Speaking With Shakespeare’s Punctuation

To use a comma, or not to use a comma? That is the question editors of Mr. Shakespeare’s text must answer many, many times while working. A similar question may occur for periods, semi-colons, question marks, and exclamation points as well.

For those who don’t already know, the edition of a play that you pick up at your local bookstore does not reflect the punctuation that Shakespeare wrote. If you compare editions you will find that they are punctuated differently, some might look nothing alike; they could even create different meanings.

To students new to Renaissance texts this might seem rather odd. “What’s wrong with the punctuation Shakespeare wrote?” The answer depends on who you ask. One issue is that the surviving texts we have today in the form of Folios and Quartos may not necessarily reflect the punctuation Shakespeare wrote, but rather what the typesetter thought was best. So scholars sometimes try to “correct” the texts to make them as Shakespeare intended. A bigger reason is that the punctuation isn’t really how we normally have it in modern times. Capitalization was even different on a few words that aren’t at the beginning of a line or sentece. What’s all that about?

Scholars take it upon themselves to re-punctuate the text in order to make it comprehendible to the reader of their edition… to create a more familiar format of text.

That may be well and good for the English student, but what about the actor? Are the editors helping thespians too? Let’s explore that, shall we?

Continue Reading…

Shakespeare For Dummies and “Smarties”

On numerous occasions I have been reading an edition of one of Shakespeare’s plays and come across an unfamiliar word. I find the corresponding footnote, and lo and behold! the unfamiliar word is defined with an other unfamiliar, albeit more modern, word. If I didn’t have internet access or my healthy library of research materials on my bookshelf I would be very very very peeved. With all the aforementioned at my disposal, I usually am only just peeved.

All of the “standard” editions of Shakespeare (Arden, Penguin, etc) have a few of these in there. I should call them scholarly editions. There is another type of Shakespeare edition out there where this does not occur. I call these the “for dummies” editions. But these editions attempt to translate Shakespeare’s words, and I have already discussed how I feel about that. One of the problems with this type of editions is that Shakespeare seems inaccessible without of one these editions. To the student (or perhaps the average adult) who picks up a scholarly edition may find Shakespeare completely inaccessible and the book they have may not help at all. Some of them are packed so full of definitions that one can easily read the definition of every word and not understand the story at all. So the published edition may be partly to blame for the common assumption that Shakespeare is only accessible to the intellectual snob. If you had little to no Shakespeare experience wouldn’t you be frustrated too? Maybe give up halfway and read the sparknotes summary and try your luck on the quiz at school, if you happen to still be in school.

So where is the marriage between the intellectual and the creative parts of the Shakespeare’s plays? I don’t really have a good answer for that. It seems to be a zig-zag or roundabout way to find it — and it’s unique to every person I’ve talked to — and some do give up along the way before getting too far. If you’re reading this and have any recommendations please share. I’d love to let the masses know, “This is what you need to read,” and end the Bardophobic pandemic.

I’m almost inspired to create my own edition of a Shakespeare play to see if I can do a good one. One that is readable by the young student, actor, and “smartie.” Might be fun! I’ll find the time some day… some year.

Shakespeare Blog Carnival #3

Happy June, everyone! The month of May brought in quite a few interesting posts from around the ShakesBlogosphere. Not many of them were on this blog; a lack of internet prevented me from posting too often (that horribly problem has been corrected, thank goodness). And there are lots of posts elsewhere that were not submitted to me, so feel free to follow links everywhere you find something Shakespeare related. And without further ado about nothing… the blog carnival begins!

In the post, SHAKESPEARE IS IN DA HOUSE! about Martin Baum’s book, To Be or Not to Be, Innit, A Yoof-Speak Guide to Shakespeare, Naomi shares her thoughts about this satirical “translation” of some of Shakespeare’s plays into modern slang.

Craig Bryant shows us that something wicked this way comes in the post By the pricking of my thumbs… His blog is mainly about Thomas Middleton, but Middleton happened to edit Macbeth so, as he said, that makes this post “fair game” for this carnival.

Duane “Shakespeare Geek” Morin presents an interesting bit (and comments) about interpretation of Shakespeare’s text and the different words used in different versions. The post is When I Shall Die? When *I* Shall Die? Duane says, “I liked this post because the conversation made the leap from Shakespeare on film (Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet) to choices in interpreting the text, and even motivated me to go start doing side by side comparisons of the speech in question, Folio v. Quarto. Always good to learn new things!”

