I am at the beginning of the process of writing my thesis.
I will probably revise this ten times over the next few days not to mention the next year as I develop it but here is where my thesis statement is at the moment:
Shakespeare may just have been a brilliant word-smith and incredibly empathic but in “Do we not bleed?” Shakespeare and Otherness I challenge these assumptions, and argue that a more probable and human explanation would be that Shakespeare was able to empathize with his characters who didn’t fit into society because he was an Other himself. Through close readings of Othello, Merchant of Venice, and As You Like It I will show that Shakespeare wrote with the voice of an Other. I will look to his geographic, socioeconomic, and cultural background to explain the explorations his writing took outside the borders of Early Modern England’s cultural perspectives as evidence of his Otherness.
Any thoughts or recommendations? I'll be sharing more thesis stuff as time goes on, so you'll get to see it develop!
Here is something I wrote for Textual Culture that I thought you might find interesting:
from Physical to Metaphysical,
A Ghost Story containing a goodly number of practical examples as well as containing some history and some imagination and personal stories of the author, one N. Manca, a student and practitioner of theater, to be presented this 28th day of February, year of our Lord 2013, to Dr. Menzer, professor of the class Textual Culture, and Director of the Shakespeare and Performance graduate program at Mary Baldwin College.
The shadows of history stalk the boards of modern theaters. Not just the echos of dead kings, tyrants, and lovers, but their spirits too, otherwise known as “the role.” Juliet, Henry V, and Cleopatra, their wood and paper forms long ago turned to dust, remain ever-present. All one has to do is mention them or recite some lines of text to call them forth. The ghosts of these roles happily descend to possess an actor for a time, but they lack the staying power they had in their original form, for these new actors do not keep them for life but for a few weeks or months and then the role is gone, and the actor is left to hope for another one.
In the Early Modern era, actors were given their parts handwritten on roles that were theirs to keep. Bound at each end to a wooden stick, the actors could roll them as they read and so scroll through the text. Both the physical role and the role/part-in-the-play belonged to the actor for life. The actor could choose to give them away or to leave them in a will to someone. Actors may even have been able to (or allowed to get away with) editing their roles a little, although this may have policed itself, what actor wants fewer lines?
When an Early Modern actor was looking at his role for the first time his entire impression of the play was from his character’s point of view. He would not know what other characters said about his character, he would not know what percentage of the lines in the play were his, he would not have to read great speeches assigned to another part. No matter how long a speech came before each of his lines all he would see were a few words from other characters and then his lines in their entirety. His character’s name rather than the play’s name was at the top of the role, the entire role was about his character.
These days when someone is cast in a role it is no longer a physical thing. Roles, once very real physical scrolls, have become disembodied notions of character. As time aged and disintegrated the corporeal roles of the Early Modern playhouses, so the term “role” has escaped from its physical confines and transformed into a part someone takes on. The “role” of Motherhood, of Teacher, or in a broader sense the “role” of Women; these are not handwritten scrolls and not parts limited to the stage. They are roles that people take on and are identified by, even though these terms may not be part of the core of who a person is nor even how that person might identify himself or herself.
Nowadays actors receive a complete codex, printed script either pre-edited or accompanied by a list of edits. One of the first tasks an actor then has is to read-through the script and highlight all of their character’s lines. This highlighting practice is useful in rehearsal so that an actor doesn’t lose their place and is so common that I have known stage managers to hand out highlighters at the first read through. Some actors highlight their role in one color and their cue lines in another thus making the colored sections of the script resemble a strange neon codex version of the original roles. Looking at a script in a rehearsal room one can quickly fine which actor it belongs to by opening it up to see which role is highlighted. Unlike in the Early Modern era, an actor has a full awareness of just how many lines they have compared to other characters and to the length of the script. They know everything that happens when their character is not onstage and there is no illusion or mystery as to the whole of the performance.
When I directed As You Like It, I overheard the actors playing Rosalind and Orlando jokingly arguing about who had the more important role based on how many lines their phone apps told them they each had. With physical roles I like the image of a couple young actors running up to the balcony and letting their roles unroll to see whose was longer.
