Shakespeare's Tribe

Performing Shakespeare, Shakespeare in Performance

A Beginning

July 14, 2012 § Leave a Comment

I don’t know exactly when I became a Shakespeare geek. I can’t recall a specific life-changing moment like some of my friends who saw an indelible performance or fell in love with a perfect passage in English class. But I DOknow when I first realized that it had happened.

It was fall 1978, and I was browsing in a local independent bookstore. (Back then such things still existed.) My eyes fell on A.L. Rowse’s just released, three-volume annotated Shakespeare.

I was entranced. It was something I just felt I HADto have. Compared to any book I had ever purchased it was stunningly expensive, far beyond my means as a student. Still, just leafing through it seemed a revelation on every heavily illustrated and annotated page. How was I going to become an actor and a director without it?

For weeks I was too embarrassed to mention it to my parents, even though persuading them to buy it for me seemed my only practical option. One afternoon while shopping with my mother I somehow concocted a plausible excuse for stopping by the bookstore and (hinting broadly) showed it to her. I wasn’t asking for it, mind you. Just showing off my erudition as a theater major. As casually as possible I lectured my mom on all the reasons this boxed set stood head and shoulders above the cheap editions nearby. The clincher, in my opinion, was that the author didn’t just discuss the plays as literature, although he did plenty of that also. His notes were littered with references to actors, designers and productions. He illuminated the plays in performance!

I knew nothing then of Rowse’s idiosyncrasies, or critical debates. All I knew was that I lived about as far away from live theater as a human could, and yet four hundred years of production history were suddenly available to me – if only I could somehow save up enough money to purchase Rowse’s edition. My mother was not fooled for an instant, I now realize, but she played it with a poker face. This was not the scale of purchase our family made, least of all for something as impractical as books, she said, and left it at that.

On Christmas morning that year, although it was far more extravagant than a usual present in my home, the set was waiting under the tree. Having been taken in by my mother’s act, I was both surprised and thrilled. It was a great gift. Thirty-five years later, I still have it. I still consult it regularly. In the end it was, hands down, the most practical gift I ever received.

The excitement I felt when I first encountered my Rowse is the excitement I still feel when I think about, talk about, see, and most of all teach Shakespeare. My interest is still in how the page and the stage relate to each other. I’ve been incredibly lucky in my life to pursue this discussion in extraordinary forums. In the early ’90s I was able to study with the brilliant Lois Potter in an NEH seminar at the Folger Library, and toward the end of the decade had the opportunity to participate in another seminar led by Alan Dessen and Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s founder, Audrey Stanley.

This blog is a continuation of those conversations, and of the excitement I felt when I discovered the richly illustrated Shakespeare volumes so long ago. It is a manifestation of my Bard-based nerdiness. I don’t when I became a Shakespeare geek but I know I still am one.

Welcome to my blog.

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