It’s amazing what you can get through your undergrad without reading. My exam topics – the things I actually wrote on, at Mods or for coursework in those eight hellish days of Finals – included Victorian paedophilia, Oscar Wilde, comic catharsis in Shakespeare, Aphra Behn’s contributions to stagecraft, religious nihilism in Sarah Kane, A Woman Killed with Kindness, the impact of the loss of Purgatory on John Donne, Medieval drama, nationalism in Jane Austen, Joe Orton, female madness, Julian of Norwich, Pygmalion (very badly, I might add), Byron and Gothic re-imaginings of the Bible, but until this year I still hadn’t really read any Shelley, Keats or George Eliot.
Similarly, although I’d covered quite a lot of twentieth-century drama (as student, actor and latterly as director), it was only, er, this week, that I finally got to grips with Beckett.
I hate Pinter, and I hate Osborne (my god, do I hate Osborne, he who defined the 1950s as the decade of masculine theatrical sulk), and in my mind I’d decided this meant I would probably hate Beckett as well – actually, I don’t. I’d never want to stage plays like Endgame or Waiting for Godot, but I don’t hate them. Nor, it seems, do I hate Howard Barker (and it was about this time one year ago that I decided Victory was overrated and unreadable. Because, you know, I was stupid and wrong). I’ve also read a metric tonne of Bond – I like Lear, and also Early Morning. Which may be staged at the Oxford Playhouse next term. God only knows how they’ll a) cast and b) rehearse the actors. I look forward to it. I must admit I’m finding Beckett difficult – I keep clicking around for some sort of cogent online companion, since I’m worried most of my ideas are either ludicrously old hat or offensively stupid. This is what comes of finding plays through reading and not teaching. I read this article (on the NY first night of Godot) and was reassured.
One of the best things about this term has been seeing my friend Jenny, who previously used to stick knives in my soul by asserting she actually wasn’t that fussed about Shakespeare, get equally hooked on the Histories and, of course, Hamlet. She is currently in the reading room below me, devouring Year of the King (my work here is done). We were both thrilled by the news last night – they’re filming the David Tennant Hamlet. What wouldn’t I give to be a runner on that? I am very very excited but also a bit worried that seeing the film will overwrite my memories of the stage version – and that just watching the thing could be a frustrating experience. Instead of relying on my own eyes, film chooses for you where to look. I really hope it’s well-edited (by which I of course mean ‘edited to my entirely subjective specifications, which have no sound basis in anything except my passionate love for certain bits of the production which I used to sneak in and watch every night’). I wonder if they’ll use the same costumes. I wonder if it’ll be sets or just scenery.
Jay came back from Brighton ZineFest laden down with awesome bits of paper – I think I continue to disappoint/frustrate her by proclaiming certain carefully-crafted chapbooks ‘wank’ and then going crazy for a business card with a picture of an eraser on the back. Tomorrow I am off to London, for my first ever visit to the British Library! I am very excited, and hoping not to die in any snowdrifts, bus crashes or unfamiliar library stacks. My friend Andrew (imported from, I think, UCL) informs me that the Bodleian pales in comparison and that the BL is ‘the future’. We shall see. This is the start of three and a half weeks of utter lunacy for everybody in my seminar group – 14,000 words that still have yet to be written. My back is already telling me I need to find another reading room. My Bookmarks folder is full of nineteenth-century watermarks and catalogues for New York libraries!
Dr Sophie Duncan is Fellow in English at Christ Church, University of Oxford. She works regularly as a historical advisor and as a dramaturg for theatre, TV, radio and film. She likes theatre, detective fiction and cocktails.