Women and Shakespeare

S4:E1: Emma Smith on Approaching Shakespeare, First Folio, and Portable Magic of Books

April 23, 2023 Varsha Panjwani/Emma Smith Season 4 Episode 1
S4:E1: Emma Smith on Approaching Shakespeare, First Folio, and Portable Magic of Books
Women and Shakespeare
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Women and Shakespeare
S4:E1: Emma Smith on Approaching Shakespeare, First Folio, and Portable Magic of Books
Apr 23, 2023 Season 4 Episode 1
Varsha Panjwani/Emma Smith

In this episode, Professor Emma Smith talks about her podcast *Approaching Shakespeare* and her wonderful books *This is Shakespeare*, *Shakespeare's First Folio*, and *Portable Magic*.

Her podcast can be accessed from here:  https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/approaching-shakespeare

For a complete episode transcript, check out http://www.womenandshakespeare.com 

Interviewer: Varsha Panjwani
Guest: Emma Smith
Producer: Peyton Harmon
Transcript: Benjamin Poore
Artwork: Wenqi Wan

Twitter: @earlymoderndoc
Insta: earlymoderndoc
Email: earlymoderndoc@gmail.com

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Professor Emma Smith talks about her podcast *Approaching Shakespeare* and her wonderful books *This is Shakespeare*, *Shakespeare's First Folio*, and *Portable Magic*.

Her podcast can be accessed from here:  https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/approaching-shakespeare

For a complete episode transcript, check out http://www.womenandshakespeare.com 

Interviewer: Varsha Panjwani
Guest: Emma Smith
Producer: Peyton Harmon
Transcript: Benjamin Poore
Artwork: Wenqi Wan

Twitter: @earlymoderndoc
Insta: earlymoderndoc
Email: earlymoderndoc@gmail.com

[00:00:02] Varsha: Hello there. Thank you for tuning in and welcome to another season of *Women & Shakespeare*. I'm your host, Dr. Varsha Panjwani, and normally I would be celebrating today, not only because it's Shakespeare's birthday, but also because it is the birthday of this podcast. However, instead of celebrating, I am moving houses, and that means that I'm packing boxes and boxes of books.

And, I'm thinking about why I have these books in the first place and why I have found it so hard to part with them. Then I find myself thinking about the comfort that holding a book in my hand brings, or the scent of promise that opening a new book brings, or even the sense of community that a secondhand book evokes.

And I'm balancing all of that against the labour of lugging them. So it is only apt that my podcast guest is a real book-head, and has written incredible books about books. My guest is none other than Professor Emma Smith, who is Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Oxford, and the editor of the journal *Shakespeare Survey*. Her book, *Shakespeare's First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book*, is a sort of biography of the book that we know today as Shakespeare's First Folio. So, this is the first time that Shakespeare's plays are collected together and published in 1623. 

So in 2023, we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of this book, and we will be asking Emma questions about it in this episode. Emma has her own podcast [00:02:00] series approaching Shakespeare, which you should subscribe to immediately if you haven't already.

And I love the book that arose from the popularity of the podcast called *This is Shakespeare*, which became a Sunday Times bestseller and has been translated into several languages. As these projects prove, Emma is committed to making Shakespeare accessible to everyone. Besides all things Shakespeare, we will also be talking to Emma about her delightful book, *Portable Magic: A History of Books and their Readers*, which is really about our love affair with books.

So I hope you gain as much as my students and I did from this conversation.

Emma, this is so great because I don't often have this opportunity to host somebody who is so well known in academia and also outside academia. So it's a pleasure welcoming a true celebrity into my classroom today. You're very welcome to Women and Shakespeare. 

[00:03:06] Emma: Thank you. 

[00:03:06] Varsha: I want to ask you the question that I ask everyone on this podcast which is, when did you first encounter Shakespeare, and what was the nature of that encounter?

