Digital Humanities Tool: Personæ

The aim of these visualisations is to use the XML files from the New Variorum Shakespeare edition of The Comedy of Errors to create a resource for exploring patterns of speeches by and mentions of characters in Shakespeare’s work. Visualising the frequency, extent, and position of dialogue relating to a particular character presents users with a simple and immediate measure of that character’s prominence within the play. The tool enables users to select and visualise individual characters’ involvement, producing a novel means of exploring large-scale structural, narrative, or character-focused patterns within the text.

Value of the Tool

This tool is intended to facilitate character-based analysis and reveal structural patterns at the scale of the play. It is primarily exploratory, and is designed to allow users to customise the visualisation according to their particular interests or to follow a more speculative and disinterested reading of the play’s character-based features.

This deliberate aim emerged from the heuristic development process described below, and a desire to produce an extensible exploratory tool for dramatic texts. From an initial focus on using digital tools to visualise the tangling and disentangling of character names and identities in The Comedy of Errors, our interest broadened into exploring the potential for using character data to visualise larger structural and narrative patterns.

We were also motivated by the use of network analysis and visualisation for Shakespearean scholarship, including work by Grandjean, Moretti, and Stiller, et al. These analyses are similarly character-based and have yielded many interesting insights. But in the reduction of the textual data to nodes and edges (characters and their interactions), network analysis has obscured the temporal. By preserving characters’ locations within the space of the text, this tool enables analysis of the dramatic time and structural duration of the play.

Moreover, a major part of the tool’s value is its extensibility. It may be used to create character visualisations for any play which is XML-encoded according to quite minimal specifications, and offer the opportunity to undertake comparative analysis of structural, narrative, and character-based patterns in different plays.

As a point of contrast, we have generated a second visualisation for The Winter’s Tale from the code initially developed for The Comedy of Errors.

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Personæ can be found here

The Sonnet Man presents Hip Hop Shakespeare to Ireland in 2017

International Hip Hop Artist, The Sonnet Man, is preparing to visit various cities in Ireland.  While in Ireland, The Sonnet Man is also scheduled to present performances and sonnet-writing workshops to schools in Cork, Kilkenny, Carlow, and Wexford (among others) perform school assemblies, beginning with a performance at the Wexford Arts Centre.  Due to the interest, The Sonnet Man is also offering schools, theatres, and other venues the chance to sign up to be a part of The Sonnet Man Ireland Tour.

The Sonnet Man is Devon Glover, a rapper, writer, artist, and teacher from Brooklyn, New York.  The Sonnet Man uses hip hop to put a unique spin on Shakespeare. He sets sonnets first to rap music, singing them as originally written. Then, he raps them again, but with his own unique interpretation on The Bard’s poetry in today’s spoken word.

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The Sonnet Man

On April 24, 2016The Sonnet Man performed a three and half hour Sonnet Marathon, organized by the Stratford Literary Festival. He recited all 154 of William Shakespeare’s famous Sonnets, in Hip Hop, to hundreds of fans in Stratford Upon Avon, to celebrate 400 years of Shakespeare at the Stratford Literary Festival.

In addition to his festival work over the last five years, The Sonnet Man has presented live shows, as well as school assemblies and workshops, to thousands of people across the world (Prague, Netherlands, Bermuda, Canada, United States, including performing Sonnet 18 live in Negril, Jamaica, and more). The Sonnet Man has also appeared on NBC’s The Today Show and MSNBC’s (former) Melissa Perry-Harris Show and has been profiled on MTV. He has been honored as the winner of the 2014 LA Times Festival of Books Inspirational Poetry Award and has had his music video, Hamlet by filmmaker Deborah Voorhees, chosen as an official selection in the 2015 Shakespeare Film Festival. A number of other performances and workshops, including a trip to UK, France, and more cities in Ireland, and a Sonnet Man documentary film are also to come.

The Sonnet Man is always looking for more venues to sign up for The Sonnet Man’s Ireland tour. For more information about, please contact: sonnetmannyc@gmail.com or check out The Sonnet Man online at www.SonnetMan.com and on iTunes.

Review: Lear by John Scott / Irish Modern Dance Theatre

Review: Lear, choreographed by John Scott and starring Valda Setterfield, at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College Dublin (22 October)

Guest post by Katherine Hennessey, Visiting Fellow, Moore Institute, NUI Galway

I’ve overdosed on Shakespeare recently, I confess. As a research fellow with the Global Shakespeare programme at the University of Warwick and Queen Mary University of London, during a period that spanned two commemorative years (the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in 2014, and the quadricentenary of his death in 2016), I’ve binged. I’ve gorged. If plays, films, re-writings, adaptations, parodies, books, articles, blog postings, and the ‘Shakespeare vs. Dr. Seuss’ epic rap battle were grams of trans fat, then in early 2014 I was Cassius—and now I’m Falstaff. Or Nell.

