New Year, New Direction…or, Welcome to the Absolute Rebirth of My Blog

During a recent conversation, the topic turned to how the presence of Shakespeare seems to swallow up and overwhelm other early modern dramatists. This wasn’t about bashing the man; it was about the importance of reading or seeing Shakespeare’s plays alongside those of his contemporaries. Doing this reveals how early modern plays interconnect, share, and blatantly steal from one another, and it shows how the spirit of collaboration was alive and well. It also suggests Shakespeare’s influences (and vice versa): from whom he borrowed ideas, and in turn, who borrowed from him. It also introduces the reader or playgoer to some exceptionally good drama.

So where does the average playgoer start if they want to learn more about these plays? A good portion of the information on the web pertaining to Shakespeare’s contemporaries is for scholars and academics, which can be off-putting for the casual reader. Here’s where the new direction for my blog comes in. I want to help fill the void for those who’d like to discover plays like The Spanish Tragedy or ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore but don’t have the time or inclination to peruse a thesis or scholarly journal. I do, of course, hope my blog will be of some use to scholars and teachers. I also hope to reach those who want to better engage with Shakespeare, since knowing what Will’s contemporaries wrote about, and how the plays cross-pollenate, can enhance the reader’s or playgoer’s experience. In sum, I’d like my blog to be a resource.

My goal is an instructive close reading that is both engaging and thought-provoking. Here’s the plan: for each play, my first post will be about what to look for as far as overarching themes and concepts. Next, I’ll do more focused posts, act by act, pointing out anything interesting or important that might enhance the experience of seeing or reading the play. Since interpretations and productions vary, my posts will cleave to the spirit of the texts, but I will incorporate links to online videos where available. Finally, in hopes of making the unfamiliar more familiar, I’ll note any similarities to Shakespeare plays. If something in Galatea, for instance, is like something in The Tempest, that connection might be key to concepts otherwise missed.

This new direction isn’t meant to be an exhaustive analysis. I’m not going to state a thesis or make any claims. I’m simply going to point out things I find interesting and unusual in the hope it will help others discover and enjoy non-Shakespeare drama. I’m proselytizing for Shakespeare’s contemporaries, but I’m not the only one; check out the Read Not Dead project in the UK and the Rarely Played play-reading series at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, if you haven’t before. There’s also been an uptick in productions of plays such as Middleton’s The Changeling and Webster’s Duchess of Malfi. Even John Lyly is experiencing a bit of a revival, and if you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’ve previously done some work on his Galatea (ergo, it’s the first play I’ll feature).

This new direction is a work in progress, so I encourage feedback. How can I make this better? What else needs to be addressed? What plays should I include? Last of all, please share and spread the word. More readers mean more feedback and more potential fans of Middleton, Ford, Webster, Beaumont, Fletcher, Heywood…etc, etc, etc.

So there you have it. New year, new direction for my blog (and I hope you enjoyed the Spinal Tap reference in the title). Check back next week for my overview of Galatea.



The Galatea Project: Pt 1 – Diary


What follows is a rambly, diary sort of reflection on the process of preparing, putting together, and someday realizing my dream of a “read not dead” project. I blogged on this before, and some stuff is a recap (sorry, I do tend to repeat myself), but enjoy! (Now go read a non-Shakespeare early modern play, darn it.)

I’ve been asked several times why I don’t teach, and my reply is that I just don’t have the gift of patience teaching in a classroom requires. I am consistently in awe of my teacher friends and how they keep their cool with difficult students and in impossible situations. (So much respect for them!) On the other hand, if you asked me what I’d do in a perfect world, I’d tell you that I’d be working with a theatre company, doing a little dramaturgy and leading talk-backs and curtain discussions. I suppose, then, I do want to teach, but not in a classroom.

Fast forward a year or so after finishing my MA. I decided that rather than be frustrated by the fact that I’m not a dramaturg leading discussions after Shakespeare plays, I’d take a lesson from my old friend Dr. Frank N. Furter and quit dreaming it. I’d be it. I’d put together a casual reading of an early modern play and hold a discussion afterward. Since I’m a perpetual student, after graduating I’d enrolled back at my university as a non-degree seeking student (I get to keep my library rights, so bonus), and I decided I’d contact the school and see if there was any interest in my idea.

