Words: From Haitian Kreyol to Elizabethan English

My name is Marianna Moynihan and I am currently a freshman at Mary Baldwin College. I am in the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted, which has allowed me to start my college education at fourteen years old. I love nothing so much as to learn and my favorite thing in the world is language. I speak French, Spanish, English, and Haitian Kreyol fluently and some beginning Italian. I absolutely love words (hence the Shakespeare) so that will be the main topic of the majority of what I share with you on this wonderful jam-packed-with-knowledge blog.

You cannot even fathom how excited I am to be an intern at the ASC. I am honored to be working with and around the American Shakespeare Center’s genius minds. I hope to share with you all I learn along with a deep appreciation for Shakespeare and his beautiful words.

Since seventh grade, in my hometown of Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti (just outside of Port-au-Prince), I have been helping in the production of many plays at my secondary school. The maternal language of Haiti is Kreyol and its official language is French, so obviously we could not successfully portray the beauty of Shakespeare’s works to a Haitian audience in Elizabethan English. My English speaking director would read the script line by line, explain it to me, and I would translate her explanation into Kreyol and relay it to the actors. This kept me from ever really being in touch with Shakespeare’s actual words on paper or in my own native language.

Now, sitting in a rehearsal of Pericles: Prince of Tyre, I feel I could never be closer. Allison Glenzer, pacing round the stage, runs through her lines, pronouncing each wonderful syllable, consonant, and vowel in the exact voice where she feels her character “lives.” (I attended a voice workshop wherein she taught me and my peers the Linklater Progression which is most fascinating—but that’s another story for another blog entry.)

What I have particularly noticed sitting through this rehearsal is how Shakespeare indicates the setting in the text; the characters almost always mention it in the first few lines of the scene. Such as:

Act I, Scene iii THALIARD: So this is Tyre, and this the court.

Act II, Scene i FIRST FISHERMAN: Well, I’ll tell you: this place is called Pentapolis…

Act III, Prologue Gower: In your imagination hold this stage the ship…

Thaliard, played by Chris Johnson, sneaks onstage and immediately notifies the audience of where he is—and, thus, where the audience is, too.

Pericles, played by Gregory Jon Phelps, after being washed ashore, meets three fisherman. He has no idea of his whereabouts, and neither does the audience until a kind fisherman notifies him.

Gower, a sort of narrator but at the same time a spectator, asks the audience to imagine that the stage is a ship.

So you can see that since Shakespeare didn’t have the blackout at the end of his scenes to change the set and lights, he very cleverly dropped it into the text to aid the audience in imagination. He also rarely used explicit stage directions, except for entering and exiting, so he dropped clues for action and emotion deftly into the text as well—but that’s a most fascinating story that I must stow away for a better time, in another blog entry.

-Marianna Francesca Moynihan

Troy and Elsinore: the Death of Two Cities

I remember when I first read Hamlet in tenth grade. It was a wonderful play that I had sometimes had difficulty understanding. Those long soliloquies, monologues, and speeches didn’t honestly help that much. One sentence could last for ten lines,​ because the speaker insists on adding so much unnecessary information. How on earth am I supposed to keep up with what’s what and who’s who when I have to trudge through all this clutter? Seriously, you could probably skip over some lines or entire speeches and still get the gist, right?

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I am no Shakespeare saint. I’ve done my fair share of skimming over a few lines here and there. But, over the years, I’ve discovered that while I got the basic idea, I did miss out on a deeper and more engaging experience with the play. Hopefully, you will learn from my mistakes on how a person can miss something so mind blowing by casually “not noticing” a speech…or two.

Let’s begin with one speech that seemingly has nothing to do with anything in Hamlet.

In Act ​2, scene ​2, Hamlet bids one of the traveling players to recite a speech about the slaughtering of Priam, the king of Troy. It is truly a wonderful piece of verse that, at first glance, seems out of place in the whole play. It seems to only function as a transition for Hamlet to, once again, bemoan the treachery of his incestuous mother. (Honestly, Hamlet, you don’t need Hecuba’s help in order to complain about your mother. You find plenty of opportunities to do so on your own.)

