November

Shakespeare Survey

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.464  Wednesday, 26 November 2014

 

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

Date:         November 26, 2014 at 1:05:14 AM EST

Subject:    Re: Shakespeare Survey

 

Gerard Downs tells us that “Shakespeare Survey is not easily accessible.”  This must come as a great shock and enormous disappointment to the editor (Peter Holland) and publisher (Cambridge Univ. P).  Fortunately, though, we need not despair as subscriptions are available for purchase in multiple formats (hardcover, softcover, Kindle) from Amazon and many other online vendors or from the publisher at http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/literature/renaissance-and-early-modern-literature/series/shakespeare-survey.

 

I highly recommend the current issue (No. 67) which is about double the size of earlier editions and is chock full of insightful articles by SHAKSPER subscribers, including at least Gabriel Egan, Julia Griffin, Will Sharpe, and Gary Taylor (listed in alphabetical order, as in the volume’s list of contributors). 

 

TLS: Thomas Nashe’s Dog Days

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.463  Wednesday, 26 November 2014

 

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

Date:         October 28, 2014 at 3:42:30 PM EDT

Subject:    TLS: Thomas Nashe’s Dog Days

 

[Editor’s Note:  The past few weeks TLS has had a number of Shakespeare and Early Modern reviews. I will provide excepts here; and if anyone wishes the entire article and does not have access to TLS, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. -Hardy]

 

Thomas Nashe’s dog days 

 

Why we should take his work as a dramatist seriously 

Andrew Hadfield 

 

Summer’s Last Will and Testament is a distinctive and unusual play. It is the only sole-authored drama by Thomas Nashe, who is better known as a writer of prose which shaped the literary culture of England in the 1590s. Nashe’s part in the history of English drama has been obscured and it is worth reminding ourselves what he did and who it was he wrote with. It is now largely accepted that he collaborated with Shakespeare, writing part of the script of Henry VI, Part 1 – even if we cannot work out what exactly. He wrote Dido, Queen of Carthage with Christopher Marlowe (c.1587–93), even if his contribution was probably a relatively minor one. Most significantly, perhaps, he co-authored the lost play The Isle of Dogs with Ben Jonson in 1597, a work so scandalous that all the theatres were closed for a season and Nashe had to flee to Great Yarmouth to escape the hostile attention of the authorities, as he tells us in Lenten Stuff (1599). The Isle of Dogs, which it is assumed satirized a number of prominent courtiers as the Queen’s sycophantic hounds, may well have been Jonson’s first play. 

 

The list of collaborators – Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson – is important, although not often noted, because Nashe is not considered as a major figure in the history of drama, but simply a footnote. The facts show that he worked with three of the most significant dramatists of the Elizabethan stage on what were certainly among their first works. Furthermore, from what we can tell, all these plays were experiments and are hard to place. Henry VI, Part 1 now looks as though it was the first prequel, written in response to the success of The First part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster and The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York. Furthermore, this is the first case of a triple play, itself a response to the phenomenal success of Marlowe’s Tamburlaine in the late 1580s, which looks as if it was continued in a second instalment because of the spectacular success of the first. Dido is also an unusual play, which seems to bear the stamp of Marlowe’s writing but which looks strange in terms of his other plays – a consequence of another influence on its structure, perhaps? And it is probably no surprise that The Isle of Dogs does not survive, given the acerbic and satirical qualities of both its authors, who were quite capable of being extremely offensive on their own. Together they were undoubtedly very rude indeed. 

 

In other words, Nashe was there at the start of three extraordinary careers. Even if for no other reason than this, we should take his work as a dramatist seriously, and pay more attention to Summer’s Last Will and Testament, which has probably only been revived once since it was first performed and has confused commentators for centuries. For John Addington Symonds, writing in 1884, it is “a Court Comedy, or Show, without a plot . . . [and] represents a bygone phase of taste, before the world had learned to read”. The play has proved hard to place in terms of its genre and has been referred to as a masque, an interlude and something like a “Broadway extravaganza in that it contains little plot, lots of singing and music, and beautiful or eccentric costumes”. It is true that it does not have an obvious plot beyond the story of the death of summer and the onset of autumn and winter, with the jester, Will Somers (Summers; d.1560), standing as master of ceremonies. His influence declines as the play progresses alongside that of his seasonal namesake. 

 

What is agreed is that this was an occasional play written for a particular audience in a specific place. It was performed when Nashe was in the employment of John Whitgift, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1583, after Edmund Grindal was rusticated for his outspoken defence of “prophesyings”. “Prophesyings” sound dramatic and Puritan in character, which is how the Queen saw them. They were discussions of biblical texts among the clergy, who would provide expositions of Scripture and then try to improve their understanding of the sacred word: innocent enough in more recent Christian practice, but seen as subversive meetings of the “hotter” sort of Protestants by many in authority. Whitgift was well established as a leader when he employed Nashe, John Lyly and others to write polemical tracts against the scurrilous Puritan treatises published on a secret press by the pseudonymous Martin Marprelate. In the early 1590s, Nashe was very much part of the mainstream establishment, in marked contrast to what we might think of as the Gabriel Harvey–Edmund Spenser group, who clearly veered much more towards the deposed Grindal. This division is surely a relevant context for the Nashe–Harvey quarrel, which was to play such an important role in defining the viciously satirical character of so much fin-de-siècle literature. 

