Is the Raven Growing Hoarse?

Alright so listen. Sleep No More ain’t what it used to be.

I’ve been to the McKittrick Hotel three times now. The first was during its supposed short-term run WAAAYYY back in the spring of 2011. It was one of the most epic theatre experiences of my life; so creepy, so moving, so very creative. It was so awesome that I knew I had to take my best beloved to see it as soon as I could.

Turns out “as soon as I could” had to wait a few years; but we got there in the summer of

A shot from our 2012 trip; this was taken over drinks at Gallow Green

A shot from our 2012 trip; this was taken over drinks at Gallow Green

2012; just as Gallow Green (the rooftop bar addition) was opening up. He loved it; I loved it; we had a blast.

This trip, we knew that we had to go back in and see it again. There are just so many permutations of adventure to go through and so much to do inside the hotel. I hadn’t tasted nearly enough of the candy, and who knows? Maybe we could get a glimpse of the elusive sixth floor? He hadn’t had a one-on-one yet, and I knew I wanted to see more of the story. So the other evening we went.

I’m sorry to say that this once-epic experience has definitely gone downhill since it first opened; and not because the performers aren’t spectacular (they are) or the immersive environment isn’t receiving the care and attention it needs to stay immersive (it is); but rather because the crowds of people who attend the show are no longer respectful of the environment, the experience, or even fellow audience members.

For those who are unfamiliar, go check out my review of the first performance I saw to get cozy with the concepts that I’m about to discuss.

Never before have I seen so many half-masked/unmasked people wandering the halls of the McKittrick. While I hadn’t witnessed this phenomenon in previous visits, these days guests seem to think that the “wear your mask at all times” rule doesn’t apply to them. Additionally, I heard more cross-chatter from guests than I have in previous years. Try as you might to whisper, when there’s no talking allowed in the hotel, a human voice really carries.

Worst of all was the way that the guests behaved to each other. There was so much pushing, shoving, and other attempts to get to “the front” that I gave up even trying to follow performers about midway through the performance. The now famed “one on one” aspects of the performance seem to be a much sought after prize and McKittrick guests are willing to fight to be chosen. Several times, I experienced being shoved away from a performer so that someone could get in front of me in hopes of being selected for a one-on-one. Several other times I was standing in a mostly-empty room surveying a performer from a respectful distance when new arrivals would push past me to stand between me and the performer leaving the performer without enough playing space and me with a frustrated shoulder-chip.

I find this to be really sad. Sleep No More was a true pinnacle of theatrical experience for me, and to have it so ruined by others was a shame not just for me but also for the thespians who work so hard to keep this show running.

I think part of the problem is a real “hands off” attitude from the proprietors of the McKittrick. In an effort to keep the experience mysterious, Punchdrunk’s employees are notoriously tight-lipped about how to behave while inside the hotel. I understand that appreciating the experience is up to the individual, but a set of “official/unofficial” rules and regulations about how to treat other guests (and, by the way, the performers) would go a long way, I think, towards curbing the problems which led to my extremely negative experience of the piece.

I hate to say it, but if this kind of behavior continues from the guests, Sleep No More is going to very quickly lose interest for turned-off patrons who don’t want to literally fight to see the show.

In an effort to rehabilitate the Sleep No More audience, I offer unto the internet a few pointers about how to comport yourself while inside the McKittrick. I’ve crafted these with one thing in mind: that if we can help each other have the best possible experience, we can all enjoy the show for years to come.

1)   Spatial Awareness: while the SNM mask definitely cuts off your peripheral vision and creates a feeling of being alone in the scene, try to be aware of who is around you and how long they’ve been standing there. If you walk into a room with others already in it, try not to block their view (they were there first, after all!). Also, keep some sense of where your neighbors are when watching a scene. The actors can move pretty quickly sometimes, and you may have to duck out of the way to avoid legs, arms, or flying objects. You want to make certain that you have some space to do so, and that you’re leaving such space for those around you.

2)   Respectful Following Distance: even though part of the “shtick” is to be a part of the scene, you still want to give the actors enough space to do their thing. They need to be able to move around, get to the props they need, and even meet up with scene partners sometimes. Try to leave them enough room to perform when you pause to observe them. If you happen upon other McKittrick guests with a performer, don’t just assume that the space between the guest and performer is a “free spot” to stand; you might have just walked into the space that the guest specifically made for the performer to perform. Stand behind other patrons as much as you can, and try not to breathe down anyone’s neck.

