This Is Not Leaving Cert Weather.

Greetings from the bowels of early June. It is the third day of the Junior and Leaving Cert examinations (for those not from Ireland, the Junior Cert are the exams you take in the middle of your illustrious secondary school career, and the Leaving Cert exams are taken before you enter college, or uni as I will have to start calling it soon enough) and I am lamenting the dearth of exam weather. WHAT GIVES.

My sister is currently sitting her LC, and yesterday heralded the onslaught of English Paper Two. Now, I take an interest in what comes up on that exam every year, mainly because it’s my favourite out of the two. Those of a writerly bent (Méabh, for one) always went for Paper One, as it allowed you to write diary entries and write short stories. My imagination sadly does not work that fast (I always went for the newspaper articles and letters to magazines), so I always relished Paper Two, i.e. getting to write about Shakespeare and Brian Friel and Jennifer Johnston and Eavan Boland and Derek Mahon and Sylvia Plath. Incidentally, over the years, Paper Two is the most contentious paper in the Leaving Cert cycle, mainly because of its Prescribed Poetry section. Eight poets are on the course, only four show up on the day. You could work around this due to the fact that there is always An Irish Poet and A Female Poet on the paper, but people still get caught. Yesterday saw a repeat of the 2010 Boland Controversy in the news that Sylvia Plath, widely tipped to appear this year, er, didn’t.

Plath: a shit-eating grin if ever I knew one

Mind you, the folk in my old secondary school were pinning their hopes upon Ireland’s Greatest Living Poet (for winning the Nobel Prize, for writing ‘Mid-Term Break’ and ‘Digging’, for giving a poetry reading for charity at NUIG which was notable for the fact that I played with a massive fluffy white cat afterwards), Seamus Heaney. He didn’t show either. The bastard.

Heaney: he’s got a meme now, you know

I guess we all should have seen it coming. Considering the fact that Adrienne Rich shuffled off this mortal coil earlier this year — and guess who was this year’s Token Female Poet? However, I never tire of this annual guessing game. Thousands of people, including yours truly, glue themselves to boards.ie and twitter just to find out which poets make it onto the paper, or whether people’s predictions come true (and judging by Eavan Boland’s continual absence, they tend not to sometimes). It just brings me back to 2008, and my own sitting of Paper Two. At first glance I was horrified by the Othello question, was stumped by the Comparative Study, and skipped Unseen Poetry (because hey, you’re supposed to do that LAST), but when I saw the most glorious question on Derek Mahon, almost plagiarised from the Mocks, I got an answer written in forty minutes. And besides, I got an A2 in the end. Happy endings do occur.

As of next week, I’m going to be in Stratford-upon-Avon for the annual Britgrad conference. I’m very excited to be going over there for the first time, as well as checking out the Shakespeare Institute too. But I’m sad that I won’t be there when my sister completes her final LC exam. She’s worked incredibly hard all year, and I’m proud of her.

On a final note, I leave you with this. It is ‘proper good’, as they say:

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Lá breithe sona duit, a Shakespeare!

This blog is part of Blogging Shakespeare’s Happy Birthday Shakespeare celebrations, even if it’s a bit late. 

My relationship with Shakespeare, I think, comes in stages. It’s very strange from an Irish perspective, given that ‘Introduction to Irish Drama 101’ begins with Captain MacMorris and ‘What ish my nation?’, and where Shakespeare is usually associated with Junior and Leaving Cert literary texts (unless you were doing The Merchant of Venice, who DIDN’T watch Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet as per of their Junior Cert study? Really?), and where you would only go to see Shakespeare in performance if he was on your state exams.  To be honest, to be an Irish person interested in studying Shakespeare positions you as an antiquarian in some people’s eyes, and that’s sad — because his work is just as vital as any modern playwright’s.

poor Captain MacMorris

But anyway. Them stages.

So, like any other child in school, I first encountered Shakespeare there. (And yes, it was Romeo and Juliet and yes, we watched the Baz Luhrmann film in class. I think we watched it twice, come to think of it.) I remember not really giving a fig about studying English or theatre at that age,  as I was more into Art and History. Or maybe I did, but I didn’t know it. I do remember really getting into Romeo and Juliet — but back then in secondary school, it was uncool to actually admit something like that and so I kept it to myself. I remember my shock and laughter after we read this speech in class:

 And since that time it is eleven years;
 For then she could stand high-lone; nay, by th’ rood,
 She could have run and waddled all about;
 For even the day before, she broke her brow,
 And then my husband—God be with his soul!
 ‘A was a merry man—took up the child:
 'Yea,’ quoth he, ‘dost thou fall upon thy face?
 Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit;
 Wilt thou not, Jule?’ and, by my holidam,
 The pretty wretch left crying and said ‘Ay.’
 To see, now, how a jest shall come about!
  I warrant, an I should live a thousand years,
 I never should forget it: ‘Wilt thou not, Jule?’ quoth he;
 And, pretty fool, it stinted and said ‘Ay.’

