The Shakesperience etc.


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Discover-the-Shakesperience-1024x834I tend to be sceptical of enhanced ebooks when it comes to fiction, because it seems to me that the enhancements get in the way of the creative side of reading, by interfering with the reader’s imagination.

Nonfiction and study-guides, though, are horses of a different colour.

For instance The Shakesperience, Sourcebooks’ enhanced electronic editions of Shakespeare’s plays, offers such features as image and video galleries of content from great performances, audio clips of readings by great actors, interviews, production notes and essays by directors  – and this is good, because Elizabethan theatre was written for performance, not really – or not just – to be read. So yes, I’m sure all of this makes for an excellent complement to the study of Shakespeare’s plays.

The integration of commentary and footnotes in the text, all of it easily accessible by tapping on the screen, while  perhaps not quite the revolution promised by Sourcebooks, is the answer to the awkwardness of studying on e-texts. (And I really want to think that, by saying that “the way we do it now is to hard” because having to search for explanatory text is “an experience that involves a certain amount of work” and will “take the reader out of the learning experience”, Sourcebooks’ Dominique Raccah refers to non-enhanced ebooks, and not traditional books, because otherwise, all my reservations about enhancements would come back in full force.) Now, this article nicely compares the merits of several enhanced editions of Shakespeare, such as the Folger Luminary, Wordplay, and Shakespeare in Bits, and it seems clear that the quality of integrated commentary is what makes the difference.

So, I’m not sure the Shakesperience or its competitors will “change the way we read Shakespeare”, but they certainly seem to provide a nice way to study his works without paper.


The Shape of Things to Come


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head_wip_bw.jpg3Nina is the director in one of the companies I write for – not the one with the Centipede. She called me the other day, and summoned me, because we had things to discuss. Several things.

So I reported to a sort of green-room meeting, and found Nina positively sizzling with ideas – hers and mine.

First of all, could I please prepare an abridged version of my Sonnets play for a staged reading, a sort of hors-d’oeuvre before they stage the whole thing in earnest next year?

And (before I could catch my breath) speaking of Shakespeare, why don’t I open their cycle of Shakespearean readings with… well, not exactly a conference, but a conversation about Shakespeare and Marlowe, with two to four voices to read pieces of my choice, and myself as a narrator?

Oh, and about an Italian Paper Stage – what a marvelous idea! And yes, we are most definitely doing it. Could I please manage the blogging side? And prepare something-something for their website too?

“Only if you feel like it, of course..”

As if I would turn down any of it. As if she thought I would…

It’s quite some work – with a strictish deadline, because roles and readings will have to be handed out before the company disbands for vacations at the beginning of august, and the rest must be ready for the press-conference in which the company will present the season, at the beginning of September. So last night I sat up until four to work on what Nina and I have named the Small Sonnets, to begin with, and I expect a repeat tonight, and then there will be the matter of choosing the readings, and the blog, oh the blog – and let’s not forget two conferences, and the summer course I’m teaching in August…

This is going to be a busy summer.



Drawing Books



I’ve always wanted to draw – and it rather pains me that I cannot. But really, I couldn’t draw to save my soul.

I usually live with my lack of drawing skills, but now and then it will up and bite me.  At times it is all about a wish to draw one of my characters, or a scene I wrote, or a costume or setting idea, at times it’s just because I would like to sketch an elephant or a tree for the fun of it, at times it is because I chance on something like  this Huff Post article about Joshua Landsman’s book journal.

The man draws lovely sketches of authors and books he loves (or not)… Just how awesome would it be to be able to do that?

Ah well…

Pickled herrings, stinging tails, and puzzles for the centuries


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RgreeneThink of Robert Greene, whose 456th birthday would be tomorrow, and his supposed deathbed repentance.

I mean, as far as hundredth sheep go, his (supposed) last bleat sounds remarkably bilious, doesn’t it? After living a life that was wild even by Elizabethan standards, he took ill, and turned very pious and very censorious. If printer Henry Chettle is to be trusted, while sick and ailing (from an indigestion of pickled herrings, of all things) Greene found the energy not only to repent his recklessness, but to rant venomously against quite a few fellow writers.

