Shakespeare for Everyone by Anne Marie

A question we have discussed at length is that of audience: whom is it comprised of, and how should they be reached? As we have seen in examining various editions of Shakespeare’s plays, most editions are geared towards a particular audience, such as performers, scholars, or students. But is it possible to reach all of Shakespeare’s potential audiences at the same time? Taking the Folger Shakespeare Library as a case study, it would seem so. The Folger Library offers resources and opportunities for a wide variety of people, especially scholars, students, and amateur Shakespeare enthusiasts. Since the Folger offers such a variety of resources, one questions is, how effectively does the Library reach these audiences? I would argue that it doesn’t matter. The Library is a kind of Shakespeare Mecca, offering something for everyone but not trying to provide everything for everyone. The Folger Library is evidence that Shakespeare can be for everyone and that his work can foster community.

Home to the world’s largest collection of First Folios as well as an enormous number of rare materials from Early Modern England, the Folger Shakespeare Library has something for everyone, and appreciation of the bard goes beyond the surface of simply reading. There are a number of theatrical productions, especially geared towards encouraging student interest in Shakespeare’s plays by inviting them to be active performers. Various teaching resources, especially the blog posts from various teachers, also emphasize the importance of performing Shakespeare’s work in learning to appreciate it. The insistence on activity is reminiscent of Alan Galey’s article in which he encourages us not to get hung up on final products but rather to focus on “agents who carry out the work.” He is discussing digital scholarly editing, but the idea applies to learning about and appreciating Shakespeare as well. An end product can be useful, but appreciating the process, both the process of creating digital scholarly editions and the process of producing a play, can ultimately lead to more growth and development as well as a deeper understanding of Shakespeare.

Interest in Shakespeare’s work is not only fostered by activity, but also by a sense of community. Dr. Mike Witmore emphasizes that scholars are not the only ones who can be invested in Shakespeare’s work; non-academics also have an opportunity to show their appreciation. In “Shakespeare in the Digital Age,” Witmore explains that when fundraising, he reaches out to non-academic enthusiasts. While it is tempting to be cynical about this arrangement, it is important to remember that there are different ways to be invested in literature and the creation of knowledge. The different funding sources are also reminders that the Library does not only exist for academic work. Scholars can advance our knowledge of Shakespeare’s work and his world, but amateur enthusiasts are crucial in ensuring that this work continues.

The community fostered by the Folger Library is not limited to those in the vicinity of the Library, as there are many digital resources available for free online that can be accessed from anywhere. Eric Johnson, Director of Digital Access at the Folger Library, discusses the library’s development of digital projects. He explains that the Digital Media and Publications division is “deploying tools to improve access to collections, form scholarly online communities, and enhance interactions with a vast array of texts.” An example of one of the division’s projects is the collection of Folger Digital Texts, which are available for free download through the library’s website. These texts are available in multiple formats, allowing for their use in a variety of ways. Given the changes in the publishing world, which Galey also discusses, Johnson emphasizes the importance of taking advantage of new opportunities for electronic distribution and collaboration. Digital publications can reach an even wider audience than print publications, and they allow for communication among scholars who might not normally be in contact.

The increasing number of the Folger’s digital resources fits with the trend of increasing numbers of other digital formats and different ways of presenting Shakespeare’s work, from digital scholarly editions of the plays to Shakespeare apps to Gina Bloom’s Play the Knave. But why Shakespeare’s work? Speaking about digital developments, Eric Johnson states that Shakespeare’s works “inevitably move into new media.” The plays’ continuing popularity and familiarity make them easy to adapt to new media. They have endured thus far, so why should they not continue? However, our discussions of these new media and their reviews remind us that there are no perfect Shakespeare resources—there’s always some shortcoming or lack of crucial information, such as the meaning of different kinds of brackets in a digital Shakespeare edition—so the work of updating and adapting his work must continue.

We can see the importance of adapting Shakespeare not just in new performances of his plays, but also in how his original texts are presented. These updates and adaptations are essential for ensuring that Shakespeare’s work is available for everyone, not just in its appeal, but also in its accessibility. Adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays (in movies, for example) are evidence of the stories’ appeal. Making Shakespeare’s works available through digital media ensures that the most recent scholarship is also available. This is evident not only in looking at online journals dedicated to Shakespeare, such as the Folger’s Shakespeare Quarterly, but also in the adaptation of Shakespeare’s work for apps. In Raphael Lyne’s review of The Tempest for iPad, he highlights the advantage of the app format over print editions of Shakespeare’s plays. The possibility of constantly updating apps as soon as new scholarship or new performances appear make them potentially superior to print editions that cannot be updated as frequently and are more expensive to update. The disadvantage of apps or other online resources is that constantly updating them with new scholarship is not feasible, which is why no app like that really exists. It is easier, then, to provide new, innovative, and interesting resources for students and Shakespeare enthusiasts than it is for scholars.

