The Awesome world of “Six”

One really fun thing I like to see each Thanksgiving is the live previews of some of Broadway’s hottest shows. You may remember that I first became acquainted with the musical “Something Rotten,” after seeing a live performance at the Macy’s Day Parade. I am just ecstatic to see and talk about this year’s hit Broadway Musical Six. It swept the Tonys, and has opened up touring productions across the country.

The Cast of “Six” perform live at the 2021 Tony Awards.

This vibrant, clever retelling of Tudor her-story was created by TOBY MARLOW & LUCY MOSS in association with the Chicago Shakespeare Festival.

The show is incredibly smart, and creative, and delves into the lives of some fascinating women, re-told as a singing contest with the characters singing their lives for you to judge what it was like being the queen of England, and living with the turbulent and fickle Henry VIII. What really appeals to me in this show is that like Hamilton, the musical takes these six semi-mythical women and tells their story in a way that is fresh and exciting.

Part I: Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII:” How NOT to tell a queen’s story

Around 1613, Shakespeare wrote his final play- his 10th history play which loosely told the life of English king Henry the Eighth.

I happen to know a lot about this play since I was in it back in 2008, as you can see in the slideshow above. As you might notice, this play doesn’t tell the story of all of Henry’s wives. We only see the last few years of Catherine of Aragon’s life, and the beginning of Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. Most of the drama actually centers around Henry and his scheming advisor, Cardinal Wolsey. Maybe I’m biased because I played this role, but frankly, Woolsey is treated in the play as a stereotypical Machiavellian villain, who conveniently leads the king astray so he can be the hero of the play. Woolsey does all of Henry’s dirty work; taking over his government, spearheading his divorce to Catherine, and trying to dissuade the king from listening to Anne Boleyn’s Protestant ideas, dismissing her as a “spleeny Lutheran.” Shakespeare leaves it ambiguous as to whether Henry actually told Woolsey to do any of these things so the audience will blame Woosey, instead of the king.

I’ll be blunt, aside from the courtroom scene at Blackfriars, where Katherine pleads for Henry not to dissolve their marriage, and the fun dances and costumes in the scene where Anne flirts with Henry, the play is really quite boring. though I blame Jacobean censors more than Shakespeare for this. Even after the entire Tudor dynasty was dead and buried, powerful people in the English government controlled what Shakespeare could say about them.

Part II: The women take wing

During Shakespeare’s life time, the wives of Henry VIII were bit players at best. With the exception of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn (who in most narratives have often been cast as either virgins or whores), the lives of Jane Seymore, Anne of Cleaves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr were barely told until the 20th century, where new feminist scholarship sparked renewed interest in these women and how they lived.

III. Why “Six” Slaps

Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
As husbands have.
Emilia, “Othello,” Act IV, Scene iii.

Well, I can’t yet give an objective view of the plot and characters of “Six,” because I haven’t seen it…(yet). But until then, let’s just say that like “Hamilton,” it is great to see history be recontextualized and shared in such an accessible way. We all know that European history is dominated by the names of white guys- king whoever, duke what’s-his name. To see important women in history be given a voice by a multi-ethnic cast is a great way to make it acessible.

Bravo.

Educational links related to the six wives of Henry VIII:

Books

TV:

Web:
https://www.history.com/news/henry-viii-wives

https://sixonbroadway.com/about.php

Resources on Shakespeare’s History Plays:

Books

  1. Shakespeare English Kings by Peter Saccio. Published Apr. 2000. Preview available: https://books.google.com/books?id=ATHBz3aaGn4C
  2. Shakespeare, Our Contemporary by Jan Kott. Available online at https://books.google.com/books/about/Shakespeare_Our_Contemporary.html?id=QIrdQfCMnfQC
  3. The Essential Shakespeare Handbook
  4. The Essential Shakespeare Handbook by Leslie Dunton-Downer and Alan Riding Published: 16 Jan 2013.
    77ace26dfdee4259bf48d6eed1a59d57
  5. Will In the World by Prof. Steven Greenblatt, Harvard University. September 17, 2004. Preview available https://www.amazon.com/Will-World-How-Shakespeare-Became/dp/1847922961

TV:

The Tudors (TV Show- HBO 2007)

“The Six Wives of Henry VIII” (BBC, 1970)

Websites

THe Fashion Is the Fashion: Ancient Roman Fashion and Beauty

http://www.historyofclothing.com/clothing-history/roman-clothing/#:~:text=Roman%20clothing%20consisted%20of%20toga,in%20water%20and%20then%20aired.

