My grief lies onward and my joy behind* – SONNET 50



Because the scripts are finished at last.

I mean, they’re not printed or hole-punched or anything; that’s not my department.

But all the punctuation is bolded so as to be unavoidable and therefore dealt with. Period spelling is retained except where it was guaranteed to cause more harm than help. Judicious trimming has been done out of respect for our airplane-, siren-, darkness-, beersale-heavy urban surroundings, as well as the basic health of a group of actors who will have to do all three shows consecutively one afternoon/night in July (the racist parts are gone too – “Ethiope” hasn’t aged well, Mr. S.). Every expurgated “God” has been reinstated where the Folio was legally forced put “Heaven” in Richard II. Tiny histories of the individuals Shakespeare adhered to the biographies of when it was dramatically expedient. Every i dotted, and in some cases turned into a j.

And, this year, notes. So many notes. Notes that shouldn’t be overwhelming to have on hand, but were a little overwhelming to compile. Notes that I hope no one takes as insulting because you never know what words a person has come across or never had to say aloud or what a definition or paraphrase for clarity is going to trigger when learning lines and seeking to grok the situations in which the lines are spoken. And some are just thoughts about the bigger WTF moments: the “Leonato had a silent wife?” (solution: cut); the “who the hell is Woodstock, exactly” issue hanging over our heads (solution: prologue); and that whole thing with Portia’s “voluntary wound” in the thigh (solution: hope for the best).

Plus a few of those fancy “circles” from Ben & David Crystal’s Shakespeare’s Words book/site. I love those.

Which all means I can at last stop poring over every single line in three plays and start working on just those for which I’m responsible, lest I be embarrassingly bad on stage.

Always a concern. And if you’ve seen me on stage, a legitimate one.




gif by EditingAndLayout

Not working with the eye without the ear… – HENRY V, II ii

As I get back into the dramaturgical swing of things, for anyone interested (to be honest I have no idea at all whether that person exists, but when I look the nonsense, a disheartening amount of which skews toward evil, that gets published online, this bit of self-interested typography-based beigeness isn’t going to be the last straw that makes everyone pick up and leave the blogosphere (would that it were)), I’m going to lay out here how I put together the script editions I’ve been doing for the last couple of years.

I’m now working semi-simultaneously, if that concept even makes sense, on my eleventh through fourteenth, if I’m counting correctly, though I’ve done a few more cuttings than that. But they were sloppy affairs hastily downloaded then chopped down for time and casting. I hesitate to go back and look at them now much as one avoids high school yearbooks or TV shows beloved in adolescence – the fondness of memory won’t bear much scrutiny, and considering I’m on the topic of Shakespeare dramaturgy, suddenly the use of “fond” back there makes more sense, what with it meaning something only slightly more polite than “being a self-deluded dumb-ass” in Elizabethan parlance.

So I start out with the Folio. Not the one pictured above (thought good gravy do I know that page lately from Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead rehearsals). There are only a few of them and they’re kind of pricey, I understand. Or so the alarmed glass cases would imply. Not even from a facsimile edition, because I need something I can edit on this cruel and heartless rectangle on which I now type.

Lately the one I download is from, because it only shows a line number every fifth line, and since I intentionally do away with line numbers (they only get confusing when you’re doing productions with Judicious Trimming), the fewer the better. (If anyone knows of a free downloadable version with none, do let me know.) I used to use the lovely, lovely editable modern-type versions of the late Neil Freeman, whose work still informs everything I do with these editions and which I keep at my side always while working on them; but they were made on Apples some years ago and the formatting can be technologically tricksy in a way that doesn’t really take me less time to deal with than making the changes I have to make (on a PC) myself.

I go through it line by line and change the appropriate letters to their modern equivalents – when i=j or u=v or vv=w and the like. If there’s an overarching goal in these editions, it’s to find a balance between 1) letting actors with sense but varying degrees of Shakespearean experience feel able to stand up with script in hand and block and stage the show without having to squint constantly at ancient typographical choices, and 2) still maintaining almost all the utterly essential but non-grammatical punctuation and the eccentric capitalizations and spellings of the era.

Find/Replace is my lifesaver here, but I still have to go line by line. Loue and iustice prevail, but in a way that doesn’t either cross the eyes or make one sound like a Pythonesque exaggeration of a chinless twit.

