Sunday, July 25, 2010

2009 Oberon yearbook available from Blurb

The 2009 Oberon Shakespeare Study Group 92-page yearbook is now available from Blurb. The yearbook is a compendium of blog posts and color photos from the Oberon blog during the calendar year 2009. The cost of a paperback copy is $30 plus shipping. The book is available for the public to order at:
You can see a 29-page preview of the book by clicking on this URL: or by clicking on the words BOOK PREVIEW in the yearbook "badge" in the sidebar on the right of this page. When viewing the preview, if you click on the FULL SCREEN option in the upper right corner of the preview screen you will see the book in a bigger picture on your screen.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Duha eliminated as MSF managing director

Michigan Shakespeare Festival Managing Director Robert B. Duha told Oberon members at our July 21, 2010 meeting that he will no longer serve as managing director of the festival as of August 8, after two seasons in this position. Duha said he tendered his resignation after being informed that he would be laid-off at the end of the current MSF season. Duha said the festival's new artistic director, Jan Blixt, will probably take over as both managing and artistic director and that the president of the MSF board, certified public accountant John Cross, has taken over as executive director. Loss of funding is one of the factors in the management change, including the loss of a $60,000 Weatherwax Foundation grant that reduced the current budget by approximately sixteen-percent.

Oberon Chairperson Tom Hunter expressed our deep dismay at Duha's dismissal because he has been such a good friend. Hunter proclaimed Duha an honorary Oberon member. Duha said he hopes to continue his association with our group.

Duha said he is hopeful for the future of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, adding that Jan Blixt has a five-year-plan that includes a deep commitment to educational outreach.

MSF High School Monologue Contest at 11 a.m. July 31, 2010
One aspect of MSF's educational outreach, the annual High School Monologue Contest, will culminate at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 31 in the Michael Baughman Theater at the Potter Center on Jackson Community College campus at 211 Eamons Road, Jackson MI. Regional winners will compete by reading a two-minute monologue from a Shakespeare play. Judges are Jan Blixt, Terry Pow, and Betsy Davis.

Richard Joyrich presents Comedy of Errors talk at 6:30 p.m. July 31, 2010
Oberon members plan to attend the monologue contest finals and will stay for the Romeo & Juliet matinee at 2 p.m. and evening performance of Comedy of Errors at 7:30 p.m. Oberon member Richard Joyrich will present an informative talk on Comedy of Errors at 6:30 p.m. in the Michael Baughman Theater lobby. We hope you will consider joining us for a day of Shakespearean surfeit.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Apparently Sarah Palin compared herself to the Bard yesterday on Twitter defending her use of the non-word refudiate saying: ". . . English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!" The Twitter community responded with a #shakespalin subject featuring suitably fractured Shakespearean quotes, according to the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog entry "'Refudiate' Sparks #ShakesPalin Trend on Twitter"" authored by Michelle Kung and the Washington Post's Politics and Policy blog entry "Palin invents word 'refudiate,' compares herself to Shakespeare" by Matt DeLong. Check it out on Twitter.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Michigan Shakespeare Festival Opens

I was happy to be in Jackson for the official opening of the 2010 Season of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival yesterday. I attended the first (of two) preview performances of The Comedy of Errors and the opening night performance of Romeo and Juliet. Both productions were good (in my own opinion), but Romeo and Juliet was much better.

Perhaps this is part due to the fact that R&J is "better" play, or is tragedy (although structured as a comedy until the very end). Shakespearean comedies (especially the "early ones") are more difficult (in my opinion again) to stage properly. They are full of long passages of puns and somewhat obscure allusions (to modern ears) as well as references to law, classical works, "aristocratic" interests, etc.