Some people now want to go back to the Early Modern method of giving an actor just their lines and their cues when assigning them a role in a play (although I have yet to see these lines given in role form by their directors). I have been told that the theory behind this method is that acting without prior knowledge of what is going to happen in the play including the goals and motives of the other characters on stage, leads to reactions that are more natural than when the actor playing the role knows all along what is going to happen next and why it happens.
I can understand the thought process behind this cue script method. In the play of Life, in which we are all characters, we know what is in our heads but no one else’s. We can guess what might happen next, but we do not know. When the unexpected happens, we have not had time to prepare our reactions; we just react. Watching those instant, uncontrolled reactions onstage is exciting, and the actor gets quite a rush from having to pay attention to the scene around them, uncertain of what comes next or how long it will be until they hear their next cue.
For my most recent scene in Directing class scene I gave my actors cue scripts that I had attached the pages together and rolled like the Early Modern roles and we had only one rehearsal (which one of the leads was unable to attend, so I coached him in a quick rehearsal on another day). On the performance day, I brought a bunch of masks and costume pieces for the actors to choose from and placed a plot with cue lines for all the entrances and a few instructions on it, I gave them some verbal blocking reminders and left them to perform their scene. During the performance, their blocking was a little off and one actor exited before he should have and left his scene partner standing on stage alone for a moment before he remembered and came out again, but on the whole they performed well, and there was a certain energy to the scene that many well-rehearsed scenes lack.
Most of the time actors put a lot of effort into assuming roles they’ve been cast in. “Taking on” a role is not a simple process, like putting on a costume. An actor will study and study the text, breaking it down into “bits,” “beats,” or “units.” They may write in a transitive verb for every sentence they must speak and keep a journal of all of their thoughts relating to their role. Actors will worry over motivations, intentions, objectives, counter-objectives, and what is their character’s overarching goal. Many actors put together musical track list to go along with their roles and do many physical and mental exercises to “find” their roles. Many hours and weeks of work are involved in an effort to call the spirit of a role to them so that they can perform it faithfully and well. When an actor does a good job of this, to an audience member who may never encounter an actor they see in a role off the stage, that actor is the embodiment of that role, especially if this is the only time the audience member has seen this particular play. In such a manner, the actor can become the character, and “own the role” in a way we refer to but do not mean in the same literal fashion as the actors of an Early Modern playhouses did.
So, a role is a strange thing, and has gone on a long journey. Roles were once handwriting on a scroll, but now they are transcendent spirits that have left their earthly, physical bodies to dance through time and space, briefly possessing actors when they were originally possessed by actors for life. The metaphysical roles now live on long after the actors who originally played their parts and the physical roles they owned are dead and gone.
I realize I often refer to the Shakespeare and Performance program, but that I should clarify how it works.
First Year MLitt
Your first term you take both Gateway to Shakespeare and The Language of Performance as well as one class of your choosing and audit Research Methods.
In Gateway to Shakespeare you read every (accepted) Shakespeare play and discuss them with American Shakespeare Center co-founder and the founder of our program, Dr. Ralph Cohen.
In The Language of Performance you learn about using scansion and rhetoric to inform your performance choices using the rhetorical method pioneered by your professor, Dr. Ralph Cohen.
In Research Methods, Dr. Paul Menzer, the director of the program, guides you through your first term and gives you the tools to do Early Modern research effectively.
In your second term one of your classes is The Performance of the Language which takes the skills you learned in The Language of Performance and applies them to actual performance and play production work, lead by Doreen Bechtol and Dr. Matt Davies, the professors who run the MFA, this class is also a small sample of the kind of work that will go into the MFA year.
Second Year MLitt
Students in their second year are taking classes and each working on preparing a thesis. The standard MLitt thesis, as I understand it, is around seventy pages (just seven ten page chapters, I keep telling myself) and can be based on documented and or performance based research. One student is doing his on the Apocrypha (plays that might be written at least in part by Shakespeare and were at some point attributed to him but are not part of any Complete Works
) and for part of his research he is putting several of them on as really fun staged readings.
Fall of your second year is also when you audition for the MFA company if you want to continue and get an MFA in addition to the MLitt.
Post Bac students are people who already have had some graduate school or even a Masters degree who just want the MFA degree. They do their first year like the other students but they audition for the MFA their first Fall and they skip the second year and the writing of the MLitt Thesis.