Mr. Taylor, who was my teacher when I was about 11, had an idea that we would read *Twelfth Night* around the class. And I don't remember how far we got. I don't think we got very far. I can only really remember the beginning, and it was completely disastrous. Nobody could pronounce anything. None of us knew what was happening.

We all just missed our cues, you know, it was like sort of Pyramus and Thisbe, but just sort of much, much worse. And not even funny. So I would not say that my relationship with Shakespeare was love at first sight. I didn't really love the stories as a child, as you hear some people saying, and nor did I, I did occasionally in my school times go to the theatre to see Shakespeare and I'm afraid quite often I thought it was [00:04:00] a bit boring.

[00:04:01] Emma: So I am not a lifelong, you know, sort of saw Shakespeare and fell in love. In fact, I've kind of got much more interested the older I've got. 

[00:04:10] Varsha: How interesting. I'm very glad because I don't hear this often enough in the podcast and feel alienated because my first encounter with Shakespeare was very much the same, that I don't think I like it, and then slowly and steadily I got involved in it.

So it's nice to know that others can come late at life into it as well. 

I actually think we do Shakespeare much too early with most children. I don't see the point really. I think, you know, there are, there's fantastic literary material aimed at younger children and young adults. I think they should, you know, they should read that.

Don't know why we so much think it is good for people to do Shakespeare. 

Yeah. We started with *Hamlet*, would you believe it...

[00:04:54] Emma: ...as children? 

[00:04:54] Varsha: Yes. 

[00:04:56] Emma: Wow. 

[00:04:56] Varsha: Yeah. 

[00:04:57] Emma: Wow. At least Mr. Taylor started with *Twelfth Night*. 

[00:05:00] Varsha: I think Mr. Taylor's better. 


[00:05:03] Emma: But the first, you know, the first scene of *Twelfth Night* is just so weird. And who, who are these people and what are they talking?

I mean, that's why I suppose you can say that about any Shakespeare play, to be honest. Yes. Who are these people and what are they talking about? 

[00:05:14] Varsha: Well, talking about approaching Shakespeare, I cannot stop recommending your podcast approaching Shakespeare. Why did you choose to do a podcast at all? And then why introductory lectures to Shakespeare? 

So I didn't primarily decide to do a podcast, and I don't even know that I knew that word.

I decided that as part of my teaching in the University of Oxford I give lectures, but they're very poorly scheduled. They don't necessarily coincide with when people are free to come to lectures or when they're studying a particular play or whatever. And I had an idea that if they were recorded, they would have more traction with undergraduates studying Shakespeare.

[00:06:00] And it coincided with Apple pushing out, I think what was then iTunes U, iTunes University. And they were really trying to get content from universities and to see how that might work. So they came to the university and someone at the university said, well, you, you want to record your lectures and do you want to do it in this way?

And it just means putting them up online. And I thought, well that's fine cuz the students find it easier to find. I never really thought that anybody else would ever listen to them. And I think if I had thought that I probably wouldn't have done it because I would've been too paralysed with the sense that these are not perfect.

You know, have things that I'm still thinking about or things that I'm not sure about, or things that I just get wrong occasionally. And if you just give that to a few people in a hall, who cares? You can always deny it anyway and say, no, you must, I think, I think you took the wrong notes there, I didn't say that. 

Yeah, so I, that's how I started and then I thought I'd do six plays first, and then I thought the next time I would do another six. And it also, you can see that I didn't think I was gonna do them all because the first six were the sort of top six in a way. And then I've still got a few, I have never done.

*All’s Well That Ends Well* I haven't done, all the *Henry VI* plays I haven't done, and I haven't done those because I don't think the students would come in person to those lectures. So they were lectures first and recorded second, which you can tell. The recording quality is nothing like this.

It's very much that you are there. People are coughing and my bracelet's always, people say jangling, and I forget my place sometimes and all that. 

I have heard somebody had a real cold in one of your lectures. 

[00:07:35] Emma: Yeah, they're always in the autumn, so they're full of. Full of colds. 