The Folger Library and its huge variety of resources is part of a broader democratization of Shakespeare’s work. The words of Shakespeare can be used and appreciated not just by scholars discovering new meaning and information about Shakespeare’s life, but also rhetorically and artistically. Poetry and drama are not confined to classrooms and theatres but are present in government buildings and at political rallies. Mike Witmore addresses this in his 2015 C-Span interview, specifically discussing the question of why politicians quote Shakespeare and how they use Shakespeare’s words, sometimes without even knowing it. According to Witmore, and as we can see in the various video clips from politicians’ speeches, Shakespeare’s words add weight and heft to political messages and offer a way to connect with an audience. Witmore states that it doesn’t even matter if we can’t understand what the words mean; we can still understand the music and rhythm characteristic of the Shakespeare’s language. But how is this effective, and how does it create a connection between speaker and audience? Witmore posits that Shakespeare is an integral part of our culture, as his work is performed everywhere from the theatre to the Internet. His words have become so much a part of our culture that even if lines from plays are misquoted, we still understand the meaning. In fact, some of the most well-known Shakespeare phrases are misquotations from his plays. As we can see in looking at the dynamic performance history of Shakespeare’s plays as well as the sometimes unexpected places his words appear, Shakespeare’s work has become dispersed and ingrained in our own culture, effectively belonging to everyone.

As scholars and teachers, it is easy to argue for the advantages of democratizing Shakespeare. But in thinking about the limits of our conversation about digital scholarly editing as highlighted by Alan Galey and hearing Mike Witmore discuss misquotations of Shakespeare, I wonder what the potential disadvantages might be. While interviewing Witmore, Brian Lamb brings up the question of whether quoting Shakespeare is elitist. Witmore responds that Shakespeare does offer more down-to-earth language that is more appealing the politicians’ audiences today. It’s true that most people have at least heard of Shakespeare, but I’m not sure I’m convinced that even invoking Shakespeare does not alienate some audience members. The language can be difficult to grasp without study and repetition, which not everyone is interested in, and hearing someone else explain it might not result in increased audience sympathy. In addition, sometimes these explanations are not always correct. In the C-Span interview, there is at least one example of Shakespeare’s meaning being used in a contradictory way, and Witmore diplomatically points out that this strategy is difficult and not always successful. Not only could this potentially alienate audience members who resent Shakespeare’s academic connotations, but it could also alienate those who are more familiar with what the quotations actually mean.

I am also interested in examining the cultural value of Shakespeare’s work. Mike Witmore in particular emphasizes how important Shakespeare is in American culture. Henry Folger established the Library as a gift for the American people, and Witmore says that Shakespeare’s words are “important to American politics” (my emphasis). But the library does not dissociate Shakespeare’s work from his world, Early Modern England. Is the important concept here that Shakespeare’s work is influential in all Anglophone cultures? Does it matter that some of the most well-known phrases we use in the United States come from a British playwright? Located so close to American political buildings, the Folger Library’s presence is a reminder of the close ties between the United States and England, not just culturally, but also politically. The physical presence of the library insists English-ness in an American political space, which starts to feel a bit ironic.

Resources like the ones the Folger offers ensure that learning about and appreciating Shakespeare is open to everyone. There are obvious benefits to studying and appreciating his plays—besides the fact that the stories are enjoyable. In light of the debates about the literary canon that are informed by work in the digital humanities, I wonder if the plays’ ubiquity is limiting us in any way. Is our obsession with Shakespeare eclipsing work from the period that is also important? Are we losing anything by teaching students to equate Early Modern England with one figure? At the moment, Shakespeare is for everyone—but does he need to be?


Works Cited

Galey, Alan. “Five Ways to Improve the Conversation About Digital Scholarly Editing.” Committee on Scholarly Editions. MLA Commons, 1 August 2016. Online.

Henning, Joel. “Shakespeare in the Digital Age.” The Wall Street Journal (Online). New York: NY, Mar 2012. ProQuest.

Lyne, Raphael. “Ariel on screen, Caliban on the iPad.” The Times Literary Supplement. 17 April 2013. Online.

“Q&A with Eric Johnson.” The Collation: Research and Exploration at the Folger. 23 July 2013. Online.

“Q&A with Michael Witmore.” C-Span. Brian Lamb and Michael Witmore. 29 April 2015. Online.

The Digital and the Humanities: For What Else Shall We Apologize? – Arnaud Zimmern

The insistently apologetic tone of Goldstone and Underwood’s piece sets the stage for my questions of this week’s readings. For how long and for what institutional reasons will Digital Humanists persist in apologizing for their unorthodox approaches to literary data? Can we predict a moment or a set of conditions in which a paradigm change might finally come about, whereby a piece of quantitative analysis could be published in PMLA without major hemming-and-hawing or sincere contrition? And finally, is it really a feature (not a bug) of good, skeptical, humanistic inquiry (as Timothy Burke defines it and as Tressie Cottom demands it) that Humanists should pay as much attention to the methodological vices of the texts they produce as they do to the literary virtues of the texts they study?

Before I offer my responses to those questions – reading Goldstone and Underwood’s piece in light of Burke, Finn, and Cottom – let me issue a two-part clarification (or apology, I suppose).

First, I don’t mean to be theoretical and hand-wavy by posing questions about scholarly methodology writ large and about the wide, open, uncertain future of the humanities. I hope rather that this will prove practical and lead us to draw in class on the conversations we have already been having, like our conversation on the feasibility of a universal digital edition of Shakespeare that could be everything for everyone or on video games as scholarly editions.

