Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.335  Tuesday, 11 October 2016


[1] From:        Michael Luskin <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         October 10, 2016 at 3:54:35 PM EDT

     Subj:         Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election


[2] From:        Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         October 10, 2016 at 4:59:36 PM EDT

     Subj:        Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election




From:        Michael Luskin <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 10, 2016 at 3:54:35 PM EDT

Subject:    Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election


I think that Greenblatt was also explaining the 1933 election, except Hitler had more experience.



From:        Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 10, 2016 at 4:59:36 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election


WHY an election? Shakespeare evidently wanted to emphasize the element of consent in Richard’s rise. He is not given a robust consent; only a municipal official and a few of the villain’s carefully planted henchmen shout their vote: “God save Richard, England’s royal king!”


Yes, WHY would Shakespeare want to emphasize the element of consent?  It does not answer that question to say that the consent was not “robust.”  Could it be that Shakespeare was making a point, which recurs throughout the Canon, about the dangers of vox populi mobile?  Consider, for example. Jack Cade; the plebs in Julius Caesar, who in a matter of minutes can be seduced from electing Brutus as a replacement Caesar to killing a poet because of his name; the plebs in Coriolanus, who put their own security in danger by following the direction of “tribunes of the people.”  While not exactly of a piece with this (as the electors were confined to the nobility), the election of Claudius over Hamlet Jr. offers grist for hours of late night bull sessions: Clearly (to me at least), Claudius was the preferred choice; he had maturity and experience, and was far more level-headed, stable and shrewd than Hamlet, who was flighty, careless and threatening in his speech, bawdy, and possibly a bit deranged.  But how did Claudius’s kingship work out?


None of this should be taken to endorse either of the main candidates for U.S. President.  I can’t decide which one I despise, distrust, and fear more.  The great mass of the people will decide, and that is cause for dismay.




Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.334  Monday, 10 October 2016


From:        Steve Roth <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 9, 2016 at 9:11:20 AM EDT

Subject:    Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election


He understood how a great country could wind up being governed by a sociopath.


Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election


By Stephen Greenblatt

Oct. 8, 2016 


In the early 1590s, Shakespeare sat down to write a play that addressed a problem: How could a great country wind up being governed by a sociopath?


The problem was not England’s, where a woman of exceptional intelligence and stamina had been on the throne for more than 30 years, but it had long preoccupied thoughtful people. Why, the Bible brooded, was the kingdom of Judah governed by a succession of disastrous kings? How could the greatest empire in the world, ancient Roman historians asked themselves, have fallen into the hands of a Caligula?


For his theatrical test case, Shakespeare chose an example closer to home: the brief, unhappy reign in 15th-century England of King Richard III. Richard, as Shakespeare conceived him, was inwardly tormented by insecurity and rage, the consequences of a miserable, unloved childhood and a twisted spine that made people recoil at the sight of him. Haunted by self-loathing and a sense of his own ugliness — he is repeatedly likened to a boar or rooting hog — he found refuge in a feeling of entitlement, blustering overconfidence, misogyny and a merciless penchant for bullying.


From this psychopathology, the play suggests, emerged the character’s weird, obsessive determination to reach a goal that looked impossibly far off, a position for which he had no reasonable expectation, no proper qualification and absolutely no aptitude.


“Richard III,” which proved to be one of Shakespeare’s first great hits, explores how this loathsome, perverse monster actually attained the English throne. As the play conceives it, Richard’s villainy was readily apparent to everyone. There was no secret about his fathomless cynicism, cruelty and treacherousness, no glimpse of anything redeemable in him and no reason to believe that he could govern the country effectively.


His success in obtaining the crown depended on a fatal conjunction of diverse but equally self-destructive responses from those around him. The play locates these responses in particular characters — Lady Anne, Lord Hastings, the Earl of Buckingham and so forth — but it also manages to suggest that these characters sketch a whole country’s collective failure. Taken together, they itemize a nation of enablers.


First, there are those who trust that everything will continue in a normal way, that promises will be kept, alliances honored and core institutions respected. Richard is so obviously and grotesquely unqualified for the supreme position of power that they dismiss him from their minds. Their focus is always on someone else, until it is too late. They do not realize quickly enough that what seemed impossible is actually happening. They have relied on a structure that proves unexpectedly fragile.