 

[ . . . ]

 

TLS: Brush up Your Bard

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.462  Wednesday, 26 November 2014

 

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

Date:         October 28, 2014 at 12:13:59 PM EDT

Subject:    Brush up Your Bard

 

[Editor’s Note:  The past few weeks TLS has had a number of Shakespeare and Early Modern reviews. I will provide excepts here; and if anyone wishes the entire article and does not have access to TLS, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. -Hardy]

 

Brush up your Bard 

 

Virginia Mason Vaughan 

 

James Shapiro, editor 

SHAKESPEARE IN AMERICA 

 

An anthology from the Revolution to now 

724pp. Library of America. $29.95. 

978 1 59853 295 1 

 

Shakespeare in America, a collection of American writings related to Shakespeare selected and introduced by James Shapiro, offers amazing variety – genres, authors, styles and contexts – all placed in conversation with each other. The result is a wide-ranging exploration of America’s ongoing relationship with Shakespeare, uses and abuses alike. As Professor Shapiro observes in his short but insightful introduction, “the history of Shakespeare in America is also a history of America itself”. 

 

Beginning with poems composed during the Revolutionary War (one from a Loyalist, one from a member of the Continental Army), and continuing to works by B. J. Ward and Jen Nevin from the twenty-first century, Shakespeare in America is full of poetry that responds to Shakespeare, often in a personal way. Langston Hughes’s appropriation of “A Lover and His Lass” in “Shakespeare in Harlem” and Adrienne Rich’s powerful exploration of the father–daughter relationship using allusions to Prospero and Lear in “After Dark” reveal a deeply felt connection between these American poets and Shakespeare’s works. Short stories show how America’s minorities grappled with his iconic status. Perhaps best known is Gloria Naylor’s “Cora Lee”, a section from her first novel, The Women of Brewster Place, in which an impoverished African American mother and her children are briefly transformed by seeing an outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Toshio Mori’s “Japanese Hamlet” (1939) displays the ambivalence felt by many non-Western immigrants towards Shakespeare’s cultural authority, while Cynthia Ozick’s story “Actors” (1998) recalls the heyday of America’s Yiddish theatre and the theatrical impact of Jacob Adler’s performances as the “Jewish King Lear”. 

 

Essays that describe the history of notable performances comprise by far the collection’s largest category. One does wonder why we need a forty-two-page account of the Astor Place riots of 1848, the violent result of a rivalry between the British actor William Charles Macready and the “American Tragedian”, Edwin Forest. There are reviews of some of America’s greatest actors, including Charlotte Cushman’s Romeo (1846), Edwin Booth’s Hamlet (1893) and Paul Robeson’s Othello (1943); John Houseman recalls the so-called Voodoo Macbeth (directed by Orson Welles for the Negro Theatre Unit of the Federal Theatre Project) and Maurice Evans recounts the Hamlet productions he directed for servicemen during the Second World War. Shakespeare on film also receives some attention, with reviews by James Agee (of Laurence Olivier’s Henry V ) and Pauline Kael (of Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight). Theatre history is rounded out with Frank Rich’s critique and Joseph Papp’s response to plans for a “Shakespeare Marathon” at New York’s Public Theater, as well as Sam Wanamaker’s “Address to the Royal Society of Arts” promoting the reconstruction of a Globe replica in London. 

 

A handful of critical essays display amateur Shakespeareans at work. The earliest is John Quincy Adams’s notorious essay “The Character of Desdemona” (1836), in which the former President and anti-slavery champion insists that Othello’s moral is that “the intermarriage of black and white bloodlines is a violation of the law of nature”. Also well known is Mary Preston’s declaration of 1869 that Othello was really a white man. But once Shakespeare in America moves into the twentieth century, the analyses become less character-driven, more nuanced. Charlotte Perkins Gilman examines Shakespeare’s heroines from a feminist perspective that was radical in 1916, while Charles Mills Gayley lauds Shakespeare as the poet of the Anglo-Saxon race. Essays by T. S. Eliot on Hamlet and Mary McCarthy on Macbeth have circulated before, but less well known – and certainly more intriguing – is Jane Smiley’s explanation of the ways King Lear informed A Thousand Acres, first published in 1996, five years after the novel itself. 