Secondly, I also don’t mean to be denominational by drawing a web of metaphors that connects Goldstone and Underwood’s apologetic moves to the language of Christian atonement (contrition, vice, virtue, etc.). I’m trying to point out simply that the ethical and anthropological values that our readings unanimously present as those of secular humanistic inquiry proper are couched in a discourse of human (im)perfectibility, an imperative of forgiveness, and a suspended messianic promise of Closure/Truth that have specific historical and cultural origins. Whether those origins and bases lie in Shakespeare’s own period – as the Reformation theorized total human depravity and the Scientific Revolution theorized human perfectibility – or earlier in the medieval period, or perhaps later in the Enlightenment, matters little for us in this class. What matters is whether we wish to continue operating the academic-industrial vessel of “the Humanities” on those bases or whether we want to invest in developing alternatives. Will we continue to work with a scholarly ethos of apology, forgiveness, and incremental purification that says “Ok, Goldstone and Underwood’s analysis wasn’t perfect this time around, but that’s to be expected, we can be grateful for this much, and the next version will be better, and the next one after that….” until we either find an incomplete but satisfactory solution or get bored with the question, whichever comes first? Or will we stop and say: “Wait, we’ve been through this forgiving-and-refining cycle before – it’s the same story whether we do it with quantitative methods or qualitative methods – and we always end up blaming the final unknowability of things on our notion of human nature as fundamentally broken. Why don’t we invest our energy elsewhere?”

Personally, I’m torn on the matter: I agree with the values and aspirations of the first option, but my training as a curious humanist makes me keen to explore and pursue alternatives that are premised on the idea that there is no fixed human nature. The ultimate practical question, however, is not so much which route you or I should pick, but which route will the academic-industrial complex pick. This has been a lengthy caveat, but I did want to make quite clear what I understand to be the anthropological stakes of the quantitative or “data-logical” turn in the Humanities.

QUESTION 1: For how long and for what institutional reasons will Digital Humanists persist in excusing themselves for their unorthodox approaches to literary data?

Short response: For as long as the standard-bearers and gatekeepers of humanist knowledge (cultural institutions, taste-makers, teachers) continue to believe that humans are creatures capable of unfathomable complexity but incapable of transmitting that complexity fully through language.

Long response: Tressie Cottom gives us a way to approach this question that I think is worth summarizing. The framing claim of her paper is that the “data-logical turn” that is anxiously bubbling up in literary departments is analogous to what has already effectively overtaken sociology departments. That “contamination” (my word, not hers) illustrates how a larger academic-industrial alliance is establishing an intellectual hegemony that avoids major theoretical questions about gender, race, humanity, etc. Citing Karabel and Halsey, Cottom concludes it “would be naive not to recognize that state patronage has contributed to promoting atheoretical forms of methodological empiricism and has given less encouragement to other approaches,” like the very small scale and “slow” approaches that humanists specialize in. The discrepancy between the two approaches and modes of knowledge (or what is claimed to be two distinct modes of knowledge) is massive. For the methodological empiricists, Cottom argues, knowledge is “data” or “quanta,” infinitely mobile and shapable, transposable without deformation to any human intelligence (or artificial intelligence) — the fallibility of language does not matter because ‘quanta’ is universally transposable, transportable, and a-political. It need not be theorized. For humanists, knowledge remains invariably “capta,” i.e. something that needs to be experienced and interpreted as embedded within a cultural-linguistic-social-political context, first and foremost within a language.

When Cottom further cites Miriam Posner to say that “most of the data and data models we’ve inherited [from business applications] deal with structures of power, like gender and race, with a crudeness that would never pass muster in a peer-reviewed humanities publication,” she points us to the importance of language/discourse. We’re all familiar with the hard work that cultural anthropologists and gender theorists have pursued in the last decades trying to undo an essentialist and biological-materialist understanding of male vs. female binaries in favor of linguistic constructions of gender that spread along a spectrum. Businesses, however, as they set about investigating big data trends, build data-parsing tools that make invisible assumptions and simplifications about the political-cultural phenomena of gender, race, etc. They seldom consult Judith Butler. If sociology and the humanities adopt those tools in turn without pausing to consider the built-in empiricist-materialist assumptions, both disciplines risk perpetuating theories of gender that scholarly consensus does not widely support. Cottom’s warning against such algorithmic black-boxing meets Ed Finn’s voucher for “fistulated algorithms,” but as a black female scholar, she is rightly more suspicious of the hegemonic motivations behind the rise of DH in the academy: “I suspect that we get a quantitative textual analysis that is very popular with powerful actors precisely because it does not theorize power relations. Given our current political economy, especially in the rapidly corporatized academy, one should expect great enthusiasm for distant reading and acritical theorizing.”

So for how long and for what institutional reasons will digital humanists be required to apologize for what they’re trying to do with language? Well, for as long as we, the arbiters of cultural knowledge, continue to believe language is a political power-construct that only fallibly represents the modes and possibilities of human existence. As long as “fallible,” “flawed,” and “politically-determined” remain the invariant qualities of our definition of language, Digital Humanists will be asked to apologize for importing an empiricist methodology that thinks of its language, mathematics, as universally transposable and neutral rather than what Cottom claims it is: politically contingent and very useful for avoiding questions of prejudice and marginalization.

QUESTION 2: Can we predict a moment or a set of conditions in which a paradigm change might finally come about, whereby a piece of quantitative analysis could be published in PMLA without hemming-and-hawing or sincere contrition?

Response: When Goldstone and Underwood shrug off the aura of scientific objectivity that their numbers and graphs and percentages impart to them and insist instead that topic modeling, albeit quantitative, is a fundamentally interpretive and “humanely” limited tool, they really do two things. The first is that they appeal to the incompleteness of human knowledge that Timothy Burke calls “the one universal that we might permit ourselves to accept without apology.” In so doing they reveal that they are on a mission to endear topic modeling and its interpretive-instability, illegibility, and slowness to the healthy skeptics in English departments. The second is that they re-articulate Ed Finn’s set of conditions under which quantitative analysis might enter the common parlance of literary scholarship. The first and more obvious requirement is that numbers, percentages, and computations lose their rhetorical aura of scientific objectivity and join mere language as elements of discourse requiring interpretation and context. The second is not just the advent of “fistulated algorithms” but of the “algorithmic literacy” Ed Finn invites us to foster for ourselves.

