>A Confession


I have a confession to make.
I wasn’t going to say anything about it, especially in so public a forum as this, but it’s been eating away at me.  I’ve been living with this secret weighing upon me day after day and I just don’t think I can bear it any longer.  I hope none of you will think the less of me for it, but I simply cannot remain silent anymore.
I am having an affair.
A steamy, torrid, passionate affair right under the nose of the man who I am eternally bound to.  I have secret trysts in the library after lectures.  I leave my apartment constantly peering over my shoulder for fear that My Man won’t buy the lame excuse of “lunch with the girls” again.  I creep into my armchair with my sordid companion knowing that someday my Beloved will look out from his perch on my bookshelf and see, his vision suddenly cleared.  Those little “homework sessions” weren’t so innocent.  The time I spent thumbing through pages was perhaps a bit too tender, too enthralled, too loving.  The hours of research weren’t just for class, they were for something more, something dangerous, something that perhaps could be a huge detriment to our relationship. 
I’m cheating on Shakespeare with Jane Austen.
At first it was innocent.  That class reading wasn’t going to do itself.  I had to spend quality time with Jane, my syllabus (Lord High Ruler of my life), demanded it.  But then, somewhere midway through Northanger Abbey, it changed.  No longer was I just doing class reading.  No longer was I taking notes to keep myself awake.  I began to enjoy her company.  I was enraptured, captivated by her wit and charm.  Mesmerized by the research prospects and the impact it could have on my greater sphere of work.  I became a woman possessed, slave to the wiles of another author.
I deluded myself for a long time.  It’s easy to do.  “It’s okay to think whatever I want to think, it’s just a crush, it’s natural.”  “Everyone has urges to stray, the important part is that they don’t follow them.  Fidelity is achieved by action, not thought.”  “It’s just one cuddle session, it doesn’t mean anything.  I bet Will has them with other girls all the time.”  “We’re like SISTERS, we can totally spend time together!”
I didn’t realize how serious things had become until I picked up Pride and Prejudice.  I opened the novel, breathe bated.  I eagerly anticipated that infamous opening line.  Those words that were just so funny, so re-assuring, so much like home that I wondered why it had taken me so long to return to one of my favorite books.  I prepared, primped, projected… and then… they were there.  In front of me.  “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  I smiled and felt Her bubble up from the pages to embrace me and I fell into that embrace contented, comforted, keen.
There was no doubt about it.  This was going to be a serious problem.
It’s not like you can’t love two people at once, right?  Juliet herself says it, “My bounty is as boundlesse as the Sea,/My Loue as deepe, the more I giue to thee/The more I haue, for both are Infinite…” (Romeo and Juliet, 934-936).  Love doesn’t run out.  It’s not like I’m taking anything away from Shakespeare by loving Austen.  He can’t miss me that much, there are so many other scholars still talking about him… I’m sure he’s barely noticed that I’m gone.  And besides, I’ll be back.  This is just for a semester… just for this one class… or maybe a year if I wind up conferencing with my paper… or maybe two or three if it gets published….
Oh god.  I’m going to have to tell him.  That’s all there is to it.  It’s been going on too long, I’m sure he sees that something is wrong, I just hope he realizes that it’s me and not him.  And that, once this is all over, I’ll be back to him.  He has my intellectual attention now and forever and nobody can take his place in my heart.  Not even a women who wrote such funny prose about some amazing characters and whose works offer a plethora of opportunities for…
No.  Stop.  I’m telling Will.  And I’ll do something nice for him.  Maybe pay him some homage by lecturing the kids at fight call this weekend about the bad Hamlet quartos…

