Studying Shakespeare at the Globe: MA students reflect
in partnership with King’s College London, our MA in Shakespeare Studies offers
exciting and unparalleled opportunities for Shakespeare students. Drawing on
the joint expertise of Shakespeare’s Globe and King’s, students learn about the
texts, companies and theatre spaces of early modern playhouses, just a stone’s
throw from where Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed.
the first of a series of blog posts, current student Stephanie Donowho
reflects on a magical night of discoveries (and dancing) on the Globe stage.
The first few weeks of the MA Shakespeare Program were a mixture of joyous discovery and growing anticipation. There are many things about the program that immediately excited us. Our classmates hailed from all over the world; I’m from the United States, and other people in my year come from Australia, Ireland, Norway, Canada, and India, just to name a few. Our professors, once intimidating and recognizable names from leading scholarship on the early modern period, were becoming familiar and encouraging advisors. Each week, we met for class at the Sackler studios just around the corner from the Globe theatre. One night, we would receive a lecture from an architect who worked on creating the Globe; another night, we’d get a hands-on experience with the Globe’s model of an early modern printing press. But we were all looking forward to the night in November (once the Globe’s summer season had ended) when we would be allowed to get up onto the Globe stage ourselves and explore this unique space.
Our first class on the Globe stage was a two hour block of independent study – there would be no faculty or staff on hand to guide or direct us. We were allowed to use the time however we wanted to get to know the space and put into practice all that we had learnt in our seminars and lectures. We sent eager messages back and forth, brainstorming how we wanted to spend these two hours. We wanted to do things as a whole group that took advantage of the full space of the stage, getting to know how it felt to move and speak in that theatre. We also wanted to learn something about how that experience may have taken shape in Shakespeare’s own time.
We landed on a seemingly simple activity: a cue script. In the early modern period, actors didn’t receive the full text of a play. (It would have taken a long time for someone to write out 14+ copies of a play by hand!) Instead, they learned their part from a cue script, which only contains the lines that they speak and the lines that come right before – their cues. What does a first rehearsal look like when each actor only has their own cue script, and no director is assigned to manage stage traffic? We decided to find out!
We created cue scripts for all of the characters in Act 3, Scene 1 of Julius Caesar – the scene where Caesar is stabbed by Brutus, Cassius, and the rest of the conspirators. Nearly everyone had a role to play, and the rest of us watched from the yard. We pieced through the scene like a puzzle, often starting and stopping as we discovered clues about the scene in other people’s lines. We experimented with the three main doors of the stage as we decided which characters needed to enter from different places. We snuck around the two large pillars ad used them to plot and hide. We discovered how the Globe’s stage could be used to create multiple simultaneous spaces and scenes, as clusters of conspirators emerged and alliances formed. For example, certain characters were not always supposed to hear what other characters were saying. When Brutus says,
Cassius, be constant:
Popilius Lena speaks not of our purposes;
For, look, he smiles, and Caesar doth not change.
Caesar and Popilius stood elsewhere on the stage, creating a separate imaginary space for themselves. We even experimented with putting the soothsayer up on the balcony, to get a feel for the different levels available to actors at the Globe.
By the end of the scene, we’d learned a lot about the process of putting a play together from a cue script and the possibilities of performance on the Globe stage. We all felt a bit more comfortable in this special space, and ready to use this hands-on knowledge to active our academic imagination about early modern performance practices.
We also had quite a bit of time left, and hadn’t prepared anything else. After a quick fit of brainstorming – what was another early modern staging practice that we could use this unique space to understand? – we landed on something we thought we’d enjoy. A jig!
Or something like one, anyway. I used my rudimentary knowledge of the famous Footloose dance to assemble a team of dancers. What would it feel like to dance in a group on this stage? How much space would we each have, and how might that movement interact with the theatre as a whole?
Over the next few months, we would have many more hours on (and behind, and below) the Globe stage, as we came to know the inner workings and storied history of the theatre. I’m incredibly grateful for the access this program has given to me and my classmates, and I will always treasure those joyful moments from our first night on the stage and the freedom we had to play at Shakespeare’s Globe.