Roman Fashion 101:

Roman clothing Myths!

  1. Myth 1: Everyone wore togas! The toga was a formal garment that was worn by male citizens, usually on business, therefore women and slaves couldn’t wear them. Basically, think of a toga as like a 3 piece suit, (which is probably how it felt to those men in the hot Mediterranean sun). Togas were very hot because they were made of wool. As the video below shows, many Romans couldn’t wait to get out of their togas and wear a simple tunic.

Myth 2: All Togas were white

In most movies, and pictures set in Rome, we see rooms full of men wearing white togas, especially in the Senate. However, togas gradually evolved into a variety of styles and colors and helped indicate a Roman man’s status and maturity.

Types of Togas and how to wear them:

Shakespeare makes reference to a specific type of toga called a Toga candida: "Bright toga"; a toga rubbed with white chalk to make it appear bright white. In Titus Andronicus, the title character is offered a toga candida by his brother Marcus, when the Senate nominates him for emperor:

Marcus: Titus Andronicus, the people of Rome,
Whose friend in justice thou hast ever been,
Send thee by me, their tribune and their trust,
This palliament of white and spotless hue;
And name thee in election for the empire,
With these our late-deceased emperor's sons:
Be candidatus then, and put it on- Titus Andronicus, Act I, Scene i.

There were many other types of togas for different occasions:
- Dark colors were for funerals
- Red and purple sleeves were for magistrates and senators
- Purple togas with gold embroidery were for victorious generals, and later emperors

Manly garb: Toga virillis

A Toga virilis ("toga of manhood") also known as toga alba or toga pura was A plain white toga, worn on formal occasions by adult male commoners, and by senators not having a curule magistracy. It was a right of passage for young men to put on their toga virilis and assume adult male citizenship and its attendant rights, freedoms and responsibilities.

Women’s fashion

Like men, women most commonly wore tunics, especially when they were unmarried. When women married, they would don a long, elaborate garment called a Stola . The stola was a long dress held on by belts. Sometimes women decorated their Stolas with ribbons and they came in many colors. In the statue below, note how the belts below the breast drape the fabric into elaborate folds, and how the sleeves are slightly slashed on this sumptuous 1st century stola.

Read more at: https://www.ducksters.com/history/ancient_rome/clothing.php

Torso of a Roman woman wearing a Stoa (1st century)
Torso of a Roman woman wearing a Stoa (1st century)

Women’s Beauty Regimen

Since Roman women were not legally citizens and couldn’t hold employment, their hair, dress, and makeup were in a way, a celebration of idleness, especially in the case of upper-class women. Aristocratic Roman women had their hair done in elaborate shapes like the Flavian hairstyle and wore elaborate Stoas to indicate how they didn’t have to work or labor in the fields.

Major female Roman hairstyles, nationalclothing.org

In a production of Julius Caesar or Coriolanus, the director could exploit this concept of idleness by giving the more passive characters like Calpurnia or Fulvia more elaborate hairdos and elaborate brightly colored Stolas, while the more active characters like Portia or Valumnia could have a more austere or less fussy hairstyle and dress to show that they are more interested in engaging in politics or the military than sitting around and looking pretty.

References:

“The Romans – Clothing” History on the Net
© 2000-2022, Salem Media.
March 11, 2022 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/the-romans-clothing>

Ducksters. “Ancient Rome for Kids: Clothing and Fashion.” Ducksters, Technological Solutions, Inc. (TSI), http://www.ducksters.com/history/ancient_rome/clothing.php. Accessed 11 March 2022.

http://nationalclothing.org/565-traditional-clothing-in-ancient-rome-what-did-they-wear.html

What If Romeo and Juliet got Married?

Juliet (Hailey Steinfield) marries Romeo in the 2013 movie version of “Romeo and Juliet.”

We all know that Romeo and Juliet married in secret because their feuding families made it impossible for them to publicly profess their love, but would it have been like if they were able to have a proper Italian Renaissance Wedding? As opposed to the small, intimate wedding that you see in the 2013 clip above, a wedding in 1590s Italy was a much more involved, lavish, and expensive affair.

Paolo Veronese 008.jpg
The wedding at Cana by
Paolo Veronese
, 1563.

