Thomas Middleton’s The Witch, as well as various section of a variety of Shakespeare’s plays that included examples of or allusions to witchcraft. In the library I pursued original documents that defined witchcraft: Lambert Daneau’s Dialogue of Witches (1575), Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), George Gifford’s A Discourse of the Subtill Practices of Devilles (1587), Nicholas Remy’s Demonolatry (1595), and King James’s Daemonologie, In Forme of a Dialogue (1597). And, as I narrowed my focus to Shakespeare’s historical plays, I read relevant sections of Edward Hall and Raphaell Holinshed’s chronicles.

My goal was to illustrate a connection between the perceived reality of witches and the theatrical depiction of them. In the process of writing the paper, I came across a number of Internet citations to sixteenth century “witchcraft acts,” laws in England that defined and penalized the practices of sorcerers. Now one of the big problems with the Internet is that lots of people who create web sites simply repurpose stuff from someone else’s site. You’ll notice this when you do a Google search, and the exact same info comes up on three different sites. It can be difficult to determine who posted it first, and doubly difficult to determine where it originally came from before it got on the web.

So it was with the Witchcraft Acts. The closest I got to a corroborating source were some weird numbers, like “1⁰ Jac. I c. 12.” I took these numbers to a Folger librarian, asking for help in finding the actual Witchcraft Act documents. I spent some time in the card catalog room looking under Great Britain – History – King James, to no avail. I did find some similar numbers in a secondary source, so I took them back to the librarian, who asked, “have you checked the Statutes of the Realm?”

Where are those, I asked.

In the basement of the Folger Shakespeare Library, on a shelf in the corner, there are a number of heavy brown folio-sized volumes. It turns out that George III, in the interest of historical preservation, had recorded a complete list of laws passed by his predecessors. These were organized by the year of each monarch’s reign, the monarch, and finally by law (listed as chapters). Quickly I found the statute passed under James I in 1603: “An acte against conjuration, witchcraft, and dealing with evill and wicked spirits.” But I had found a lot more.

Our laws define us; they define our fears, our culture, our knowledge and ignorance, our current events, and over time our history. The Statutes of the Realm opened an amazing window into Tudor and Stuart life. I wanted immediately to spend the next two months sitting in the Folger basement just reading statutes. Working my way backwards in my final forty minutes in the Library, I found Elizabeth’s, then Edward VI’s, then Henry VIII’s witchcraft acts. But I also found curios around which one could build an entertaining and scholarly career. In Edward VI’s laws, for example, exists an act that defines, thereafter, any death caused by poisoning as murder. Which begs the question: what was it before?

I made rapid xerox copies of the acts that pertained to my paper. There’s lots to think about, beginning with the easy comparisons that demonstrate how public opinion and concern about witches changed from 1541 to 1603. Henry VIII’s act begins: “Where dyvers and sundrie persones unlawfully have devised and practised Invocacons and conjuracons of Sprites, pretendying by such meanes to understande and get Knowledge for their own lucre in what treasure of golde and Silver shulde or mought be founde or had in the earthe or other secrete places” (33⁰ Hen. VIII c. 8). It goes on to condemn other, more fantastical, practices, but I think it’s interesting that it begins with the simple use of conjuration as a form of graft.

By James I, the concern over conning folks out of their money is gone. James repeals the Elizabethan laws, then replaces them: “for the better restrayninge of the said Offenses, and more severe punishinge the same, be it further enacted ... That if any pson or persons, after the saide Feaste of Saint Michaell the Archangell next coming, shall use, practise, or exercise any Invocation or Conjuration of any evill and wicked Spirit, or shall consult covenant with, entertaine, employ, feede, or rewarde any evill and wicked Spirit to or for any intent or purpose; or take up any dead man, woman, or child out of his, her, or their grave, or any other place where the dead bodie resteth, or the skin, bone, or any other parte of any dead person, to be imployed or used in any manner of Witchcrafte, Inchantment, Charme, or Sorcerie ... that then everie such Offendor or Offendors, their Ayders, Abettors, and Counsellors, being of any the saide Offences dulie and lawfullie convicted and attainted, shall suffer pains of deathe as a Felon or Felons, and shall loose the priviledge and benefit of Clergie and Sanctuarie” (1⁰ Jac. I c. 12).

We learn from James I’s Daemonologie, a reaction to Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, that there’s a fairly significant tension between those that believe in the supernatural power of witches and those that don’t. That statutes clearly show that shift toward the more punitive view, and in doing so, reveal a fascinating aspect of Tudor and Stuart life.

