Women and Shakespeare

S4: E6: Tiffany Stern on Rehearsal Practices, Ballads, Popular Entertainments

February 23, 2024 Varsha Panjwani/Tiffany Stern Season 4 Episode 6
S4: E6: Tiffany Stern on Rehearsal Practices, Ballads, Popular Entertainments
Women and Shakespeare
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Women and Shakespeare
S4: E6: Tiffany Stern on Rehearsal Practices, Ballads, Popular Entertainments
Feb 23, 2024 Season 4 Episode 6
Varsha Panjwani/Tiffany Stern

In this episode, Professor Tiffany Stern discusses her books and tells us about rehearsal practices, ballads, and popular entertainments in Shakespeare's day. She also tells us about being a general editor and editing The Tempest.

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

Interviewer: Varsha Panjwani
Guest: Tiffany Stern
Researchers:  Sonia Kukula & Annika Suderburg 
Producers:   Isabella DeJoy & Emma Munson
Transcript: Benjamin Poore
Artwork: Wenqi Wan

Suggested Citation:  Stern, Tiffany in conversation with Panjwani, Varsha (2024). Tiffany Stern on Rehearsal Practices, Ballads, Popular Entertainments [Podcast], Series 4, Ep. 6. http://womenandshakespeare.com/

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

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Professor Tiffany Stern discusses her books and tells us about rehearsal practices, ballads, and popular entertainments in Shakespeare's day. She also tells us about being a general editor and editing The Tempest.

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

Interviewer: Varsha Panjwani
Guest: Tiffany Stern
Researchers:  Sonia Kukula & Annika Suderburg 
Producers:   Isabella DeJoy & Emma Munson
Transcript: Benjamin Poore
Artwork: Wenqi Wan

Suggested Citation:  Stern, Tiffany in conversation with Panjwani, Varsha (2024). Tiffany Stern on Rehearsal Practices, Ballads, Popular Entertainments [Podcast], Series 4, Ep. 6. http://womenandshakespeare.com/

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

Hello, dear listeners, welcome to Women & Shakespeare. I'm your host, Dr. Varsha Panjwani, and I think that today's episode is going to impress my lovely uncle, James Poore.  So my uncle is lovely because when he reads the newspaper, he selects articles that would be important to me and then he painstakingly cuts them out and every couple of months posts these cuttings to me.

 I'm telling you this story, because the maximum cuttings that I have received are written by, or quote, this episode's podcast guest, Professor Tiffany Stern.  So, my uncle is clearly a fan.  Now, turns out that Tiffany is also a fan of her uncle. But before we get into that, let me introduce you to her brilliant work.

 Tiffany Stern is a professorial fellow in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama at the Shakespeare Institute.  Her work has illuminated the theatrical conditions and original practices of rehearsal and performance that were used in Shakespeare's time. 

 She's the author of numerous books on the subject. Some of the ones we touched on were Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan, Making Shakespeare from Stage to Page, Documents of Performance in Early Modern England, and her co-authored book, Shakespeare in Parts. She has also edited several essay collections on these topics, and my favourite one was Shakespeare's Theatres and the Effects of Performance.

 Her work on the practical side of Shakespearean performance is extensively used by theatre companies who are interested in putting on productions, that are based on practices that were used in Shakespeare's time, or, as these are more commonly termed, original practices. 

 She's also the general editor of the New Mermaids play series and Arden Shakespeare series 4, and is producing an edition of The Tempest.  Her current projects include a book on early modern theatre and popular entertainment, particularly the cultural exchanges between playhouses and fairgrounds, and it's provisionally titled Playing Fair.

 She's also writing a book on Shakespeare beyond performance, which discusses theatrical documents, which are produced in the light of a play’s performance, such as ballads.  Now, Tiffany wraps up our series four. So, we got a bit carried away and indulged in a longer conversation and have produced a slightly extended episode to compensate for the little hiatus before series five.  So without further delay, let me take you into my classroom where this episode was recorded.  


Varsha: Tiffany, it's so great to have you here because whenever I think of a question, no matter how obscure it is about, oh, I wonder how people rehearsed in Shakespeare's time or I wonder how they advertised it, I know that I should look up your work because you would have done something on it. So it's such a great pleasure to welcome you to the Women & Shakespeare podcast.

