My Exits and My Entrances: Goodbye, SURP

That’s right, my SURP is over. I am now out of Claremont to hang out with my family (and then come back to do my junior year of college – oy). 

This week’s post will be a little lighter on the critical analysis of specific works of and relating to Shakespeare, and a little heavier on me talking about my time this summer. 
Although please, enjoy this picture of Yorick smoking a pipe…I know I do. 
As to my work this summer, it has done a lot for me for my future in research, especially considering I didn’t really know what research was when I first got here. This summer has been one of embracing ambiguity and going on random tangents that may or may not be helpful to answer research questions that are not actually fully formed. But it is possible to do important intellectual work whether for myself or for the research, even when you don’t know what the research is. 
An important part of research, and something that I’m still working on, is taking my expectations or assumptions and flipping them. I came into this summer viewing Shakespeare’s words as the ultimate versions of his works, which meant that all kooky adaptations were a bit of an affront to the original Shakespeare. Although I still think there is a lot to be gained from reading the original plays, with all their possibilities, the idea of an “ultimate” Shakespeare is not the best way to go about enjoying or trying to understand the work. I needed to rethink my expectations for “ultimate,” by trying not to have an idea in my head about what ultimate means.
I’m still not sure exactly what I expect from Shakespeare, nor what that means about the orignal plays or the experience of viewing/reading Shakespeare. But I have learned a lot about research and my own thoughts this summer, and I’m glad to be able to hopefully share some of those thoughts in the exhibit this spring. 
Thanks for reading these blog posts, and good luck with your lives! Enjoy the exhibit in Special Collections and Denison in the spring.
Signing off

Ruff and Tumble

Try as I might, I can never seem to internalize the fact that people in Shakespeare’s time really wore the tights and ruffs and doublets as fashion. I can’t picture anyone choosing to wear that unless it was a joke, or a costume party, although that is probably just an effect of the fact that I’m commenting on these fashions ~450 years in the future (I guess skinny jeans are sort of like the modern version of Elizabethan hose so I really can’t talk), but regardless, I can’t see those outfits without interpreting them as a throwback to Shakespeare rather than a representation of the world at that time – Shakespeare is likely the most culturally significant person from that time, but all over the world people dressed somewhat similarly, and seeing a whole style of dress as a reference to a playwright whose work is often not performed in Elizabethan dress ignores the trend of fashion all over Europe.

For your viewing pleasure today I have a few images of French nobility dressed as they would have been in the late 1500s. Side note: the sassy hand gestures in most portraits of people from the past consistently give me happiness.

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IMG_7063.jpgIMG_7066.jpgThese pictures have some elements that remind me of the French period dramas I love so much: the socks with the tie at the top, the fan that Lady In Pink carries.  The rest of the clothing – the wide skirts, the almost ludicrously large ruffs, the doublets, and yes, the hose – are all staples of Elizabethan fashion. As it turns out, ruffs were clothes for both the nobility and the lower classes – after the addition of starch, they could be worn over and over again, and thus became popular for many classes of people. These outfits were normal for everyone.

More interesting to me (besides reminiscing about historical fashion in movies) is my reaction to seeing people in these clothes. As I mentioned, my first thought upon seeing these, and likely the first thought for many other people, is, “Whoa. Shakespeare throwback.” History tends to crystallize into the greatest hits of a century or a decade or what have you; Elizabethan times are Shakespeare and the plague and ruffs, for me. My focus on Shakespeare makes me wonder what other history and life I’m unaware of; of course, Shakespeare is the most talented playwright of that time, but just because J.K. Rowling is the most successful young adult fiction writer of our time doesn’t mean that everything else in that genre is worthless.

In terms of this SURP, my time is almost up; I have one more week (and one more blog post!) to go. If you’ve liked the sort of analysis my co-researchers and I have been putting forward, come see the exhibit in Spring 2016, and come talk to us at the poster conference this September 3! 