I had been skeptical about my ability to take advantage of my reading card, which gives me a year to continue my studies at the Folger. School keeps me busy, even during my breaks. But now I know I’m going back, whatever it takes. Somewhere, there’s a statute waiting which will reveal untold contemporary attitudes about parts of Shakespeare’s plays that I know I currently overlook. It’s like being on a treasure hunt, and finding the Statutes is like being handed a reliable map. The “X” is at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


Friday, July 23, 2010

TSI 2010 - Grasshopper Tacos

I have a conversation at least once a year with students about what they eat. It usually starts when I mention that I’ve had tacos with lengua (beef tongue) and they blanch. Who eats beef tongue? Ick!

Actually, it’s quite good, and I use the example to make the point that what we consider edible depends primarily on what we’re used to eating by the time we’re adolescents, our attitudes are set, and the mere sensual experience of taste matters little. In other words, I think there’s a point where our appreciation of taste becomes not physical but psychological and cultural. And in the mix, novelty becomes intimidating while familiarity becomes comforting.

Case in point: I marinated and grilled chicken hearts for my book club last year as part of a Brazilian themed dinner. Grown men declined to try them, despite that fact that Americans, according to the American Meat Institute, consume over 85 pounds (based on “retail weight”) of chicken each year, and the heart, like much of the rest of the chicken we eat, is merely muscle.

Given that living involves experiencing, and experiencing involves one’s senses, it is curious to me that we so willfully limit the experience of one of the most pleasurable of senses – taste.

That's my preamble to the most interesting meal I had during the Teaching Shakespeare Institute which came from Oyamel, a restaurant near Chinatown that takes a fusion approach to regional Mexican cuisines and serves its offerings tapas style. My friend Martha Anderson and I began with an excellent ceviche de cayo de hacha con limon y chile. That’s a small bay scallop topped with a tiny slice of blood orange and sitting on top of a tequila and ancho chile sauce covered key lime. You pick up the key lime and take the whole scallop in your mouth while squeezing the lime gently to get a sort of citrus chaser.

(If you’re making this at home, know that Oyamel serves these on a plate of rocks, which keep the limes from rolling over and dumping the little scallop towers onto the plate. If you believe that great dining involves not just taste but a visually pleasing arrangement, then Oyamel’s plating adds a lot to the experience.)

Martha and I also selected a variety of tacos: chicken with guacamole, beef tongue with radishes, fish with red onions and cilantro, and chapulines. Chapulines is Spanish for grasshoppers. I’d never heard of grasshopper tacos let alone tried them. Oyamel claims they’re a Oaxacan specialty and sautées them in onion, garlic and tequila. They’re fairly salty and taste a little like dried, grilled beef, with a slight crunch. Right now, a number of you are probably thinking you'll never, ever, ever knowingly eat anything with bugs in it. All I ask is, if you've never tried something like chapulines, that you consider how much your attitude comes from a reality-free perception. Tasting is believing, and great food deserves a chance without prejudice.

In short, the chapulines tasted great. And it’s nice to know that in the coming economic or environmental apocalypse, I’ll be happily surviving the collapse and subsequent looting of Cub Food, Safeway, and Piggly Wiggly by capturing, sautéing, and eating the bugs in my backyard.


(Photo credit: The grasshopper taco pictured above comes from the blog “Girl Meets Food.” Many thanks to Mary for its use, and if you’re in the Washington, DC area and want great recommendations for adventures in dining, read Mary’s blog.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

RE4: Twelfth Night - The Language of Love

Viola is a fine actress, playing and making use of the Petrarchan game from time to time. It might be interesting to compare her brilliant use of it to Orsino's tired, self-indulgent use of it. Theirs is a marriage that was not exactly made in heaven. No wonder Feste is a bit cynical.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

RE3: Twelfth Night - The Language of Love

Randall writes:


That's a good question. Viola does not strike me as particularly Petrarchan, as Romeo is ("I ne'er saw true beauty till this night!"), nor does Orsino overwhelm her with beautiful language. So what is it that establishes her love for Orsino?

Is she susceptible to flattery? Orsino compliments her lips, her voice, and her womanliness, although to us it's ironic because he's seeing a boy. But Viola is not that kind of fool for love, the type who could be won over by mere appreciation of her physique. To work, that requires a certain vanity. If anything, Viola is full of humility.

Yet, after Orsino explains his expectations for Cesario's surrogate wooing, Viola says, "Yet a barful strife! Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife." She's in love. How?