Tiffany: Thank you so much. What a lovely introduction. Thank you. 

Varsha: What was your first encounter with Shakespeare, and what was the nature of that encounter? 

Tiffany: I had a really lucky first encounter that very much shaped my life. And that is that my uncle was a director, and he was a director of soap operas. But he had a private love of Shakespeare, and he set up a little theatre company, and the idea was that this company would perform in the absolute original way. And so my first encounter with Shakespeare was watching my uncle's productions and thinking about all the questions about originality he was asking.

Tiffany: And what was great about this is that my first encounter then was performance, and was sort of joyous, and I was thoroughly involved in it, and I didn't realise that Shakespeare was kind of meant to be difficult or obscure. It just seemed really, really fun. And then my uncle's questions were so good, they shaped my writing life. But I also ended up with a huge problem that I didn't prove my uncle as right as I’d hoped I might do. So, family tension. But, it was a wonderful, wonderful start for me. 

Varsha: That's great. The person who introduced you to Shakespeare, you spent your life maybe proving them wrong. 

Tiffany: A little bit. I did dedicate a couple of books to him and give him a very nice cake.  

Varsha: Well, okay. Well, there, there are positives and negatives. So great. You are someone who has been interested in researching the mechanics of rehearsal processes in Shakespeare's time. So could you please take us through the 16th, 17th century process of preparing a play for the stage? 

Tiffany: I think the thing that was very, very exciting and intriguing for me is when I realised that a different play was put on every day in Shakespeare's time and I was kind of, well, if they're putting on a different play every day and they're not repeating them that often and they're adding a new one in every two weeks or so I was kind of, well, when are they doing all that rehearsal? Where's their four weeks rehearsal?

Tiffany: And it's really clear, once you see that they've got a different daily play, you're kind of, oh, okay, so they're not rehearsing in our sense. So how on earth are they doing these majestic and incredibly complicated bits of work that we think you have to put days and months into? So I started looking into that, and as it seems, the actual group rehearsal they had was maybe, was as, well, as few rehearsals as possible because they weren't paid. So, so you're looking for, ideally, one group rehearsal. If you're desperate, you will have no group rehearsals, and if the play's really bad, you'll have another group rehearsal, but it's not paid, and you've got a load of other stuff to do. So really, you're looking for one, if possible.

Tiffany: So instead, how you learnt your plays, there was no director, there was a prompter, but there wasn't a director, so there wasn't someone with a concept. And actors were given their own parts with cues, and their parts had just their lines on them, and then a cue of the one to three words before each of their speeches.

Tiffany: So they had this strip of text that was everything that their character would say in a play. But nothing that would be said to or about them. So they deeply knew their bit, and they vaguely knew the story they were in. And provided you'd learnt your part in that fashion, you could come together and put on a play in the same way that if you're in an orchestra you don't have to learn the full orchestral score. You have to know how to do your violin bit. And then the conductor will bring it all together and make it work.

Tiffany: So, sort of, that was what was happening in that period. But it became really exciting for me then to think, Gosh, that unit of the actor's part, just that actor's lines and cues. What happens if, although those actual literal physical parts are lost, we can get them back because we can take a big play and we can divide it back into actor's parts.

Tiffany: And then we can analyse the play part by part. And see what counter narratives or other stories are going on in actors’ parts. So, in brief I ended up writing a book on rehearsal, 16th to 18th century rehearsal. But then I ended up writing a different book that was, what happens if we divide Shakespeare into parts, with my friend Simon Palfrey, Shakespeare in Parts.  

Tiffany: And then, because now I was so interested in parts, I got to be interested in the other documents that were also brought on stage for performance like letters and songs and prologues and epilogues. And I started to see how plays were made up of these different documents that had different lives and could be revised at different rates and could be written by different authors. And the whole world of the play became much more complex and exciting once I understood the theatrical mechanics of it. 

Varsha: I love how some of the students have just realised that they had only one or two group rehearsals and have gone, Oh boy. But it's going to be interesting, I think, to do that parts analysis.