These puns and allusions would go over much better for performances at the royal court, at private houses (of the wealthy) or in the Inns of the Temple (law schools such as Gray's Inn) and I am convinced that these comedies were written for these venues. In fact, I'm not sure that these plays (I'm thinking particularly of Comedy of Errors, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Loves' Labours' Lost) were EVER performed on the "public stage". There are no records of such performances (although, admittedly, there were better records kept of court performances and much of our knowledge of the performances of plays come from entries in diaries of the time [which were usually kept by the more educated people in the society who would probably see the plays at such venues as the royal court, private houses, or the Inns of the Temple]).

The first two of these plays were never printed until the First Folio in 1623, again suggesting (to me) that there was not much call for them from the public (who would, presumably, not have seen them). In opposition to this argument however is the fact that LLL was published in Quarto form (in 1598) and, moreover, was the first such "Shakespeare" play to actually have the author's name attached ("newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespeare"). All three of these plays WERE mentioned by Francis Meres in 1598 in his list of plays by Shakespeare.

In any case, the presence of these comedic elements in the plays is very problematic for a modern director, which makes these plays (in my opinion) more difficult. In the present case (at Jackson) the director (as far as I could tell from his bio in the program) has never directed Shakespeare before (although he has done some "classical" work) so maybe he found himself particularly challenged.

His solution to the problem is much the same as that used by many Shakespearean directors facing this problem. It is to "do the jokes fast" and "cover them up" with music or funny accents or other stage business. This kind of "dumbs the play down" for the audience since it is basically telling them, "Yes, we know you won't get any or these jokes, so just believe us that they are funny and don't even bother trying to listen to the words." In fact, in the performance I saw last night, the actor playing Dromio of Ephesus (or maybe Syracuse, it's hard to tell them apart, you know), after delivering one of these stream of puns and allusions (it is usually the "lower class or servant" characters who do these) actually says to the audience, "These are the jokes, folks." I don't know if this was an ad lib by the actor or was intended by the director (I suspect the latter).

Well, anyway, I DID see a preview performance, so I will wait to see the performance on July 31 (when some of the "rough edges" may be gone).

On the other hand, the performance of Romeo and Juliet was very good. This is in part due to it being the "flagship" production of the MSF season (it has the most performances) and to it being directed by someone with a lot more experience with Shakespeare. Of course it was "trimmed" a little (you pretty much have to do that with Shakespeare in order to fit it into a manageable performance time). I particularly liked the way the director "juggled and partially cut down a few scenes" in order to perform much of Act III, scene 3 (leaving out the presence of the Nurse) and the last half of Act III, scene 2 at essentially the same time (by having them take place at opposite ends of the stage and moving back and forth between them, a few lines at a time). These are basically scenes right after the murder of Tybalt where Friar Lawrence is comforting Romeo and the Nurse is comforting Juliet. I liked the parallel nature of these scenes (the father and mother figures). All in all, a very enjoyable performance.

I remind Oberoners that we are planning a "group outing" to see both of these productions on July 31 and we (well, mostly I) will be doing a "Bard Talk" at 6:30 before the performance of Comedy of Errors at 7:30. I hope to see you all there.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Oxfordian Verily Anderson Paget passes to eternity

Derran Charlton reports sad news from England:

It is with the deepest regret that I notify readers of the Oberon Shakespeare Study Group of the passing through nature to eternity of Verily Anderson Paget, aged 95.
Verily died at her Norfolk, England home July 16, 2010 in her own bed, of a suspected heart-attack -- truly a blessing.
I was speaking to her only the day before. Verily was as fit as a fiddle. She explained that during her upcoming medical, her doctor would probably congratulate her on her excellent health!
Verily was extremely robust, always travelling abroad. She had recently returned home from the Hermitage, Russia, after singing with her local choir. Prince Charles awarded her a cycling award for her charitable works, and Charlton Ogburn, Jr. gave her the Charlton Ogburn award for her many contributions to Oxfordianism. One of Verily`s many enthusiasms in life was to walk her guide-dog Alfie, most days, half-a-mile down the drive to Templewood, and through her glorious ancient woodlands.
Verily must have been the oldest surviving Oxfordian, having been introduced to the cause by her first husband, Captain Donald Clive Anderson, over 70 years ago. In fact, her beloved husband, a playwright, poet, player, and play-producer had been a close friend and ardent supporter of John Thomas Looney (1870-1944).
Verily`s close friends ranged from Royalty, the Queen and her family, Princess Diana, Princes William and Harry named in honor of William Shakespeare and King Henry V. Her immediate relations included archbishops, statesmen, military leaders, lord lieutenants, poet laureates, international musicians, winners of Victoria Crosses and Noble Peace Prizes. Her second husband, Paul Paget, was the Surveyor of St. Paul`s - a position previously held by Sir Christopher Wren. He was also the restorer of many of Wren`s churches following the 1939 war. Her first-cousin was Antarctic explorer Robert Scott. Charles Darwin was her great-great-great-uncle. Florence Nightingale was a great-great-great-aunt. One of her cousins, now living in Castle Hedingham, owned the Elizabethan manor-house that originally belonged to Horatio Vere, at Tilbury-Juxta-Clare. Her ancesstors included the Duchess of Derby, as portrayed in the film The Duchess. Verily`s traceable family history dated from 932.
Verily, together with Sir Derek Jacobi, were the joint-Patrons of the De Vere Society. She was a prolific writer, having written 53 published books and films, including her Oxfordian endeavor The de Veres of Castle HedinghamOnly two days ago, she told me that she had just completed her fifty-third book A History of Herstmonceaux Castle (where she had lived following the war) for the University of Canada.
Verily leaves four daughters and one son Edward, who was deliberately named in honor of Edward de Vere and christened in the same 1563 church in Stoke Newington where Edward de Vere`s son Henry had been christened.
Her sudden death has come as a tremendous shock to all who were truly blessed by her extraordinary life and personality.
A true Renaissance Lady has passed our way. We are all deeply inspired and most grateful for her life.
Derran Charlton

More information:

SF/SOS Annual conference agenda from SF President Earl Showerman

Shakespeare Fellowship President Earl Showerman sent this report on the annual joint conference of the Shakespeare Fellowship and the Shakespeare Authorship Society.
For more information about conference accommodations, see Ashland SF/SOS Conference Registration on the SOS News Online site.

The Ashland Authorship Conference
September 16–19, 2010
Ashland Springs Hotel
by Earl Showerman

The program for sixth annual joint conference of the Shakespeare Fellowship and the Shakespeare Oxford Society in Ashland, Oregon features over 30 scholarly presentations and dramatic performances. This season is the 75th anniversary of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the conference will be addressed by both Artistic Director, Bill Rauch, and Executive Director, Paul Nicholson.  The education program features presentations directed toward the plays in production including panel discussions with actors from OSF.

On-site registration check-in will begin at 9:00 AM on September 16, and the education program will begin at 10:00 AM. The conference registration includes an opening reception with appetizers on the 16th, buffet lunches on day two and three, and the annual awards banquet at the conclusion of the conference on the afternoon of the 19th. For a limited time, group tickets to three OSF productions, The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, and 1Henry IV, are still available and may still be purchased with conference registration until August 20, when the group order will close.  

Saturday afternoon will be dedicated to performances with music provided by the lute duet Mignarda, Ron Andrico and Donna Stewart, creators of My Lord of Oxenford’s Maske. OSF all-star Robin Goodrin-Nordli will present her original show, Bard Babes, and Keir Cutler will give an encore performance of his adaptation of Mark Twain’s satire, Is Shakespeare Dead? The afternoon will conclude with a signing ceremony for the ‘Declaration of Reasonable Doubt’.