 

[ . . . ]

 

Globe Theatre 2015 Season Announced

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.462  Wednesday, 26 November 2014

 

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

Date:         November 21, 2014 at 9:46:32 AM EST

Subject:    Globe Theatre 2015 Season Announced

 

Globe Theatre 2015 Season Announced

 

April - October 2015

 

PRIORITY BOOKING FOR FRIENDS & PATRONS: Tuesday 13 January 2015

 

PUBLIC BOOKING: Monday 9 February 2015

 

 

Our Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole’s last summer season at the Globe examines the theme of Justice & Mercy and will include productions of The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, Dromgoole-directed Measure For Measure, Richard II, and a rare chance to see King John.

                  

The season will also bring three new plays: Helen Edmundson's critically acclaimed The Heresy of Love, a contemporary adaptation of The Oresteia, and Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale.

                  

Next year’s touring productions include Romeo & Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing, meanwhile our two-year Hamlet world tour continues. 

 

We also welcome back our international Globe to Globe programme with two Chinese productions this summer; Richard III in Mandarin and Macbeth in Cantonese (both with scene synopses in English).

 

 

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

By William Shakespeare

23 April - 7 June

 

ROMEO & JULIET

By William Shakespeare

27 April - 8 May

 

AS YOU LIKE IT

By William Shakespeare

15 May - 5 September

 

KING JOHN

By William Shakespeare

1 – 28 June

 

MEASURE FOR MEASURE

By William Shakespeare

20 June - 17 October

 

RICHARD III (in Mandarin)

By William Shakespeare

20 July – 25 July

 

THE HERESY OF LOVE

By Helen Edmundson

3 August – 5 September

 

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

By William Shakespeare

10 August - 12 September

 

 

MACBETH (in Cantonese)

By William Shakespeare    

17 August – 23 August

 

THE ORESTEIA

By Aeschylus

29 August - 16 October

 

NELL GWYNN

By Jessica Swale

19 September – 17 October

 

RICHARD II

By William Shakespeare

26 September - 18 October

 

What Shakespeare taught me about Marxism

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.461  Wednesday, 26 November 2014

 

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

Date:         November 2, 2014 at 9:01:36 PM EST

Subject:    What Shakespeare taught me about Marxism

 

This article excerpt is from The Guardian.

 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/02/sharkespeare-marxism-feudalism-capitalism

 

What Shakespeare taught me about Marxism

Paul Mason

 

If you could watch Shakespeare’s history plays back-to-back, starting with King John and ending with Henry VIII, it would, at first sight, be like an HBO drama series without a central plot: murders, wars and mayhem, all set within an apparently meaningless squabble between kings and dukes.

 

But once you understand what a “mode of production” is the meaning becomes clear. What you are watching is the collapse of feudalism and the emergence of early capitalism.

 

The mode of production is one of the most powerful ideas to come out of Marxist economics: it was prefigured by Adam Smith, who divided economic history into “modes of subsistence”, but in the hands of Marx himself, and subsequent historians who took a materialist viewpoint, it has shaped our view of the past.

 

Feudalism was an economic system based on obligation: peasants were obliged to hand part of their produce to the landowner and do military service for him; he in turn was obliged to provide the king with taxes, and supply an army on demand.

 

But in the England of Shakespeare’s history plays, the mainspring of the system has broken down. By the time Richard III was slaughtering his extended family in real life, the whole power network based on obligation had been polluted by money: rents paid in money, military service paid for with money, wars fought with the aid of a  cross-border banking network stretching to Florence and Amsterdam.

 

Once you accept that feudalism existed, and capitalism does, there’s a big academic debate about what caused the collapse of feudalism and the rise of capitalism. Shakespeare managed to get to the essence of it without having knowledge of the terms feudalism and capitalism. Feudalism was a word invented to describe medieval society once it was over, by 17th century historians. As for capitalism, Shakespeare had seen only the earliest form of it, yet he described it well.

 

In the comedies and tragedies – which are about the contemporary society the audience lived in – we are suddenly in a world of bankers, merchants, companies, mercenary soldiers and republics. The typical place in these plays is a prosperous trading city, not a castle. The typical hero is a person whose greatness is essentially bourgeois self-made, either through courage (Othello), humanist philosophy (Hamlet and Prospero) or knowledge of the law (Portia in The Merchant of Venice).

 

But Shakespeare had no clue about where this was going to lead. He saw and described what a society that could print books, sail to the Americas, chart the heavens accurately was doing to the human character: empowering us with knowledge, yet leaving us susceptible to greed, passion, self-doubt and power-craziness on a scale unknown by the peasants and serfs of feudal Europe. Another 150 years would pass until merchant capitalism, based on trade, conquest and slavery, would give birth to industrial capitalism.

 

For this reason, whenever I want to stop myself being too Marxist, I think about Shakespeare. Armed with a few history books and a profound humanism, he described the society around him with peerless insight, and tried to explain to his audience how they’d got there.

 

[ . . . ]

 

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