Varsha: And I think there is a free resource on the web now where you can see just the parts. 

Tiffany: Yes, I think there are one or two now. And it is incredibly telling. You, you might need to think about what to look for. But, if I can give you some pointers. You know, it's really interesting when someone switches from prose to verse, or verse to prose.

Tiffany: And sometimes when you're looking at a full play, it's going in and out of prose and verse and you're seeing it in that universal way. But an individual actor's part, the actor will go, Oh look! Prose, prose, prose, prose, prose, verse. Oh, I must have some massive switch there.

Tiffany: So prose to verse, questions to answers, long speeches to short speeches, clowning to poetry. There are all sorts of things that help you see the play differently. And we often see a play, because we look at the whole play. We see something like King Lear and we go, Oh, tragedy.

Tiffany: And then we see every single bit in it as tragic. But if you're the fool in King Lear, you see an essentially funny part. And if you don't particularly know you're in a tragedy, would you perform that differently? So thinking of parts can kind of make us think about genre and all kinds of other things differently.

Varsha: Is it then important for a modern practitioner to understand this process? I know you've worked with many theatres and theatre companies, and how have they used this research?

Tiffany: Well, there have been theatre companies that were very interested in originality. And, as I say, following on in a way from my uncle Patrick's original Shakespeare company, and the Globe in London was built originally because they wanted to do original performance in an original space and see what they'd learn.

Tiffany: And the same with the Blackfriars Theatre in Stanton, Virginia. And so at certain points when people have been really interested in originality they have liked to talk to me about some of those processes. But I should say that originality is kind of rotating out of fashion at present. I think because originality comes with baggage.

Tiffany: And for instance, you know, depending how original you're being. Well, if you want to be original and have or all male performances, well, that's a bit tough on ladies. And I think it's interesting that an actor doing a modern performance in a modern way will very often take the whole script, get a highlighter pen, and highlight their bit.

Tiffany: And essentially, they're writing their actor's part, as it were. I think one thing about an actor's part is, it makes the play about you. But also, it gives you that unit of your character to analyse more than the rest of the play. And I think you can only learn by doing that. 

Varsha: Great. I love how you're talking about it, that we can pick and choose, right? Sometimes we will forget that we can. That either we have to go all in on thinking about whatever original practices might mean or not at all. So I love that we can mix and match and I think it would be really profitable to go about it that way. 

Varsha: In the collection Shakespeare's Theatre and the Effects of Performance, which you co-edited with Farah Karim Cooper, you wrote about the relationship between Shakespeare's physical stage and the content of his plays. Could you tell us a little bit more about how this works?

Tiffany: Yes, it's really intriguing. So there's a technical word for when the theatre refers to itself, which is metatheatre. Or metadrama. So originally, I was just thinking about the theatre structure.

Tiffany: And I was thinking, I wonder how that metatheatrically relates to the plays that are put on within its space. Because in a modern production you might have all sorts of scenery. But in an early modern production, you didn't have scenery exactly, so your scenery was that fixed stage.

Tiffany: So I was thinking, well, how do you use that fixed stage in all those different plays? And do bits of the stage accrue meaning from having been used in all sorts of different plays? I can give you some weird examples. So one thing is that if there was a pickpocket or a bad person in the theatre and they were caught, one way you could punish them and humiliate them was to tie them to one of the pillars on the stage that supported the little roof over the stage. The person is publicly shamed, it's quite interesting to realise that those pillars are not then just pillars that look like marble. They're also associated with punishment. 

Tiffany: But now, you've got someone who's maybe clowning around in your play, whether they're a repentant thief, or a bold thief. being tied to the stake being these pillars, and having your eyes plucked out and you kind of think Oh, I see these pillars are already bleak because they are punishment pillars.

Tiffany: And I came to realise that there were all kinds of bits of the stage that had meaning or accrued meaning, and that when you understood the meaning of the play and the meaning of the stage, that added a layer. So, you realise that the stage is adding layers onto the play, that maybe we lose because we don't quite understand the theatre in the same way. So I enjoyed thinking through some of the literal and some of the fictive meanings of the bits of the stage.