In our seminar at the Teaching Shakespeare Institute, we briefly considered one possibility. The following exchange occurs in Act 1, scene 2, between the recently shipwrecked Viola and Captain:

Who governs here?
A noble duke, in nature as in name.
What is his name?
Orsino. I have heard my father name him. He was a bachelor then.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Say you're at a party and you see someone vaguely familiar across the room. You turn to your friend and ask who it is. When he tells you, which of the following are you most likely to ask?

a. Oh, I've heard of him; isn't he a Republican?
b. Oh, I've heard of him; doesn't he work at Home Depot?
c. Oh, I've heard of him; he's single, isn't he?

Viola's response is suggestive. Is she thinking about Orsino's availability already? Is she already in love with him? Add this: Under what circumstances did her father "name him"? We're too deep in speculation land here, with too little textual evidence, but comparing fathers and daughters' conversations in other plays, notably Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, they often focus on appropriate husbands.

Then, there's the vaguery of Viola's plan. Originally, she wants to serve Olivia so that she "might not be delivered to the world/ Till I had made mine own occasion mellow,/ What my estate is." She wants to establish her social position, sure. But this position would also give her access to Orsino who, she learns, is currently seeking Olivia.

Finally, listen carefully to her instructions to the Captain:

Conceal me what I am, and be my aid
For such disguise as haply shall become
The form of my intent. (1.2.56-58)

What is her intent? No, what is the form of her intent? It would not be socially possible for her, as a woman, to approach Orsino in courtship. But disguised as a boy, taking on a new form, will give her access to Orsino. Is Orsino, then, as opposed to the mere establishment of social position, her intent? Or more specifically, is marriage to Orsino how she intends to make her own occasion "mellow"?

So, as we consider the origin of Viola's love for Orsino, we have to consider the possibility that we don't find it in the text, in the love-language, because it pre-dates the opening of the play.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

RE2: Twelfth Night - The Language of Love

Ooooooooooh! I LOVE this. :-)

It makes me think, just a little, about Viola's love for Orsino. Hmmmmm, from whence it springs?


RE: Twelfth Night - The Language of Love

Randall writes:

Hear me,

I’ve been thinking a bit about Gil’s argument that Orsino is a bad poet, and that Olivia loves language more than Cesario. The latter comment reminds me of Romeo, whom we frequently declaim in high school English classes for being in love with love rather than Juliet. Given the amazing words spilling from his heart to describe his love, we might argue that Romeo, too, is in love with language, for it is the words that create his passion. Or to put it another way, they are the food of his love.

So Orsino is wrong. It’s not music, it’s language, specifically Shakespeare’s language. Orsino’s mistake may confirm Gil’s point. As a bad poet (“most radiant, exquisite, and unmatchable beauty”), he finds no sustenance in love-language and so must turn to music. And certainly that’s no match for Shakespeare.

John Berryman is as impressed as Gil. In a section from Berryman’s Shakespeare, he calls Olivia’s response to Cesario’s delivery of Orsino’s overtures (“Your lord does know my mind, I cannot love him.”) an “utterance so perfect: it satisfies perfectly” (93). Looking at the sixteen lines that follow, including the “willow cabin” wooing, Berryman notes their intensity and concludes “Olivia falls in love upon her intuition that the person before her is capable of love” (94). Funny word, that: “intuition.” Of course, Berryman means it in its modern guise – implicit understanding without benefit of the five senses – but its closest usage to Shakespeare’s contemporaries would have associated it, according to the O.E.D., with spiritual insight. Do Cesario’s words penetrate to Olivia’s soul? Is that why she's so moved?

Again, this doesn’t reflect well on Orsino. After all, if Cesario’s capability for love is a revelation, then it would stand that Orsino, in Olivia’s eyes, is not so capable. No, that’s not quite right. I mean, in Olivia’s ears; in Shakespeare, lovers’ language does not enter through the eyes. Even Olivia gets this wrong: “Methinks,” she says, “I feel this youth’s perfections/ With an invisible and subtle stealth/ To creep in at mine eyes” (1.5.304-302). Notice the twin confusions, first that she feels (touch) that which enters through her eyes (sight) and second, that which is entering through her eyes is invisible. What’s more, her eyes are lying to her – she thinks she’s seeing a man. Berryman is right about intuition; the rest of her senses are pretty flummoxed.

