Tag Archives: STRATFORD-UPON-AVON

Career planning for the frivolous.

The finishing line of my DPhil is apparently in sight. I’ve rewritten and deleted this paragraph a lot, obviously, but the gist is that I have to send my Faculty a schedule for completion, and my supervisors got quite excited. There is now a schedule. My mouth is quite dry.

Meanwhile, I am obviously researching and angsting over jobs. Again, can’t really talk about that without an oral desert and a twitching superstition gland, but I CAN talk about the other side to job-hunting.

Thus, putting the pro in procrastination, and making public a list I wrote last week:

Jobs at which I secretly believe I would excel:

1. Hostage negotiator.

I could do that.

2. Member of the Kennedy family.
3. Set dresser for theatre or TV, but only if all the sets were people’s student bedrooms.
4. Florist.
5. Royal nanny.
6. Curator and/or founder of a small (it must be small), esoteric museum on any of the following subjects: bookplates, Madge Kendal; Dorothy L Sayers; the Mitford sisters; Shakespeare’s women; the reasons why Jo March should have married Laurie; the now-demolished Surrey Theatre; sundry instances of Liverpudlian true crime; Alfred Douglas’s deranged family; and the less successful partners of famous actors/writers/artists. In no particular order, and somewhat worryingly, these are the subjects on which I know most, and which (crucially) that I think might make the kind of small, weird museum (nothing that would merit a large, lucrative museum is included) run entirely on an individual’s obsession, and which slightly frightens the punters. These are the museums I most love. It is my parents’ fault for accidentally taking me to Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, as a child. They were thinking Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but there turned out to be pictures of naked Satanists. I wish I’d been more traumatised. Also, when finding a link to check it was actually Boscastle, I discovered, heartstoppingly, that ‘Neopagan Witch Cecil Williamson tried to open a museum to hold his collection of witchcraft and occult artefacts in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1947‘. Guys. We could have had Cecil’s Museum of Witchcraft AND Gyles Brandreth‘s Teddy Bear Museum (you don’t know. You weren’t there) both in my town.

I could hold that (I definitely couldn’t make it).

7. Suffragist.
8. Travelling tutor for children who live/perform in circuses.
9. Parisian.
10. Proprietor of year-round Christmas shop.

There, you see. If academia doesn’t work out, that’s at ten plausible career options…

That was quite a silly post. I am planning more sensible posts, regarding lecturing-from-iPads, Oxford’s new Interdisciplinary Network on Celebrity, and my thoughts on the RSC‘s #RSCWinter13 season (though that’s less a post, more feelings), but now I’m going to edit the draft I’ve been editing since the late Middle Ages, and then see Quartet. Have a lovely weekend.

 

 

Advent Calendar Day 22: Snow!

English: Dry stone walls in the snow - on the ...

Dry stone walls in the snow – on the edge of Erringden Moor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Snow and Snow

 

by Ted Hughes
Snow is sometimes a she, a soft one.
Her kiss on your cheek, her finger on your sleeve
In early December, on a warm evening,
And you turn to meet her, saying “It”s snowing!”
But it is not. And nobody”s there.
Empty and calm is the air.

 

Sometimes the snow is a he, a sly one.
Weakly he signs the dry stone with a damp spot.
Waifish he floats and touches the pond and is not.
Treacherous-beggarly he falters, and taps at the window.
A little longer he clings to the grass-blade tip
Getting his grip.

 

Then how she leans, how furry foxwrap she nestles
The sky with her warm, and the earth with her softness.
How her lit crowding fairylands sink through the space-silence
To build her palace, till it twinkles in starlight—
Too frail for a foot
Or a crumb of soot.

 

Then how his muffled armies move in all night
And we wake and every road is blockaded
Every hill taken and every farm occupied
And the white glare of his tents is on the ceiling.
And all that dull blue day and on into the gloaming
We have to watch more coming.

 

Then everything in the rubbish-heaped world
Is a bridesmaid at her miracle.
Dunghills and crumbly dark old barns are bowed in the chapel of her sparkle.
The gruesome boggy cellars of the wood
Are a wedding of lace
Now taking place.

 

[Because my flat is the tiniest flat, most of my books – especially childhood books – are at home in Stratford-upon-Avon. This Hughes poem has been one of my favourites since I was little; it was in The Puffin Book of Christmas Poems (1990). I had quite a few children’s poetry anthologies; this was by far the best. It’s with me as I type. It may be out of print now but ebay certainly has copies…]

 

Advent Calendar Day 9: Hamlet!