The MFA year forms the students into a functional acting troupe with five plays to put on with different styles and focuses. As I understand it, the MFA students start their day at nine with classes and lectures and then start rehearsals for their different productions at one. The new MFA Company model is a very intense but seemingly rewarding program that would be beneficial education to anyone planning to go into professional theater or theater education.
There is another group associated with this program and they are the BaMLitts (love the name - Bam! Litt!). They spend five years getting a Bachelors degree and an MLitt instead of the six years that the two programs would ordinarily take.
Also, the directing class I'm taking is holding auditions this Saturday (Feb. 9) at one in the Francis Auditorium on the Campus of Mary Baldwin College if any local readers want to come out for them! Here is Facebook's Calendar link
. Hope to
Last Friday Dr.Cohen gave a fascinating talk on the history of the Blackfriers. The blackfriers seems to have housed an eclectic artistic community of rich and common, puritans, and actors. Here are some photos from Dr. Cohen's talk.
I'm directing the final scene of A Winter's Tale for my Directing final, but I have to prepare like I'm going to do the whole show. Here is my scene chart and doubling chart for a cast of twelve. When I uploaded the scene chart the lines uploaded strangely, you have to imagine the ones that are missing. I'm not sure how to fix that, but I'm sure everyone reading this blog has a good imagination.
I had such a great time putting on the Classical/Epic short version of Pericles. Condensing a play into about six minutes and bringing out elements that revolve around a certain theme is a great exercise as a scholar, actor, and director. I put together the script and I used excerpts from a translation of the original source, Apollonius, as well as a few from our script of "Pericles," to supplement the story and then I filled in the details around them. If anyone would be interested in seeing a copy of the script let me know. It was a great experience working with my classmates on this collaborative effort. Together we came up with a lot of creative ideas.
Roving Shakespeare, the M.F.A. company, will be doing "King Lear" later this month. I have loved everything they have done so far, their shows are very colorful and creative.
Preview is Sunday, January 26 in Masonic Blue
Opening Night is January 28 in the Blackfriars Playhouse
Performances begin at 7:30 pm.
These are pay as you like it performances.
The new term starts today and I just had my first class, Performance of the Language. We will be studying and then putting on a production of the play Pericles. I am very excited. I will play Lysimachus and third pirate, so I am very excited. Our whole first year is taking the class at once, which is wonderful because we're such a tight knit group.
The first half of term we will explore the play together and we are to focus on exploring rather than interpreting the play, a wonderful approach which should generate some beautiful creative work.
This week we are focusing on seeing the play through three different storytelling lenses: the Epic/Apollonian; the Romantic/Medieval/Gower; and the Early Modern/ Shakespeare's Contemporaries.
We have been divided up into three groups and we are to spend about two hours putting together a 5-7 minute production of Pericles each group with a different focus which we will all present on Friday. Mine is the Epic/Apollonian focus, which is great because I'm a fan of the Odyssey, Greek myths, and also very familiar with the Mediterranean, so I was hoping to be in this focus group.
I'll keep you updated with more information on this fun assignment as the week develops!
I recently turned in a research paper on a repeated embedded stage direction in Richard II and I thought would include it here so that you can see what I am working on.
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Here are photos of the Wilton Diptych that Richard II had commissioned and I mention in my paper:
Yesterday a young woman prospective student came to sit in on our class and see seemed so amazed an excited by what we were doing. It made me think about what a unique and wonderful program this is and reminded me how excited I was when I first got here. It is easy to forget during finals, but this place is a wonderful sanctuary for Shakespeare geeks. You get to be in a community where everyone understands what you are talking about and no one misunderstand what "wherefore" means. As a SAP student
you get to go to performances and rehearsals at the American Shakespeare Center
for free, and you can go as many times as you like. You get to work with and learn from famous Shakespeare and Marlow scholars who have brilliant insights to share; and you find yourself challenged in a good way, learning and growing more than you thought possible. Staunton (where Mary Baldwin
, the SAP
program, and the ASC
are located) is also a lovely little artistic town nestled in the Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by beautiful mountains everywhere you look, and if you grew up on the Plains as I did your legs will get very toned.