(before anyone buts in: we were all fourteen / fifteen and didn’t know any better. There.) It was a shock to me that a play that was about four centuries old could be puerile, could be shocking, could be funny. Come to think about it, I saw a production of the same play two years ago by NUI Galway’s drama society, and the most that people remember from that production was the final scene, and how gut-wrenching and sad it was. I had never seen it played so slowly, so painfully.

Fast forward about two or three years later from that classroom, and my first experience on the stage at all. This was Macbeth, and after a laughable audition as Lady Macbeth, I was cast as the Porter. Now, I was sixteen years old, but despite the director’s best attempts, I could never get the hang of what ‘equivocator’ meant. That production, despite my inability to play drunk and speak Shakespearean verse correctly, was the beginning of my love affair proper with my youth theatre and with theatre in general, and whereas for me and my generation of youth theatre folk it would take the following year’s The Crucible to fully grasp that love, that Shakespearean production was the start of something. (I do wish someone had actually come along and told me how cool the Porter was though — what the hell lads, what the hell)

If we skip the Leaving Cert, the next time I encountered Shakespeare was in my second year of college. I left a very popular lecturer’s course on classics and Renaissance  theatre after the first day because I was dismayed that he wasn’t going to discuss Shakespeare’s plays in depth (the other course *did* give you that option, and I ended up taking it, which was my best grade for that semester. Yuss!). But what I really learned about studying Shakespeare at university was how liberating it actually is. You can approach Shakespeare from any angle, from any perspective, from any time period. That’s why I’m so interested in contemporary performance of his plays — it never ceases to fascinate me how many different ways in which you can approach them. One of my best friends staged an all-female production of Hamlet this year, even. It can be done.

this really has nothing to do with Hamlet, but here’s a nice picture of Fiona Shaw playing Richard III, everyone. woo, Fiona Shaw

I wrote an essay on sexuality in As You Like It and The Taming of the Shrew that year (we’re still in second year, everyone), which drew upon S&M, a brief mention of psychological rape, and theatricality. I thought my seminar leader would think it was weird. That essay ended up winning me a departmental prize that year. (Safe to say, he didn’t.) Since then, I’ve conducted research projects on magic realism and the metatheatrical in Shakespeare, and also on contemporary performances of  Cymbeline, which sprung from the former project. And working on those projects has consolidated for me what I want to pursue with my life, and indeed pursue in terms of further research.

It is now late into April. It’s in the middle of my exams, the weather is nice, the World Shakespeare Festival is in full swing, and in a few months’ time I will be starting postgraduate study in Stratford. I am genuinely excited about what the next year will bring. Hell, I’m proud to be the resident Shakespearean among my friends.

Happy birthday, Shakespeare!

Telegraph from the front line

Hello and greetings from the latter end of February, a month so wet and wild not even my boots can muster resistance.

And this blog hasn’t been updated since July at the latest, so I may as well fill in some gaps or cavities…

a) I’ve been busy in the midst of final year studies. That is all. It certainly is a demanding enterprise, but when you get to write about the contemporary performance history of Cymbeline for your dissertation, all complaints fall by the wayside. Plus it just proves that I can’t shake off Shakespeare.

Cymbeline at Shakespeare's Globe, 2001, or Mark Rylance running around in his jammies for three hours. YES I AM WRITING ABOUT HIS JAMMIES FOR MY DISSERTATION. Or something.

Also, Innogen or Imogen? You decide, mainly because I’m too lazy.

b) As further proof that I just can’t shake off Shakespeare, I’ve also been accepted onto a MA course in Shakespeare & Theatre at the Shakespeare Institute, as part of the University of Birmingham. It just happens to be in Stratford-upon-Avon (and yes, I said that to get your attention). Nevertheless, I’m very, very excited about the prospect of moving over to the UK again for a while, and completely immersing myself in Shakespeare all over again. Dissertations on Cymbeline are NOT ENOUGH to satiate me.