I emailed a couple of my former literature professors, as well as the prof that led an online theatre appreciation class I’d recently taken. To my surprise (and relief) they all loved the idea and suggested other professors I might contact. Each professor I spoke with was encouraging and supportive. One theatre professor told me he’d been waiting for someone to suggest this very thing! One of my former literature profs gave me a great idea for the play to use: Lyly’s Galatea. I agreed that yes, Galatea was the one! If you’re not familiar with it, it has everything: cross-dressing, questions of fate/fortune, concepts of sexuality, gender, and relationships, gods, goddesses, and nymphs…and a sea monster. With the play selected, I could get to work. If nothing else, I’d have a better appreciation of a play that had a huge influence on my buddy Will Shakespeare.

What I envisioned for this project was, as I said, a very casual, laid-back reading of the play. I went to a new plays festival to see how they handled their readings; they had music stands at the front for their scripts, and each came forward to read their part. That didn’t appeal to me, and since I hoped to have non-drama majors attend, I didn’t want the reading to be on stage. Sitting around a table in a classroom seemed boring, so I got the idea of sitting on the grass on the lawn in front of our library. Passers-by could stop and listen and join in the discussion afterward. It was different, no pressure, and I hoped it would sound inviting to all kinds of students. I wanted to include everyone who wanted to participate; if we had math majors, awesome! Biology, great! These students would bring an entirely different insight to the play, and their input could lead to some exciting and intriguing discussion.

I had a copy of the Revel series Galatea / Midas, and I downloaded another copy of the play from the Folger EMED site, but I began to wonder if the play was too long for a reading and discussion after. Early modern play lovers (like me) would be in heaven, but for anyone else, it might be deal-breaker. During a discussion with a former professor/mentor of mine who is now a dear friend and colleague (now that I’ve styled myself an independent scholar, I can say that!), she made a remark that has stuck with me, and I am forever grateful. “Cut the play, cut characters, cut whole scenes or acts if you want. This is your project! You’re the artistic director, you’re the director of the play, make it yours!” WOW. I’m an artistic director. WOW. I still like the sound of that. (And thank you again, if you’re reading this. You know who you are.)

Reader, I did just that! Galatea has a subplot of rustics, and I cut the heck out of poor Rafe and his fellow clowns — right out of the play. That brought the length down to about an hour and a half, and also made the story focus more clearly on Galatea, Phillida, and their relationship. I also cut the prologue and epilogue; I felt at liberty to do that because not only is their purpose patronage and getting the play extended for another performance or two, they aren’t always written by the author. Again, this keeps the focus on Lyly and his text. After these cuts, I read through the play and began a more specific edit based on the Revel edition. I glossed some of the more unusual early modern words and phrases, relying on the Revel when necessary. After that, I read through again and tweaked the punctuation a bit. This was based on my own experience of reading the play and consisted of changes I felt would help non-early modernists with the often-weighty syntax.

With the script finished, I set to work on finding some good background info on John Lyly (I picked this from the Globe website: and a short summary of the play. I didn’t want to get too in depth about the play, because I wanted ideas and discussion to grow organically from the experience of reading. I made up a flyer that was eye-catching and meant to suggest that this reading was meant to be interesting and fun, not just a sit-in-your-chair-and-learn kind of thing. I also wrote up some short character descriptions for the organizational meeting so attendees can think about who they’d like to play. The organizational meeting will allow me to judge participation and see if doubling (or tripling!) might be necessary; I will then assign parts and hand out scripts. I plan to give participants the option of picking their character, and after those who are interested in a specific character are happy, the rest can be assigned at random. The character descriptions are light-hearted; one character, Hebe, I described as right out of a melodrama. Like I said before, I don’t want to sway anyone’s impression of a character, but I also want to emphasize the humor in the play.

galatea flyer for blog

With the new semester now underway, I reconnected with my list of professors and let them know all was ready. The response was incredibly supportive, and the organizational meeting is booked for the end of January. During the meeting, based on the schedules of the participants, we’ll set the date for the actual reading; I’m thinking mid-February. I’m excited, but very anxious. If I get 8 or so participants, I’ll be happy. A dozen or more and I’ll be ecstatic!

In part two, I’ll reveal if the organizational meeting is a success or failure, and in part three, I’ll blog about the actual reading. If you’re lucky (?) I might do a part four, reflecting on the project as a whole. Thanks for reading!

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.