But a further condition, unmentioned in our reading, include also a re-equilibrating, perhaps even a toppling, of the hierarchy of modes of knowledge. What I mean is this. Goldstone and Underwood are hard at work confirming their quantitative results by cross-checking their model against well-attested “analog” histories of theory and criticism. The standard-bearer of accuracy or “truth,” in their situation, is the “analog Humanities.” The “upstart crows” Goldstone and Underwood have to couch their validity in the ethos and authority of those “analog” histories. But what happens when further quantitative studies begin to couch their authority in their ability to repeat and nuance Goldstone and Underwood’s work, disregarding the old “analog” histories? Are they “wrong” or invalid forasmuch, or should we be ready to accept quantitative findings that do not anchor themselves in our usual historical narratives? Should we be ready to accept findings built unapologetically on accumulated quantitative (not necessarily un-interpretative, but quantitative) models? As long as we cannot answer yes to those last questions, we will not see a DH piece that isn’t hard beset to validate itself methodologically.

QUESTION 3: Is it really a feature (not a bug) of good, skeptical, humanistic inquiry (as Timothy Burke defines it and as Tressie Cottom demands it) that Humanists should pay as much attention to the methodological vices of the texts they produce as they do to the literary virtues of the texts they study?

I trust this question pushes everyone’s buttons and seems horribly pretentious, perhaps downright asinine, because it suggests we should be less attentive to our own assumptions and more myopic than we currently already are. If we take a leaf from Kieran Healy, a sociologist at Duke, we might, however, acknowledge that “for the problems facing Sociology [and thus the sociology of literature] at present, demanding more nuance typically obstructs the development of theory that is intellectually interesting, empirically generative, or practically successful” (1). Frankly, I do find myself asking in great frustration whether Goldstone and Underwood could have had more room to expose their findings and theorize some causal explanations for the history of theory if a body of peer-reviewers (or a fear of peer-reviewers) hadn’t forced them to nuance every major claim or methodological innovation they stake in the paper. This kind of nuance-policing does strike me as a major bug, not a feature, of current Humanities scholarship and it testifies, quite palpably I think, to my concluding claim. If the Digital Humanities are condemned to apologizing for their quantitative methods, it has more to do with the Humanities than with the Digital. Digital Humanists must apologize because Humanists, par excellence, apologize – we’ve found few better ways than perpetual nuancing to think ourselves relevant and rigorous, and perhaps also (dixit Arthur Schopenhauer) few better ways to avoid getting bored.

Works Cited (besides assigned readings)

Healy, Kieran. “Fuck Nuance.” forthcoming in Sociological Theory. January 2016.

Arnaud & Shinjini – “Redesigning Shakespeare for the Great Lakes Theater”

Our mission: To “redesign Shakespeare” for the Cleveland-based Great Lakes Theatre (GLT).

Our solution: To repurpose the GLT’s two-week “Shakespeare Summer Camp” into a more extensive, community-focused series of workshops that take advantage of the empty theater and classroom spaces of the quiet summer months as well as the GLT’s already-existing network of connections with schools, public libraries, and local performance venues.

Our client: GLT advertises itself as “northeast Ohio’s professional classic theatre,” driven by its ambition of bringing “the pleasure, power and relevance of classic theatre to the widest possible audience.” Although the GLT brings several low-cost performances to local libraries and schools and runs theater workshops within the school system, the substantive part of GLT’s repertoire, and the substantive part of its revenue, is based on main-stage productions of Shakespeare. Throughout all of April this year, for instance, the company will be performing nothing but Hamlet, hoping to attract both traditionalist and more progressive audiences by alternating between a male and a female actor for the play’s titular role.

The problem: The theater’s financial situation, as it is specified on GLT’s website, is unpromising. The GLT is not receiving sufficiently many or sufficiently large donations to produce more than three long-term main-stage productions a year, let alone try to launch an advertising campaign for those plays or promote a touring troupe. Moreover, the cost-prohibitive $55 ticket-entry for regular adults seems to be both a side-effect and a vector of the financial problem. Audiences, increasingly accustomed to movie-theater prices for stage entertainment, are preferring either not to come at all or to purchase cheaper seats on the wings and far corners of the theater rather than pay for the best spots, many of which remain vacant from performance to performance. Even the GLT’s decision to provide on-stage seating at a significantly cheaper rate ($15) is failing to attract audiences who might wish to sit close to the play’s action. Another important problem: the company stages plays only during the school year (from September through May) and makes no profits with which to pay the cost of the theater house during the long summer months, besides a brief two weeks in June during its youth summer theater camp.

Our three big-picture goals: (1) to reinvigorate the funding situation of the GLT; (2) to renegotiate its image as a theater of “classics” in order to avoid the hint of elitism associated with theater (as opposed, for instance, to movie-theaters or Netflix); and (3) to expand the depth of its interaction with the local community and thereby foster greater audiences.

