Digital Globe

This week, The Economist‘s A.C. writes about the digital reinvention of Shakespeare, and opens by describing this year’s staging of 37 plays in 37 different languages at Shakespeare’s Globe. Today we are delighted to publish a guest post by the Globe’s Ruth Frendo and Jordan Landes, who write…

Digital technology intersects Shakespeare studies in many different ways. The digitization of the Bodleian’s First Folio is a brilliant example of how digital media can enhance access to Shakespeare.

The Library and Archive at Shakespeare’s Globe are pursuing another route: the digital capture of performances. Capturing the ephemeral, preserving it and making it available for current and future audiences, has always challenged performance archives. At the Globe, where performance and research combine to explore Shakespeare’s texts in a unique and exciting way, capture and preservation are crucial.

Performances at the Globe have been recorded since the very first productions in 1997. Technology has transformed since then, and we recently installed a capture system which records at a far higher quality than previously used. Capturing more data provides the recordings with more visible data, and facilitates their preservation.

Our next step will be to upgrade our cameras and cabling to produce and transmit high definition television signals. New cameras will give us greater control of light and focus settings, providing higher tolerance of changing environmental conditions – an important consideration for recording in an outdoor theatre during a typical British summer!

Today’s information professionals are pioneers in the untamed landscape of digital preservation, a terrain whose boundaries and pitfalls shift with each new technological development. The prospect is as exhilarating as it is daunting. The more digital resources that libraries and archives can provide for researchers, the more useful we will remain.

Ruth Frendo, Archivist and Jordan Landes, former Librarian
Shakespeare’s Globe

Hooked Kids

Guest blogger, Angie Johnson, writes…

Once I was on holiday with my daughters near Arundel Castle where I was delighted to see advertised a production of The Tempest that was to play in the grounds.  As I was on holiday, I had no baby sitters available so we all went along. My girls were 2½ and 4 years old, but I figured, as it was outside, they could totter about if they got bored. I needn’t have worried — they loved every minute of it.

At first they were impressed by the antics of the colourful characters strutting on the stage — BUT then they got caught up in the rhythm of the lines, and became truly entranced by the show.  The very young love rhythm, yet I noticed how some of the older audience members struggled with it.  They could not give in to the magic of the iambic pentameter!

My girls are now in their mid 20s — love Shakespeare — and their favourite play is The Tempest.

It is never too early to get your kids hooked on the Bard!

Angie Johnson

Is Shakespeare in our DNA?

Guest blogger, Professor Martin Maiden, writes…

During my career as a microbiologist I have seen the molecule that I have spent much of my time working on, DNA, become part of popular culture. Phrases such as so-and-so “is in my DNA” are now frequently used and perhaps, sometimes, even vaguely understood.  Although many press announcements describing a “gene for…” are greatly oversimplified, we are increasingly aware of the importance of genetics and inheritance in complex human behaviours and it is fun, as long as we don’t take it too seriously, to speculate on the relationships of nature and nurture in our ability to produce and appreciate art.

If there were a “gene for” appreciating Shakespeare, I would be a good candidate to have inherited it.  Both my parents were great Shakespeare enthusiasts despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that their formal education ended in their early teenage. They went to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit the Shakespeare memorial theatre for their honeymoon, and I grew up with our copy of the complete works and a plaster copy of the Stratford statue prominent household possessions.

In the fullness of time, the whole family went on holiday to Stratford to visit the theatre – the first plays I saw there (standing) were King John and Richard II.  The later astonishment of the head of drama at my secondary modern school underlined that this was not a normal school holiday activity.

I was hooked from that time on – I even carried around a copy of the Sonnets (purchased, of course, in Stratford) for a number of years although, the apocryphal act of parliament never having been passed, I read them less often than I aspired to. With my own children approaching teenage, I naturally want them to enjoy Shakespeare too, but am sceptical that I shall be as successful as my parents in passing on my enthusiasm. If there really were a “gene for” this then I wouldn’t have to worry, of course, but perhaps my confidence in genetic determinism, at least for my own children, is not that strong…

I still find Shakespeare’s wide appeal, across time and cultures, remarkable and intriguing. A particular combination of human genes, placed in the environment of late Elizabethan England, resulted in an individual who not only had a remarkable understanding of the emotions and motivations of other, but who was also capable of using the English language to convey those feelings to an audience.