Now, a Joke: Richard III, Othello, and Shylock Walk into a Bar…




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we have “The Muster of Bays’s Troops,” what appears to be a satirical cartoon featuring
many fictional characters getting ready to fight a war by singing a little ditty.
Most of these characters are unfamiliar or insignificant in terms of
Shakespeare (although it is fun to see Punch of Punch and Judy in there), but
scattered around the battlefield we see King Richard (#2), Shylock from
Merchant of Venice (#8), and Othello
from the play of the same name (#17, holding the flag in the middle).

three Shakespearean characters span the range of Shakespeare’s works; Richard
(I believe he is Richard III but I
can’t really tell) is from a history, Othello a tragedy, and Shylock a comedy. Unfortunately,
as I am not yet an expert on mid-18th century humor, and because the
internet was mostly unhelpful, I can’t tell you why these three characters
specifically made the cut, or even what this piece satirizes…Bibliotheca histrionica, a catalogue of the
theatrical and miscellaneous library of Mr. John Field which will be sold by
-the catchiest of titles- briefly mentions this image as a “satirical on Garrick and Lacy, with verses.”
David Garrick was a widely celebrated actor, well known for his performances of
Shakespeare. In the cast list of this image, King Richard is specified as the
performance of “G—–,” which I am interpreting as a reference to Garrick.


the song attached to this piece, characters are often referred to not as the character,
but as the actor who portrays them, which places the reader at a distance from
the characters and emphasizes the strong relationship that often arose between
actor and character. It also seems to suggest that the character no longer
matters; Garrick could be playing anyone at all and still have his spot in the
image. Character is secondary to actor.

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this song, each character is mentioned briefly as part of the army that will
overwhelm the rebels. Part of the joke, I think, is that these men are mostly
unassuming/unimpressive… The viewer should “See puny Richard with high Heels, / In G—–‘s
Figure perking…And Serjeant Punch,
pure Sport afford, / With mauling these Rascallions.” Punch is dressed like a
jester, and although known for, well, punching, he is not the commanding physical
or leaderly presence one might expect from a sergeant. Richard here is
emasculated and used as an example of a non-intimidating fighter.

the writer here uses specific details from the plays – Shylock has sworn to “have
your Lights and Liver” – these characters do not seem meant to be faithful
representations of Shakespeare’s characters. They pass out of the realm of
being specific characters in his plays to being convenient archetypes or
examples to carry on a joke. In the Hamlet
burlesque (comedic, irreverent retelling of Hamlet in one act), the preface brings up the people who would be
offended by mistreating the Bard and his characters in such a way, and mentions
that there is no writer better suited to a burlesque. Not to change his plays
and characters in such a way would imply that Shakespeare’s work is not strong
enough on its own to withstand a liberal retelling, that Shakespeare’s
reputation is fragile and can be ruined by a parody. This idea reframes extremely
different productions as not taking away from the brilliance of Shakespeare but
adding to it by showing how recognizable the play is even in something like a
burlesque, and as a symbol of how far Shakespeare inspired the next writer to




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I wasn’t always the Shakespeare-reading fiend I am now; my introduction to his plays was slow, and I didn’t really enjoy it until I took a class where we read a new play every two weeks. His language is old and complicated, and it felt like it required so much hard work to get something out of it that it didn’t feel worth it to read Shakespeare. So much of Shakespeare comes from wordplay and old idioms that are incomprehensible to the modern reader. Trying to read it in modern English can feel a bit like translation for a number of reasons. So how does one go about approximating Shakespeare in translation between languages? French, my studied language of choice, has not changed nearly as much as English has in the last 450 years, and the language structure is different enough to significantly change meter and rhyme schemes. 
I looked at a copy of Hamlet translated into French in Special Collections, specifically at the scene (III.ii) in which Hamlet lays his head in Ophelia’s lap just before the play and makes a LOT of lewd puns. How well do puns and double meanings carry over? How would a translator even begin to do that job? Here is one part of that scene (just after he asks if he can put his head in her lap), in the original English and French:
HAMLET: Do you think I meant country matters?
OPHELIA: I think nothing, my lord.
HAMLET: That’s a fair thought to lie between maid’s legs.
OPHELIA: What is, my lord?
HAMLET: Nothing. 
Hamlet is referring to oral sex, being highly inappropriate but not talking about sex on the primary level of meaning. Everyone present would likely have known exactly what he was getting at, but he never explicitly says it. It adds to the discomfort of the scene, and shows even more how much Hamlet has slipped out of his mother’s control. 
Now in French (although please, remember: my French is imperfect!):
HAMLET: Pensez-vous donc que je voulusse,            Do you thus think that I want, 
comme les paysans grossiers, indécemment              Like coarse peasants, to sit
m’asseoir sur vos genoux?                                          indecently in your lap?
OPHÉLIA: Je ne pense rien, monseigneur.                 I don’t think anything, my lord.
HAMLET: C’est une riante image… (1)                        That is a laughable image…
OPHÉLIA: Quelle image, monseigneur?                     What image, my lord?
HAMLET: Rien.                                                            Nothing.
The crudeness of “That’s a fair thought to lie between maid’s legs” is impossible to express without being too obvious. The French text simply provides the English for that line. Each line seems wordier, making this scene a bit clunkier than it was before. I am always impressed by translators, and I think it’s important that people from all countries be able to enjoy any work of literature they want, but is it still the same Shakespeare in another language?
The thing is, as unfortunate as it is that French can’t really approximate some of these great lines nor the Elizabethan language style, there’ a good chance that these great lines aren’t quite right in English either. There is no such thing as a Shakespeare manuscript; the earliest copies of the plays, Quartos and Folios, often differ so much from each other that they are almost different plays. We are guessing at what the original Shakespeare is. So while the French is missing something central, chances are that I am also missing something big in the original language.