>Come for the Third, Laertes


As you may or may not have guessed by now, I have a wide array of sundry random talents.  Usually, these are things I have learned for one of several reasons: a) I had to know it for a job at some point (I’ve had a lot of these); b) I was interested in learning it; c) it was involved in a training program/class that I attended; or d) it seemed like a good idea at the time.
My interest in swords, weapons and combat falls into column b and, I can’t be happier to say, is slowly leaking into column a.  As I announced earlier this month, I have been given the responsibility of acting as fight director for our production of Magic Time at the theatre.
Magic Time is a play about a summer stock company doing Hamlet.  The infamous Hamlet duel is enacted three times during the production.  This is exciting to me for several reasons, not the least of which being the duel from Hamlet is one of the most interesting and challenging pieces a fight director can have land on her plate. 
Everyone knows that there is a duel in Hamlet.  People come to see Hamlet expecting a brilliant display of swordsmanship at the end of the show, resulting in the deaths of the (remaining) main characters.  The characters involved in the Hamlet duel are both experienced, trained swordsmen.  The duel has got to look good or it betrays audience expectation and the spirit of the production.
Neither of the actors involved in my duel have any background in swordplay, martial arts, or dance.  This should be fun.
Luckily, we have some time.  The production doesn’t go up until the end of October so, with some diligence, I think I’ll be able to put something together that doesn’t look half bad.  That is, of course, if said actors come to me with the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time.  Inexperience I can handle, lack of hand/eye co-ordination may be a killer (in this instance, quite literally…)
In addition to the physical demands of the Hamlet duel, there are also some textual complications.  Here is the text which is spoken during the infamous fight:
Come on sir.
Come on sir. [ They play.]
A hit, a very palpable hit.
Well: againe.
Come: Another hit; what say you?
A touch, a touch, I do confesse.
Our Sonne shall win.
Come for the third.
Laertes, you but dally,
I pray you passe with your best violence,
I am affear’d you make a wanton of me.
Say you so? Come on. [ Play.]
Nothing neither way.
Haue at you now.
 [In scuffling they change Rapiers.]
Part them, they are incens’d.
(Hamlet 3739-3779)
Since the pearls and Gertrude’s death are a complication unto themselves (and don’t actually matter for my staging since they’re cut from Magic Time), I have omitted them from this passage.  What I am always left wondering is several things:
Laertes is a trained French fencer.  He attend academy there.  His form should be top-notch. Osrick admits to Hamlet before the duel that Laertes will likely best him.  However, we know from this passage that Hamlet is really kicking the snot out of Laertes.  Laertes shouldn’t look like a bad fencer, Hamlet just has to be a better fencer.  Like trying to have a good singer sing off-key, this is much more challenging than it would seem.
In addition, there are several embedded stage directions in the fight.  Hamlet hit Laertes.  It is a hit so striking that Osrick famously pronounces it as “a very palpable hit”.  However, it is a hit that Laertes at first protests.  Is this because Laertes is cheating, or because the hit was subtle enough for him to have missed it despite its pronouncement to the assembly?  The second hit Laertes admits to.  After a little smack-talk from Hamlet, the scuffle begins again and Osrick pronounces “nothing neither way”.  This asserts that, despite aforementioned scuffle containing a close call, neither fencer has actually connected.  Then, of course, occurs the famous swap-n-swipe.  Hamlet takes possession of Laertes’ poisoned rapier, but not before Laertes manages to wound Hamlet.  Hamlet then wounds Laertes.  This series of events we are brought into assurance of not only because both Hamlet and Laertes die, but also because of Horatio’s pronouncement several lines later “they bleed on both sides”.  Finally, the duelers become frantic enough that the King himself orders they are parted due to being “incens’d”.
Whew.  That’s a lot going on in a fight. 
Keep in mind as well that most fight directors get a mere few hours with their actors to choreograph this duel.  I’m in the fortunate position to have a little more time than that, but I also have a little less experience than some of the real pros out there.
Shakespeare’s actors would have had a very different attitude about onstage violence.  The average rehearsal period for a show in Shakespeare’s time was four days.  As your mind boggles about that, remember that Shakespeare’s actors were also accomplished fencers.  Fencing and dancing, two of the so-called “noble arts”, were high priorities for actors to learn and be proficient at.  They are elements frequently used in period shows, and elements that had greater meaning in the late fifteen hundreds than they do today.  Rather than being mere leisure activities, they were ways of life.  The average man walking down the street likely had a weapon on him and was also likely called upon to use that weapon several times in his life.  Remember that dueling (despite being illegal) was non an uncommon way to resolve disputes amongst the middle and noble classes.  Indeed, Christopher Marlowe died in a duel.  So four day to slap together a sword fight was really no big sweat for an Elizabethan actor.
Despite cultural differences, this does put things in perspective.  If they did it in four days, I should be able to whip these guys into shape in six weeks.
First fight call is tomorrow morning.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

