July 2015 Archives

Archivist Toolkit and the final stages

Remarkably, this entry will be one of the final posts I write for this summer's CCEPS fellowship. 

This week I worked on something completely new, signifying the final stages of processing the collection. Once I completed the foldering process, the next step was to transfer all of the info into Archivist Toolkit. Once this was done, I then had to arrange and review everything to make sure the collection was on its way to becoming ready and available for research!
This entailed many steps, some of which I am still working on currently. I had to re-arrange some of the folders and move them into different boxes, based on space availability and making sure none of the folders would either move around too much because of too much room, or become folded and potentially compromised because the box was stuffed too tight. As it turned out, there was more room in most boxes than I had foresaw initially, and therefore had to place some more folders in each, causing a re-arrangement of sorts for the folder numbers of several folders. Thankfully, I was told not to write the actual box and folder number on the folder themselves until the very end of this process. Therefore, while I had to fix a lot of the information on Archivist Toolkit, at least I then completed the folders' titles with the appropriate information - saving a lot of hassle, erasing, and extra labor!

Now, I am working on the collection's finding aid and Front Matter. It has been very interesting to learn as I go the proper ways in which to describe the various aspects of a collection and provide valuable details for future researchers. There is a template, thankfully, to use as a guide but I've had to read some of the guidelines and learn about the overall format prior to simply adding in the necessary information. This has truly provided a great learning experience in addition to the welcoming task of completing the processing of an archival collection on my own. It has also been neat to research a little further on Professor Miller's career and notice some names of relatives, colleagues, and his published materials that I had come across multiple times while arranging the collection. 
It will be extremely exciting to write the post next week, as I should be finishing up the work and therefore able to relay all of the information and lessons I learned while processing the collection, especially creating the finding aid, which will hopefully "tie it all together." 
Stay tuned!

The Bearded Lady

This week, while browsing the Denison collection, my fellow researchers and I found some cross-dressing images. I'll save those for later, but on a similar note, we also saw some images from Macbeth in the Honnold/Mudd library. Why is it similar, you ask? Because Shakespeare's witches are not exclusively female. 

macbeth witches.jpg
(For your viewing pleasure--a drawing of a staging of Macbeth)

The witches in the Scottish play, interestingly, are never singled out as such by the characters, referred only to as the Weird Sisters. But, we may recognize them as such (if we were simply watching the play instead of reading the attributed lines) by their appearance given the social context surrounding witchcraft during the Renaissance. When the sisters first appear to Macbeth and Banquo, the latter cannot place their gender. He describes them as wild, withered, and with thin lips. Banquo even uses female pronouns, but pronounces that they "should be women,/ and yet your beards forbid me to interpret/ that you are so" (1.3.43-44). Essentially, the sisters are old bearded ladies. 

bearded witches.jpg
(Image found in the Norman Philbrick Art Collection of the Honnold/Mudd Special Collections)

Some of you may be wondering why bearded old women equals witch. Well, there are a few factors at play, one of which being that the majority of persecuted witches in Early Modern England were old ladies living on their own. Supposedly, these witches cursed their neighbors with things like bad crops or domestic troubles. Typically, the English witches were widows, meaning that they had more monetary power than their younger and married counterparts. Back then, one of the only ways women could own property or have control over their money was if they were a widow. If their husband had owned property while alive, the wife would inherit the estate after his death if there were no other heirs. So, unmarried widows without a family had the potential for social deviancy--they didn't need to rely on a man to support themselves. 

What does this have to do with Macbeth? The weird sisters fit the above description of solo old woman with power of her own. Instead of having economic independence, Shakespeare's witches have magical prowess and the power of prophecy. Also, we may see the Goddess Hecate's appearance in the play as paralleling the connection between witches and the Devil. 

