Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsHello and welcome to the end of week interview for Week 2 on Literature of the English Country House. This week we've been thinking about reconstructing the country house literature of the 16th and 17th centuries, and we've been approaching the country house from a variety of perspectives. I'm joined here today by our educators this week, Dr. Tom Rutter and Dr. Jim Fitzmaurice, and I've just compiled some of your most common asked questions to pose to them this afternoon. So first of all, I just want to open by saying that a lot of our learners have been intrigued by the many different forms that we've encountered this week.
Skip to 0 minutes and 40 secondsWe've looked at 'Hamlet' which I think most people consider to be a fictional text and a playtext, but then we've also been looking at this manuscript which is written by real person in a real context, and we've been looking as well at the letters by a real person, Margaret Cavendish. And I just wanted to start by asking if you have any comments on the different statuses of these texts, and whether or not these differences mean that we should approach them differently. Tom, have you got any thoughts on this? Well I think perhaps it's not so much a question of the difference between the fictional and the real. It's about the very different contexts that these texts are being produced for.
Skip to 1 minute and 13 secondsSo on the one hand with the baby poem, that was written for a fairly small group of people who presumably know each other, and are going to be able to pick up on references and in-jokes and so on. Whereas 'Hamlet' is written for the commercial theatre where you've got thousands of people at a time paying to attend a publicly performed play, and I think that creates a very different level of expectation, and a very different performance environment from the poem. And Jim have you got any comments on this question?
Skip to 1 minute and 42 secondsWell, Tom talks about large audiences and small audiences, and letters normally are read by a person to himself or herself alone, oftentimes in a closet that is in the bedroom in a special reading kind of circumstance. But in other cases letters could be read aloud. I mean you might read aloud to a friend, you might read aloud to two friends, you might even read aloud to a dozen friends. And it looks like that's what Margaret and William did on occasion. A friend was Ben Jonson of William's, not Margaret's, and he read aloud and Margaret said he read really well. And William read aloud, and Thomas Hobbes maybe read aloud.
Skip to 2 minutes and 26 secondsBut according to Margaret, not very well, but I don't think she liked him a whole lot. Thanks very much, Jim. OK, I've got some questions now for you Tom about the first steps this week, the Shakespeare steps. Before we looked at the issue of travelling players in 'Hamlet', you explained to us a little bit about what it is that we look at when we look at any one text today and discuss some of the editorial challenges faced by the people who put those editions together. This idea of textual variance has really caught the imagination of a lot of our learners. And one comment that's been getting a lot of attention was by someone called Richard Yoast.
Skip to 2 minutes and 59 secondsI just wanted to share this comment because it's been getting quite a lot of likes. So Richard wrote 'The issue, that of which is the intended or true version, is a really interesting one and appears in music all the time as composers alter their compositions, often quite radically. And I read a while ago about how James Joyce's 'Ulysses' was greatly altered by the editors, and he and later editors went back to make changes.' And Richard's question then was, 'Do we know if Shakespeare was actually involved in the various versions which were later put into print?' Yeah, that's a great question, and I suppose my answer would be yes and no.
Skip to 3 minutes and 32 secondsYes in that passages that appear, say in the folio, that don't appear in the second quarto are assumed to be by Shakespeare. And also the cuts that have been made are fairly intelligent ones and it's plausible, but by no means certain that the cutting could have been done by Shakespeare. On the other hand, I think we need to get away from a modern sense that the author is there signing off the proofs before they go in to be printed. That's not how the publication of early modern plays worked, by and large anyway. I mean, someone like Ben Jonson seems to have a lot more to do with the printing of his plays, but by and large, that's exceptional.
Skip to 4 minutes and 9 secondsSo that's why I'd say yes and no. OK, excellent. And the idea that we can use an imaginative text like 'Hamlet' to better understand historical practises is one that's really fascinated our learners this week as well. Some learners are wondering whether the fact that the play is set in Denmark effects how much we can learn about the practise of travelling players here in England? Yeah, I think that's a fair question. Firstly the play is indeed set in Denmark and it, in some ways, takes pains to establish Denmark as a setting. And more generally, of course, there are problems with using fictional text as evidence of practises in the real world.