3)   Right of Way: following performers around the hotel is definitely part of the fun; but if you see that there are guests already following an actor, try to trail along at the back of the pack rather than push to the front. The people who follow most closely have probably been following the character for some time and have a vested interest in the story that is unfolding; there’s room for everyone, but you wouldn’t want to scoop another patron on seeing the story that they’ve put so much time and investment into. This is doubly true if you’re a slow walker, or if you’re in a group. The actors move quickly and it can be easy to lose them without a vested effort; don’t block someone else from following through on what they’re trying to do. Fall into the herd and start following as well! As others peel away, you can have your turn at the front of the pack.

4)   Don’t “Game the System”: especially with the blog-o-sphere so active with how to get this one-on-one, or how to achieve that goal inside the hotel, it’s easy to go in with a desire to “win” the “game”. This attitude will only make you disappointed if you, for some reason, fail to accomplish what you set your mind to (which could easily happen depending upon so many different factors outside of your control). This experience is meant to be savored; not graded. Remember why you fell in love with the show in the first place and try to let the experience wash over you. Competitive drive will not only ruin your experience, but also that of those around you since it will make you more likely to exhibit the kinds of behaviors that deprive other guests of a good time. The point is not to “win”. The point is to enjoy.

5)   Trust: Trust that Punchdrunk has something in mind when they request that you not talk or take your mask off during the performance. If these rules seems “stupid” or “bad”, try to dig beneath that instinct and ask yourself why you find them to be so. If you grow nervous or scared, either embrace it as part of the experience or take a break in the bar for a while (the ushers, I’m told, are very good at helping you find it if you need it for this reason). Taking your mask off or speaking breaks the environment for others who, by the way, paid the same ticket price you did. Don’t allow your negative experience to ripple out. Also, trust that the actors see and take note of you, even if they don’t acknowledge your presence (they’re not supposed to, after all). Yes, there will be one person chosen from a crowd for a one-on-one; you do not need to make yourself the most “obvious” choice.

Courtesy of Dogs in Sleep No More Masks;

Courtesy of Dogs in Sleep No More Masks;

The actors are quite good at realizing who has been there for a while, and who has developed a sort of “rapport” with them. Attempting to push the issue is obnoxious.

When Punchdrunk uses the phrase “fortune favors the bold”, they mean that you should be brave, explore, and see what you can find in the hotel. They also mean that if, should an actor offer you a one-on-one or some individual attention, you should take them up on it. They do not mean “push your way to the front of every pack”; they do not mean “do your best to be everywhere all at once”.

Relax, have fun, and enjoy the show. That’s the best way to keep your behavior from preventing others from doing the same.

Finals und kein Ende

This morning: I had a conversation with Hamlet on twitter about Goethe while reading snippets from Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre about a character performing Hamlet.

This sprang from my new favorite quote from Goethe “Away with your fat Hamlets!”

…what I was really doing was preparing a handout for an in-class presentation/facilitation/thingie I have to give on Thursday (one of the two big semester projects still on my docket).

Over the course of preparing this handout, I also discovered that the snippets of Macbeth I had chosen as an object lesson in early German Shakespeare translations for my class were perhaps not entirely what I had previously thought.  When one of my sources discussed the Schlegel translation of Macbeth pretty heavily, I assumed this may be a good example of how the Germans during this time period weren’t quite getting the language as we English-speakers expect to receive it.  I pulled a snippet from Macbeth’s “whence is this knocking?” speech from the 1764 Wieland translation, then same from what I thought was part of the 1801 Schlegel translation (highly regarded as the best rendition of Shakespeare into German from the time).  I re-translated them to English as best I can (because, despite any pretentions to the contrary, graduate students don’t actually know everything), and set them prominently on my handout.

…only to find out that the textual history of the Schlegel is WAY more complicated than I

Finals has done this to me.  That's will riding a horse my grandfather carved while waiting to be sent home during WWII

Finals has done this to me. That’s Will riding a horse my grandfather carved while waiting to be sent home during WWII

had thought (hey, at least I discovered this BEFORE my presentation on Thursday).  Not to bore you with details, but it’s actually a rather cool thing since Schlegel winds up collaborating with Tieck but despite this his translation of the complete works remains unfinished until Tieck’s daughter takes it up.  So apparently what I have is a kind of proto-feminist text that my inner English geek could analyze up the wazoo but, since I’m in a theatre department, should probably refrain from doing so.

Anyway, once this is done then I have a paper to write (that I’m nowhere near as prepared for as usual but thankfully have more time than I thought I would have so… it may just balance in the end).  Then, on May eighth, I turn in that last stack of pages, breathe a sigh of relief, and take a few days to a week off before I start studying for my comps like a mad person.