[00:07:38] Varsha: I, I'm sure I heard *All’s Well That Ends Well*.

Is that not the case? I ask because you started me on a journey there by saying we should look at consent in the play. And that's what I did. 

[00:07:52] Emma: Perhaps I did do *All’s Well That Ends Well*. Maybe there’s something else that's, that's on my conscience that I haven't done. But maybe it's not [00:08:00] *All’s Well That Ends Well*.

Well, I think that's right. I think my self-denying ordinance about *All’s Well* was that I gave a lecture on it just after Laurie McGuire and I had been arguing that it was partly by Middleton, and I decided I wouldn't say anything about that in the podcast so, yeah, I did do, I did do that. 

[00:08:15] Varsha: And it was great, honestly.

So my own podcasting practice has made me see teaching very differently. It has made me see research very differently. Did that happen with you? 

[00:08:27] Emma: I think two things have maybe happened to me.

One is that research, written voice and my lecturing voice have probably converged a bit. So I don't find it as easy as I probably used to, and as I was trained to, to write that very precise, slightly arm’s-length critical prose that we're taught to do. I think I'm a bit more conversational in my research. So I think that's definitely had an impact. 

And I suppose I have come to see that raising questions about texts rather than giving people answers is kind of always the thing to do. That's what teaching probably is, and I think that's probably what research is as well. And I, I wonder if sometimes we focus too much on, you know, what's your answer to the question rather than thinking, what's so permissive about the question is that it's unanswerable in some way.

[00:09:14] Varsha: Mm-hmm. So what are many questions that we can ask from the text? As opposed to here is my definitive answer. Mm-hmm. Yeah, very much what I find with your podcast. And besides an academic audience, you have written for a general readership as well, and I want to talk about some of those books.

But before we discuss that, the number one fan of this podcast, Dr. Amritesh Singh, he has listened to and given me feedback on every podcast episode. So he had a question and he wanted to know whether there is something that is still very transgressive about being in academia and writing for a broader public, [00:10:00] and whether that changes your identity as an academic.

[00:10:04] Emma: Part of me thinks that English studies, English Literature as a discipline which is relatively new to the university, I mean a hundred years old or something, that it's a subject which has always had an identity crisis because it doesn't look very difficult. It looks like a thing you could do on your own.

You don't need to go to school to learn about it. You could be reading a book, chatting about it with your friends or other people who'd read it. You could go to the theatre. And I think because English literature has looked as if it didn't have a very specialist technical aspect to it, maybe one history of English literature as an academic discipline is how can we make it harder than just reading?

And how can we prove that this isn't just the same as going to a book group or reading, reading for fun? And I think in doing that, we've sort of taken ourselves off in a way, in the academy, a long way from all the people who enjoy literature, enjoy theatre, enjoy reading. And I suppose I have enjoyed maybe going back to that a bit and also trying to say, actually this isn't all that difficult.

I mean, it is difficult, in some really important sort of ethical ways and some questioning ways and working out, you know, how to live a good life and what the humanities are and all those, those are difficult questions. But it's not difficult in the way that maths might be difficult. That's to say you don't need to learn this, this, and this before you can even approach it.

So I've quite enjoyed that, but I think that there are people in my professional life who find that quite challenging. And I understand that because the humanities and particularly perhaps literary studies are under threat in all kinds of university settings and broader settings. And I can see that trying to defend them, I feel defending that is a really important part of what I'm trying to do.

But I suppose I'm trying to defend it actually in a way by taking the wall down a bit and saying, lots of people care about this. You know, when it, when it's lockdown. And people have more time on [00:12:00] their hands. Lots of them read, or lots of them want to find out more about the authors they read.

People are interested in this stuff and we ought to try and harness that really, rather than keep pushing it away and saying, well, that's just amateur and we are professionals. But there is something perhaps a bit transgressive about it, and it's good to get teased, my colleagues teased me it's good to be teased. 