Olivia repeats the mistake a few lines later: “I do I know not what, and fear to find/ Mine eye too great a flatterer for my mind.” She continues to miss that her heart has been wooed and won through her ears. Interesting that she began the conversation with Cesario by saying: “Once more we will hear Orsino’s embassy.” And further she dismissed her attendants, saying “We will hear this divinity.”

Yes, she did. Cesario’s “willow cabin” lament is a feast for the ears: “call upon my soul,” “sing them loud,” “hallow your name,” “babbling gossip of the air,” and “cry out ‘Olivia!’” Cesario’s love-language is all sound.

But once Olivia hears this divinity, its power is too great; she requires intuition to recognize its effect. So, let’s get back to Gil’s point about Orsino’s poetry being bad, being “Petrarch turned to cliché.” Remember that eyes, especially as a path through which we are trapped by love (love at first sight?) are a persistent Petrarchan motif. We find, then, that Shakespeare once again has his way with his rivals, aligning Petrarch with Orsino (the bad poet), establishing the ears, not the eyes, as the true path of passion, and filling Gil’s, Berryman’s, and ours with perfect language, so that like Olivia we are won over. Completely.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

TSI 2010 - Sonnet

For fun, in between the performance practices, the research, the curriculum sessions, the lectures, the seminars, and the colloquia, we've been give the opportunity to write a sonnet, with the final rhyming words given to us (so everyone has the same end rhymes), due at 8:30 a.m. this morning. Here's what I came up with:

What 'In Jam' Meant

“I’ve had just about enough of you, love-
er,” she announced, departing, all my err-
ant affections entombed; I’d need a shove-
el to unearth them. My distress, unbear-

able for months, amply seasoned with hate-
tred and hysteric temp’ramental see-
sawing mood swings, compelled me thus to late-
er seek mortal release, to set me free

of love’s astringent ends. But my child’s smile-
ing face, covered in jam, restor’d my poor
heart’s life, reminding me that though each trial,
each open challenge, may end as a door

slamming, as long as you continue cheer-
ful progress, life will never box your ear.


Friday, July 9, 2010

TSI 2010 - The Unkindest Cũt

One might expect the sort of things gleaned from working in a place like the Folger Shakespeare Library reading room to be rather erudite, if not downright stodgy. But more than once I’ve come across information that reaffirms what rascals some of the early modern writers can be.

Not all of them, of course. For example, I’ve been studying books on witchcraft printed in the sixteenth century. One of my first concerns has been whether it is more appropriate, when I’m quoting from a text, to reproduce the wacky words, characters, and punctuation? Or should I modernize the archaic spelling and other obsolete typographical elements, and save some time? Take the following passage from the English translation of Lambert Daneau’s A Dialogue of Witches (1575):

Getting used to reading through the long “s,” the extra “e” on words (“meanes,” “arte”), the other extra letters (“magicall”), the different vowel representations (“lyke”) hasn’t been too hard. And the old thorn with a superscript “e” (for “the”) is kind of fun. New to me, though, was the practice of omitting the “m” or “n” (known as “minims”) and indicating the absence with a wavy or straight line over the preceding letter. This happens twice above: with whõ (whom) and cõquest (conquest).

Now, not too long ago, I posted a short comment about the bawdy word-play in Twelfth Night’s Box Tree scene. (You know where this is going.) In it, Malvolio thinks he recognizes Olivia’s handwriting, commenting:

"By my life, this is my lady's hand! These be here very c's, her u's, and her t's, and thus makes she her great P's."

Would that be c-ũ-t?

It’s a stretch, because the audience is hearing the letters, not seeing them, and the effectiveness of the joke would rely on the audience’s familiarity with typography. Alfred Harbage argues in Shakespeare’s Audience, that “it seems probable that the rank and file were more literate in the sixteenth century than in the eighteenth. In view of the profusion of schools, of the tendency of the trade guilds to make literacy a qualification even for entrance into apprenticeship, and of the manifest interest in self-instruction, we must revise any impressions we may ever have had that London workmen were ‘nine-tenths illiterate’” (146-147).

Further, Harbage footnotes L. C. Knights’ comment about the most of the Globe’s spectators being “likely to have received an education of the Grammar school type.” At this point I’d like to check the type in one of those 10,000 copies of The A B C and Little Catechism primer Harbage says were distributed in 1585. But that’s not my topic, and my library time is too limited for the quixotic substantiation of dirty jokes.

But the more I think about it, the more I’m sure Shakespeare is indulging his inner rascal, perhaps appropriately in a play that pokes so much fun at puritanical natures. As a teaching artist from the Acting Company told my class a couple years ago, in Shakespeare, “if it sounds dirty, it probably is.”