But let's get back to the beards. My interpretation is that the facial hair is a way to mark the gender deviance of the witches and to point to a masculine element in their character. The magic and independence points to a stereotypically masculine presentation and authority, resulting in the shifting of the witches' gender expectations. It may follow that the internal shift may manifest externally, in this case, through the presence of beards. As a result, the weird sisters are both male and female, matching the transgressive image of the Early Modern English witch.


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.

Next step has arrived

I have (finally) finished the foldering process! 
All of the folder titles have been created and arranged in the appropriate boxes and series order. It was a long and thorough process, but it was essential. And now that it's complete, it will make the remaining tasks that much easier.
-- Well, it isn't totally complete, because I still have to enter box and folder numbers on each folder. But at least they are all in proper order now! I didn't really think I could escape the process that easily, did I? --
But, particularly the excel spreadsheet that I created at the beginning of the summer, and have been consistently updating while creating and re-arranging folder titles, proved invaluable when it came to the next step in the archival process - entering all of the necessary information into Archivist Toolkit. With the help of Lisa's "Excel savvy" we were able to transfer a lot of the information from the excel document into Archivist Toolkit, using appropriate formulas and codes (that I know next to nothing about!)
Here is a screen shot of some examples:

Now, the Series, subseries, and folder titles are in Archivist Toolkit and I must enter the date ranges for each folder and make sure everything - all of the information for the entire collection - is correct and arranged accordingly. This includes adding descriptive notes for many folders, series/subseries, and even the collection as a whole. More on this next week...

It is exciting to begin the next step and inch closer towards the "finish line" of processing the collection. It has been pretty neat to be able to see a lot of the work I have done over the past several weeks on screen, entered into Archivist Toolkit, and becoming more and more refined until it will eventually be ready to go and accessible for researchers. Knowing the research process and what searching through archives entails, I am happy knowing that my work this summer could potentially help someone researching in the future. I look forward to the remaining tasks I have left, including creating the finding aid and writing the Front Matter, which will aid researchers interested in Prof. Miller's work even more. 
I cannot believe how quickly the time has gone (did I say this work has been repetitive?!). It has been a really great experience in a number of ways, and although I only have a few weeks left, I am excited about what lies ahead, both in terms of finishing the work for this collection as well as incorporating the CCEPS experience in (hopefully near) future endeavors. 

Lear Woodcuts at Denison

I'm back with more material from Denison Special Collections today.Along with the extra-illustrated Shakespeare works, one of my favorite items was this series of woodcuts from Claire van Vliet. They're in a 1986 printing, The Tragedie of King Lear, that replicates the spelling, punctuation, lineation, and italics from the First Folio of 1623. There were too many good cuts for me to post, so I've included some of my favorites below (click to enlarge the images).

Here we see the height of the storm in Act 3, followed by a cowering, mad King Lear:

I find this cut especially interesting because of Lear's animalistic features--they seem to mimic the Fool's lines, "[Wise men] know not how their wits to wear, their manners are so apish." The portrayal of Lear as being animalistic recently got attention from Michael Clody, who brings up numerous instances where the King himself evokes animal features. They ultimately form a sort of primal cry at the point of Cordelia's death, as Lear shouts "Howl, Howl, Howl, Howl!" The scene is portrayed below, in van Vliet's most dramatic image:

Clody writes that this scene fundamentally merges the man and animal within Lear, as the "Howl" also evokes the question, "How?" The cries of "Howl" or "How" are not answered (nor, if we take "Howl" to be a command, is it followed); Clody says Lear trades an "objective communal truth" to explain what has just happened. for simply the "experience that the cry is."

Here we have Lear (right) and the blinded Gloucester (left), posed symmetrically in a way that highlights their similar persons and situations. Lear's plot and Gloucester's subplot echo each other in more ways than we could discuss here. This moment comes in Act 4, Scene 6, when Gloucester and Lear meet after the storm. Both have, as Stanley Cavell observes, given into destruction--Lear to the storm, and Gloucester to the cliffs of Dover at his attempted suicide. Gloucester cries, "O ruined man! This great world/ Shall so wear to nought," implying that Lear's fate is not only Lear's, but that of the world (or perhaps just the kingdom) around him. But of course, it is Gloucester's fate as well; both come to their demise by the end of the play. The symmetrical image above, then, shows Lear seeing a reflection of himself in Gloucester (we can quite easily imagine a mirror between them). And while Gloucester sees no mirror, "O ruined man!" could just as easily refer to himself, such that Lear indeed acts as a reflection.