And at some point in the near future, it’s going to hit me that to complete this semester’s projects I had to do research in a language that I didn’t know a single word of before last June and, moreover, I’ve been routinely walking around with a bagful of books in three different languages (none of the pig Latin)…  Not to brag, but you’ve got to admit that that’s pretty cool.

On that note, I think I’ll put down the Goethe and turn to Molière for a bit.  Because apparently I like pain.

Gird yourselves.  Finals are here.

The Scottish Play

Now that I’m sitting at my own desk and have my full computing capacity (my netbook is wonderful for some tasks, but its tiny brain combined with bad hotel wireless connections can be extremely limiting), I’d like to share with you the talk I gave this past weekend.  It’s entitled “The Scottish Play” and was presented at the National Gothic Fiction Conference in San Diego, CA on March 17, 2012.

This is a bit unconventional for an academic to be posting her work in such a public forum, but the way I see things: once it’s out there, it’s out there.  I’m not bashful about the quality of my work, I’m proud of my presentation style, and I truly think that the academy is an institution based upon the primary precept of sharing ideas.  So here’s some food for thought for you, I hope you enjoy it!

The Weekend in Reviews

This weekend past, I had the good fortune to see three shows over the course of four nights.

Since I’m currently in conference-prep mode, I don’t have the time or sanity to do a full review of each of them, but I would like to say a little something about all of them.  So here’s the weekend in reviews!

Performed by Theater906 at Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts
Directed by Emily C.A. Snyder

For all intents and purposes, this was community theatre Shakespeare.  Now I’ve had some bad experiences with CTS, and some good ones… and I’m sorry to say that this show simply did not deliver.  It had potential; its primary focus was upon the idea of “castles built on sand”.  It was set on the seaside at some point between the world wars, and the title character’s hands (once steeped in blood) never washed clean.

There were a few major flaws with the production: 1) it treated its audience like idiots.  I don’t have a problem with “new” and “different” readings of these plays if they are firmly

The set for MacB. Pretty nice as sets go!

grounded in text and well dramaturged, I don’t even have a problem with a bit of textual manipulation, but if you’re going to do it trust your audience to follow along with you.  The conceit of “sand castles” was written into the program, presented in all the advertising material, and shown out in front of the theatre.  You don’t need to beat us over the head with it in an artsier-than-thou montage during the curtain call.  Have a little faith in the people who see your show.  2) There were some big, bold ideas that were presented in the performance (i.e. Duncan as an angel of death figure who came and retrieved the corpses of the dead, Lady M’s obsession with children, violence violence violence intersecting innocence), but they simply weren’t played ENOUGH.  If you’re going to do something big, go big or go home.  If you do it too small, your audience simply won’t follow you.  Because the director refused to commit to her grand choices, they simply read as half-hearted attempts to connect with a concept that wasn’t fully fleshed out.  3) Macbeth should never be played as Hamlet.  Yes, he runs mad.  Yes, his wife goes bonkers.  But Macbeth’s madness is a different madness than Hamlet’s.  It’s not as weak and bumbling, it has an innate strength and danger to it.  I don’t want to see the King of Scotland writhing on the floor because he killed one man.  Remember: MacB is a SOLDIER.  He’s killed before.  It’s not the act of murder that takes his sanity from him, but rather the sense of divine wrongness in the act of defying natural order.

On the whole, give this one a miss… unless you really feel like you need to get some wear out of your black beret and sunglasses.

Twelfth Night
Performed by the Rhode Island Shakespeare Theatre at Roots Café in Providence
Directed by Bob Colonna

My love for TRIST and Bob Colonna is no secret.  THIS is the kind of Community Theatre Shakespeare that gives me hope for humanity.

Colonna is masterful at taking a cast of amateur and quasi-professional actors and building them into an unstoppable force of Bardery.  In his Twelfth Night, he cut the text down to two hours, pumped up the volume, and created a rip-roaring evening of vaudevillian hilarity which had us grinning ear to ear.  Colonna’s actors don’t miss a beat, and are simply unstoppable in their boundless amounts of energy and enthusiasm.

Malvolio (front) reads the letter egged on by Sir Andrew, Fabiana, Sir Toby, and Maria

Moreover, Colonna’s textual coaching is unbeatable.  His actors punch the punches with enough force to leave you reeling.  They hit every note (in the case of his Feste with an astounding amount of beauty and power) and aren’t afraid to do things a little differently (doubtless this is a result of Colonna’s creativity with the text and direction).

Side-note: you can always tell when an actor is rehearsing for Sir Andrew Aguecheek because he runs around trying to figure out how to do the “backtrick”.  Someday I want to see someone out with a full back tuck handspring combination…

Unfortunately, I got to this show late in its run so you won’t be able to catch it.  However.  Colonna has promised me that he’s directing As you Like it to perform in June at Roger Williams memorial park.  I will post further details as soon as I know them… but when I do take my word on this: GO.  If you have to steal your neighbor’s donkey and abscond with the rent money to get to Providence, find a way to make it work.  Trust me; it will be worth it.