>By all these lovely tokens, September days are here…


I love autumn.  Every last bit of it.  The leaves change color, the smell of woodsmoke, apple cider and pumpkin is thick in the air, I get to go office supply shopping (don’t judge, I love office supply shopping), boots and adorable denim jackets are seasonal attire once more, and the spirit for my favorite holiday ensues.  The first whiffs of fall make me tingle with anticipation and here in New Jersey the season began to peek its nose around the corner this very week.
Maybe it’s because my life centers so much around school, but the autumn is always a time of new things to me.  September is exciting because I get new notebooks, new classes, new textbooks, new research, new schedule, new back-to-school clothes, new projects… what a whirlwind of change.  This year is looking particularly scary and wonderful due to several factors.  So today, rather than my traditional blogy narrative, I’d like to take a moment to write an autumn-themed list of various and sundry things that have been and will be whirling into (and out of) my life in the past/next few weeks on the harvest wind.
*I’m down to one job!  Briefly, albeit, before work at the theatre starts up again.  My last day at the archive was yesterday.  The life of an archivist is one that I had never thought to live and, I can say with some certainty, it’s much tougher than anyone would have imagined.  Digging, piling, compiling, categorizing, counting, labeling, all the while being paranoid of mouse droppings and assorted pests which may or may not be skittering out of assembled boxes at any given time.  I walked out of the archive every day feeling like I needed to be decontaminated rather than cleaned.  Coated in dust, sneezing, eyes watering, I also felt satisfied.  It was an Indiana-Jones style hunt through paths unblazed by second-generation human knowledge.  That was as exciting as it sounds.  The feeling that around any corner could be waiting a surprise find to change the face of knowledge, the idea that I was doing something worthwhile, and the notion that (while on a small scale) I was becoming an expert in a previously undiscovered area of  comprehension made this perhaps the most fulfilling job I have ever worked.  I would not hesitate to do it again.  That and the pay was good.
*PhD application process begins (seriously) now.  I don’t want to speak on this at great length just now because a) I will likely be speaking on it in future blog entries and b) because it scares me.  More than a little.  The acceptance process into any given program is so arbitrary that, while I know I have done everything right and that I am a prime candidate for my programs, I can’t help but dwell upon the great and imminent coin flip that determines the rest of my life.  This entire ordeal is equally strange because it feels like college applications all over again.  You know, that time in your life that you thought was done but (apparently) is not.  That great burgeoning uncertainty as you stand on the precipice of your future waiting to jump but uncertain which direction will be your best bet for surviving the fall (sorry, can’t resist a pun…).  Looking over the abyss, teetering on the edge, dipping my toe into its unknown depths, I think fear is a natural reaction.  I keep trying to remind myself that fear is an acronym for “False Expectations Appearing Real”, but this seems to only deepen the illusions rather than make them disperse.  I’m fairly certain that I am approaching a jittering, uneasy serenity about this entire process, which, really, is all you can do.  Lay back, enjoy the ride, and accept that for a time you’ll just have no clue.  Yup.  Blissful Cluelessness here I come…
*I cleaned my bookshelf last night of last semester’s textbooks (with the exception of those on the Master’s Reading Exam List which got re-located to a separate shelf) and placed upon it instead this semester’s new acquisitions.  Somehow, this makes everything feel more real.  My first class is on Wednesday, I just completed my first academic reading for the semester, and my first syllabus is printed and ready to go.  I am pumped.  I’m already thinking about paper topics and possible conference papers… though this likely means that I’ll have to finally get around to reading Judith Butler.
*This year at the theatre seems to be Shakespeare year and I can’t be more thrilled.  Two of our four annual productions will be Shakespeare-themed!  In the fall, we will be doing a production of Magic Time by James Sherman followed by a Spring production of Twelfth Night.  Twelfth Night is definitely one of my favorites and a show that I’ve had an intimate knowledge of for some years.  Featuring the best Shakespearean clown (in my opinion), one of the best heroines, and (drum roll please) a comic fight scene, this play really has just about everything that a novice Shakespeare Company would need or want.  Granted, we’re not a Shakespeare company, but we do have some pretty amazing people who work on these things.  Stay tuned for more info on Twelfth Night.  In the meantime, I have been asked to work on Magic Time as the fight director.  Magic Time is a show about a Company producing Hamlet.  Naturally, the duel scene is enacted several times in the script.  Which means that I get to live every fight director’s dream and do the infamous duel.  I’ve started kicking around ideas (it’s harder than you think to kick ideas with a sword when you don’t even know who your actors are and if they have any scrap of hand/eye co-ordination).  Will our heroine be able to pull through?  Will she kill and/or gravely injure any actors in the process?  Will the fight look good and not like a clay-mation Errol-Flynn wanna-be sequence?  Only time will tell….
*I am about 98% certain that I will again be grading for the Best Professor in the World (who may or may not be reading this right now).  Pending financial disaster in the Department or a lack of registration for Eighteenth Century British Lit (part I), I will definitely be on board as a paper monkey for Dr. Lynch.  I could not be more thrilled.  This man has been (and will continue to be) an inspiration and mentor to me as I pick my way through academia.  I am waiting with bated breathe for his Spring Graduate Seminar in Gothic…. Oh, and for those of you who have had need of (and will need in the future) a GREAT style guide written to be useful, readable, and fun, check out his.  It is complete with historical tid-bits and lovingly annotated grammar rules and regulations from a man who knows his stuff.  That and it’s online for free (though it does come in paper version, which, let’s face it, is totally worth having).
*I want to go apple picking and eat pumpkin everything.  I understand that the weather will be kicking back up to eighty degrees this weekend as summer shows us the strength of its death throes.  I hope that this won’t foil my perky autumn-inspired mood…