Lastly, we have the reconciliation of Lear and Cordelia in Act 4, Scene 7. Lear in this image seems to have worn down even further since the scene prior, further resembling the weakened Gloucester.

Reading with Extra-illustrated Shakespeare

This past week, my fellow CCEPS-SURPers and I went to Denison Library at Scripps College to plan for an exhibit they will be housing in the spring. The collection at Denison has some truly impressive artwork, including a book of surreal Lear woodcuts that particularly caught my attention. Today, though, I want to show you the extra-illustrated Henley Shakespeare, which is absolutely stunning.

The Henley Shakespeare works were commissioned by Ellen Browning Scripps for publication over the first five years of the 20th century. Twenty-six copies were commissioned--one for each letter of the alphabet. Denison has "S," for Scripps (naturally). The editions on their own are quite a sight, bound with red goatskin and featuring silk endpapers. Each book has two plays (besides the sonnets), with a portrait of one heroine each on the front and back inside covers.

But what's most striking about these editions is, surprisingly, not the beautiful bindings, but rather the artwork that's inside inside. Most notably, at some time in this copy's history (we don't know when), an unknown artist (or unknown artists) went through each play and added their own art nouveau illustrations, right on the page. Take a look at this title page for Measure for Measure:

If the woman above is a character from Measure for Measure, it's not obvious who it is--it seems to be meant more as an eye-catching embellishment. The gold painted on, found on each play's title page and the start of many acts and scenes, is particularly attractive. Another gold-painted embellishment from this play bears mention:

Here the artwork has quite clearly taken precedence over the text, as a number of words on the left-hand page are obscured by the opaque gold. The fact that the illustration is in the middle seam would seem to indicate that the illustrations (or at least this one) were actually drawn and painted before this copy was bound. This illustration again doesn't seem to relate directly with the text, but I thought it was worth displaying simply for its extravagance. 

Some of the other illustrations are more directly related to the scenes at hand, and are perhaps more intellectually interesting, as they constitute interpretive acts on the page itself--the artist and the playwright interacting within the text observed by the reader. Take a look at this watercolor of Cordelia from Act I, Scene I of Lear:

The frustration on Cordelia's face is particularly striking. It's not obvious which line her glare is linked with. If we take it to be an illustration from the first line, it lends a not-so-subtle sarcasm to her first farewell. Referring to her sisters as "the Jewels of our father" is certainly not a genuine line, but whether her spite is forward or veiled is a rather large difference; is Cordelia trying to call out her sisters as fakes, or is she trying to save face as she leaves by appeasing them? Either way, after the coldness of Regan and Goneril, Cordelia is by no means trying to save face; her prophecy is scathing, such that the painting could just as well illustrate her "Well may you prosper." 

I would find it more interesting if the painting were of the first line, simply because it would constitute an interpretative decision of a more ambiguous feature of the scene. The text leaves open whether Cordelia's initial farewell is outwardly bitter or attempting sincerity; but this ambiguity cannot so easily be displayed in a realization of this text, whether on stage or in art. The ambiguity gives way to an interpretation that represents primarily one, rather than all, of the text's possibilities.

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.

Artistic Interpretations of The Tempest

This week, in preparation for our exhibit, I've been thinking more about versions. More specifically, different versions of the same thing. So today, I'll be talking about four different versions of The Tempest. I found some pretty cool stuff in the Honnold special collections, as well as in the collection at Denison Library (Scripps College). Not only did I see beautifully illustrated editions with the unaltered text, but I even found two operas.

