Hello everyone! Just wanted to introduce myself briefly. I'm currently working on my masters in Shakespeare Studies at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford, and I thought to myself... what do I need a little more of in my day? Shakespeare, naturally. I've filled out the survey; it's beneath the cut. I look forward to chatting with you all!
What interests you about the early modern period? Do you have a favorite text/historical figure/concept/area of study or whatever? (Multiple answers are of course allowed, nay, encouraged.) My primary interest is Shakespeare and other playwrights of the period (particularly Marlowe, Fletcher, and Webster) and playhouse culture at large. I'm also really interested in the history and politics of the royals, particularly the Tudors, and their courts.
As far as a favourite text, I've never been able to pick just one. I always had to break it down to one favorite per genre, so you've got Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Cymbeline, and 1 Henry IV.
Favourite historical figure, hands down, is Elizabeth I. Such a fascinating, complex woman, so ahead of her time in so many ways. A real Renaissance rockstar, if you will.
How do you feel about the whole Renaissance vs. early modern nomenclature debate? I honestly didn't know there was a debate. I've always used those terms pretty much interchangeably.
We all know nobody really wants to live in a time before sanitation, antibiotics, central air conditioning/heating, indoor plumbing, and so forth. So if you could visit any time/place in the early modern period, what would it be, and why? It would definitely be London in the 1590s-1600s to see Shakespeare's plays performed under their original conditions. I suspect we'd discover some of what we take for granted totally is wrong.
Have you read The Faerie Queene? Be honest. ;) No, but I did start it once! Someday.
Anything else you'd care to share? Nope.
I know, my other choices are so cliche, but there's a reason their everyone's favourites I think. The romances are actually my favourite overall, so I find it much hard to pick from among them. I love Cymbeline because it's like a very dark, twisted, fairy-tale, and the verse is, to me, some of the most beautiful Shakespeare wrote. It's got everything you could want: great heroine who gets to crossdress, wicked queens, sleeping potions, war, gods, love triumphant. What's not to love?
Nonooo, I wouldn't say "cliche" -- naturally a lot of people are going to prefer the same plays, because everyone gravitates toward the stuff that's the best quality. Like, nobody ever says "I just love 'King John'." or "Titus Andronicus."
But "Cymbeline" just gets, I don't know -- neglected. _I've_ never read it or seen it performed. And when you mentioned it, I started wondering why.
(My favorites are Much Ado (Beatrice is an Elizabethan New Yorker), Hamlet (the first emo kid), A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Richard III (with Henry IV running a close second -- but Richard wins because as a character he's so deliciously fucked-up. "Henry" has got fantastic verse (Muse of Fire, Crispin's Day, et al), but Richard has this mesmerizing Steerpike-cum-slow-motion-train-wreck thing going on.)
Curious: do you have a favorite Queen Elizabeth biography?
You can say that quality is entirely subjective. And then you can spiral off into endless late-night arguments about cultural and individual relativism -- and that's called college, and it's quality entertainment.
But just for the sake of argument, let's be ethnocentric and use the Western literary tradition as a common basis: within that tradition, some works are "better" than others, in that they have been put together with a greater or lesser degree of skill and care. Some works have the potential to move a greater number of people, and/or to move them more deeply, than others.
Now of course there are all kinds of "good writing," ranging from "plotted so hard you can sing it" (Wodehouse) to massive, sprawling, groundbreaking; crammed with insight into the human condition (Woolf). (Can you tell that my computer's near my bookshelf's "W's"?) Sometimes -- often -- "good" work slips under the radar for one reason or another, or fails to move people until a hundred years after it's written. Obviously, a canon should never be set in stone.
But overall, the number of people who find a work to be a moving or satisfying experience can be (definitely not "is always") a reliable indicator as to whether or not that work is a carefully-crafted and effective piece of art.
This is an interesting discussion -- if you want to keep it going, let's move it to email. My email address is on my l-j's info page.
I don't know that I have a favourite Elizabeth biography. To be honest, I've read so many that they're pretty mixed up in my head. Glancing over at my bookshelf, the one that stands out is Allison Weir's, mostly because it was the most enjoyable read. I didn't ever feel like I was studying.
I'm not sure why Cymbeline is overlooked these days; it's so fantastic, you should definitely read it. Although, I have to say, the first time I read it I didn't get it at all. It seemed to me like Shakespeare was just recycling some of his most famous plot devices in a way that made them totally ridiculous; it was so contrived. But then I realized that's the fun of it, and now I'm in love with it.