Second, there are those who cannot keep in focus that Richard is as bad as he seems to be. They see perfectly well that he has done this or that ghastly thing, but they have a strange penchant for forgetting, as if it were hard work to remember just how awful he is. They are drawn irresistibly to normalize what is not normal.


Third, there are those who feel frightened or impotent in the face of bullying and the menace of violence. “I’ll make a corpse of him that disobeys,” Richard threatens, and the opposition to his outrageous commands somehow shrivels away. It helps that he is an immensely wealthy and privileged man, accustomed to having his way, even when his way is in violation of every moral norm.


Fourth, there are those who persuade themselves that they can take advantage of Richard’s rise to power. They see perfectly well how destructive he is, but they are confident that they will stay safely ahead of the tide of evil or manage to seize some profit from it. These allies and followers help him ascend from step to step, collaborating in his dirty work and watching the casualties mount with cool indifference. They are, as Shakespeare imagines it, among the first to go under, once Richard has used them to obtain his end.


Fifth, and perhaps strangest of all, there are those who take vicarious pleasure in the release of pent-up aggression, in the black humor of it all, in the open speaking of the unspeakable. “Your eyes drop millstones when fools’ eyes fall tears,” Richard says to the murderers whom he has hired to kill his brother. “I like you, lads.” It is not necessary to look around to find people who embody this category of collaborators. They are we, the audience, charmed again and again by the villain’s jaunty outrageousness, by his indifference to the ordinary norms of human decency, by the lies that seem to be effective even though no one believes them, by the seductive power of sheer ugliness. Something in us enjoys every minute of his horrible ascent to power.


Shakespeare brilliantly shows all of these types of enablers working together in the climactic scene of this ascent. The scene — anomalously enough in a society that was a hereditary monarchy but oddly timely for ourselves — is an election. Unlike “Macbeth” (which introduced into the English language the word “assassination”), “Richard III” does not depict a violent seizure of power. Instead there is the soliciting of popular votes, complete with a fraudulent display of religious piety, the slandering of opponents and a grossly exaggerated threat to national security.


WHY an election? Shakespeare evidently wanted to emphasize the element of consent in Richard’s rise. He is not given a robust consent; only a municipal official and a few of the villain’s carefully planted henchmen shout their vote: “God save Richard, England’s royal king!”


But the others assembled in the crowd, whether from indifference or from fear or from the catastrophically mistaken belief that there is no real difference between Richard and the alternatives, are silent, “like dumb statues or breathing stones.” Not speaking out — simply not voting — is enough to bring the monster to power.


Shakespeare’s words have an uncanny ability to reach out beyond their original time and place and to speak directly to us. We have long looked to him, in times of perplexity and risk, for the most fundamental human truths. So it is now. Do not think it cannot happen, and do not stay silent or waste your vote.




Review/Report on Cary Mazer’s Shylock’s Beard

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.333  Monday, 10 October 2016


From:        Chelsea Phillips <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 9, 2016 at 1:20:11 PM EDT

Subject:    Review/Report on Cary Mazer’s Shylock’s Beard


REVIEW: Shylock’s Beard by Cary Mazer

August 13, 2016

Chicago, IL


Winner of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education’s Excellence in Playwriting Award 2016


Members will be glad to know of a recent new play by Cary Mazer of the University of Pennsylvania, which won this year’s Excellence in Playwriting award from the Association of Theatre in Higher Education. As part of the award, Shylock’s Beard received a staged reading at this year’s ATHE conference in Chicago. 


Shylock’s Beard follows Jewish English and Theatre professor Dan, who has long detested Shakespeare’s Shylock, yet finds himself unable to resist the chance to dramaturg a professional production of Merchant for a local company. 


The choice sets up one of the play’s clever devices, as Dan shares with his wife, Miriam, first what he wished to say when asked to ‘beard’ the production (“You need a Jew in case some Jewish theatregoer from the city or from one of the more Jewish burbs stumbles into the lily-white audience of your lily-white-except-for-the-Italians-and-Armenians theatre company in your lily-white suburb and wonders what the hell you think you’re doing The Merchant of Venice”) and then abashedly admits what he did say: “Cool! That’s a great offer.” 