We also have a few procedural goals: In order to keep costs down and solicit more crowd-sourced feedback in the GLT’s redesigning of Shakespeare, we wish to draw especially on the GLT’s existing human and spatial resources: its connections with local schools and public libraries. We hope that in doing so we can help the GLT remaster its trademark as a “classic” theater to signify something closer to “community” rather than “canonical” or “aristocratic.” We hope also to reverse the standard equation that thinks of Shakespeare-appreciation as the end and the theater-house as the means; we wish to make the theater-house, the GLT itself, the end of the Cleveland community’s efforts, and let Shakespeare be the means.

Our product: The So You Think You Know Shakespeare? Summer Series (SYTYKS)

We propose to remodel the two-week youth summer theater camp into a two-month-long fleet of workshops, seminars, camps, tutored reading clubs, and for-credit high-school and college-level summer courses that would take place in various public venues around the GLT’s Hannah Theater, as well as throughout the Cleveland metroplex. Staying true to the GLT’s mission statement of catering to the widest possible clientele, the SYTYKS summer series is designed to be scalable and adaptable to the interests and availabilities of participants, aiming to make Shakespeare a meeting ground for a broad range of activities, hobbies, and curiosities. It divides generally into three elements: the theater camp, the high-school and college-level summer courses, and the adult-oriented workshops.

  1. The central pillar of the SYTYKS summer series builds on the GLT’s already-existing and growing summer camp. The redesigned summer camp (composed of a “Summer Shakespeare Playhouse” for children < 10 yrs. of age and a “Summer Shakespeare Intensive” for children > 13) would distance itself pedagogically from the frustrations and clichés of traditional summer camps and theater workshops. Rather than have every camp-day be dedicated to the all-consuming goal of a final pre-determined performance, for which props, lighting, and costume-design are a secondary thought, often hastily brought together at the last second by volunteering but exploited “drama-moms” and “drama-dads,” the redesigned summer camp would be based on a “build-your-own” and “maker-community” model.

    1. The Playhouse. Primary school children (aged 5-10 years) signed up for the “Summer Shakespeare Playhouse” would partake in age-appropriate role-playing, art-making, and even game-making activities after the Kill Shakespeare model. Visited daily by storytellers who adapt Shakespeare’s plays to young audiences to foster their imaginations, the kids would be encouraged to build their own Shakespeare-themed games or build props or parts of sets for their own using LEGOs, cushions, pillows, mattresses, papier-maché, and other non-hazardous arts-and-crafts materials. Final projects of especial merit would be displayed at their local schools or at public libraries. Sessions would take place at local recreation centers.

    2. The Summer Shakespeare Intensive. Middle-school and high-school age groups would begin their six-week “Summer Shakespeare Intensive” by exploring the possibilities of set-design, costume-design, and lighting by collaborating in hands-on workshops with volunteer stage technicians and various kinds of craftsmen and -women, including carpenters, jewellers, 3-D printers, seamstresses, &c. In small teams, the students would then decide what kinds of props, costumes, and set-design elements they want to play with and can feasibly build within one week. Using those various items, they would then begin exploring the possibilities of stage performance through improv sessions and performance workshops with the help of visiting volunteer actors, including perhaps the Hip Hop Shakespeare company or other touring troupes like Notre Dame Young Company. After gaining more confidence on stage, students would then begin adapting 15-minute one-act plays from Shakespeare original, and begin scheduling their rehearsals. A final performance and reception would then be held at the Hannah Theater, with tickets at student-pricing for all.
    Note: The Summer Shakespeare Intensive is on application-basis only, but it welcomes especially students with disabilities and from lower-income economic classes, and can offer some financial assistance to deflate costs of participation for accepted participants.

  2. Shakespeare For-Credit. For students less interested in performance, the SYTYKS summer series proposes a duo of three-week long for-credit summer classes for high-school and college students: “Shakespeare + Music” and “Shakespeare + Science.”

    1. Students attending the “Shakespeare and Music” course will have the opportunity to study the history of music in theater and film in order to inform their decisions as original song-writers and composers. Using monologues, sonnets, and other verse forms by Shakespeare and his contemporaries as inspiration, students will adapt and set 16th-17th century verse to music, or compose original scores for potential stage or film productions using GarageBand and other digital audio recording softwares. Classes will take place at local community colleges, in technology classrooms outfitted with keyboards and synthesizers. Students are encouraged to bring their own talents and instruments for three-hour creativity “sprints.” Final evaluations are based on short writing assignments and a capstone performance hosted at a downtown café, open to the general public. Students are made responsible for the set-up, tear-down, and advertising of the capstone performance.

    2. Students in the “Shakespeare + Science” course will begin by studying theories of matter, physics, and health from medieval and early modern medicine and science, as they’re found in the writings of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and comparing them critically with up-to-date theories of quantum physics, astrophysics, germ-theory, and molecular chemistry. The course will focus the majority of its attention on a series of lab sessions in which students will reenact basic alchemical experiments, optical experiments, anatomical dissections, and astronomical experiments that shook and defined the early modern period. Outcomes of these courses include literary-critical skills from direct engagement with primary texts of the early modern period, historical-critical skills, and an understanding of the methods and processes of elementary modern science. Two courses are designed, one for aspiring science majors in high school, the other for non-science-major undergraduates.
  3. Shakesparenting. The SYTYKS summer series wants to be especially attractive to students, since they are the future of Shakespeare and of theater-appreciation. But in line with the community-based approach of GLT, we propose to include a series of reading/book clubs, seminars, and informal get-togethers for parents and for retired members of the community, centering on themes of family and adult life. Weekly, flexible, evening meet-ups and group-ons (both directed and self-directed) at local cafés and bars will focus on the plays of the Bard, as well as modern adaptations (possible group names: The Bard on Tap, BrewBard, Coffee and the Bard, Ladies who Bard). At retirement homes and hospice centers, Shakespeare’s plays will serve as the basis both of arts-and-crafts workshops (e.g. Shakespeare in Needlepoint) and of directed reading groups organized by Case Western medical students in Medical Humanities classes. At YMCA centers and parishes of various religious denominations, seminars on the tragedies and comedies, facilitated by literature professors and parenting specialists, will help parents and expecting parents model, reflect on, and anticipate on present-day real life scenarios in family life.

