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The following is an excerpted version of a conversation between Teddy Jefferson, whose “Rorschach Tempest” was published in the Spring 2010 (61.1) issue of Shakespeare Quarterly, and Martino Marazzi, who translated an extended bilingual version of the piece that was recently published in Italy by sedizioni, an Italian publishing house based in Milan.
Martino Marazzi What inspired you to write “Rorschach Tempest,” and how did you decide to choose this form and this strange and unexpected setting?
Teddy Jefferson Let me answer the question backward. The seed of the piece was research I did for a recent production of The Tempest. I was there for opening night, in the tenth row. The house was filled with the top theater brass and literati and press. Scene two: Prospero was telling Miranda the strange story of how he used to be Duke of Milan, but after a few lines he stopped speaking and began circling Miranda in a state of panic and desperation. He’d gone completely blank. It was the universal nightmare of finding yourself on stage with thousands of people watching you and not knowing your part. Miranda tried to prompt him but he just kept pacing round and round, like a madman. The audience wasn’t sure what was going on, whether this was deliberate or not. It felt like it went on for hours. Then, finally, the line came to him, and the play resumed. Why did this happen? In his eyes, there seemed to be the possibility that he simply couldn’t pull it off. The gears had frozen. It no longer made sense to do this play four centuries after it was written centuries during which man walked on the moon, murdered 60 million people in a decade, deciphered the genome, developed and used nuclear weapons, etc., etc. The elemental strangeness of doing theater—particularly classical theater—had come to the surface. He had suddenly become self-conscious, like a horse balking before a jump. Who was he during this brief gap in words? And did this affect what followed? The plainness of this crisis—Why do this play? Who am I actually playing?— and the absence of clear answers was what drove my piece forward. What was The Tempest to its time? Can we know the past? Can we know the present? What would it mean to know the present? Prospero’s pause is perfectly in line with these questions, and the use of Shakespeare to demonstrate the incompleteness of our understanding, where the tension between the familiar—the parts that strike us as plausibly modern—and the unfamiliar creates a kind of epistemological unease. And this unease should be the goal.
As for the second part of your question, Japan emerged as the setting for the piece partly because its total foreignness to the world of the play, which cleared the mind of the blinding jungle of Shakespeariana. Also, Japan has one of the greatest ranges anywhere of traditional art forms which it maintains obsessively while ravenously ingesting the new modes and technologies that some might think render the old forms obsolete. The West, conditioned by the worship of “progress” and the market—nature for the modern westerner—understands most culture as entertainment which must either pay for itself to continue to exist, or be artificially sustained as relics, in which case their vitality wanes inevitably. But if a traditional form—let’s stick with theater—is not entertainment, what is it? For the West, there is no ready answer: ritual? Sport? Therapy? Is theater more than, or other than, entertainment? Shakespeare’s contemporary Francis Bacon had the best description: theater is to the mind as the bow is to the fiddle. And then this also from Bacon: “The minds of men in company are more open to affections and impressions than when alone.”
Martino Marazzi To what extent is Lenz your ideal director?
Teddy Jefferson In a way yes he is, in his disposition—Lenz is a tireless manic omnivore, unbound by any orthodoxy, iconoclastic, curious, and intense. I look forward to seeing his works. My hope is that at least two of the productions described in the piece will be done, the Oedipus Rex performed during the Indi 500 (or a King Lear during a Grand Prix), and the final version of The Tempest with the twin trucks on the abandoned runway by the sea. Lenz is the perfect antidote to many of the tedious narcissistic schools of theater that proliferate these days, enervated by consensus and real estate. But Lenz has a more important feature as a director: anarchy. Of all the inherent features of theater, this might be the most important. It is built into the operation of the medium, which is unstable the way a radioactive atom is. The spectacle is absolutely real and absolutely false. You are continuously reminded, however drawn in you are by the illusion, that it is a game, a trick that could be disrupted at any moment. And this double state is compounded by the audience, which adds yet another unpredictable element. The theater I find most gripping is that in which this feature, this precariousness, lies closest to the surface, and illusion, performance, physical exertion, speech, and artifice are all equal. Everyone who has worked backstage in a theater has felt this. The story of the Brooklyn Prospero going blank is a case in point. In a theater performance, ten separate systems, or realities, are running at the same time, some on display, most hidden, but it is the sum that generates the intensity of the spectacle. It breaks surface away from what lies below it. It undermines the structures of commonplaces and “truths” constantly forming in our heads. Perhaps because of this, theater was always the first art to be shut down in times of political tension, the most demonized by authority. Queen Elizabeth formed a company of players to do pro-monarchy propaganda to counter the seditious messages she feared were seeping from London stages. Today it would be impossible for anything short of homicide to happen in a theater that would even draw the attention of the authorities. The attention of a censor is something a playwright would dream about now, when the ideas in a play are secondary at best. Especially today, when people are so hypnotized by the new electronics that their content barely matters.