Stephen Evans, uthor of the comic novel The Marriage of True Minds, has a short post on Directing Shakespeare. It’s very brief but still gives some good advice. I might expand upon these ideas sometime soon.

That concludes this edition! Remember to submit your blog article to the next edition of shakespeare blog carnival using our carnival submission form. I’d like to include more posts in the future, but I won’t unless you submit them! Speaking of submissions, I’ll be updating the rules slightly of what I will include. I’m changing the rule from “Shakespeare related” to “about Shakespeare.” I don’t want to link to a post that’s about something of a different genre entirely but happens to include a Shakespearean quote that sort of applies, or just a post of some of Shakespeare’s text without any comments. Past posts and the submission guidelines can be found on the blog carnival page. Submit those posts! Let’s have a big one next month.

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ShakespeareScene

Perhaps you’ve heard of a brand new magazine called ShakespeareScene. If you haven’t, their website describes the periodical as, “The twice yearly publication aims to provide a stimulating mix of topics on Shakespeare, his work and times, together with a comprehensive international listing of what, where & when plays & events are being held. Shakespeare Scene takes you exclusively to the heart of Shakespeare.”

There are a few Shakespeare journals published aimed at scholars and advanced students. There are other bulletins published for various other Shakespeare related organizations. This magazine seems to have been created to fill whatever demand there is for a magazine about Shakespeare performances, media, discoveries, etc. available to any Shakespeare-enthusiast. I happen to be subscribed to all the types of publications I mentioned above, including ShakespeareScene. I thought that one more couldn’t hurt. My curiosity was piqued when I first read about this new magazine.

The first issue recently found its way into my mailbox and subsequently into my hands. Any brand new resource starts on rocky ground as far as getting a subscriber base and generating enough interest to keep up production. And as much as I hate to say it, Shakespeare isn’t the most popular subject out there.

I’ve almost finished reading this issue. There are some interesting articles on various subjects: Shakespeare taught in Brazil, Examining Henry V and justifying war, as well resources on Shakespeare performances… they include a list of theatres showing Shakespeare all over the world! There’s also a fair share of not so interesting (in my humble opinion) sections. There are mistakes in the printing here and there, the layout needs some work, and I do like a magazine with lots of pictures. The magazine has its share of faults, but it’s a first issue! It could be the start of something really good. If the team of ShakespeareScene is reading this: keep it up! You’ve got a good thing going.

And if you are considering subscribing, it couldn’t hurt to try it for a couple issues right? For the casual Shakespearean fan, you can pick and choose from what’s online if you don’t want to spend the money OR you can forget the internet and have the info mailed right to you. If you’re a die-hard Bardolater like me, check it out. You might find something you like.

A Shakespearean Accent

It is not very uncommon here in the USA for people without much experience with Shakespeare, when asked to speak his text, will attempt to do so with an English Accent. Usually a bad one, by that’s a different story for another blog (if I feel so inclined to start a new blog about my experience as a dialect coach… which isn’t likely).

What is it about Shakespeare that warrants so many – both young and old – to attempt to do away with their normal pronunciation and adopt another for reading this author? Simple. Shakespeare was British. Okay, maybe not so simple.

The fact is that most Americans hear Shakespeare’s words spoken by our friends across the pond. I have previously mentioned this problem but I feel that I should bring it up again a little differently. If you didnt know before reading this post… now you know not to speak Shakespeare in an English dialect just because you think it sounds more correct. If you’re Amerian.

But wait! Many of the plays – all of the histories – mainly take place in England! That’s really up to the director to decide. Maybe they’re not even setting their production in England. Let’s move on.

So how are Shakespeare’s words to be given life? What accent is best? There’s no real answer to that question. It is disputed by scholars, actors, directors, and especially teachers. Some say whatever dialect the actor has. Some want the region-neutral General American dialect. Other prefer an older, upper-class, east coast pronunciation… which sounds rather British. Before starting rehearsals as an actor, be sure to ask the director what he/she expects of you in this area. A range of accents can sound bad to an audience in certain situations.