This pattern continues, with Dan unloading his hurt and invective over issues of promotion to full professor, University politics, and the thousand real or imagined cuts that seem to mark Dan as marginal to the institutions to which he commits himself, to Miriam’s increasingly distant ear. Over the course of the play, Dan’s detest for Shylock rapidly comes to be understood as a form of self-loathing, for the more he hates and rejects him, the more like him he becomes. Dan ends the play alone, having accepted that now he sees only Shylock when he looks in the mirror each morning.


Near the end of the play, as Dan begins to deal with the fallout, another device becomes clear (which I won’t spoil here), transforming moments that may feel underwritten into an exercise in careful and deliberate play crafting. The use of selected speeches and moments from Merchant in a rehearsal setting allows for an unpacking of Shakespeare’s text that never becomes pedantic (with the exception of one deliberately comic moment), while doubling offers a nice echo of Shakespeare and ensures meatier roles for the actors.


In sum, the script is intelligent, moving, and often funny and warm despite its painful end, with incisive commentary on The Merchant of Venice and Shylock, the nature of artistic collaboration and creation, and Dan’s transformation sprinkled throughout. It will appeal to both scholarly and non-scholarly audiences, and is well worth producing.




BSA Bulletin - October 2016

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.332  Tuesday, 4 October 2016


From:        BSA <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 4, 2016 at 7:05:24 AM EDT

Subject:    BSA Bulletin - October 2016




BSA conference 2016 in Hull: ‘Shakespearean Transformations: Death, Life, and Afterlives’


The BSA conference was an enormous success, and the organising committee were heartily congratulated by the Board of Trustees and the delegates who came from all over the world to memorialise Shakespeare’s legacy in the 400th anniversary of his death. Delegates had the opportunity to enjoy plenaries from Susan Basnett, Andrew Hadfield, Michael Neill, Claudia Olk, Barrie Rutter, Stuart Sillars, Tiffany Stern, and Richard Wilson. The conference dinner at the Hull aquarium, The Deep, was also a memorable event. During the course of the evening, Professor Ann Thompson accepted her Honorary Fellowship of the BSA, while Professor Richard Wilson accepted the other Honorary Fellowship on behalf of John Barton.


The programme and a report of the occasion, as well as a range of testimonials from our bursary recipients, are available here: http ://www . britishshakespeare . ws/reports-from-the-hull-bsa-conference/



New members of the Board of Trustees


At the BSA’s Annual General Meeting in Hull, the membership ratified the appointment of Professor Alison Findlay as the new Chair of the Association, replacing Professor Stuart Hampton-Reeves, who stepped down after many years of service. Two other appointments were ratified: Professor Marion Wynne-Davies is our new Treasurer, replacing Dr Peter J. Smith, and Dr José A. Pérez Díez has taken over from Dr Peter Kirwan as Membership Officer. The Board warmly thanked the commitment and hard work of the outgoing team.


The posts of elected trustees are up for renewal next year, so we would encourage anyone thinking of putting their name forward for election to contact Alison Findlay: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Applications open to host the BSA conference in 2018, 2019, and 2020

The Board of Trustees have now approved the motion to hold our international conference annually from 2018, instead of biennially. The British Shakespeare Association therefore welcomes applications from institutions (not restricted to higher education) to host the BSA conference in 2018, 2019, or 2020. This is the largest regular Shakespeare conference in the United Kingdom, bringing together researchers, teachers and theatre practitioners to share the latest work on Shakespeare and other authors of the English Renaissance. The conference is the highest profile activity organised by the BSA, and draws delegates from around the world. The local organising team is a vital part of the BSA’s mission, and will benefit from the infrastructural support of the BSA, including its mailing lists, professional contacts and organisational advice. Full details on how to apply are available here: http ://www . britishshakespeare . ws/applications-to-host-our-2018-conference/


The deadline to submit applications is 31st October 2016.