Martino Marazzi In your Tempest, you go deep into the question of the relation between Shakespeare and realism. How much is Shakespeare engaged in simply rendering real characters and circumstances—real for his age, and potentially our own as well? I mean “realism” here as a mode of reproduction that is critical of a given historical context. And how much are his plays a bid for separation, a form of counterfeiting, of creating a deliberate break with that historical reality—an act not of flight but rather of radical estrangement?
Teddy Jefferson The question of realism is the perfect segue. Chekhov said if you put a real nose on a painting you ruin both. That’s the simplest pronouncement on realism. It’s very different in the visual arts, where the succession of styles and modes is accepted simply as a range of conventions for representing the human. To use a tiny sample, with the Egyptian figure, Cimabue, Giacometti, Daumier, Marvel comics, in each you recognize the human. What complicates things in theater is the fact that the roles, whenever they were written and whatever their style, are played by contemporary live humans, which creates a necessary and inescapable tension. It is impossible to know how much our behavior and thought today correspond to that in previous centuries and millennia. This tension between the contemporary and the ancient or old adds yet another electron ring to the medium.
But your question was more about content than presentation. Shakespeare undeniably took on the issues and circumstances of his time—treachery, murder, conspiracy, betrayal, love, disguise, dissembling—all of which were to be found in high concentration among the royalty, his primary focus. The life of Queen Elizabeth provides every detail of the most savage and bloody of his plays. Things got off to a fast start in her household: her father had her mother executed when Elizabeth was three, probably for not having produced a male heir. While the plays are filled with what we might see as political critique, this had to be well disguised or he would risk punishment. The sense of urgency and danger in the period was intense. Every decade or two, the plague would kill about a tenth or more of the population of London. Breughel the Elder’s Triumph of Death from 1562, today seen as surreal, was documentary painting. Theater, seen as a breeding ground for both dangerous thought and disease, would be shut down not for renovation but during outbreaks of the plague to avoid contagion. The Queen ran a network of spies and enforcers as plotting against her continued unabated. The struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism was deadly and relentless. You could easily be killed for what you believed. Insofar as much of this made its way into Shakespeare’s plays, he would be classified as a realist, but one who had to disguise and encode his real message—if, in fact, he was making timely political statements—to keep his head on his neck. Nor was this a simple operation, given that the theater was closely monitored for and regularly animated by seditious ideas. The sense of relevance and danger would have added to its appeal and sets it clearly apart from the pleasant, occasionally bracing, bourgeois entertainment that it has too frequently degenerated into.
The question of whether his characters resonate with our age is an interesting one. A large number of people, and actors especially, relate intensely to Shakespeare’s characters, who, they feel, provide a fuller and more intact humanity. One reason is that they are often boiling with contradiction, which modern people would say they share with them. Harold Bloom’s version of this position is the most extreme, that our idea of ourselves, of the human, is so dominated by Shakespeare that it is impossible to see past him; that we understand ourselves in his terms; that his interiority is our interiority. It is a breathtaking idea whether we find it convincing or hyperbolic. But the basic question is, What are we watching when we watch Shakespeare? Plays from four hundred years ago written almost exclusively about royalty (albeit with all classes represented) by a man who was not of royalty but well down the social ladder. How is it that modern people for whom monarchy is incomprehensible and obscene, whose minds have been shaped by Darwin, Freud, and Einstein, see themselves more in Shakespeare than in the playwrights of centuries later? Is it that Shakespeare was simply a genius in human understanding, and chose the monarchy as his main subject simply because that was the practice at the time? This is the universalist perspective. Is it possible that Shakespeare is more of a mirror for modern people than he was for his contemporaries? Or did the behavior of the monarchy in those days provide a scale and extreme range of action and consequence that drew out Shakespeare more completely than any other subject would have? Or might the modern audience see in Shakespeare’s king and queens a stature and romance lacking in daily life? Is it possible that what draws people most to Shakespeare is something that is unfamiliar, or interstitial, something that occurs only in the words? Is it a frequency of language or thought, a conceptual or metaphoric intensity, that simply satisfies and thrills the listener, whatever the theme? Perhaps because Shakespeare worked in a period when English was still magmatic, nonstandardized, nonbureaucratized, rough, when the amalgam of other tongues was fresh and dynamic, the language radiates an energy that people crave without knowing what exactly it is?
Martino Marazzi Reading your piece one has the sensation that just when we are carried as far as possible away from the “real” Tempest, the bickering and plots of Renaissance Italy, we find ourselves closer than ever to Shakespeare, because he lives, as you just said, “in the ear” as much as “in the eye.” Where does Shakespeare’s theater take place: on the stage, or in the mind?
Teddy Jefferson The plays go through the ear into the mind, like the poison in the play-within-the-play in Hamlet. The plays take place in the words. Everything of importance is in the words, the mood, the scenery, expressions on others’ faces, the pratfalls of the jester, the quality of the light, the pain from the sword, or the poison, even details about one’s costume. If something matters, it is mentioned. Characters announce their surroundings. The complete reality is carried in their speech, launched by it. In contrast, from the mid-1800s on, stage directions in plays become more and more elaborate and crucial. In O’Neill, or Pirandello, they constitute almost a parallel reality, novelistic and exhaustive. There is a simple test to perform on Shakespeare: in all of his plays can you find a single pause? Can you even introduce a single pause somewhere into the dialogue? No, because everything that happens is remarked upon. If a character falls silent, or is delayed in reaction, another character will point this out. The pause belongs to contemporary realism which is grounded largely in what is not said, and in the awkwardness of the situation. In Shakespeare, the script is sovereign, an unbroken ribbon or track.
