2004

The Heirs of Katherine Graham

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1348  Friday, 25 June 2004

From:           Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, June 25, 2004
Subject:        The Heirs of Katherine Graham

The heirs of Katherine Graham, Newsweek and The Washington Post, have
uncharacteristically been catering to the uninformed this week.

The June 28, 2004, Newsweek has an article - "Mystery: Was Shakespeare a
She?" - that begins, "For more than 150 years, literary sleuths have
questioned whether William Shakespeare - a man with only a
grammar-school education, at best - could possibly have penned the
greatest works in the English language. But if he didn't, who did?" The
candidate reported here is the Countess of Pembroke. The article
concludes, "Case closed? Hardly. But [Robin] Williams [Mary Sidney
advocate] adds to the perennial intrigue." Gee, I wish I could read Ovid
in Latin after I left grammar school.

Today's Washington Post has a brief article - "Society Marks Death Of
'True' Shakespeare: Group Asserts Edward de Vere Wrote Plays - about the
De Vere Society's celebration of the 400th anniversary of the death of
its candidate. The caption to the picture reads "Edward de Vere died 400
years ago. His devotees say he is an unrecognized genius and Shakespeare
partisans protest too much." - an apparent reference to Stanley Wells,
the article's spokesperson for the opposing view.

My gorge rises at it.

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Measured Response

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1347  Friday, 25 June 2004

From:           Dan Smith <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 25 Jun 2004 09:17:29 +0100
Subject: 15.1279 Measured Response
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1279 Measured Response

I don't think anyone else is volunteering so I think it falls to me to
speak up for the NT Measure for Measure.

This play is famously the only one to defy Bowdler since if you cut all
the dodgy elements all you are left with is the Duke taking a holiday.
The "early fellatio" is startling but I didn't feel it was gratuitous.
In Shakespeare's theatre real fellatio may have been going on in the
audience rather than simulated on stage. Such services were undoubtedly
freely available around the Globe where the church was complicit in the
massive sex trade carried on by the Southwark geese.

I think the fellatio accomplishes at least two things. Firstly the play
is about sex and power and how an imbalance of power arouses lust and
then tyranny. The fellatio is hence a symbol of that imbalance of power
and how people use sexual power to degrade others. The arrogance of the
wealthy fellatee with his sagging middle-aged buttocks and the exhausted
revulsion of the ragged fellator as she turns and spits over the back of
her chair underlines immediately that there are real (female) victims of
the previous laissez faire regime of the Duke. Without such a jolt as a
modern audience we may equate a liberal regime with 'free love' and in
this world there is little love and free sex is also scarce.  Without
such an antipathy to the rakes and their progress it makes the character
of Angelo even harder to sustain; he appears a pasteboard puritan from
the start and weakens the play.

"What's this? What's this?" is difficult to stage and act (I thought Tim
Piggot Smith did it well in the BBC MfM). I think that it is a perfectly
orthodox reading to think that Angelo is genuinely surprised and alarmed
to find that he has responded to the supplicant in front of him with an
erection and the fact that he is surprised puts the best slant on his
nature. I concede that the playing of this line may have been rather,
well, heavy handed.

Forcing Isabella's hand in Angelo's flies helps to gloss one of the
major weaknesses of the play. Isabella may lose (especially a modern)
audience when she tells her brother not just that she would rather he be
executed before she would part with her virginity but for the temerity
of suggesting it "Might but my bending down Reprieve thee from thy fate,
it should proceed... I'll pray a thousand prayers for thy death... 'Tis
best thou diest quickly (III.1). To see that Isabella has been visibly
shaken by a sexual assault immediately prior to this speech makes the
rage and violent condemnation more human.

I was particularly pleased to see Angelo as a self-harmer since this
makes a certain symbolic symmetry in the play. Up until this point he
has managed to constrain his passions with a personal mortification
symbolised in this production by the bloodletting but when he is
propelled into power the greater passions that arouses cause him to let
the blood of others and if the Duke had really left Angelo might have
become a fully fledged sadist - revelling in degrading others for it's
own sake (I would contend Angelo doesn't quite get there). Angelo and
Isabella are both in some way self-harmers. I don't believe Shakespeare
regarded the life of a nun for a young woman as anything otherwise. It
could be possible to view the strength of Angelo's reaction to her as
due to the recognition of one sado-masochist by another.