Actually, we can’t be sure Chettle is to be trusted at all, for he was quite a shady character, with the moral stature of a railway sleeper – far from above writing the Groatsworth of Wit himself, to publish it under dead Greene’s name for selling value… Anyway, whoever wrote the pamphlet had it in for two men in particular: a famous gracer of Tragedian – undoubtedly Kit Marlowe – and the Upstart Crow.

To Marlowe he preached about his sinful ways – either oblivious or not caring a button that to call someone an atheist in print might very well send this someone off to the gallows. Instead, with the Crow it was not a matter of religion: him Greene loathed because he had the gall to write plays in spite of being an unlettered player – a combination clearly synonymous with “cockroach” to Robert Greene, MA.

While there is no doubt where Marlowe is concerned, t is generally but not universally accepted that the Crow was Shakespeare, the grammar-schoolboy who strutted on a stage and presumed to write. The alternative theory that it might have been actor Edward Alleyn makes some measure of sense when you consider that in 1592 Shakespeare was perhaps not yet as famous as Greene seems to imply of the Crow, and that Greene, while despising all players, despised young Ned Alleyn most of all.

Whatever the case, it is little wonder that two of the Groatsworth’s targets didn’t take it too well, and complained with enough vehemence to force apologies – which, Greene being dead, Chettle provided in the preface to a later book. Maddeningly enough, he made no names, but went to some pains to point out that one of the two he had come to know in the meantime and was sorry to have offended, while with the other he did not care to be acquainted.

Again, it is generally assumed that the nice one was Shakespeare (or at least the Crow), while to Marlowe one gave a wide berth… I don’t know. Once more, was Shakespeare the Crow? And even if he was, who was likelier to command the more sugared apology – the provincial player and part-time writer, or the famous poet out of Cambridge with friends in high places? On the other hand, one might well want to distance oneself from such a taint as suspected atheism. On the other hand again, I wouldn discount the chance of some sarcasm, either – with Chettle waxing extravagant in his forced apology… After all, insincere adulation is hard to call to task without risking some ridicule…

Ah well – it might be one of those things we’ll never know. Things we’ve lost, because they were written – both the Groatsworth and the apology – for an audience of contemporaries, who woul know how to read between the lines, and not for us, four centuries and a half later.

I can’t help thinking, though, that Robin Greene, mischief-maker that he was, would have relished in the notion of these people of the future puzzling cluelessly about his Crow, and who was madder, worse, and more dangerous to know: Shakespeare or Marlowe – or maybe Alleyn?

Backstage With John Lithgow


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18artsbeat-lithgow1-articleInlineDon’t you love backstage glimpses? Don’t you love rehearsals? Don’t you love to find out how the magic works?

I do – very much, so I was delighted when I found this delightful series of posts actor John Lithgow is writing for The New York Times’  ArtsBeat blog. Lithgow is currently rehearsing the title role in King Lear for Free Shakespeare in the Park, and finds the time to write Learning Lear, a diary of the rehearsals that is both thoughtful and chatty, with lots of interesting insight on the daily works of a theatre company.

Learning Lear is an ongoing series, and you can find the first handful of entries here. With more to come, of course…

Nearly Averted Centipedicide


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You may, or may not, have wondered how it ended with the Centipede

I’haven’t murdered him – but it was a close thing. I know I ended the other post on a hopeful note, saying that we’d stopped hating each other, that things were beginning to work, that perhaps, perhaps…

Actually, no.

He ruined my Nicholas Nickleby moment...

He ruined my Nicholas Nickleby moment…

Things seemed to be getting better for a while, and the Director was rather happy with me, and we all felt a little relieved. And perhaps the mistake was in letting the Centipede know of the company’s collective rosier outlook, because I can only imagine that, once we stopped scowling at the very mention of the boy’s name, he must have thought he’d done enough. So the brainless creature started missing rehearsals and training session – when it was too late to replace him.