But you can go further in this direction. A certain emotional and conceptual or intellectual intensity is reached solely because of the way things are said. This is less a matter of verse or image than something more raw and elusive, partly aural, rhythmic, but mostly the extraordinary angulation and speed of the milling of ideas and sense. There is something bracing and affecting in the sheer combination of words, the density of utterance, the speed at which characters digest and play off each other’s speech. There is no chitchat. The level of articulation is extraordinary. Take the exchange between Hamlet and the gravedigger—a good example, because it shows that every social level of the plays has the same linguistic caliber. A lot of bad Shakespeare performance involves acting out the lines, grabbing your crotch to point out a bawdy pun. The effect is the destruction of what is said by illustrating it. The language is so intricate and sophisticated that you can neither speak it nor follow it unless the words are primary. To gussy up a line of emotional intensity with tears and sobs is to destroy both. What this means then is that not only the scenery and atmosphere but even the characters’ behavior and movement are carried in the words. It is not that clarity of self-expression displaces, or obviates, displays of emotion and gesture. Rather, to a large extent, it sublimates them. The discussion of what an actor is to do with Shakespeare (other than speak clearly) is for another day and a taller bottle of wine. The point though is that so much is happening in the words, at so many levels, that all else must be very carefully gauged to them.
Martino Marazzi You are very careful not to propose a return to the old trick of “theater within the theater.” Indeed, you give a very clear indication regarding the impossibility of a naive theater that accepts the script as simply a score to be played “faithfully” or “philologically,” note by note.
Teddy Jefferson Years ago, I was assistant to the Rumanian director Lucian Pintilie on a production of The Cherry Orchard. It was the night before opening. I was sitting next to him taking notes. At the top of the show, as directed, a little boy darted across the stage and turned over a rake, leaving it teeth-up so when the bumbler Yepikhodov entered he would step on it and the handle would swing up and hit him in the face. As soon as the boy exited, however, an audience member in the front row jumped up onto the stage, turned the rake over, and walked off through the actors’ exit mumbling about saving the actors from danger. The cast froze in shock. Lucian, though, leaned forward with amazement and delight and said to me, “Fantastic, just like Pirandello!” This is the territory of theater within theater, or metatheater. It isn’t something that is added into a play but the gearbox of the medium, which a director can choose to hide or leave in view. Pintillie thought that theater was about the dead, a medium of conjuring, the stage as Ouija board. There is a common border between acting and spirit possession, and if we weren’t used to it as a profession, we might think that this activity of ingesting the words of other beings and pretending to be them were a psychological condition, or a religious pathology like speaking in tongues. The normalization of acting in theater as a career, the professionalization of the field, obscures the primordial, contagistic, unconscious operations of theater that serve to draw you outside of the rationalized, utilitarian world view. Theater as other. Theater as a response to the predeterminism and fragmentation of social life, in which the conventions and structures we live by appear strange and incomprehensible, theater as a funhouse mirror when the distorted image it reflects back is the true one.
All of this might seem a bit hocus-pocus but it arises from the same quality I pointed out a while ago, that the fusion of a script, live performers, and an audience activates something in the mind that no other art form can. Many Shakespeare productions try to update the play or relocate it to a familiar period—the Vietnam War, Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, for example. The impulse in these cases is to normalize the play, to counterbalance the basic fact that there is something strange about putting on a play written hundreds of years ago about kings and queens. Why should this strangeness be camouflaged? That should be the starting point. The continuing fascination with these works should be accepted as a mystery, not the norm.
The amalgam of past and present found in productions of classical theater is something less appreciated in the United States than the rest of the world, perhaps because the real mythology of this country is technology and futurism, not Mount Olympus. In Iran, for example, people will regularly cite couplets from a thousand years ago to elucidate something happening today. In the United States, the present is so overpowering that anything left over from the past must constantly justify itself (usually financially) or risk being liquidated or simply wither away. It is like a form of sadistically compressed evolution, in which each species is questioned at every generation as to why it should be allowed to continue to exist. The market has taken over the function of nature in evolution; it is the tribune, the high court of continuation. This is both bad and good. The bad is obvious. Look around at the landscape of constant demolition and turnover. The good is, or can be, a constant restless reexamination of everything. As an environment to live in, it can be nightmarish and electrifying.
Martino Marazzi So we are the first real actors, with our desires, our dreams, and our nightmares, and this is why we see ourselves in puppets and marionettes. You can be sure the acting schools won’t be rolling out the red carpet for you.