Varsha: And I think that it happens now if we go to a particular theatre often enough, right? We start associating particular jokes happening at particular times. And then if you are a regular, actors call on our memories of a particular thing that happened.

Tiffany: I think it really can. And we've lost this a little bit in this country because we don't have much repertory theatre anymore. Which is to say, a company and you get to know that company and you see the company and you see them in their theatre and you become a fan of a particular actor and you name your dog after them and things like that. And we tend much more often now to have people come together, do a play in a place and then they all disperse.

Tiffany: And, and I think we've lost some of the associations that came with a repertory company with a fixed theatre, and I think we need it back. So. Sometimes in America you get a bit more of that. But anyway, go home, set up repertory companies, and excite us all. 

Varsha: Well, there's your assignment. You were talking about this edited collection in the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast, which I also recommend because I love it.

Varsha: And you mentioned lots of sensory elements could you tell us about some of the special effects that were used to bring the play to life for audiences? 

Tiffany: Well, we had great people who wrote essays for that book. And one of them, Gwilym Jones, was looking at fireworks on the stage in storm scenes.

Tiffany: And these are fascinating. There are a couple of ways of making a storm. And one is to have someone rolling a cannonball up and down a slope and that makes a kind of rumbly thunder sound. But if you want thunder and lightning you have a squib, a little firework. And you cast it onto the stage and it goes bang and then there's a flash.

Tiffany: And this is a terrible thing to do with a wooden theatre in early modern London, but this is what they did. And there are all kinds of interesting things, when you start to work out which storms are the cannonball and which storms are the squib. And sometimes you can spot the storm that's the squib.

Tiffany: Because the squib also releases a foul sulphuric odour. And you often find plays really quite randomly mentioning sulphur somewhat closely to mentioning a thunderstorm. And you realise that they're metatheatrically explaining that smell you're smelling anyway. So that's one kind of sensory element in the theatre.

Tiffany: And there were also good essays in that book on stage blood. Andrea Stevens and Lucy Munro both wrote on stage blood. And one was writing on paint as stage blood, which is, you know, that's really good because it's vivid. And the other was writing on when you use animal blood for your stage blood. And then, it's much browner and it smells of blood.

Tiffany:. So, again, you might want to think about the kind of whether you want fictional or factual blood for this. And the other bad thing about factual blood is it stains clothes and it's very hard to get off. So if you're going to use factual blood, you usually want someone in a little cheap shift, not in a gorgeous doublet.

Tiffany: So sometimes you can see people quite unnecessarily stripping as they approach a death moment, and that's so that the correct clothes can get bloodied. So the book had all kinds of interesting things, and I've subsequently become so interested also in the snacks and drinks being sold in the theatre to the audience, because that also really affects the audience experience.

Tiffany: And also if the audience get angry, they throw the stuff on stage. So, the audience are maybe a bit like us at the cinema, where you're watching and you're also munching and you're also drinking and you're kind of giving yourself lots of presents so that the whole business is a great treat.

Tiffany: But that affects your understanding of these plays and you might want to think about banquet scenes in plays if you yourself are having a tasty munch. 

Varsha: Yeah, they've seen Titus Andronicus recently, so maybe not quite the play to have a tasty munch right at the end.

Tiffany: Maybe not a pie.

Varsha: I often think about snacks as well, because I mean that affects banquet scenes, but also starvation scenes, right, where people are being deprived of food, in Taming of the Shrew, for example, and if you've just started munching a snack and you’re seeing people starving – how is it going to change your relationship?

Tiffany: Yes. And again, this is in a way metatheatre, you know, and this also will affect different audience members who are or are not eating at that moment. 

Varsha: You are very interested in the ways in which low and high culture interact, and especially in theatres of Shakespeare's time. And one of the popular culture forms that you have been championing is the ballad. And you've described how intimately these are connected with the plays. So, before we get any further, could you tell us what ballads are? 

Tiffany: Absolutely. So their most basic ballads are songs, popular songs. But the way they were marketed and sold at the time was on one large sheet of paper written on one side. And you would get all the words, they're always very, very long, many, many verses, and you'd get all the verses on one side of paper with some lovely pictures that are somewhat relevant.