And really, all the allusions to mythical people and distant places only serve to confuse. Some of us may know who Priam and Hecuba are and what the Trojan War is, but who on earth are Aeneas and Pyrrhus? Why are they so important? What does the Trojan War have to do with anything that is going on in the play? Shakespeare, did you write this to show off your clever writing skills and to make Hamlet longer?

The Player’s speech has origins in Virgil’s famous epic poem The Aeneid (N.B., some critics have argued that the speech ​was also influenced by Christopher Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage). The poem follows the journey of Aeneas from the fall of Troy to the founding of Rome (as destined by the Fates). The scene in question comes from Book II, the chapter in which Aeneas, the protagonist, narrates his account of Troy’s fall. After he leads a group of Trojans out of the Greek carnage, Aeneas returns to the burning city in order to find his wife, whom he accidentally left behind. During this search, he witnesses  many horrific and disheartening events, including the massacre of Priam. Pyrrhus, the blood-thirsty, ravenous son of Achilles, mercilessly and thoughtlessly slays the old king.

Now, we could go almost anywhere with this comparison. We could talk about: Hamlet and Aeneas; Hamlet and Pyrrhus; Hamlet and Fortinbras; how Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras are all aspects of Aeneas; the fact that both locations were/are at war. For today, I would like to focus on a theme that unites Shakespeare’s tragedy and Virgil’s poem: the death of an era and the rise of a new one.

For me, The Aeneid is about change. The Trojan War changes the lives of all the surviving Trojans and the gods involved. Eventually, the Trojans arrive at Italy and change the lives in Latium (one of the native tribes in Italy during that time). More importantly, there’s a change in power. Troy up until the war was considered to be a powerful and rich city. Rome, eventually, takes Troy’s place as the seat of strength and power in the region. In essence, Rome simply cannot exist alongside Troy.

And what on earth does this have to do with Pyrrhus?

Pyrrhus is the agent of destruction. Not only does he participate in the carnage, but he also slaughters Priam, the king of Troy, and, by extension, symbolically the city itself (if we are to take the king as the symbol of the land). Aeneas thus describes the Greek warrior:

“Pyrrhus exults, glittering with the sheen of bronze:
like a snake, fed on poisonous herbs, in the light,
That cold winter has held, swollen, under the ground,
and now, gleaming with youth, its skin sloughed,
ripples its slimy back, lifts its front high towards the sun,
and darts its triple-forked tongue from its jaw.” The Aeneid, Book II

Even though Pyrrhus causes the end of Troy, he is connected to the ideas of rebirth and renewal. The snake in the metaphor is coming out from the ground in spring, the time of year connected to rebirth and life. Furthermore, the snake has shedded off his old skin and is “gleaming with youth,” thus invoking the idea of renewal.

On top of that, the surviving Trojans lose their name towards the end of the poem. Juno–the queen of the gods and main antagonist— intervenes and beseeches to her husband that he will:

 “not order the native Latins to change their ancient name,
to become Trojans or be called Teucrians,
or change their language, or alter their clothing.
Let Latium still exist, let there be Alban kings through the ages,
let there be Roman offspring strong in Italian virtue:
Troy has fallen, let her stay fallen, along with her name.”

Troy, as the Trojan exiles know it, is gone forever​,​ and there is not even a modicum of a chance for rebuilding ​it. Trojan culture, language, everything disappears. All that’s left is their blood that will be mingled with the Latins’. It is the death of an era, but the beginning of a new one.

How is this relevant to Hamlet?

Let us consider all the major players who die and the order in which they die: Old Hamlet (before the play starts); Ophelia; Polonius; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; Gertrude; Laertes; Claudius; finally, Hamlet. All of the Danish royals die by the end of the play, and, more importantly, Hamlet dies last. The prince’s death signals the end of the Danish era. In his last moments, Hamlet gives Fortinbras, the Norwegian prince, his “dying voice.”

Throughout the play, Fortinbras, the legitimate heir of Norway, lurks in the periphery. He makes a failed attempt to take back the lands his father lost in the war against Denmark. He leads his army to conquer a small piece of profitless land in Poland. People talk about him from time to time. Even then, we don’t know if it’s truth, rumor, a little bit of both. Fortinbras doesn’t make his grand entrance until the very last scene when the royal family has died. With Hamlet’s approval, Fortinbras takes over the throne, thus transforming it from a Danish rule to Norwegian.