Teddy Jefferson The idea that we are controlled by forces we are not aware of is both repugnant and fascinating to people, whether that force is the unconscious, or the devil, or the logic of machinery. At the same time that Western society fetishizes the construct of the individual in politics and even more in commerce and advertising, science is asserting that our behavior in matters from religion to crime to love is biochemically or genetically predetermined. This involves the most basic ways in which we see ourselves and each other as individuals, what we like and what we do. We are told that Van Gogh’s style of painting was caused by a neurological condition. (It is worth asking whether we think in terms that science dictates, or whether science adopts terms that fit the current mood and appetite of the species.) In this context, then, the use of marionettes becomes the only true realism—albeit in a very literal, superficial sense. Ironically, the effect of using marionettes or puppets is the opposite: it doesn’t call attention to the puppeteer and show up the lifelessness and flatness of the puppet. Instead, the puppet exudes an inexplicable superanimation. You can argue that we see ourselves more clearly when portrayed by puppets, though only when performed at a high level, because of the slight abstraction. The Japanese Bunraku tradition is of course at the highest level, emotionally and anatomically, and the detail of the movements, of the left hand and face in particular, is so vivid and precise that you watch in amazement. The fact that the puppet is manipulated by three highly trained operators introduces a very interesting conceptual element: it takes three bodies and six hands to convincingly render human movement in a single puppet. The voice, then, comes from a fourth person. Now extend this idea from physical movement to consciousness. Could the mental structure of the human be similarly broken down and contracted out the way that movement was? What becomes immediately evident in this slightly crazy line of reasoning is that in theater we don’t think in terms of models of the mind and self. The unity and solidity of character is generally accepted as a given.
* * *
Teddy Jefferson is the author of One Inch Leather: 14 Stories (pendulum books), and plays The Wedding, The Desk, and The Insomniac. His translation of Pirandello’s However You Want Me (Come tu mi vuoi) won the PEN translation prize. Savitri in the Forest of Death, written for choreographer Preeti Vasudevan, was just performed in Madras and Delhi and nominated for the META Indian Theater award. He was a dramaturge for the Bridge Project’s Shakespeare productions and edited the modern theater volumes for Harold Bloom’s Chelsea House series. Today Mother Was Burned at the Stake, an exploration of the inquisition against the Cathars, will be published in late 2013. He lives in New York.
Martino Marazzi is Assistant Professor of Italian Literature at the Università degli Studi, Milan, Italy, and has been a Fellow of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia University. He has widely written on literary and cultural relations between Italy and the United States, editing various works by Italian American writers (L. D. Ventura, A. Giovannitti, M. Fiaschetti, E. Bartoletti) and has published studies on modern and contemporary Italian literature (from Cavour and Pinocchio to Calvino) and on Dante criticism. His most recent books are Voices of Italian America (Fordham University Press, 2012), and A occhi aperti. Letteratura dell’emigrazione e mito americano (FrancoAngeli, 2011). He is also the author of two books of fiction: La fine del Purgatorio and Filogenesi (Sedizioni, 2008 and 2010).
To see Teddy Jefferson’s essay in sedizioni, go to http://www.sedizioni.it/sedizioni/catalogo/Voci/2011/11/13_ted_jefferson,_rorschach_tempest.html.
Copies of sedizioni can be ordered at http://www.deastore.com/libro/la-tempesta-alla-prova-ediz-teddy-jefferson-m-marazzi-sedizioni/9788889484630.html.
A guest post by Philip Schwyzer, University of Exeter
What has the discovery of the remains of Richard III in Leicester told us that was not already known to Shakespeare and his contemporaries? In one sense, very little. The main points confirmed by osteoarchaeological analysis are ones about which the main Tudor chroniclers were in agreement: that one of Richard’s shoulders was higher than the other, that his body was the subject of grievous violence both before and after death, and that he was buried in the choir of the Greyfriars.
As was already obvious to readers of Holinshed and Hall, Shakespeare in Richard III greatly exaggerated Richard’s deformity. He also omitted any reference to the king’s posthumous fate, though the particulars given in the chronicles are as clear as they are depressing. At the end of the play, Richard’s corpse is still on stage; orders are given for the interment of others, but nothing is said about the disposal of the tyrant’s remains. (King Lear aside, in how many other plays are the burial arrangements of the title character left so uncertain?) The archaeologists who broke ground in Leicester last summer were seeking answers to a question first raised —if only implicitly— in Shakespeare’s play.
In the reporting of the Greyfriars discovery, Shakespeare has figured mainly as the fabling foil for archaeological truth. Countless commentators have drawn the contrast between Shakespeare’s grotesque stage villain and the “real” king in the car park. The skeleton, which shows evidence of adolescent-onset scoliosis but neither a hunchback nor a withered arm, has been hailed as disproving Shakespeare’s portrait of a congenitally deformed monster. Of course, analysis of the remains can tell us precisely nothing about such matters as Richard’s role in the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. Nonetheless, in the prevailing media discourse, the bones stand for blunt material fact as opposed to —and trumping— Shakespeare’s beguiling, immaterial fiction.
