Review: Taymor’s Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.008 Monday, 6 January 2014
From: Hardy Cook <
Date: January 4, 2014 at 10:58:36 AM EST
Subject: Review: Taymor’s Midsummer Night’s Dream
[Editor’s Note: I got Holger Syme’s permission to republish his blog review of Taymor’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Theatre for a New Audience. This review appeared on Holger’s blog disposition. –Hardy]
Midsummer Night’s Dream (Theatre for a New Audience / Julie Taymor, New York)
by Holger Syme January 4, 2014
Visually, this is a stunning production. The Polonsky Shakespeare Center, opened this season, is a remarkable space — a broad and deep thrust four stories high, configurable with all sorts of trap doors and hydraulic elements, and Julie Taymor, unsurprisingly, makes highly effective and imaginative use of all these features. The central element in the show is a vast sheet of silk large enough to cover the entire stage: it first appears as the bedsheets of a tiny bed in which a figure we’ll soon recognize as Puck (remarkable: Kathryn Hunter) is sleeping, unfolds from the bed to become a balloon of sorts on which the bed is carried up and away, then winds up as a kind of baldachin over the stage, and then proceeds to twist, fold, and billow, birthing Titania for her entrance, ripping open to let Puck back in, and serving as a projection screen time and time again.
There is something deliciously theatrical in how this piece of fabric works. The effects are always impressive, but they’re explicitly effects: the sheet suggests magic, it implies representation, but it also remains visible as a sheet, a huge prop manipulated by stage hands and ensemble members present on stage, visibly handling ropes and carabiner hooks. Sometimes, it’s characters doing the handling: a running gag is that Flute is too short to catch ropes flown down to hook onto things and always needs help from Snug (who is gigantic). At one point, Puck elaborately hooks herself into a harness while talking to Oberon. A forest of staves that function mostly as sort-of magical trees are very obviously manipulated from below by on-stage figures, or from above by very noticeable ropes. And the production can get quite clever with this metatheatricality. Oberon’s reaction to discovering that Puck has love-juiced the wrong Athenian and has turned a true love false (whatever that may mean) finds its angry expression through a lighting change and an orchestrated stamping of all the twenty-odd staves on stage; Puck responds with gentle mockery by banging just one stave, with her hand. The sound is the same (if less loud); the gesture is pretty much the same (except it’s Puck’s hand moving the stave, not those of visible and invisible helpers). But the effect is completely different: when Oberon “makes” all the staves move and “makes” the light change, the gesture “means” magic; when Puck does it, it doesn’t. What the scene draws attention to, though, is the fact that this is not an essential, inherent difference. In both cases, a bunch of human hands stamp a bunch of wooden sticks on the stage floor, but Oberon’s magic (and Puck’s lack thereof) entirely depend on an audience’s swift decision to understand one of those gestures as “magical” and the other as something else, something less impressive.
So that’s all very smart, and actually quite Shakespearean (if in a rather un-Shakespearean medium). And Taymor certainly has a remarkable eye for captivating stage images — the kind of moment ideally suited for a production still. Whether it’s the opening image after the intermission, when the sheet covers the stage, and all the staves form a kind of stylized birch forest for Oberon to wander in, a solitary dark figure in a space as white as Peter Brook’s famous white box set for his RSC Dream (David Harewood is playing the Fairy King topless, with gold stripes across his chest and in what looked like very dark body makeup); or the haunting image of a solitary child standing all the way downstage wearing a cardboard dog’s head, which when removed revealed cascades of long, very blond hair; or the hilarious moment when Hermia, in her underwear, finds herself caught between Lysander and Demetrius’s crotches at the very moment when they both have rejected her as an object of erotic desire; or even just the small house upstage that, with its stylized neoclassicist facade, identifies scenes as taking place in Athens, and which before Puck’s final sweeping scene stands, framed by the sheet draped from the fly, against an iridescent indigo backdrop, with all of its five windows lit — all of which go out one by one as the couples turn off their lights.
And yet, although I enjoyed this production, I wasn’t exactly blown away. Despite the impressive visuals, much of the show seemed, visually, like a watered-down version of what Robert Wilson might have done. The colour scheme reminded me of Wilson, and Puck’s make-up in particular, with spiky red hair, white-face, and strong eyebrows, could have been straight out of any of his recent Berliner Ensemble productions. In particular, I was reminded repeatedly of the Peter Pan I saw last May. That’s not to say, at all, that I think Taymor is ripping Wilson off. Part of it struck me as fairly clear homage. Part of it is likely just the result of an overlap in their aesthetics. What Taymor adds to the equation in a more overt way than Wilson, and what I appreciated about her take on this kind of aesthetic, is the foregrounded theatricality, the very ostentatious made-ness of her stage images. Wilson, for all his anti-realist program, tends to obscure the mechanics of scenes more, leaning towards a more impervious surface, and as a consequence can easily get glib or facile. I think Taymor’s approach is more interesting.
That said, if there’s a similarity between her aesthetics and Wilson’s, they have nothing whatsoever in common in their approach to the text. One of the Berliner Ensemble dramaturge’s told me last year that “Do we really need that line? Let’s cut it!” is the constant refrain of Wilson’s rehearsal work. Taymor’s Dream, on the other hand, is textually faithful to a fault — a few lines have been cut, but the play basically proceeds “as it was written” (as they say). Puck gets a few opportunities to ad-lib (including a glorious parody of Bottom), and stands in for Philostrate, Theseus’s Master of the Revels (delivering the part in what sounded to me delightfully like a parody of Mark Rylance), but other than that, little work seems to have gone into crafting a performance script for the show. And that points to this Dream‘s signal shortcoming: it’s a visually inspiring production that takes a deeply uninspiring approach to the play.