It is research paper time, so I thought I would share with you my professor, Dr. Ralph Cohen's Picky Rules of Writing. The rules are tough ones but they are making me a much better writer.Professor Cohen's 39 Picky Rules of Writing
Ralph Alan Cohen, Director of Mission and co-founder of the American Shakespeare Center and Professor of Shakespeare and Performance at Mary Baldwin College, developed these rules for writing in his thirty-plus years in the classroom. Please feel free to adopt and adapt them for your own classroom or personal writing use but please credit the author if you decide to distribute them.
- Care about the paper you write. Imagine it in a book entitled The Works of [your name].
- Papers should use (a) one side of the leaf, (b) double-spacing, (c) white 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper, (d) a 12-point font, (e) two spaces between sentences, and (f) reasonable margins (“reasonable” means I can write constructive comments in them).
- Number your pages after the first page (at the top right-hand corner).
- Give your paper a title that is informative, not cute. The name of the work you are dealing with is NOT the title of your paper. “Shakespeare’s Use of Time in Hamlet” is by a thoughtful person; “It Takes a Broken Egghead to Make a Hamlet” is by a jerk; Hamlet is by Shakespeare. Do NOT underline, italicize, or put in quotes your own title.
- Italicize all full-length films, plays, and books. Italicize magazines and newspapers. “Short stories,” “film shorts,” “one-act plays,” and “articles” go in quotation marks (" "). Do NOT underline, italicize, or put in quotes your own title.
- Establish the context of your paper in the first sentence: "The Clown in the last scene of Antony and Cleopatra brings only one asp to Cleopatra." NOT> "There’s only one snake."
- Give your paper a clear thesis sentence at the end of the first paragraph (the second if the paper is as long as 8 pages). This rule is the one most important one.
- Do NOT use one or two sentences as a paragraph.
- Each paragraph must stick to the subject introduced by the first sentence in that paragraph.
- Do NOT misspell words. Misspelled words look dumb; do not look dumb. Use a dictionary or a literate friend to check your spelling. Be warned: spell-check will not catch all the mistakes that I will.
- A possessive without an apostrophe is a misspelled word.
- One exception to rule 11: "Its" is the possessive of "it." "It's" is the contraction for "it is." Since I do not allow contractions, you will never need to write "it's" on a paper.
- Make the transition between your sentences and your paragraphs clear and logical. This task is the most difficult in writing, but out of difficulty we find invention.
- Do not use the first or second person—I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours; you, your, yours—unless I say you may.
- Do not use the passive voice ("Careless students are failed by Mr. Cohen"); use the active voice ("Mr. Cohen fails careless students"). Because the active voice is honest and clear, this rule is the most important rule of style; and, like it or not, style affects meaning. If you will take the time to master the voice of your verb, you will find yourself a better writer in all ways. I may be a bear on this one, but I’m a bear for your sake.
- Do not begin sentences in any of the following ways: "There are/is…" "This is..." "It is..."
- Do not use "this," "these," "that," "those," "which," or "it" unless the word has a clear and unmistakable antecedent nearby. Never begin a sentence with "this" unless you follow it immediately with a noun that re-identifies the idea to which you are referring.
- Never publicly dangle a participle or misplace a modifier: write "Showing unmistakable signs of stupidity, the student did not persuade his professor" NOT "The student did not persuade his professor, showing unmistakable signs of stupidity."
- NEVER write an incomplete sentence (participles—"ing" words—cannot stand as verbs).
- DO NOT hedge. Words like "maybe," "perhaps," and "might" do not keep you from being wrong; they merely alert the reader to the fact that you are worried about it.
- NEVER JUST SUMMARIZE OR PARAPHRASE. Remember that I have read it or seen it. I do not want to know what happened. I want to know your ideas about what happened.
- Support your assertions and ideas with concrete examples or brief quotes from the essay, poem, play, or film you are discussing or with a short citation from some reliable authority.
- NEVER use someone else's ideas (even in paraphrase) or words without giving proper credit.
- When the quote is from the Bible, put the book, chapter, and verse in parenthesis after the quotation (Psalms 12.6).
- When the quote is from Shakespeare, put the play (unless you've mentioned it), the act, scene, and line number in parenthesis after the quotation (King Lear 3.1.25).