[00:12:18] Varsha: Oh, for sure. And we can do a lot more of it. Good. Beginning with actually talking about your deeply loved and acclaimed *This is Shakespeare*.

You make a rather a striking claim in that introduction, and I'm gonna quote you now: confession. I don't really care what he might have meant and nor should you. End quote. So my student, Carson Smith wondered if you could clarify why exactly we should not care what Shakespeare might have meant.

Well, Carson, I'm pleased you asked me that question. I think it's a really important part of the way I see Shakespeare, but not, everybody and, and not the only way. I don't think for me I'm trying to understand Shakespeare as an Elizabethan or Jacobian writer or not primarily.

If I were studying Webster or Marlowe or Jonson, I might think of it more in that context, but partly what excites me about Shakespeare is that I don't think Shakespeare is timeless, but I think he has been present across time in different manifestations. And so I'm more interested in what we have made Shakespeare mean and how capacious Shakespeare has been to allow us to do that.

Which is another way of saying why is Shakespeare so great? It's because there's room for us to invent, you know, the Shakespeare that we need at a particular time. So for me, it's not a question of limiting what's possible to say about these players by saying, well, what did Shakespeare mean?

Instead he was saying, well, a) we don't know. He didn't tell us. And that was available to him. I mean, some other writers leave a body of material, which is explanatory in some way, or critical in some way, and Shakespeare really quite clearly never does [00:14:00] that, distinctly never does that. So we can't really know.

But even if we did know, what would we do with that? What would we do with that information? I think that sometimes, when you hear a modern author talk about their work, sometimes in certain ways it's completely revelatory and in other ways it, it's a moment when the author takes ownership back of their book and says, well, this is what, this is what I meant.

And before that, we might have thought as readers, it was our book. And I think what's really helpful about Shakespeare is it's not his work. And he's dead. He's dead. We can't do anything about it. So we can say, we can say what we like. And we can be playful and we can be wrong.

And we can, adapt and cut. And also Shakespeare is for complex reasons, big enough culturally, and secure enough that whatever we do, it's not, you know, he's not gonna be hurt. You know, no Shakespeare was hurt in the making of this adaptation or essay or whatever. 

I think carrying on from that actually my students, both of them Neha, Hemachandra, and Melina Costopoulos they were very interested in the fundamentally incomplete and unstable or the permissive gappiness of Shakespeare's plays that you also talk about in your book, and they wondered how does this incompleteness and instability manifest in Shakespeare's work, and what kind of freedom then does that give a reader or a performer? 

[00:15:27] Emma: So I think that that is a really fundamental question. I think that the gappiness or the incompleteness in Shakespeare is at every level of scale. So it's from a moment of punctuation where you think, well, what does that mean? Thinking about when Macbeth says to Lady Macbeth about the murder of Duncan, If we fail and she says We fail, there's a sort of, is it a question mark? Is it an exclamation mark? Is it dot dot dot, is it full stop.

You know, what is that? [00:16:00] So that's in some ways a tiny, tiny moment. Through to gaps in what we, how we understand what characters have done, have done in their past. If indeed they have a past. Is that an appropriate way to think about them? 

What are they doing off stage when they're not in the play? Through to words that we actually don't understand. I mean, the editorial tradition in Shakespeare has worked really hard to establish what do these words mean but there's loads of Shakespeare that we really can't quite pin down what it means and probably nobody ever could.Or maybe something has gone wrong in the transmission.

Through to one of the things I talk about in the book is missing stage directions. So how do we know whether Katherine, at the end of *The Taming of the Shrew* does kneel down, ready for her husband to put her hand beneath his foot as she offers, or whether she stands there with her arms folded and says, yeah, go on. Ask me, you know, make me.

You know, these are very different kinds of moments. And sometimes I think they're the absolute basis of the play. So in *Richard II* I don't think we know whether it was the right thing or even in what context you would call it the right thing for Bolingbroke to depose Richard. Given that's what the play's about, that's quite a big gap.