This surprises students. Really, I think time tends to misapply a patina of decorum to popular texts. We are sure if something is old or complex or revered, it must be above populist humor or prurience. Even when a text is serious, these moments aren’t hard to find. I just finished John Marston’s The Wonder of Women, or the Tragedy of Sophonisba (ca. 1605). In it Syphax, an evil king, conjures up a witch named Erictho from whom he wants a spell that will enchant the chaste heroine, Sophonisba, into his bed. Erictho describes her home, once a temple to Jove, but now in ruins, its hymns replaced by the ominous noises of jackdaws, crows, ravens, and magpies, and “Where statues and Jove’s acts were vively limned,/ Boys with black coals draw the veiled parts of nature/ And lecherous actions of imagined lust” (4.1.153-155).

Yeah, I don’t have to travel to ancient Libya to see that. The same images decorate the boys’ toilet stalls at my school. I just didn’t expect to find phallic graffiti in the middle of a speech in my Marston, any more than I expected to find yonic imagery in Shakespeare.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

TSI 2010 - Freudian Slip

Caleen Jennings’ classes at the Teaching Shakespeare Institute are all about freeing oneself from the usual strictures of education, whether we’re finding physical ways to communicate the written word or lying on the floor in the dark scrawling barely connected words on a sheet of paper as both a vital part of the writing process and a way to access Othello.

We did the latter activity today. Jennings wrote a word – “cause” – on a large, white sheet of paper, and our job was to yell out word associations. She’d pick the first she heard, add it to the paper linked to the previous word, and we’d suggest associations for the new word. “Cause” led to “effect” led to “affect” (English teachers!) and so on until we got, in a dilatory way, to “air conditioning.”

Then it was back to “cause” again, with a new association. “Cause” led to “way” led to “curds” which led to “Saddam Hussein.” Eventually we got a word balloon on the paper that said “Harry Potter.” In the cacophony that followed, the loudest next association was “Twilight.” Even free association suffers from rivalry. But Jennings heard something else; she wrote down “toilet.”

Looking at the final word webs on the paper, to one who didn’t witness the process, it may have made a perverse sense how we got from “Potter” to “toilet,” but it must have been mystifying how the next word ended up being “sunrise.”

“Moonrise” would have made more sense.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Othello - Performance Log (July 2010)

Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili
Synetic Theater
Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC
July 3, 2010

Here’s a conversation starter: the best production of a Shakespeare play I’ve ever seen cut every single line of the text.

That’s right. No words. Synetic Theater, which just completed a run of Othello at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, employs the “art of silence,” removing all speech and redirecting not just the story, but the rich textures and imagery of Shakespeare’s language into dance, dumb show, music, video projection, and visual motif, or what Synetic refers to as “non-realistic theater.” The result is a stunning visual and aural experience, powerfully evocative and emotive, but also paradoxical.

Can, after all, a production without a single line from Shakespeare’s text be considered a Shakespeare play? The adaptors here, Paata Tsikurishvili and Nathan Weinberger don’t claim that it is. The program clearly indicates that their work is “based on” Shakespeare’s play. But unlike something like Otello, Verdi’s opera that takes Shakespeare as its starting point and becomes Shakespearean but not Shakespeare in its new medium, Synetic’s Othello seeks to transform the purely Shakespearean experience – language – into a new form: text becomes subtext, dialogue becomes dance, and characters’ inner landscape of emotion, motivation, and psychological turmoil become motion and visual representation. [To get some sense of the production's approach to motion and dance, watch the YouTube "trailer."]

Take Iago (Philip Fletcher, Irina Tsikurishivili, and Alex Mills). In some ways, Synetic’s approach makes this Iago’s play. In Shakespeare, it’s never clear why Iago decides to play the villain (he gives conflicting reasons, and to a Jacobean audience it wouldn’t have mattered because they would have seen him as a representation of the Vice character, malicious for its own sake). But here, his jealousy at being passed over as Othello receives promotion is palpable. Tsikurishvili sets his anguish in front of a triptych of mirror-like mylar panels, behind which are two more Iagos. A struggle follows as the Iagos begin to grapple with each other and throw themselves through the panes, each attempting to be the central figure, and finally all three are present. It’s as if the conflicting emotions within him drive him insane, until his murderous personality is multiplied and physically present.