The first piece I'm going to highlight today is from 1756 and pairs down the play to three shorter acts. Most of the prose is the same, but the main difference is that the writer converted Shakespeare's dialogue into airs to be sung. 
tempest opera (eng).jpg

So, as you can see here, Ariel opens the performance with a song, instead of the play opening to a ship in a storm. To me, this is just another example of Shakespeare's transcendence across genre. 

The Tempest seems to lend itself to opera (or at least theatricality), since in the 1850s, another edition, another version, emerges. A publisher in Paris printed an edition of The Tempest in Italian, another opera in three acts. 
la tempesta 1.JPG
This book, however, contained the music and was put together more like sheet music instead of a play,as the previous one presents itself. 

la tempesta 4.JPG

As you can see, the book contains the music as well as the corresponding lyrics. It even differentiates the parts, making it possible to easily see who is supposed to be singing. More than the previous English opera, this version moves one step further from the original through translation. Arguably, you could argue that there are two forms of translation, the first from English to French (since it's a French publisher), and then from French to Italian. Yet, despite these changes, for translation will never be exact, we may still recognize this product as The Tempest. Yet it is not just Shakespeare's anymore. Each translator and each composer left an artistic mark on the piece. Though the final product may be far from the original, it does mirror the mode of collaborative creation during Shakespeare's time.

In the vein of co-creative influence and difference, I want to quickly talk about two illustrated editions and the illustrator's choices (which impact a reader's interpretation). The first book contains watercolor illustrations, creating a softer overall image. The second takes a more whimsical, almost sinister or mischievous approach.

In this first edition, Ariel is more human than magic. He could be a fairy or an ordinary man based on his appearance.

 scripps ariel.jpg

In contrast, the second edition portrays his as more spritely, with more pointed features, as well as more magical characteristics.

sprite ariel 1JPG.JPG 

We see Ariel as a formless force, clearly a magical being, but also with the suggestion that he himself is elemental, is the wind.

 sprite ariel 2.JPG

These two different sets of illustrations further point to the versatility of interpretation in The Tempest (as well as many of Shakespeare's other works). In each one, we see an artistic twist, but in each we can see the core of the source, Shakespeare's magical tale of an abandoned island where music is in the wind and creatures lurk just out of sight. 

Approaching the light (at the end of the tunnel)

After weeks of doing the same type of work - re-foldering, creating folder titles, and on and on again - I was surprised and rather excited when I noticed yesterday that I am up to my last box of folders that need to be created! Many times it seemed like an ongoing process with no end in sight, but alas, I can see the light at the of the tunnel.

Last week I was away conducting research in Northern California, which was fantastic. 
When I returned to continue working on the collection, it felt as though I picked up right where I left off -- a good thing... but also somewhat intimidating, considering the seemingly endless work of foldering and re-foldering still ahead of me.
But, as I "plugged through" like in past weeks, suddenly there were no more boxes to grab and start anew! The box that was on the table in front of me would be the final one.

Of course, this doesn't mean the work is nearly complete. First off, although there remains only 1 final box of folders left, I still had to create a few more of our archival-sound boxes, since the folders I have used have added up to more total space than when originally donated. This includes putting together a flat box from "scratch" which provided a fun activity amidst all of the re-foldering.

Secondly, once the re-foldering process actually is complete and all of the boxes are filled with new, archival-sound, and properly titled folders, I will move on to the next process of entering all of the information online and creating the finding aid for the collection.

I will report back in a week regarding this next step. For now, I will enjoy the prospect of working on the collection in ways other than re-foldering and not much else!

Here are a few snapshots of the boxes and their folders... almost all done and ready to go!
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Nahum Tate's Redesigned Lear

In 1681, Nahum Tate published his The History of King Lear, an adapted and revised version of Shakespeare's play. It became the standard performance edition of Lear in England for over one and a half centuries, and yet it is infamously a radically different play; Tate took a number of liberties with the plot and characters to make the play more suitable for stage, and critics since the mid-19th century have widely panned his version as a result.