During the Renaissance period marriages, (which were also mergers), were potentially explosive moments, and lavish festivities may have diffused some of the tensions that might arise between families over dowry arrangements and other touchy subjects. The bridal procession might even face dangers from hostile mobs or individuals, as suggested by a Florentine statute from 1415, which forbade the throwing of stones or garbage at the home of the couple. Wedding processions were often compared to ancient triumphal processions. The idea of the wedding as a triumph is reflected in the imagery on cassoni (marriage chests) panels such as Apollonio di Giovanni’s Triumph of Scipio Africanus, known in several versions.


Deborah L. Krohn
The Bard Graduate Center
November 2008

An Italian wedding had four rituals that were highly elaborate and each required a lot of food, drink, special clothes, and music. Part of the reason for this verbose process was the belief that marriage was simultaneously an economic arrangement, a formal promise of fidelity and affection, and a sacrament blessed by the church. In the article, “The Arnolfini Betrothal,” from the University of California, Hall traces the evolution of these ideas from pre-Christian Roman marriage traditions, and 17th century, Roman-catholic Italian tradition:

European ideas about marriage were profoundly influenced by ancient Roman precedent. Because intent was the most basic principle of Roman law, the great jurisconsults of the second and third centuries logically held that marriage was concluded by the consent of the parties, and Ulpian’s concise expression of this view, “Not cohabitation but consent makes a marriage,” came to be included among the legal maxims of the final section of the Digest in Justinian’s codification of the Roman law.[2] Roman lawyers termed this matrimonial consent affectio maritalis, or “conjugal affection,” by which they meant, not some momentary expression of assent as part of a marriage rite, but rather a continuing mental state, shared by the partners. From a juridical point of view, this permanent emotive condition constituted the marriage. The Digest also envisioned marriage in ideal terms as a lifelong association of husband and wife for the procreation of legitimate children. But if affectio maritalis ceased to exist, the requisite legal consent no longer prevailed, and a divorce could easily be arranged.[3]

The

  1. The Impalmamento– The joining of hands, a sort of ritual engagement
  2. The Sponsalia- The formal betrothal ceremony (a promise of marriage)
  3. The Matrimonium– The wedding contract and procession
  4. The Nozze- The church ceremony and feast!

The Cassone

One of the best ways I can illustrate that a wedding in Italian Renaissance Italy was essentially a socio-economic merging of families is to look at the custom of the cassone- an ornately carved box that the groom gave to the bride to keep her needlework and other possessions. It symbolized the transition from living in her parent’s house to her new husband’s house, and how essentially, she was a possession that was bought by the groom and taken to his home. To see more examples of a cassone, visit this website:

http://italian-needlework.blogspot.com/2011/10/italian-hope-chests-cassone.html

If Juliet had chosen to marry Paris instead of Romeo, the cassone would’ve made it abundantly clear to her that, just as Paris says: “Thy face is mine,” he feels he has bought her, money, body, and soul, and taken her and this elaborate casket to his home, till death do they part.

Impalmamemnto

The verb impalmare is equivalent to pledging one’s troth and originates from an old custom according to which the groom, as a confirmatory token of his marriage promise, grasped, touched, or poked the right hand or palm

 of his future wife. Impalmamento signifies an engagement, a promise of marriage, specifically, as a confirmation of prior agreements, it signifies the early phase of the

long process of the marriage arrangement.

Anna Eörsi

sponsalia

Much like how in Britain, handfasting rituals served as a serious promise or engagement of marriage, the Sponsalia was a formal promise of marriage before the actual ceremony. Incidently, according to “A History Of Matrimonial Institutions by  George Elliott Howard, Romeo and Juliet’s marriage went this far, but no farther. This kind of promise of marriage had legal authority but was not recognized officially by the church. It also didn’t require witnesses or parental consent (Howard 339). A Sponsalia marriage could also only be dissolved if the bride or groom became a priest or nun, which is exactly what Friar Laurence offers to do for Juliet once Romeo dies:

Come, I’ll dispose of thee
Among a sisterhood of holy nuns:
Stay not to question, for the watch is coming;
Come, go, good Juliet,
[Noise again]
I dare no longer stay.

Romeo and Juliet, Act V, Scene 3

Friar Laurence (Paul Rycik) tries to save Juliet (Alesia Lawson) after she finds Romeo dead. (Ashland University 2007).

