Gemma Miller

Gemma Miller

Gemma Miller is a Lecturer in Early Modern Literature and Culture at King's College London

Location London

Activity

  • @SusanMistry Shakespeare was an astute businessman (we know that from the way he invested his money). It is a lovely idea that he wrote for his own pleasure but I suspect that his prime motivation was commercial. The audiences he wrote for came from diverse social backgrounds and the allusions and clever wordplay would not have been appreciated by all. But...

  • @CaroleSpeirs our politicians are master equivocators!!!

  • @SherryWilson There is a fine lying between equivocation and lying. I think it might come down to intention.

  • @BrendanOShea Some scholars believe that there were more prologues/epilogues than we know about. There is evidence that these were detachable from the play itself and thus easily lost. Tiffany Stern's 'Documents of Performance in Early Modern England' is very good on this subject.

  • @VidhyaS There is a whole series of Emma Smith podcasts on Shakespeare. I highly recommend them: https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/approaching-shakespeare

  • @SallyM What about the descendants of Banquo - 'Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none'? Fleance is still out there, somewhere.

  • @KathyB You make a good point about Donalbain. I think Shakespeare deliberately leaves these questions unanswered at the end of the play. It is a little like the chorus at the end of Henry V - all is fine now but more chaos is to come ...

  • @FloydKerrison 'Let's kill all the lawyers' (2 Henry VI, 4.2.75)

  • @TairaSokolova you raise some interesting points here. The soundscape of Macbeth certainly seems designed to create a sense of unease. The inversion of natural imagery is all of a piece with the description of Duncan's horses eating each other in 2.4.

  • @VaridhiGoyal I agree that Jessica treats her father appallingly. The line about his wife Leah's ring really highlights the cruelty of Jessica for me. And of course we don't hear Shylock crying 'O my ducats, O my daughter' - it is the rather unreliable and prejudiced Solanio who reports this.

  • @CyndiSabo-Cook It does seem perverse to name a play after a relatively minor character. I wonder whether it is a deliberate ploy - part of Shakespeare's strategy of blurring the lines between 'outsider' and 'of Venice'?

  • @PaulineAshworth You should try using cue scripts in your rehearsals as an experiment. It will probably descend into chaos but it would give you a new perspective on what you are working on.

  • @TimilyClarke I think that Shakespeare's awareness of 'what keeps the audience engaged' comes from his dual role as actor and playwright. He was unusual in early modern theatre in that he was a playwright-in-residence and a working actor.

  • @RosannaPM The Zeffirelli film is a great way into Shakespeare. My love of Shakespeare was sparked by a magical production of The Winter's Tale at the RSC in 1986 (starring Jeremy Irons). I had a very inspirational English teacher who took a group of students every year to Stratford from Yorkshire. We saw 3 plays in 2 days. The one that really sticks in my...

  • The word cloud has been updated.

  • @PatHarvey Shakespeare is rarely as unambiguous as he seems at first glance. That is one of the reasons directors still want to work with his texts. He leaves so much open to interpretation.

  • @TairaSokolova I agree that R&J has become a cliche. It has taken on a life of its own beyond the bounds of Shakespeare's play. A lot of work would need to be done to dismantle that cliche.

  • @CaitlinD great analysis. I think it is important that we never see Rosaline (although some productions do bring her on during the ball). She is, as you say, a poetic construct - as hollow as Romeo's emotions.

  • @SallyM I have never seen a stage production of R&J that I felt satisfied with. The film versions tend to be so much better, in my experience.

  • @RichardHolt Endgame at a wedding - goodness!!

  • @HelenLewis You raise some really pertinent points here. Rhetoric was one of the key building blocks of grammar school, university and Inns of Court training. Mark Antony's funeral oration is a great example of this in practice. The bible was, as you say, a constant source of imagery, symbolism, allusion and analogy throughout Shakespeare's plays. The language...

  • @PaulOakley Yes, good summary. It sounds like a wonderful template for life - what a shame Portia doesn't practise what she preaches.

  • @VICKIMORLEY when you list the imagery like that it demonstrates just how fluidly Shakespeare moved between different metaphorical ideas.

  • @VICKIMORLEY It is quite remarkable how many plays the companies held in their repertoire and how many different plays they would perform in the space of a week. They must have had incredible memories - a skill learned in their grammar school education.