>famous last words

>Yesterday, a member of my family passed away. It wasn’t unexpected, it wasn’t tragic (as far as death goes), it just was. People die. It is the ultimate punctuation to life. The period, question mark, or exclamation point to our time here upon this mortal coil.

I got the inevitable phone call (of course while I was driving, ain’t that the way things go?), I cried a little, and then I got to thinking. Here was a man who knew he was going to die. He was in the hospital and all signs were pointing at the hereafter. What does one say in those situations? There’s not much to be done, clearly, when you know you are running out of breathe and that your thought cannot sustain itself to another line. But there is still time for a few more words, a poignant tid-bit, a grand exit perhaps. At the very least one final jab at the world…

In Shakespeare, people die a lot. It’s the nature of the beast when you write Renaissance tragedy. Sometimes these deaths are expected, sometimes they are not. This passing within my life got me to thinking, what do the characters of the most eloquent man in the history of the English language say when their time is up?

Perhaps the most famous last words are spoken by Hamlet;

If thou did’st euer hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicitie awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in paine,
To tell my Storie….
O I dye Horatio:
The potent poyson quite ore-crowes my spirit,
I cannot liue to heare the Newes from England,
But I do prophesie th’election lights
On Fortinbras, he ha’s my dying voyce,
So tell him with the occurrents more and lesse,
Which haue solicited. The rest is silence. O, o, o, o.

(Hamlet, V ii, 3832-4847)

Of course, people usually only remember the first bit of this speech. The beautiful part. I can only hope to be half as eloquent on my death bed (or, as in Hamlet’s case, stretched across the ground after having lost a duel and watched my mother be poisoned by my step-father while he lies dying from my own blade). Hamlet recognizes he is dying, he concedes the Country to the invading forces, and then passes in moans of pain. In doing so, Hamlet denies his own decree. “The rest is silence” he says, before letting out increasingly weaker moans of distress. Even in death, Hamlet remains contrary- unable to follow his own orders. Unable to act upon what he has set out to do. He is consistent then, his true self upon the last moment of his life.

Another famous set of last words (though perhaps people don’t realize they are quoting a death rattle when they use them) are given by Richard Plantagenet:

A Horse, a Horse, my Kingdome for a Horse.

(Richard III, V iv, 3840)

This comes from a character who has consistently been able to connive and cannodle anything he wants out of any other character. Here, in death, he is stripped of that ability. He begs for the necessities of battle. Unable to acquire them, he is slaughtered by his own inadequacy (finally). These last words reflect the universe stripping Richard of his unrighteous gains in order to give him his just deserts. It is also a reminder that not everyone can predict their death and give an eloquent speech, sometimes we die pleading for what would save us.

Of course, how could I discuss death without discussing the most famous lovers of all time? Both Romeo and Juliet have memorable closing remarks, though in very different ways. Here is Romeo:

…Eyes looke your last:
Armes take your last embrace: And lips, O you
The doores of breath, seale with a righteous kisse
A datelesse bargaine to ingrossing death:
Come bitter conduct, come vnsauory guide,
Thou desperate Pilot, now at once run on
The dashing Rocks, thy Sea-sicke wearie Barke:
Heere’s to my Loue. O true Appothecary:
Thy drugs are quicke. Thus with a kisse I die.

(Romeo and Juliet, V iii, 2969-2977)

Romeo is a fine balance between the lovely and the practical. He gives his rehearsed speech, he says his goodbye to the world, he even has one of the most dramatic toasts of all time. Then, finished, reality sets in. Much like Hamlet’s “O, o o o”, Romeo is unable to stop at merely the lovely. We find Romeo the human being in his last line- perhaps more revealing and more truthful than anything he had previously spoken. Far from the flowering poetry he spoke but a moment before, Romeo’s final utterance is shiveringly real. Succinct. To the point. It is his life, encompassed.