My heart sank early on, when, after the gorgeous opening with the disappearing bed and a brilliantly choreographed chaotic staging of the preparations for Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding, the two characters come and start to speak — and the show switched from a mode of unpredictable creativity to the dull and utterly conventional sound and look of Anglo-American Shakespeare. Verse was dispatched, more or less competently, in various accents, some fake RP, some actual English ones, some mid-Atlantic inflections (not that I care, but it’s perhaps worth noting); some verse speakers signalled their investment in psychology by pausing and showing us that thought was happening, though not necessarily at moments when those pauses made sense or when the thinking seemed supported by what they were saying; Shakespeare was being served. I suspect all the actors more or less knew what they were saying, but nothing was happening on stage that suggested that Taymor had any interest in what was being said — let alone in what was being left unsaid.
For all the creative investment in the visual aspects of this show, at its heart is a rather stunning absence of any kind of serious interpretative investment. It’s perhaps indicative that the program offer no director’s note of any kind — only a set of “perspectives” firmly anchored in the most commonplace and unchallenging takes on Shakespeare’s play (as well as a brief biography of the author that, grump-inducingly, sees a need to “acknowledg[e] that there are and have been prominent individuals who continue to question whether the man from Stratford known as William Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him,” a note to which a hearty WTF seems the mildest possible response). In German reviews, Taymor’s production would be described as “attitude-free.” The phrase would not be a compliment. The show creates an atmosphere — an overall oneiric quality, a suggestion that the entire play, as Puck says, may as well just be a dream. But while that’s pretty, and pleasing, I do also wonder what it would mean. If the opening image of Puck in his bed is indeed meant to suggest that what unfolds over the three following hours is “just” a dream, then Taymor, rather oddly, appears to anticipate Puck’s concluding negative scenario: that the shadows will offend, and that this offence needs to be forestalled by framing the entire show overtly as a dream, as unreal. (Remember that Puck’s notion of the play as a dream is intended to “mend” the offence the actors may have caused.) But why assume that? And if that’s not the point, what then is gained, or suggested, or implied, by casting the entire play as a dream? (Yes, I know that’s what it’s called. I’ve never really quite figured out why. I would expect a director to at least try.)
Midsummer Night’s Dream is an extraordinarily rich text. Taymor gives it an extraordinarily rich visual treatment, but that imagistic riches hardly intersects with the textual. There is darkness in some of the visuals, but the nature of that darkness remains obscure — it certainly doesn’t illuminate, or displace, or really engage at all in any way, deconstructively or constructively, with the text. Instead, the script seems to be accepted as a given: those are the words, this is how they’re supposed to be said, don’t mess with them. These are the pictures: let’s get creative with them! By the same token, I couldn’t help but notice a contrast between the precision of the effects and a relative lack of such precision in the acting, where big moment after big moment wasn’t allowed its due weight or didn’t hit home with sufficient force. This is not the actors’ fault. It’s a question of directorial priorities. (Then again, Kathryn Hunter managed to make her scenes about the performance, even about the character; I don’t know what that says.) Taymor just doesn’t seem all that interested in engaging with the text, or undercutting it (not that that isn’t a form of engagement). For instance, I was delighted to see a Helena who not only, FOR ONCE, didn’t tower over Hermia, but who was also cast against the text’s apparent intent: Hermia is repeatedly troped as darker than Helena in the play, but here, a very English, very blond Hermia is coupled with an African-American Helena perhaps an inch taller than her “dwarfish” friend. The pay-off in the production? Sadly, zero. Lysander’s line about leaving a raven for a dove is thrown away; and Helena throughout walks on much higher heels than Hermia. This may be another clever instance of foregrounding stage reality as an effect achieved by mechanical means, but if so, it comes at the cost of throwing away a chance to complicate Hermia’s obsession with her own supposed shortness. In other words, more often than not, when the production comes face to face with a chance of letting what’s on stage interact with what’s on the page, it simply ignores those opportunities.
The consequence of this oddly (though, in an Anglo-American context, hardly uniquely) schizophrenic enterprise is that the wonderful and the trite live unhappily side by side: there’s Bottom’s ass’s head, a technical marvel and a spectacularly creepy image, basically a human nose and mouth at the end of a long donkey’s nose, fully mobile, operated by two levers that the actor (visibly) manipulates as he speaks. I loved everything about that: it was the most realistic and the most theatrical translation of Bottom-into-Ass I’ve ever seen (and again, very clever: Bottom’s face and the ass’s are a hybrid, because Bottom is, of course, already an ass. And the theatricality of having the actor visibly manipulate his own character’s face was of a piece with the production’s general approach to its stage magic, so yay for that too). But Bottom’s performance was a pretty bog standard interpretation of the role, with a New Jersey (I think!) inflection on the standard issue model, but without any especially interesting choices or moments. (By contrast, last summer’s Globe production in London was utterly unremarkable as a production, but featured, in Pearce Quigley, an actor who made interesting choice after interesting choice, essentially reinventing Bottom from scratch.) Perhaps I was just in an uncommonly curmudgeonly mood, but Taymor’s take on “Pyramus and Thisbe” struck me as one of the least riotous, least creative, and also least funny versions of that scene I’ve ever seen — and I used to think it was a pretty indestructible vehicle for comedy.