There are visually troublesome words that get modern spellings for the sake of clarity. A small but frequent word like “I’ll” is a good example. The Folio spells “Ile” which is really weirdly hard to look at on the page and interpret immediately. I’ve never heard an argument that those two spellings have some different meaning, significance, or pronunciation, so…ease on the eyes wins.

There’s also “I” which depending on context could be the pronoun for first person singular or the affirmative “Ay”. And, Shakespeare being Shakespeare, sometimes both. Judgment calls and/or side notes have to be made.

And the occasional what-the-hell word gets the dustbin – I find charm in (the word) murther but I can make a solid argument for saying murder with a “d” based in the comfortable pronunciation of the definite article in almost every English dialect. I find Mervailles in the magic of Prospero but I’d rather a give a living audience preference over a dead one when it comes to experiencing Marvels. And I do wish travaille could still be said in a way that could imply both travel and travail at once. But you can’t act a footnote.

And of course the obvious typos of the sort that centuries of editors have come to consensus on, or in some cases haven’t. (I keep an Arden next to the Freeman and my beloved Shakespeare’s Words by the Crystals and they pretty much get me through all this.) Freeman was big on this, too, but it still fascinates me how many small moments of scholarly dispute sound just fine when spoken aloud and apace. Even things that probably were mistakes are often covered by the fact of fallible human characters speaking them. There are too many examples of this for a single one to stand out right now, but I’m sure one will come up as I’m working on these.

Then the cut suggestions, which are less a part of the edition proper than part of my work with the directors. All the issues ranging from the human bladder to airplane traffic to words irrevocably broken from connection with modern American communication (let’s start with “niggardly”) factor in to this preliminary shot at editing for our specific audiences.

I’m adding two new wrinkles to this season’s work. The first is a set of facing page notes. The actors are always encouraged to get their own editions and use the notes from those, but I don’t see what harm can be done be transcribing some of the more useful notes from other editions to ours. Plus the pronunciation guide I always hand out but which I’m convinced no one ever looks at might have more impact if it’s right there near the relevant words, as well as the relevant Freeman edition notes about one thing and another dealing with Folio Matters.

The second is the possible use of a font called Dyslexie. I’m not personally aware of anyone in our previous or current casts having to deal with this, but reading an only-slightly-edited Folio script is probably the closest a person without dyslexia comes to understanding it; an artistic community also tends to be disproportionately filled with folks who learn in all sorts of different ways. I can’t see where going ahead with this would do anyone any harm, so I’m going to print at least our first version this way and see how it goes.

Looking back over all this has suddenly made me anxious even though I’m well over half done with scripts that won’t be looked at until March (or if I’m realistic April) by actors who haven’t yet been cast or even auditioned and who won’t start rehearsal until May.

So I’m calming down. But I’m also stepping away. From the blog. Slowly. I need lunch.

The mere despair of surgery, he cures – MACBETH, IV iii

I add nothing to the current human conversation when I note that much of 2016 was thoroughly rotten, unsettling, cruel, and relentless. I’ve even started a list for myself to keep my memory of it in some sort of balance – the Cubs won; I got a surprise last minute first row chance to see Springsteen again; some of my favorite people on the planet had a healthy baby; our young nieces are memorizing Hamilton and leaping headfirst into DC comics and Agatha Christie; our teen nephews are aging rapidly, settling nicely into their personal freak flags, and asking all the right questions about Dr. Strangelove; my wife and I have played Olivia/Malvolio, Speed/Launce, and started in on a new set of song for our music duo; the Tavern re-opened after an overlong arson-based hiatus.

I save two things for last. I’m not very good at Stillness, and if my body is, my mind ain’t. One or both are always moving. So the time my body forced me to spend recuperating after the glorious surgery in mid-March, after which the innards were dandy but the muscles that usually protect said innards had to spend a lot of time engirded and, yes, still, was necessary but ohgoodgoddifficult. And while I’m anything but a bodybuilder, I was almost constantly weak and quivery in an unpleasant way I hid from most people.

But in August, after an international trip and a three-month outdoor performance gig (which you’d think would be enough proof of recovery, tough though it was), the gem of my summer was reaching The Rock out in the lake when we visited my in-laws.* It’s the thing one swims to when one goes to that lake. Because it’s there. Just far enough out to be worth going to, but not really tiring. Nice quiet place to sit (barring interference from the inevitable speedboating jackass, but they’ve been around since well before 2016). I wasn’t sure if I’d be making it to The Rock this year.