Tiffany: But they'd pick the nearest thing, so they'd go, Oh, here's this, this is about a man and a lady, so here's a man, here's a lady. So you'd get these ballad sheets that were very cheap. And they didn't have the actual music on them, because a lot of people couldn't read music, and because music type was expensive.

Tiffany: So instead, they would name the tune, which you would already know. So, there'd be a ballad and it would say, To the tune of ‘Fortune, my Foe’. And you'd go, Oh, I love ‘Fortune, My Foe’. I've already got five ballads to the tune of ‘Fortune, My Foe’, but I'm certainly going to buy any ballad that's to the tune of ‘Fortune, My Foe’.

Tiffany: And most ballads sung about people about to be hanged were set to that particular tune. So if you went to a hanging, you'd get a ballad telling in the first person, the kind of: ‘I'm so sorry, I killed my dad, and now I'm rightly being killed myself’. And it would be in ballad form, in it, to the tune of ‘Fortune, My Foe’, and you would buy it.

Tiffany: So, there's also a ballad of Titus Andronicus. It's to the tune of ‘Fortune, My Foe’, and I think that's very telling. It's to the hanging tune. But anyway, so that's what a ballad is. It's a sheet of paper with the words and the name of the tune, and some pictures. 

Varsha: And how do we find this useful in terms of thinking about plays in the period? 

Tiffany: So, for me, there are two fascinating things. One is ballads that tell the story of whole plays. And there seem to have been quite a lot of these. There was a Romeo and Juliet one that's lost; the Titus Andronicus one we have; there's a King Lear one.

Tiffany: So those are circulating round, so the ballads kind of advertise the plays a bit, and equally the plays sort of advertise the ballads a bit, so they've got a very useful co-partnership. And at certain points in time, you can see that there are some printers who are specializing in play ballads. Danter is one of these printers.

Tiffany: So that's one thing. Those are ballads that are about whole plays. And, which also mean you can go to a play and you're never going to be worried that you won't get the story. Because the story is there. And for us, we might think, Oh, what a horrible spoiler. But anyone who ever goes to the opera, if you go to the opera, they always tell you the story of the program.

Tiffany: And actually, I have been to some Shakespeare productions where they tell you the story in the programme. And I think there's nothing wrong with knowing the story so that you're not frightened by thinking you don't get it on stage. Now you can concentrate on the lovely words. So that's one kind of ballad.

Tiffany: And then there's another kind of ballad, which is a ballad that is sung in a play. And very often you get Shakespeare characters breaking out into ballads. And you'll kind of, you know, why is Hamlet singing ‘Jephthah, Judge of Israel’? Why is Desdemona singing the Willow Song? So, people in Shakespeare plays, and other people's plays, often start singing popular, already known ballads.

Tiffany: And that's when I realised that the ballad singer/sellers, because you sell the ballad by singing it – you have piles of them, and then you sing it, and you sell it – and they're just by the doors, the outside doors of the theatre, entertaining the queues as they're waiting, as they're waiting to come in to the theatre.

Tiffany: So that keeps those people behaving. No rowdiness in the queue because they're being entertained. And then they can buy the ballads, so this is good for the ballad singer. And again, it co-promotes the play. It's an advert for the play or a memorial. It could be your souvenir from the play. And so I started to realise, gosh, the theatre, it's not just that thing that happens inside its circle. It extends to a different group of people outside selling a different text that deeply relates to the texts that are in the plays. 

Varsha: Absolutely. And the way you're describing it is so the way in which Bollywood movies operate now. So what they do very purposefully is that the release of songs is prior to the movie. Once we love the songs already, we're wanting to find out where they fit in the movie. Once we've seen those in the movie, then we are thinking about the movie when we are singing those songs. So it works in a very beautiful manner, actually. 

Tiffany: I love it. I love it. It just goes to show, you know, we're often looking for the past to be different. But often what the past is, is a version of now. 

Varsha: I was actually very moved by the relationship that you have described in your previous talks between a ballad and a scene towards the end in Othello when Desdemona is talking to Emilia, and then she recalls the sad Willow Song that you just mentioned, and she says that my mother's maid used to sing it. Could you please tell us about your findings? I found that really moving.