So, in the end, I found this a very unsatisfying production, but also one that seems to me helpfully illustrative of the problem of mainstream Shakespeare in English, perhaps especially in North America. Whatever desire there is for theatrical creativity, for directorial inventiveness, for finding and pursuing an angle of some sort always, it appears, needs to focus on design — it cannot express itself, or work itself out, dramaturgically. The sanctity of the text is such that it leaves directors and actors hampered — a limitation that is more, rather than less, apparent in productions directed by artists as inventive as Julie Taymor, because the contrast between the creative spirit evident in the design and the choreography on the one hand and the uninspiring, painting-by-numbers approach to the text on the other hand is so very stark. Further confirmation, in other words, that Shakespeare has become a problem, for reasons that have nothing to do with Shakespeare.
Global Shakespeares: Mapping World Markets and Archives
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.007 Monday, 6 January 2014
From: M.W. Bychowski <
Date: January 6, 2014 at 7:45:37 AM EST
Subject: “Global Shakespeares” Symposium
[Editor’s Note: I am planning to attend. If you are a subscriber and see a Falstaff-looking dude with long hair in a ponytail please come up and introduce yourself. –Hardy]
Global Shakespeares: Mapping World Markets and Archives
George Washington University
Friday-Saturday January 24-25, 2014
For more information:
Please REGISTER SEPARATELY FOR EACH DAY if you plan to come to both days.
RSVP for Friday January 24, 2014:
RSVP for Saturday, January 25, 2014:
William Shakespeare was interested in the larger world when he wrote his plays 400-years ago, naming his theatre The Globe. The “Global Shakespeares” symposium at George Washington University seeks to explore Shakespeare through the lenses of world markets and archives. Performances of Shakespeare in different cultural contexts are changing the ways we think about scholarship and globalization. In this symposium, practitioners and scholars will challenge audience members to approach the postnational spaces and fluid cultural locations in many global Shakespeares.
Presentations will explore the promise and perils of political articulations of cultural differences and suggest new approaches to performances in marginalized or polyglot spaces.
Featured speakers include film director Julie Taymor, actor Harry Lennix, and leading scholars in the field including Thomas Cartelli, Ayanna Thompson, Adele Seeff, Sujata Iyengar, Christy Desmet, Eric Johnson, Richard Burt, Jeffrey Butcher, Kendra Leonard, Alexa (Alex) Huang, and Amanda Bailey.
"No other but woman’s reason": Women on Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.006 Monday, 6 January 2014
From: Krystyna Kujawińska Courtney <
Date: January 6, 2014 at 7:00:43 AM EST
Subject: "No other but woman’s reason": Women on Shakespeare
[Editor’s Note: If anyone would like to review this book for SBReviews, please contact me with note on your qualifications. The review will need the peer approval of the SBReview Board as will the review itself prior to publication. –Hardy]
“No other but woman’s reason”: Women on Shakespeare. Towards Commemorating the 450th Anniverasry of Shakespeare’s Birth. Eds. Krystyna Kujawińska Courtney, Izabella Penier, Katarzyna Kwapisz Williams. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2013.
1. Kathryn Prince, “True Originall Copies”: Charlotte Lennox’s Shakespear Illustrated, Originality, Invention, and Eighteenth-Century Shakespeare Reception. pp.: 21-31.
2. Catherine M.S. Alexander, Shakespeare and the Unsexed Females. pp.:33-51
3. Anna Cetera, Woman, Thy Name is Embarrassment! The Princess and the Playwright. pp.: 53-64
4. Nita N. Kumar, Shakespeare is a Black Woman: African American Women Writers and Shakespeare. pp.: 65-74.
5. Giovanna Buonanno, Shakespeare and the Nineteenth-century Italian International Actress: Adelaide Ristori as Lady Macbeth. pp.: 77-86.
6. Krystyna Kujawinska Courtney, “Born Outside the Magic Pale of the Anglo-Saxon Race”: Political and Personal Dimension of Helena Modjeska’s Contribution to Shakespeare Studies. pp.:87-94.
7. Yoshiko Kawachi, Madam Sadayakko: The First Shakespeare Actress in Japan. pp.: 95-105.
8. Rose Gaby, Taking Shakespeare to the Edge of the World: Leading Ladies on Tour in Colonial Australia. pp.: 107-117.
9. Deb Narayan Bandyopadhyay, “Women of Ill-fame” and Shakespeare Performance in Colonial Bengal. pp.:119-130.
10. Lawrence Wright, “Most Fearful Hard Work”: Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Marda Vanne and the “Good Companions” in South Africa. pp.:131-149.
11. Donna Woodford-Gormley, The Woman behind The Mask: Cuban Women and Shakespeare. pp.:149-157.
12. Anna Kamaralli, Revisionism or Fresh Vision? Silence, Speech and the Female Director. pp.:159-171.
13. Xenia Georgopoulou, Shakespeare’s Magic Mirror: The Work of Raia Mouzenidou. pp.: 173-180.
14. Julie Sutherland, “Never Conquered nor Possessed”: Female Theatre Professionals Present Post-colonial/ Québécois Canadian Shakespeare. pp.: 181-192.
15. Margarida G. Rauen, On Shakespeare by Brazilian Women. pp.: 193-200
Index of Names
SHAKSPER Begins Its Twenty-Fifth Year
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.001 Wednesday, 1 January 2014
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Subject: SHAKSPER Begins Its Twenty-Fifth Year
Dear SHAKSPER Subscribers:
Happy New Year to all and welcome to Volume 25 of SHAKSPER.