My own enjoyment of the plays is rooted in the reality of his characters: the people who inhabit his plays are the neighbour, the colleague, the person you meet in the supermarket.  Although living at a time when scientific knowledge was rudimentary, Shakespeare accurately observed and described the diversity of feelings and behaviours of human beings in a way that shall remain relevant for as long as our species continues to exist. In the sense of how we are constituted, for me, Shakespeare really does get inside “our DNA”.

Professor Martin Maiden
University of Oxford

Count Me In

Guest blogger, Katrin Schlee, writes…

A big call to arms for all who know the importance of the literary legacy Shakespeare left in his wake and who wish to preserve a book that irrevocably finds itself within the compass of time’s bending sickle.  Albert Camus said: “Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”  Let’s be generous… let’s give something!  Today.

A Gift that Speaks

A gift that speaks of how I care,
A sum so small and yet so great.
With many others I will share
The sprint that leads to fortune’s gate.

And time, its keeper, has no eyes,
It taunts the rich and mocks the poor,
Its truth? Decay.  It tells no lies
To book and binding, bard and boor.

Go, turn to dust that precious book!
Dissolve the print!  We’ll save the verse!
We’ll give you eyes, so take a look:
Art needs a carriage, not a hearse.

Katrin Schlee

Shakespeare on Radio

We are delighted to share a guest post from a former Chief Producer Radio Drama at the BBC, Martin Jenkins, who writes…

Budget and time restraints present real challenges for radio directors who have to rehearse and record some 30 minutes of a Shakespeare play during each studio day.  Pre-preparation is vital.  Various versions of the text will be studied.  Some additional verse may be required so that listeners know where a scene is set and who is speaking. I remember when I was directing Peggy Ashcroft as Queen Margaret in 1977 (a role she had first played with the RSC in 1963) she came to a handful of lines she didn’t recognise. “I wonder why John [Barton] cut these out – they’re rather good.”  I opted to keep quiet.

Casting is crucial.  In all radio drama, it is essential to utilize a wide range of voices and accents so listeners can distinguish between the various characters.  The director’s nightmare is to realise at the readthrough that Hamlet and Horatio sound identical.

Owing to the limited rehearsal/recording time, BBC Radio can often assemble stunning casts, all of whom enter into the spirit of the recording with the “big names” also taking part in crowd scenes with great gusto.

With such limited rehearsal time, a director needs to create an open working environment during which ideas are discussed and actors brought to performance pitch in a remarkably short space of time. Many clearly relish this immediacy and sense of “danger”.  At the same time, the director is shaping the emotional course of the scene whilst also carefully blocking the action. Radio is far from a static medium. Actors rarely, if ever, stand around microphones, reading.  A great deal of physical energy and movement is required and it is my privilege to have witnessed some truly remarkable performances in radio studios.

Throughout the studio sessions, I strive to ensure the language has a freshness and vitality, hopefully sounding as if it is being spoken for the first time. During actual recordings, I am in the cubicle listening intently to the journey of the play, as well as to the journey of each of the characters. I have to be sure that character and plot development are clear to the listener and, most importantly, that they are being drawn into Shakespeare’s world: “On your imaginary forces work.” (Henry V, I, Prologue)

Shakespeare can work brilliantly on radio. With no visual distractions, the listener has a unique relationship with the verse. They can eavesdrop, especially during soliloquies. They can experience characters thinking aloud and sharing their innermost thoughts.  Because of this closeness, a mis-stressed word or misplaced inflection will jar and hinder understanding of the character’s thought processes.  Sometimes in the theatre, one feels performances have “settled” and that lines are being “recited” rather than “thought”.  Recited lines on radio work against audience involvement.

Throughout a recording, my role is to focus on listening, not watching, the actors. If something doesn’t work then my notes have to be (hopefully) clear and concise.  When it does work – when you hear actors in total harmony with the sense, pitch and energy of the language – everything makes sense and the lines feel as fresh as the day they were written.