I made it to The Rock.


For the second thing, I direct your attention back to that international trip I mentioned both above and here. The Stratford Trip. Just in time for the quadricentennial of Shakespeare’s death (probably, -ish) and his 452nd birthday (-ish, probably), Kentucky Shakespeare took a tiny contingent over to be part of the festivities. And as things that I’ll try to remember about this year when posterity marks it as the time many great people and nations died, this trip will rank highest.

For starters, I got to be Shakespeare Himself (sort of, –ish) bright and sweetsweetMoses early on the BBC’s kickoff to the 23 April festivities as there in slightly muddy and as-yet-unopened New Place (though they did let Prince Charles in later that afternoon, so now I suppose anyone can enter) four of us did a variation on the house blessing scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream live on national(ized) television. That was terrifying after the fact.

Then we had an opportunity to perform some scenes in the courtyard of the birthplace proper, which while not widely recognized as a performance space has a fascinating vibe when used as one. It was touch and go for a moment there when my wife-as-Kate faux-kneed me-as-Petruchio-with-a-“ch”-thank-you in the groin (as planned) and I dropped to my knees, which takes a bit more abdominal strength than I was ready for, but the day was saved by the power of the muscle-tightening and quite slimming girdle under my doublet. We acquitted ourselves well enough, I guess, that two locals said afterwards, “They were quite good! Despite the accents!” to our (also American) friend and artistic director, who smiled and nodded so as not to betray his own accent to them.

Also, I touched a Folio.

There’s a First Folio floating through town right now, at Louisville’s Frazier History Museum. We went to see it (and some Shaker furniture and a Prohibition exhibit and the dresses from the “Sisters” number in White Christmas – there’s a lot going on there) with my folks last week and it was fun to see their reactions…but I had touched one.

You see, down in the vaults beneath the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (and its research facility, at which I got to browse through Bram Stoker’s old Irving/Terry playbills and the prompt books from the RSC’s Barton-era Wars of the Roses which made my fingertips tingle a bit with impertinence), we were shown some fancy and ancient tomes, your Holinsheds and your Plutarchs and your medical treatises of the era and whatnot, and I poked an aforementioned emboldened fingertip at a spine and said, “And what’s this one?”

“Oh, that’s a Folio.”

Now had this been one of my average days, my recoil, which was significant and covered no little ground, would have sent me backwards into a seven-foot plinth atop which was a bust of antiquity which would fall into my arms after I danced about trying to keep it from becoming a bust, full-stop. But the spirit of Buster Keaton kept his distance and all that fell through the air was a high-pitched “Eep!” from me.

But the covers of Folios are well known for being not-particularly-valuable, relatively, and no one seemed terribly upset by it, myself excluded. We had scrimped for the part of the trip we were responsible for, but an irreplaceable volume wasn’t in the budget.

Then a week in Bath, just us two (my wife, not the Folio), then home for more of 2016, ptui.

Thirty-two more days and counting.

(A quick note: I always grouse about quotes out of context, especially when I’m the guilty party. So I’ll note that this post’s headline is (clearly) not about Shakespeare as I imply but about the healing (?) hands of King Edward the Confessor, as spoken by Malcolm in that English Doctor mini-scene everyone cuts, and I didn’t have scrofula anyway, but an intestinal complaint. I also can’t help but note sadly here that we’re not very likely to get aid from England these days in dealing with our own impending tyrant, who is practically on his way to Scone, whatever you choose to rhyme it with, as we sit, what with England having its own non-scrofular troubles at the moment.)

*My in-laws don’t live in the lake. Just near.

A beast, no more. – HAMLET, IV iv

I haven’t posted on here all week, what with feelings of utter existential futility that ensue when decisions feel like they’re out of your hands frankly not being conducive to having any impulse to dribble forth fleeting notions about how verse works and whatnot. I’ve instead spent the week getting a couple of projects going that I hope are a way to address goings-on in a way that’s some combination of useful to the world and what I know how to do anyway. I’ve also done a bit of stress eating as well as tried to get a few decent nights’ sleep, which as a person who just came out of a production of Macbeth in general and in specific an occasional knitter of sleeves myself, I know the good of.