Ken Steele, then a graduate student at the University of Toronto, founded SHAKSPER on July 26, 1990: http://shaksper.net/archive/1990/25-july/22-10001-shaksper-initial-message. Because volume numbers are associated with calendar years, SHAKSPER today enters its 25th year of serving the academic Shakespeare community. Many of you know the SHAKSPER story; a few have even been around from its inception. SHAKSPER began in a computing world far different from the one we know and use today. Being the 25th anniversary, I thought I would celebrate with a LONG posting—a really LONG posting—looking back at some key events of those years.
The Internet, without being too technical, can be said to have begun in 1961 when Leonard Kleinrock developed “the theory of packet switching, which was to form,” according to Walt Howe, “the basis of Internet connections.” In 1966, The Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) worked on Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) so researchers in the United States could share supercomputers. ARPANET was brought online in 1969, at first connecting four United States universities. In 1971, Ray Tomlinson invented an “email program to send messages across a distributed network”; this program became operable on ARPANET the following year. In 1973, ARPANET was connected to University College in London and the Royal Radar Establishment in Norway, creating an international network.
Throughout the 1970s, technical advances continued. In 1981, that “BITNET (Because It’s Time Network) connected IBM mainframes around the educational community (Howe),” which provided “electronic mail and listserv servers to distribute information, as well as file transfers” (Zakon). BITNET next became “gatewayed” (i.e., connected) to ARPANET, or the Internet as it was beginning to be called. What had been, according to Howe, long the domain of “computer experts, engineers, scientists, and librarians” was rapidly spreading across the rest of the academy. Pioneering academics started exchanging messages electronically, joining USENET newsgroups and electronic bulletin boards, and becoming members of e‐mail distribution lists as mini-computers and personal computers expanded in number and popularity. Non‐technical people progressively began using these and other developing tools: Archie, which made library catalogs accessible; WAIS (Wide Area Information Server), which indexed files into text searchable databases; gopher, which created easy to use menu systems to access files; spider, which indexed gopher menus; and a variety of others with colorful names like Veronica and Jughead.
In 1991, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) developed “a new protocol for information distribution . . . which became the World Wide Web in 1991. [ . . . It] was based on hypertext—a system of embedding links in text to link to other text” (Howe). Initially, hypertext text, as well as all Internet materials, was reachable from a prompt (C:\>_) after which commands were typed. The next most crucial step in the popularization of the Internet was the 1993 introduction of Mosaic, a graphical interface for the World Wide Web. The Mosaic-style interface changed computing completely; now anyone could “surf” the Internet with ease and without needing to know often-obscure commands or without necessarily having to type anything. The “point‐and‐click world” was born; and, as a result, the Internet and the world were changed forever.
Many early computer enthusiasts began with personal computers and connections to university servers from offices on-campus. I bought my first personal computer in 1983, frustrated with having Wite-Out all over my fingers and typewriter. I used my first computer principally for word processing. Initially being thrilled by the spellchecker, I soon began experimenting with and then adopting other applications as equipment in my ever‐expanding electronic toolbox: a thesaurus, an outlining program, proofreading and editing software, a bibliography generator, basic text scanning and optical character recognition (OCR) software, a laptop computer (Radio Shack’s Model 100), and later a notebook computer (NEC UltraLite), all of which, in retrospect, seem crude when compared to their sophisticated, contemporary iterations. During these early years for me, two items standout: getting access to the Internet (through a VAX terminal at my university office and through an Internet service provider, ISP, at my home) and using WordCruncher, a program I continue to use today that enables me to search the Riverside Shakespeare quickly and effortlessly. Getting access to the Internet and using WordCruncher afforded me a foretaste of some electronic resources that would follow—“O, brave new world” that has such wonderful technology in it.
What was to become the most radical change in my computing life happened as a result of my listening to Willard McCarty present a paper, “Humanist: Lessons from a Global Electronic Seminar,” at the 1989 MLA Convention in Washington, D.C. McCarty founded HUMANIST in 1987, the prototype of the academic “electronic seminar,” as he called it. He used Listserv©, e-mail distribution software, to deliver and archive messages so as to “foster discussion of basic problems and exchange of information among humanists world-wide, thus aiding research and strengthening the community.” I immediately joined, dutifully submitting the required biography. Soon afterwards, I participated in the seminar on using computers in Shakespeare studies at the 1990 Shakespeare Association of America Annual Conference in Philadelphia. Other seminar members as were Michael Best (founder and Coordinating Editor of Internet Shakespeare Editions), James L. Harner (World Shakespeare Bibliography Online), and Ken Steele. During the Conference, Ken shared with me his thoughts about starting an electronic conference dedicated to Shakespeare following the model of HUMANIST.
SHAKSPER began at the University of Toronto on an IBM mainframe connected to BITNET and using Listserv© software. About a dozen Shakespeareans including myself formed the core of founding members, with the membership quickly growing to twenty and continuing to rise. During the first year and a half, if my memory serves, all but one of SHAKSPER’s members, Vint Cerf (an Internet pioneer), were affiliated with colleges and universities. It would take another ten years before large numbers of non-academics joined SHAKSPER. Two years after its founding, almost all of SHAKSPER’s 293 members continued to be from academia. Commercial Internet Service Providers were just getting started in the early 1990s. The January 1, 1992, membership list of 223, for example, contains only eight addresses that ended in “.COM,” and none of these are from the Internet service providers with which we are now familiar. The remaining addresses, except for one with an “ORG” extension were Bitnet or Internet addresses from academic institutions. On February 21, 1992, I became SHAKSPER’s co-editor, at first being responsible for the fileserver. On March 25, I took over the editing of the daily submissions into the digests. On June 3, Ken decided to take a leave of absence from his graduate studies, and I became SHAKSPER’s owner, editor, and moderator.