Our promotion plan: Finally, as part of our advertising campaign for the SYTYKS summer series, we offer to revise the existing webpage to better promote the event. The single photo on the current webpage, albeit cute, hearkens only to a homogeneous community (white, upper-middle class, nuclear-family). We propose to replace it by a photo gallery, containing photos of participants from diverse racial and ethnic communities, signaling especially to disabled members of the Cleveland community that they are welcome to perform on the GLT stage, not just to sit in its seats. Trusting student-interest to drive parent-interest more effectively that parent-interest will drive student-interest, we propose to promote the SYTYKS theater camp more heavily at schools and on social media platforms, keeping traditional paper advertising costs for the “Shakesparenting” events, which will be published in parish bulletins, Sunday morning radio talk-shows, &c.

Our hope and vision: To rejuvenate the community’s interest first and foremost in its theater, the Great Lakes Theatre. We believe the works of Shakespeare carry sufficient cultural cachet, sufficient sentimental attachment, and sufficient intellectual depth to assemble participants from youth to retirement age who are already looking for non-financial ways to participate in the GLT’s passion for classic theater. We are certain that a reinvestment in the space of the theater, especially familiarizing young students with the stage and the back-stage, would help promote audiences, especially audiences who want to be as close to and familiar with the stage as possible. The usual benefits of Summer Shakespeare camps and workshops include helping students grow social and public skills as well as pass the obligatory academic hurdle of reading Shakespeare, aka “passing the Bard exam.” In addition to helping young learners build social skills, public speaking, team-work, leadership, &c.; in addition to helping high-school and college-age students earn hard skills in science, arts, crafts, music, literature, and history; in addition to forming future Shakespeare-enthusiasts, builders, makers, and artisans; in addition to helping parents and retired members of the community navigate difficult obstacles of adult life, we hope the So You Think You Know Shakespeare? summer series will help Cleveland rediscover the cross-generational, “classic” appeal of its very own Great Lakes Theater.

Digital Lear by Anne Marie

I like the idea of a parallel edition of a text with two versions, but this is obviously easier to accomplish in an actual book when there are only two versions. A screen doesn’t have the same limitations as a book, so it would be possible to display three different pages next to each other at the same time without having to deal with awkward page turns. For a digital edition of Lear, the Q, F, and conflated texts could each have their own tabs that the reader could close or re-order so that no text always comes first or in the middle of the page. Each text could be spaced so that they all versions of the play end in the same place, although this might make for some awkward gaps on the page. In the interest of looking at the texts simultaneously, there could be an option to have all three texts scroll at the same time or separately, or two at the same time while the third remains static.

I also like being able to choose how much information I see at one time, so the conflated version could have an option to turn on or off highlighted text indicating whether it came from Q or F. Similarly, both Q and F could have the option to turn on or off highlighted variations, or places where the other version is different, thus giving readers the option to consider individual word variances. There could also be hyperlinks to notes and commentary in each text, which could pop up in a window below the text tabs so the reader doesn’t have to navigate away from the texts, similar to the TEAMS Middle English text series that Rachel mentioned.

Since it has options to turn information on and off, this digital version could work for scholars wanting to study variations as well as for casual readers who only want to read one version.

Editorial Interpretation

I am reading an 1879 version of King Lear edited by Rev. Henry N. Hudson. Because it was meant for classroom use, the editorial notes are generally glosses, explanations of etymology, explanations of allusions, and comparisons to Shakespeare’s other plays where he uses words similarly. There are also several interpretations of key lines, and not all of them are Hudson’s—he frequently provides other editors’ interpretations, most often Coleridge’s. The purpose of providing interpretations of certain passages is probably to help students not only appreciate Shakespeare’s language, but also go one step further and learn interpretation. These interpretations, particularly Coleridge’s, illustrate the universal applications of the play’s themes. But Hudson also shows that students should not be limited to one interpretation. In Act III scene vii, note 11, he provides an explanation for part of Gloucester’s speech, emphasizing the word “cruels.” He first gives his own original interpretation, then another editor’s that he prefers, modeling how opinions about texts can and should change. The difficult passage is made clearer for students—and this clarity at the same time highlights the passage’s complexity and resistance to a single explanation. This comment as well as many others throughout the play includes judgment about one of the characters, in this case Regan. While these judgments are helpful for students, they might limit interpretation when it comes to thinking about the complexity of characters’ motives.

PDF here

On the Coherence of David Bevington’s Glosses

I am looking at King Lear in an edition of the complete works (published in 1951 and revised in 1973) edited by David Bevington, emeritus at Chicago. Bevington’s footnotes are meant for a rather well-read and self-sufficient reader, someone who wants a brief but thorough historical introduction to each work but only wants the occasional gloss or parsing of complex sentences and abstruse expressions. But Bevington also lets slip some interpretive suggestions about the role or place of religion in the play that I’d like to consider in a little detail.

