What I’m reading: why, another Shakespeare book, of course! “The New Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare”

I just finished The New Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare (Margreta DeGrazia & Stanley Wells, eds.; Cambridge UP, 2010). This medium-sized companion is a good overview of the basics, and would definitely be useful for a school/uni library or on the shelf of any Shakespeare enthusiast. The chapters include a biography of the man by Stephen Greenblatt and a look at the theatres of early modern London by Tiffany Stern, as well as discussions of textual theories and other literary concerns such as Shakespeare’s writing process and how his works came to print. There are chapters on the various genres of the plays, including one on the comedies by Stanley Wells. Discussions of how race, religion, and gender resonate through Shakespeare’s plays are included, as are chapters on Shakespeare and the media, popular culture, global Shakespeare, and Shakespeare in performance. The final chapter is filled with suggestions for further reading and online exploration of Shakespeare in general.

By way of example, in Claire McEachern’s chapter, “Shakespeare, religion and politics,” one section addresses questions of interiority, transformation, and individual action (194-195). The entire chapter is interesting, but I found her short examination of these particular questions especially thought-provoking. When interiority differs from practice, how is this presented on stage? Does performance affect interiority? Do words? Her answers look at Hamlet, Prince Hal, boy actors in female roles, and the dynamic between Iago/Othello, Claudio/Hero, and Rosalind/Orlando. For me, these few paragraphs considering of depth of character as opposed to visual array stood out from the rest of the piece.

The following complete chapters were also standouts (in my humble opinion):

Anthony Dawson, “Shakespeare on the stage” – an interesting look at the physicality inherent in Shakespeare’s texts, such as directed movement, gesture, and stance. He also discusses staging and scenery and how they intersect with the actor and character, as well as how the architecture of the stage contributes to performance.

Jonathan Gil Harris, “Shakespeare and race” – Harris looks at the complexities of race in the texts, how “race” as a word has variable meanings, and its use. His chapter explores “race” in not just Othello, but also examines how it runs through Anthony and Cleopatra, Titus Andronicus, and The Merchant of Venice. (I highly recommend this chapter.)

Stephen Orgel, “Shakespeare, sexuality and gender” – Orgel examines sexuality as it pertains to maturity, gender identity, and marriage in early modern England and Shakespeare’s plays in particular. His findings are intriguing and surprising, and the chapter is an excellent read. Plays treated by Orgel include Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet; he also presents cultural and medical beliefs from the period, as well as historical anecdote and legend. (This is another I highly recommend.)

Last but not least, the final chapter on further reading is impressive. Page after page is filled with suggestions for further research on everything from the complete works to stage history to music, including books, journals, and online sources. This catalog of information, along with the bibliography provided at the end of each chapter, gives the student or Shakespeare enthusiast a plethora of ways to increase their knowledge (or just skim around for the enjoyment of it). This overall abundance of sources alone is worth the price of the volume.



The Galatea Project…or, don’t dream it, be it!

What else is going on with my work as an independent scholar, you ask? Well, as a matter of fact, I’m planning and organizing a table reading of John Lyly’s Galatea. For some time, I’ve wanted to either start or be a part of a “read not dead” series of non-Shakespeare plays. There are many good plays out there that weren’t penned by Ol’ Will, and it’s a shame they’re so often overlooked in favor of another production of Romeo and Juliet or Midsummer Night’s Dream. Some of these non-Shakespeare plays even have fairies! And doomed lovers! And mistaken identities! And girls dressed as boys in a forest! True, I live in southwest Florida, which is not exactly a bastion of Shakespeare productions, let alone Marlowe or Webster, but with any luck, I’ll start a small push for change.

Since I’m an alumni of Florida Gulf Coast University and still registered there non-degree seeking (I’m the actual definition of “perpetual student”), I figured my best bet was to organize these readings on the FGCU campus. If they’re a hit, I can then approach local theatre companies with some experience under my belt. I’ve gotten great feedback from professors in the English, History, and Theatre departments of FGCU, and the plan is to get this rolling after the first of the year. Right now I’m working on scripts, background info, and publicity materials.

Although I’d dearly love to do a reading of these plays in their entirety, I have to be practical. My hopes are to involve anyone interested: actor, non-actor, English major, Engineering major, it doesn’t matter. I just want to spread the joy of early modern drama! In light of this, I had to accept that not everyone can sit through 2 ½ hours of Shakespeare, Lyly, or Middleton. After discussing with a dear friend who was one of my lit professors and all-around mentor, I decided I would offer the table reading participants the choice of doing either the full play or a stripped-down version that runs about an hour. The hour-long choice also has the advantage of allowing for discussion time, which is an important part of my vision. So right now, I’m working on the edits. I found I can eliminate eight characters (the “clown” figures), and not interfere with the core story line. This allows me to cut entire scenes and numerous pages. I’m now making these deletions in Word; it’s time consuming, but  will be easier to read and tweak than blacked out sections on a pdf. After this is complete, I’ll do a comparison with the original to make sure all is still well with the main plot.

I’ll blog more about this project as I move along with it. I’m pretty excited! I’ve never had the urge or talent to act, but I’ve always been intrigued by directing. I’ve also always wanted to head up post-show talkbacks and such. With this project, as my friend pointed out, I’m the Artistic Director, director, and educational department! It just doesn’t get any better than making your dreams happen.