He even appeared unforgivably late for dress rehearsal, and then disappeared again before we could start his final drilling – because he had another engagement. He even had the gall to tell the Director that hey, it was just seven lines, for crying out loud…

Which is where we should have sent him to Jericho, shared out his lines, and good riddance. But we didn’t – and paid for it. In the end, he missed two cues out of seven (bless the quick-thinking souls who filled in), messed up his and everyone else’s blocking like mad, stepped into a dance sequence he didn’t belong to and butchered it…

I was manning the lights consolle during all that – and pittikins, it was a blood-curdling experience just to watch. I can’t imagine what it must have been onstage and backstage. Or rather, I can – because I heard it all at the after-show dinner. The Centipede wasn’t there – or anywhere around us, since, which goes to show he is possessed of some survival instinct, if nothing else.

I’ve crossed him twice in town, after the debacle, and found him very careful in avoiding me…

What’s the bottom line of this story? Very likely that there is only so much one can expect even from the magic of theatre. Miracles don’t happen – unless everyone involved works very hard to make them happen. And it was clearly not the case with this Centipede.

I don’t know what the Centipede’s theatrical future will be – either with “my” company or elsewhere.  As far as I’m concerned, he can stay in the ditch and flail all he likes: it’s nice not to have committed a murder, after all, but I am most certainly never wasting any more time and energy on him.

Digital Shakespeares



Shakespeare_ipad_Edilivre1Digital Shakespeares is a blog created by literary critic and cultural historian Erin Sullivan. In it she thinks aloud “about Shakespeare and digital culture – sometimes the two at once, and sometimes each on their own”.

I happened there through this very interesting post about how the growing diffusion of digital celebrations is affecting the nature of festivities – with a special eye for this year’s Shakespearean celebrations.

Very interesting stuff, sharp questions and food for thought,with a Shakespearean bent – but ultimately broader than that.

No Paper Sculptures


Robert Burns poem Tam O'ShanterI love both the work and story of the Edinburgh Mystery Sculptor, and I have posted twice about her on my Italian blog.

Twice in, say, three years – and that’s pretty much the extent of my knowledge about paper sculptures.

Well, it happened that, soon after my second EMS post, I was contacted by a small local book festival: would I like to go and talk about ebooks? And how about doing it with a gentleman who speaks about paper?

Well, why not, I said – and was told the gentleman would email me soon. And so he did, saying that he had read my blog, and liked very much the notion of the paper sculptures. So, his idea was for him to give a lecture on the historical use of paper, after which I could teach children to make paper sculptures…

A little taken aback, I answered that I knew next to nothing about paper sculptures, and certainly not how to make them – let alone teach anyone… Why couldn’t we – as the festival people had suggested – jointly talk about traditional and electronic books?

The gentleman proceeded to inform me that to talk about electronic books one needed some knowledge of the publishing business. He would have done it himself, if he were interested at all, but he wanted to keep the focus on paper, thank you very much – and my paper sculptures would make a nice complement. How about two classes, one for children, and one for adults?

I was too puzzled to be even miffed at the man’s condescension. Had he even read my emails? My blog he clearly hadn’t – or he might have noticed that the evolution of publishing was, back then, its primary focus – but the mails? after trying once more to convince him that there was no such thing as my paper sculptures, I appealed to the festival people, suggesting that, since they had proposed the collaboration, they might as well manage the communications. I have no idea how they dealt with the trouble, but I got one last, rather brusque email from the man, informing me that since I didn’t want to work with him, he wished me well with my projects.

In the end, the festival settled on two separate events, the Paper Man talked about paper (sans sculptures), and I about ebooks, and we all lived happily thereafter – but sometimes I still wonder: was he really this oblivious, or didn’t he want to share his event, and couldn’t bring himself to say so?

The Paper Stage


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1952.PlayReadingI guess much depends on exactly which sort of magic you seek when it comes to theatre – because there are so many.

