I will heare that play

Published  by us  in time for the longest day, we’re delighted to be announcing the publication of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Bodleian First Folio on 24 June, the traditional quarter day midsummer. However you celebrate the longest days of the year, we wish you happy revels. May none of you wake with a donkey’s head!

MIDSOMMER Nights Dreame

(AS THE FIRST FOLIO TITLES IT)

One of the most enduringly popular of Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is taught in many schools and  on one website at least  makes it into fourth place on a list of Shakespeare’s “top ten greatest” plays.

Colman's mustard advertisement from: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/

A Midsummer Night’s Dream wide reach, in a Colman’s mustard advertisement from 1900: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/

The charm of its fairies, its quarelling lovers who pair up in the final act, and the enduring comedy of its rude “Mcehanicals”* make it a particular favourite for school and outdoor productions. Yet this is not a play of caprice and harmless make-believe: there is deliberate cruelty, manipulation, a custody battle, and a forced marriage. As Emma Smith points out in a podcast, the cross lovers explore sex and sexuality rather than celebrate marriage, sometimes to the shock of an audience expecting woodland wit and whimsy.

Theatre programme for A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1900, from: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/

A whimsical theatre programme for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1900, from: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/

First performed in the mid 1590s, this play was published in quarto versions in 1600 and 1619. You can read and compare them on the British Library’s excellent Shakespeare in Quarto website.

The version in the Bodleian First Folio has been well read. One page (folio O2) has a damaged corner. Two tears have been patched with heavy paper, probably in the early eighteenth century, in an attempt to repair the damage. Actually, though a careful repair by someone who cared for the book (possibly a member of the Turbutt family), the heavy paper risked causing further damage by putting a greater strain on the paper supporting it. This repair, and others like it, were stabilized by colleagues in Conservation and Collection Care.

Find out more

Emma Smith’s podcast on the play from her Approaching Shakespeare series uses modern and early modern understandings of dreams to uncover less expected themes of the play.

Dorothea Kehler’s 2012 book, A Midsummer Night’s DreamCritical Essays, looks at the play’s critical and performance history, and is available online through Google Books.

Our colleagues at the Folger Shakespeare Library have created excellent teaching resources on the play.

Notable film adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream include those directed by:

Musical works inspired by the play include:

Wikipedia has a list of ballet and works of fine art inspired by the play.

If you are in Oxford this July, you can watch Tomahawk Theatre‘s production of the play at Oxford Castle.

* A typographic error in the First Folio renders “Mechanicals” like this (Comedies, p. 153).

“furnish and instruct great Teachers”

(Henry VIII, I, ii)

Emma SmithAfter a successful public fund-raising campaign to digitise the Bodleian’s copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the next stage of the project is to involve different groups of readers and help them to enjoy this great free resource.

On 22 June a workshop for teachers at KS5 on ‘Teaching with the First Folio’ took place at Hertford College. After introductions to the project and to the book from Pip Willcox and Emma Smith, colleagues worked on lesson plans showing how they might use the digitised folio in different teaching contexts.

We had contributions on a wonderful range of topics, from using stage directions to understand the power relations of a scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to the toggling between ‘thee’ and ‘you’ in speeches in The Tempest. We discussed ways that the marriage of Rosalind and Orlando at the end of As You Like It isn’t as straight as we might assume if we look at the Folio texts, and the ways that editors make decisions to clarify, but also to disambiguate, possible readings.

Post-its
 26 colleagues attended: all said that they could see ways of using the resource in their teaching, and were excited and motivated to do so.

You can see some of their reactions in the post-it notes pictured (we especially liked “Inspirational: can’t wait to get started doing it!”).

Their lesson resources will be added to the First Folio site, under the same Creative Commons license as the images (CC-BY), over the summer.

post-its 5a

 

Thanks to all who made the workshop such a success. Funding permitting, we have plans for another teachers’ day, and a day working with actors to understand the Folio’s performance possibilities.


Henry Bew, Pip Willcox, James Methven

Emma Smith

Teaching with Shakespeare’s First Folio

A Workshop for Teachers at KS5

We are delighted to announce a free workshop for teachers, led by Dr Emma Smith, whose research inspired our First Folio project.

You can download a flyer [PDF] for this event. Please help spread the word!

This workshop is focused around the publically funded digitized copy of the Bodleian Library’s First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays. The aim is to help teachers devise teaching resources using the digitized First Folio, by sharing ideas with colleagues, and drawing upon the expertise of the University.

Where: Hertford College, Oxford OX1 3BW

When: 11.00—15.30, Saturday, 22 June 2013

The workshop is open to any teacher, and is particularly aimed at English or Drama teachers at KS5. Please note that places are limited, and will be offered to the first applicants. We will provide refreshments, lunch, and a contribution to travel expenses.

We ask participants to bring their ideas and expertise to the workshop to collaborate in creating teaching resources based on the First Folio, and give us permission to publish them online (fully credited to their authors) to help other teachers. It would be helpful if participants could bring a wifi-enabled laptop with them: please let us know if this is a problem.

Programme:

  • 11.00—11.30 Arrival and coffee
  • 11.30—13.00 Shakespeare in Print (a talk by Dr Emma Smith, Hertford College, University of Oxford)
  • 13.00—14.00 Lunch
  • 14.00—15.30 Resource planning session

To book a place, or if you would like further information, please email us: shakespeare@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

If you have particular plays you’d like to hear about, as well as if you have any particular requirements (for example of access or diet), let us know when you write!

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