Marcellus:
[…]Some say that ever, ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

Horatio:
So have I heard and do in part believe it.
[…]

Hamlet, I.1.181-188.

2009 filmed version of the RSC production of Hamlet dir. Greg Doran; I.1. Peter de Jersey as Horatio; Keith Osborn as Marcellus; Ewen Cummins as Barnardo; Robert Curtis as Francisco.

Copyright RSC / Illuminations / BBC.

(when I worked in FOH for the stage version of this production, Keith Osborn and Peter de Jersey’s delivery of these lines were one of my favourite moments in the play – it was the mixture of chill and comfort)

n.b. I am not suggesting anyone should have A Very Hamlet Christmas. It would not end well.

[REVIEW] Shakespeare’s Shrine: The Bard’s Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-upon-Avon

https://i0.wp.com/www.oxonianreview.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/shakespeareshrine-e1353084043362.jpgMy review of Jane Thomas’s Shakespeare’s Shrine: The Bard’s Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-upon-Avon was published in the 18 November issue of the Oxonian Review. You can read it online here.

Apart from the legitimate book-reviewing part, there’s a healthy dollop about the time your own correspondent was a guide in the aforementioned Birthplace (2010). Let’s just say that my mother cannot recall the sight of me in costume without hysterical laughter. I talk about that too. I also go on a bit about Oscar Wilde and French nudity. As ever, any excuse.

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

(Jessie White got in touch and asked me to take part in the Happy Birthday, Shakespeare! project, to which I also contributed last year. I was delighted to comply… albeit belatedly.)

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

Shakespeare is now 448, the subject of a World Shakespeare Festival, a Cultural Olympiad, and a multi-billion pound industry spanning theatre, education, tourism and heritage. Last year, I talked about how Shakespeare defined my life. I suppose this post is something of an update, explaining what Shakespeare has meant to me in the past 12 months – when my life has gone in a quite unexpected direction.

I’m now 25, and a lecturer at the University of Oxford. I teach whatever I’m asked to teach, which results in increasingly unlikely combinations of Early Modern, linguistic and seventeenth-century tutorials and seminars. Unlikely, because I’m a Victorianist who’s really a Shakespearean – or at the very least, a Shakespearean as much as I am a Victorianist.

I started my thesis as a dedicated researcher whose eclectic teaching career had veered between coaching South Warwickshire’s smallest for the 11+, SEN tutoring from scratch, and a low feeling of dread as an EFL tutor succumbing to swine flu. I had taught, but didn’t think I could teach. At Oxford, I taught my first tutorials and classes in a state of total nervousness. Near-blind with panic, I studiously ignored the advice and encouragement of everybody who told me the following:

1) that I could teach,
2) that I would teach,
3) that I knew as much as any other new tutor, and
4) that I might actually be a talented tutor.

These people (who included both my supervisors, the academic for whom I research-assist, my priest and Leah Scragg) were all wrong because they didn’t know just HOW BAD I was at teaching. Obviously.

I plunged on, firmly discounting the positive evidence (the hilarity, the feedback, the 2:1 from my first student that made me happier than any subsequent Gibbs Prize ever could), and suddenly got a lectureship that spun me silently into terror.

I started the lectureship in October, at a new college. In December, I was asked to teach a last-minute Shakespeare tutorial, for a student I’d never met. It would be the first time I’d taught Shakespeare’s plays.

I can’t remember how I prepared; I know my major concern (impostor syndrome) was the fact that I was three years younger than my student. Despite this, I was relieved that, for the first time, I’d be teaching within my specialism.

It was on the way to that tutorial that I was mistaken for a 17-year-old interview candidate applying for Archaeology. Not an auspicious start.

I had always said that what interested me about teaching was not imparting knowledge, or pedagogical theory, but the students. I’m lucky enough to work with some exceptionally bright and interesting young people, and it’s understanding their interests, inclinations, prejudices, strengths and weaknesses that challenges me to find the best ways of testing and encouraging them in their work.

I’d always distinguished myself from “real” teachers who spoke about the “Eureka moments” –  the instant when a student’s eyes light up that makes it all worthwhile. The fact that my students were passing their exams and enjoying their tutorials suggests that some of them must have understood something – but I couldn’t remember experiencing a “Eureka moment”. If it had happened, I’d been too busy being scared of teaching to notice.