  • @InekeFioole @TavisReddick The idea of the author as a creative genius working in isolation is very much a post-Romantic construct. Your example of The Simpsons is a great one. Soap operas, comedy shows such as Friends, stand-up routines are also good ways of thinking about collaboration.

  • @RobynO @BarbaraLister Just to add to Barbara's response. There are records that confirm that the Lord Chamberlain's Men performed The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night at the Inns of Court. In fact, The Comedy of Errors went down in Inns of Court legend as 'The Night of Errors'. You can see the documents on the Folger website:...

  • @InekeFioole We are learning more about the collaborative nature of early modern theatre and it seems that some of Shakespeare's plays were simple collaborations (i.e. written by a number of playwrights synchronously - Sir Thomas More, Titus Andronicus, Henry VIII, 2 Henry VI) or revised post hoc (Macbeth, Measure for Measure, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus). This...

  • Sorry - Beatrice and Benedick

  • @CaroleSpeirs Yes, good synopsis. I wonder whether the prologue makes the play sound too much like a simple tale with a satisfying outcome, in spite of some collateral damage. When we get to the end of the play, do we maybe feel less satisfaction than the prologue promises. Does the loss of the lovers overshadow the reconciliation of the two houses? And are...

  • @AileenStevenson @HughRobertson Thank you for raising this question. Farmer was one of Garnet's pseudonyms. You can find out more here: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-trial-of-henry-garnet-1606

  • @NuriaAmador I like your analysis of the porter as an outsider. 'Comic' characters in tragedies often fulfil this function. Think of the Fool in King Lear - he is the only character to speak truth to power and comment upon the action.

  • @JaynSadler I like your comparison with Much Ado here. The language in the R&J exchange is much less arch and, perhaps, jaded than that of B&B.

  • @AnnaRyan I think that speed is such an important aspect of Macbeth. It seems to hurtle inexorably to its conclusion. The shared lines certainly add to this sense of momentum.

  • @BettyHobbs If you enjoyed this video then I recommend Shakespeare's sonnets. They are packed full of wordplay,

  • @AnnaRyan Yes. LM is very manipulative here.

  • @EmilyPankhurst And not forgetting the ring that his wife Leah gave him. I feel that is an important detail that humanises Shylock.

  • @SusanHarris Macbeth is very different to Hamlet in terms of his preoccupation with earthly rather than heavenly judgement. I like your point about state-sanctioned killing. At the opening of the play Macbeth is being celebrated for his acts of violence - unseaming traitors 'from the nave to th’ chops'. I wonder whether Shakespeare wants us to see this...

  • @NataliaSolovyeva You make a good point. Lady Macbeth does remark to Macbeth in 1.7: 'What beast was’t, then,
    That made you break this enterprise to me?' We never actually see Macbeth suggesting the murder of Duncan - it is LM who first mentions it. I think that these lines suggest that the subject has been raised before the action of the play. So, yes,...

  • @GeraldineMcGill You may well be right about the acceleration of the shift away from the Jacobean model of monarchy. I wonder if the country would have been saved the devastation of the civil wars if the Gunpowder Plot had succeeded.

  • @InésRojas I am so pleased you are enjoying the course. School curricula tend to focus on characterisation, themes etc. There simply isn't time to explore historical context and dramaturgy. We were trying to fill that gap.

  • @CaitlinD I hope you find content that will stimulate your interest and provoke you to consider the plays in new and exciting ways. Good luck with your studies.

  • @DebayanNag I hope that you find the steps on interpretation and performance history of particular interest. Shakespeare's plays may be born of a particular historical set of circumstances (which we explore in this course), but they also are uniquely elastic and ambivalent, making them ripe for adaptation and reinterpretation.

  • @HelenLewis I think your post was coherent. Just a couple of things. Portia does not take any money for her role in the court scene and Shylock's wealth is distributed according to the Duke's command as follows: 'The party ’gainst the which he doth contrive / Shall seize one half his goods; the other half / Comes to the privy coffer of the state'. Antonio...

  • @BettyHobbs That is certainly an interesting idea to follow through. I wonder where that would take you in terms of interpreting this scene?

  • @EllaYesufuGuibert Yes, I find the multiple references to maternity, childbirth and childhood throughout the play fascinating. They work on multiple levels - ideas of succession, the future, innocence, purity, succour, loss.