It started innocently enough, with a production of Two Gents at the RSC in August 2014. For a few months afterwards I continued to function like a normal human being. But then things began to spiral out of control.

Sigh. It’s the age-old story: you watch a Romeo and Juliet or two, a Midsummer Night’s Dream, perhaps a Richard II. Gradually you come to learn that the Globe offers £5 groundling tickets… that the BBC archives Shakespeare films on Box of Broadcasts… that there’s a troupe out there doing a history play with an all-female cast, or a gender-reversed Taming of the Shrew, or that Ninagawa is producing Hamlet in Japanese at the Barbican. Before you know it you’ve seen seven Macbeths, six Othellos in four different languages, five different stagings—God help you—of Titus Andronicus. You just can’t help yourself. You see Shakespeare everywhere.

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You begin to cackle defiantly in the face of marathon productions. Spend an entire gloriously sunny Saturday cooped up in the Rose Theatre in Kingston binge-watching Trevor Nunn’s Wars of the Roses? Who wouldn’t?!? Six-plus hours of DruidShakespeare? Bring it, Garry Hynes. BRING. IT.

And then, every so often, you find yourself at a production that’s so balanced, so evocative, so crystalline in its clarity that it rises above the out-of-joint chaos, above the jumbled fragments of memory of the other Shakespeare performances that you’ve seen.

For me, the contemporary dance production of Lear by John Scott and Valda Setterfield, performed at Trinity College Dublin’s black box theatre, was the dramatic equivalent of a glass of ice-cold spring water on a sweltering summer day. (To see an interview with Scott and to see the dancers in action, click here.)

 

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Lear and daughters  (Credit: Patrick Moore)

Credit for this belongs in equal measure to the 82-year-old Setterfield’s grace, command, and fragility in the title role, to the hauntingly expressive ensemble work that Scott choreographed for her and her supporting cast, and—perhaps above all—to their radical re-invention of Shakespeare’s text and characters, and their jettisoning of almost all of his language in favor of their own, both verbal and kinetic. I’ve seen numerous productions of Lear over the past two years, but they’ve all been riffs on a core theme, to which this Lear provided an utterly refreshing contrast.

Setterfield plays the king as a male character, while his daughters are played by a trio of male dancers, Mufutau Yusuf, Ryan O’Neill, and Kevin Coquelard, as Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia respectively (the trio also play the Fool). Lear radically alters its source text, a fact which the set itself advertises from the outset, its back wall covered with sheets of white paper bearing fragments of Shakespeare’s lines: ‘kingdom,’ ‘a poor, bare, forked animal,’ ‘my wits begin to turn,’ ‘down from the waist they are centaurs’. Initial sequences of movement, in which the male dancers pace, then race, across the stage, repeating single but significant words from the text (like ‘Father’, ‘legacy’, ‘condition’, ‘scanted’) suggest a fierce sibling rivalry.

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(Credit: IMDT on Vimeo)

 

The first scene in which extended Shakespearean dialogue is spoken—beginning from Lear’s ‘Give me the map there,’ referring to what looks like a modern residential zoning plan hanging from the rear wall—continues only to Cordelia’s ‘So young, my lord, and true.’ At which point, Coquelard breaks character, or invents a new Cordelia, retorting in a mixture of English and his native French, ‘You want a translation? You are stupid. Silly, stupid Lear. I said already that I love you as is right fit. What more do you want from me?’ As the argument escalates, Coquelard speaks heatedly in franglais, expressing his intention to leave the situation (the argument with Lear? the production of Lear?) and return to his beloved France; he climbs up to a catwalk and storms out a side exit, singing an Edith Piaf tune and strutting in comic defiance.

The production provides abbreviated highlights from Shakespeare’s text, interspersed like the first with increasingly poignant dialogue in contemporary English. Perched on an armchair that doubles as a throne, Setterfield answers a series of telephone calls, of which we hear only her side of the conversation, in character as an elderly father pleading with his child to come visit. ‘It’s been so long since we’ve seen you. We all miss you. The dog misses you.’ The calls involve a series of increasingly urgent requests for help: the local pharmacist has mixed up the elderly mother’s prescriptions; the boiler has broken and water is pouring down the stairs, leaving the father unable to reach the mother’s medication.

These pleas are later cruelly mocked by Goneril and Regan, who grow increasingly resentful of the burden of responding to their elderly father’s requests. O’Neill at one point provides a litany of increasingly impatient conversations with his elderly parent: ‘Did you lose your glasses again? All the food in your refrigerator is past its expiration date. Are the stairs getting too much for you these days? Have you taken your medication? I’ve heard about a nice retirement home near here. You left the front door open again…’ And at one point his Regan and Yusuf’s Goneril dance menacing circles around a weeping, cowering Lear.