Much Ado About Feminism

Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s finest (and darkest) comedies. Like all of Shakespeare’s creations, it is a show containing many life messages and warnings. My suspicion is that halfway through a production of the show, some mothers turn to their child(ren), wag a finger, and whisper “and this is why we don’t spread rumors” in a sing-songy way. While the “don’t gossip” message is an important one, I feel a more critical message is often overlooked: a message regarding women and their place in society.

“Feminism” is a culturally-loaded word. There are t-shirts, bumper stickers, and blogs with pictures, quotes, and song lyrics pushing you to either become a feminist or to hate feminists with a burning passion. A Tumblr blog recently rose to fame with the title “Confused Cats Against Feminism.”  The satirical blog highlights the misunderstanding surrounding the word “feminism” through cute pictures of cats. Merriam-webster.com defines feminism as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” As I am not writing this post in an attempt to change your views of feminism, when I write “feminism” or “feminist,”  that is the definition I am referring to.

Much Ado about Nothing is set in the Italian city of Messina. The societal rules of medieval and early modern Europe, and thus of Messina, stressed that as Eve was derived from Adam, so woman is inferior to man. In this society, a man’s responsibility was to provide for the family while the woman’s was to protect its honor. To protect the honor of the family, a woman was expected to lead a solitary and silent life built on chastity and purity.

Beatrice of Much Ado about Nothing is by far my favorite woman that Shakespeare ever wrote into existence. She’s witty, outspoken, and positively brilliant. Despite living in a patriarchal society, Beatrice refuses to conform to societal norms. Beatrice tells her Uncle that she will not marry “till God make men of some other metal than earth” (2.1, 59-60). That’s an incredibly gutsy thing for an Elizabethan woman to say to a man. She continues to explain that she refuses to be “overmastered with a piece of valiant dust” (2.1, 61). In case you missed it, she just called all men dirt.

Her cousin, Hero, is standing beside her during the entire conversation and says nothing. When Hero’s father turns to her and tells her that she (Hero) knows what to say if the Prince asks for her hand, she still says nothing. In some productions, she stands before him and stares doe-eyed as if accepting her role as a pawn to be controlled by the men around her. She can become a face without a voice, and Shakespeare makes this known by giving Hero only a single line in the first act.

Since Beatrice lives under the roof of her uncle and not her own father, less pressure is put on her to marry well and represent the family name. She takes this bit of freedom and runs with it, telling Benedick that she had “rather hear (her) dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves (her)” (1.1, 131-132).

While Beatrice enjoys ridiculing marriage and men (especially Benedick), Beatrice’s character is comprised of more than banter. When Antonio tells Hero that he trusts that she is ruled by her father, Beatrice interjects saying; “Yes, faith; it is my cousin’s duty to make cur’sy and say ‘Father, as it please you’. But yet for all that, cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsy and say ‘Father, as it please me’” (2.1, 52-56). Beatrice has essentially just told her cousin to place her own well-being before anyone else’s. With this line, Beatrice has become an advocate for social equality.

Later at the masquerade dance, when Don Pedro asks Hero to walk with him, she responds, “So you walk softly and look sweetly and say nothing, I am yours for the walk; and especially when I walk away” (2.1, 88-90). Hero has flipped the gender roles through this response. Prior to this encounter, it had always been Hero who looked sweetly and said nothing. Now she has told Don Pedro that she is in control. She has placed them on equal footing.

When Don Pedro asks Beatrice if she would have him she responds, “No, my lord, unless I might have another for working-days: your grace is too costly to wear every day” (2.1, 327-329). Beatrice has turned down a marriage request from the most socially powerful character in the play. Messina is built on power, wealth, and appearances, and Beatrice has said no to all of it. Through this action, she says that she believes that she can live a satisfying life without a man around to open doors for her, both literally and metaphorically.

Beatrice faces her fair share of obstacles and at one point, lamenting her inability to defend her cousin from slander, cries out in frustration, “O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market-place” (4.1, 306-307). However, Beatrice makes use of her intelligence and determination and stays true to her ideals. Her ultimate marriage to Benedick is based on love, not submission. They are equal partners and she makes sure that he is well aware of this. Beatrice believes that she as a woman has an equal right to happiness and self-satisfaction. As a result, she ends with both.