Nominations open for our Honorary Fellowships 2017


The British Shakespeare Association endows two Honorary Fellowships each year. This year, 2016, the Fellowships were given to Emeritus Professor Ann Thompson and to Emeritus Director of the RSC John Barton – at a special Fellowship Event during our Conference at the University of Hull. The BSA now needs to be thinking about who the recipients will be for 2017. The Chair of our Fellowship Committee, Andrew Jarvis, would like to invite all current Members of the BSA to offer nominations for next year’s award.


Please find full details here: http ://www . britishshakespeare . ws/honorary-fellowship-nominations-2017/



Teaching Shakespeare 10 


The new issue of our education magazine is now out! It includes articles from Christie Desmet on teaching Shakespeare in Korea and Reto Winckler on playing Shakespeare with students in China, as well as Up the Road writing on their Bardolph’s Box tour. 



The King’s Troupe at the Dell


With the support of the BSA, the King’s Troupe contributed to the RSC’s summer outdoor programme at the Dell, in Stratford-upon-Avon, on 7th August 2016 with an internationally flavoured performance of As You Like It in Farsi, Romanian, and English on the 2016 International Day of Friendship.


Full details on: http ://www . britishshakespeare . ws/the-kings-troupe-at-the-dell/



Think Like Shakespeare


As many of us are getting to know new classes of students in the 2016-17 academic year, and many of them are preoccupied by the pressure of grades and results, the following post from Scott Newstok (Rhodes College) is a refreshing read. http ://www . chronicle . com/article/How-to-Think-Like-Shakespeare/237593


While it’s addressed to the American class of 2020, it aims to speak more broadly to educators and students. 





We are pleased to advertise news and activities by our members and other Shakespeare associations. If you would like to advertise a Shakespeare-related activity, please email our Membership Officer, José A. Pérez Díez, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Items below are not affiliated with or endorsed by the BSA – please use individual contact details for more information.


Cahiers Shakespeare en devenir (2017): Shakespeare and Africa, CFP

This issue would like to explore the relationship between Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, that of Shakespeare but also his contemporaries, and the representation of Africa, or, from a contextual viewpoint, the perception of the African continent in early modern England. The issue will also discuss 19th-21st c. re-writings, appropriations and adaptations of Shakespeare by African and African-American writers, stage directors and film directors. Full details and guidelines are available here: http ://www . britishshakespeare . ws/shakespeare-in-africa/



'Singing Simpkin' & 'The Humour of John Swabber’, St. Pancras Old Church, London, Friday 7 October at 7 p.m.


This staged performance in period costume will be introduced by Lucie Skeaping (presenter BBC Radio 3's Early Music Show, co-author of Singing Simpkin and Other Bawdy Jigs) and Tamsin Lewis (director of Passamezzo) and the performance will be preceded by an illustrated talk. 'Singing Simpkin' is first recorded in 1595 and may be the work of the clown-comedian Will Kemp, one of the founders and star performer of Shakespeare's company, the Chamberlain's Men. It was probably given in the theatre as an entertaining afterpiece, following one of the great dramatic tragedies of the day.  'Swabber' (partly read) was performed by Robert Cox and his company at London’s Red Bull theatre in June 1653 when most of the playhouses were closed by order of Parliament. Both appear in Cox's collection of farces, jigs and drolls  Actaeon and Diana 1655/6. The Church and bar will open from 6:30 so do come early for an autumnal glass of wine. You can book tickets online here: A limited number will be available on the door.


Shakespeare, the Earls of Derby & the North West, 19 October 2016.

The Northern Shakespeare Project, which is aiming to restore the early modern theatre at Prescot, is holding a day-long conference on Wednesday October 19th at Knowsley.