Today, this would be the equivalent of getting a marriage license at city hall, rather than having a marriage ceremony.

matrimonium

Li emergenti bisogni matrimoniali – namely, the urgent necessity at the outset of marriage to adorn brides with extravagant clothing and jewelry, to decorate the nuptial chamber, and to arrange wedding festivities – entailed sizable expenditures of capital on the part of new husbands and their kin in Renaissance Florence. In a legal opinion written in 1400, the Florentine jurist Philippus de Corsinis observed that “even before sexual intercourse, it is necessary for the husband to shoulder the expenses for his wife’s clothing and other accessories, as well as other expenses related to the wedding.”2 In another opinion, Paulus de Castro, who taught and practiced law in early-fifteenth-century Florence, emphasized that in both Florence and Bologna the outfitting of the bride and expenses for the wed-ding consumed the whole dowry even before the couple had exchanged marriage vows and rings.-

Source: Kirshner, Julius. “2. Li Emergenti Bisogni Matrimoniali In Renaissance Florence”. Marriage, Dowry, and Citizenship in Late Medieval and Renaissance Italy, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018, pp. 55-73. https://doi.org/10.3138/9781442664517-005

Wedding dress and bridegroom dress

Nozze

The wedding feast

16th Century CE Kitchen Still-life
16th century still life.

Since marriages were affairs for two families, their friends, etc. A wedding feast was a very involved and elaborate affair. On the Dutch Cooking site, ” Coquinaria” I found a reproduction of a summer wedding feast from 1546:

The menu for Wednesday 18 August 1546, on a meat day during Summer

Perhaps the 'cut lemons' looked like these decorative oranges

Antipasti – Melloni (watermelons), cascio vecchio Parmigiano (old Parmesan cheese), quaglie arroste (grilled quails), vua moscatella (muscadines), crostate di piccioni (pie with pigeons), capretto (kid), limoni trinciati (cut lemons).
Alesso – Anadrine (duck?), capretto (again kid, or a mistake), pollastri stuffati con presciutto (stuffed chicken with ham), agresto (verjuice), sauor di verzure(sauce with greens?).

Frutte – Visciole con le suppe (morellos in soup -with bread), cascio marzolino (cheese from March?), pere (pears), persiche in vino (peaches in wine), nocchie (hazelnuts), finocchio (fennel).

Below is a recipe card I made with one of the recipes I found on the site:

Works Cited:

1. Giovanni Arnolfini’s Impalmamento
 Anna Eörsi1996, Oud Holland14 Views  PaperRank: 1.7

2. MARRIAGE: ITALIAN RENAISSANCE STYLE by Donna Russo-Morin http://donnarussomorin.blogspot.com/2012/08/marriage-italian-renaissance-style.html#:~:text=An%20Italian%20Renaissance%20wedding%20ceremony,the%20matrimonium%2C%20and%20the%20nozze. Published Monday, August 27, 2012

3. Krohn, Deborah L. “Weddings in the Italian Renaissance.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/wedd/hd_wedd.htm (November 2008)

4. Hall, Edwin. The Arnolfini Betrothal: Medieval Marriage and the Enigma of Van Eyck’s Double Portrait. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1994 1994. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft1d5nb0d9/

5. https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1578/food–drink-in-the-elizabethan-era/

6. Kirshner, Julius. “2. Li Emergenti Bisogni Matrimoniali In Renaissance Florence”. Marriage, Dowry, and Citizenship in Late Medieval and Renaissance Italy, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018, pp. 55-73. https://doi.org/10.3138/9781442664517-005

7. Muusers, Christianne: A Recipe for Italian Crostini from the 16th Century: . Published online January 28th, 2005. https://coquinaria.nl/en/panunto/

 

The Fashion Is the Fashion 4: The Journey of Romeo and Juliet

I’ve seen four live productions of Romeo and Juliet, (5 if you include West Side Story). I’ve also watched four films (6 if you include West Side Story and Gnomio and Juliet) and one thing that I’ve noticed again and again, and again is that you can tell the whole story of the play with clothing. This is a story about families who are part of opposite factions whose children secretly meet, marry, die, and fuse the families into one, and their clothes can show each step of that journey.

The feud
Nearly every story about a conflict or war uses contrasting colors to show the different factions. Sometimes even real wars become famous for the clothes of the opposing armies. The Revolutionary War between the redcoats and the blue and gold Continentals, the American Civil War between the Rebel Grays and the Yankee Bluebellies. In almost every production I’ve ever seen, the feud in Romeo and Juliet is also demonstrated by the opposing factions wearing distinctive clothing.

