WSG 30th Anniversary Commonplace Book

As regular readers of this blog will know, the WSG is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017 (the date is a little bit hazy – it was so long ago! – but it is generally agreed that our panel at BSECS 1987 was our first meaningful action). As part of the celebrations, WSG has not only instituted a bursary, but is in the process of compiling and editing a volume intended to be a reflection of its members’ 30 years of research and activism.  Edited by Carolyn Williams, Sara Read and Louise Duckling and with a working title of the Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 Commonplace Book, it will comprise a mixture of short research articles, reminiscences, interviews and poems by members past and present.  Those interested in the upcoming book can get a taste of it by listening to Elaine Hobby, Professor of Seventeenth-Century Studies at Loughborough University and a long-time associate of WSG, in conversation with Sara Read in a separate blog post later this month.

Commonplacing was a common knowledge-making practice during the early modern period whereby people would write short extracts or digests from their reading into books under topical headings.  These could be poetry, prose, quotations, proverbs, letters and prayers, which the compiler could then reference and recombine.  Books could be kept for pragmatic as well as recreational reasons.  Men such as Francis Bacon and John Locke famously wrote about and kept commonplace books, but women kept them too, and in recent years much work has been done on a closely related genre, the recipe book, to which the whole household might contribute.  Some thought the practice of commonplacing a cause for concern, because it would encourage superficial reading.

The commonplace book as a discursive practice arguably reached its peak during the early modern period but commonplacing is by its very nature also highly personal and has continued in various forms into the Romantic period and the present day.  WSG’s Commonplace Book will be a printed rather than manuscript form, but it will reflect the collaborative, interdisciplinary, unruly, highly mobile forms of interaction and support WSG has encouraged over the years. We hope to see it published in 2018.

Cheryll Duncan: Reflections from the Globe Theatre

This summer the WSG annual outing was to the Globe Theatre, where a Study Day had been organised by WSG member Miriam Al Jamil in association with Globe Education. The event consisted of a visit to the theatre’s Library and Archive, followed by a performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (on until 5 August). WSG member Cheryll Duncan reflects on the trip:

The Globe’s Library and Archive is a research facility for academic scholars and theatre practitioners: the Library comprises several collections of books broadly concerning Shakespeare studies and theatre history, while the Archive’s holdings relate entirely to the history of the current theatrical site. In view of the pivotal role that research played in the Globe reconstruction project from the outset, and its continued importance in shaping the theatre’s work today, it comes as something of a surprise to find the collections are housed in a very modest building indeed. There are plans for a new, purpose-built library in the future, but with current space at a premium there is little opportunity for even the most significant items to be exhibited. We were therefore fortunate in that an interesting cross-selection of materials had been put together especially for our visit by Archivist Victoria Lane.

Mark Rylance’s costume for Olivia, Twelfth Night (2012)

A magnificent black velvet dress worn by Mark Rylance in the role of Olivia (Twelfth Night, 2012 production) from the ‘Original Practices’ Clothes Archive was the most striking item on display. This collection consists of garments created from historically-informed textiles and techniques for use in specific original practice productions. As the Globe’s first Artistic Director, Rylance is a dominant presence in the archives; among the more personal items available for us to look at was a letter from Eddie Redmayne in 2002, regretfully declining the role he had been offered because he wanted to complete his Cambridge degree. We watched an extract from the Moving Image Archive, which holds recordings of all productions at the Globe and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (only available to view on site). Several performances of each play are recorded using multiple static cameras set at different angles to the stage, thereby capturing not only a range of audience viewpoints but the arc of an entire production.

Other materials from the Performance Archive include prompt books, photographs, posters, programmes and press reviews, a selection of which was assembled for us to peruse. Among the many interesting books from the library collections is Salvador Dali’s illustrated Macbeth, Ellen Terry’s Four Lectures on Shakespeare (with her own annotations), and recent publications by the Globe’s in-house academic researchers, including Will Tosh whose particular interest concerns gender identity in the early modern period.

As an unexpected bonus, English folklore expert Jon Kaneko-James gave us a tour of the theatre’s current exhibition. This comprises an art installation and exhibits relating to Renaissance ideas about alchemical structures and transformations, which is a particular interest of Rylance and informed the experimental 1991 production of The Tempest. Jon also gave a fascinating talk about alchemy, emphasizing its significance as a democratizing force and citing the large number of self-taught women practitioners in Elizabethan England.

The day concluded with a performance of Twelfth Night, part of the Globe’s ‘Summer of Love’ season and the last to be directed by Emma Rice. Her view of the play will not endear her to Shakespearean traditionalists, yet the result was insightful on a number of different levels and hugely engaging, as was testified by the rapt attention of a packed (and largely youthful) audience.