Over the years, SHAKSPER’s membership continued to grow: 400 in October 1993, 500 in February 1994, 700 in September 1994, 1,000 in March 1995, about 1,250 in January 1997, peaking at around 1,500 after 2000, with over 1,100 members currently. The Internet had opened up rapidly and transparently with the introduction of graphical interfaces and the subsequent proliferation of commercial Internet Service Providers and free Internet e-mail services. This opening was reflected in the growth of SHAKPER’s membership.
Thousands of topics have been discussed throughout SHAKSPER’s first-quarter century. Members surely will differ about the ones they consider most memorable, but I will never forget Terence Hawkes’s response to the announcement of the As You Like It Hike performed by Equity actors at various locations throughout a forest: “We may have to abandon our annual ‘King Lear’ Cakewalk. Persuading the audience to jump off the cliff was always difficult. However, guests will continue to be welcome at the Titus Andronicus Lunch (no substitutions).” I will also not soon forget the disagreements about the appropriateness of postings about Shakespeare-related pornography, the extended discussion of A Funeral Elegy, the first mentions of “Presentism,” or the question of whether Hamlet and Ophelia had sexual relations and the responses: Louis Scheeder’s “Only in the Chicago company” and Terry Hawkes’s “The theory shared by a number of MY colleagues is that Hamlet and Ophelia had textual relations.”
In her “President’s Letter: 1993-94” in the Shakespeare Association of America Bulletin, Phyllis Rackin, mentioned a heated discussion on SHAKSPER that followed the announcement that Sam Wanamaker had been awarded a CBE for his work on the Bankside Globe: “Outraged responses from the UK provoked a series of exchanges that exposed profound differences between the political and cultural locations occupied by ‘Shakespeare’ on the two sides of the Atlantic.” This exchange was one of my most memorable threads on SHAKSPER, exploring the political dimensions of building of the “New” Globe theatre.
In the early years, another thread led me to ban discussion of the purported Authorship Question. The first authorship-related posting on SHAKSPER appeared on February 27, 1991: an announcement by Mike Ellwood of a BBC radio program that claimed that the scroll the Shakespeare figure on the statue in Westminster Abbey is holding contains a cipher that Francis Bacon was the playwright. September 20, 1991, witnessed an announcement of the competing articles in the Atlantic Monthly: one by Tom Bethell, advocating that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays, and another by Irvin Matus, defending the traditional attribution to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon. More than a year later, Peter Scott announced the Frontline program that examined the possibility that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, composed the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. A year after this, Anthony Hatch asked whether anyone had attended that mock trial in Boston in which Shakespeare’s identity was debated. However, a sustained discussion of “Authorship” did not begin until after April 4, 1994, when John Cox posted an anti-Oxfordian limerick cycle that had been sent to him by David Bevington. Oxfordian Pat Buckridge charged that Bevington had “an interest in ridiculing the actually very powerful Oxford claim.” David Kathman and Steve Urkowitz rose to Bevington’s defense and the “Authorship” debate of 1994 was underway. The exchanges persisted unabated through October, November, and December. Dave Kathman and others continued with facts and grace to answer every assertion made by the avowed Oxfordians and those who simply identified themselves as anti-Stratfordians. I become fatigued by the demands that these posting were making on my time and patience. On December 27, 1994, I forbade further discussion of the topic on SHAKSPER.
In January 1996, SHAKSPER moved from the University of Toronto to my institution, Bowie State University, and in May I established the SHAKSPER Advisory Board. On March 15, 2001, the first SHAKSPER website, designed by long-time SHAKSPER technical advisor Eric Luhrs, became operational. In February of 2002, I moved the SHAKSPER from Bowie State University to my home and changed the domain name to shaksper.net.
From the beginning, SHAKSPER’s target audience was scholars, and Ken and I went out of our way to make the list “user-friendly” for those academics who, in those early days of computing, were not necessarily comfortable with technology. However, from its roots, we also encouraged diversity and inclusiveness: “No academic qualifications are required for membership in SHAKSPER, and anyone interested in English Literature, the Renaissance, or Drama is welcome to join us.” As SHAKSPER aged and grew, the number of daily submissions proliferated. There were an increasing number of chatty messages, messages responding to what one member had said about another member’s post that were of little, if any, interest to the list as a whole, “pet” theories about plays or poems, and flames, which for a long time did not seem to infect SHAKSPER as much as they had similar lists. It was starting to become clear that one consequence of the Internet Revolution was that a significant number of SHAKSPER’s members were not academics and many often had strikingly divergent concerns than those of the scholars. These conflicting concerns was the source of many difficulties that I, as the list’s moderator, encountered as I strove to maintain a scholarly focus in the discussions among what had become a highly diverse membership.