Skip to 4 minutes and 44 secondsOn the other hand though, I'd say that firstly, a lot of Shakespeare's foreign settings do seem intended to reflect back on the England of his time. 'Measure for Measure', for example, is set in Vienna but it's also about London. And I think also, I'd say that the material about travelling players in 'Hamlet' is explicitly reflecting back on the London situation of Shakespeare's time. There are these allusions to the children's companies, which are companies of child performers, who are the reason why the fictional players in 'Hamlet' have moved away from the city and are travelling. And that's alluding to the real companies of child players who recommenced performing in London in about 1599.
Skip to 5 minutes and 28 secondsSo in some ways, this is a play that's depiction of travelling actors is situating itself as a sort of response to what's really happening. Although of course, it would be fanciful to assume that it's common for the host of such actors to be using their plays as a means of revealing murder and that kind of thing. Excellent, and just on a more practical note, a few learners have been wondering about what these travelling players took with them, and whether or not they brought their own sets to these houses. Would they be carrying a lot of setting around as they moved from house to house?
Skip to 5 minutes and 59 secondsWell obviously they'd be limited by what you can feasibly carry on horseback, and on carts, and so on. More generally, the early modern theatre isn't one that uses as much in the way of scenic backdrops as much modern theatre does. So that they're not carrying whole sets. They would carry props I think, they'd probably carry the props that you couldn't reasonably expect to find where you were going. So things like crowns, swords, particular costumes and so on. But I think in other respects they might have made do with materials they could find on the way.
Skip to 6 minutes and 35 secondsFor example, in a play called 'The Taming of A Shrew' - which obviously sounds like Shakespeare's 'Taming of the Shrew', and the relationship between those two plays is a vexed question - at the beginning of that travelling actors arrive and they ask for some props, including a shoulder of mutton and some vinegar to make their devil raw. And obviously part of the joke is presumably they're going to eat the mutton, but nevertheless, I think that kind of typifies the kind of stuff that you could expect to be able to acquire from your hosts to use as a prop, as opposed to the things you might take with you. Thanks very much, Tom.
Skip to 7 minutes and 8 secondsJust before we move on to discussing Jim's steps, I wanted to quickly share one of my favourite comments from this week by Catherine Kawalek. And Catherine wrote that the discussion of editing and the different versions reminded her of the dialogue on the restoration of the country house. She says that 'We see houses now with the layers of redoing, rebuilding, and modernising reflecting the life of the house as a work of art that evolves. Restorers always have to consider just what they intend to portray, what to keep and what to let go. And unlike the written word though, once the decision is made in this context, something will be lost.'
Skip to 7 minutes and 38 secondsAnd just before we move on, I thought if you've got any comments about that? Yeah well amongst other things, I think that's a really good example of why people are drawn to the country house as a metaphor. The house is a thing that can live beyond its owners usually, and that has a different kind of relationship to time. And so can show the passage of time through the things that it acquires, the things that it loses. So yeah, I think that's a good example of how potent the country house can be as a metaphor. Thanks very much, Tom.
Skip to 8 minutes and 8 secondsAnd for the rest of this conversation I'd like to talk to you Jim, about the steps, the rest of the steps this week to do with manuscripts, the baby manuscript, and the Cavendish letters. Learners this week have really enjoyed reading the manuscript that you found in the Huntington Library, and we've had some really impressive theories regarding its provenance. Linda Matthews in particular has done some impressive sleuthing, and I wanted to hear what your thoughts were on Linda's theory. Linda suspects that 'the original reading took place at Tatton Old Hall - the medieval hall which is part of the estate at Tatton Park in Cheshire.'