Courtship the King Henry V Way

In a Shakespeare class I took last semester, I read a great article by Phyllis Rackin and Jean Howard that explained how Henry V shows the shift of masculinity at the time Shakespeare wrote the play. Before this play, masculinity was linked to nobility through blood, i.e. preservation of a bloodline, whereas Henry V is the first of his plays to show masculinity as a result of achievement or conquest in battle and in love. Lust was once a feminine, emasculating vice, because a woman could dilute the bloodline and thus remove your masculinity, so denying women sex was seen as an expression of dominance. In this play, lust belongs to men as a tool of power; successfully seducing someone shows that same male dominance.

Near the end of Henry V (spoilers ahead!), King Henry seduces the French princess Katherine and marries her, thus sealing his control over France and validating his authority as a man and as a leader. This scene is often seen as a sort of coercion or forced wedding; Katherine barely speaks any English (and barely speaks at all) while Henry does the wooing, marrying her with little preamble and little input from her. It is likely that at different times in history, this scene was more or less romantic and organic; nowadays, with the emphasis on female autonomy that has been growing, this sort of seduction becomes problematic and unromantic, at least as I see it.


In this picture, drawn by an unnamed reader, Katherine looks very young, swaddled and protected by a large hood. She looks almost sad, unmoved by the “conversation” taking place right next to her face. Maybe this reader thought the seduction was romantic and reciprocated; we can’t know just from looking at this image. But the way that Katherine is shown – her clothes, her face, her expression – all contribute to a narrative about what this seduction means to the seduced party. Going through the scene with this mental image is very different from the next image:


This Katherine, an image from the same copy of the play (by a different artist) shows a classic princess smiling sweetly in her pretty gown. Her royal status is emphasized by the crown and scepter and her romantic side comes through thanks to the flower and the sweet expression on her face, just as King Henry wanted if he is indeed partially using her to validate his authority. This Katherine fits the bill for what one might expect a willing contributor to a royal marriage to look like. If this Katherine comes on stage, the wedding is more likely to be a happy occasion than something done strictly for political gain, or unwillingly. 


This photo is, to me, the most interesting. Entitled “The Wooing of Henry V,” here we have Katherine sitting forlornly on a throne, accepting Henry’s grand physical expression of love and desire. This Katherine looks like an adult woman, sitting in a position that normally would be one of power. She is a very different Katherine from the first two I’ve shown you, but at least in this still frame, we still see nothing to suggest that she wants this marriage as much as he does. Even the title gives a sense that this is not a conversation; it is a directed seduction. Henry woos Katherine, an unmoving, possibly undesirous female. 

To me, this seduction style is a flaw in the personality of the manly, charming Henry V. But to some, this scene is utterly romantic, an expression of love at first sight and the strength of love even with a significant language barrier. These opposed understandings of the same scene and relationship could reflect shifting cultural values over time, or it could simply be a result of who I am and how I was raised. The beauty of costume, design, and acting is that these elements combined could make me see an entirely different interpretation of the scene; possibly, if a charming Henry wooed the girl in purple from the second photo, I would be more on board with the seduction, at least in that production. The creators of different productions have a lot of power over interpretation, and they have no choice but to use and thus impact my understanding of the play.

Hamlet: A Fellow of Infinite Jest

This week’s SpeCol (Special Collections) Scoop comes from the Philbrick Collection, which is a massive collection of drama-related media donated to the school by the Philbrick family. One of these boxes is a collection of sets for toy theaters, which were somewhat like dollhouses with removable backgrounds and paper dolls. From what I can tell, toy theater companies chose short plays, gave plot synopses, usually in one act, provided the backgrounds for each scene, and gave the characters in various necessary positions for the play.