Then I went to the Louisville Free Public Library last night to hear the University of Louisville Phi Beta Kappa lecture by James Shapiro, author of a bunch of very good and eminently readable books on the world surrounding Shakespeare. I’d had tickets to this lecture, entitled “Shakespeare in America”, for a while and it was clearly planned months before, so I was surprised by how immediately (and intentionally) relevant to events of the past week it all was. Despite the bubbles we all find ourselves in, Shakespeare will not allow himself to be one of them and when you try to make this happen, something unexpectedly relevant always pops its head out and squints in the bright light.

So rather than thinking of myself as a nerd wiggling punctuation around, I remembered (at my wife’s urging) that I’m also someone who right now is supposed to be poring over a trio of scripts, one a story of how people try to break out of a cycle of misogyny, one about one leader being supplanted by another in ways that make them both look dubious, and one about the disastrous effects of a small group of people setting themselves up as judge, jury and executioner of a leader even when they firmly believe they’re doing the right thing. I’m also someone who will soon be jumping around in front of people trying to tell a second-hand Shakespearean story of the feelings of utter existential futility that ensue when decisions feel like they’re out of your hands.

So nothing is irrelevant. None of this is a waste of time. And frankly, only about twenty people are reading this thing anyway, so neither am I significantly wasting anyone else’s time (feel free to share this blog, by the way. Thanks).

As stated, I’m mostly a Folio guy, but times like these sometimes make us have to dip into the Quartos, so:

                               What is a man

          If his chiefe good and market of his time

         Be but to sleepe and feede[?]

Don’t read the rest of that speech looking for too much more significance; I don’t have any treasonous plans – just a bit of rediscovered resolve.

You taught me language and my profit on’t/ Is, I know how to curse. – TEMPEST, I ii

Must go dig out the extra-large thermos. The debate is settled, the sweaters are out, and in the morning, bright and early (though not so early as it could be thanks to the outmoded but welcome tweaks of Daylight Savings), I’ll be teaching a Dealing with Verse in Shakespeare workshop to a bunch of unsuspecting actors. I’m looking forward to it, in part because I love the opportunity to practice my brand of geek evangelism. But like all evangelists, I’ll be in danger of crossing over into zealot territory, try as I might to rein it in.

I am in many ways a terrible, cruel, unfeeling person when it comes to The Good Of The Show; my concern for the emotions and often the needs of others and self almost always comes after TGOTS (or what I diagnose as falling into that category) which sits poorly with my non-confrontational tendencies and my deeply held but spottily obeyed belief that nothing is so important as to really freak out about it. One of these days I’ll figure out how to surf the balance between wielding a Buddhist’s calm and a nun’s knuckle ruler. Probably. Maybe. Back to Stoppard:

          Guildenstern: Do I contradict myself?

          Rosencrantz: I can’t remember.

It happens onstage sometimes, this balance, but less frequently off it. Which is why actors behave the way they do offstage, I expect (insert cocktail emoji), as well as why Chazz Palminteri shot Jennifer Tilly, though I’ve never taken it that far except in my mind. At least once a production, but still.

But since I’ve been digging through Richard II, living with my contradictions is a little less tricky…

          …For no thought is contented. The better sort,

          As thoughts of things Divine, are intermixt

          With scruples, and do set the word it selfe

          Against the word, as thus: ‘Come litle ones’: & then again,

          ‘It is as hard to come, as for a Camell

          To thred the posterne of a Needle’s eye’.

Except that’s not what the Folio says, now that I think of it, what with the “Don’t Say The Name of Our Lord Or Anything Too Sacrilegious On Stage You Repulsive Little Actors”  Puritan Bullshit Act of 1606 making it illegal to say “the word” in the context of “Bible stuff”. No, unlike the 1597 Quarto, the 1623 Folio says, with my emphasis,

         …and do set the Faith it selfe

          Against the Faith: as thus: Come litle ones…

Which someone felt was better (?). Odd that what may be the two most famous lines from Richard II, this and “For [God’s? Heaven’s?] sake let us sit upon the ground…”, are both affected by this.

Also the punctuation’s a little different, as if to remind me to go lightly on the Folio Zealotry mentioned above since the Folio is every bit as inconsistent as the Bible Richard of Bordeaux is musing on about.

Also, Shakespeare’s use of antithesis will figure into the workshop prominently, so the old actor chestnut of setting the word itself against the word is every bit as likely to come up as suiting the action to the word, the word to the action, so .

Also Richard is murderèd about five minutes later, assuming the pace of the Visiting Groom section doesn’t get too melodramatic. So maybe I’m taking the wrong lesson away from here altogether.

Now, where is that thermos?