- When the quote or paraphrase is from someone else, put his or her last name and the page number of the quote in parentheses following the quotation (Cole 27) and list the book in good bibliographical form in a works cited list at the back of your paper.
- On those rare occasions when you quote more than two lines of text, indent and single space the quotation and leave off the quotation marks. In American English, the final quotation mark always goes after the comma and the period and before the semi-colon and the colon [," / ." / "; / ":].
- Do not split infinitives (keep the "to" next to the verb): write "I wanted quickly to drop the course" or "I wanted to drop the course quickly," NOT "I wanted to quickly drop the course." Hiding the adverb between the “to” and the verb, is a default position that frequently robs the adverb of its precision and power. True, you will hear that modern usage permits the split infinitive, but as long as well-educated and powerful people do notice and dislike split infinitives, you might as well avoid looking less well-educated and powerful.
- Know these three rules about commas:
- Join independent clauses (clauses with a subject and a verb) either by using (1) a comma with a conjunction ("Readers have extraordinary sex lives, but non-readers tend toward impotence and frigidity.") or (2) a semicolon without a conjunction ("Readers have extraordinary sex lives; non-readers tend toward impotence and frigidity.").
- Separate items in a series by using a comma after every item before the conjunction ("The professor was arbitrary, arrogant, and nasty.").
- Never use a comma between the subject and the verb or between the verb and its object (except for interrupting clauses which use 2 commas). Remember that when a single subject has two verbs no comma is necessary before the “and” (“Shakespeare authored sonnets as an individual and wrote plays as a collaborator” is correct without a comma).
- Bury words like "however," "furthermore," "moreover," "indeed," and so on (conjunctive adverbs) in the clause or sentence ("The students, however, failed."); do not put them at the beginning.
- Write about works of art in the present tense, since Hamlet will be stabbing Polonius and the asp will be nibbling on Cleopatra’s breast long after your grandchildren have forgotten your name.
- Be consistent when you have two or more parallel structures in a sentence. With adjectives: "He was pompous and terrorized freshmen" is wrong. "He was pompous and fond of terrorizing freshmen" is right. With prepositions: "A student could count on his bad temper and arbitrariness" is wrong. "A student could count on his bad temper and on his arbitrariness" is right. With correlatives: "He graded not only for content but for style" is wrong. "He graded not only for content but also for style" is right.
- Avoid jargon (say "library"; do not say "instructional media center"), cliché (say "the professor is a conservative grouch"; do not say "the professor is an old fogey"), slang (say "the teacher is foolish"; do not say "the teacher is a dork"), and hyperbole (say "this man has too high a regard for himself"; do not say "this man is the most arrogant bastard who ever lived").
- Use your smallest, most Anglo-Saxon, most comfortable words; big words impress only the insecure and the ghost of William F. Buckley. Write “use” not “utilization” or “utilize.”
- Lose the word "very" from your written vocabulary, avoid the word “effective,” eschew the words “transition” and “impact” as verbs, and only use an exclamation mark after the happy face you scrawl on the bill you give to diners.
- Avoid rhetorical questions. That approach is fine for Brutus at Caesar’s funeral, but too manipulative for a good essay. If you have an answer, write it. If not, your job, not mine, is to find one.
- Conclude your paper with a paragraph that explains the importance of your ideas to some larger understanding. Do not allow me to ask "so what?"
- ALWAYS WRITE A SCRATCH COPY. Even Shakespeare revised. Unless I say differently, turn all scratch copies in with your final version. If you use a word processor when you write drafts, then use the “track changes” feature and hand me an early draft.
- Proofread out loud and also find a good proof reader. Before writing your final copy, have an intelligent friend read your paper to you, and then fix the things you don't like.
- Staple your paper at the top left-hand corner. An unstapled paper requires a 25¢ stapling fee. (NB: In a courageous stand against inflation, I have kept the stapling fee at 25¢ for 32 years.)
- Regardless of who loses your paper— it will probably be me—you’re the one who will have to rewrite it or get an F. So be safe: keep a duplicate of your final version.
- Never write more than the assignment specifies. Remember what Donne can say in a sonnet (14 lines)