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(Credit: Patrick Moore)

 

Setterfield portrays a ruler whose frailty and advanced age are much more evident than his/her tendency, clearly delineated in Shakespeare’s text, to bully and domineer. This production finesses Lear’s obvious missteps and misjudgments by excising most instances of them, replacing them with the haunting one-sided telephone conversations, and with a contrite Regan’s agonizing communication of a doctor’s death-knell diagnosis: ‘He says you can never come home.’

Coquelard’s Cordelia eventually redeems herself for her earlier outburst by a series of tender gestures of care for Lear towards the conclusion. And like her sisters, she dances circles around her father, but rather in the joyful manner of a child shouting ‘Watch me, Daddy!’, basking in parental attention and affection, heedless of Lear’s increasing concern that she is running too fast and will fall (a reasonable fear, it seemed to me, given Coquelard’s incredibly swift pace around a floor strewn haphazardly with sheets of paper). Eventually she collapses, exhausted, and Setterfield’s Lear faces her beloved daughter’s death with a heartwrenchingly dignified resignation.

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(Credit: Patrick Moore)

Scott and Setterfield link their Lear to the tender spectacle of elderly parents, pining for a visit from their indifferent or otherwise-occupied children, tapping into the deep vein of compassion that animates Shakespeare’s play. One of the most moving aspects of Shakespeare’s Lear, after all, is that after suffering abject loss and despair and the chastisement of Mother Nature, he comes to empathise with the ‘poor naked wretches’ bereft of warmth and shelter in his kingdom, summing up his failings as a ruler with devastating understatement: ‘O, I have ta’en / Too little care of this.’ Scott’s and Setterfield’s portrayal of Lear elicits a deep compassion and concern for the aging, the frail, the lonely, for those whose minds are deteriorating, their memories fading. It prompts us to ask, ‘Have I taken sufficient care of this?’ And the emotional impact of the dancers’ movements and their words will remain with me long after the memories of many other Year of Shakespeare King Lears fade.

 

Guest post – Katherine Hennessey is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Moore Institute at NUI Galway. She co-convened, with Clair Wills and Fintan O’Toole, the Ireland and Shakespeare symposium at Princeton in March 2016 and is the author of Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula (Palgrave 2017). From January 2017 she will be an assistant professor in the English department at the American University of Kuwait.

Review: Reason in Madness, Draíocht Theatre

Reason in Madness: A Devised Reworking

Draíocht Theatre, Blanchardstown, Dublin, 29-30 November 2016.

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Directed by Aisling Byrne. Design: Ciaran O’Melia; Dramaturgy: Oonagh Murphy; Sound Design: Susie Birmingham; Costume: Kate Bauer.

Cast: Mark Smith as Lear; Jane Ryan as Goneril; Ella-Jane Moore as Reagan; Michelle Brennan as Cordelia; Wesley Fairbrother as Kent; Maurice Coll as Gloucester; John Egan as Edmund; Paul O’Neill as Edgar; Kate Bauer as psychologist; Sean McPartland as the Fool; Bert Coster as Cornwall; and Conor Begley as Oswald.

Reviewed by Stephen O’Neill

 

It has sometimes been claimed that Irish theatre can’t quite do Shakespeare or that it has an attenuated relationship to Shakespeare for a variety of reasons that are cultural, historical and ideological. The absence of Shakespeare from the Abbey’s 2017 programme is likely to reactivate such claims. And even 2015’s DruidShakespeare, which gave the lie to such arguments, nonetheless ended up being ghosted by them, as critics located the production in the context of how previous Irish productions had faired with Shakespearean verse and themes, and determined that Druid had Gaelicised or Hibernicised Shakespeare’s English history plays. However, such broad and ultimately improbable claims about the national theatre scene risk overlooking more local theatre and community based productions of Shakespeare. Reason in Madness: A Devised Reworking of Lear gives the lie to the notion that Irish theatre productions must be filtered through questions of cultural nationalism. In this production by Run of the Mill Theatre, a 16 strong ensemble cast of artists with disabilities, bring us into Lear’s kingdom, but not as we know it.

 

The pre-scene features the cast on stage, awaiting the arrival of Lear: “The King is on his way”, the announcer explains, followed by the customary instruction to the audience to turn off mobile phones. The cast themselves hold phones, a visual cue to the dominance of technology and social media in this production, with tweet updates from @CourtGossip, or images of a bounded and blinded Gloucester displayed on a screen above stage. The use of social media, along with pop music, is not gimmicky but serves the story world and amplifies its themes. Under Aisling Byrne’s direction, the major concerns of Shakespeare’s play – the family, mortality, the vulnerability of the human being, the fragmentation of a political order – take on a more particular resonance in the context of a performance by actors with intellectual disabilities.

