The lesson is simple and terrifying and so big it's like a forest you just can’t see.
It’s the first day of class. Maybe it high school or college. Snow is on the ground or the quad is bathed in spring sunlight and youthful voices intrude into the silence. You look at their faces. The driven ones have their notebooks open, or these days, their computers out and they have claimed the seats near the outlets.
They want a fact with which to begin. So you give it to them: a set of dates. The first one is hazy, as origins always are. Shakespeare’s Stage. It starts, well, who knows really—but the convention is to tie it to an artifact, to the appearance of spaces dedicated to putting on plays, not church plays, or school plays, not carts or in Inns, places like the The Curtain (1576).
But 1576 is probably late. No doubt the first ones fell apart and vanished in a flurry of comic pratfalls: benches splitting, actors hitting their marks and falling through the floor, all to the sounds of whores who were far better at faking it than the best boy actor in a wig. You ask them to keep that in mind when they read Cleopatra’s recoil at the thought of such a degradation before she puts the asp to her breast.
Better they should just scribble down something like “golden age of Ren drama starts @ mid sixteenth century” and then a dash.
But the end point is easy: 1642. The year the puritans shut the theaters down and denied Satan his pulpit. They reopen again in 1660 when the King is back on the throne. But everything is different.
Now you ask them a simple question: In your course of reading English literature when do you face another confrontation with drama. They stare back. If you are lucky somebody has been made to study the Restoration: Congreve, Dryden, the women studies major retrieves Aphra Behn. Who am I kidding? They just stare back.
And if you are teaching well that day, it hits them. When Shakespeare started to spend time back in Stratford, he knew his remakes were on the way out. By the 1630’s only about five of his 40 or so plays were still in active rotation. A new generation was coming up. And then the Puritans put a stop to it.
When does theater come back?
Vladimer, do you think he will come? Who-Godot??
Upon entering the USA: I have nothing to declare but my genius (Wilde).
Like Osiris, Shakespeare’s body, his community, was ripped up and scattered to the winds. But here and there, it took root, wherever art could take root, and but there is no denying the centuries of loss.
I am going to do a final blog on Shakespeare and his music and then write some on Jane Austen.
Causes Matthew Biberman Supports