The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0414  Wednesday, 17 October 2012


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

Date:         October 16, 2012 7:55:20 AM EDT

Subject:     The Thing’s the Plays


The Thing’s the Plays: The Public Theater Gets a Shakespeare Machine


Adorning the newly refurbished lobby of New York’s venerable Public Theater is a steel contraption loaded with 37 blades, 3,072 high-efficiency white LED emitters, and every word from Shakespeare’s plays. Ben Rubin’s Shakespeare Machine is at once artwork, chandelier, brain-teaser, and literary tourist attraction. Read more at artnews.com


[Editor’s Note: Below is the link to the interested article with many photographic illustrations. I have excerpted from the story following:




The Thing’s the Plays: Public Theater’s New Shakespeare Machine

BY Robin Cembalest POSTED 10/16/12


Brush up your Shakespeare—start quoting him now.


Or, have a machine do it for you.


You rogue. You knave. You leave. You villain. You rascal.


These are phrases you might encounter over your cocktail at the Public Theater, the Lafayette Street landmark, now that an elegant new bar has taken up residence in its lobby.


They won’t stay long, because other phrases, all selected by algorithms from each one of Shakespeare’s plays, soon take their place, passing in a manic, poetic, vaguely familiar, and increasingly hypnotic stream—37 streams, actually, because that’s the number of nearly four-foot-long blades, each embedded with 3,072 high-efficiency white LED emitters, dangling from the steel, elliptical-conic contraption at the center of the room. The effect is as if all the characters from Shakespeare’s plays were talking to each other at once.


The Shakespeare Machine is the creation of Ben Rubin, a local media artist with the spirit of a mad inventor and a passion for data. Commissioned by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs as part of the Percent for Art program, which funds site-specific pieces in city-funded construction projects, Rubin’s device is at once artwork, chandelier, brain-teaser, and literary tourist attraction.


[ . . . ]


The artwork has been in the works for almost five years; the building has been around since 1854. Originally a library funded by John Jacob Astor, it became a receiving station for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and then a theatrical success story when Joseph Papp restored it, staged the world premiere of Hair there in 1967, and made it the home base for the Shakespeare Workshop as well as for a roster of new plays and musicals. 


[ . . . ]


Each blade contains a whole play. Once a cycle, for about two minutes, the blade streams its play in its entirety. Then selections from its text will appear–terms selected for grammatical, contextual, rhythmic, or semantic attributes, like a verb followed by the word it, a noun phrase containing a part of the human body, and adjective-conjunction-adjective.


Rubin plans to add more categories this week, and to continue the process indefinitely. His fantasy is to have longer blades that will accommodate bursts of iambic pentameter and other complex phrasings.


Columbia University professor James Shapiro, one of several Shakespeare experts (including scholar Stephen Greenblatt and theater director Barry Edelstein) who advised Rubin on the project, pronounced himself transfixed–with the unfamiliar combinations of familiar words, the patterns within each blade, the challenge of looking at the blades in progression. “The word that came to my mind was mesmerizing,” he says.


“I think Shakespeare absolutely would have enjoyed this,” Shapiro adds. During the quarter century the author was writing, “these words were swimming around in his head.”]


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