Tiffany: Oh, thank you. Yes, it's an extraordinary, it's a wonderful female moment in Othello where Desdemona is getting undressed and she's with her maid Emilia and, and Desdemona says, my mother had a maid called Barbary. She was in love and he she loved proved mad and did forsake her.

Tiffany: And then she says, she had a song of willow. And then she starts to sing the Willow Song. And what I found myself very moving there is here's a song that takes Desdemona to her mother. So it crosses generations to her mother's maid. So it crosses class, and the maid is called Barbary, which I think therefore suggests that she is African. So it crosses race as well.

Tiffany: And suddenly we've got all women, class, time, race, all joined together. Alas, all joined together in extraordinary sorrow about men, but, you know. So she sings this moving song, the Willow Song which is about a, a forlorn woman who's been badly treated by a man.

Tiffany: And of course, we realise she's recalling this song because it's now about her and her relationship with Othello, but it's also reflecting on Emilia and her relationship with Iago. But what's super weird and completely fascinating about that song is we've got the ballad sheet of the song, but on the ballad sheet it's a song about a forlorn man who's been very hurt by a woman, so it's gender reversed, and you're kind of, wow, why did Shakespeare make the ultimate female song a song that the audience might know as a male song?

Tiffany: But then you realise how complicated and rich that is, because now, Othello's sorrow is also sort of there behind the sorrow of Desdemona and Emilia you know, in this tragic love story. So, I found it complicated and beautiful thinking through all of that. 

Varsha: Do you think the audience definitely would have known this song, entering? Would they bring in their associations as well? 

Tiffany: I think Shakespeare is anticipating – I mean you can't know on an individual basis, but – he's anticipating general knowledge of the song, not only because Desdemona sings quite far through it, but also because at a certain point she goes wrong. And she says, no that's not next.

Tiffany: So, you know, I was thinking, why would you script, why would you script that, why would you script Desdemona goes wrong? So, of course, then I looked at the ballad text, where's she going wrong, what should she be saying? And where she fluffs the line, which the real line is, I die for her love.

Tiffany: So if you know the real line, you're kind of, Oh, she's going to die. Oh no. And when a bit of play kind of looks forward in that way, that we sometimes call it proleptic. So it's a kind of amazing proleptic moment for people who know the ballad. If you don't know the ballad, it's fine. But if you do know the ballad, extra richness.

Tiffany: And Shakespeare's certainly expecting some people who do. And that makes me think, well I wonder if he arranges, then. Does he have a word with the ballad singers, like kind of, You’d do well to be selling the Willow Song tonight or singing and selling the Willow Song. You know, how does it – today rather, how does it work? 

Varsha: And that's great. And especially if the audience then brought their own feelings to it as well. So that everyone's kind of feelings will be mixed up in this way. Wow. Okay. There are other things and cultural exchanges that you're interested in, especially between playhouses and fairgrounds. Could you elaborate on that? 

Tiffany: Yes. So I am one of the general editors of Arden Shakespeare fourth series, which is about to start coming out. This is relevant. It sounds irrelevant. This is relevant. I was looking at Ardens 1, 2, and 3, and I was realising that what we do is we take a Shakespeare line and we footnote it, and we always footnote it with very high literature.

Tiffany: So the footnote is always kind of, oh, I think this could be a reference to Virgil here, you know. And Shakespeare, over time, as the footnotes grow bigger and bigger, he becomes more and more abstruse and sort of classical. And you know, you find ever more obscure things. And I just thought, He is writing popular entertainment that people love, including people who are not literate.

Tiffany: And these popular entertainments must be referring to other popular entertainments, at least as much as they're referring to high literature. So is there some way where I can find a pool of popular entertainment and then see how Shakespeare borrows from that. And that took me to the fairground because it's just a load of popular entertainments all in one place.

Tiffany: And because the theatres would close for the major fairs because they wouldn't compete, they're going for the same audiences. So you're kind of, okay, there's a deep relationship then between theatres and fairs. And then, there were really magical, weird connections you – once you're looking low instead of looking high, you see low instead of high.