Martin Jenkins
Former BBC Chief Producer Radio Drama; founding Artistic Director of the Liverpool Everyman; former assistant director and actor with the RSC

Healing in The Winter’s Tale

Guest blogger, Katherine Arnold, writes…

For this affliction has a taste as sweet
As any cordial comfort. Still, methinks,
There is an air comes from her: what fine chisel
Could ever yet cut breath? Let no man mock me,
For I will kiss her.

The Winter’s Tale, V, iii

My most vivid impression of a scene in Shakespeare’s plays takes place, odd as it may sound, in a work I have never seen performed. The startling transformation of Queen Hermione’s statue in The Winter’s Tale sparked my sudden, belated appreciation for the play both as a work in isolation and for its vibrant connections to other literature. The moment marks the reconcilement of the royal families, the younger generation with the older, and Hermione with her repentant husband, which presented, to me, clear evidence of the beautiful possibilities a gesture of forgiveness offers for familial and spiritual revival. Moreover, her return, following the romance of Perdita and Florizel, completes the transition from the winter of the play’s first three acts to the spring of the final two.

The captivating image of a living statue led to a series of questions and, in turn, fascination with the indicated complexities. How could the actors be positioned onstage? What gestures and expressions would they have? Would there be a line of symmetry between the family members of Sicily and Bohemia, and how could the significance of the moment be extended? While the written words and speech had initially taken my attention, in a form where visual actions hold as much importance on stage, these questions began my appreciation for the variety of potential interpretations (has Hermione been alive, or is it magic? Does she accept Leontes’s remorse as genuine?) which change and colour any performance (or, in this case, reading) of a play.

These considerations, as well as the play’s connection to another piece of literature, led to the unexpected penetration of the issues of remorse and healing through knowing a different set of characters from another time period. My first encounter with the statue’s transformation came, after all, through reading George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (Gwendolen Harleth takes up the role of Hermione, directing Rex Gascoigne to play Leontes, and kneel and kiss the hem of her dress) which presents a striking, unforgettable view of Shakespeare’s characters for the purpose of a novel. The play, far from standing untouched through time, has both history and descendents in works of literature, releasing exhilaration for the questions that arise among layers of meaning. Even a reading of Hermione’s return elicited this vivacity, an affirmation of the openness of Shakespeare’s work to our joys and our experiences.

Katherine Arnold

Conservation Diary — Day 10

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Nicole Gilroy shows the First Folio to visitors Francesca Heaney, Steve Rodgers, Richard McCabe and Tim Kirtley

Nicole Gilroy shows the First Folio to visitors Francesca Heaney, Steve Rodgers, Richard McCabe and Tim Kirtley

The two weeks have flown by, and, fortified by a good breakfast at Mick’s Café, the team started on the final day of the stabilization work. We reviewed the work that has been done and we are happy that the splints and joint support are functioning as we intended.

The Maltby's box

The Maltby’s box

Measurements of the book were taken so that a new tailor-made box can be ordered for it: suitable housing is crucial to the preservation of rare books, and though the First Folio has a rather fine presentation box, made for it by the Oxford firm Maltby’s on its return to the library, the box is damaged and is no longer protecting the book as well as we would like.

A custom-made box covered in hard-wearing linen cloth will be constructed for the book, and in true Bodleian style the old box, in its own card box, will be retained alongside it on the shelf!

 
 

Emma Smith and The Guardian's Maev Kennedy

Emma Smith and The Guardian’s Maev Kennedy

We have had some fantastic responses to the project from the media, with journalists from the local news as well as The Guardian and BBC Radio 4 visiting to see our work. The team were delighted to host a visit from Vanessa Redgrave who has given her enthusiastic and heartfelt support to the project. This has made the workshop a busy place over the last two weeks, and we have greatly enjoyed sharing our work with these and many other visitors.

Andrew Honey and The Guardian's Frantzesco Kangaris

Andrew Honey and The Guardian’s Frantzesco Kangaris

Next week the project moves on to the next exciting phase: the digitization itself. The work of the Conservation team is not over, as we will be working closely with our specialist photographers to ensure the safety of the book while getting the best possible images.

Our brief time with this very special book has sparked our interest in many areas: the binding methods and techniques, the paper quality, the material used for repair patches and much more. We look forward to seeing the plays online when the work is complete, and will be following up the threads of evidence that we have been able to pick up during our work.

