August Blogroll: Writer’s Toolkit Edition

Dear readers:

It has been a busy summer full of travel: I’ve been to Kansas City to grade AP literature exams, to Champaign to walk in commencement with my cohort, and we just got back from Bowen Island off the coast of Vancouver for a brief birthday vacation as I look down the barrel at 30. I have a couple of brief weeks to buckle down on some research and writing projects before family from Boston come for a visit, and then I take off for professional gigs in Montreal and London for August. As I fully re-engaged with a full-time scholarly posture, I am reminded of the tools that keep me plugged in to my practice when I am balancing teaching in the mix.

So this month, here is a list of some scholarly tools I live by on a day-to-day basis that makes reconnecting with the muscles needed for full-time scholarly work much more streamlined.

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WIL Festival 6.2: “The First Part of Henry IV”

 Plays about the life and times of Henry V, affectionately referred to as Hal (Nikolas Hoback), were big business in 1580s and ’90s England. There were multiple versions, some treating him as a hero and others as a villain who comes to be reformed, before William Shakespeare came on the scene. The History play genre was a new thing, brought to great success by an earlier company called the Queen’s Men. (Check out their plays, here.) I am convinced by Jim Marino’s argument that “The First Part of Henry IV with the life and death of Henry sir-named Hotspurre” was a revision, rethought by Shakespeare as part of a tetralogy, what some call the “Henriad” after Homer’s Iliad, rather than a stand-alone piece.

Similar to thinking about Shakespeare as an expert reviser, watching an “original practice” or First Folio performance take on any of the plays challenges your assumptions about what is and isn’t there. I discussed in a previous post the useful and necessary fiction that are critical editions of plays: they pull together all the extant versions of a play with a name like “King Lear” into one place. This isn’t really a different act than Shakespeare’s revising an old play new again, except that critical editing isn’t interested in (and typically doesn’t retain) performative coherence. And it’s not objective either: critical editing creates its own myths about what we want a play to mean at a particular point in time. Watching an O.P. production, a performance that picks one version of Shakespeare’s text and sticks with it, illuminates just what those myths are.

So what happened in this performance, where the actors trust their text?

From left: Mikki Lipsey (Duke of Northumberland) and Isabella Buckner (Hotspurre).

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