1995 was the year that SHAKSPER’s membership broke the 1,000 mark; it was also the year that the first of the many what-is-this-list-for questions appeared. These “purpose” questions were raised by academics who were interrogating the direction SHAKSPER had taken been taking. However, it would not be for another four years, on April 3, 2000, that in response to the increased traffic, the domination of the discussion by a handful of members, and the decline in the quality of the posts that I suggested for the first time that members “count to ten” before hitting the reply key. Two days later, I clarified this statement by writing “what I had in mind [when I made the request to count to ten] was that members would initiate a kind of self-regulation: self-moderation if you will.” After expressing my preference for maintaining an “elevated level of discourse” without ruling out “occasional humor or just plain silliness,” I continued, “My point is that I believe that the membership has as much responsibility as I do in moderating SHAKSPER.” I issued similar pleas for self-restraint over the next eight months. In the face of a small group of people dominating the discussions, as well as the increasing amount of mail and the number of hostile, acrimonious, and downright unkind exchanges, some long-time members began unsubscribing.
The problem, however, was much greater than just the level of discourse; the problem, as I began to see, was that interests of non-academics were driving list discussions. Discussions of characters as if they were “real” people flourished. Pet theories, often involving Shakespeare’s possession of esoteric knowledge or his communication through hidden codes, were advanced, refuted, and self-assuredly advanced again. Interpretations of the ultimate meaning of a particular play competed with one another ad infinitum, reappearing with regularity practically anytime that particular play was mentioned. I considered these and their ilk “essentialist” and “reductive” claptrap and would “kill” these threads when I could no longer stand them. On November 15, 2005, after I called for an end to five such threads under the SUBJECT line “Dead Horses and Closing Threads,” Holger Schott Syme responded with a thoughtful “purpose-of-the-listserv” message, which offered the following:
Hardy does a tremendous job organizing this list, investing an unfathomable amount of time and mental energy. And on occasion, his efforts pay off splendidly. But SHAKSPER is only as good as its contributors, and I can’t help feel that the way the list has been going it has moved further and further away from discussions in the field it is part of—that of the academic exploration of the works and culture of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
Unquestionably Hamlet is a play worthy of much critical attention, but its exegesis takes up an excessive amount of space on this listserv (and it is of course no coincidence that it’s usually the same 10-15 people driving those discussions). The list has many well-established figures as lurkers who only very occasionally participate in discussions, but that is not, I don’t think, a sign of academic snobbery or indifference; rather, the kinds of arguments that keep reappearing in slightly different guises on this list are simply irrelevant to the vast majority of scholars working in the field today. . . . Sadly, topics of great interest [to scholars] . . . don’t seem to have much traction around here anymore; typically, the more established “names” on the list make an appearance to answer bibliographical queries, but don’t stick around for extended discussions afterwards. . . .
I frankly don’t understand why some subjects which should be allowed to develop . . . are treated the same as issues that are clearly only of interest to an extremely self-selecting group (almost any thread on Hamlet, for instance). My main objection is that many of the latter threads incessantly go over ground covered in innumerable previous discussions, are more or less out of touch with the current state of the field, and often revolve around subjects well-treated in the existing (older) literature. On the other hand, threads such as the stage-railings one bring up issues that haven’t been discussed here before, are still considered important by at least a sub-field of early modern studies, and haven’t necessarily been treated in depth elsewhere. They may only be of limited interest to the SHAKSPER community at large, but at least they might potentially make a valuable contribution to the broader academic conversation about Shakespeare and Co. That seems to me the best we can strive for on this list, and a goal which would make Hardy’s efforts worthwhile.
On Tuesday, December 13, 2005, the SPARC 10 Unix server, SHAKSPER’s physical home for approaching ten years, died. During the eight-week hiatus between the crash of the UNIX SPARC 10 and the launch of the Linux PowerEdge 1800, I was preparing a paper for the SAA. For it, I analyzed the intellectual and social dynamics of the conference’s changing from a preponderance of academics to a nearly equal mix of scholars and non-academics. What I found was that the more diverse the membership became, the more naive, non-academic posts, often expressing “pet” theories that were preposterous to the scholars on the list, began to appear. When SHAKSPER came back online in February, I resolved, in an effort to regain the academic focus of the early days of the list, to become a more active moderator and only to post messages that I believe were of interest to the academic community of Shakespeare scholars. I also came up with the Roundtable Discussions and the SBReviews (SHAKSPER Book Reviews) projects to further the scholarly emphasis of the list.
In early 2011, I accepted the invitation of the multitalented Ron Severdia to design and host a new SHAKSPER website. Ron is an actor, the founder of PlayShakespeare.com, the creator of a wonderful Shakespeare iPhone, iPad app, the co-author of the O’Reilly publication Using Joomla: Building Powerful and Efficient Web Sites, the accomplished, award-winning web designer, and creative director of Kontent Design. In late April of 2011, SHAKSPER’s new website became operational and I undertook a different method for my composing and distributing SHAKSPER mailings. Ron Severdia designed the new site (SHAKSPER.net) in Joomla, an open-source content management system (CMS) and application framework.