Guelphs and Ghibellines - Wikipedia


Historically, warring factions in Itally during the period the original Romeo and Juliet is set, wore distinctive clothes and banners as well. . In this medieval drawing, you can see Italians in the Ghibelline faction, who were loyal to the Holy Roman Empire, fighting the Guelph faction (red cross), who supported the Pope. Powerful families were constantly fighting and taking sides in the Guelf vs. ghibelines conflict in Verona, which might have inspired the Capulet Montegue feud in Romeo and Juliet.


Even the servants of the nobles got roped into these conflicts, and they literally wore their loyalties on their sleeves. The servants wore a kind of uniform or livery to show what household they belonged to. The servants Gregory and Sampson owe their jobs to Lord Capulet, and are willing to fight to protect his honor. Perhaps Shakespeare started the play with these servants to make this distinction very obvious. Here’s a short overview on Italian Liveries from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86582


In 1966, director Franco Zepherelli set a trend with his iconic use of color in his movie. He chose to make the Capulets wear warm tones while the Montegues wore blue and silver. Juliet (Olivia Hussey) wore a gorgeous red dress that made her look youthful, passionate, and lovely, while Tybalt (Michael York), wore red, orange, and black to emphasize his anger, and jealousy (which has been associated for centuries with the color orange). By contrast, the Montagues like Romeo (Leonard Whiting) wore blue, making him look peaceful and cool. These color choices not only clearly indicate who belongs to which contrasting factions, but also help telegraph the character’s personalities. Look at the way these costumes make the two lovers stand out even when they’re surrounded by people at the Capulet ball:

Dance scene from the iconic 1968 film of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Franco Zeffirelli.
Gnomeo & Juliet - Wikipedia


Zepherilli’s color choices were most blatantly exploited in the kids film Gnomio and Juliet, where they did away with the names Capulet and Montegue altogether, and just called the two groups of gnomes the Reds and the Blues.

The Dance


To get Romeo and Juliet to meet and fall in love, Shakespeare gives them a dance scene for them to meet and fall in love. He further makes it clear that when they first meet, Romeo is in disguise. The original source Shakespeare used made the dance a carnival ball, (which even today is celebrated in Italy with masks). Most productions today have Romeo wearing a mask or some other costume so that he is not easily recognizable as a Montague. Masks are a big part of Italian culture, especially in Venice during Carnival:


In the 1996 movie, Baz Luhrman creates a bacchanal costume party, where nobody wears masks but the costumes help telegraph important character points. Mercutio is dressed in drag, which not only displays his vibrant personality but also conveniently distracts everyone from the fact that Romeo is at the Capulet party with no mask on.


Capulet is dressed like a Roman emperor, which emphasizes his role as the patriarch of the Capulet family. Juliet (Claire Danes) is dressed as an angel, to emphasize the celestial imagery Shakespeare uses to describe her. Finally, Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) is dressed as a crusader knight because of the dialogue in the play when he first meets Juliet:

Romeo. [To JULIET] If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:720
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Juliet. Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,725
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.
Romeo. Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
Juliet. Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
Romeo. O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.730
Juliet. Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.
Romeo. Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged.
Juliet. Then have my lips the sin that they have took.
Romeo. Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!735
Give me my sin again.
Juliet. You kiss by the book. Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene V, Lines 719-737.

Notice that Romeo calls Juliet a saint, and later an angel in the famous balcony scene, which explains her costume at the ball. Juliet refers to Romoe as a Pilgrim, which is a cheeky comment on his crusader knight costume. In the Crusades, crusader knights made pilgrimages to the holy land, with the hope that God (and presumably, his angels) would forgive their sins. Romeo’s name even means “Pilgrim.” Luhrman makes clever nods to Shakespeare’s text by dressing Romeo and Juliet in this way, and gives the dialogue a bit of a playful roleplay as the characters make jokes about each other’s costumes- Romeo hopes that he will go on a pilgrimage and that this angel will take his sin with a kiss.


In Gnomio and Juliet, the titular characters meet in a different kind of disguise. Rather than going to a dance with their family, they are both simultaneously trying to sneak into a garden and steal a flower, so they are both wearing black, ninja-inspired outfits. Their black clothing helps them meet and interact without fear of retribution from their parents (since they do not yet know that they are supposed to be enemies. The ninja clothes also establishes that for these two gnomes, love of adventure unites them. Alas though, it doesn’t last; Juliet finds out that Gnomio is a Blue, when they both accidentally fall in a pool, stripping their warpaint off and revealing who they are.

Trailer for “West Side Story,” (2021) directed by Steven Spielberg.