Plus, did I mention the lovely, lovely archives they have over in London and in Stratford? *drools*

Also, there is Tetley’s. I don’t care if it’s available here in Ireland (though not much), I associate it with over there. It’s not the same, totally different, etc.

c) Peppermint tea, all the while, remains an exemplary drink.

d) THE MUPPETS HAVE YOU SEEN THE MUPPETS GO SEE THE MUPPETS IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE

“It’s bigger on the inside” in academic terms

I’m currently undertaking a research internship in NUI Galway, where I’m investigating the relationship between Shakespeare’s plays, magical realism, and its representation on the stage (with reference to The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, Cymbeline, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Macbeth). It’s going rather grand so far, if you’re curious. Anyway, leafing through a volume of essays on magical realism led me to come across this gem by Rawdon Wilson (1995):

“For students of popular culture, who may not read many Renaissance texts, the phenomenon of anamorphic spatiality, in which interior volume does not correspond to exterior surface, can be observed in the BBC classic Dr. Who, often replayed on American PBS, where the doctor’s TARDIS, like the Blatant Beast’s mouth, contains more than the geometry of its exterior predicts.” (p.218)

I haven’t stopped smiling since.

On buying Shakespeare and ooooh, corgis!

I am finally getting around to reading Cymbeline. I’ve had the Arden edition for almost a year now – considering how expensive they can be, I’m glad I was able to pick one up for a fiver in the Bookmart back home in Sligo. (if you’re ever in Sligo, GO THERE. Or Keohane’s, even. Much better than Eason’s.) Still want one of those pretty Oxford World’s Classics editions though. Le sigh…

Heh heh, bewbs.

However, this did not stop me from buying a RSC edition of Henry V today in Charlie Byrne’s. (yes, the book-buying obsession is doing rather well today, thank you very much for your enquiries into the matter!) I’ve never really bought any RSC editions of any of Shakespeare’s plays before, so we’ll have to see if it matches up with the OWC ones we know and love in terms of text, introductions, useful footnotes and so on and forth. I’m torn as to whether the editions most suitable for academics are as suitable as the ones for theatre practitioners. Or is that a question not worth asking?

And now, here’s a corgi who will only respond to you if you talk like the Beatles. If you’re anything like me (i.e., very very easily amused), then you will be, eh, amused. I have to keep the cute quota up, you see.

Robert Browning – “My Last Duchess”

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will 't please you sit and look at her? I said
'Frà Pandolf' by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 't was not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say, 'Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much,' or 'Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat:' such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart -- how shall I say? -- too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 't was all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace -- all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men, -- good! but thanked
Somehow -- I know not how -- as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech -- (which I have not) -- to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, 'Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark' -- and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
-- E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will 't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Saturday playlist, 30/04/2011

Some few favourites from the past while. And no, it is not my fault The National have a new single out.

And Now For Something Completely Unrelated!

  • I finally got around to reading Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas this week. It is genuinely a treat to read aloud – there’s no other way to enjoy it more. The language is just sumptuous. I’m curious as to how it can be staged instead of performed on radio as Thomas originally intended it, but I suppose Google can provide some answers to that question later. Now, I have to finish reading The Good Soldier. And properly start Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. And Look Back In Anger AND We Need To Talk About Kevin. I’ll start them at some point, lads. Promise.
  • I’m going to buck trend and NOT talk about the Royal Wedding. Hah! It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just I’ve exhausted anything witty or relevant that I have to say about it…
  • Believe it or not, this is actually true. 
  • Oh yes. Glorious weather. It’s 99 season, yes?
  • I saw Moment by Deirdre Kinahan at the Town Hall Theatre last Thursday. What at first seemed to me a bog-standard kitchen sink / prodigal son story proved to be so much more – over the space of two hours this son’s arrival home and his younger sister’s reaction to it provides the ingredients for a night in which family secrets best left buried are exhumed and re-exhibited. At times witty, at times excruciating,  and Christ almighty tense as hell, I found myself fully invested.
  • And now – LOOK AT THE FEET!

    Seriously. LOOK at them.

A modest proposal

I would like to make a suggestion. Well, if I must be honest, the suggestion was made by a friend months ago, but it hasn’t been acted upon. I wish to address a crippling addiction that afflicts myself and a great deal of my friends and acquaintances.

There is a shop on Middle Street in Galway, opposite The Dáil Bar and where Mustard used to be, and up beside Sweetie Pies of Galway (have you been there? No? Then go there, the cakes are ridiculously cute) and Milano’s, and it sells books. New books. Second-hand books. Pretty books. Old books. Books on art, books on theatre, books for children, any book under the sun.

(obviously, I’m talking about Charlie Byrne’s.)

One question I’d like to ask is this: is it normal to have a bulging bookshelf made up of the books you’ve bought there over the past seven months?  Is it normal to constantly reassure myself: “ah sure, it’ll benefit my academic career in the end” after buying several books? Is it normal to have the mentality that if you haven’t bought a book (or two even. Two books there for a tenner is the usual bill for me) there at least every two weeks, there’s something wrong?

I would like to resurrect my friend Cian’s proposal that there be a support group for Charlie Byrne’s addicts. And have the meetings there in the shop, and therefore refuse to seek help for our addiction. I think that sounds about right. Who’s with me?