This production takes the kind of irreverent approach to Shakespeare that an audience of the eighteenth century might have enjoyed; there are lots of amusing interpolations to the text, and the dramatic structure is subverted by an invented Prologue depicting a shipwreck, which contextualises Act 1: scene 2. From the opening dance routine where white-clad sailors sing the 1979 hit song ‘We are Family’ by Sister Sledge, music plays a very significant role in this production; Ian Ross’s score is an expertly executed tour de force ranging from Highland jigs to calypsos, hard rock, disco, punk, folk, Argentinian tango and much more. Such eclecticism surely keeps faith with Shakespeare, who calls for a wide variety of music in Twelfth Night – not as incidental to the play, but as integral to its larger dramatic considerations (though for a dissenting opinion, but still rapturous review, see Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph).

In the same way, Rice’s lengthy afterpiece with its semaphore dance routine might be seen as a homage to the traditional Elizabethan jig, though in this case with music in place of the traditional spoken text. The production plays on the gender fluidity that lies at the heart of the play by, for example, casting Feste (performed by impressive bass-baritone Le Gâteau Chocolat) as a bearded, be-sequined drag queen. The role of Malvolio is taken by the diminutive Katy Owen, dressed as a moustachioed boy and sporting a pronounced Welsh accent. There are pantomimic elements, certainly – the cheeky entrance of Sir Andrew Aguecheek (who wears a pink Pringle sweater and talks with a lisp) is itself worth the price of a ticket – but there is much more to this production than mere high-spirited, anarchic misrule. I enjoyed it immensely, but also found it illuminating and deeply thought-provoking, and have already booked to see it again.

Reminder: WSG November seminar 2016

WSG’s second seminar of the academic year takes place in a little over a week at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, starting promptly at 1pm and finishing at 4pm.  Doors open at 12.30. Directions for getting to the Museum can be found here.  All seminars are free and open to the public, though refreshments will cost £2 to those who aren’t WSG members.  Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum afterwards.

For the November session organiser Carolyn Williams has put together talks on texts, images and objects and the strong emotions they provoke…

Saturday 19th November, 2016. Chair: TBC
Valerie SchutteCelebrating the 500th Birthday of Queen Mary I in Manuscript Images.
Emma NewportInterplay and Interpretation: Lady Banks’s “Dairy Book” and the collection and collation of Chinese Porcelain.
Chrisy Dennis“We were born to grace society: but not to be its slaves”: Chivalry and Revolution in Mary Robinson’s Hubert de Sevrac, A Romance of the Eighteenth Century (1796).

Valerie Schutte: 500th anniversary of Mary I

Sarah Duncan and Valerie Schutte (eds), front cover, Birth of a Queen (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)
Sarah Duncan and Valerie Schutte (eds), front cover, Birth of a Queen (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)

Independent historian and WSG member Valerie Schutte and her co-author Sarah Duncan have edited a new collection of essays on Queen Mary I for the 500th anniversary of her birth in 1516.  Entitled The Birth of a Queen, the collection reflects on Mary’s life, tumultuous reign, death and “cultural afterlife”.

Valerie has spoken at previous WSG seminars and her book Mary I and the Art of Book Dedications was also published by Palgrave in its Queenship and Power series earlier this year.  She’ll be talking about aspects of her work in the next WSG seminar, at the Foundling Museum on 19th November 2016, along with Emma Newport on Sarah Sophia Banks and Chrisy Dennis on Mary Robinson.

Felicity Roberts: Mary Delany and her collages

Front cover of Materializing Gender (Routledge, 2016)A new book edited by Jennifer Germann and Heidi Strobel, Materializing Gender in Eighteenth-Century Europe, has recently been published by Routledge.  The collection was actually seen through the press by Ashgate USA’s Margaret Michniewicz, until Ashgate’s acquisition by Routledge.  Margaret is now pursuing new projects as Bloomsbury’s Visual Arts/Art History Acquisitions Editor, and she tweets as @BburyViaAshg8.  Expect some exciting announcements from her account soon.

Materializing Gender includes essays on the needle artist Mary Linwood (see her fantastic portrait of Napoleon at the V&A here), and almanacs, mantillas, guns and silver, amongst objects, as well as WSG member Felicity Roberts’ chapter on the eighteenth-century gentlewoman Mary Delany whose hybrid scientific and art practices included diary- and letter-writing, botanising, shellwork, collaging, needlework, and the writing of a novella.  Felicity explores how Delany’s class and gender shaped her serious botanical interests, and how she expressed and shaped this complex subject position through her famous flower collages and novella.  Felicity hopes to follow up her interest in Mary Delany with a wider study of women, natural history and material culture in the long eighteenth century soon.  Beginning with Charlotte Smith’s ‘Beachy Head‘… what do readers think? What other ‘hybrid’ literary, art and scientific works are there in this period?