For further information or to register, consult the websites of the Shakespeare Fellowship or Shakespeare Oxford Society, or write to the local coordinator at
Daily Schedule
Thursday: September 16
Music by Mignarda with Ron Andrico and Donna Stewart
CANCELLED by Prof Daniel Wright: James Shapiro’s Premature Declaration of Fraud in MS 294
Prof  Tom Gage: The Bone in the Elephant's Heart
Dr. Tom Hunter: The Invention of the Human in Shylock
Dr. Earl Showerman:  Shakespeare’s Shylock and the Strange Case of Gaspar Ribeiro
Cheryl Eagan-Donovan: Shakespeare’s Ideal: Sexuality and Gender Identity in The Merchant of Venice
Dr. Marty Hyatt: Teaching Heavy Ignorance Aloft to Fly
Conference Opening Reception - Ashland Springs Hotel Conservatory & Garden
Merchant of Venice at OSF Elizabethan Theatre

Friday: September 17
Shakespeare Fellowship Annual Meeting
Richard Whalen: ‘Goats and Monkeys!’ Othello’s Outburst Recalls a Fresco in Bassano, Italy
Dr. Frank Davis: The “Unlearned” versus the “Learned” Shakespeare
Prof Jack Shuttleworth: Hamlet and Its Mysteries: An Oxfordian Editor’s View
Merchant of Venice Panel: Tom Hunter, Tom Regnier & OSF Actors
Bill Rauch: Artistic Director of OSF and Director of Hamlet and Merchant of Venice
Prof Roger Stritmatter: The “Little Eyases” and the “Innovation” of 1589
Katherine Chiljan: Twelve "Too Early" Allusions to Shakespeare's Hamlet
Tom Regnier: Hamlet’s  Law
Prof Sam Saunders: The Odds on Hamlet’s Odds
Prof Helen Gordon: The Symbols in Hamlet: An Oxfordian Interpretation
Hamlet at OSF Bowmer Theatre

Saturday: September 18
Shakespeare-Oxford Society Annual MeetingHank Whittemore: The Birth and Growth of Prince Hal: Why did Oxford write The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth?
Marie Merkel – "In the Fit of Miming": A brief history of Sir John Falstaffe and the "whole school of tongues" in his bellyLynne Kositsky: The Young Adult Novel Minerva's Voyage and its Relationship to True Reportory and Minerva BritannaHamlet panel: Prof Ren Draya, Jack Shuttleworth & OSF ActorsMusic by Mignarda
Robin Goodrin Nordli: Bard BabesKeir Cutler: Is Shakespeare Dead?“Declaration of Reasonable Doubt” Signing Ceremony with John Shahan, Paul Nicholson, Executive Director at OSF, and other signatories1Henry IV at OSF Elizabethan Theatre

Sunday: September 19
William Ray: Proofs of Oxfordian Authorship in the Shakespearean Apocrypha
Bonner Cutting: Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
John Hamill – Bisexuality, Bastardy, Avisa and Antonio Perez Revisited
Michael Cecil: Revisiting the 1st Baron Burghley’s Precepts for the Well Ordering and Carriage of a Man’s Life
Henry IV Panel: Felicia Londré  & OSF Actors
2010 Annual Joint Conference Awards Banquet 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Declaration of New Shakespeare Scholarship

Despite thousands and thousands of volumes of Shakespeare research which has been done since the Bard last wrote over 400 years ago, it is becoming apparent that much of the real discovery about Shakespeare is still in our future.

The problem has been how our traditional concept of the Bard himself has limited our questions about his work.

For prominent example, very recent work (still looking for a publisher) has demonstrated that past doubts and criticisms about Shakespeare’s first hand knowledge of Italy have been founded in misconceptions and downright errors based in the conviction that Shakespeare could never have such first hand knowledge because there is no proof or even suggestion based in any documented fact about his life that he ever traveled there. This combination of scholarship and personal detective work amply shows through dozens of examples how scholars have been simply wrong and has proven beyond reasonable doubt that Shakespeare’s knowledge of Italy is so subtle and accurate that he must have been there himself.

