Friday, May 30, 2014

A Very Big Day

Today was a Very Big Day.

Today I got to live out a life-long dream.  (And by "life-long," I mean "since I was about 18".)

Today, at the Library of Congress, I spent several happy, happy hours touching every single page of a First Folio.  I recorded interesting marginalia, I looked up all my favorite lines, I looked at chain lines and watermarks, and I breathed in the delicious, musty smell of 400 years of beautiful poetry.  

Also I took a selfie.  Because life dreams, man.

The title page is actually a forgery, but someone, somewhere in the six owners of the book before it got to the LoC, found an actual copy of the Folio, cut out the Droeshout portrait, and pasted it on top of the forged one.

Secretary hand.  I can read a little bit of it, but not very much.

Gorgeous cover that I can't imagine is anywhere close to original.  It's been owned by the LoC since 1930, but I think the cover predates that.  Possibly was added by the book's fifth owner, H.G. Wells.  No big deal.

Italic hand.  Much easier to read!

This was at the very end of Othello.  Beautiful.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Adventures in Thesis Land, Part One

...In which I briefly recap what I've learned so far in the hopes it will help me find an argument.

Subject: Shakespeare in Virginia in the Civil War
Topic: Hamlet, Macbeth, and Richard III (and others, briefly) in Richmond in the Civil War.
Predicate: ?
Object: ?  Something about cultural heritage and historical preservation, maybe.

What I'd originally hoped to be able to argue was that Southerners were using Shakespeare's regicidal tragedies as a way of expressing their frustration with Lincoln, the North, etc.  That just doesn't seem to be the case, however.  They needed no such subtle method of complaining about Lincoln; they used satire and did that outright (especially in an original piece entitled The Royal Ape).

What I know was happening is that they were performing Macbeth (often), Richard III (regularly), and Hamlet (semi-regularly).  Romeo & Juliet, Othello, King Lear, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice, and The Taming of the Shrew were also performed occasionally in Richmond during the war.  Curiously (or perhaps not?), there were zero performances of Shakespeare's works during the last months of the war, January-April 1865, and only a few during the beginning months, April-December 1861.

The plays, especially Richard III, were probably not the "true and originall copies," or even anything close to that.  Richard was Coley Cibber's version, Hamlet was probably David Garrick's version (in which Hamlet dies, but Laertes lives to rule Denmark with Fortinbras.  It's hilariously awful).

There was no shortage of comedy on the Richmond stages, but it mostly came from non-Shakespearean sources.  AYLI was performed four times, and all times dismissed by the papers as being quite bad.  Shrew was performed semi-regularly, usually under some variation of the title "Katherine and Petruccio."  Plays were almost always followed by a farcical after piece or two, and people stayed at the theatre from 7pm until midnight.  

The tercentennial of Shakespeare's birth took place toward the end of the Civil War, in 1864.  I've found no record of any celebration thereof in Richmond, though I imagine it must have been marked in some way.  It was celebrated with much ado worldwide, and accounts abound of celebrations in Germany, New York, Stratford, London, and elsewhere.  Still on the hunt for Virginia, or, failing that, Augusta or Charleston.

Shakespeare received more productions in Richmond during the war than any other author.  (I imagine this is probably still true, in most places, today.  Homeboy was prolific.)  But nationwide, Macbeth, Hamlet, and Richard III were the most popular plays during the war.  Richmond is not an anomaly there.

So.  What can I learn from all this?  Where's my argument?  

My thesis adviser keeps saying it's not about what Shakespeare meant, but about what Shakespeare was doing for audiences during the war.  I agree, but I can't see any argument here that would be specific to Shakespeare instead of to theatre in general.  One paper in 1863 said this:  "If people must be amused sometimes, listening to the poetry of Shakespeare is certainly better amusement than bluff, poker, and rotgut whiskey."  I agree, though I doubt if I can turn that into a 50-page argument.

For three weeks, my adviser told us that "this is a thing" is NOT an argument.  And he's right.  But right now, "this is a thing" is about all I've got, and I'm getting nervous that I need to start writing in eight weeks and I don't yet have anything more concrete.  (And yes, I realize how ridiculous I sound since I have EIGHT WEEKS before my self-imposed date of beginning composition.  But as I'm losing five weeks of research and reading to travel and workshops, eight weeks away feels a lot more like three weeks away.)