And given that this is a play written in a very monarchical world, it's quite an extraordinary gap actually. Not to know, not to be absolutely clear. So it's partly that Shakespeare's not a didactic writer, I don't think he is trying to tell us what to think, which is probably why he doesn't write religious poetry like most of his contemporaries.

And doesn't write. And I was thinking, we've heard quite a bit about Shakespeare over recent, current events and thinking that one of the things that Shakespeare is criticized for in his own lifetime is not writing funeral poetry for the death of Queen Elizabeth I. And presumably that's because that's a moment when you can only say one thing which is not a great moment, probably for quite a sort of free-spirited writer like Shakespeare.


[00:17:54] Varsha: And there's a lot of fun in that, isn't there? Because for me, Katherine can be somebody who's you [00:18:00] know, crossed her arms and dared, and for another person she might be somebody who's so broken by this point that she does offer. Yeah. So I think there's a lot of fun in that, isn’t there?

[00:18:10] Emma: Isn't there a lot of fun? Yeah. One of the gaps, one category of gap is the gap of embodiment. You know, what's the difference between a play script and a play on the stage? And that's bodies. And bodies can do all kinds of transgressive things or can convey information in different ways.

I've become really interested in characters who aren't speaking. Because when you read a play, you pretty much forget that they're even there. Whereas if they're on stage and they're not speaking, that's often a very powerful thing. It's a really good thing to look out for. Gertrudes in *Hamlet*, Gertrude is on stage an awful lot.

She doesn't speak very much, but if you're acting, if you're an actor who gets to play Gertrude, you're acting all the time. Either complicit or horrified or bewildered or drunk or whatever. Whatever it is you choose to be doing. 

[00:18:53] Varsha: And I'm obsessed with Gertrude and I think that lots of actresses actually have found some really complex and nuanced ways to fill those gaps, whereas lots of directors usually male, are not interested in enough.

[00:19:09] Emma: I think that's right. Criticism is not very interested either. There's an awful lot of commentary on *Hamlet*, both theatrical and critical, which believes Hamlet's view of the world. Yeah. And once you recognise that if the play *Hamlet* were a novel, Hamlet would be an unreliable narrator.

He really is not the person from whom we need to get our information, about the court and the behavior of his stepfather and his mother and so on. So yeah, I think as soon as you allow for that, Gertrude does become much more interesting. 

[00:19:38] Varsha: Yeah, we'll watch out for that because we're going to do *Hamlet* Without Hamlet, we've decided.

Excellent. So yeah, there's no need to inherit the misogyny of Hamlet and now you have it from a very established authority. Okay, so changing tack and talking about your other book, *Portable Magic*. Now I come from a [00:20:00] culture in which if you drop a book. Any book, right? It could contain anything. If you drop it, you pick it up and then kiss it by way of an apology for dropping it.

I actually had to make all the shelves in my house very low because I save 15 minutes during the day by not dropping and kissing the books. So I really connected with *Portable Magic* because it of course is about books as material objects having meanings. Different to, or even in excess of their contents.

And the chapter that I really enjoyed was what you called Shelfies and in this chapter you trace women across the ages who are posing with a particular book to fashion their identity. And one of them is Lady Anne Clifford, who is a contemporary of Shakespeare’s. So for the benefit of the listeners who are yet to read the book could you tell us a little bit about her shelfie and could you also tell us if you found any other women in Shakespeare's time posing with books like that?

[00:21:09] Emma: Yeah, so Lady Anne Clifford is a redoubtable woman from the north of England. She spends most of her adult life in legal disputes about being allowed to inherit the family property as a woman. And she finally does wear down the legal authorities and I think maybe a, a cousin or something dies.

And so she inherits this big estate around Skipton, in Yorkshire or Cumbria. And she has as a kind of celebration a painting of herself in the, quite a fashionable court style, but it's in three pieces. So it's a, it's a triptych. And in the middle section is her parents and her two brothers and she doesn't seem to be there, but a little notice on it says she's in the womb. It's kind of spooky. It's a bit like the stage direction, which is my favourite, which is, Enter Ariel invisible. [00:22:00] So there she is in the womb, you think? Okay, fine. And on the left-hand side, she's a young woman reading.

