The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0578 Tuesday, 31 December 2013
Date: December 31, 2013 at 8:50:59 AM EST
Subject: ‘William Shakespeare & Others”
The following article appeared today in The Washington Post:
‘William Shakespeare & Others,’ edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen
‘William Shakespeare & Others,’ edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen
By Gary Taylor,
Death is no excuse for writer’s block: Fans demand more. Despite recurrent intimations of authorial mortality, we don’t want to believe that Seamus Heaney has stopped writing, that Christopher Hitchens has stopped talking. There must be more, somewhere.
Publishers happily feed our death-denying addictions. Additions to the posthumous 1623 collection of Shakespeare’s “Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies” began appearing in the 1630s, and the gas cloud has continued slowly expanding over the intervening centuries. Macmillan’s RSC Shakespeare edition of “The Complete Works” (2007) included 39 plays. Six years later, editors Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen are back with “William Shakespeare & Others.” This handsome, illustrated supplementary volume, also stamped with the RSC brand, gives us complete, modernized texts of 10 more plays, with introductions, commentaries and an appendix of fascinating interviews with actors and directors.
Ten more Shakespeare plays? In six years? Incredulous eyebrows rise. In a TV interview, Rasmussen has explained that he and Bate, emerging from a BBC studio during the PR blitz for their 2007 book, went to a nearby pub, brainstormed over a couple of beers and “jotted down on a napkin” the plan for this second volume. Not an anecdote that inspires scholarly confidence.
Nevertheless, the book does popularize one of the most interesting developments in the past 30 years of Shakespeare scholarship. We have always known that, like television and film today, the early modern entertainment industry often worked from co-written scripts. The explosive growth of computer databases, combined with new forensic technologies, has revolutionized our ability to identify empirically, with high levels of probability, who wrote what. Digital humanist Hugh Craig, in his essay on “Authorship” in the 2011 “Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare,” summarizes the emergent consensus that Shakespeare was part-author of as many as 15 plays, including 10 already printed in the RSC’s “Complete Works” and many other modern editions.
Five more co-written plays, worth reading and performing, are in this volume: “Arden of Faversham,” “Edward III,” “Double Falsehood (‘Cardenio’),” “Sir Thomas More” and “The Spanish Tragedy.” But these five are already widely available elsewhere. It would be interesting to produce a two-volume set of Shakespeare’s works, where one volume consisted entirely of 29 plays written by “Shakespeare Only,” and another volume of 15 collaborative plays by “Shakespeare and Others.” But that is not what Macmillan and the RSC have given us. Instead, they confusingly mix and mislabel the two categories.
Worse, this volume mixes the five genuine additional plays with obviously spurious ones. In an excellent survey of “Authorship and Attribution, ” contributing editor Will Sharpe admits that four plays in this volume don’t belong here: It is “highly unlikely to almost impossible” that Shakespeare wrote anything in “A Yorkshire Tragedy,” “The London Prodigal,” “Locrine” or “Thomas Lord Cromwell.”
Then why include them? Bate explains that they were “among the plays ascribed to [Shakespeare] in print in his own lifetime,” which “makes the plays worth reading.” Really? But this volume excludes other plays, like “The Puritan” and “Sir John Oldcastle,” that qualify by those same criteria. It will not satisfy anyone seeking a complete collection of “Plays Falsely Ascribed to Shakespeare.”
Bate acknowledges that “No reputable scholar thinks there is a remote possibility of [“Thomas Lord Cromwell”] actually being by Shakespeare,” but it was performed by the acting company to which Shakespeare belonged, and Bate therefore holds it up as “an exemplar of the kind of journeyman theatre in which he and his fellow-actors were participating” at the time when Shakespeare wrote “Julius Caesar,” “Hamlet” and “Twelfth Night.” But this is not an edition of “The Repertoire of Shakespeare’s Acting Company” — which included plenty of masterpieces by Middleton, Jonson, Webster and Fletcher. And if you want a fictional account of Thomas Cromwell’s life, Hilary Mantel’s novels are immeasurably more rewarding (and more accurate).
Unlike the insightful introductions that Bate wrote for the RSC “Complete Works,” his critical commentary here is uninspired: He has not been reading, teaching and pondering these plays for decades. The poorly proofread text contains embarrassing errors (“Rainham Down down,” “attemptme”). And among the “Key Facts” are such howlers as the claim that a play called “Cardenna/Cardenno” was “attributed to Shakespeare in 1613.” (It was indeed performed by Shakespeare’s acting company in 1613, but if it had been attributed to Shakespeare himself in those early documents, there would be no controversy about it, and no reason to include it among “Collaborative Plays.”)