I don't agree that the open sluice turns the eye from the main event.
The traffic between defilement and cleanliness seems perfectly correct
in the symbolic landscape of the play. Angelo is obsessed with
cleanliness; he holds the microphone with a handkerchief, wipes drinking
glasses and particularly keeps his razorblades in a clean white cloth.
When he puts his hands in the bucket containing the head and wipes blood
on his white shirt he completes the circle he started with the scarring
of his own arm prior to rolling down the white sleeve. In a similar vein
(as it were), Isabella uses the sluice to try and wash the hand that was
inside Angelo's trousers.  Isabella is also convinced that losing her
virginity would irrevocably defile her body and her soul. That it is the
physical nature of this defilement that appalls her is underlined by her
apparent unconcern about the dangers to her soul of lying to Angelo.

I cannot tell whether Elbow's accent is the actor's natural voice but I
felt it made Elbow's malapropisms of common words more plausible. I also
liked the way that the ragged traffic warden's uniform is augmented by
body armour and a serious nightstick when the back to basics plan gets
in full swing. As a citizen you know you are in trouble when traffic
wardens can beat you senseless. It was as though the Keystone Kops had
turned ugly.

Although this was a very high tech performance with lots of 'gadgets and
gizmos' it is strangely faithful to original methods that might be seen
at the globe (I look forward to seeing their MfM). There are very few
large props and no flats. The production moves at a terrific pace, in
part because actors enter and exit in the dark around lit portions of
the stage enabling it to be completed in 2hrs 10min without an interval
and without major cuts that I noticed. The pace enables the production
to glide over the notorious plotholes which I saw the last RSC
production fall into (e.g. don't worry about the execution this handy
look alike just died of fever...) and the overall effect was of a
bravura production - the technical rehearsals must have been nerve
wracking however.

And I don't care if it is cheap shot - I think "Sanctimonious pirate" fits.

Dan Smith


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DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
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Education

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1345  Thursday, 24 June 2004

[1]     From:   Sam Small <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 13:11:38 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1325 Education

[2]     From:   D Bloom <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 08:14:38 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1341 Education


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 13:11:38 +0100
Subject: 15.1325 Education
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1325 Education

In Graham Hall's two paragraphs of schoolboy humour he identifies the
current Labour government as "ultra-right wing".  If Mr Hall can so
obviously misjudge political action in his own well informed times it
bodes ill on any interpretation of Shakespeare's later political plays
he might put to us all.  Perhaps he would say the BNP is
ultra-ultra-ultra-ultra-ultra-right wing.  Very silly.

SAM SMALL

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 08:14:38 -0500
Subject: 15.1341 Education
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1341 Education

Graham Hall writes:

In a text for the "Literacy Hour" now obliga-Tory (oops!) in UK schools
(which I read during my own literacy hour this morning) William
Shakespeare has three entries and Benjamin Zephaniah four. So that's
that wrapped up then.

THE Benjamin Zephaniah?

Don

(Is he the one who wrote "Everyman Out of His Mind"?)

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But hear you, my Lord?

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1346  Friday, 25 June 2004

[1]     From:   Graham Hall <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 24 Jun 2004 18:37:32 +0000
        Subj:   cacoethes scribendi

[2]     From:   Abigail Quart <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 24 Jun 2004 14:46:07 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1343 But hear you, my Lord?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Hall <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 24 Jun 2004 18:37:32 +0000
Subject:        cacoethes scribendi

Lest it be all Greek to some, compositor E setting Q1 from the Merlot
stained autograph draft manuscript of 15.1343 substituted "nous" within
"an ounce of common sense" while leaving the printing press on overtype.
Hypothermia then took hold and he compounded the error by placing the
pull with the Keeper of the King's Spellchecker. My thanks to the
hawk-eyed denizen who brought the typo to my attention and placed me in
the brig - and to any others who do so today.

To prevent such catastrophes my kalamos shall only be dipped into Pinot
Noir in future.

Harry VIII .TLN 2716-17.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 24 Jun 2004 14:46:07 -0400
Subject: 15.1343 But hear you, my Lord?
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1343 But hear you, my Lord?

Fear not, Graham Hall.

Neither plays nor playwrights die from disastrous productions. The one
lesson every playwright must learn is that no matter what happens (and
I'm including the actress who said, "We must be in the Twilight Zone"
every single time she forgot a line) , the script comes back, battered
but unbroken. Excised lines and rewritten scenes can be restored,
waiting for a better day, the favor of the gods, and a brave new director.

Shakespeare has withstood 400 years of misinterpretation, miscasting,
and mismanagement, and will still have festivals all over the world this
summer, next summer, and the summers after that.