I feel sort of the same way about Titus Andronicus, actually. I love Titus, but I think the only way to enjoy it is to embrace how utterly ludicrous it seems to us now. The productions I've seen that embrace the inherent humor really succeed; the ones that try to squash (which is hard to do, the audience WANTS to laugh) fail. If you think of it as a very black comedy, it works really well.
It's really interesting to me to see the way plays of Shakespeare come in and out of vogue. On a large scale it's really obvious; we priviledge different plays than, say, the Victorians did. But even on a small scale you can see it. Four years ago there was a sort of Pericles renaissance; suddenly everyone was doing it. Two years ago it was Measure for Measure. I always wonder what it is in the zeitgeist that's drawing people to plays that haven't really been in the public consciousness for awhile, because it's not always obvious. What was happening four years ago that suddenly made everyone want to put on Pericles?
Wow... Hi Saestina. Small world. I'm also working on my masters at the Shakespeare Institute! Mine is in "Shakespeare and Theatre" and I'm doing it partly there and partly here in the US by long distance learning. Working on my third module at the moment at home - "Shakespeare's Craftsmanship" - but I'll be back in Stratford for the summer session in August.
I share some of your favorite - Hamlet definitely tops my list. I'm a stage director and my dissertation, hopefully, will be on a re-examination of Gertrude and Ophelia's roles in the play and will include a fully staged performance that I will direct with my own interpretation as the directorial concept and the basis of the dissertation.
But I also like your other three choices. I've kind of got three comedy choices (As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, and Merry Wives of Windsor). I think Richard III would top my histories except I simpy don't believe Shakespeare's Tudor-influenced perception of him. So I'll have to go with Richard II. I'd go with Cymbeline, too, for the late plays/romances. It's quirkiness and fantasy qualities intrigue me.
Any time you want to trade impressions of The Shakespeare Institute I'd love to - I miss Stratford tremendously.
Small world indeed! You'll have to look up me up when you come back in August; I should be in a dissertation-based coma by then and will no doubt welcome the distraction. Will you be staging your Hamlet at the Institiute or somewhere else? Mind if I ask how you plan to reinterpret Gertrude and Ophelia? I recently saw a brilliant production that have a very unqiue, specific take on Gertrude that blew my mind and made my totally re-evaluate the character.
And I'll be ready to start my dissertation and will need all the help I can get! What are you doing your dissertation on?
If all goes well, I'll be staging my Hamlet in the US (I simply won't be in Stratford long enough to cast and rehearse it there, I don't think). My plan is to tape the performance and include the video (or DVD actually) with my dissertation. We have yet to work out all the details. I suggested it because it's something I've wanted to do for a long time and it seemed like a good basis for the diss. Frankly I didn't think that Cath would go for the idea - it's not conventionally "scholarly" - but she surprised me by responding "I don't see why not!" I love the Shakespeare Institute!
As for my interpretation... I've always hated the Gertrude and Ophelia are played as such "doormats" and I never really felt that that was the only interpretation supported by the script. So I'm exploring the reinterpretation of both characters as more active participants in the actions of the play than are traditionally presented, particularly in their relationships with Hamlet, Claudius and each other. This proposes Ophelia and Gertrude as active co-conspirators in the action of the play – Ophelia as an active partner in Hamlet's search for the truth and vengeance (both before and after his exile), and Gertrude as an active participant with Claudius in the murder of her husband (and perhaps of Ophelia!). I can't wait to stage it! And to try to justify it!
I don't have a clue what I'm going to do my dissertation on yet. It sort of gives me a panic attack just thinking about it.
When I was in college, my senior thesis for my drama major was a play me and a couple of my friends 'wrote' using text from Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet. Part of our idea was that in Hamlet you have these two pre-established relationships, Claudius/Gertrude and Hamlet/Ophelia, but you don't really know how they've gotten to where they are when the play begins. So we used text from Macbeth to give the Claudius/Gertrude backstory (Claudius/Macbeth and Gertrude/Lady Macbeth are having an affair and plot to kill King Hamlet/Duncan) and text from Romeo and Juliet to give the Hamlet/Ophelia backstory (love at first sight, families don't approve, etc).
Of course, none of these interpolations have anything to do with Hamlet, but the Gertrude and Ophelia we created has coloured my views of the original characters ever since. It sounds like you're planning to take them in a pretty similar direction, which is really cool. Let me know how it turns out.