Midsummer in the Midsummer

Shakespeare. The name itself conjures up different thoughts and experiences for everyone. As a 17 year old, I remember studying several of his works in school, working through each line by line. However, I also think of watching his plays at the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia, which is an entirely different experience from reading his plays in a book.

In this playhouse, Shakespeare’s works come alive, are full of emotion, and require much less effort to follow, even for a novice like me! True, I don’t understand every word perfectly, and I still have a lot to learn about Shakespeare and his plays, but that expertise is not necessary to have a good time at the theater.

So, why do I enjoy seeing Shakespearean plays specifically at the Blackfriars Playhouse?

Part of the answer is the atmosphere. As soon as you enter the theater, it feels as if you have been transported back to Shakespeare’s time. The theater is in fact a re-creation of the Blackfriars Theater in London, which makes for an authentic experience. The painted balcony overlooks the simple, wooden stage that contains little other than chairs, a trapdoor, and a curtain. The wooden seats surround the stage on three sides. For me, the most unusual feature about the playhouse is that the lights remain on during the performance, which allows the actors to interact with the audience, as well as allowing for audience members to see other audience members. All of these elements help create a warm, casual atmosphere.

Also, the actors are always entertaining the audience. Before the show, the actors sing and play instruments while the audience members find their seats and settle in. The actors also dance, sing, and perform skits for the entirety of the 15-minute intermission. I’ve never been to another theater where the actors are constantly entertaining the audience in some capacity for about three hours; it is notable that there is no break for them, as in an ordinary theater. I always enjoy seeing the variety of talents and skills the actors have– everything from tap dancing to playing the trumpet or clarinet. The wide range of talent is impressive and likely a favorite aspect for many visitors.

Furthermore, the plays themselves are always great. While I, and many other audience members, may not completely understand everything that is spoken in the plays, as they are in early modern English, the play is still very understandable and enjoyable for all ages. The actors’ use of facial expressions, gestures, and audience participation helps elucidate the scene and prevent me from getting lost. On top of that, the actors are believable in their roles, and it is easy to be transported into their fictional world and watch events unfold.

Last Wednesday night, I saw the comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the theater, and it did not disappoint. It was actually the first time I had watched a performance of a play I had studied in school, not counting my middle school English class’s performance of Midsummer (because middle schoolers half-heartedly mumbling their lines doesn’t really count). Although I knew the play, the actors made it feel like I was experiencing it for the first time. It was probably my favorite performance that I’ve seen at the theater so far.

I think the key to my enjoyment of Midsummer was in the details of the play. This play in particular had many hilarious, modern touches that really helped the play appeal to a wide range of ages and kept the play interesting. For example, one insult was just simply “jerk.” It was perfectly placed in the scene, and was probably even funnier because it was unexpected in a Shakespearean play. Puck’s actions were also modernized; he slid out from backstage and at one point exited via cartwheel. Additionally, the longer the characters wandered in the woods, the more disheveled they looked. I think that was a great addition that both made sense and created a funnier situation for the audience to enjoy (Helena’s hair transformation was my favorite). Therefore, the smallest, thoughtful details really made a difference in Midsummer.

I do have to mention one other highlight: Bottom’s play (within the play) for the couples after their weddings was wonderful– the actors played their roles as workers trying to act amazingly. Every little detail, including Bottom’s need to die dramatically for a long time, was hysterical. I honestly could have watched that scene over and over again.

It is clear that all the rehearsals paid off. The actors had impeccable timing, from moving when the flower potion was put on their eyes (their eyes were closed) to Puck sliding off stage and the curtain opening and closing at exactly the right time. The dancing and singing involved in the play were also very synchronized and impressive. Even when something unexpected happened– a young girl got up off her stage seat in the middle of a quieter scene and walked loudly off the stage to her parents– the actors were composed and didn’t miss a beat.

The stage itself is unchanging, but it doesn’t have to be modified in order for the audience to imagine the characters in a specific location. Part of that is due to the costumes. The costumes in Midsummer were amazing, especially the fairies’ outfits. Titania and Oberon seemed regal and powerful, just as they should, while their servants seemed joyful and benign. The costume designers did a great job!

It may seem a bit obvious now, but I would highly recommend seeing Midsummer, or any other play, at the ASC’s Blackfriars Playhouse. It is a great way to spend an evening, and you should not be surprised to see people of all ages, children included, enjoying it along with you. It is truly amazing that something written 400 years ago still has relatable characters and relevant themes in society today.

-Caroline Gladd

What shall we play?