This was the tutorial that changed everything. Teaching Shakespeare felt more like sharing a mutual enthusiasm than adhering to rigid roles of teacher and student. We were talking about the relationship between emotion and poetic form (via everything else in the world) and I asked her to turn to Romeo and Juliet‘s first conversation (which runs as follows, up to their first kiss) and see what was interesting about the form:

ROMEO
 93   If I profane with my unworthiest hand
 94   This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:
 95   My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
 96   To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

 JULIET
 97   Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
 98   Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
 99   For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
100   And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

ROMEO
101   Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

JULIET
102   Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

ROMEO
103   O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
104   They pray — grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

JULIET
105   Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.

ROMEO
106   Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.

[Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene 5]
When she worked out what she was reading, my student looked up and her face was transformed.

Those fourteen lines make up a perfect Shakespearean sonnet. Such is the young lovers’ mutual intoxication with each other that their words instantly form a metrically perfect poem. It’s something you can’t fully sense in performance. It was something I’d found out years ago via some forgotten book, but to her it was brand new.

She got it; she understood. I was watching the Eureka moment.

I’m wary of Bardolatry – I think there are dull plots, thankless characters, and occasionally turgid scenes alongside the transcendent in Shakespeare (in particular, I avoid productions of King Lear and as I would a skydive). Nevertheless, I still think Shakespeare is the best – breathtaking, and brilliant, and now so universal that those individual discoveries, made on an ordinary afternoon in Oxford, seem all the more miraculous. Despite Shakespeare’s fame, every day people discover him for the first time.

This week, I told another group of students about my supervisor’s recent article (co-written with Emma Smith) on All’s Well That Ends Well. One of them marvelled that there was anything new to say about Shakespeare. As ground-breaking research like this article prove, there is. But what’s also vital and exciting about Shakespeare is when he’s new not to the whole of scholarship, but for individual students and theatregoers. My students’ discoveries and realisations are as miraculous to them – and, indeed, to me – as any academic theory which changes the way we study. What’s new to them is as valuable to me as it is to them. I don’t know any other writer who can inspire such awe and admiration.

I’m currently teaching the Romeo and Juliet student for her finals. She’s very tired, very intelligent, and very stressed – well within the bell curve of “normal for Oxford Finalists”. She also has no idea what I owe her. My gratitude to Shakespeare is in some ways easier to voice. Shakespeare helped a terrified DPhil student teach and enjoy it. Teaching Shakespeare is the best sort of teaching, because Shakespeare was, and is, the best of writers. I’m grateful for that, so: Happy Birthday, Shakespeare.

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

Liz Woledge of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust invited me to be involved with this project.Liz Woledge of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust contacted me, asking me to participate in Happy Birthday, Shakespeare: the SBT’s 2011 project inviting bloggers to write about Shakespeare’s impact on their life and work. I was delighted to get involved. #hbws 1564-2011.

I exist because of Shakespeare. Hyperbolic though that may sound, it’s less an assertion of Shakespeare-as-self-help (although, if you’re in the market…) than a statement of historical fact.

Ben Kingsley and Niamh Cusack, 1985.

My parents worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company; my mother was a Senior Wig and Make-Up Artist, my father a Deputy Stage Manager. They met during the RSC’s production of Othello in 1985, started dating in previews, were living together by press night, and got engaged five months later. They’ll celebrate their silver wedding in July.

Although Stratford babies have yet to start gurgling in iambic pentameter, my experience of Shakespeare has always been inseparable from my experience of Stratford. This sense of ownership has, quite naturally, engendered a sense of belligerent, smug parochialism that would put the inhabitants of Royston Vasey to shame. Although wildly partisan about the glories of Stratford, from the Singing Man Of Henley Street to the architecture of the new theatre (which still looks quite a lot like a 1930s power station, but, good, I like it that way), I can, for the sake of argument, admit there might be an objectively equal town somewhere on planet Earth. The great thing about Shakespeare is that I have never needed to recalibrate my smugness. Shakespeare is the best, and the glorious thing is that the rest of the world seems to agree.

Growing up in Stratford, with theatre-loving parents and the RSC on my doorstep, I was guarded from the horrific slow death that can be a first encounter with Shakespeare at school. Instead, I saw my first production aged eight (Josie Lawrence in The Taming of the Shrew ) and benefitted from a drama teacher, Ali Troughton, who made Shakespeare’s language the birthright of seven-year-olds. The first speech I ever learned was the seven ages of man, and the first scene was the Witches in Macbeth. We were never taught that Shakespeare was difficult, boring or remote on some plain of exaltation; instead, he was immediate, exciting and ours.