Some people believe that feminism is a modern trend perpetuated by the media. Others trace the movement’s lineage back to the suffragettes. William Shakespeare wrote Much Ado about Nothing around 1598. Within the pages of this dark comedy, a bold feminist emerged under the name of Beatrice. Beatrice began fighting the female stereotype and advocating gender equality over four centuries ago. Within the walls of the Blackfriars Playhouse and theatres across the globe, her voice is still heard today.

 

- Christina

Season Food with Tears

My favorite quote comes from probably the most famous (and, depending on how you look at it, infamous) play about two young and doomed lovers: Romeo and Juliet. While this story of star-crossed lovers isn’t exactly my favorite​ on the whole, I believe that this play has some of the most memorable, quotable, and beautiful lines ​Shakespeare ever wrote. Who can forget the two Capulet servants exchanging lewd and bawdy exchange in the opening of the play? Or the Nurse telling the story of young Juliet falling down on her face? Or when Mercutio talks about the prick of noon? Ahem. Well, then.

As much as I would love to write about the sexual innuendos found in Romeo and Juliet, they are not the subject of today’s blog post. Rather, I would like to turn our attention a different character who would probably never say something so suggestive because he is a man of God: Friar Lawrence.

Like the other characters, the good friar has a few notable lines of his own, such as “These violent delights have violent ends” and “Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast.” Friar Lawrence–as the god-fearing figure that stands of morality and good judgement in the blood-drenched society of Verona—gives counsel and provides insight (though, I would argue, ironically, because he does not give good advice, nor does he promote good judgement) to the other characters. ​Out of all his speeches, the one line that has resonated with me the most over the years comes from Act II, scene iii (you know, the scene that follows the Balcony scene).

The sun shines and warms the earth. Friar Lawrence, enjoying the morning, picks herbs for his medicine, when, suddenly, a jubilant Romeo greets him. This is quite the surprise, isn’t it? After all, Romeo has spent a good bit of Act ​I moping around Verona and sighing at how Rosaline, his crush, will never give him a chance because she plans on becoming a nun.

“I have fallen in love with Juliet Capulet, and we wish to marry as soon as possible!” the youth declares ​ (see 2.3.57-64 for the unparaphrased text).​

Wait, what? Wasn’t it just twenty-four hours ago when Romeo proclaimed that there was no other woman for him except Rosaline?

Friar Lawrence, as the young Montague’s confidant, has heard the tale of woe and unrequited love many times before. Isn’t it quite understandable that he might become a little frustrated with the sudden change of mind? In the midst of admonishing Romeo for following his hormones and not his heart, he (rhetorically) asks:

 

“How much salt water thrown away in waste,

To season love that of it doth not taste?”

 

Thank you, Friar Lawrence, for saying what we’ve been shouting at the​ page and/or screen. Romeo, what are you doing? What are you doing? You can’t just complain about unrequited love one moment and then say you want to get married the next!

Now, forgetting the context, can we just simply read and bask in the wonderful glory of this iambic rhyming couplet?

 

“How much salt water thrown away in waste,

To season love that of it doth not taste?”

 

Isn’t that just simply the most perfect and sublime piece of verse you have ever read? Well, if it isn’t, that’s okay. Hopefully by the end of this post, you’ll agree that it is, at least, a testament to Shakespeare’s creativity and genius.

First, I want to break down what the quote means​: Salt water, clearly enough, stands for tears, albeit the long and indirect way of saying it. Romeo, in the process of pining for his soon-to-be-nun, has ceaselessly cried and wasted his energies for a love that he can never have. Well, that was easy enough to translate.

Wait a minute. We’re not even close to being done yet.

Friar Lawrence uses the words “season” and “taste” Well, that seems a little weird that someone would use words like salt (water), season, and taste, unless, of course, that person is talking about food.

Hot damn, we have a metaphor on our hands. Friar Lawrence has just compared love to food. Even more than that, he just compared tears to a seasoning. Good grief, this is one colossal metaphor.

What could Friar Lawrence possibly be saying about love? After all, he just compared it to food.

Personally, I always imagined the friar suggesting that love is some sort of delicacy—an expensive dish, luxurious and indulgent. Love is meant to be savored and enjoyed. He could also be suggesting that love, like food, provides energy and sustenance required for humans to live. Without love, people simply die.