But if you love the words, and all the imagining the words can spark off, then a play-reading group might be your thing. It might be mine: much as I have been increasingly busying myself with such production aspects as stage direction and lighting, I’m a playwright first. And, words being my stuff, I would love to be part of a project like The Paper Stage: people gathering at the Gulbenkian Cafè, in Canterbury, to read Elizabethan plays aloud.

No experience needed, and, from what I gather, no rehearsals: one just lets the group know, turns up, and… reads. And the play takes on a life of its own, judging by last month’s Romeo and Juliet.  Oh, to be in England, now that such a brilliant idea is here…

As researcher and blogger Eoin Price says in his asidenotes, this means a chance to hear – if not to see – performed plays that are seldom staged, and to explore the varied richness of Elizabethan theatre in much more depth than it is usual.

Wish I could be in Canterbury next Monday, for the second Paper Stage event, a reading of Marlowe’s Jew of Malta. And because obviously I can’t, I’m already wondering: can I think up a Paper Stage-like group around here?

Ten Reasons Why “Lord Jim” Is My Book



lord-jim-joseph-conrad--4123-MLA145466825_3745-F“I wonder – no, I want to know, I demand to know how come that, of all books, your Book is that depressing Lord Jim,” says T.

“Oh, for… for any number of reasons. And it’s not depressing.”

“Any number… Such as?”

Such as. I start counting on fingers, and come up with ten – which is not any number, but is a number, undeniably.

“You are going to make a post out of this, aren’t you?” asks T., with that air of knowing the ways of bloggers… And well, I couldn’t very well disappoint, could I?

So, what it says on the tin: ten reasons why Conrad’s Lord Jim is My Book.

I. Because the first time I read it, I gave up on page 12, thinking that I thoroughly disliked it. In fact, by then, I was so hooked that I had to go back, and read, and finish it.

II. Because, twentyfive years later, every time I re-read it, I find some new nuance, some facet I had missed, some wonder buried a little deeper.

III. Because the main character is so beautifully written, that he is as real to me as though I’d met him in the flesh. I know Jim -  I know his voice, the way he thinks, the way he moves*. He is very nearly family.

IV. Because at hard times, or facing tough choices, this is the book I go back to, even though – or perhaps just because – it is a sorrowful story of guilt, failure, regret, of missed chances, and missed redemption.

V. Because at eighteen, reading an abridged version of the English original, I fell in love with the language, and discovered its beauty, and lost my faith in literary translation. That the author was, like myself, a non-native speaker, was to become highly inspirational in later years.

VI. For the tiny scene where, after defeating Ali’s people, the villagers wildly cheer Jim with gongs and tam-tams, waving yellow, white and red banners. It’s just five lines, told by a narrator who heard Jim’s version from Marlow – a rather dizzying game of Chinese boxes – and yet, it’s… illuminated in my memory with startling vividness.

VII. Because, in lesser hands, this could have been just another exotic adventure, and a very melodramatic one – but Conrad makes it a tragic tale of the unability of living up to one’s own standards. Not only is Jim flawed, buy he succumbs to his flaws. He misunderstands himself and everyone else, pursues or dreads illusory things, fails to learn how to deal with reality, and pays (and makes many others pay) a terrible price, in the bleakest of endings.Conrad

VIII. Because at sixteen, reading this book for the first time, I learnt that writers must be merciless to their characters – never spare them anything, never protect them from themselves, from the plot, from the reader’s judgement.

IX. Because through Conrad’s complex structure and characterization, I had my first inkling of the certainty that writing was not about waiting for inspiration to open one’s heart and pour the contents on the blank page. Through readings, re-readings, analyses and dissections, LJ was my first writing course.

X. Because for twentyfive years I have beem yearning to write… not a book like this, but one with its itensity, shadows, depth, power and beauty. Wish me luck.

And what about you? What has Your Book done for you?


* And he doesn’t look like Peter O’Toole. Not in the least.


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