Some of these date back as far as the 1700s, which is, as always, incredible to see. The subject of this blog post, however, is from much more recently – 1948. In 1948 Sir Laurence Olivier did a highly-praised film version of Hamlet, which although an excellent play, is not exactly what I would call kid-friendly. When I was a wee one I enjoyed my fair share of dramatic sword fights, escaping from pirate ships, and even the occasional painful “death,” but, although this play has all these things and more, there are no real winners in Hamlet, except for maybe Fortinbras, who is often deleted from the play. The good guy exists in a morally gray area. This play is predominately about a man questioning himself and those around him, going on an emotional and physical journey that ends in death and sadness. 
There seems to me to be something strange about explaining the trauma of the end of the play in a way that will be most easily actable and accessible for a group of young children. In the plot synopsis: “Finally, while picking flowers alone at the river’s edge, she falls in and is drowned.” It sounds like Ophelia tripped and fell (note the passive “is drowned,” removing all agency for her death!), rather than committing suicide thanks to the betrayal of those she loves and the murder of her father by her lover. Maybe it’s just the judgmental 1950s housewife in me speaking, but I can’t imagine that these emotionally challenging themes would be good play fodder for young children.
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Laertes jousts jauntily with his two swords, preceded by Laertes dying painfully in Osric’s arms
This version of Hamlet brings up some questions for me about what it means to experience the play in this child-friendly way. Is there an age too young for Shakespeare, or is it good to let children know about this classic play from an early age? The criteria for being “old enough” can’t just be that the reader understands Shakespeare, whatever that means; if so, then I don’t think anyone is really old enough for him. It is not possible to understand a work of art, exactly; even if Shakespeare had one interpretation in mind, we can’t know what that was and it isn’t important, because interpretations hold weight regardless of their Elizabethan relevancy. Is it possible that, as my reaction suggests, this and other similar interpretations are “missing the point” if no one can really say what the point is?
Looking at my earlier blog posts, I would have to say yes; just as with that Romeo and Juliet burlesque, my immediate reaction is a shade of disgust that belies a specific expectation for what it means to play Shakespeare. However, I plan with the rest of this summer to dig deeper into my expectations for Shakespeare, and in general, what it means to expect anything from a subjective performance. It isn’t necessarily fair that liberal adaptations have my mistrust, and I want to research how that and other expectations affect the experiences one can have in experiencing his work. Stay tuned for more personal and academic revelations on this theme!

The Unscripted Kiss

Early this week I happened upon Special Collections’ Windsor Shakespeare collection, a series of four books with 2-3 plays each inside. This collection is exciting, different from the countless others (people just loooove collecting Shakespeare’s plays), for the performance-based scribblings all up and down the margins of the book, written by Baliol Holloway (1883-1967), a fairly popular Shakespearean actor. In 1921, he performed the role of Bottom/Director in 1921 in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Stratford-upon-Avon. 
His handwriting is not incredible, unlike some of the beautiful calligraphy I’ve seen in other promptbooks and various letters. Unfortunately, a lot of the likely fascinating production notes in this copy remain a mystery to me. However one note, about the scene in which Hermia finds out that Lysander has deserted her, and confronts Helena, is quite legible, and provides some interesting possibilities for interpretation of the play and the production.
Luckily for many directors, Shakespeare’s in-text stage directions are minimal, which adds a lot of variability to the way actors and directors can take a scene. There are many emotions likely running through at least the non-addled characters in this scene, and the movements directors choose to emphasize create a different feeling for the scene.
The line that this stage direction goes to belongs to Hermia, the woman whose lover has just inexplicably changed affections: “O me!-you juggler! you canker-blossom! / You thief of love! what, have you come by night / And stol’n my love’s heart from him?” (III.ii) Unfortunately, I can’t know what the production was really like, but even based on these minimal notes it is possible to conjecture some ways the scene played out. The notes seem to say that, after the line “thief of love,” Hermia kisses Lysander, Lysander holds her (probably holds her back from running at Helena, but it could mean anything), and Helena hides behind Demetrius. 
This line is directed at Helena, but the manner of its delivery is up in the air. Is she talking directly to Helena, full eye contact, taking the time to turn and kiss her lover and then yelling once again? Early in the play, Helena is bitter about Hermia’s happiness with her lover; could Hermia be trying futilely to inspire that old bitterness again, by speaking of love and then kissing her man? The kiss could be angry, spiteful, despairing, or pleading. She could be caught up in her memories of love, originally wanting simply to yell at Helena and then seeing her lover and needing to kiss him one more time. Her fire and rage can be interrupted, losing potency, or she could be channeling her feelings towards everyone into the kiss. This one stage direction adds a world of subtle but useful interpretive tools, on top of the inexhaustible possibilities of Shakespeare’s words. 
There is no information about how Lysander (or Hermia!) react to the kiss, nor how entirely Lysander and Demetrius are slaves to the spell, which can be shown through body language and subtle cues. That sort of decision can only be made in the play, for those watching and those acting, but I believe that unpredictability and potential for interpretation both as actor and audience are essential parts of Shakespeare performance and scholarly study. The possibilities are endless.