Sometimes the dance shows a fundamental difference between the lovers and the feuding factions. West Side Story is a 20th-century musical that re-imagines the feuding families as juvenile street gangs, who like their Veronese counterparts, wear contrasting colors. The Jets (who represent the Montagues) wear Blue and yellow, while the Sharks (Capulets), wear red and black. The gang members continue wearing these colors on the night of the high school dance, except for Tony and Maria (the Romeo and Juliet analogs). In most productions I’ve seen, (including the 2021 movie), these young lovers wear white throughout the majority of the play, to emphasize the purity of their feelings, and their rejection of violence. Thus, unlike Shakespeare’s version of the story, West Side Story makes the lovers unquestionably purer are more peaceful than Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and their clothing makes this clear.

Romeo (John Warren), meets Juliet (Alesia Lawson) in the 2010 Ashland University production of “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Ric Goodwin.

The Merging of the family
(8:30-11:00)


Costume Designer Charlene in the 2006 AU production deliberately had the characters change clothes when they get married. Juliet was wearing the same iconic red dress as Olivia Hussey for the first two acts of the play but then changed into a pale blue gown that matches Romeo. The clothes re-enforce the idea that the marriage represents Romeo and Juliet abandoning their family’s conflicts, and simply showing their true colors.

Two sets of costumes for Juliet in the 2006 Ashland University Production. Pull the slider bar left to see how Juliet’s costume changes from the start of the show to the end.


Another way of getting everyone in the family to subconsciously unite in grief would be to costume everyone wearing black except Romeo and Juliet. At the end of the play, The Capulets are already mourning Juliet, (because she faked her death in Act IV), and the Montegues are already mourning Lady Montegue (who died offstage). Just by these circumstances, everyone could come onstage wearing black, uniting in their grief, which is further solidified when they see their children dead onstage.

Not all productions choose to costume the characters like warring factions, but nevertheless, any theatrical production’s costumes must telegraph something about the characters. In these production slides for a production I worked on in 2012, the costumes reflect the distinct personality of each character and show a class difference between the Montagues and the Capulets.


The 2013 Film: Costumes Done Badly


The 2013 movie is more concerned with showing off the beauty of the actor’s faces, and the literal jewels than the clothes:

Most of the actors and costumes are literally in the dark for most of the film, probably because the film was financed by the Swarofski Crystal company, who literally wanted the film to sparkle. Ultimately, like most jewelry, I thought the film was pretty to look at, but the costumes and cinematography had little utilitarian value. The costumes and visual didn’t tell the story efficiently, but mainly was designed to distract the audience with the beauty of the sets, costumes and the attractive young actors. The only thing I liked was a subtle choice to make Juliet’s mask reminiscent of Medusa, the monster in Greek Myth, who could turn people to stone with a look. I liked that the film was subtly implying that love, at first sight, can be lethal.

Happy Twelfth Day Of Christmas!

Happy Twelfth Night and farewell to the Christmas season!

This weekend I am offering a special discount on my class on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night! You can take the course at a $5 discount with coupon code HTHESNIF6B5 until Jan 13, 2022. Go to   https://outschool.com/classes/what-was-christmas-like-for-william-shakespeare-BwVLyBPp?usid=MaRDyJ13&signup=true&utm_campaign=share_activity_link and enter the coupon code at checkout.

Finally, here’s a short musical interlude from the movie version of Twelfth Night: Ben Kingsley singing “O Mistress Mine,” from Twelfth Night:

Happy Twelfth Night, and enjoy your cakes and ale responsibly!

More Twelfth Night Posts:

1. Play of the Month: Twelfth Night

2. Creating a Character: Malvolio

3. The duelling scene in Twelfth Night

4. The Fashion is the Fashion: Twelfth Night

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (2021)

Trailer for Globe Theater’s 2021 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

What do you think of when you think of “Shakespeare?” What do you think of when you think of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream?” 

    Ruffs and Tights?

    Mostly white dudes?

    Elizabethan music?

    Dark night and moon?

This production, directed by Michelle Terry, is gleefully throwing out every preconceived notion of what A Midsummer Night’s Dream can or should be. In terms of design, casting, music, and interpretation, it breaks all the rules, while still remaining true to the text. This allows the production to appeal to not only hard-core Shakespeare fans, but first time audiences and children too!

I got to see this production thanks to the Globe’s online streaming library. My mother kindly shared me a link to this recording from the summer of 2021. You can watch it yourself on: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/watch/#full-length-productions

I would describe the concept behind the show as “Suggestive,” that is, it doesn’t belong to a literal time and place. Even though the play is set in Ancient Greece, the play refuses to be constrained by historical accuracy, which arguably, fits nicely with Shakespeare in particular, and the Globe itself; a modern building in a modern city, based on a 400-year-old building.