Skip to 8 minutes and 34 secondsShe goes on to explain that the house actually appeared in the 17th season of the TV show 'Most Haunted', where the presenter was terrorised by a ghost named Tom, and she wondered if that was the baby Tom wanting his manuscript back. But my question for you today is, do you think that Tatton Hall might be a contender for where this poem was originally read, and do you have any suggestions for where else it might have been performed? I love the story about the baby, the ghost of the baby looking for his manuscript. But I don't think that it was probably Tatton Hall, I think it was more likely that it was Ashridge Abbey.
Skip to 9 minutes and 11 secondsWe have a nice biography here of the mother of the baby and she lived at Ashridge Abbey, and there are other manuscripts by Tom and those manuscripts are in fact placed in Ashridge Abbey. Furthermore, there are other manuscripts by a local vicar's daughter, which placed it all in Ashridge Abbey or Priory which unfortunately is no longer there. It was demolished at the end of the 18th century. Excellent, but it's good work on Linda's part, because there are a lot of reasons why... Absolutely, absolutely.
Skip to 9 minutes and 54 secondsSo moving on then to the Cavendish letters, there's been a lot of questions this week about how these letters would have gone into and out of country houses, and whether or not there was a recognisable postal system at the time that these letters were written? I don't think there was. I think the postal system came in a few years later, 10-15 years later, and probably what would have happened with these letters is they would have been carried back and forth by servants. The servant says, "We need ten chickens for a big feast tonight," and they send the servant over to another country house ten miles away.
Skip to 10 minutes and 26 secondsThey also send a little letter, this is a sociable letter, and that goes over and that comes back. Though many of the letters in 'Sociable Letters' are not in fact real letters - they're like real letters - and then they become excuses for telling stories, stories like the dinner party story, which is really actually there to amuse. Sometimes you get essays. There's an essay on Shakespeare, the first essay by anybody, man or woman, on Shakespeare in print. Interesting essay. That actually feeds nicely into my final question, which is about what a literary letter is, and how we can tell when some letters are fictional, and when others aren't. How as scholars can we tell?
Skip to 11 minutes and 8 secondsThat's tricky as a matter of fact, because oftentimes fictional letters disguise themselves as real letters. And that was going on before Margaret Cavendish came along. There was somebody who published a group of letters about the 1620s and about royal affairs and whatnot. And the stuff was made up, but it was awfully good, and it's hard to tell. But in the case of Margaret Cavendish, she says, "I'm not going to have a collection of plays. I've done plays recently. I'm going to write fictional letters," and there are fictional letters now. In addition there's some actual letters. There's a letter to one sister and then another letter to another sister.
Skip to 11 minutes and 46 secondsAnd one of the letters to the sister says, "Don't get married, marriage is awful." "But my marriages is great," so like, what's that all about? Well thanks very much Jim, that's my final question. So that's the end of the interview, and that's the end of Week 2. Thank you, Tom. Thank you, Jim. Join us again next week where we'll be exploring the worlds of sociability and politeness around the 18th-century country house. And next week, we won't have an end of week interview. Instead, we'll have a live Google Hangout where you'll be able to pose your questions to our educator next week, Susan Fitzmaurice, and also myself. Thanks very much for watching.
End of week interview: Reflections on the week
We hope you have enjoyed taking part in Week 2 of the course and that you have been able to practise your Close Reading skills to gain a deeper understanding about how entertainment functioned in country houses in the 17th century.
During this week, Tom and Jim have been looking through your comments and have tried to address common themes and questions in this video.
In Week 3, we’ll be splitting our time between Nostell Priory in West Yorkshire and Chatsworth House in Derbyshire to look at the country house as a ‘social house’. We’ll learn about politeness from the essayist Joseph Addison and make connections from politeness to a novel, ‘The Sylph’. The novel was written by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, a resident of Chatsworth. By the end of the week, you’ll have learned how to conduct Close Reading of prose texts from the early and late 18th century.
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