In all the excitement, we should not lose sight of the fact that Shakespeare’s play is itself the record and product of a profound engagement with the remains of Richard III. The world in which he lived and wrote was shot through with material (and cultural, institutional, and mnemonic) traces of Richard’s late fifteenth-century milieu. Recently in Shakespeare Quarterly (63 , 297–327), I explored the unlikely survival of some of Richard’s (real or reputed) personal effects, including his prayer book, his dagger, his crown, and his bed: objects which would find a second, proxy afterlife as properties on Shakespeare’s stage. Rather than proffering “false” props in the place of “real” things, I argued there, “Richard III invites us to consider how much and how little separates the dramatic property from the genuine article, and in doing so to gauge both the proximity and the distance between Shakespeare’s time and the late medieval world of Richard III.”
Shakespeare’s play did more than imbibe and reflect the multitemporal material world out of which it was produced— it had material consequences of its own, summoning new objects into being. The early seventeenth century saw the emergence of a range of competing traditions regarding the fate of Richard’s body, each associated with different samples of material “evidence.” One prominent citizen of Leicester erected a monument in his garden declaring that it marked the resting place of Richard III. An alternative tradition held that his body had been exhumed and thrown in the river; a Leicester tavern proudly displayed what was said to have been his sarcophagus (recycled as a trough for horses). These objects would probably never have existed were it not for the success of Richard III, and the mysteries it set in motion. It is only an extension of the same argument to identify the skeleton unearthed in 2012 as yet another (untimely) birth of Shakespeare’s play. Without Shakespeare, who would ever have gone looking for Richard?
Shakespeare and archaeology are not altogether strangers to each other in contemporary scholarship. There has been some highly fruitful collaboration around the excavation of the Rose Theatre, for instance. Yet the opportunities are almost certainly far greater and more various than practitioners on either side of the disciplinary divide have yet realized. Could the Greyfriars dig and the public discussions resulting from it help Shakespeare studies and archaeology to become something more than “better strangers”? What interdisciplinary opportunities are now becoming imaginable? Where should we dig next?
University of Exeter
Philip Schwyzer is Professor of Renaissance Literature at the University of Exeter. He is the author of Archaeologies of English Renaissance Literature (2007) and Literature, Nationalism, and Memory in Early Modern England and Wales (2004). Shakespeare and the Remains of Richard III is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.
To see more pictures of the excavation, view the University of Leicester’s Flickr album here.
Call for essays for a special issue of Shakespeare Quarterly.
We are seeking essays on Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline drama by theater-poets other than Shakespeare for a special issue of Shakespeare Quarterly entitled “Not Shakespeare,” edited by Lars Engle and David Schalkwyk, which will appear in summer 2014. To be considered for this issue, all essays must be received by 1 September 2013.
The University of Delaware Press has announced a competition for the third Jay L. Halio Prize in Shakespeare and Early Modern Studies. The Press welcomes submissions scholars at all stages of their careers, on all aspects of English literature and drama from 1580 to 1620.
The competition carries an award of $1,500. Information about the competition and submitting manuscripts can be found on the University of Delaware Press web site at http://www2.lib.udel.edu/udpress/.
The deadline for submissions is September 30, 2013.
Reviewing my book The Struggle for Shakespeare’s Text, Barbara Mowat (Shakespeare Quarterly 63 : 431–35) criticizes me for writing as if “there is no longer any question that Shakespeare is the author of the Hand D section of Sir Thomas More” and for claiming “without qualification or citation, that ‘Measure for Measure as we know it was an adaptation by Thomas Middleton in the early 1620s’” (435).
I’d be interested to know what readers of this forum think about these two topics. Regarding Hand D, the overwhelming evidence for its being Shakespeare’s composition is usefully summarized in John Jowett’s new Arden3 edition of Sir Thomas More.[i] (Jowett’s edition was published later than my book but pulls together the same set of articles—especially those by MacDonald P. Jackson and Hugh Craig—that have convinced me that we need no longer be tentative on this point.
On Measure for Measure being a Middletonian adaptation, I was first persuaded by John Jowett and Gary Taylor’s book Shakespeare Reshaped; I am now wholly convinced by Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino’s Collected Works of Middleton for Oxford University Press, especially the “Canon and Chronology” section of the accompanying Textual Companion on this play.[ii] Again, I’d be interested if anyone familiar with this scholarship thinks that it leaves open any possibility for doubt about Middleton’s role in adapting the play, and if so just where they see that doubt operating.
De Montfort University, Leicester, UK
[i] Anthony Munday and Henry Chettle, Sir Thomas More, ed. John Jowett (London: Methuen Drama, 2011), 437–53.
[ii] See John Jowett and Gary Taylor, Shakespeare Reshaped: 1606–1623 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993); Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino, gen. eds., Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works(New York: Oxford UP, 2007); and Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino, gen. eds., Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture: A Companion to the Collected Works (New York: Oxford UP, 2007), 417–21.
Folger Digital Texts offer meticulously edited, accurate texts in a beautifully readable format with the added power of in-depth, behind-the-scenes coding. The texts—including full source code—can also be downloaded at no charge for noncommercial use.
The first Folger Digital Texts include a dozen of Shakespeare’s best known plays, including Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Tempest. For a current list, consult this menu of available texts.
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The full source code of the texts may be downloaded by researchers and developers at no cost for noncommercial use—a major time-saver for scholarly research, app development, and other projects.