Special Collections has an edition from 1689, which I've been fortunate enough to start working with. Some of the text is faded at the corners, but overall it's in great condition and is a fascinating (if perhaps frustrating) read.

This edition begins with an "Epistle Dedicatory" from Tate. It begins with reverence and (perhaps disingenuous) apprehension: Tate had "the difficult Task of making the chiefest Persons speak something like their Character, on Matter whereof I had no Ground in my Author. Lear's real and Edgar's pretended Madness have so much of extravagant Nature...as cou'd never have started but from out Shakespeare's Creating Fancy."

While Tate dubs Lear and Edgar's madnesses "extravagant" and praises their author's singularity, he is in fact saying that he could have written their actions a bit better. He goes on: "'Twas my good fortune to light on one Expedient to rectifie what was wanting int he Regularity and Probability of the Tale, which was to run through the whole, a Love betwixt Edgar and Cordelia." Tate says this was necessary to render "Cordelia's Indifference, and her Father's Passion in the first Scene, probable." Moreover, it would give "Countenance to Edgar's Disguise, making that a generous Design that was before a poor Shift to save his Life." 

What Tate is really saying about the "extravagant Nature" of the character's actions is that they were unrealistic or unreasonable. Edgar's disguise is to be more understandable as a young man watching over his lover's father; Lear's rage is towards a stubborn daughter who won't doesn't wish to honor her house, through words or marriage. For Cordelia to show her father such disrespect ("Indifference"), he seems to imply, would require her to have a problem with being married off. The problem here, though, is that Cordelia isn't actually indifferent; her original response is about modes and settings of expression, not substance; "Love, and be silent," and "My hear'ts more richer than my tongue." Tate strips these line from his edition, perhaps to make her indeed seem indifferent. But he has not solved the problem of her indifference through a love affair with Edgar. Rather, he attempts to create an indifference or bitterness towards Lear , changing her behavior entirely.

My personal favorite, the Fool, is missing from Tate's version; part of my study of Tate will be to investigate how the Fool's function of prophet and commentator is taken up by others in this version. The Irving Shakespeare indicates that directors found the Fool an unseemly character in the 1830s when the original was being revived. Perhaps Tate felt similarly, or perhaps he simply felt the Fool unnecessary. 

Tate makes one most significant change: famously, Edgar and Cordelia are married instead of the bloodbath of the original play; Tate writes that he did not want to "incumber the State with dead Bodies, which Conduct makes many Tragedies conclude with unseasonable Fests." For, he writes, "'tis more difficult to save than to Kill: The Dagger and Cup of Poison are always in Readiness; but the bring the Action to the last Extremity, and then by probably Means recover All, will require the Art and Judgement of the Writer, and cost him many a Pang in Performance." As with Lear and Edgar's madness, Tate invokes probability as an important guiding factor in his process. But again we should ask: is a happy ending the most "seasonable" or likely result, or truly the more "difficult" resolution to Shakespeare's original text? Or is it more reasonable only with Tate's alterations? Tate does seem to ignore that he has created something wholly new; what is probably or seasonable in his text says nothing about what is probable or seasonable in Shakespeare's.

Court Masques and the Illustrated Component of Performace

I've been thinking and reading a lot about court masques this week, specifically about the style Ben Jonson worked to form. For those of you who don't know, court masques were theatrical productions for British nobles containing music, dance, songs, and poetry in varying degrees. In addition to the dancing, performance, and revels, they included elaborate set designs and special effects.

Now, I know Jonson isn't Shakespeare, but they were contemporaries, and in many ways, the masques were like plays of the time. Though the two inhabited different spheres, private versus public, and dealt with different notions of fiction and reality within the space of the performance, both may be read as literature. By that, I mean that the play remained isolated, whereas the masque could blur the line between fiction and reality because many times, nobles themselves would act in the performances. Other times, the masquers would dance with members of the audience, uniting the actors and observers in an in-between space of active entertainment. Such an amalgamation between fictional characters and real life persons sets the tone for further combinations of different realities. 