 (The scans I took at the library are too big to upload, so here is a Google link to view them)
In act I, scene 1, line 162, as Lear lets forth an oath “Now, by Apollo – ” which Kent brusquely interrupts “Now, by Apollo, king / Thou swear’st thy gods in vain,” Bevington’s footnote (162) tells us: “The play of King Lear is rather carefully pagan in all its externals.” He’s right, of course, as the play’s many references to gods and goddesses of nature and justice (in addition to the Greek mythical tradition) seem rather untethered to any Christian worldview. My question is whether Bevington’s observation here – i.e. Shakespeare is carefully avoiding Christian themes in the play’s “externals”– should inform his glosses for the rest of the play.
I’m thinking, for instance, of Act I Scene IV line 18, when Kent (now disguised) re-introduces himself to Lear: “I do profess to be no less than I seem; to serve him truly that will put me in trust….to fight when I cannot choose; and to eat no fish” (emphasis mine). Bevington’s gloss for the “eat no fish” teaches us that “Warburton’s explanation is usually followed: Roman Catholics, who observed the custom of eating fish on Fridays, were thought of as enemies of the government.” If we buy that gloss, then Kent is defining himself in contradistinction to Catholics: the grid of interpretation we’re being offered is one that forces us back into a Christian universe, despite the earlier comment that the externals of the play are carefully non-Christian. I think Bevington is wary and subtle here — he gives us Warburton’s gloss but doesn’t it make it authoritative, leaving other interpretations possible for why Kent describes himself as an anti-pescatarian. But I’m still left puzzling: is it expected practice for an editor’s observation about the play as a whole to have a kind of binding power or be any kind of axiological principle for the rest of the glosses? Do we expect consistency and coherence from gloss to gloss across the totality of the editor’s work or is it ok for an editor to leave these kinds of apparent contradictions unresolved if it’s all in an effort to open up the text’s irresolutions and explain its oddities as best one can?

“Everything and Less: Fiction in the Age of Amazon” (Mark McGurl) Summary

McGurl’s article focuses on the question, “What does it mean to think of the rise of as an event in contemporary literary history?” (447). Though Amazon began as an online bookstore, I wouldn’t have thought of it as a literary event because of how the site has since expanded to include everything else. Its focus is no longer limited to books, but is rather, as McGurl highlights, on customer service and satisfaction. However, it is appropriate to examine Amazon’s impact on the literary market since its book business accounts for “roughly half of all US book purchases,” dominating especially “the market in popular genre fiction” (448). Essential to McGurl’s discussion is Kindle Direct Publishing, which is an e-book self-publishing service and which has immensely impacted what kind of fiction is being published now. McGurl also claims that university creative writing programs are related to Amazon in their effect on contemporary fiction, since both the MFA programs and KDP share a “professed allegiance to general creativity, to the artistic will of the people” (451). To emphasize the relationship between Amazon and literary history, McGurl likens his reading of Amazon’s commitment to customer service to a reading of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, a novel also about service. KDP, he says, transforms the author into a kind of customer, but also puts her/him in the position of merchant, removing the middleman of a publishing house. Writers are able to reach their target audiences more quickly, who are willing to be pleased “again and again” (460) as long as the author produces work according to their expectations. McGurl implies that this is one explanation for the huge increase in genre fiction, which might otherwise not be published. Just because it is published quickly, though, doesn’t mean this genre fiction is good quality. Rather than being concerned with artistic merit, writers, just like Amazon, cater to the “quasi deity” (457) of the customer. In the final section of the article, McGurl makes a distinction between real time, which has to do with the speed of information transmission, and quality time, which centers on relationships. Amazon’s goal is to reduce the amount of real time required for delivery, while time spent reading fiction can be considered quality time. McGurl relates the two, claiming that “fiction is nothing if not the virtualization of quality time” (465, original emphasis). Amazon, he says, desires to exist in a future that is always happening now, that endures—a similar criterion for enduring literary value (469).

The most interesting part of McGurl’s article to me was his discussion of the rise of genre fiction. He talks about customers’ impact on the writing produced through KDP, and I wonder if readers are similarly impacted. As writers cater to their readers’ demands, I wonder if all readers’ expectations will ultimately transform and if literary texts that are not superficially satisfying will cease to be satisfying at all. If electronic self-publishing has changed the way writers produce, will it similarly affect how and what readers expect to read? While I don’t like genre fiction myself, does it have other merits that McGurl doesn’t pick up on?

Related to popular fiction, I wonder what McGurl would say about J.K. Rowling, who, similar to the example of Hugh Howey’s expanding Silo Saga, has continued to produce writing related to the Harry Potter universe. Her work has transformed from a series of books to a business incorporating multiple kinds of media. Unlike Howey, though, her work has been published traditionally. Does writers’ desire to please their audience come from something beyond Amazon and KDP? Was the phenomenon of KDP inevitable because of customer demands? Is it possible to separate reader demand from how texts become popular? Is the never-ending story simply a result of capitalism, or is the origin more nuanced?

