Tag Archives: shakespeare

Shakespeare’s Emotions, Lost and Found

On Friday, November 17th, more than 60 Shakespeare students, scholars, theatre practitioners, and enthusiasts gathered at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Other Place Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon to discuss emotion in Shakespeare’s plays. This educational event, called ‘Shakespeare’s Emotions, Lost and Found’, was aimed at A-level students and university undergraduates and formed part of the nationwide Being Human Festival, which ran from 17-25 November and showcased research in the humanities in more than 45 UK cities and towns. In Stratford, ‘Shakespeare’s Emotions’ was organized and supported by the collaboration between the RSC and the University of Birmingham, with further support from the British Shakespeare Association.

Gina Print © RSC

The event began with a half-hour panel chaired by Dr Daisy Murray and featuring academics associated with the University of Birmingham and theatre practitioners and audience analysts from the RSC. Dr Erin Sullivan and Dr Kerry Cooke spoke about understandings of emotion in Shakespeare’s time, as well as the ways in which performing the plays on stage creates a complex emotional relationship between performers, characters, audiences, and text. Matt Dann and Esh Alladi, both part of the RSC’s current production of Twelfth Night, in turn reflected on the role of emotion in the rehearsal room and the kinds of emotional journeys actors experience as they acquaint themselves with a new role. Becky Loftus, Head of Audience Insight at the RSC, finished things off by speaking about a study that the theatre conducted into audiences’ emotional responses to live theatre, cinema broadcasts of theatre, and 360° VR theatre (more on that study available here).

Thinking about the differences and similarities between ideas about emotion in the past and present proved especially interesting for many participants, with one university undergraduate commenting that she ‘enjoyed hearing about the historical context, which created another way of looking at Shakespeare’. Likewise, a university postgraduate noted that ‘the panel’s discussion of the perception of emotion in the early modern period [was] very interesting. I spend a good deal of time reading the modern scientific papers on emotion in voice and visual communication, so to compare those ideas with the idea of the four humors was intriguing.’

Gina Print © RSC

In the second half-hour, the audience broke into small groups and looked at a selection of emotional passages from Shakespeare chosen by each member of the panel. Each group was led by a PhD student in Shakespeare studies who served as a discussion facilitator, inviting participants to talk through the emotional experiences, ideas, metaphors, and scenarios depicted in their passage. For many audience members, the chance to become actively involved in small-group discussion was a particular highlight: ‘working in small groups to further discuss emotions as well as listening to other people’s ideas’ was especially enriching, one A-level student commented, while an undergraduate reflected on how the ‘opportunity to read an extract in group work before and after our analytical discussion’ encouraged him to think more deeply about ‘how dialogue changed with added knowledge of its context’.

Attendees at the event weren’t the only ones who found the small-group discussions beneficial. The five PhD facilitators, whose involvement was made possible by a British Shakespeare Association small event award, spoke afterwards how the event helped them develop new ideas and skills: ‘Participating in the “Shakespeare’s Emotions: Lost and Found” event gave me practical and valuable experience in a teaching setting’; ‘It showed me that preparation is invaluable, and it was lovely working with a young group of students who had very creative and intelligent responses to the text’; ‘I was very pleased by the group’s happy surprise that our quite challenging passage had, in the course of the discussion, suddenly become not only intelligible but even emotionally resonant’; ‘Several students even stopped me on the way out to ask further questions and share more ideas’. The event offered these early career scholars the chance to develop their teaching and public engagement skills and to work with Shakespeare enthusiasts from a range of different backgrounds.

Gina Print © RSC

In the final half-hour of the session, representatives from each of the small groups and the opening panellists finished with short presentations and whole-group discussion about the varied role of emotion in Shakespeare. Students highlighted key ideas discussed in relation to their passages, including the way specific words and images help shape emotion, the way performance turns emotion into a very social and at times tense event, and how historical differences in ideas about emotion can give us new insights into how culture shapes human experience. As the event came to a close, many participants hurried off to grab a quick dinner and then to take their seat for the RSC’s evening performance of Twelfth Night – no doubt resulting in even more emotional experiences and ideas after an already very passionate afternoon!

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My Woman’s moment

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I had the great great pleasure of speaking on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour yesterday – as I said in a tweet afterwards, life goal unlocked! I was speaking about parts in Shakespeare’s plays for older actresses – the greatness of them, the scarcity of them, and the possibility that there might be more of them than we think if we continue to embrace cross-gender casting. The full interview is available through the BBC iPlayer here (from minute 30), or you can check out the shorter clip below.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05bc3cv/player

 

Shakespeare: The Game

This month I’m in residence at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, home to the largest dedicated collection of Shakespeare-related materials in the world. I’m in heaven!

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My focus during my time here is on the pre-history of digital Shakespeares — that is, the kinds of stage technologies that pre-date the proliferation of digital adaptations in the twenty-first century. This means that I’ve been looking at programmes from productions like Robert Lepage’s Elsinore, and also ogling over photos of Richard Burton & co. in their groundbreaking ‘Electronovision’ Hamlet in 1964, which used new film technology to live-record their Broadway production and then show it in cinemas across America. Here’s one explanatory diagram of the technical set-up:

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More than anything, though, I’ve been having lots of fun exploring the collection of interactive Shakespeare games that the Folger holds in its vaults. These games have very little to do with technology per se, but their relevance for my project is in the way they invite their players to be active participants in the making of Shakespeare. For me these board games, card games, and book games herald a form of collaborative and participatory Shakespeare-making that we see today in Shakespeare-themed video games, choose-your-own-adventure books, and immersive, interactive theatre productions. In this sense the games constitute an early history of ‘prosuming‘, a concept developed by Alvin Toffler in the 1970s to refer to ‘production by consumers’. In the world of creativity and culture, the term ‘prosumer’ is often linked to instances in which audiences become creative practitioners themselves, helping produce the artistic world of a theatre production, video game, art installation, etc. by playing an active part in it.