Why, you ask, have I been looking at something that is definitively not Shakespeare? Well, it's because I've been finding several items in the Special Collections that fall into the category of masque using Shakespeare's plots and/or characters. And on the note of combining different realities, one in particular performs a sort of literary mash-up or crossover, making characters from Macbeth and Henry IV interact with Greek Gods, such as Apollo and Minerva, and even muses, like Comedy and Tragedy.


cast list.JPG

Not only does this masque mix the different worlds of Shakespeare's plays, it also combines them with classical mythology. Not only does this fall into the masque tradition of using Classical figures to augment the performance, but it sets up Shakespeare as worthy of such comparison. In a way, the masque suggests that Shakespeare's characters are as powerful and everlasting as the Greco-Roman gods.

The court masque, in a way, lives on through printed editions of Shakespeare's plays by drawing on the concepts of spectacle, design, and illustration as accompaniments to the text of a performance. A few examples show colorful scenes from The Tempest and Macbeth.


tempest pic.JPG

macbeth pic.JPG 

Both place the characters in a fictional world, choosing instead to make the scenes they depict works of literature rather than theatre. Through these pieces (including the masques), we see a form of genre manipulation taking place, showing the versatility of Shakespeare's works. 

That's just another reason to appreciate Shakespeare. And for further genre manipulation, watch The Lion King (a version of Hamlet), or even take a gander at a graphic novel based on the Bard and his characters (called Kill Shakespeare, and you can find it here through the library).

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 Fool

I've spent a good chunk of my time with King Lear pondering (or maybe just being weirded out by) the king's Fool. I'm not the first reader to feel the Fool is a bit off. Nahum Tate's infamous "happy ending" Lear left the character out entirely. The Irving Shakespeare, the same series from which I posted images when I wrote on Measure for Measure, tells us that the Fool was nearly kept out of the revival of Shakespeare's original plot in 1836. Illustrations of the Fool from that edition, housed in Special Collections, are below:

The Fool is often described as a prophetic voice, one that speaks for the play to the audience. I think this plays into what makes the Fool unsettling, at least for myself: the Fool functions in a variety of ways on stage, but it is difficult to ascribe him personal motives at all (whereas other characters certainly have some motive, disputable though it may be). And it isn't clear that the Fool has emotional responses to what takes place on stage, instead simply providing commentary. 

The Arden Shakespeare's introductory comments on the Fool, for example, characterize the Fool as "shrewd, witty, and very much a conscious entertainer." These are, on the one hand, descriptive of a human personality; on the other hand, they do not indicate at all what the Fool cares about, and the Arden commentary does nothing to attempt to answer this. A more emotive description says he "breaks out of every category in which might be fixed. Young or old, humble or aggressive, sad or merry, sensitive or acerbic, most representations of the Fool tend to emphasize his strangeness, his difference from others..."

The "difference" between the Fool and the other characters is that the Fool is performing--not merely is he played by an actor, but he is of course an actor, and his job is to play a part while the other characters go about their "real" lives. What disturbs me, then, is that we never see him break character. But I use "see" in the sense of the reader, and perhaps the Fool on stage is a different experience--can he really be played as constantly in jest? The above illustration shows a Fool fearful of the looming storm,perhaps suggesting the answer is no.

Is the Fool really "strange" then? It's difficult to say. Since he's always acting, we never know how he really acts on his own time. His behavior is strange in the sense that, as Cavell discusses so enjoyably, theater is rather strange behavior. To make an analogy of it, someone might observe and find us to be creatures with emotional depth. But when we went to the theater, that person might wonder why the actors on stage created such an unsettling effect, why they were producing such strange and inaccessible renditions of our own behavior. So it is with us and the Fool; we come to expect a certain kind of theatrical model in which characters, particularly in tragedies, have clear desires and schemes. When one character simply wants to play-act and editorialize, we feel strange indeed.