Lake and Pincus – “Rethinking the Public Sphere in Early Modern England”

This 2006 piece by two Ivy League early modern historians, Pincus (Yale) and Lake (then at Princeton, now at Vanderbilt), is “far more a framework for further research than a set of firm conclusions,” the opening footnote admits. Its claim might seem self-evident at first glance, borderline obvious: we should be looking to the public sphere, its historicity, its waxing and waning, its social uses, its manifestations in print, its multiple genres as we try to understand the goings-on of political and social history in Early Modern England, and Europe more generally. The novelty and the stakes of that position emerge once we take into account the tendencies of the historiography extant before Lake and Pincus came along. As the authors point out, revisionist histories of the early modern period (post-1970 scholarship) had already begun to pay attention to the public sphere — but with a strong predilection for manuscript, as opposed to print sources, and with a knack for returning ultimately to questions of “high politics” and courtly influence. Unlike their Whiggish predecessors, the revisionists were interested in manuscript over print, because they believed manuscript would tell the stories left untold, the “what really happened” that didn’t get captured by the “official” accounts, published by those privileged enough to use the press to advance their causes. Like their Whiggish predecessors, however, they ultimately produced accounts endorsing G. M. Trevelyan’s 1938 version of the “Glorious Revolution” as “consensual, sensible, and bloodless” (271), as the source of a certain English exceptionalism vis-à-vis the rest of the Continent, where countries would continue to struggle with monarchies and republics for quite some time. Pincus and Lake aren’t interested in dismantling anything; they’re interested in building on the revisionist accounts and seeing how the print and manuscript sources interrelate, how the “what really happened” meets the “what people said was really happening.” In that way, they hope to integrate the story of political, social, and economic change in England with religious change in the post-Reformation (religion being too often the victim of a Marxist habit of reducing things down to economic or social power struggles).

Their paper breaks down into a historical analysis of the modes of existence of the public sphere in England, followed by a methodological discussion about Whig vs. Revisionits.

Starting with the end of the Reformation in England (post 1580), Pincus & Lake point out that the public sphere (in the form of print, pulpits, performances, circulating manuscripts, pamphlets) would be created or summoned in times of religiopolitical controversy by elites in a kind of early-modern version of Wikileaks (see the Earl of Essex p. 277). The public sphere was a force stirred up by fears of conspiracy theories, papism, corruption. Once summoned and deployed to quell a controversy, right a wrong, expose a lie, or adjudicate a popularity contest between leaders, it tended to subside again. These ebbs and flows were periodic although not necessarily regular. Only after the English Civil Wars between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians did the public sphere become a more regular staple of the political and cultural landscape — in large part, Pincus and Lake insist, because of the “intensity, speed, and sheer volume” of popular and public political and theological discussion. The Civil War also affected economic and social structures. During the War, both sides realized that to fund their campaigns, they had to rely more and more on the “mobile wealth” of merchants, tradesmen, etc. rather than on the wealth of landed aristocracy. (France, by contrast, did not make this leap to a proto-bourgeoisie until much later, as its landed aristocracy remained impressively powerful). On the social side, in the wake of the war, mass movements of the population towards the cities made for a bigger literary market capable of consuming circulating broadsides, pamphlets, public sermons, and the emerging genre of news-sheets. These media twittered with debate over the two competing visions of England’s economic future. Tory supporters of James II pushed for a land-based, and therefore finite vision of wealth that implied a need for further imperial colonization, while the largely Whig proponents of England’s native manufacturing prowess urged that wealth was based on human labor, and therefore potentially infinite (p. 283). The former, in order to keep a tight hold on who had wealth and who didn’t, needed to continue keeping a firm reign on the access to economic information about land, locations of commodities and resources, etc. The latter, the Whigs, needed economic information to be widely available to ensure that manufacturers could maximize their profits and efficiency. The advent of the Glorious Revolution pushed history the Whig way and the public sphere became a more or less permanent installation.

Pincus and Lake conclude with a few thoughts about how their methodology differs from Whig and Revisionist accounts. They agree with the Whigs that the early modern period was transitional in many ways, but do not agree with the inevitability thesis or teleology of much Whiggish historiography, i.e. that “modernity” could only come into existence the way it did. Other modernities were available and other public spheres could have emerged. I find the summary of their goals on p 287 particularly helpful in explaining where they diverge from the Revisionists: “Our emphasis is on the modes of political communication and maneuver deployed by a variety of actors both inside and outside the establishment to deal with the potentially explosive consequences produced by the combination of confessional division, geopolitical crisis, and political economic controversy. By focusing on the methods and strategies of political communication rather than solely on the ideas communicated or the political ends pursued, we can identify and perhaps even start to explain changes in both popular politics and governance that are occluded b y revisionist accounts of the same period.”

But perhaps the most important point for the topics of our course is on p. 290, when the authors note that a quantitative shift in the production of and accessibility of economic, political, and theological information in that period implied a qualitative shift in the economics, politics, and theologies themselves. The remarkable shift of opinions regarding the public sphere in the post-Reformation era (roughly, “the public doesn’t need to know about certain things” turned into “the public ought to know about everything that concerns the state!”) is a shift in the seat of political agency, obviously. But it is also a shift in the sense of responsibility for what one publishes, for the rationality thereof, and for the distinction between private economics and public politics, which came increasingly to meld into one.

As for questions, I would simply point out that I’m not sure Pincus and Lake have done as good a job of telling the story of theology and religion in their account as they had set out to do. They don’t fall into the Marxist trap which they cleverly pointed out at the beginning of the paper, but they gesture towards more than they actually relate the role of theology in the formation of the public sphere. Should anyone agree with me on this point, I’m curious why we think that is? Is the place/role/effect of theology in the public sphere harder to relate somehow, or perhaps harder to trace?