By sharing the coded text, the Folger hopes to significantly advance digital humanities research into the works of Shakespeare and other writers of his time.
Shakespeare’s plays in Folger Digital Texts are from the Folger Shakespeare Library editions, edited by Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine and published by Simon and Schuster. The Folger editions, available in print and as ebooks, include a wealth of additional notes, glosses, essays, and illustrations.
John Burrows’s essay “A Second Opinion on ‘Shakespeare and Authorship Studies in the Twenty-First Century,’” which appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of Shakespeare Quarterly, was cited by Willard McCarty in Humanist. An electronic forum for discussions on humanities computing and digital humanities, Humanist is published through the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) and the Office for Humanities Communication (OHC) and an affiliated publication of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).
Call for essays for a special issue of Shakespeare Quarterly.
We are seeking essays on Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline drama by theater-poets other than Shakespeare for a special issue of Shakespeare Quarterly entitled “Not Shakespeare,” edited by Lars Engle and David Schalkwyk, which will appear in summer 2014. To be considered for this issue, all essays must be received by 1 September 2013.
In December 2011, in a community hall in Cape Town, youth awaiting trial in Cape Town from Ottery Youth Care Centre performed their version of Hamlet—created, rehearsed, and performed inside the institution, for one time only before the public and outside incarcerated space.
Performances like this are rarely seen. Shakespeare prison projects tend to allow only fleeting glimpses of performance “inside.” Mickey B, which Ramona Wray wrote about in the fall 2011 special issue of Shakespeare Quarterly, with a follow-up interview with the director in the SQ Forum, is one exception. Through the Educational Shakespeare Company’s film project, prisoners at Belfast’s Maghaberry Prison were able to produce a full-length adaptation of Macbeth which was then screened for audiences outside the prison.
In the case of Hamlet, performed by incarcerated youth in Cape Town, actors and audience experienced a live performance that took both groups away from the prison and expectations of prison Shakespeare. I interviewed the director, Tauriq Jenkins, about the role and importance of this work and about Shakespeare in a South African context of incarceration.
Colette Gordon The Hamlet that played in December with actors from Ottery Youth Care Centre was billed as a “first for South African theater.” I believe this was the first time in South Africa a “prison production” was performed and viewed outside of incarcerated space. Could you speak a little more about this? How you perceive this first in SA theater history?
Tauriq Jenkins I see this as a crucial step toward transformation of South African theater. This production serves as an advancement toward effective representation along the lines of race and culture in South African theater. It puts away the notion that classical theater belongs only in institutions of higher learning, or on well-funded mainstream stages.
Shakespeare can account for the physical freedom of the participants. If this were a production of Hansel and Gretel, it most likely would not have been given the benefit of the doubt. This is the power of having classical theater’s blockbuster being performed by a group of so-called miscreants. The skepticism that met this project was overcome by an intense belief in its success. After a number of pre-performances in prison, it became clear that the participants were taking this on with zeal that quickly reshaped the opinions of skeptical onlookers.
The originality and intensity of this Hamlet stems from the unique archive of human experience the actors brought. The play needed to be accepted by the actors because the main focus of this performance was not the audience, as much as it was the participants themselves. This Hamlet was an exploration by those in it who become both the actor and the spectator, and the audience in this case is the witness to an event unfolding.
Colette Gordon Within the prison context, what are your reasons for focusing on Shakespeare and Classical theater in your work at Ottery and other detention centers?
Tauriq Jenkins Hamlet says, “Denmark is a prison.” To me, one of the most important facets of Shakespeare is how he tackles the concept of judgment. What interests me is the exploration of a part of our society that has had judgment passed. The criminal justice system in South Africa, while attempting to rehabilitate young offenders, in many ways does the reverse. I believe Hamlet is a play of catharsis and that these young people can relate to its specific content. Many of these young people know what it means to lose a family member and to experience tragic loss that many of Shakespeare’s characters experience. This in itself makes Shakespeare appropriate, as these actors can draw on their own archives of experience to authentically act the roles. Theater, and specifically Shakespeare, can address their need for expression. Shakespeare is also right for prison because of the Shakespearean antithesis of true and honest expression coming out of a symbolically dishonest space.
Colette Gordon I know Hamlet is a play that has personal significance for you. What significance do you think it has for these young men?
Tauriq Jenkins During rehearsals, I would always say to the young men that Shakespeare is one of the most difficult parts of Western theater. I made no bones about the fact that many actors are terrified of and deeply appreciative of Shakespearean actors. It didn’t take long for the young men to realize why it terrifies, its difficulty. In prison, young men cannot show their emotions. But in Shakespeare, vulnerability is required. Performing Shakespeare allows vulnerability to be received in a positive way. For example, when Claudius breaks down in tears, the audience erupts in applause and commends him for being a really good actor. He doesn’t get beat up in the corner for being a sissy.