Obligatory Shakespeare quote: “If music be the food of love, then play on.” Duke Orsino, Act One, scene one, Twelfth Night

One of the amazing and unique parts of watching an ASC production is the music. The ASC does not limit itself to early modern music or even Shakespearean-sounding music. Rather, the actors incorporate contemporary music into the shows, which not only keeps true to how the plays were performed in the period (music was played before, during, and after the show),  but also helps connect the audience better to the play. More importantly, it shows that Shakespeare’s world and today’s are not incompatible.

Finding out what songs the actors will perform is the most exciting part, because I think the director’s choices really tells how the play will be treated and interpreted.

I’m sure most of us have thought about which songs we would include in our own ASC-styled production of Shakespeare’s plays. After all, we have our own musical tastes and interpretations of Shakespeare’s works. For example, if you see Romeo and Juliet as a cautionary tale about young love/lust as a destructive force, then you probably will lean towards less lovey-dovey songs. However, if you see R&J as tragic love cut short, then you would probably prefer songs that are considered staples of wedding dances.

In celebration of the summer season, here are some of my choices of songs for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

  1. Escape (The Piña Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes: This would absolutely be my first choice in the lineup because it captures so beautifully the dysfunctional relationships of the play. It’s about a married man who finds a personal ad in the newspaper, which goes a little something like this:

“If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain.
If you’re not into yoga, if you have half a brain.
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape.
I’m the love that you’ve looked for, write to me, and escape.” (MetroLyrics)

He decides to respond to the ad and to meet the mysterious person so they can plan their escape. The next day, he goes to their meeting place, only to realize that it was his wife who wrote the ad. They laugh at the fact that they had more in common than they realized and that they were with the right person all along. What a wonderful twist of irony.

This reminds me of the chaos that happens in the woods of Athens among the characters. Queen Titania falls in love with a donkey-headed man. Both Demetrius and Lysander try to win Helena’s heart, while Hermia is left with no one. Nobody is with the right person. Of course, everything is resolved in the end and the lovers go back to their right partners.

  1. Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen: Who doesn’t want Queen in their lineup? Well, I suppose if you don’t like Queen, then you wouldn’t want it in your production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, I think it’s perfect because it expresses the apprehension and confusion that come with being in love. Love can be this overwhelming force that leaves a person baffled. Love for many of the characters in the play is a bewildering thing.
  1. I Want You to Want Me by Cheap Trick, as sung by Letters to Cleo: If you love Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Heath Ledger, and ‘90s movies in general, then you probably recognize that this song comes from the movie 10 Things I Hate About You. I love the fact that this song comes from a movie that is inspired by Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew because it’s like a double reference.

The chorus especially reminds me of the love-triangle among Helena, Demetrius, and Hermia.

“I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I’d love you to love me
I’m beggin’ you to beg me” (MetroLyrics)

Much like the narrator of the song, Helena and Demetrius are in a position of longing: Helena loves Demetrius, who loves Hermia, who loves Lysander (who loves Hermia back). Helena and Demetrius want the people of their affections to reciprocate their love. Helena would do anything for Demetrius and even sells out her best friend in hopes of winning his heart. Demetrius, on the other hand, insistently and incessantly pursues Hermia into the woods.

  1. Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepson: This song speaks to the fickleness of love, which, I think, is an important part of the play. I mean, you know how it is: you’re just sleeping in the woods, minding your own business, you wake up, and–bam!–you’re in love with a complete and total stranger who has a donkey head. It happens to each of us at least once in our lives, doesn’t it?

The song touches on the unexpectedness and the intensity and the dramatics of falling in love.

“Hey, I just met you
And this is crazy
But here’s my number
So call me maybe.” (MetroLyrics)

The narrator and the characters affected by the love-in-idleness nectar love suddenly and passionately. The narrator gives her number to a person she doesn’t know very well and makes hyperbolic statements. Queen Titania sleeps with Bottom, while Lysander and Demetrius fight over Helena before turning on Hermia.

The music video (provided in the link above), much like this play, touches on the I-love-you-but-you-love-someone-else theme.

  1. Stupid Cupid by Connie Francis: I think the title really says it all. If this song doesn’t remind you of Helena’s “How happy some o’er other some can be!” monologue from Act One, scene one, then I don’t know what will.

The Pay What You Will (PWYW) previews of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will happen on June 16 and June 18, both at 7:30 p.m.  Opening night will be on June 20, at 7:30 p.m. Until then, find ASC on Spotify (if the link provided does not work, then try this) and enjoy the playlists of previous shows!

–Tiffany

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