Over the years, SHAKSPER members have joined from about seventy countries. These members include prominent Shakespearean academics and theater practitioners, and students and teachers from across the educational spectrum, as well as other interested participants. The SHAKSPER homepage concisely describes the conference:
SHAKSPER, now in its twenty-fifth year of serving the academic community, is an edited and moderated, international, e-mail distribution list for discussion among Shakespearean scholars, researchers, instructors, students, and anyone sharing their academic interests and concerns. In addition to regular mailings to members, anyone can use the Internet to access the archives and other SHAKSPER materials from the SHAKSPER website shaksper.net. SHAKSPER strives to emphasize the scholarly by providing the opportunity for the formal exchange of ideas through queries and responses regarding literary, critical, textual, theoretical, and performative topics and issues. For readers’ convenience, these messages are edited and grouped in separate digests according to topic, and then e-mailed to subscribers in a daily compilation digest with a table of contents for ease of reading. Announcements of conferences, of calls for papers, of seminars, of lectures, of symposiums, of job openings, of the publication of books, of the availability of online and print articles, of Internet databases and resources, of journal contents, of festivals, and of academic programs of study are a regular features as are reviews of scholarly books, of past and present theatrical productions, and of Shakespeare and Shakespeare-inspired films—in addition to “popular” culture references to Shakespeare or his works. SHAKSPER also provides occasion for spontaneous informal discussion, eavesdropping, peer review, and a sense of belonging to a worldwide scholarly community. The SHAKSPER web site has a number of special features, including periodic Roundtable discussions, concentrating on significant topics derived from issues of current interest in the discipline. SBReviews, highlights book reviews of books vetted by the SHAKSPER Book Review Panel and reviewed by peers selected by the Panel. These reviews first are distributed as regular digests and then are mounted in the Scholarly Resources section of the SHAKSPER website.
I encourage SHAKSPER subscribers to share their highlights of SHAKSPER’s first 25 years, and I also welcome any ideas the subscribers might have for improving or changing SHAKSPER.
Organizations periodically require new members to re-energize themselves. If you find SHAKSPER useful, please recommend it to your colleagues, students, and friends. Information about subscribing can be found here: http://shaksper.net/contact. Further information about the list itself is here: http://shaksper.net/about/general-information.
For this reflection, I have borrowed extensively from three of my papers:
Cook, Hardy M. “Behind the Scenes with SHAKSPER: The Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference.” College Literature 36, no. 1 (2009): 105-20. Available at Behind the Scenes with SHAKSPER.
---. “Shakespeare on the Internet.” Shakespeare in the Media: From the Globe Theatre to the World Wide Web. Second Edition. Eds. Stefani Brusberg-Kiermeier and Jörg Helbig. Berlin; Bern; Bruxelles; New York; Oxford; Wien: Peter Lang, 2009. (Second Edition online at SHAKSPER.net).
---. “SHAKSPER: An Academic Discussion List.” Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation. 2.2. Winter/Fall 2006. <http://lachesis.english.uga.edu/cocoon/borrowers/>
I look forward with confidence to a healthy future for SHAKSPER.
Best wishes for the New Year,
PS: Donations to support SHAKSPER can be made through the link on every page of the SHAKSPER website: http://shaksper.net.
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0575 Monday, 30 December 2013
From: John Cox <
Date: December 29, 2013 at 4:39:49 PM EST
Subject: Reg Foakes
I’m sorry to report the news I’ve just received that Reg Foakes died the day before Christmas. He was ninety years old. He died peacefully at his home in Stratford.
He has been a first-rate teacher, critic, and editor of Shakespeare for many decades.
Early Theatre 16.2 (2013)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0572 Thursday, 26 December 2013
From: Helen Ostovich <
Date: December 23, 2013 at 6:27:38 PM EST
Subject: Early Theatre 16.2 (2013)
The latest issue of Early Theatre was mailed out at the beginning of December. The online copy for subscribers will be available shortly. Subscriptions can be ordered online at
For any problems receiving hard copy or accessing internet copy, contact the editor in January,
Announcement of Essay Prize Winners for volumes 14 and 15
Procula’s Civic Body and Pilate’s Masculinity Crisis in the York Cycle’s ‘Christ Before Pilate 1: The Dream of Pilate’s Wife'
Aural Space, Sonorous Presence, and the Performance of Christian Community in the Chester Shepherds’ Play
Andrew J. Albin
Advertising Status and Legitimacy: or, Why Did Henry VIII’s Queens and Children Patronize Travelling Performers?
James H. Forse
Theatre and/as Witchcraft: A Reading of The Late Lancashire Witches (1634)
‘Wanton Females of All Sorts’: Spectatorship in The Antipodes
‘For now hath time made me his numbering clock’: Shakespeare’s Jacquemarts
Wendy Beth Hyman
Cupid’s Grand Polititian (1657)
Issues in Review
New Approaches to Earlier Tudor Drama
Contributing Editor: Erin E. Kelly
Introduction: Why Attend to Earlier Tudor Drama
Erin E. Kelly
John Rastell’s London Stage: Reconstructing Repertory and Collaborative Practice
Ecocritical Heywood and The Play of the Weather
New Contexts for Early Tudor Plays: William Briton, an Early Reader of Gorboduc
‘To see the Playes of Theatre newe wrought’: Electronic Editions and Early Tudor Drama
Brett D. Hirsch
Dr H M Ostovich <
Editor, Early Theatre <http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/earlytheatre/>
Professor Emeritus, English and Cultural Studies
Hamilton ON L8S 4L9
Book Announcement: Women Making Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0564 Thursday, 19 December 2013
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: Thursday, December 19, 2013
Subject: Book Announcement: Women Making Shakespeare
Women Making Shakespeare: Text, Reception and Performance (Arden Shakespeare) – a volume edited by Gordon McMullan, Virginia Mason Vaughan and Lena Cowen Orlin to celebrate Ann Thompson’s scholarship and mark her retirement – has just published.
Women Making Shakespeare presents a series of 20-25 short essays that draw on a variety of resources, including interviews with directors, actors, and other performance practitioners, to explore the place (or constitutive absence) of women in the Shakespearean text and in the history of Shakespearean reception – the many ways women, working individually or in communities, have shaped and transformed the reception, performance, and teaching of Shakespeare from the 17th century to the present.
