The Passionate Pilgrim is a collection of poems “By W. Shakespeare…Printed for W. Jaggard” in 1599, or so says the title page. The volume is now assumed to be pirated, and contains two of Shakespeare’s sonnets (in versions that differ slightly from the 1609 quarto), two poems from Love’s Labour’s Lost, and a variety of poems by other hands, including Richard Barnfield and Christopher Marlowe. It is of interest to us for its mixture of styles and its decidedly mixed quality. Your assignment is to take one of non-Shakespearian poems and rewrite it in the style of a poem by one of the aristocrats in Love’s Labour’s. Choose a poem that needs a lot of work. One in a different meter, for example: rewriting PP XIX, “Live with me and be my love,” in the King’s pentameter. Or one that is in longer lines, like XV, which would have to be reduced to pentameter and replotted, or unplotted, as a lyric. Any number of other transformations are possible.
Your version should be six to eight lines long (that is, you need only write an excerpt), and should be accompanied by a five-hundred-word prose description of what you have done: how you handled the meter in your imitation, as well as questions of diction and rhetoric as they arise; and how your imitation suits the context you have chosen for it. Gascoigne and Puttenham may offer assistance. This is an opportunity to describe both the original and your imitation in detail, as well as exploring the meaning, in the larger context of the play, of the choices you have made. The imitation of your model can be close or free as you choose, but the resulting lines should come as close to passing for one of the argots of Love’s Labour’s as you can manage. Following the rhyme scheme is optional; the emphasis is on practicing the technical skill of versification.
In his Philosophy of Rhetoric, I. A. Richards offered a familiar and still hardy set of terms for analyzing metaphor, the tenor (what the metaphor means) and the vehicle (the image that does the meaning). The assignment is to take a passage of extended metaphor in Richard II and rewrite it with a new vehicle, preserving, as best you can, the tenor of the original. Your new version should accomplish the necessary translations within the diction and verse climate of the passage where it is placed; that is, try to capture as closely as you can the local formal features, range of variation, level of style etc. Use six to eight lines, and as usual provide a page of prose commentary.
Take six to eight lines of one of the three plays we have read previously, and translate them into the idiom of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; which will mean, in practice, the idiom of the play and perhaps of a particular character. (We’ll get to think about that distinction next week!—but we probably won’t be able to avoid anticipating it.) Choose an original that would be hard to place in its new context without alteration. Your rewriting should be informed by some of the digital work you have done in exploring the linguistic texture of MND; please discuss that in your commentary. If you are also presenting a passage in class, you can certainly make use the same digital discovery/discoveries for your imitation.
Take six to eight lines of one of the three plays we have read previously, and translate them into the idiom of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; which will mean, in practice, the idiom of the play and perhaps of a particular character. (We’ll get to think about that distinction next week!—but we probably won’t be able to avoid anticipating it.) Choose an original passage that would be hard to place in its new context without alteration. Your rewriting should be informed by some of the digital work you have done in exploring the linguistic texture of MND; please discuss that in your commentary. If you are also presenting a passage in class, you can certainly make use of the same digital discovery/discoveries for your imitation.
Different characters speak differently in Henry IV Part 1, though they also imitate each other, in a variety of modes, admiration, petition, mockery, camaraderie, etc. Take six to eight lines of speech from one character and translate it into the idiom (the voice?) of another. In your prose account of what you’ve done, describe what you take to be the distinctive features of both the origin and the destination of the exercise. By way of framing, either describe a moment in the play as written when your lines might plausibly appear, or invent a dramatic scenario, an unexploited possibility of plot, that might give them occasion.
As you read, take note of the times of Hamlet, and their verbal signatures. You can construe “times” broadly: in relation to tradition and innovation, to old-fashionedness and new-fangledness, nostalgia and prolepsis, and so on. The assignment is to take six to eight lines of its verse (or an equivalent quantity of prose) and change the time, especially (though not necessarily only) by changing key words words. In addition to the readings, a few of our electronic resources may be useful, the Lexicons of Early Modern English, the ngrams at the Early Modern Print Project (which can give a picture of how words are coming into and going out of fashion), and of course the good old OED. Provide the usual page of comment on what you have done and why.
Hamlet himself is a versatile stylist, whether or not he is altogether in command of his versatility. The exercise this week is to translate six to eight lines from one of his styles to another. Pay particular attention to the question of the temporalities of his verse (or prose), since that will continue to be our principal topic of discussion. But really, this is an opportunity to try to write like Hamlet. In your commentary, indicate both the passage you are starting from and where your translation should go.