Please see details and how to register here:

http ://www . knowsleyhallvenue . co . uk/shakespeare_symposium . php



Interpreting Shakespeare! Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, 21-25 November 2016


A week-long residential course in Shakespeare interpretation for the adult reader on King Lear. 21st - 25th November 2016, Mousehole, Cornwall Together with an actor from the company, stf’s Artistic Director, Andrew Hilton, will guide you through this great text, employing theatrical perspectives to aid your understanding of Shakespeare’s language, techniques and preoccupations. This is not an actors’ workshop, but is devised specifically for Shakespeare’s audience. The sessions will be held in the newly opened Solomon Browne Memorial Hall in the pretty village of Mousehole, just west of Penzance and easily accessible by public transport. Maximum 14 participants. Cost:  £250 per person (includes lunch on 4 days). Accommodation is not included but there will be an abundance of local holiday cottages and b&bs available at low season prices.  For full details of how to book see the stf website: www . stf-theatre . org . uk




MV Dialog

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.331  Monday, 3 October 2016


From:        William Blanton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 3, 2016 at 3:05:27 AM EDT

Subject:    MV Dialog




Thank you for the answers to my questions. I make this brief reply:


1. I am relieved that I did not miss a reference to Jason in Il Pecorone. We need not cast our nets any wider. I based my description of the Jason myth on Ovid because we know that Shakespeare was familiar with his Metamorphoses.


What interests me is what makes a reference to Jason of particular significance in MV. I have checked an online Shakespeare concordance, and have found out that Shakespeare used the word Jason only in MV.



2. I am not taking material from one historical source and grafting it onto the play. As I mentioned to Tony Burton, I am trying very hard not to do such a thing. Quite the opposite. However, I am still struggling with exactly how best to communicate the way in which I have reached my observations and conclusions.


In a very small way, I am taking some cues from the arcane field of computer aided stylistic analysis of Shakespeare’s plays. Almost my entire focus is on the particular words that Shakespeare used in the play. An important aspect relates to any particular word patterns that I detect.


One significant word pattern relates to the number of times Shakespeare used a particular word within a short space of time and, if relevant, whether he used that word anywhere else in the play. When I noticed such a pattern, I then tried to figure out what it might mean.


I recently cited the pattern of the word liveries in Act 2 Scene 2: three times within 36 lines and nowhere else in the play. In the aural culture of Elizabethan theater, these repeated words would have been a marker for the audience. Shakespeare told the audience to pay particular attention to those words.


Something made these words remarkable. As I was reading the biography of Essex (Robert, Earl of Essex, by Robert Lacey), I came upon the description of how Essex spent a huge sum of money outfitting in his special tangerine and white livery a number of followers he took with him on his mission to France, and what a spectacle he made of his entry into the camp if Henry IV.


That spectacle was an historical fact. It was also something that many of those in London at the time would have been known about. Essex was no doubt the butt of many jokes about this.


I did not stop with this one instance. I have described other patterns in the last four or so posts that I believe point to Essex as the identity of Bassanio on what I have called the Political/Religious/Current Events dimension of meaning.


However, I have been doing something that may have contributed to confusion. I have described my conclusions, opinions, and speculations following a citation of each pattern and of the circumstantial evidence at the time. From now on I will refrain from describing such conclusions, opinions, and speculations until an appropriate end point in the discussion at hand.


Speaking of Shakespeare, Essex, and history. Shakespeare himself referred to Essex (the General of our gracious Empress) in connection with important events current at his time that are recorded in history. In Henry V, Shakespeare had the Chorus say the following at the beginning of Act 5:


CHORUS …But now behold,

In the quick forge and working-house of thought,

How London doth pour out her citizens.

The Mayor and all his brethren, in best sort,

Like to the senators of th’antique Rome

With the plebeians swarming at their heels,

Go forth and fetch their conquering Caesar in —

As, by a lower but high-loving likelihood,

Were now the General of our gracious Empress —

As in good time he may — from Ireland coming

With rebellion broachèd on his sword,

How many would the peaceful city quit

To welcome him!… .

(5.0.22-34) (emphasis supplied)



(I have wondered at the potential ambiguity of the word broached. It certainly could mean the defeat of the Irish. It could also mean that Essex would be bringing rebellion with him to London. Just a parenthetical thought.)


Essex and his army left for Ireland in 1597. Shakespeare probably wrote Henry V in early 1599. Essex returned post haste from Ireland in late 1600 and was soon arrested for treason. He staged his pathetic excuse for a rebellion in early 1601; lost; was tried and convicted; and was beheaded.


Thank you for your patience and your observations.


With respect,





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