WIL Festival 3.2: “The Tempest”

 “The Tempest” is a play concerned with books and authority. Caliban has a great deal of anxiety about books especially, arguing that they are the root of Prospero’s power:

Why, as I told thee, ’tis a custom with him,
I’ th’ afternoon to sleep: there thou mayst brain him,
Having first seized his books, or with a log
Batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake,
Or cut his wezand with thy knife. Remember
First to possess his books; for without them
He’s but a sot, as I am, nor hath not
One spirit to command: they all do hate him
As rootedly as I. Burn but his books.

And where exactly did Prospero get his books? You might say that the conflict of the play is the elderly Gonzalo’s fault, who, when helping Prospero and Miranda escape the coup,

Out of his charity, being then appointed
Master of this design, did give us, with
Rich garments, linens, stuffs and necessaries,
Which since have steaded much; so, of his gentleness,
Knowing I loved my books, he furnish’d me
From mine own library with volumes that
I prize above my dukedom.

By the end of the play, Prospero connects the dismissal of his books and end of his powers—saying,

I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

—with his own death. Having discarded these, married his daughter well, he plans his return to Milan, “where every third thought shall be [his] grave.” Like the play, the ways in which we talk about the relationship between William Shakespeare’s plays and their printing has much to do with managing narratives about death and books.

Brian Allard (Prospero).

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WIL Festival 3.1: “Much Adoe About Nothing”

 One of the things I am finding very powerful in this weekend’s set of performances by OPS Fest is the fluidity of the gendered pronoun. By this I mean, the capability we have to adjust to a new pronoun when we are motivated. In my last post, I discussed briefly the basic theory of gender in the early modern period: we are all one gender. Women were simply under-baked men. We didn’t stay in the oven long enough, so we were moist, soft, and hadn’t developed the extra member. This is to say that hetero- and homo-sexuality weren’t concepts people used to label themselves. Thus, when someone asks me whether or not I think William Shakespeare was gay (an idea popularized by an anti-theatreical reading of the sonnets), I’m not sure where to begin. Beside the fact that I don’t know what that would have to do with plays, “gay” as we understand it was not a way in which identity was understood. This is of course not to say that there weren’t same-sex and a variety of other kinds of relationships had by Elizabethans.

A decade into the millennia we are struggling with gender and gender-neutral pronouns in our families, in our workplaces, and in our media. Being sensitive to a variety of pronouns has fundamentally changed my teaching, especially the ways in which I lead class discussion, in just the last three years. (You, too? Check out this handy pronoun handout!) Considering the struggle it is to get colleagues to speak of and to others as they would wish, I find it striking and illuminating that OPS Fest so easily and so often switches a character’s gender. The pronouns are understood as a thing easy to shift, and, what’s more, in performance they hold one another accountable to that notion. While some actors hiccuped Claudio/Claudia well past intermission, in this weekend’s “Much Adoe About Nothing,” they never gave up on the attempt. In this way, the spirit of the original practice (that the parts were designed knowing they would be played by someone identifying as another gender) collides and helps us grapple with a present-day concerns.

From left: Maia McCarthy (Margaret), David C. Olson (Leonato), Emma Whiteside (Priest), Beth Yocam (Beatrice), Alec Lugo (Balthasar), Nikolas Hoback (Don Pedro), and Brian Burger (Benedicke).

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