I hope these notes have been interesting and have given a glimpse of the sort of work that goes on in the Conservation workshop: a combination of history, archaeology, technical analysis, photography, and an awful lot of thinking and talking. Only when we have done all of that do we pick up our brushes and spatulas and carry out the repair.

Sabina Pugh, Julie Sommerfeldt, Arthur Green, Vanessa Redgrave, Andrew Honey, Nicole Gilroy and Thelma Holt

Sabina Pugh, Julie Sommerfeldt, Arthur Green, Vanessa Redgrave, Andrew Honey, Nicole Gilroy and Thelma Holt

Conservation Diary — Day 9

Nicole Gilroy writes…

The final intact bifolium, before treatment

The final intact bifolium, before treatment

We are coming to the end of the treatment needed.

The final bifolium of the book had shifted out of position and protruded from the edge, causing damage to the corner.

The book's final intact bifolium, during work

Nicole Gilroy and Julie Sommerfeldt work on the book’s final intact bifolium

The final intact bifolium, after treatment

The final intact bifolium, after treatment

We have relaxed the spine fold and repositioned the bifolium so that the edges are back within the textblock and in their proper position.

We have also evaluated the success of our splint repairs and are pleased with the way that they allow the leaves to flex properly again.

Final leaf of Titus Andronicus before splint repairs

Final leaf of Titus Andronicus before splint repairs

Final leaf of Titus Andronicus after splint repairs

Final leaf of Titus Andronicus after splint repairs

Last leaf after treatment

Last leaf after treatment

The 3 detached leaves of Cymbeline (around the re-positioned bifolium) will be replaced in position, loose, at the back of the book. In our usual work, we would re-attach loose leaves, repairing the torn spine folds and hinging the loose leaves back into position. But we felt that such repair was undesirable in this case, and would stand out against the minimal approach to the rest of the volume, so they will remain loose. As the book will not be handled by readers as an ordinary book would be, the risks of unattached leaves can be balanced with the principle of minimal interference.

De-editing Shakespeare

Guest blogger, Gerald Baker, writes…

I can no longer see William Shakespeare straight, nor feel him any longer on the bone or in the blood. By which I mean that over years (50 last month since I had my first Complete Works) of watching, reading, performing in the plays, and of being in a liberal humanist education (and still today working through a reading list that started when I was 18).

I have been told so many different versions or ideas that I often cannot disentangle my perception or understanding of a scene, or speech, or play, from other people’s reactions. Where I can do so, I find myself querying whether it’s my imagination/sensitivity at fault or merely different.

Case in point: Twelfth Night – for many people their favourite comedy, evoking terms like ‘bittersweet’ or ‘Mozartian’ – for me almost a total blind-spot; toneless, moodless, recycling bits he did better elsewhere (though I very much like the pieces often grouped with it, such as As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing). I know this is a discrepancy, and because I love the companion pieces so much I’m not much bothered about it being a failure or deficiency in me, but I go on giving Twelfth Night chances, attempting to get more from it that I know I can’t find.

And so with others: Coriolanus is firmly on the side of the people, exposing the flaws of the wealthy and individualistic ruling faction; Coriolanus has a proper scorn of the unwashed mob and endorses the virtues and strong leadership of its heroic general. It can’t be both (though it demonstrably is as a script) because Shakespeare the man can’t have been both – everything we know, what little everything there is, tends to place him on the side of the rulers against the people. Therefore the two-sidedness, the multi-facetedness, is a product or function not of Shakespeare’s myriad-mindedness, but of a variety of viewpoints and experiences of the play’s consumers and agents.

Othello is a terrible and poetic tragedy of a noble soul: no, actually, it’s a woman strangled in her marital bed by her bombastic and selfish, brutish husband. Desdemona is the one who undergoes the bloody tragedy, but the script manipulates you to forget or ignore this and foregrounds and privileges the killer. I know this, and nowadays this would not be reckoned a perverse interpretation, but all the time I watch, or read, or think of, Othello, I have this undertow pulling me back of Wilson Knight on “The Othello Music”, of images and reviews of noble Moors and “motiveless malignancy”.