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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.

Appreciating the process

Another week gone by, and more folders to create. 

The process can certainly feel repetitive at times, but as I have gone "deeper and deeper" into the collection, it is fun to see some similarities between certain folders, including overlap between topics, articles, events, etc. in order to pair them together and arrange the folders accordingly. Because Professor Miller has written extensively on contemporary issues, including weekly columns for publications such as Que Pasa (as demonstrated last week), it has been extremely interesting to notice some "hot topics" that he has written about more than others. Some examples are the contentious, and extremely relevant, debates regarding immigration laws as well as environmental issues such as climate change. Although I cannot get too carried away reading many of the articles while processing the collection, it has still been enlightening to get a grasp on the articles' themes and in some cases see the development of important issues over several years in which Char has written. 

By simply paying attention to each folder's contents by the titles of many articles or essays alone, I have been able to pair many folders together - by title - which should hopefully aid a future researcher in finding much of Char's work on a specific person, topic, or theme in one "spot." Of course, this doesn't always work so seamlessly. Certain folders may require a specific title for a variety of reasons. 

But, getting an understanding of the different areas of expertise exemplified through Char Miller's work, and how they have been incorporated into debates of contemporary issues and politics, has certainly brought an even greater appreciation for the work I am doing. Not only am I gaining more and more practice at processing an archival collection every day, but I feel as though I am learning something from the collection itself. That aspect has been an added bonus and a fun, enlightening way to "plug through" the repetition. 

Looking forward to seeing what comes next!

The Third and Final SURP/CCEP Researcher Chimes In

Hi all!


I'm Alana, a rising Senior, English major, and Writing Fellow at Pomona College. Just two weeks ago, I returned home to sunny SoCal after 6 months in Cambridge, UK. Currently, I'm part-time (but that may change; we'll see). Anyway, in addition to curating exhibits and working in CCEPs with Emma and Pieter, I'm also going to use this library time to get started on my thesis examining magical language in Shakespeare's plays. 

When I've told people that I'll be writing about Shakespeare (and will possibly be pursuing a Master's in it as well), I've gotten two reactions. 1) That's awesome! or 2) Ew, Shakespeare is no fun. Well, part of what my aim for this blog is to make the latter group see is that Shakespeare is fun. For example, take a look at this picture of an actor portraying Richard III.

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Just look at his facial expression and body position and try to tell me that he's boring. There's so much sass.

More that just this picture, though, I've come across a few cool illustrations while searching for a direction for my research. One (see below) is from The Tempest, one of the magic plays and one of Shakespeare's last plays. In this one, Prospero commands certain natural forces and spirits of this abandoned island, and we can see the extent of his power in this image from a 1871 decorative edition of Shakespeare's works.

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This same edition contains this image (see below), featuring the Bard himself (again, look at that body position and tell me this is serious). As the creator, Shakespeare sits with some of his characters, including the transformed Bottom (he's the donkey) from A Midsummer Night's Dream. The banner at the top asserts something we have seen come true: Shakespeare has endured for all time (so far).

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There's a whimsical feel to this picture and places Shakespeare in the same plane as his characters, possibly suggesting that they exist in the same world. Considering how writer had come to be "our immortal Shakespeare," it is no surprise to see him placed in the same plane as his characters (from the Proem of F.G. Waldron's The Virgin Queen: A Drama in 5 Acts; Attempted as a Sequel to Shakespeare's Tempest. 1797).

Along these lines, I found a masque called Shakespeare's Jubilee (1769) which places characters from plays like Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Tempest in one common setting, one which the bard eventually enters. Not only does this masque reflect trends of people imitating his works, it represents a fictionalization of the writer into an idea subject to creative manipulation rather than a static historical figure.

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(The Bard, right there in the masque with characters he created.)

I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty cool. If you do, too, please stick around for more posts to come. It's nice to make your Internet acquaintance!