And on the right-hand side, she’s a, older woman but what's great about it is in all three panels, there are painted books and there are books that are painted with labels on so that you can see what each of them is. So it's not just, sort of rent a roll of books as a background.

She's really picking very carefully what does she want to say about herself because of the books she has. So there's a hundred or so books named and it's a really interesting combination of, her own life. So we know as a young woman, she dances in one of the court masques that James and Anne king, queen have at Whitehall.

And she has a book of those masques. Later we know that she hears John Donne deliver a sermon and she has a book of Donne’s sermons. So there's a kind of autobiography, which I found very moving cuz I think that's probably many of us could look at our bookshelves and say, I've got that book because of that time in my life, that person, that interest, that trip, whatever.

And so you use them as a kind of biography. She has some books about religion. She also has some books about estate management, farming, architecture. So she has some books that relate to herself as a landowner. And so she's saying the whole of the painting is sort of iconographically meaningful, but these books in particular, really say something about her intelligence and her connections and her sophistication.

It's a wonderful, wonderful painting on display at Abbott's Hall in Kendal.

And, and I tried to carry that story forward a bit, thinking about how women in particular present themselves as intellectually serious. It's extraordinary that that should be a question for Anne Clifford in the 17th century. It should be a question for Marilyn Monroe in the mid-20th century.

It's a question that in most conversations in the 21st century, we still recognize but using books, particular books to, to, to generate that. 

[00:23:52] Varsha: What Shakespeare books would you pose with, not your own? 

[00:23:56] Emma: Well, that's partly working on that has made me so [00:24:00] self-conscious about, you know, if someone says, what are you reading?

Or I tell you what made me really conscious of this was that during lockdown times, everybody who was interviewed on the BBC News or whatever was interviewed at home and they mostly had a book shelf behind them. And then there was a brilliant Twitter account called Bookcase Credibility, which just had each day a kind of snapshot of these, and then gave an interpretation of the books and it was just very, very witty and very funny.

But I became very self-conscious about this and think what would you, you know, You're choosing things that make you look. clever or make you look serious or make you look a bit wacky, and then you think, well, do I know what I actually want? Or is it all about that?

So, yeah, I've become much more self-conscious about that. 

[00:24:44] Varsha: I think the academic world will decide that you need to be pictured with the First Folio of Shakespeare. 

[00:24:52] Emma: That will have to be photoshopped in then, because since it's worth 10 million pounds, I'm probably not on my, on my shelf. 

[00:24:59] Varsha: Well actually, this might be a very good moment to ask you because one of the strands of your academic work has focused on Shakespeare's First Folio, which is the first of the Complete Works of Shakespeare, that was published in 1623.

And in your book, *Shakespeare's First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book*, you are again concerned with readers of the book rather than contents per se. So would you tell us about some important or interesting women readers or maybe owners of the First Folio?

[00:25:33] Emma: Yeah, that's a great question.

So, the First Folio is a big, big book. It's about 900 pages, and the folio word just refers to a size of book and effectively it's a size of paper, like a foolscap page, something like that. So they're big heavy books and one of the things I was interested in is the way they begin what for Shakespeare has been, on the [00:26:00] one hand a

rise in cultural value and importance and maybe a decline in popularity. You know, so everybody thinks Shakespeare is great and important, and not so many people think it's fun or enjoyable or something. So it, it's a, it is a double edged sword. I guess. So the book that I wrote about the First Folio I tried to look at copies that exist now and try and work out where they had been for 400 years, and what they had been doing, what people had been doing to them, and what that might tell us about Shakespeare and, and other things more generally.