Queen Mab Intervenes/How Much Artistic Liberty is Too Much?

I was browsing special collections two days ago and I found Romeo and Juliet Travestie: or, The Cup of Cold Poison, an 1873 version of the play with a surprising adaptation; this version is a burlesque, in one act. There are books that tell the stories of Shakespeare’s plays in condensed form, with modern language, and I have heard of plays (particularly Nahum Tate’s King Lear) that replace the ends of the plays with happier versions, or more family-friendly words and ideas (Thomas Bowdler’s The Family Shakespeare). 

This strange copy did both: the play wrapped up in only six scenes, with Paris and Romeo laughing and singing as Paris dumps Romeo into the crypt, only for Romeo to jump out again seconds later. Of course, all the dead characters, including Shakespeare himself, come back to life, love, and music thanks to the magic of Queen Mab, who takes a star turn. This classic Shakespeare tragedy ends with a nice group song.
At first, I found myself spluttering mentally, astounded at the liberties people will take. The nerve! To write such a short, irreverent version of a classic play! Romeo and Juliet is far from my favorite Shakespeare – I tend to think it is overrated – but a burlesque version of the play seems completely at odds with the original, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. This reaction got me thinking about how important the purity of “original” Shakespeare is. I am far from a Shakespeare purist; although I would love to see the plays in the way he wrote them, I have thoroughly enjoyed many adaptations that are liberal with the ideas or words. Obviously, this interpretation is not meant to replace the original, unlike Tate’s Lear, which presumably replaced Shakespeare’s for 150 years. The burlesque is a comic addition to the long tradition of adapting Shakespeare to modern ideas, times, or interpretations.

Even though this adaptation inspired disdain (in me), I think its existence is symptomatic of the fact that, at least as I see it, Shakespeare is no longer “just a playwright,” and hasn’t been “just a playwright” for a long time. The plays no longer mean the same thing they may have at the time of their creation; thinking about any of his works comes with the baggage of his name, what it means as a student or an actor to read/perform, any adaptations or even pop references one may have heard, and even the difficulty that can arise in trying to read such old English. His work is more of a jumping-off point than the end of the road. It inspires people, either to push harder with research, thought, or creative outpourings. Setting aside this burlesque, which still inspires in me a bit of hoity-toity attitude, I think this sort of movement is impossible to avoid, and, in many ways, is a really important piece of change and growth. 

Welcome, Emma/Faces of Shakespeare

Hello, all.

My name is Emma and I am a brand new SURP-CCEPS researcher. I am a rising junior at Pomona, studying English with a possible double major in French. 
My job this summer is multi-pronged. For part of each day, I scan and process letters from the Philbrick letter collection, mostly written (up to this point/as far as I can tell) by Dion Boucicault, an important man in entertainment in the 19th century. The rest of the day is focused on self-driven research about Shakespeare, completely freeform, with the end goal of curating three exhibits using the materials in Special Collections (one in Honnold/Mudd, one in Denison, and one online).
I just started on Wednesday, so the bulk of my time has been getting oriented: learning how to use the different computer systems, choosing books that could potentially be interesting, running back to my room for a sweater (it is SO COLD in the Reading Room). However, on Wednesday, Gale and I found a beautiful book of illustrations of scenes, actors,Shakespeare himself, and other Shakespeareana that brought up some questions for me.


Although I haven’t had the chance to explore all those questions, I have a nice long list of things to research. The subject that I am researching right now was inspired by those faces of Shakespeare; although of course portraits of Shakespeare naturally vary – he did live an awfully long time ago – the collection of pictures got me thinking about the various ways people perceive Shakespeare – a genius, an idol, or even a fraud.
The research I started is related to the fact that people have long disputed whether or not Shakespeare is the real author of all of his works; some people, like William Henry Ireland, wrote plays and pretended they were original works by Shakespeare. In the past, scholars have also suggested that Shakespeare is not the real author of his plays – they dispute how much Latin and Greek he knew, if he was literate, and even how much the plays we have resemble the originals, as they may be facsimiles created by editors, actors, or members of the audience writing in shorthand. I haven’t made a huge amount of headway yet but I’m excited to keep looking into this and other avenues of research.