Juliet is similar:

Yea noise?
Then ile be briefe. O happy Dagger.
‘Tis in thy sheath, there rust and let me die.

(Romeo and Juliet, V iii, 3032-3035)

No long speech. No dramatic toast. Merely the truth. Instructions. Practicality. She has no time for anything else. She is blatant, straightforward and simple, yet poetic. There is nothing brutal about Juliet’s last words. They are kind, gentle, personifying the dagger as something to be rejoiced in rather than feared. It will free her, let her die rather than cause her to die. Juliet releases life as simply as an exhale and nearly as silently.

A less famous parting speech is spoken by Antony:

The miserable change now at my end,
Lament nor sorrow at: but please your thoughts
In feeding them with those my former Fortunes
Wherein I liued. The greatest Prince o’th’world,
The Noblest: and do now not basely dye,
Not Cowardly put off my Helmet to
My Countreyman. A Roman, by a Roman
Valiantly vanquish’d. Now my Spirit is going,
I can no more.

(Antony and Cleopatra, IV xv, 3062-3070)

Antony’s last words also mirror his life. They are strong, practical, and giving. He counsels his friends to remember him in a happier time, a mightier time. He turns the thoughts of Cleopatra to himself at his prime. He eulogizes himself, summing his life up in a necessarily succinct piece. Antony is not terse, but he certainly isn’t a Romeo. No flowers for him, but rather marble monuments. He dies a warrior and a prince. Though in the arms of his lover, he does not die swooning. He simply stops. He can no more.

Another warrior who exits the stage in a flight of glory is the notorious and infamous Macbeth:

I will not yeeld
To kisse the ground before young Malcolmes feet,
And to be baited with the Rabbles curse.
Though Byrnane wood be come to Dunsinane,
And thou oppos’d, being of no woman borne,
Yet I will try the last. Before my body,
I throw my warlike Shield: Lay on Macduffe,
And damn’d be him, that first cries hold, enough.

(Macbeth, V viii, 2468-2475)

MacB actually runs off the stage fighting. He curses, spits, fights, and the next we see of him Macduff is carrying his head to the assembled Scottish Lords. This is again a character in the pinnacle of his life at the moment before his death; he is bright, bold, arrogant. He knows he will lose this battle, but he does not run. He throws up his shield and taunts his impending doom.

But what are Macbeth’s other choices? He certainly cannot grow anymore (as he is already King), he may fade back into obscurity rotting in some dungeon somewhere, but his story is over. Byrnane Wood has come to Dunsinane, the witches’ prophecies have all been fulfilled. There is no more destiny for Macbeth, no other part of the story for him. He must die, he has no choice in that. His only choice is how he does die.

So what will I say when facing down my death? Will I have flowery poetry, be begging for the necessities of life, be ready to face the reaper head on, eulogize myself? Will I find some truth about the deepest core of my humanity in that moment, or will I just fade into obscurity? Will it be offstage or onstage? Or will someone simply announce in the fifth act that “his commandment is fulfilled that Rosincrance and Guildensterne are dead” (Hamlet, V ii, 3864-3865). I don’t think there are any answers to these questions until the moment of their certainty, and I hope to be asking them for many years to come before that certainty arrives.

I will conclude this little jaunt into the macabre with a thought from Cymbeline. When Guiderius and Arviragus set Imogen (as Fidele) in her tomb in IV ii (lns 2576-2600), they speak the following poem because they have no voices to sing. My own voice does not feel the jubilation to be lifted into song at present. I am tired. I am sad. So, once again, I will rely upon Shakespeare to sing for me.

Feare no more the heate o’th’Sun,
Nor the furious Winters rages,
Thou thy worldly task hast don,
Home art gon, and tane thy wages.
Golden Lads, and Girles all must,
As Chimney-Sweepers come to dust.

Feare no more the frowne o’th’Great,
Thou art past the Tirants stroake,
Care no more to cloath and eate,
To thee the Reede is as the Oake:
The Scepter, Learning, Physicke must,
All follow this and come to dust.

Feare no more the Lightning flash.
Nor th’_all-dreaded Thunderstone.
Feare not Slander, Censure rash.
Thou hast finish’d Ioy and mone.
All Louers young, all Louers must,
Consigne to thee and come to dust.

No Exorcisor harme thee,
Nor no witch-craft charme thee.
Ghost vnlaid forbeare thee.
Nothing ill come neere thee.
Quiet consumation haue,
And renowned be thy graue.