But what about the salt and the salt water?

Salt during the Renaissance was not only important as a seasoning but also as a preservative.

​Before refrigeration and ​the other delightful modern conveniences that help keep food fresh for long periods of time, people sprinkled salt over meat in order to preserve it. (Side note: bacteria and fungi cause food to spoil. Salt magically breaks down the protein in bacteria and fungi cell walls. Don’t ask me how, I’m not a biology or chemistry major). Because of its importance, salt became expensive.

As one of my friends (who actually is a biology major) once pointed out to me, s​odium has ​important bodily functions. Whether or not Shakespeare knew the importance of salt in the average person’s diet, the sentiment is still there: Romeo is throwing away a vital piece of himself in his aimless pursuit of Rosaline.

“Well,” you guys might be thinking, “this interpretation of the line is nice and all, but isn’t salt water quite literally what tears are? So how on earth can ‘salt water​’ be a metaphor at that point?”

​Shakespeare is using a type of a rhetorical device known as paronomasia, where one

word ​can stand for multiple​ meanings​ — in this case, figurative and literal​. “​Salt water” has the figurative meaning of the seasoning and the literal meaning of tears.

He wastes no words in order convey this sentiment. And who, other than William Shakespeare himself, can fit so much into two measly lines?

Shakespeare, you little rascal, you’ve done it again.

 

Tiffany

 

Learning to Love Shakespeare Again

I was introduced to Shakespeare’s work when I was eight years old. The elementary school I attended puts on a Shakespeare production every spring. Students in the third, fourth, and fifth grade classes are given roles and spend the months leading up to the production immersing themselves in the text, the history, and (my personal favorite) the Shakespearean insults. The Tempest was the first production in which I was cast. I was given the roles of a mariner and a hound (which I was quite pleased with, as playing these roles meant I was permitted to grace the stage with a beard drawn on with eyeliner and a set of fluffy dog ears). Rehearsal time was sacred to me, and I vividly remember giving dirty looks to the two dirt-covered boys whining in the corner about wanting to play flag-football instead.

I became more enthralled with Shakespeare’s work in the following years when I was cast as Oliver in As You Like it and Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I poured myself into my roles. My teachers didn’t believe in giving us concrete instruction on how our roles were to be portrayed, so I was given the opportunity to discover my characters on my own. This unstructured and unguided freedom pushed me to research Shakespeare. During the evening hours I spent curled up with biographies, scripts, and illustrated pictures of the Globe, I fell in love with William Shakespeare.

Love doesn’t always last – especially in secondary schools. Shakespeare is taught in most every high school in the United States, with Macbeth and Romeo & Juliet falling somewhere between The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby. Placed between whimsical prose, Shakespeare’s verse is often met with groans. Verse is different: it’s weird, and it’s uncomfortable. People do not meet at the lockers and have a conversation in verse. Despite having wonderful and wise English teachers, I found myself irritated with Shakespeare. My class read the plays aloud from our desks, but the words sounded less harmonic than they did when I was eight. There was no stage to block a swordfight on and no character to embody. The play was more stagnant and less enjoyable. I underlined the metaphors and similes but found the task mundane by scene two. When it came time for my senior year English assessment, I prayed to be given any other work to analyze but Shakespeare.

I often tell recently dumped and heartbroken friends that if a relationship is meant to be then they’ll come back together one day. This fact is relevant because a year after graduating high school I applied for an internship at the American Shakespeare Center. I intern in workshop development, which means that I spend most of my days immersing myself in the Much Ado About Nothing script, searching for interesting tidbits to include in my workshop. In order to fully understand how to construct the workshop, I attend other workshops at the ASC. Most recently, I attended a series of workshops created for ASCTC, the ASC’s summer camp for high school students aged thirteen to eighteen (a.k.a the prime Shakespeare-detesting years). The workshops were lead by passionate and enthusiastic interns and employees who touched on topics ranging from rhetoric to dramaturgy. Although the campers spent a good majority of the workshop sitting in desks taking notes, I didn’t hear a single groan, snore, or fidget. Instead I heard thoughtful questions and comments as the class tackled some of the most difficult aspects of Shakespeare’s work. While impossible to believe, the instructor and the campers were having fun while covering terms that the majority of people are not exposed to until graduate school.