Romeo and Juliet
Performed by the Stoneham Theatre Company at the Stoneham Theatre
Directed by Weylin Symes

Yea, I know.  How many Romeo and Juliets can one person see in her lifetime?  This one was new and different because Stomeham coupled their adult company with their teen company so the adults played adults and the teens played teens.

As you can imagine, this presents a bit of a problem in terms of sheer experience.  Shakespeare is notoriously complex textually and, while I have seen transcendent teen Shakespeare, it is extremely rare.  To pull it off you need a creative director, a kick-ass text coach, and more than a little bit of luck.

Unfortunately, this production fell short on a few of those items.  While the teens did okay, there was an obvious discrepancy between their ability to speak and that of their older colleagues.  Moreover, the text was poorly cut.  Many bits of this play simply don’t read to a modern audience – the nurse’s long monologues at the beginning, the Queen Mab speech (unless you’re Michael Pennington, but really, who is?)… it needs some careful handling to really plow forward in a way that doesn’t lose its audience.  Unfortunately, whomever handled the text for Stoneham didn’t have a very deft hand with this.  The long bits were long and plodding, and important plot points (i.e. the friar’s letter going astray due to plague) were cut completely.

An old friend of mine (a fight director) held an axiom which I think is vital to dealing with a text as iconic as Romeo.  Here’s the problem: how often has your entire audience heard these things?  How can you even begin to think about putting your mouth around the words “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” without thinking about ALL THE OTHER FAMOUS ACTORS WHO HAVE DONE SO IN THE PAST.  It’s a Harold-Bloom-esque conundrum that plagues the modern actor about to set into any iconic role (Richard Plantagenet “now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York…”; Hamlet “To be, or not to be?  That is the question”; The Witches “Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble!”; etc…).  So here’s what you have to do: you have to assume that there is at least one person in that audience who has never had any contact with the text before and doesn’t know how the play ends.  You have to play to that person.  You have to craft a performance so that that person understands your story without any prior knowledge of what may be going on.

This play failed to do so.  They leaned too much upon the cultural capitol which they were mining to put butts in seats and, in doing so, did their entire production a disservice.

The fight direction, on the other hand, was downright amazing and some of the best violence I’ve seen onstage in a long time.  Bravo for that.

On the whole, it was a thought-provoking weekend.  Now here I go, back to conference prep mode; dive!  DIVE!

Smile, it’s Thursday!

Since tomorrow is the big move day, today I’m going to cheat.

My brain’s a little grid-locked with final moving prep.  I will attempt to provide witty commentary.  Mostly, though, here are some fun Shakespeare-related youtube clips.

Words cannot express how much I love this. Muppets make everything better.

….Actually Henry VIII is considered a history, so it wouldn’t fall into either purview. Sorry, Sam.

Though Henry V IS a great show to learn about the human condition with. I think Picard is a pretty good casting director.

I would post the entire episode if I could, but I guess this will have to do.

Another one that I could post a great deal of the episode from… really, though, how can you go wrong with Carmen?

…I especially enjoy the interpretation of Puck’s last line.

A very very young Ian McKellen in Trevor Nunn’s 1978 RSC Macbeth which became a 1979 filmed version. Incidentally, this was staged at “The Other Place”, an RSC theatre opened in 1974. The Other Place was a converted rehearsal room and an all-around big deal for the RSC as it was their first blackbox theatre and thereby represented a HUGE shift from GINORMOUS FANCY SHMANCY RSC PRODUCTIONS to a closer-to-the-audience theatre-for-the-people style. Today, The Other Place has been transformed into a slightly more upscale (but still smaller than the barn that was the Royal Shakespeare Theatre) Courtyard Theatre.

And, to wrap things up…

Have a good weekend!  See you in Boston!

Welcome Home!

Hello and welcome back to your regularly scheduled blogging at its spiffy new home,!

After a hiatus during which my previously mentioned threat to pretend to be illiterate took full effect, I am back on the blogging wagon. I hope that the new site, in all of its glory, makes up for a least some of the lonely moments spent wandering the web searching fruitlessly for readable and amusing academicisms. The MA really burnt me out and I’m still re-fortifying for September, but I think I’m ready to swing back into gear and flex the writing muscles so that they don’t atrophy during my precious free-as-a-bird summer break.