And for the first hundred years of that life it's quite an expensive book, but nevertheless, it's a working book. It's not a treasure. And so people write in it and I dunno if you know that the advice if you were a reader in the 16th and 17th century, you always read with a pen in your hand and reading was inseparable from marking.

That's how you knew you were reading. You were marking up bits that you thought were interesting or that you thought, I wish I could write that, or you thought, I'm gonna copy that later and so we see these books, these copies of this book, all marked up by early readers, including a number by, by women or with women's signatures in them.

So we can see quite a lot of women readers in the early period and I think women are important in establishing Shakespeare as a, a literary property. And then I think there's a period where Shakespeare gets taken back by largely male editors. And then in the 19th century we start to get a few women collectors.

But as the book gains in value it tends to be associated with male collectors. So it's not a, absolutely, a kind of feminist folio would be a really interesting line to take through that. And it would probably focus on the early period. Before this becomes a great sort of relic almost, too valuable to touch.

[00:27:52] Varsha: And it's interesting right, because literally there are questions of ownership of Shakespeare in it. 

[00:27:59] Emma: Yeah. And who [00:28:00] wants to put their name on it too? Because we think that people may have written their names in books that they didn't own, but they were doing almost a bit of graffiti.

They're saying, you know, I was here, I was here on this. And there are a few examples of groups of women cousins, sisters, friendship groups, who’ve all signed a copy in the, in the 18th century or something, which gives you a sense, you know, this is, this is a record of them. And I suppose what I was most interested in, in a way about this book, the ways it keeps connecting back to humans.

And human kind of human desires, I suppose, for connection. 

[00:28:36] Varsha: Mm-hmm. And I now have this project that I want everyone to imagine what might a feminist folio look like? So yeah, I can see some people nodding and getting ideas for their assignments already. 

[00:28:50] Emma: Excellent. I'd love to see those. I’d really love to see those.

[00:28:52] Varsha: Talking about human and books. There are some disturbing things that we need to address. And I think my student Kyla Butts was disturbed, I think to learn from *Portable Magic* that some books used to be covered with human skin and now we, thankfully, view this practice as horrendous, she says, and she wondered whether with our growing awareness of the climate crisis, we might begin to think of paper as a very horrendous material for books. 

But if we get rid of paper, what happens to the coffee stains, the smells, the dog ears that you write about in *Portable Magic*? How would going paper free affect the materiality of the book?

[00:29:36] Emma: Yeah, I think, I think we don't know what a sort of paper free material book would look like and whether there is a new, so we can see that the history of substrate, you know, the stuff you write on, has gone from papyrus to vellum, that's to say animal skin, through linen paper made of rags through to wood pulp paper.

And we're at, we're in the wood pulp paper age now. [00:30:00] It's absolutely true that publishing is a hugely wasteful industry of resources. Not least because far too many books, far too many copies of books. Probably far too many books, absolutely, but far too many copies of books are printed and there's a large, I think publishing tends to slightly obscure that, but a large amount of pulping, some recycling. 

One of the things I like best about the one of the things I found out for this book was that the, the M6 freeway, you know, the motorway in the, in the UK, has a layer of romance novels, pulped which is supposed to be very absorbent, which I, which I like.

So definitely this is material that's being, these are resources which are being wasted. And I think that's a real question. Where we're headed with that? I think the question about human skin is really, really fascinating and, and interesting. You're right that we do now find this horrific, but there's nevertheless museums that, that have human remains as part of collections often records of extraordinary colonial, usually colonial violence, imperial violence, they are developing proper protocols are how you deal with that material. 

I'm not sure that libraries, rare book libraries have really got the same idea. And there's a museum in the UK and their most prized possession is an account of a crime which is bound in the skin of the man who was hanged for committing the crime.

And they love this in a halloweeny kind of way. And I keep thinking, keep saying, I'm not sure really. I think this probably should be buried. You know, you could rebound it, you could bind it in a different binding and maybe this, but maybe the human material we should get rid of. 