The directors and actors quoted in the appendix are more reliable than the scholars: “Locrine,” they tell us, is “really not very good,” but “the destruction of the prayer-book [in ‘Arden of Faversham’] is more daring than even Marlowe’s burning of the Qu’ran in ‘Tamburlaine.’ ”
You’ll get more from this book if you read only half of it, beginning at the back.
Taylor, a professor of English at Florida State University, has written or edited more than 20 books, including most recently “The Creation and Re-creation of Cardenio: Performing Shakespeare, Transforming Cervantes.”
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0576 Monday, 30 December 2013
Date: Monday, December 30, 2013
Subject: Shakespeare Apps for iPad
The following appeared in The New York Times.
December 26, 2013
Is This a Video I See in Front of Me?
By Charles Isherwood
Pity the English teacher of today, faced with a roomful of adolescents busy updating their Facebook status, communicating on Snapchat or gossiping via text message about the latest perfidy committed by a frenemy. Trying to instill in students a passionate interest in Shakespeare (or even a passing one) has never been a teacher’s easiest task. With all those digital distractions, the challenge of awakening teenagers’ interest in his plays has surely become harder.
The abbreviated discourse of texting and tweeting are a mighty distance from a dense Shakespearean soliloquy. A funny Roz Chast cartoon from The New Yorker several years ago riffed upon how removed new generations are from the language of Shakespeare. Ms. Chast’s Romeo and Juliet converse through as a series of text messages, with a version of the balcony scene concluding thus:
Juliet: xoxoxo bye see u tmw
Romeo: xoxoxoxoxo bye
A new project called WordPlay Shakespeare attempts to harness students’ aptitude and affection for new technologies to help them engage more easily with the plays. Created by the New Book Press, these $9.99 e-books can be downloaded from iTunes and are, so far, available only in the various Mac and iPad formats. The books combine the full texts of the plays with video versions made specifically for the series. When you open the “book,” a page of text appears on the left half of the screen, much as it would appear in a standard book. On the right half, a quick click brings up an image of actors performing the passage opposite.
Alexander Parker, the publisher of the New Book Press, said he sees this format as an ideal way to enhance students’ ability to grasp the complexity of Shakespeare’s language. “The tablet,” he said, “is well suited to mixing media that haven’t been mixed before,” in this case standard text and video. “When you have the text and a performance next to each other, you have a mutually reinforcing experience.”
So far, the company has produced only “Macbeth” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” — two of the most regularly taught plays in the canon. Another pair of plays that are often students’ first encounter with Shakespeare — “Romeo and Juliet” and “Julius Caesar” — are in preproduction.
A brisk test run had me sold on the merits of the project, although there are aspects that take some getting used to. It’s clean, well produced and easy to use. Click on the right of the white screen and up pop actors bringing the words to life, dressed in modern clothing with, in “Macbeth,” mild Scottish trimming. (Coincidentally, Francesca Faridany, who can be seen in the current Broadway revival of “Macbeth,” as the witch Hecate, plays Lady Macbeth in the WordPlay version.)
[ . . . ]
But quite a bit of the meaning in a Shakespeare speech can be easily illuminated by performance, even if some of the language remains remote. Syntax that seems convoluted or impenetrable when you read it suddenly acquires meaning when you hear it performed by an actor, and WordPlay Shakespeare gives students access to a performance with the swipe of a finger. Many of the obscurities in a Shakespeare speech can be clarified when the words are contextualized through performance.
[ . . . ]
And because the books are designed so that students can read the text while also hearing it, the actors often amble through highly dramatic dialogue that, in a stage performance, would necessarily be performed with more urgency. When, in “Macbeth,” news suddenly ripples through the Macbeths’ castle of the king’s death, there isn’t quite the sense of chaos, horror and fear that you would see in a stage performance, to cite one example.
[ . . . ]
WordPlay Shakespeare is not the only attempt to created “enhanced” versions of his plays for new technology. Luminary Digital Media, in collaboration with Simon & Schuster and the Folger Shakespeare Library, has created a series of Shakespeare plays for the iPad that combine the text with audio renditions. Titles currently available include “Macbeth” and “Dream” along with “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet.” (“Hamlet” is on the way.)
These versions, at $11.99 each, have an advantage in that you can listen to (and read) whole scenes at a time, without interruption, or indeed the whole play. They are also tricked out with social-media bells and whistles, allowing you to take notes and share them with your Facebook family. (One wonders just how many “likes” this kind of thing would get, but never mind.)
As with WordPlay, hearing the words spoken helps clarify meaning, but I wasn’t crazy about the gray bar that highlights the line being spoken. It was more distracting than helpful, but if you’re mainly listening, and want to dip in and out of the reading process, presumably this visual indicator would be helpful. (Also, if you are just reading and listening, beware that if your iPad is set to go into sleep mode after a certain amount of time, the app can shut down, since you don’t need to touch the screen to keep on reading.)
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