Taking the leap to a real grown-up blog via domain name is something that I’ve been wanting to do for some time now. The impetus to hold my breath and jump came from a dear friend who (bless her heart) got excited at the idea of giving me wordpress tips. I figured that if someone else could get excited about my work, then I sure as heck could muster the force to push myself to the next level. I’m still working on tidying house, so you’ll see some little tweaks here and there for a few weeks yet, but on the whole I believe the site will remain pretty much as it is now.

A note on previous formatting: when I migrated the old stuff to the new site, there were a few formatting glitches (as you can see). While I do care about the presentation of my carefully-chosen prose, there are over one hundred entries on this site. Short of hand-editing each of them, I have not found a way to address these formatting issues. As such, I apologize in advance for them, but they will remain (unless someone can figure out how to effectively batch-change them).

So why “Daniprose”, you may ask?

“Prose – noun. 1a) Language in the form in which it is typically written (or spoken), usually characterized as having no deliberate metrical structure (in contrast with verse or poetry). 1b) That which is plain, simple, or matter-of-fact” (OED 3rd ed.)

Prose is language without meter or poetry. Prose is simple, colloquial. When Shakespeare wrote prose, it was generally for his rustic characters; the clowns, the mechanicals, the shepherds. Prose is language that breaks the rules of form. For an actor, prose is oftentimes deceptively difficult to work with since your regular Shakespeare tricks are useful only for the metered poetry. A passage of prose is riddled with wit, jokes, and nudges at the groundlings. It is to the point and cuts to the deep heart of any matter.

Some famous passages/monologues in prose:

Hamlet; Hamlet; III.i; “Get thee to a Nunnerie. Why would’st thou be a breeder of Sinners?…”
Henry IV ii; Mistress Quickly; II.iii; “Nay, sure, he’s not in hell: he’s in Arthur’s bosom, if ever man went to Arthur’s bosom…”
Macbeth; Lady MacBeth; V.i: “Out, damned spot! out, I say!…”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: pretty much anything the mechanicals say, but famously Bottom IV.i: “When my cue comes, call mee, and I will answere. My next is, most faire Pyramus….”
Much Ado About Nothing; Benedick; II.i : “O she misusde me past the indurance of a block…”
Romeo and Juliet; Mercutio; II.iv; “More than prince of cats, I can tell you…”

Prose. The other white meat. And so, continuing on in the spirit with which we were founded, bending to Philip Henslowe’s frantic advice to a lovelorn Billy Shakes (“No, no, we haven’t the time… talk prose!”), with pen in hand we return to our hero’s saga and begin the prequel to Higher Education (Part 3): The Quest for the PhD.