All my life I’ve been passionate about two things: the performing arts and education. I’ve been tirelessly searching for years for a way to help people understand just how critical the performing arts are in getting the most out of your education. The American Shakespeare Center understands that. More importantly, they live it. They recognize that Shakespeare speaks to everybody and that all they have to do is get people to listen. As I watched the campers get excited over cue scripts and iambic pentameter, I realized how much Shakespeare can teach us. His plays are mathematical, historical, and scientific. Performing in them gives a person confidence, poise, and an increased awareness of the world. Shakespeare’s plays appeal to everyone. People who enjoy math can search for inconsistencies in the iambic pentameter, people who enjoy history can cross reference how Shakespeare’s work mirrors historical events and time periods, people who are into science can dissect scenes in search of embedded stage directions, and people who love being the center of attention can have the times of their lives playing Hamlet or Macbeth.  Due to time constraints and standardized testing, many high school students never get the opportunity to see this. Don’t misunderstand me, I’ve found Shakespeare to be hard and frustrating, and I’ve spent many hours sitting at my desk in the intern alcove wanting to bang my head against the wall as I re-read a monologue for the 17th time and discover a rhetorical device I have failed to notice the first sixteen times. But, reading and analyzing a Shakespeare play is like putting together a puzzle. Each new rhetorical device discovered adds a connection and the pieces come together to reveal an incredible masterpiece. 

So here I am attempting to understand Shakespeare. Maybe it’s better to say that I am a detective searching for the clues that Shakespeare left behind. I am Sherlock Holmes searching for Waldo and Carmen Sandiego and I am having the time of my life. Every trochee noticed, elision discovered, and isocolon found excites me and reminds me of what an honor it is to be studying under such a brilliant mind. One day, I will take the information I’ve learned here and use it in my own classroom. Or, better yet, I will help encourage the performance and analysis of Shakespeare in classrooms across the country. In the meantime, I am learning to love Shakespeare again.

 

Christina Colón

 

What A Sweet Place It Is

As I make my transition from a Pennsylvania to a Virginia residence, I can’t help but relate to the little-black-dog-toting heroine Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz as she clicks her heels together and says, “There’s no place like home.”  The funny thing is, if I were actually wearing those magical ruby pumps, I’m not sure where they would take me.

When Milton Hershey broke ground on his chocolate factory in 1903, he probably had no idea that his name would eventually adorn an entire town (plus countless confection wrappers around the world). Hershey, PA, is my hometown: where I know the back roads, where I went to school, and where the bank tellers recognize me.  In his 1915 poem “The Death of the Hired Man,” Robert Frost remarks that “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  As cynical as it sounds, the sentiment rings true for me. In both times of joy and stress, I relish the soft, safe, and established environment of my parents’ house.  I look back fondly on the time I spent in my first apartment nearby.

The first time I visited Staunton, as part of the Penn State Harrisburg Honors Program’s annual trip, I felt an strange familiarity with the town. It was like an old acquaintance with whom I delighted in reconnecting.  From the shops on Beverley Street to the local farmers’ market, I spent hours exploring the town with my friends. Each of the local eateries gave me a different flavor of Staunton. I quickly found, though, that my favorite part of the trip took place within the walls of the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse. As soon as the actors took up their instruments for that first pre-show, I was enthralled.  I had never been much for theatre, but this was a truly engrossing experience.  Sarah Fallon’s Dido in Dido, Queen of Carthage left me heartbroken and awed, while Ben Curns’s Richard in Richard III had me knowingly deceived and secretly seduced. Even though I had studied the plays, I had never seen them like this before. I knew that I wanted to be as much a part of this exhilarating experience as possible. After graduating in May with a degree in Secondary Education/English, I searched high and low for job opportunities that would allow me to pursue this passion. The situation looked bleak, but then entered the lovely folks at Mary Baldwin College to save the day. Thanks to Sarah Enloe’s referral, the coordinators of the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted reached out to me when they needed to hire an RA for their residence hall. For the past two weeks, I’ve been settling into my new apartment. In both my job and my internship, I get to teach and learn. The support I have received from my new colleagues is almost overwhelming, and I have yet to find a dour face among them.  This whole process has been a delightful whirlwind.