We faced scheduling problems systemic to working in youth detention centers. There is a high turnover rate of youth awaiting trial and youth at risk. In this case, the amount of time a youth stays in detention depends the nature of the offense(s) he has committed or is being accused of. Some have had judgments ruled by the courts, and others are awaiting trial, and it is common for a person to have numerous court dates, for an assortment of reasons, which would include multiple offenses or tardiness in the criminal justice system. Once the courts have come to a decision, they either return home, stay in the facility, or are sent to one of the bigger prisons. This means that there is a particular window of time when the project can take place with a steady group of actors, and finding this window is a huge challenge. This short time is further complicated by the necessary bureaucratic protocols dealing with safety and security especially for outside facilitators coming in. Another challenge was getting permission to have the participants perform publicly, for obvious reasons. It is unusual for a jail to allow its inmates to rehearse in a public space, which occurred in this production, and then having it performed in a public venue open to all. The unpredictability of space availability and actor availability, and the volatility of the detention facility, itself forced us to use different approaches.
A number of unique factors came together to make this work. This included the support and commitment of social workers, the principal, his staff of psychologists, the warders, the security personnel, the kitchen staff, parents, the South African police services, and the participants themselves. Having rehearsals until 1 o’clock in the morning in spaces that are usually inaccessible after 6 o’clock is testimony to the exceptional nature of this project.
Colette Gordon After following the project through its first two productions, I’ve learned to anticipate that each performance will be a game changer. But the change wrought in the build-up to this public performance was phenomenal. I’ve seen footage from the rehearsal the night before. Academics are hesitant to talk about epiphanies, but the footage clearly showed a staggering breakthrough, especially for the actor playing Claudius. This was at about 11 pm. Could you talk a little about that rehearsal and the actors’ development?
Tauriq Jenkins The actor playing Claudius was grilled for the entire day by myself and two other professional actors supporting me. I insisted that the actor do the “O, my offence is rank” speech in its entirety—he was not allowed to take any shortcuts. We were working with him on lines and character development; however, we each had our own takes on the role of Claudius. We were giving him three different ways to access the character. For example, Zackie is from a township background, and his Claudius is reminiscent of a gang leader. Irshaad, who also comes from a pretty dangerous neighborhood—Hanover Park—plays Claudius with a lot more reserve.
In prison, you need a façade to survive. That day had been about unlayering the façade in order for the actor to access the character. There was also something about rehearsing on a stage with stage lights; the realness of the rehearsal space brought a level of excitement and intensity. This was catalytic for the actor. You could hear when he switched from reciting lines to speaking with his true voice. I believe that the sound of that, the sound of his own true voice, was very motivating. Prisoners are constantly acting to stay alive, and I believe prisoners have a great respect for actors for this reason. Because these men must constantly act, this experience with performing Shakespeare is (hopefully) actually a break from acting and a return to authenticity and vulnerability, despite it being a theater experience.
Colette Gordon When I observed you directing the young actors in Ottery, I was struck by both your flexibility and the force and clarity of your vision. I know that you use strategies of workshopped theater; Augusto Boal is a strong influence for you as it is for many others working in incarcerated space. But you also have a very strong directorial vision—which seems particularly necessary in prison, where so much changes from moment to moment and it’s very difficult to maintain focus and concentration. How do you work as a director? To what extent is what an audience sees your vision and to what extent is it the actors’?
Tauriq Jenkins It is important to know the play very well and to have a very clear vision. I need to be able to adapt to changes and challenges at a moment’s notice without losing sight of the objective. The director takes on numerous roles with this kind of project; acting coach, mentor, facilitator, and negotiator between incarcerated space and production team. I attempt to surrender the artistic initiative to the participants while, at the same time, take control and coordinate.
Audience members come with a particular expectation when they come to watch a prison play. It was very important to us to demonstrate that we were able to make use of elements such as original music, lighting, with an attitude of professionalism among the actors during rehearsal and performance. I always interacted with the “prisoners” as I would with a team of professional actors in an ensemble. I gave complex notes regardless of the fact that many of these actors had never performed before. The effect of having high expectations was evident; the young men were putting forth their most serious effort, learning their lines and devoting themselves fully to the work.
Making seemingly impossible demands in an impossible situation tests the waters of the human spirit and pushes perceptions of what can be. The difficulty, the feeling that this may not work, is an important aspect of this kind of work. The doubt, the fear that the limitations will not be overcome, is what pushes people to rise and conquer. This is what makes the miracle.
Colette Gordon What are the plans for the project now?
Tauriq Jenkins We’ve developed relationships with a number of youth-incarcerated spaces in Cape Town. Over the past few years, we’ve proven the relevance of our work, and I hope to expand into other incarceration spaces which see the value of this work. For me this is lifelong work. I’m currently doing all that I can to improve on my skill set so that I can continue to go into these spaces and contribute meaningfully.
Colette Gordon I know that you’re very interested in joining with other projects especially in Anglophone Africa, but also in Italy and South America, while you’re skeptical about “international” initiatives originating in the US and UK. Can you talk about how you see these relationships developing and why these collaborations might be important?
Tauriq Jenkins I would like to have similar projects in every English-speaking African country. English is part of our lives, and while in former English colonies it is the language of the oppressor, I believe it can heal. English-speaking African countries, postcolonially speaking, have their own peculiar and specific challenges. A collaboration between South Africa and other English-speaking countries in Africa doing this work is invaluable. I believe collaborations of this kind can produce a strong theater. I’m wary of collaborations with volunteer-based entities in [the] US and the UK because I’m concerned about the commodification of African pain.