>MacBeth hath Murdered Sleep


It was a dark and stormy night. 
We walked the gray streets of Chelsea under a steady drizzle of rain as we gazed upon the generic building fronts hoping to arrive at our destined address sooner rather than later.  It was just cold enough for the rain to be unwelcomely chilly, like little specks of recently-melted ice oozing upon us.
We arrived at a warehouse attended by two men clad all in black.  “Are you looking for the McKittrick hotel?”
Upstairs, a gay lounge decorated with an eye towards thirties glamour is hopping.  A four-piece jazz band plays while a singer lovingly croons period music, a bartender dressed in spats serves up cocktails, and a woman in a blue sequined gown slinks around from table to table asking if you are ready to join the party yet.
By now, anyone even remotely connected to the theatre has likely at least heard about the Punchdrunk theatre company’s immersive theatre experience “Sleep No More”.  The New York revival (currently playing at the McKittrick Hotel on W. 27th street) is a re-make of the phenomenon which hit Boston in October of 2009 (ran Oct. 8, 2009 – Feb. 7, 2010 at The Old Lincoln School in Brookline).  To support the sheer amount of space required for the endeavor, Punchdrunk has taken over three conjoined Chelsea warehouses.  According to the New York Times, 200 unpaid volunteers spent approximately four months meticulously putting the over-100 rooms in the hotel together.  And believe you me it shows.
As you enter the hotel, you are given a white Venetian mask which you are asked to keep on during the duration of the production (my comrades with glasses reported that this made things a little difficult for them).  You are asked not to speak, and (as usual) to silence your cell phones.
You are then ushered into a large freight elevator where a porter randomly assigns chunks of the party to begin their journey at different floors.  We held hands to keep from getting separated (by the by, if you do go, go with a very small group or decide that you will get separated and agree to meet at the bar afterwards – it’s difficult to keep track of people in the dark when everyone’s wearing the same white mask and nobody is allowed to speak). 
You enter a veritable labyrinth of rooms (environments really) where you are permitted to touch, move, examine and explore.  We found everything from a foggy London street, to a taxidermist’s shop, an apothecary with dried herbs hanging from every available surface, a hedge maze, a ballroom, a Victorian hospital, a Victorian asylum, Macduff’s children’s rooms, to a large room with a bathtub filled with bloody water (I take this to be the Macbeths’ room).  In every room there is something to discover (some of my favorite discoveries were hand-written letters strewn about the place including the famous letter which MacB writes his Lady Wife – “They met me on the eve of ascension…”). 
As though the living museum aspect of this weren’t enough to sate the rampant voyeur, there is a human aspect as well.  Actors dash about around you (easy to spot – they’re the ones without the masks) and you can choose to follow them and watch them meet up with other actors to portray wordless scenes in various environments of the hotel.  Amongst some of the scenes we saw were the famous Macbeth banquet, a couple dancing in the ballroom, the Witches’ first encounter with Macbeth (complete with shot roulette), and the murder of Duncan.
I really can’t describe to you how wonderfully creepy the entire experience was.  Imagine floating about darkened rooms, not knowing where you will end up when you turn a corner, constantly meeting with white-masked individuals who are somehow comforting rather than terrifying, and occasionally being grabbed by actors who seem to appear from nowhere.  Perhaps the highlight of our time in the hotel came when we were attempting to find our way out.  We had reached the stairway and were trying to follow an actor one way (at the back of the white-masked cloud) when a woman’s scream echoed through the hall.  We all looked at each other, about-faced, and (like good heroes) ran towards it to find Macbeth standing over the body of a very pregnant Lady Macduff.  Somehow, the knowledge that we had just missed the murder (even if there was nothing we could have done about it) sank sickly into my gut.  Had there even been anyone there to observe her last moments?  Had she expected to see him coming round the hall?  Had she greeted him or did he surprise her?  And did she try to fight him off or gracefully accept her fate?
Now this is theatre.
The experience jostled me.  As we explored the different rooms, there was no doubt that I was moved; to tears, terror, laughter, excitement, suspense, pity and everything in between.  Being able to touch and be touched by what was going on brought the story home to me in a way that I’ve never experienced before.  Of course, there isn’t really a cohesive story.  There is no set path for a visitor to explore, there is no pre-determined way to experience the hotel.  Proprietors estimate that each guest only sees 1/16th of the total experience.  And I won’t say that at times I wasn’t left wondering “so what does this have to do with Macbeth?”  But even in those times, I was too enraptured with what was going on around me to mind too horribly much.
Some reviewers find that Shakespeare haunts the attraction rather than is the attraction.  I don’t entirely disagree with them, but I find it difficult to lend their argument full credence.  Certainly liberties were taken with “Sleep No More”, and there are things which still don’t make sense to me.  That, however, is what I think holds the greatest appeal.  The entire thing is a puzzle which can be solved one of ten billion ways and it is up to each individual to determine her own experience and what that experience means.
When I left the hotel I was exhausted.  I felt like my mind was going to leak out my ear.  I had a difficult time forming coherent sentences, and we drove home through the now-torrential thunderstorm in almost complete silence.  As I collapsed into my bed that evening, all I could think was “Macbeth hath murdered sleep.”
…for that… I slept like a baby.  Despite having bizarre blood-soaked dreams with figures in white Venetian masks and random time-traveling with an eye towards steam-punk style globetrotting antics. 
Go.  Seriously.  Find some way to get there.  This is a veritable revolution in the way audiences experience Shakespeare and I can only hope that this cutting edge cuts deeply into the fabric of American Theatre.  I don’t think that saying “I will cheat on the bard” works here because technically I didn’t really…. it’s more like having a tryst with his similar-yet-different twin brother.