The book highlights the essential role Shakespeare’s texts have played in the historical development of feminism. Rather than a traditional collection of essays, Women Making Shakespeare brings together materials from diverse resources and uses diverse research methods to create something new and transformative. Among the many women’s interactions with Shakespeare to be considered are acting (whether on the professional stage, in film, on lecture tours, or in staged readings), editing, teaching, academic writing, and recycling through adaptations and appropriations (film, novels, poems, plays, visual arts).
Thomas of Woodstock [1 Richard II] Performance
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0563 Wednesday, 18 December 2013
From: Michael Egan <
Date: December 16, 2013 at 7:55:54 PM EST
Subject: Thomas of Woodstock [1 Richard II] Performance
1 Richard II is being given a public reading by the RSC in London12/20. The announcement reads as follows:
Thomas of Woodstock is sometimes referred to as Richard II: Part One. It is an anonymous Elizabethan drama, which tells the backstory to Shakespeare’s play, staging the events leading up to the murder of Richard’s Uncle the Duke of Gloucester. The King is deeply implicated in his death – and this is the unspoken crisis with which Shakespeare opens Richard II.
During rehearsals, the RSC company read Thomas of Woodstock to help contextualise the opening scene of Richard II and in doing so, they discovered a truly intriguing play.
Please note the final acknowledgment of the work’s true title, the case for which I have uniquely made in the past few years, and the RSC’s “discovery of a truly intriguing play,” which of course it is. On the other hand, the RSC never contacted me, and I have no idea whether they intend to use the Shakespearean ending I wrote, or whether they are responding to my 2006 book, The Tragedy of Richard II Part One. But we are making progress.
Online Shakespeare Course in January
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0562 Friday, 13 December 2013
From: Allston James <
Date: December 12, 2013 at 10:39:42 AM EST
Subject: Online Shakespeare Course in January, 100% Online
Allston James is offering an online course through Monterey Peninsula College (Calif.) called SHAKESPEARE VISIONS: Film & Text, a 3-unit, 4-week online class that will examine three PBS Great Performance productions: Patrick Stewart’s Macbeth, Ian McKellen’s King Lear, and David Tennant’s Hamlet. Students will view the productions via free streaming video and discuss them in an online forum.
Register now for ENGL 16, January 2-28, at www.mpc.edu. Non-resident tuition applies. Contact Allston if you have questions:
Monterey Peninsula College
Conference Announcement: “Shakespeare and the Problem of Biography”
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0561 Wednesday, 12 December 2013
From: Elyse Martin <
Date: December 11, 2013 at 4:29:13 PM EST
Subject: Conference Announcement: “Shakespeare and the Problem of Biography”
The Folger Institute is pleased to announce that applications are now open for its spring conference, “Shakespeare and the Problem of Biography.”
Funding is available to qualified graduate students and faculty from U. S. institutions for travel and lodging through the Folger Institute consortium, and an NEH Collaborative Research grant. For those who do not wish to apply for funding, or for those who are interested in the topic, but not part of an academic institution, a registration form is available here.
I would be happy to answer any questions you or your colleagues may have.
Shakespeare and the Problem of Biography
An NEH Collaborative Research Conference
There is no more iconic figure with whom to push forward a fresh critical evaluation of the aims and methods of literary biography than Shakespeare. Within the academy, textual analysis often denies biography any explanatory force, while popular conceptions of Shakespeare look to biography precisely for insight into the works. In the standoff, the genre of literary biography is lost as a subject of serious inquiry. On the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth, the Folger Institute Center for Shakespeare Studies will undertake a rigorous investigation of the multiple—and conflicted—roles biography plays in the reception of Shakespeare today. A cadre of influential scholars, many of whom have written biographies of Shakespeare, will focus discussion on such topics as the distinctions between authorship and agency, the interpretations of documentary evidence, the impact of methods of dating texts on an understanding of Shakespeare’s life, the broadened context for that life of a more robust understanding of theatrical activity, and the possibility that biography is itself a form of historical fiction. The conference opens Thursday evening with a session that doubles as Shakespeare’s Birthday Lecture. In his presentation on “Shakespeare, Biography & Anti-Biography,” Brian Cummings will discuss the problem of writing the life of Shakespeare in terms of the documentary history and its haunting sense of missing links.
Organizers: Brian Cummings (Anniversary Professor of English, University of York), Kathleen Lynch (Executive Director, Folger Institute), and David Schalkwyk (Academic Director of the Global Shakespeare Project, Queen Mary University of London/Warwick University).
Speakers: Tarnya Cooper (National Portrait Gallery), Ian Donaldson (University of Melbourne), John Drakakis (University of Stirling), Katherine Duncan-Jones (Somerville College, Oxford), Lawrence Goldman (St. Peter’s College, Oxford), Stephen Greenblatt (Harvard University), Margreta de Grazia (University of Pennsylvania), Graham Holderness (University of Hertfordshire), Julia Reinhard Lupton (University of California, Irvine), Jack Lynch (Rutgers University), Lena Cowen Orlin (Georgetown University), Lois Potter (University of Delaware), Joseph Roach (Yale University), and William H. Sherman (Victoria and Albert Museum, University of York)
Schedule: Thursday evening through Saturday afternoon, 3 – 5 April 2014.
Apply: 13 January 2014 for grants-in-aid to support travel and lodging. A generous NEH Collaborative Research grant extends funding eligibility to qualified graduate students and faculty from U.S. institutions. Application form is available here.
Registration: For those not planning to request travel and lodging funding, a registration form is available here.
Please direct any further questions to