I went on to take a degree in English, write a Masters thesis on Shakespeare performance history, and am now writing a doctorate on Shakespeare’s heroines at the Victorian fin de siècle. I’ve also directed and acted in Shakespeare productions, playing my way through his illustrious back catalogue of Women Who Are Short and Boys Whose Voices Haven’t Broken.

(c) Alastair Muir, 2003

Alexandra Gilbreath and Jasper Britton, 2003.

If Shakespeare has led me to some strange places, I can only apologise to my fellow-travellers. Special and fervent self-recrimination should be laid at the feet of one Jasper Britton, who had the misfortune to become the object of my schoolgirl adoration when I was fifteen, and he was in The Taming of the Shrew. Everything in my feminist, liberal, pinko-Pankhurst heart quite rightly rebels against Petruchio and all he stands for. Nothing can excuse the day I chased Mr Britton across the Bancroft Gardens to the cackling approval of a dozen other fifteen-year-old girls. Somehow, I went on to be the sort of Front of House staff member who could safely usher the Patrick Stewart/David Tennant Hamlet season. I also apologise to the student actress whom I forced to climb furniture around the edges of my college room, refusing to let her touch the floor in a “freeing” exercise to “help her find” Puck.

I, too, have suffered for Shakespeare. Part of my summer job with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (who bravely commissioned this blog post) involved me dressing as the first act of The Crucible in tropical temperatures while 3,000 visitors poured through the Birthplace each day. The upside is that I can now can now say “glovemaker” in Korean. Aged twelve, I wore a purple, gold and sky-blue blazer (I want you to take a moment to imagine that. Use this bracketed space to fully contemplate sixty eleven-year-old girls in purple, gold and sky-blue blazers. With shoulder pads) to represent my school in the Birthday Celebrations and lay flowers on Shakespeare’s tomb.

Christopher "Kit" "too cool for school but got stabbed in the eye" Marlowe. Not quite as good as Shakespeare.

As an undergraduate, my Oxford tutors tried their best to vary my literary diet of Women, Gayness, Shakespeare and Death. I studied conceptions of masculinity, attended with joy to the thrusting passion of Heathcliff and Cathy, acknowledged Middleton and swapped John Donne’s self-burying sermon for… no, I still read about Death. For a term, I even followed the cool kids by pretending I preferred Marlowe to Mr W. S.

However, while a BA is a time for experimenting with bad haircuts and all kinds of textual identities, grad school is different (for one thing, you no longer have money for a hairdresser). Critics in feminism, from Sandra M. Gilbert to Anette Federico, have described how academic research increasingly becomes “a kind of re-search into our own lives”. This is true for me: my own experience of Shakespeare is equally inseparable from my experience of theatre, and of my hometown.

Today, my academic research explores performances of Shakespeare’s heroines at the end of the nineteenth century, a time when Shakespeare was simultaneously the planet’s most idolized and most contested playwright.

Reading the writings of our most famous Shakespearean performers – then and now – convinces me that however we encounter Shakespeare, whether as readers, scholars or performers, we have always used his plays to help us understand ourselves, and to articulate our own experiences.

Responding to the Arts Council England cuts, I wrote a polemic on the value of theatre, trying to express the ways in which theatre teaches confidence, creativity, self-belief and, above all, communities in which diversity, trust and risk-taking can flourish together. Everything that is true of theatre is especially true of Shakespeare. No other writer that I’ve found so consistently challenges and empowers all those who encounter him.

(c) www.bustledress.com

Lillie Langtry, c. 1880.

Back in 1882, Lillie Langtry, by then a sidelined Royal mistress with a bankrupt husband and illegitimate baby, turned to acting largely out of financial necessity. The result was artistic liberation. Staging Shakespeare she was, for the first time “my own master, my own mistress, and freed from unaccustomed control”. Generations of performers have felt the same freedom.

If this sounds too much like Bardolatry, I should say there are some plays I absolutely hate – King Lear is always about seven hours too long, and as one very famous Shakespeare scholar noted in my hearing, consists chiefly of “all those men going mad”.

This August, I’m thrilled to be seeing Catherine Tate and David Tennant in Much Ado About Nothing. I hope the combination of superstar actors and one of the world’s most-visited cities brings a new generation of theatregoers to one of Shakespeare’s best-loved, sharpest comedies. I hope seeing their first play encourages them to track down a second – and a third, and a fourth. Happy Birthday, Shakespeare.