>Brush up on your Shakespeare


Call it a hot topic, a pet peeve, or a hobby, but I collect Shakespearean misquotes.  Maybe it’s an extreme expression of my own Shakespearean arrogance, but I especially like when I find misquotes in historical documents or influential literature.
Misquotes fall into one of two general categories.  The first category encompasses words quoted correctly but used entirely incorrectly (the classic example of this is “wherefore art thou Romeo” (Romeo and Juliet 2.2) being quoted to mean “Romeo, where are you?” rather than “why are you Romeo Montague?”).  The second misquote category is for instances in which someone quotes words that are similar to Shakespeare but not exactly the Bard verbatim (i.e. “Alas Poor Yorick I knew him well” rather than what Hamlet actually says; “Alas Poor Yorick, I knew him Horatio…” (Hamlet 5.1)). 
Today’s offender comits a misquote belonging to the second category.  English Romantic Hannah More was not a stupid woman.  She was educated (unusual for women at that time), spoke Latin, was published several times over, and hung out with Samuel Johnson and David Garrick.  However, in her 1799 piece Structures on the Modern System of Female Education written in reaction to Wollstonecraft’s famous Vindication of the Rights of Women, Moreexecutes a grievous Shakespearean misquote.  In chapter eight, More talks about women writers and novelists.  In an attempt to demonstrate her point about the prevalent fear that too much reading turns women into rampant novelists, she cites two infamous stories: The Iliad and Macbeth.
More claims:
“The glutted imagination soon overflows with the redundance of cheap sentiment and plentiful incident, and by a sort of arithmetical proportion, is enabled by the perusal of any three novels, to produce a fourth; till every fresh production, like the prolific progeny of Banquo, is followed by ‘Another, and another, and another!’ “.
It actually took me some time to verify that this was a misquote because it sounded so familiar.  After a little research, I understood why.
More is confusing two passages from Macbeth.  The story she tells surrounding the quote is the story of 4.1 in which the Witches summon forth specters to show Macbeth the future.  After having been shown the armed head, the bloody child, and the crowned child holding a branch and being told famously “none of woman borne shall harm Macbeth” (4.1 1621-22) and “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Byrnam Wood, to high Dunsmane Hill Shall come against him” (4.1 1635-37), eight ghostly kings appear.  Banquo appears last with a mirror in his hand which shows Macbeth Banquo’s progeny through the ages.  Kings upon Kings, all of Banquo’s line.  Obviously this does not bode well for the “immortal King of Scotland”.
Macbeth does use the word “another” during this sequence, but not in the way that More recalls.  Here is what he says:
Thou art too like the Spirit of Banquo: Down:
Thy Crowne do’s seare mine Eye-bals. And thy haire
Thou other Gold-bound-brow, is like the first:
A third, is like the former. Filthy Hagges,
Why do you shew me this? — A fourth? Start eyes!
What will the Line stretch out to’th’ cracke of Doome?
Another yet? A seauenth? Ile see no more:
And yet the eighth appeares, who beares a glasse,
Which shewes me many more: and some I see,
That two-fold Balles, and trebble Scepters carry. (Macbeth 4.1 1659-68)
While there are many words here, we only find the barest hint of More’s “authoritative” line of text.  Macbeth uses the word “another” once in the seventh line of this passage, though he implies the word several times more.  
At first, I was satisfied with this answer, but something was nagging me.  More’s quote still sounded so achingly familiar.  It took me a moment before I realized why that was.  More seems to have conflated this speech with another, more famous, speech of Macbeth’s.  Take a gander at what Macbeth says when news is brought to him of his wife’s demise:
She should haue dy’de heereafter;
There would haue beene a time for such a word:
To morrow, and to morrow, and to morrow,
Creepes in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last Syllable of Recorded time:
And all our yesterdayes, haue lighted Fooles
The way to dusty death. Out, out, breefe Candle,
Life’s but a walking Shadow, a poore Player,
That struts and frets his houre vpon the Stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a Tale
Told by an Ideot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing. (Macbeth 5.5 2337-2349)
(….I know that you didn’t really need to read that entire speech, but I can’t help myself.  It’s one of my favorites.)
Especially pay attention to the third line of Macbeth’s infamous sound and fury speech.  Familiar, no?  Apparently More did have a head for Shakespeare, a pretty good one at that since she remembered the particulars of an oft-forgotten bit of text.  Her recollection wasn’t perfect though because she super-imposed the words of one of the most famous canonical works onto a less-known bit of plot advancement.  How embarrassing!
I can’t help but laugh a little as the final implications of More’s misquote are that these ill-fated books by women writers are merely bits of fluff.  “Tales told by idiots”.  Far from being the enlightened pieces of literature that so frightened men of Eighteenth Century England, literate women were fated to write novels “full of sound and fury signifying nothing”.  Perhaps More’s misquote was more of a Freudian one.  After all, her primary reaction to Wollstonecraft’s work was “Rights of women!  We shall be hearing of the Rights of Children next!”.  I wish there was a more authoritative way to enter More’s mind regarding this little bit of inconsistency; it would have at least given the feminists something else to bicker about.
I think the moral of the story is (once again) if you’re going to quote him, quote him right.  More may not have had the benefit of the internet, but you certainly do!  There are plenty of free textual resources out there, and I am always willing to play dramaturge for inquisitive minds.

>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.

>And Now for Something Completely Different…

>The literary gods have had mercy upon my poor soul and have sent a white knight to rescue me from the evil clutches of William Faulkner. My Spring classes have started and, while I am certain that should I be so inclined to I could find the time for good William, I simply have not managed to eek him back into my schedule.

Which means that I get to blog about something a little more upbeat than dreary and dreadfully long sentences: filicide!