Man.  Where's my friend Marshall when I need him?  He's always good at talking me off the ledge and helping me figure things out.  I know there's an argument there somewhere.  I just know it.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

All the thesis, all the time.

I've had a really productive day of thesising (anthimeria!) so far, and I'm getting ready to take a break, even though I'm having a thesis-free Sunday tomorrow and should use all the time I have available today.  But it's Saturday, and my prospectus is finished, and I have 100+ citations in my bibliography, and I need a nap.  So I'm going to do that.

Tomorrow is the final meeting of hashtag brunch club before we all go our separate ways for the summer, and in the afternoon/evening, several of us are going to Cville to catch the National Theatre broadcast of King Lear.  I'm excited, and sad that this is the last time we'll all be together until late August.  

I've had such a great year, I'm gearing up for a great summer, and my thesis is taking shape.  It's good to be me.

Friday, May 9, 2014


First, another true gem I found while researching my thesis:

From the Southern Literary Messenger, March 1864: "A fracas took place at a fashionable restaurant in Paris, owing to a well-known dramatic author abusing the beefsteaks of the proprietor, who retorted that they were not so detestable as the pieces of his customer." 

Second, I think I learned an important lesson this week: if you want something, ask for it, because you just might get it.  I rarely ask for things I want in life, because I don't want to seem greedy or demanding or self-important or etc.  I prefer to work hard, do a good job, and hope someone offers me the thing I want.  I think this (enormous) part of my personality stems from my childhood--putting Mom's needs first was so important that I never learned to assert myself.  I mean, shoot, I won't even ask for extra butter for my bread at a restaurant.

But a month or so ago, I asked the director of my program if I could be his research assistant for next year.  And on Wednesday, we finalized the details and made it official.  I wanted it, I asked for it, and I got it.  It feels incredible, and bizarre.  How is it possible that getting what I wanted was that easy?

So look out, world.  I also want the Andrew Gurr Award for Outstanding Thesis, and I want to get into the MFA portion of the program, and I want to go to a great school for my PhD, and I want a really good scholarship for my doctorate work, and I want my thesis to get published, and I want to present papers at conferences over the next couple years.  These are the things I want.  And I'm going to get them.

And I also want my friend Ellen to go to SAA next year (in Vancouver!) because I'll probably be there in my research assistant capacity, and we can be friends in Real Life!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Thesis gems

I'm coming across all kinds of gems while traipsing through Civil War-era newspapers searching for Shakespeare.  Here are a few of today's greats:

From a review of Chapman, Dekker, Webster, Middleton, Marston, and others, 1863:

Chapman's worth is based on his "wonderful" translation of The Iliad, though his own dramatic work is dismissed out of hand thusly: "The best of his surviving plays, if the epithet 'best' can be applied where all is bad, are..."
Dekker is discussed for his authorship of a play with "a title too strong for ears polite" and his quarrel with Ben Jonson.
Webster gets this lovely sentence: "The 'Duchess of Malfy' and the 'White Devil' are powerful dramas, but are stuffed too full of horrors to suit the taste of a modern audience."
Middleton: "His name would hardly have been kept alive by his dramatic performances, although they were twenty in number, but for a single circumstance...The conclusion, taking into account the relative powers of the two authors, is irresistible that he filched from Shakespeare, not the other way round." (Regarding Macbeth.)
Marston: "He was a rough and vigorous satirist, and had the honor of seeing one of his satirical performances burned on account of its licentiousness."


From 1863, directly below an advertisement for the last night of the "play in five acts, Jack Cade":

NOTICE: I forewarn all persons from harboring or entertaining my wife, MRS. HATTIE MILLER, as she has been seduced and eloped with a scoundrel by the name of William Alvin Lloyd, and I will not be responsible for any debts contracted by her.--SAM K. MILLER.


From 1864, directly below an 
advertisement for the play "Trying a Shrew, or, The Day After the Wedding":

MATRIMONY.--Two young gentlemen, who are both good looking, intelligent, refined, and tried soldiers of Pickett's Division, are desirous of commencing a series of correspondence with any young ladies who may have a view to matrimony after the adjustment of existing troubles.  The ladies must possess similar qualifications.