  • @BethanyGreen This is a really thoughtful analysis. It is revealing that she does not want to be faced with the consequences of her actions ('That my keen knife see not the wound it makes'). That line takes some of the power away from the commanding language you identify. Later in the play, she remarks that she would have killed the king herself if he had not...

  • @DorotaKopacz-Thomaidis It is hard to know for sure but there is evidence that props such as beards were used as signifiers of masculinity and the shift between genders is usually made clear in the language. Every generation thinks that they have invented realistic acting and what came before was mannered or overly histrionic. Having said that, acting styles...

  • @AnnBeresford I found that production very moving too. They actually re-gendered the character in that instance (Malvolio became Malvolia). Re-gendering is far more difficult to do when changes in title or pronouns would disrupt the verse (as in King John or Hamlet, for instance).

  • @LoisKaufmann @RichardTomlin The idea of gender as a series of learned and performed behaviours that have no relation to anatomical differences is argued convincingly by Judith Butler. There is a whole body of criticism that has developed this idea. I recommend Butler's book 'Gender Trouble' and you can read a recent interview with her here:...

  • @CarmenCastellano Your reference to No theatre is apposite, I think. No theatre is very stylised and thus representational rather than naturalistic. It dramatises identity as performative rather than innate. Shakespeare also interrogates ideas of identity, questioning whether they are stable or in flux, including sexual and gendered identities.

  • Yes @MarthaGil-Montero, absolutely. Look at the lovers in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (3.2), or Cleopatra beating the messenger in A&C (2.5). Shared lines can suggest mutuality or enmity. They are a sign of 2 characters in synergy (completing each other) or 2 characters interrupting and outdoing one another (usurping each other).

  • @SuetChingChan Yes - great example. The shared lines here convey both a sense of urgency and of mutual understanding. This aspect of their relationship certainly recedes through the course of the play.

  • @BethanyGreen I like your use of the word 'staccato' - it is very apt. There is certainly little space for legato in 'Macbeth'. The teleological nature of the tragedy provides few opportunities for reflection or delay (as in 'Hamlet', for example).

  • @GeraldineMcGill These are really great insights. The social equivalence of the characters is important to the tragedy, I think. Often the obstacle to romantic/sexual fulfilment in early modern plays is social inequality. But here, we are told only that the two households ('alike in dignity') are in some unspecified ancient feud. The arbitrariness of the...

  • @CyntiaLiva This is a good point. Comparing people to dogs is a common trope across Shakespeare's plays and is invariably designed to insult, to reduce the other to sub-human. I can think of one example where this is not the case ('I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips', Henry V) but Shakespeare's audience would certainly have understood this as a term...

  • @InekeFioole @beekay I am so sorry that the steps on prejudice have affected you in this way. The intention was to stimulate ideas and debate. We try to use Shakespeare in the classroom as a tool for acknowledging and confronting prejudice so that it can be eradicated. I feel that glossing over the distasteful aspects of Shakespeare 's plays can encourage...

  • @AngieZandonà These are great points and to a large extent I share your analysis. 'The Merchant of Venice' seems to be interrogating rather than resolving questions of mercy and justice. I wonder who you think the play asks us to sympathise with. That might give us some direction for analysing this incredibly problematic play.

  • @CaroleClarkson I agree. Amazing feats of memory. It was a skill that they first learned in the classroom - memorising and reciting huge extracts from classical texts. Unfortunately, it is a skill that we have lost. And what little skill I did have has reduced considerably with age ...

  • @LornaEEaston That is a common assumption. It may be because 'thee' feels alien to our 21st-century ears. The way I tell my students to remember the difference is to say 'Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?' - the young lovers use 'thee/thou' to indicate intimacy. Or, 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day'.

  • @RitaMacKinnon @NickSymondson Thank you for the positive endorsements. We would have loved to make the course 4 weeks but time and budget restraints prevented us. Maybe we will be able to return to it in the future and build upon what we have done.

  • @SusanHarris You may well be right and you argue convincingly. I do feel, however, that Shakespeare's plays are suffused with nationalist, anti-outsider, antisemitic, misogynistic, racist viewpoints - and we should not gloss over them. Whether we choose to take offence at them is a choice we have to make. We always have to remember that racist invectives are...

  • @VanessaClark @JanetF You raise really interesting questions here. I think that Caliban's speech is in elevated verse in order to confound audience expectations. We are prepared for a 'savage' but instead we are confronted with one of the most poetical and articulate of all of the characters in The Tempest. In the case of Shylock, I wonder whether the prose is...