Colette Gordon There are difficulties, but also real benefits to working with youth in incarceration. I know that two young men who played Hamlet and Claudius have been given scholarships to train as actors through the Independent Theatre Movement of South Africa (ITMSA); with this model of training and apprenticeship, they can be employed in the project, and when they leave Ottery they leave as skilled actors. The way you connect the work of Shakespeare Literacy Project, along with ITMSA’s professional actor training offers a great opportunity for men, especially young men in incarceration, to learn skills that make them employable, and in many cases acting becomes a professional goal that drives and motivates them to seek a future outside of the prison. But you’ve also worked with prisoners who may not see release. How do you see the Shakespeare in Prison project working for them? Will you continue to focus on youth? What kind of possibilities will your work hold out for those in long-term incarceration?
Tauriq Jenkins The Shakespeare in Prison project has a potential to encourage men who will never be released to live lives that are productive and meaningful by paying them for their work as actors. By doing so in a society that does not value the work of actors in general and does not adequately compensate them for their work, we hope to be a shining example of how the work of actors should be respected. We are looking at many possible developments within the project, such as an interprison Shakespeare troupe. The goal would be to work with a group of full-time prison actors who move between prisons performing the work and mentoring other prisoners as they interact with the work.
I will continue to focus on youth. The youth detention center is the umbilical cord between society and prison. I believe that to transform the prison space, we need to enter into creative interventions with those who are going into prison, not just those who are already in or going out. Working with young men going into prison, I believe, creates the little sparks of transformation that can carry through in the bigger cycle of things.
Colette Gordon I’ve been in Ottery a number of times. I can remember on one occasion writing out individual parts for actors, where photocopied pages risked being rolled up and smoked. However, the last time I visited, I was amazed to see the actor playing Hamlet riffling through the pages of a small print paperback Hamlet. Claudius asked to borrow my copy and spent a good ten minutes looking through it before asking me to help him find his place. There was nothing self-conscious about this act of reading. It looked like two professionals making use of the tools available to them. This is an amazing achievement.
But obviously literacy is an issue at Ottery and in other South African prisons. Can you speak a little about this? And about the Shakespeare Literacy Project’s role?
Tauriq Jenkins Shakespeare can help a performer develop confidence in his language abilities. The performer can hear that he’s speaking serious English that he’s put together well, and this can be very motivating. In the case of Claudius, the more he learned his lines and rose to the challenge of the speech, the more his perception of his own intelligence and language abilities could shift. In a space where he was perceived as stupid, this performer was able to begin the work of changing his own perception of himself as a speaker and reader of English through performing the role of Claudius.
Colette Gordon Filmmakers came to Ottery to collect interview material and rehearsal footage for a documentary covering the event, but their presence also meant that the entire public performance at Observatory was captured on film. Typically, people “accessing” Shakespeare in prison see only snippets of performance within a documentary frame. In a film project like Mickey B, audiences are able to see a complete performance, but it’s very unusual for a theatrical performance to be experienced in its entirety. Although film can’t stand in for the live performance, this seems like a rare opportunity for audiences to get away from the clichés of prison Shakespeare and the fascination with getting “behind bars” to focus on the prisoner’s own storytelling through theater. What do you think? How do you see the film?
Tauriq Jenkins The film was made for archival purposes. Ultimately, the experience was for the actors and the audience present.
I’ve turned down a number of requests by individuals interested in making documentaries about our work because I felt they didn’t bring the level of prestige these performers deserve. The documentary filmmaker who filmed the performance did so beautifully and brought a great amount of experience and an impeccable reputation appropriate for the task.
The performers understood that part of what made their work so special was its newness in South African history. Having a documentary filmmaker preserve the performance and aspects of the experience concretized the uniqueness of the work.
Colette Gordon When the actors walked into the lights in front of the audience, you began by talking quietly with them, doing warm-ups and picking up, essentially, where you left off in rehearsal. You framed this quite carefully to make sure that both the audience and the actors understood this as part of a process. The fact that the work was being shown before an audience was not allowed to dictate or compromise that process. At the same time, you train your actors as actors and consider their achievements as actors to go beyond rehabilitation.
We could talk at length about the differences between the Shakespeare Literacy Project bringing Shakespeare rehearsed in incarceration to a public audience and the work of an organization like the Educational Shakespeare Company in Belfast, which has given the public the first feature film to be made by prisoners inside a maximum-security prison. But what strikes me about both projects is their insistence on the artistic value of the work, beyond the prison, the belief that these productions are adding to the performance history of Shakespeare. How do you strike a balance between the integrity of the process and the “finished” product?
Tauriq JenkinsThe artistic vision cannot be more important than the process. Our Shakespeare project here was only about the participants and how they were contributing to the history of Shakespeare. Rather than, as a director, creating a shell of an artistic vision and filling it with prisoners, it’s a group of young men who have Shakespeare in their hearts. The shape of their work is of their own making.