Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Updating" Shakespeare, Part Two

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the short films that adapt/stage/body forth Shakespeare's sonnets. Now, there's an interesting new plan for a different kind of adaptation. Novelists are signing on to "novelize" Shakespeare's plays--and the series will begin to be published in 2015. Two plays have already been chosen, by established novelists who have won awards in their own right. Intriguingly, Jeanette Winterson (who is both a novelist and a screenwriter) has chosen The Winter's Tale; Anne Tyler will adapt The Taming of the Shrew. (The best part of the article, though, isn't necessarily these details: it's the fabulous portrayal of a "hipster" Shakespeare, who looks exactly like someone from our creative writing department!)

Again, this project calls up really interesting questions about genre and accessibility. Unlike the sonnet-film project, though, this project adds the dimension of cultural translation: a sixteenth-century art form is giving way to a twenty-first-century one. Depending on the project's overall guidelines, and on the authors' individual choices, anything from complex Italian names to economic background information, character gender roles, family structures or mythological references could be "translated"--in addition to the language itself. As a translational project, then, this project has fascinating implications: What does it mean to study "Shakespeare," and what does it mean to "translate" his works? How is this process similar to what Shakespeare himself did, as an adapter of source material, and how is it different? (And what do these similarities and differences tell us about the changing cultural status of a "translation?")

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Staging the Blazon has landed!

I'm really excited to announce that Staging the Blazon in Early Modern English Theater has just been released! (I know this, because I got a mysterious cardboard package from Sweden today, and my contributor copy was inside.) The essays in the book explore how the blazon--which is a physical description of a person, often head-to-toe, usually found in written poetry--translates onto the stage in Renaissance England. It was a lot of fun to take part in the SAA seminar on Staging the Blazon in Chicago, and also a lot of fun to contribute to the book project.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Night Knitting (or, Knitting in the Dark?)

In his compendious study of nighttime in the Renaissance, At Day's Close, A. Roger Ekirch writes the following:

"Enea Silvio Piccolomni, the future Pope Pius II (1405-1464), while traveling in northern England, observed a large company of women sitting all night by a fire, conversing and cleaning hemp. Less common elsewhere in England, spinning sessions, even in the nineteenth century, remained widespread in the north... Assembling one or two nights a week, work parties could last until one or two in the morning... On frigid nights, the presence of farm animals generated warmth, as did steaming manure. Often, a cottage hearth supplied small quantities of both light and heat... Requiring the sharpest sight, women usually sat up front [nearest to the fire], spinning, knitting, weaving and carding wool either for themselves or for one another" (New York: Norton, 2005, 178-9).

I was intrigued. Given my drawbacks (lack of hearth, lack of female posse, lack of spinning and carding skills, lack of manure), I decided to undertake a modified experiment. Could one really knit in the semi-dark? Would this knitting turn out to be wearable? (Or even recognizable as knitting?)

The procedure: I waited until the sun had almost set, and left the shades partially open. There wasn't much sunlight, but I could still kind of see. (Almost.) Plus, I was using chunky white yarn, which was more visible than, say, a Regia sock blend in dark blue. I knit about seven rounds on a cable/rib hat that I was working on. Then I went to another room, turned on a light, and had a look.

The verdict: Oops. My first cable now had five stitches, instead of six; my second cable had seven, and the strip of ribbing in between looked like something out of a Robert Frost poem. (And not in a good way.)

The analysis: Clearly, I was missing something. How were these ladies, in fact, actually producing garments at one or two in the morning, in minimal lighting conditions, while listening to gossip or fictional tales, with freezing fingers and sleep-deprived brains?

I have come up with three possible theories: 1) They were not, in fact, knitting. That was just a cover for their actual purpose in convening: a plot to overthrow Enea Silvio Piccolomni. 2) The purpose in having the other ladies nearby was to have at least one functioning as a quality control agent. 3) (Possibly the most disturbing option:) They didn't actually care whether their cables all matched. 

So: there you have it. The moral of the story? "Night knitting deserves a well-lit night. I'm not sure all these people understand."