The music and costumes evoke a New Orleans Mardis Gras, a Pride parade, or a Spanish pinata with its bright colors, heavy use of fringes, and bright, energetic jazz music. The only people who don’t wear bright colors are the four lovers, which reflects their continuous frustration with being unable to marry the person they really want.

The show is also Color blind and gender blind, with women playing men’s parts and a cast with black, white, and mixed race actors. Terry’s direction also calls attention to the patriarchial, racist, and sexist elements of Athens which are often overlooked in other interpretations of Dream that I’ve seen or read about. Rather than being a hero, Theseus is a horny old man in a ludicrous pink uniform, looking like a cross between M. Bison and a Christmas nutcracker. To reinforce this point, the actor chose to perform one of Theseus’ most patriarchial speeches as a joke:

Theseus. What say you, Hermia? be advised fair maid:50
To you your father should be as a god;
One that composed your beauties, yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax
By him imprinted and within his power
To leave the figure or disfigure it. -Midsummer Night's Dream, Act I, Scene i.

I’ve seen this speech heavily cut and played seriously, but never till now did I see it played to ridicule the ludicrous notion that women are in any way bound to worship their fathers.

In another nod to contemporary gender politics, the actress who plays Hippolyta and Titania chose to perform her role on crutches. As far as I can tell, this was a deliberate choice and not a result of real injury. There is a precedent for this: In 1984, Sir Antony Sher performed Richard iii on crutches because it highlighted the cruelty people with disabilities often suffer.

I could be wrong, but I think that the reason the actress was on crutches was a symbolic way of confronting the way gender politics can cripple women.

Many scholars have pointed out how Hippolyta rarely speaks despite the fact that she is supposed to be the powerful Queen of the Amazons, and Theseus’ fiance besides. Shakespeare makes it clear that their marriage was arranged as a political alliance after the Amazons lost to Athens in a war:

Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword,
And won thy love, doing thee injuries;20
But I will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph and with revelling.

With this in mind, it makes sense to have Hippolyta on crutches as a result of her injuries. Those injuries might also explain her silence; she has lost her agency now that she is essentially Theseus’ prisoner. One might think of any number of war atrocious where women have been sold to powerful men over the centuries. In short, by putting Hippolyta on crutches, we see a glimpse into her tragic story that most productions just gloss over- that she has lost a war, been separated from her people, and is now her enemies’ prisoner through marriage.

I’ve come to expect high quality acting from The Globe Theater Company and this cast did not disappoint. As we watched it together, my family concluded that this was one of the best acted productions of Dream that we’ve ever seen, which between us has to be over 30 plus productions.

The delivery is crisp and fast paced. Every actor has taken these words and made them their own. They speak them as if they were written yesterday. One thing I love about the Globe is that the directors encourage this kind of fast paced delivery; with no distracting special effects or sets, the actors have to captivate the audience with their delivery of Shakespeare’s text, without being melodramatic or self-indulgent. I’m pleased to say that this cast does a fantastic job of telling this magical story in a compelling and very modern way.

I’ve shown my recording to kids, teens, adults, and my family, and everyone has a different reaction to the show. Maybe this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but the concept is sound, the acting is high caliber, and it utilizes the Globe’s unique qualities extremely well. 




I personally didn’t care for Bottom just because I felt the actress was playing a very energetic part with too much sarcasm and tongue in cheek, but that’s mostly personal preference. I did however love Peter Quince, Snout, Snug, and the rest of the Mechanicals. Peter Quince is a rather thankless part but it’s great to see someone balance being a straight man trying to reign in Bottom’s antics. and an idiot who has no idea how to direct a company of actors, which the actress playing Quince did very well.

Resources for Teachers and Students: A Visit To Elizabethan London

I’m working on several educational projects at the moment and I’m proud to share this one with you. It’s what I call a virtual tour of Shakespeare’s London. The teacher I’m working with said she wanted to teach the kids about the culture of Elizabethan London as he was writing Romeo and Juliet. Naturally with the pandemic a field trip was out of the question, (for multiple reasons), but I wanted to create a visually interesting tour of the places Shakespeare knew and worked and try to imagine his perspective and how that might have informed the characters and themes of Romeo and Juliet.