This week we will temporarily set aside our project of strict imitation in favor of the representation of the sound of Shakespeare’s plays. So: take a passage of Othello, say ten lines or so (more if you like; or less if you have some ingenious idea for a single line), and represent its sound. How you make that representation is entirely up to you; the only thing it cannot be is an unaltered, dramatic reading of the lines themselves. Possibilities would include: graphical representations (a la Smith), soundtracks, altered vocal recordings, scores, films, music boxes, etc. etc. The medium of your submission is entirely up to you. I’m hoping we will have many different kinds of things to listen to and look at together, so be adventurous! Please also provide the usual commentary, which might address itself, inter alia, to what you take the sound of your passage to be and how you arrived at your representation. Please submit your exercise to me via email (or my mailbox if it is a non-digital object) by noon on the Tuesday before class.
This week the challenge is the translation of discourses. Identify two prominent discourses in the play (for example, law and commerce, villain and victim), and translate a passage of six to eight lines from one into the other. The notes will help you; keep an eye out for technical language. You might want to consult the Continuum series of Shakespeare dictionaries, which covers a wide variety of topics and can help orient you in particular linguistic territory. They are available in Firestone and I will also leave copies of several (on religious, political, economic, legal, military, and class-based language, along with one on slang) in the Thorp Library for you to consult. They will be in the far corner on the bottom shelf; the door code (for you non-English students) is *154. You are not limited to conventional or familiar discourses, but however you define those you discern, your commentary should orient them with respect to the week’s theoretical materials.
This class begins two weeks of activating our plays via alternative modalities, movement this week, music (following on our sound work) next. The exercise is to choreograph ten lines or so of King Lear. “Choreograph,” for our purposes, means make a script for bodily movement that realizes the lines. The project is not to define the actorly gestures that might bring the lines to life as a dramatic performance. Rather, to engage the body in activity that helps us pay attention to, helps us feel how the lines work. You may write your choreography for one or more people. The lines make be spoken by your dancers—let’s call them (us) that—or by someone else or may simply be implicit. The repertory of movement can be at any scale, very very small to very large. Props are optional but should be minimal if you use them. The script itself can take any form, text, diagrams, a video for us to imitate—but it should be enough to teach us how to do what you have in mind. And you can attempt to realize, to bring forward, any aspect of the lines that interest you, prosody, rhetoric, sound, figuration, or anything else. The one thing we do not want to do is act, or at least, not merely act. As with the sound week, I would ask everyone to submit your exercises by noon on Tuesday so that Aynsley Vandenbrouke (our guest this time) and I will have a chance to review them before class.
The medium of last week’s exercise was movement; for this week, music. The assignment: to prepare a soundtrack for ten lines (or more; or, with some ingenuity, less) of Antony and Cleopatra. You can construe “soundtrack” freely, as an accompaniment to or a substitute for the words. (Though fidelity to the words, heard or not, is of the essence.) The music can be borrowed from other sources (i.e. you can use recordings), you can make and pre-record it yourself, or you can prepare a score of some kind for performance in class, drawing on whatever resources might be found in or brought to our classroom (e.g. your classmates, their voices, the infinity of possible on-site percussion instruments, etc.). “Music” itself can be construed freely, too, but it should be musical—not just (just?) noise or sound. And finally, our purpose is not to use music as a cue to dramatic affect, as a conventional soundtrack might. Treat it as an instrument of inquiry into the various potentials of the language. As usual, provide a page of commentary on what you have done. Please submit all exercises by noon on Tuesday so that Majel Connery (our guest this time) and I will have a chance to review them before class.
In our final week, we come back to the genre of strict imitation—that is, language that could be mistaken for native to the play—with one final twist. This time, please write 6-10 lines of verse from a new character, of your own invention, and provide in your commentary a brief account of who that character is, and what place she or he takes in the action. This is not a substitution; the dramatis personae and the basic plot should abide. Your character should also participate in the idiom of the play as a whole. Anne Barton observed that “A number of critics have felt that Shakespeare, in his last plays, destroyed that close relationship between language and dramatic character which had seemed the permanent achievement of his maturity.” (You can read her essay here if you like.) We have seen this claim before, that the late plays resolve to a single style. This exercise is a way of testing that idea—and I do want to test it, rather than take it for granted—by introducing a new voice, and defining the nature and degree of its difference from its surroundings.
We’ll return to our workshop schedule, so Eli, Jeewon, Jessica, Jackie, and Will, please send yours in by noon Tuesday; the others by class time.