[00:31:33] Varsha: Mm. Would you be nostalgic for paper and the coffee stains and the dog ears and all of those things?

[00:31:40] Emma: Yeah. I mean, I'm not an evangelist. But yeah, I'm of a generation to have grown up with books as physical objects and to feel that you go everywhere with a book that's just.

That's just what you have with you in your bag. And that's always been the case. So yeah, I would, I would miss those. And the, and the record that they carry of other people who've been there before [00:32:00] you, which is, you know, maybe the ebook is a little bit of a fantasy that we are the first people to read this text.

And that's not a fantasy I really enjoy. 

[00:32:08] Varsha: No, from time to time students, when they use editions of plays, tell me, oh, this is the note, this person has left. And it becomes a very interesting conversation. 

[00:32:18] Emma: Yeah, definitely. I, I think there are lots of ways we've tried to make e-books more like books. I think one of the things that's so interesting about the e-book revolution is that e-books have not developed their own syntax or structure. They really just want to be books. Yeah. You know, they're called things like Paperwhite or something. You know, they want to be books. 

[00:32:36] Varsha: I do want to ask you one more question and my student, Hannah Littler, she says, and I'm quoting her, she says, I imagine that Shakespeare has been a field dominated by the majority and is facing a huge reckoning in terms of its discussion or non-discussion of race and class. That's what she says. 

Now I know, and I am very thankful for the initiatives that you are undertaking in your various roles as the editor of *Shakespeare Survey* journal and Oxford World’s Classics series of Shakespeare's plays to make sure that diverse voices are represented in the field. So please tell us about some of the changes that you are making and also what can other senior academics push for to make the field more inclusive? 

[00:33:28] Emma: Well, I think the main thing is senior academics need to listen more and listen to the voices of people who are at different parts of their career with different experiences and have different things that they need to say and they need us to hear , about Shakespeare. So I think that's the main thing actually, we’re in quite a hierarchical, even the idea of senior academics suggests it's quite a hierarchical field.

But the flip side of that is we're in an amazingly exciting time in our field. I think this must be the most [00:34:00] energetic that Shakespeare studies has been for decades. And there are, there is real fundamentally different and challenging work with real world impact and with real world questions behind it which we all need to take time to learn about.

So, I feel extraordinarily privileged to be able to try and, yeah, learn more, learn more about it, and to be more in, in listening. I think as you get more senior, kind of in a way the, it's a good way to end the podcast where I have just been holding forth. I think as you get more senior, you tend to hold forth more and just say, you know, This is how it should be.

And people say, oh, that's so interesting. And what do you think about this? And then you say, and this is what I think about this. We need to, we need to stop. We need to listen more. 

[00:34:42] Varsha: You do listen more. And I know that for a fact in my personal experiences with you, right, right from the beginning when I was extremely nervous.

First time conference presenter. You probably don't remember it, but I do. 

[00:34:57] Emma: Of course I remember, on *Two Noble Kinsmen*. I do remember it, absolutely. 

[00:35:00] Varsha: That's fantastic and thank you. We are very lucky to have you in the field, Emma, and we're very lucky to have you here. If we could thank our speaker please.

[00:35:10] Emma: Thank you. 

[00:35:10] Varsha: That was Emma Smith talking about the First Folio, approaching Shakespeare, and the love of portable magic that books are. This episode was produced by the. Peyton Harmon who had to contend against many traffic noises as we recorded in a classroom by the main road.

 Next month, we will be talking to the playwright, Hannah Khalil, about her collaboration with Shakespeare and Fletcher as she adapted the play *King Henry VIII* for Shakespeare's Globe. Perhaps it would be a fitting episode for the coronation of King Charles III in May? Well, you decide. So dear listeners, adieu, adieu, adieu. Remember to tune in to [00:36:00] *Women & Shakespeare*, streaming at Apple Podcast and Spotify. If you want to listen to the podcast with a full transcript, head over to the website, www.womenandshakespeare.com. Until then, keep smashing the patriarchy.