Likewise, the reductive view of Shakespaere as the glover’s son who may have had an ample public school education in Stratford but for whom there is no documented evidence that he ever read anything or could write anything but his name will be surrendering to the evidence of the plays. Recent work, which has built upon the research of a few traditional scholars who stopped short of going there, has demonstrated that Shakespeare’s knowledge of Greek was thorough enough to allow him to read ancient texts in the original.

Other recent work is demonstrating that plays whose origins have been dated between 1604 and 1616 may well have been written before 1604. This work is continuing. It will demonstrate how the dating of Shakespeare’s plays has been based on the time of their likely occurrence during the life of the glover’s son. But if we don’t limit ourselves by our biographical assumptions, we free ourselves to discover truths which we have not allowed ourselves to see before.

Other exciting Shakespeare research is progressing on other fronts as well.

One good example is The Merchant of Venice. By taking off the blinders, it is possible to see that this play is quite simple and straightforward and not at all puzzling as centuries of traditional scholars have contended. Not only that, but the play is no anti-Semitic, sensational pander to London audiences whose purpose was purely to put butts in the seats so that Shakespeare could earn a buck or two and advance in the supposed competition with other playwrights. Quite the opposite, it is a deeply philosophical and moral allegory, quite cosmopolitan in its view, grounded profoundly in Renaissance humanism which holds mankind as perfectible and quite capable of living in peace with one another. Its hero, we discover, if we pay attention to Shakespeare’s words and not to our own spectacular prejudices, is not the evil Jew whose baseness springs from his rejection of Christian values. He is a Jew whose tragedy springs from his rejection of his own Jewish values. This is all in the play if we are willing to understand what we are reading and seeing.

The new scholarship is just that, paying attention to Shakespeare’s words without the constrictions demanded by the reductive assumption that Shakespere of Stratford is Shakespeare the genius. The good news is that although 400 years of assumption about and prejudice against Shakespeare have brought error, misconception, and most of all the deprivation of millions of the understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare’s true genius, responsible and careful scholarship has been underway some time now, despite the opposition of the Academy and the Shakespeare Industry. The early results are exciting. The future of Shakespeare is bright indeed.

Friday, July 2, 2010

David Blixt's Master of Verona

Dear Oberon,

We have just learned that our Michigan Shakespeare Festival presentation which was to occur just before the Festival's July 24 evening production of Romeo and Juliet has been cancelled. That should not prevent me from telling you about David Blixt's Master of Verona, a historical set-piece which would interest Shakespeare lovers as good background reading for the play.

Blixt is the husband of Janice Blixt, the artistic director of Romeo and Juliet at the Festival. He is involved in the production of the play as its "Violence Director," undoubtedly responsible for choreographing the swordplay and other feud business which the play so richly offers. If his book is any indication, Blixt is the right man for the job. It is a page-turner of a novel full of the classic violence of medieval plots, murders, betrayals, and battles on horse and foot with a colorful variety of armor and weapons and plenty of blood. It is a tale of 14th century Verona and the warring city states of Northern Italy with fast paced action worthy of Hollywood. It is a blockbuster waiting to be discovered. It even includes, a la Dan Brown, a villain named Scarecrow.

In the Afterword of the book, author Blixt pays full tribute to Shakespeare as the ultimate source and inspiration for this work which ultimately is meant to lay the foundation for the family feud which enveloped and doomed the young lovers who are at the center of Shakespeare's play. It is of some interest to this reviewer that this tribute also contains a popular prejudice about the Bard which has contributed to preventing Shakespeare lovers through the centuries from appreciating his true genius. Ah, but that is another story. In the mean time, the story which Blixt tells is certainly worth the price of admission, a must read for anyone interested in a good yarn set romantically in a most fascinating period of European history. If I'm not mistaken, that is what Oberon is all about. If you have the chance, pick it up and enjoy a great ride through history.