 

Theatre can importantly shift normative structures of viewing and representation, disrupting audience and indeed wider cultural assumptions about how value is assigned to particular bodies and identities, and how, by extension, it is denied to others, or doled out in a limited way. The work of Run of the Mill Theatre, founded in 2014 by Aisling Byrne and the participants of the drama and theatre training programmes within St. John of God Community Services, realises the capacity of theatrical performance to alter ways of seeing and release a dispersal of representational value. Blue Apple Theatre, established in the UK in 2005, have being doing similar work with actors with learning difficulties. Lawrie Morris, who played Claudius in the Blue Apple’s 2012 Hamlet, captures what the production means to him: “I think people out there in the world need to see that people are capable of doing Shakespeare, even with a learning disability like we’ve got”. In America, similar initiatives are to be found. Project A.B.L.E (Artists Breaking Limits and Expectations), founded by Kate Yohe, features a group of actors with Down Syndrome and other developmental needs in Twelfth Night at Chicago’s Shakespeare Theatre. Run of the Mill’s Reason in Madness importantly contributes to increased representational visibility and opportunity; the Arts Council’s support of such work, valued internationally, is welcome. There is no sentimentality to this production; instead, the cast produce something that makes meaning on its own terms. Striking is the sense of a collective, of a directorial hand operating with a lightness of touch, of actors helping each other onto and off the stage, and having lots of fun in doing so. But there are also stand out performances: Mark Smith as Lear is all kingly deportment, then disintegration as Goneril and Regan vie for power; Ella-Jane Moore as Reagan revels in mock royal waves as she takes to the throne; Jane Ryan’s Goneril is busy tweeting about court intrigue; John Egan plays Edmund with a maniacal, pantomime laugh.

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For a small theatre company, this is an ambitious production. Run of the Mill make good use of Draiocht’s large stage, filling it with the ensemble cast, with hooded figures that haunt Lear, or by creating a distinct performance space stage right, where a psychologist, played by Kate Bauer (who also gives subtle onstage assistance to the performers) tests Lear’s memory loss. The Director’s note offers the audience one way to interpret such extra-diegetic elements, plot additions and the wider implication of Reason in Madness. Byrne notes “that the rate of developing early onset dementia stands at an estimated 75% greater risk for adults with Down Syndrome was a sobering reminder of the pertinence of a story where the gift of growing older can come with a price; and one that seems so steep and unfair for individuals who have already fought long to have their voices heard in society”. However, on a Wednesday evening in a packed Draiocht Theatre, the play’s sense of endings – of plot, of life, of political power – become a celebration of life and of community. As an audience member, you cannot but be aware of the family, friends who are there to support and cheer on the actors.

 

Reason in Madness is a cacophonous, energetic and reassembled Lear. The spoken word converges with dance, with now iconic pop tracks (from Icona Pop’s “I Love It” for the opening love test to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” to capture Goneril and Regan’s relationship with Edmund), with social media and news images. Shakespeare’s tragedy is defamiliarised, in ways that recall Elaine Feinstein’s Lear’s Daughters (1987), another production that emerged out of theatre workshops, and which pared back the main plot to reveal a dark nursery rhyme about the symbolic power of fathers. Byrne and the ensemble cast are very much in touch with current trends in Shakespeare performance studies, where the energy of a Shakespeare play in production is understood as residing in post-textual, adapted and remediated responses. Experienced as fragments, from alternate perspectives, or with and through other media, the Shakespeare play reforms in our minds as a dazzlingly new theatrical experience. The programme note makes reference to the production’s repackaging as a “gift” to Shakespeare in this, the year of the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death. Reason in Madness rewards all of its participants, actors and audience alike, because the Shakespeare it produces is not a site of privilege or some inherited entity that, in an Irish context, is to be revered or feared. Rather, it’s the catalyst for a dynamic theatrical experience.

 

Dr Stephen O’Neill is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Maynooth University Department of English. He is the author of Shakespeare and YouTube (Bloomsbury, 2014), Staging Ireland: Representations in Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama (Four Courts, 2007) and several essays on Shakespeare and popular culture. With Janet Clare, he co-edited Shakespeare and the Irish Writer (UCD Press, 2011). Twitter: @mediaShakes

Public lecture, TCD, 5 December 2016: “Sex, Lies and Rigged Returns: The 1634 Kerry Election and its Consequences”, Dr Bríd McGrath

5 December 2016 | 17:00
Trinity Long Room Hub

Sex, Lies and Rigged Returns: The 1634 Kerry Election and its Consequences

A public lecture by Dr Bríd McGrath (TCD) as part of the Trinity Centre for Early Modern History 2016-17 Research Seminar Series.

Details of the full seminar series here.

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