And don’t get me started on Hamlet, and the idealizations and canonizations of the Prince as archetypal modern man, or the “claustrophobia” of Elsinore…

It’s not a universal feeling, and there are still parts of Shakespeare’s work that get to me very directly: the Macbeths immediately after killing Duncan, the moodshift of Marcade’s eleventh-hour irruption (Love’s Labour’s Lost), Lear’s and Timon’s denunciations of how their worlds are organized (King Lear and Timon of Athens), the gracefulness and good humour of As You Like It, the tumbling headlong spillage of images in the language of Antony and Cleopatra. But much doesn’t reach me anymore, and I feel tired, and it feels tired, when we meet.

The delights of Shakespeare are varied and multitudinous, but they are not infinite and he is not comprehensive. Let me suggest that mothers and daughters would not find him very engaged with their interrelated concerns.

Where I am happiest at the moment, and for many years past, with Shakespeare, is on the margins, the bits where there are fewer preconceptions to prejudice or handcuff me: parts of Timon of Athens fascinate me, and I have a disproportionate interest in The Two Noble Kinsmen.

I remember my first postgraduate reading of the May Day scene in Sir Thomas More and being blown away by a new bit of Shakespeare. And as I wrote before, I am trying to make all of this new by going back to facsimiles or lightly edited editions where I can see the scripts unmediated, or much less mediated, at least. And Hamlet makes more sense when you find there’s a case for him being only 18, and one of the greatest but least satisfactory scenes in King Lear (III, vi) is more intelligible when you can see that what we know is in fact a conflation of two quite different scenes in the first two editions of the play.

Scholars and academics have been moving on the margins and “de-editing” Shakespeare for a couple of decades now, at least, but not many of us outside universities have tried scraping the varnish off, I think.

It’s almost as if that whole paramountcy that the First Folio established by preserving 50% of the plays from extinction, and distinguishing Shakespeare by collecting a writer’s plays for the first time,* has actually also made it possible to separate him from his contemporaries, his co-workers and his peers.

What I’m trying to say is that the more I can break Shakespeare down in my head and see him in the same fragmented and partial way we perforce do his fellows, the more I have a direct and personal, excited and engaged, response to the work.

 

*I know the Folio of Ben Jonson’s work came first, but it wasn’t just plays, and more importantly he collected his work himself, whereas other people did it for Shakespeare.

 Gerald Baker

Conservation Diary — Day 8

Nicole Gilroy writes…

As we have looked closely at the edges of the book, we have noticed that there is a break in the textblock: this is usually caused by a split in the sewing or spine linings or adhesive.

A clear break in the  kettle stitch (part of the sewing) at the tail end of the book

A clear break in the kettle stitch (part of the sewing) at the tail end of the book

It is common to see this in the middle of a book, and we have been wondering when this damage occurred, and if it is getting worse, as we thought it might be after going through the book leaf by leaf.

The break in the text-block showing as a step in the edges of the book

The break in the text-block showing as a step in the edges of the book

Yet again, the photographic record of the condition of the book soon after its return to the Bodleian has come to our aid: this time the photograph taken to show the original position of the book in Duke Humfrey’s library, fore-edge out as it would have been chained, clearly shows the ridge along the fore-edge demonstrating that the text-block break had already happened at that point.

The original position of the volume

The volume (marked with an X) in its original position in Duke Humfrey’s Library, showing the text-block break as a ridge in the lower fore-edge. Photo taken soon after the book’s return to the library in the early 20th century.

The edges of the book tell us more than just the condition of the sewing. There are some distinctive ripples along the edges that have made us think a little more about how it was bound.

We know from the size of the leaves that very little was trimmed from the edges, but the edges were certainly trimmed slightly and sprinkled red, though this has now faded and worn.

The edges of a book could have been trimmed in one of two ways in the 17th century: with a draw-knife (a hand-held two-handled knife); or with the relatively new invention, the plough (which involved setting the book up in a horizontal press and running a blade in a jig along the edges creating a neater trim).

The edge of the book

The edge of the book, with possible evidence of trimming using a draw-knife

The rippled edges of the First Folio, with their slight horizontal scoops, suggest that the quicker (therefore cheaper) method of the draw-knife may have been used, perhaps hinting at a more workaday binding rather than an expensive one. This, in combination with the evidence of less-than-perfect paper selection makes us think that this book was not quite the luxury item we might have thought it was.