  • @MauriceCrichton Your reference to Cicely Berry and the practicalities of staging and acting the scene are really helpful here. Macbeth is set within a clearly hierarchical society that includes thanes and their ladies-in-waiting, servants, cooks and henchmen. Productions that capture this aspect work well, I think. Polanski's 1971 film was effective in...

  • @ItziaG This is a really great quote to choose. Macbeth is not only breaching the laws of hospitality (an important function of society in both medieval and early modern culture) but by implication breaches nature itself.

  • @SallyHardman I agree about the Donmar Warehouse all-female trilogy. They are available to buy on DVD or through Drama Online, if you have a subscription .

  • @LindaPepper I too saw the Kurzel film in a theatre with one other person - and they nodded off half way through. I loved the cinematography and epic sweep of Kurzel's film. And LM's sleepwalking scene was heartbreaking.

  • @DrClaireGreenhalgh your analysis of the 3 clips is really thoughtful. I think I agree that using children doesn't work in general, but they can be effective. The Eccleston production was particularly bad. Michael Boyd's 2011 RSC production used children in a much more uncanny and creepy way. They first appeared suspended from hooks above the stage, looking...

  • @LindaMatthews @JayneBuchanan I have posted this elsewhere but worth a re-post. Some more examples of how productions have been cursed through history:

    A performance of the play in 1849 in New York cast such a spell on its audience that a riot ensued, leaving more than 30 people dead.
    During one of Laurence Olivier’s performances in 1937 a sword flew into...

  • @AnneHoskins @AileenStevenson Thank you for the kind words. I am so pleased you are enjoying it. The course @AileenStevenson recommends is brought to you by largely the same team behind this one. The added benefit to 'Print and Performance' is that colleagues from the Globe and The British Library were also involved. I think the 2 courses work quite well...

  • @ElenaBizenkova That is certainly a possibility. Although Shakespeare's fathers aren't generally so sympathetic to their daughters' desires when choosing a marriage partner - think Capulet (R&J), Egeus (MND), Cymbeline, Brabantio (Othello) ...

  • @SusanHarris Morocco draws attention to his own 'complexion' in the opening line of 2.1 ('Mislike me not for my complexion') and Iago talks of Othello's skin colour in these terms. Morocco could never choose the right casket. He is marked out for failure because of the colour of his skin. That may sound more offensive to 21st-century readers/audiences than...

  • @EricJohnson There is an entry in the Accounts of the Revels at Court that says: "To John Hemynges one of his Mts. players upon dated October 18, 1606 for three plays before his Mati King of Denmarke, twoe of them at Grenewich and one at Court." Scholars have surmised that one of these performances was 'Macbeth', but there is no firm evidence, as far as I...

  • @SusanHarris I like the idea of this exchange echoing the court scene, but in a comic key. 'Bond' is the dominant word in the exchange between Shylock and Balthazar, to be replaced by 'ring' here (doubly comic because of its secondary, sexual meaning).

  • @NatalieMerriman That sounds like a great production. Directors/designers have to work very hard today if they are going to make the witches frightening. Adding the element of fire and the sensory responses that provokes is a good way to do that.

  • @EricJohnson I love a bit of Ben Jonson. The grumpiest man in the early modern theatre. Even in his prefatory poem to Shakespeare's First Folio, he couldn't help having a sly dig: 'And though thou hadst small Latin, and lesse Greeke'

  • @HeatherDaley It is all-too-easy to gloss over the sound effects when reading a play. Sometimes these plays just need to be performed. I too saw 'The Woman in Black'. I was surrounded by screaming students who were far more terrifying than the chair ...

  • @StephenRosson 'A national disaster' - that is hilarious. I share their frustrations, though. When a joke has to be explained it loses its force somewhat.

  • If you want to watch or listen to recent recordings of all of Shakespeare's plays I highly recommend The Show Must Go Online. The project began in lockdown and set out to record every play, beginning with 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' and ending with 'The Tempest'. Actors from across the globe participate via Zoom and each play is introduced by an academic or...

  • @EricJohnson I take your point. However, Bassanio might not necessarily talk over Portia - each time hears the cue 'ring' his instinct might be to take a breath in as though to speak. Remember, the actor has to make quick decisions. He has to process what is being said and also listen out for his cue.