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As You Like It in the Classroom

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1344  Thursday, 24 June 2004

[1]     From:   Kristen Mcdermott <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 09:42:04 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom

[2]     From:   Jack Hettinger <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 11:36:44 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom

[3]     From:   Susan St. John <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 10:10:47 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kristen Mcdermott <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 09:42:04 -0400
Subject: 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom

This may be a sidebar, but both Susan St. John and Don Bloom suggest
that it's best to teach plays that we like (or love).  While I certainly
agree with Don that students tend to be influenced by our opinions
(which is why I try -- not successfully, but try -- not to express too
many of them in the classroom), I disagree that personal preference
should guide our choices of plays.  Students often tell me (whether I
should believe them is another question) that they appreciate my
willingness to question the monolithic assumption that all Shakespeare's
plays are great art, or that we're expected to love and admire every bit
of every one of them. For example, I frequently teach "Measure for
Measure," which I personally think is a fascinating but dramatically
flawed play.  My impatience with its characterizations and comedic
structure, I hope, don't get in the way of a stimulating class
examination of its moral complexities and rhetorical genius. Maybe it's
the play, or maybe it's the discussion (or maybe it's the fact that
there's so much sex in it!), but many students decide at the end of the
semester that it was their favorite of the plays.  Conversely, my
raptures over the subversive pleasures of "Twelfth Night" are often met
with incredulous (or bored) stares from students who resent having to
work so hard to get Feste's jokes.  I would be seriously limited if I
only taught the texts I loved best.  Has anyone else had good
experiences teaching plays they don't really like?

Kris McDermott
Central Michigan University

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Hettinger <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 11:36:44 -0400
Subject: 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom

A couple respondents to my As You Like It query supposed I must not like
the play. Actually, along with Lear, it is closest to my heart,
wonderful wonderful and most wonderful and yet again wonderful, and
after that out of all hooping. And I feel the same affection for my
students. But try what I may, do what I do, the results in my classroom
when we treat AYLI usually are more fizzle than sizzle. If I were an
actor, I would beg to play Rosalind, passionate, clear-eyed, courageous,
shrewd. No, I don't think lack of pedagogical love is the cause of my
sadness. It was Jack Heller's lament that occasioned my own.

Jack Hettinger

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susan St. John <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 23 Jun 2004 10:10:47 -0700
Subject: 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1339 As You Like It in the Classroom

To Jack Heller, who claims "As You Like It seems to have too many
threads for inquiry that can be examined independently of one another",
I would like to recommend a chapter from the book I am currently reading
(I've mentioned it before), "Teaching Shakespeare into the 21st
Century".  In Chapter 14 Marie A. Plasse, from Merrimack College in
Mass., writes of an "Inquiry-Based Approach" she has developed for
teaching SH's plays.

I think it sounds like exactly what you need:  a way to explore the
plays based on the questions that the students themselves raise, and let
go of your preconceived notions about what they SHOULD get out of it.

(I hope that doesn't sound too omnipotent of me, presuming to know what
Jack Heller needs; it just struck me that this essay might be helpful.)

I quote here from Plasse's introductory paragraphs:

"After several years of conducting my undergraduate Shakespeare course
as a traditional Socratic lecture/discussion requiring midterm and final
exams and two four- to six-page papers, I became frustrated with my
students' low level of responsive engagement with Shakespeare...

I began to see that the Socratic Method I had been using was at least
partly responsible for the students' hesitancy to strike out on their
own paths of inquiry.  As many teachers do, I usually brought a set
agenda to every class, and while I welcomed questions and other
deviations from that agenda, my approach to the plays and my sense of
which topics and questions were important completely governed what we
did in class, what options for paper topics the students received, and
what was on the final exam.  Although I believed then (and continue to
believe) that there is nothing wrong with the professor's exercising
this degree of control over the course, I have learned that my students
tend to engage more fully with Shakespeare when I step back from my
customary position of control and call off the Socratic hunt for my own
fully formed interpretations and insights.  My efforts to make the
students' interaction with Shakespearean texts the backbone of the
course and the basis of our daily class work have yielded the
inquiry-based course structure I now use."

She then describes how she helps students to develop their own questions
and write short 'seed papers' that articulate the questions and attempt
to answer them.  This is followed by class discussion of each idea, led
by the student who conceived the question, and subsequent formal papers
based on these ideas (students being allowed to write on any of the
questions raised, not necessarily their own).

It sounds like an excellent model for a college course; I would have
loved it!

Hope this inspires your teaching,
Susan.

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.

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