Filicide is the act of a parent intentionally killing his/her child. Our good friend William (Shakespeare, not Faulkner) has several plays which feature filicide, probably the most obvious example being Titus Andronicus. Filicide is also featured in The Winter’s Tale (though Leontes does not actually manage to kill Perdita, he does try…) and perhaps our favorite Shakespearean foray into the macabre, Mr. and Mrs. Macers go to Scotland… otherwise known as Macbeth.

Bear with me for a moment, I promise this circles back to Scottish witches.

In a 1765 political pamphlet entitled A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (available here), John Adams speaks on (and debatably introduces) one of the most famous metaphors of the American Revolution: that of England as the mother country. He says, “Is there not something extremely fallacious in the common-place images of mother country and children colonies? Are we the children of Great Britain any more than the cities of London, Exeter, and Bath? Are we not brethren and fellow subjects with those in Britain, only under a somewhat different method of legislation, and a totally different method of taxation? But admitting we are children, have not children a right to complain when their parents are attempting to break their limbs, to administer poison, or to sell them to enemies for slaves? Let me entreat you to consider, will the mother be pleased when you represent her as deaf to the cries of her children, — when you compare her to the infamous miscreant who lately stood on the gallows for starving her child, — when you resemble her to Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare, (I cannot think of it without horror,) who…

‘Had given such, and knew How tender ‘t was to love the babe that milked her,’

“but yet, who could,

‘Even while ‘t was smiling in her face, have plucked her nipple from the boneless gums, and dashed the brains out.’ “

Oh ho Mister Adams. Well done, well done indeed.

I have not done extensive research on this subject (though trust me, I intend to- it’s on my “to-do” list along with Johnny Depp and getting a hobby that doesn’t involve libraries), but based upon the perfunctory looking-into I have done I will state that Shakespeare’s words have been used to back every side of every major political argument since just after the poor man died. Frequently in these instances, he is even misquoted- used by the rhetoricians in their time-honored tradition of bending the thoughts of others to their own means.

Now I don’t intend to go too deeply into this concept today, I will save that for when I have more to back my currently biased and unsubstantiated opinions. What I do want to point out is how seemingly random Mister Adams’ reference is.

The quote which Dear John pulls is perhaps the most debated line of Macbeth. It is the only reference to the pitter patter of small bloodthirsty Scottish feet in the play, neither MacB nor his Lady wife ever again mention their own progeny. Clearly there are no Macbeth children in the play, so if Lady M is telling the truth (and why should she not?) then she did have a child and something happened to it. Was it Macbeth’s? Was it a bastard child? How and when did it die? Is its death something which urged her to demand of the spirits to “Take my milke for Gall..” (I iv)? If she had had a child to tend to, would she still have been a murderous witch? These are questions we will never know the answers to, but directors and scholars will continue to debate them, making Adams’ quote one of the “hottest topics” of the Shakespearean cannon.

So John Adams uses the most famous line of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays in his pamphlet. Why?

Politicians invoke Shakespeare like they invoke a God. Shakespeare is a higher intellectual authority, a literary deity. You can no more trump Shakespeare than you can deny Barthes’ Eiffel Tower. Politicians bank on that. Invoking Shakespeare lends an intellectual superiority. “Not only do I understand him, but he is on my side”. It brings to the proverbial room a discomfort, what do you say to Shakespeare? You can’t rebut him, you can’t discredit him, the best you can hope for is to come back at him with another of his own set of words and hope it holds up in an epic battle with himself (much like this).

Perhaps what startled me the most about Mister Adams’ reference is that he is one of the greatest rhetoricians of history. Here he is, leaning upon the words of Shakespeare (not even unpacking them mind you, just sticking them in his pamphlet) to help him make a tangential point. This either means that Mister Adams recognized a tactic which works and made use of it, or he was just out of creative things to say that day. I’m going to put my money on the first one, but either way, John Adams could certainly have used some time to brush up on his Shakespeare. MacB is no more a play about filicide than Othello is a play about a handkerchief. In addition, I’m not entirely certain how comfortable I am with the metaphor of England as Lady M and the States as the otherwise-unmentioned MacBaby. Certainly we deserve more regard than a single line in passing. We are (and were even in 1765) a large political force. Perhaps Adams is invoking it to suggest that England neglects America just as Shakespeare neglects Baby MacB. They will give us no answers, they recognize us only as an allegory of their success in failure, and they sure as hell won’t admit to having us in polite company.

So kids, today’s moral (brought to you by our good friend the second president of the United States and the letter “S”) is: Shakespeare is your rhetorical buddy. Use his powers well and you too may someday aspire to political greatness.