Most of the games in the Folger collection are from the nineteenth century, some with very beautiful illustrations, although a couple come from the more recent past. I thought I’d share a few photographs here with notes about how the games work and what I think is most interesting about them…

First up are versions of familiar games like Checkers, Memory, and Go Fish, which use Shakespeare not as a crucial part of the game mechanism but rather as thematic/decorative content. So, for instance, you get a typical checker board from 1864 (Shakespeare’s 300th birthday!) that you play exactly as you would a normal one, but you also get to look at Shakespeare quotes and trivia as you do so. Ditto for the 19c. ‘Shakespeare Game of Concentration’ that you play like Memory. This seems like a Shakespeare-by-osmosis approach to me: you’re playing a familiar game that doesn’t rely on Shakespeare knowledge or appreciation in and of itself, but by using Shakespeare quotes and images as filler it tries to instill that knowledge in the process.

The Go Fish-style game is slightly more complicated for two reasons: first, because although the game mechanism works as usual for Go Fish, with players aiming to collect sets of cards that they search for in the hands of other plays, the literary trivia is more foregrounded, meaning that quotes and facts will be read aloud with frequency and inevitably play a more central role. Second, this game from c.1887 isn’t actually Shakespeare-specific, even though his face graces the box that the cards come in. Rather, it includes ‘familiar quotations’ from several ‘popular authors’ (Milton, Wordsworth, Longfellow), although it must be said that Shakespeare looms large within the deck. Each card contains several quotations in a different order and players work to collect as many complete sets as they can.

Next up are the board games, the earliest of which really only uses Shakespeare in the title: ‘Wallis’s Fashionable Game of the Seven Ages of Human Life’ (c.1814-26). It’s worth mentioning and illustrating though because it is by far the most beautiful of the bunch! Plus I love stage 29 in the timeline: ‘The Bachelor’, entertained by his faithful cat.

The other two board games are the most modern entries in the collection: ‘The Game of Shakespeare’ from 1966, and ‘The Play’s the Thing’ from 2003. Both invite players to collect Shakespeare cards studded with quotes, facts, and illustrations, and to use them to progress towards the finish line.

Related to these modern board games are the trivia-oriented card games that typically focus on Shakespearean quotes and are often explicit in their educational intent. ‘A Study of Shakespeare’ from the Shakespeare Club of Camden, Maine, in 1901 invites players to ask each other trivia questions and to collect the cards that they win. It also includes several endorsements from Shakespeare academics as to its educative value. The Cincinnati Game Company’s 1901 ‘Shakespeare’ seems to work to similar principles, with Shakespeare quotations and illustrations gracing each card in a deck divided into four suits, but, alas, the majority of its game instructions no longer survive (what is left seems to suggest that you can use the deck to play three different games, indicating perhaps that it’s essentially a regular deck of cards that you can use to play rummy, poker, etc.).

But of all these fabulous games, my very favorites are the two that are the most personalized. In ‘Shakespeare the Oracle’, 1892, and ‘Shakespeare’s Mental Photographs’, 1866, players select questions relating to their own lives and loves and then choose a number that produces a Shakespeare quote in answer. Both of these are meant to be party games, I believe, with the main thrill being the experience of revealing bits of personal information about oneself in front of a group of excitable and chirpy friends. Many of the questions have to do with the man or woman of your affection: so, for instance, you might choose the question, ‘What are his personal charms?’, and then select the number 3, from which you would get the reply, ‘His garments are rich, but he wears them not handsomely’. Ouch! While ‘Shakespeare the Oracle’ comes in the format of a series of circular question cards that participants hold, plus the oracle pamphlet from which the most esteemed member of the company reads, ‘Shakespeare’s Mental Photographs’ is potentially a more solitary affair, presenting its questions and quotes in book form.

Whatever shape they come in, though, all of these games have been lots of fun to explore and to attempt to unpuzzle. I’ve attracted lots of curious questions from fellow readers in the process–everyone loves a good game, it seems! Perhaps we can convince the Folger to let us throw a games night, with players in archival white gloves. Or, maybe more realistically, one or two of the older games could be digitized for playing online or through an app. Words with Friends Shakespeare-style, anyone?

Dressing Hal

Lots of thoughts from last night’s cinema broadcast of the RSC’s Henry IV, part 2, but first a quick non sequitur. I couldn’t help but notice Alex Hassell’s red leather coat and its resemblance to Tom Hiddleston’s in the Hollow Crown. And to Michael Jackson’s, circa the Thriller years. (It’s close to the chimes at miiiiiidnight…)

O brave new world.

Well, here it is – my first blog. Amidst the notebook scribblings, box folders of photocopies, off-the-cuff tweets, and solitarily composed Word documents, I’ve decided that a blog might be a happy and useful place to set some of my ideas down, in a provisional sort of way. The theme is digital Shakespeare, in particular Shakespeare as digitally performed, adapted, appropriated, memed, and otherwise creatively seized. But I suspect plain old read-on-the-page Shakespeare might creep in quite a bit too, seeing as how that’s how I still encounter him much of the time. We’ll see. It’s an experiment.

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