So I created this: a website written as if Shakespeare himself is taking you on a tour of his London in the year 1593, the year where, as far as we know, he had just completed writing Romeo and Juliet. 1593 was also the middle of another outbreak of Bubonic Plague. It has virtual tours of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Hampton Court Palace, Shakespeare’s Grammar School, and a quiz where you can pretend you’re in the Elizabethan doctor’s office.

For the class I’m helping, the students will fill out a worksheet as they navigate the website so they learn from the material at their own pace. If you’re interested, leave a comment and I’ll post the worksheet so you can use it in your classroom.

My hope is that this website can be a resource for anyone trying to connect with Romeo and Juliet and trying to learn from the culture of Elizabethan London. Shakespeare was a product of his time and his experiences must have had an influence on what he wrote. Even if they didn’t, they certainly influenced the people who saw the play and he knew that it would. So I hope it can help you understand a little bit more about the world of this famous play, and the context of the world that created it.

How to Throw a Fairies Themed Midsummer Night Dream Party (Quarantine Safe Edition)

Happy Midsummer everyone! Wednesday June 24rth is the Midsummer festival, which means as you go to sleep that night, I wish you all Midsummer Night Dreams! Before that though, I welcome you to party like it’s the court of King Oberon, and here are some ideas:

Background: What Are Fairies?

The story of Fairies has many authors that come from multiple folkloric traditions. The Greeks had nymphs, the Romans had cupid, and the English and Germans had…



1.  According to Paracelsus, fairies are elemental spirits that help control the Earth’s four elements: Silfs (air), gnomes (Earth), Salamanders (fire), and  Undines (water).
2. In some versions, they are household creatures that interact with humans
3. Some cultures call them demoted Angels, not good enough for Heaven, but not bad enough for Hell.

So you can see there are lots of traditions that contribute to our modern concept of the fairy, and plenty of ideas to adapt into your party!

Part One: The Invitation:

There’s a ton of free fairy clip art and fairy designs online. Below is an invitation I created for free with an app called Canva and a parchment background picture I found online.

1. Pixie invitations
2. Immortal Longings

Second card design I created on Canva.

You probably also know that I am a huge fan of the website Immortal Longings because of their excellent Shakespearean art and they sell cards too. You can buy the cards or download the pictures on their website.

Shakespearean Greeting Cards from Immortal Longings.com


Part Two: Decorations
Fairy

Fairy Dens Right now the Royal Shakespeare Company is making DIY Fairy decorations including a Fairy Den that you can share with your family and friends:

What is a Fairy Den? Fairies in folklore are closely tied to the Ancient Celts and Druids, who believed that Fairies live in hollow places underground. A fairy den is a homemade den that imitates the ancient fairy hollows.

Workshop on Fairy Dens and Fairy Lanterns: https://youtu.be/KC7CbPPIrjs

Fairy lights from IKEA

In addition to fairy dens, there are tons of fairy lights, fairy coloring books, and other fairy crafts you can find. Here is a fairy lantern my wife made using pickle jars!

First paint the jars with white paint and cut out paper fairies to paste around the inside of the jar (we used tackey glue). You can also stick star stickers on the inside of the jars.
For added realism, you can glue fake moss to the bottom of the jar. We got this from our local dollar store.
Put a small battery powered LED light inside.
Turn on the LED lights and take the lanterns somewhere dark.
Detail of the fairy lights.



Part ThreeThe Feast

Since the Fairies in Midsummer are woodland spirits, almost any forest or camping themed recipes can be adapted. Here are some ideas that my wife and I made for our own fairy themed party.

Snail sandwiches

Hedgehog cheese ball.


Hedgehog cheese ball:

Fruit wands with yogurt dip


Dessert

Chocolate GardenCake from How to Cook That: https://youtu.be/JidhdxiSsnQ

Fairy bread: For those of you who don’t live in Australia or New Zealand, Fairy bread is white bread covered in

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/80934/fairy-bread/

Homemade Fairy bread

 

Music

  • Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies

Games

1.  Pin the tail on the Bottom.

2. Love potion: Similar to follow the leader or musical chairs. A group of people lie down and pretend to sleep. Then someone plays Puck by putting a real or pretend flower in one of the player’s hands. The Puck then yells “Awake,” and sets a timer or plays some music. The object of the game is for everyone to chase after the flower and get it before time runs out.

Costumes:

Make some printable donkey masks for Bottom, flower crowns for the fairies, and don’t forget your wings!

Well, that’s my advice, happy  Midsummer everyone!

Sources:
Tolkein, JRR. On Fairy Stories