This sense of menace is magnified throughout by the production design, from the black, white and red color scheme to the almost industrial music and sound (composed by Konstantine Lortkipanidze) to the set, which takes a page from German Expressionism. If you’ve seen the disorienting angles and warped perspective lines of Robert Weine’s 1920 silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (above), then you have some idea of the broken planes and tilted triangles Anastasia Rurikov Simes puts together for this Othello.

Tskurishvili also makes wonderful use of the handkerchief. In Shakespeare, it is the central proof in Iago’s false accusation of Desdemona, a single piece in an elaborate seduction. But Synetic makes it much more. We see Othello (Roger Payano) receive it from his mother as she dies after being beaten to death by a slave driver. We see him give it to Desdemona (Salma Shaw), knowing it is the most precious thing he has. And we see it wind its way through the plot against him, until it takes on a final fatal role, replacing the pillow that ends Desdemona’s life (a striking scene that is graphic not in its explicit violence but in its visual depiction of Othello’s act).

There are so many beautiful visual touches that allude to Shakespeare’s verse: the paper flower that represents Rodrigo’s desire for Desdemona, the amorous satyrs that comically suggest Iago’s version of Othello’s courtship, the grainy black and white videos of groping lovers that project Othello’s deepest fears, the color red as a component only of the Iagos costumes, the small candles in Desdemona’s room, extinguished one by one by Othello.

Without the language, Synetic Theater’s Othello is not, in the end, Shakespeare. But this production achieves what adaptations rarely do – it informs Shakespeare as much as it is informed by Shakespeare. And it is more a work of art on its own than a derivative effort. Its beauty of movement, and sound, and visual expression matched, for me, that transcendence which I find in the best of Shakespeare’s verse.

This Othello’s language may not be English, but it speaks.

Logged by Randall

photo credit: Irina Tsikurishvili, Philip Fletcher, and Alex Mills as Iago; photo by Graeme Shaw.

Friday, July 2, 2010

TSI 2010 - Folger Faux Pas

It has finally sunk in. I am a reader at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

When I got here, I really had no clue what that meant, which is a bit embarrassing given that others work so hard to get here and recognize the honor immediately when they do. When I applied I was focused mostly on the workshops we would be doing about using performance techniques to improve students’ experience reading Shakespeare by engaging them more physically with close reading and intensifying their exposure to the text. I thought more about the curriculum of the Institute than where it would be held.

Then on Tuesday we received an introduction to the collection and a tour of the reading room and holdings. Georgianna Ziegler, Head of Reference, brought out a cart of 16th-and 17th-century books, including a first Folio and a hand-written manuscript (in the late 1500s that would be redundant) on demonologie by James VI of Scotland (later James I of England). At which point my perspective shifted from “I’m doing a set of intense workshops” to “I’m studying in a museum.”

And yes, we were allowed to touch the books. If you ever want to see people in their twenties and thirties act like excited elementary students, tell a Shakespeare teacher he or she can touch a first Folio. Instantly, the Folger went from mere museum to rare literature petting zoo.

Last year, when I attended Phillips Exeter Academy’s Shakespeare Conference, we were allowed to look at both a second Folio and a Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, the revised second edition I think. (Note to SPA librarian Nick Bancks – can our library have a Holinshed?) We were asked to wear white gloves in order to keep dirt and oils from our hands from getting on the books. At the Folger, I noticed, no one wears gloves. Ziegler explained that they believe wearing gloves may lead you to do greater damage to the books because you lack the fine touch and sensitivity if your hands are covered. It’s easier, for example, to tear a page if gloves cause you to handle it more roughly than you would otherwise. As for grimy fingers, she added, we expect you to wash your hands before coming to the reading room.

That’s just one of the rules. There are a lot of rules that come with the reading room: exit cards, clear plastic bags for your belongings, no umbrellas, appropriate writing utensils. I spent much of the afternoon deciding what rare books I wanted for my research paper on contemporary attitudes about witchcraft and the supernatural in Macbeth. I decided on Lambert Daneau’s Dialogue of Witches (1575), Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), George Gifford’s A Discourse of the Subtill Practices of Devilles (1587), and William Perkins’ Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft (1610). To get these books, you fill out special request cards and extremely kind librarians descend to the vault and retrieve your books. It’s a little like getting money out of Gringotts, only without the goblins.

So I took my request cards to the librarian who looked at me in horror and said, in a voice almost not a whisper, “you can’t have a pen in here!” He made me fill the cards out again. In pencil.

Ah well, we learn from our mistakes right?


photo credit: Old Reading Room, photo by Julie Ainsworth