Here at the ASC, I feel honored to have been given the title of Conference Intern, meaning that I will be working to make this year’s Blackfriars Conference (from October 23-27) a smashing success. Just two weeks into the job, I can feel the anticipation building.  Having never worked with anything like this before, I’m learning worlds of new information every day, from the guidelines of stage combat to the definitions of the words plenary and colloquy. I’m so grateful to have been given this opportunity, and I am looking forward to what has already become a meaningful and rewarding experience.

So here I am, clicking my heels together. Every time I do, I find another piece of Staunton that feels like home.

- Rikki C

Melville, Nobokov, Marx, and the Duke

One of the most wonderful qualities of Shakespearean plays is their continual ability to influence our world today. Of course, our generation has widely used him in reference for pop songs and the occasional misquote, “I fell in love with you, and you smiled because you knew,” not to mention the frequent tattoo remarking on how little and fierce a woman can be. But we cannot overlook the grander ways that philosophers, poets, and innovators have used Shakespeare throughout the years. Some of the best works, quotes, and ideas can even come out of his more aspersed works, such as Timon of Athens (probably co-written with Thomas Middleton).

         

  Through my research of the play so far, I have come across some seemingly random congruences to Timon, the incredibly generous man suddenly churlish and alienated from the world he knew and loved when he thought it loved him back, the first being Herman Melville. While most critics saw Timon as a rancid tragedy, Melville saw it as a dark ironic voice and sought to compare it both to himself and to a few characters in his own works, such as ‘Jimmy Rose’ and The Confidence-Man. ‘Jimmy Rose’ tells the story of a man who, in the same air as the play, loses everything and is turned down by his own friends in the process of loss. The Confidence-Man interlaces Timon’s qualities into many different characters and includes a similar scenario to Timon and Apematus’ banters, pulled from Act 4 scene 3 of Timon. It is hard to overlook Melville’s personal Timon-like qualities, “regarding himself as an artist who, though surrounded by flatterers, was ultimately alone in the world.” (Dawson 42).

        

   Another work Timon inspired is the novel/poem Pale Fire by Vladimir Nobokov. The novel tells the story of a professor of literature, Charles Kinbote, who lives with the paranoid delusion that his life was an influential part of the 999-line poem written by his favorite poet, John Shade. Kinbote identifies with Timon and carries around a copy of the work as he is deemed insane and ends up as an alienated misanthrope. The title, “Pale Fire” is straight from Timon of Athens, Act 4 scene 3. The metaphor is meant to represent “nature’s cycle of thievery,” as the moon constantly steals her light from the sun and in Nobokov’s satirical fashion, exemplify critics who steal the ‘sun’ from their subjects (43).

   

A less intense and dark product of Shakespeare and Middleton’s work is the 1991 full-scale opera based on Timon. Written by Stephen Oliver, the opera takes the simple tragic route, keeping its distance from the darker and heavier motifs. Other composers influenced by Timon include Henry Purcell for Thomas Shadwell’s adaptation of the play, Benjamin Britten in 1935, and the most frequented for modern productions of Timon,Duke Ellington,

  

Lastly, Karl Marx’s theories of economy, money, and the control it has over everyone relates hardily to the relationship between nature and the artificial generation of money through systems of interest (202). Marx enjoyed Timon’s scathing scrutiny of the spiteful power of cash, as well as gold’s power over every single character in the play. He notes in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 gold’s power to invert values; gold’s ‘visible divinity’, able to transform ‘all human and natural properties into their contraries’, and its role as the ‘common whore’ of people and nations. Alienation, of course, rang true in Marx’s mind throughout Act 4, as the act stresses the idea of gold’s hold over mankind.

  

  Now, those are only a few of the many works, music, and people Timon of Athens has influenced. If you were to look into any production of the show, you’d see people like Peter Brook who used it as a tool to experiment further with his idea of poor theatre! There is no end to Shakespeare’s (and Middleton’s, in this case) outstretch of inspiration or stimulus in the past, and for years to come. Hopefully, though, there will be fewer Taylor Swift songs that kind of get the ending wrong and defeat the purpose of a tragedy entirely.

Cheers!

Jess

  • Bibliography

Dawson, Anthony, and Gretchen Minton. The Arden Shakespeare: Timon of Athens. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2008. Print.