WRITING ABOUT WOMEN IN SHAKESPEARIAN PERFORMANCE: 11-12 SEPT 2010

Hosted by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, in partnership with the University of Warwick and Nottingham Trent University

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, registered charity no. 209302WRITING ABOUT WOMEN IN SHAKESPEARIAN PERFORMANCE: The Shakespeare Centre, Stratford, 11-12 Sept 2010.

Join a gathering of writers, Shakespeare scholars, theatre critics, actors and fellow enthusiasts as we explore this fascinating theme. Confirmed speakers include Penny Downie (RSC Associate Artist), Professor Laurie Maguire, John Peter, Professor Carol Rutter and Anne Ogbomo. This two-day conference also includes a performance of 1623 Theatre Company‘s production on Ellen Terry, and a drinks reception. 

This conference will also be available online as ‘webinar’: log on and experience our event virtually, wherever you are in the world. 

We ask: 

  • How do we write about women in Shakespearian roles, past and present?
  • What is the impact of the female presence on the Shakespearian stage?
  • Why are there so few women reviewers?
  • What is the place of single-sex companies in a culture which outlaws sex discrimination?
  • Do men and women see the same show differently and what difference does this make to an audience’s response?
  • What is today’s experience for female actors on the Shakespearian stage?

Registration: £65 (£60 concessions); £57 for Friends of the Trust; £50 students. Please note: ‘webinar’ attendance costs 25% off your appropriate registration fee. 

For more information, or to book, email education1 [at] shakespeare [dot] org [dot] uk. Join the conversation now at Blogging Shakespeare, and follow @ShakespeareBT for the latest updates. 

Going out on a limb here: this is the most exciting conference in the world. I’m delighted to be working with Paul Edmondson to promote the conference, which has to be absolutely the best place IN THE WORLD to be on September 11 & 12. The conference (to quote my friend C, ‘BEST LINE UP EVER’) will tie in with SBT’s exhibition on artefacts relating to Women & Shakespeare, which runs from 3 July. 

Modernism and High Theory did their very best to destroy the relationship between the actress and the academy – L. C. Knights’s first named target in How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth? was Ellen Terry, for daring to lecture on Shakespeare to (as I discovered) “packed houses of women”. Scholarship and stage histories have (largely) privileged tragedy over comedy and male over female, which is why conferences like this are so important, and so exciting. And, er, why I’m writing my DPhil. 

I’m especially interested in the women of the Late Plays, but my favourite Shakespearean heroine will always be Kate, from The Taming of the Shrew. I’m hoping the conference includes lots of discussion of the comedies – the best parts in them, like the romances are female. Would you rather play Rosalind or Orlando? Orlando gets to wrestle, but nobody remembers As You Like It for the wrestling. Innogen or Posthumus? Viola or Orsino? Helena’s much too good for Bertram in All’s Well That Ends Well, and although Leontes is one of Shakespeare’s most fascinating characters, Paulina and Hermione can act him off the stage in Act V. 

Miranda rarely outshines Prospero, and it’s hard to choose between Beatrice and Benedick, but even in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the best-beloved ‘festival comedy’ of British theatre, Helena and Hermia shriek, scratch and claw their way through Act 3 – Lysander and Demetrius, too often, are left behind. 

You can expect to hear a lot more from me between now and September, sharing preparations for the Conference, and the Trust’s experiments with new media. I sometimes wish I could Tweet from the Birthplace, while guiding – we get the most amazing (and often hilarious) comments from visitors. I’m slowly expanding my French/Italian/Japanese/Armenian (no really) vocabularies by working with group bookings and their interpreters. I think I’d look pretty good wielding a Tudor Blackberry. My favourite languages to date are Indonesian and Armenian, neither of which sound ANYTHING like you’ve EVER heard before (unless you’re Indonesian or Armenian, obviously). I’m always pushing people to sign the guest book – they date back to 1812, and 20 to 30 nationalities sign every day. 

The Trust will soon release another, even greater piece of news. It’s huge. My scruples (read: direct orders) prevent me saying more, but it’s stunning, exhilirating, don’t-talk-to-the-press-about-this stuff. Shakespeare geeks and Stratfordians (no overlap there, then), get ready. I just hope the press release arrives soon, so I can gloat…