Any range of accents can work, depending on where the director sets the production. It should match, if at all possible. Before I end this post I feel that I should mention that this isn’t just an American issue. In the UK it was required for some time for actors to only use Standard British/Recieved Pronunciation. As an auditor to one of the History plays, I enjoy hearing the corresponding modern accent of the historical figure, based on where he is from. I learned of a recent production of Richard III whose title character, who is from the house of York, spoke with a Yorkshire accent. Cool!

Shakespeare Ate My Homework!

Shakespeare is not my dog’s name. I don’t even own a dog.

What I mean to say is that I spend a lot of time reading, reading about, memorizing, writing about, speaking, and speaking about Shakespeare instead of doing other things! I like to think of it as a full time hobby, although it is sometimes my work. Unfortunately that hobby seems to be eating up more and more of my time. I’m becoming a Bardaholic! I no longer talk Shakespeare exclusively at parties, mealtime, or among friends. Sometimes I’ll be alone at home and working on some Shakespeare. It’s even getting in the way of my other activities! Help!

It’s not a huge problem actually, I enjoy it. But I would rather read a scholarly journal about Shakespeare than write a scholarly essay on Neoclassic drama for something else. Who wouldn’t? Who else spends too much time with Shakespeare? If you read this blog regularly you’re probably among the ranks of B.A., Bardaholics Anonymous.

Editions of Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s plays have been edited, re-edited, and re-published countless times over the past few centuries. The number of different editions available for purchase in your local bookstore is frightening to some. Many customers aren’t sure which to buy. I worked in a bookstore once upon a time. Clueless customers aren’t always fun.

I’m not going to be a salesman today and tell you which edition I would purchase. You, if you choose, will tell me. Sort of.

I’ve been paying extra attention to footnotes, introductions, and appendices in editions of Shakespeare’s plays lately. I’ve been hearing and reading what an editor of a text actually DOES. It fascinates me. The editor must choose what they feel is the best spelling/punctuation/definition for this passage. Are they creating what they feel is most “authentic,” “understandable,” or “performable”?

As one who works in theatre, my bias is towards what can be performed. If I were to direct a show I would be creating my own edit of the text, to some extent… but not as pedantic as published editions. Maybe someday I’ll do my own full scholarly edit of a text. Maybe when I have a whole year with nothing else to do. In other words: not anytime soon.

But now I turn my attention toward you, gentle reader. What do you prefer to have in an edition of a play if you were to purchase one? Do you want summaries before each scene? A bio of Shakespeare at the beginning? Commentary on the differences between the Folio and Quarto editions? Do you want a copious cornucopia of footnotes? Definitions? Paraphrases? And what would you use this version for? Study in classroom? Performance? Reading for pleasure? Do you have different requirements for an edition for each of the aforementioned purposes? Maybe you wouldnt buy one at all, but instead download a freely available text from the internet?

If you have a favorite edition or two, tell me! And why? There’s a lot of Shakespeare out there, and a lot of Shakespeare fans out there who all want and need something different. I’ll share with you my preferences and processes of working with the text in an upcoming post. But what do YOU need in your book?

The Shakespeare Projects

On Friday I was lucky enough to witness several students (seniors in college) do an end-of-the-year performance called The Shakespeare Projects. Each student did a 10 minute solo piece. They chose a character and used lines spoken by that character to tell a story. There were sets, costumes, and props were all present. I saw some very creative things ranging from a man whose life and family have been altered by the war in Iraq with lines from Titus to Romeo living his story and the other characters appear as he draws them.

This isn’t the usual way that Shakespeare is performed… but it’s not a bad one. To clarify, the students were not playing the exact character from the play. They were using some of a character’s lines to create their own original journey and agenda. One was a mad scientist far in the future using Prospero’s lines. Miranda was a robot and Ariel was shapes of light on the ceiling.

I know that not everyone likes this idea. Some say that Shakespeare’s words must remain in their own context! Says who?

What I saw here were student actors connecting to the text and meaning what they said. I think everyone in the audience knew what was going on all the time. That’s more than I could say for some professional productions I’ve attended.

Seeing this got me thinking if there might be a place for these sort of performances to take place outside an educational environment. It’s not horribly uncommon to have a night a scenes as a fundraiser or showcase. Why not a little something different? Various actors creating a story with lines from a character in Shakespeare and sets and props to go with it. It could be fun to see. What say you?