Tiffany: It's a little harder to track fairground things, but I'll give you one example, and that's that there was a patter that the man with the performing monkey had, and it went like this. So, your monkey is dancing around. And then you mentioned something really terrible that everyone hates, like the Catholics or, so you say, something about the Pope or something about the King of Spain, you know, something that everyone is guaranteed to loathe.

Tiffany: And then the monkey plays dead. And then you go, Oh no. Oh, Oh, I mentioned the Pope. And now my beloved monkey is dead. Oh, if only Queen Elizabeth were here. And then the monkey springs to life. Because you've mentioned something so fantastic. It's brought your monkey to life again. Okay, so that's the monkey passage.

Tiffany: And there are all kinds of versions of that. And there's a bit in Romeo and Juliet where Romeo's friends can't find Romeo and they go, what, what's happened to him? Oh, the ape is dead. Oh no. If only Rosalind were here, that would – and they're doing the monkey patter with Romeo and you're kind of, okay, I think it's useful to be alert to these things. And that also helps you not go, Oh, I think this could be Ovid, you know.

Varsha: I love that because you're so right. I would very much feel more comfortable, especially when people are approaching Shakespeare, if I knew that it was, you know, could be as low as monkey patter because that would give me more confidence approaching it than say having to know my Virgil and Ovid even before I can understand a few words of the text, which actually brings me to your general editorship of different Shakespeare series. So you mentioned Arden Shakespeare fourth series. And you do the Mermaids, which are other plays.

Tiffany: Which are kind of everything but Shakespeare, kind of. And I'm doing Norton Anthology, 16th Century, which is largely poetry. So, it's been really interesting editing different things for different companies with different agendas.

Tiffany: And it has made me extremely conscious of how often commercial imperatives, shape what you do. And I think sometimes, when you get a text, you think the choices have been intellectual choices, but very often they've been commercial choices. So for instance, with Arden Shakespeare 4, there are all those plays that sort of hover at the edge of Shakespeare and are they, are we going to count them as Shakespeare plays or not Shakespeare plays?

Tiffany: So like Arden of Faversham is kind of edging in as a Shakespeare play. But will Arden Shakespeare 4 have Arden of Faversham as a Shakespeare play? No, it will not. And that is because Arden also has Arden Early Modern Drama, which is a different series. And they've just published, but just published, a brilliant edition of Arden of Faversham by Katherine Richardson.

Tiffany: But it's way too soon for us also to have an Arden Shakespeare one. So, for that reason, that is not for us a Shakespeare play. And I think people go through going, Oh, this series thinks this is a Shakespeare play, but this series thinks this is a Shakespeare play. But actually, the rationale might be a totally commercial one.

Varsha: The rationale might be that we can't sell it as a Shakespeare play. Very soon.

Tiffany: Yes, yes. 

Varsha: Great, that's good to know. And you are preparing an edition of The Tempest for Arden Shakespeare fourth series. So my students I just wanted to know what does the process of preparing a modern edition entail, really?

Varsha: And what are some of the challenges that this particular play presents for a modern editor? 

Tiffany: Oh my. 

Varsha: I know. A full podcast episode must be devoted just to that.

Tiffany: Yes, indeed, indeed. Well, just in textual terms preparing The Tempest, as you already know, I'm going to be looking to footnote a bit more from low culture than other people do.

Tiffany: So there's a table in The Tempest which has a banquet on it. And then ‘with a quaint device’, the banquet vanishes. And I'm kind of, oh, I know that. That's a magician's table, which has a banquet stuck on one side and it's got a hinge. And you can flip it over really quickly and the banquet disappears.

Tiffany: You're kind of, oh, the company have got a magician's table banquet thing. So anyway,  so I'll be looking to footnote that kind of thing. I'm also The Tempest is a play which seems to have been written up in manuscript for a reader by a man called Ralph Crane. And he has elongated stage direction, so I think the stage directions are not in fact stage directions, I think they're reader directions.

Tiffany: So then I'm going to think as an editor, do I want to stick to these stage directions which are reader directions, or shall I change them to stage directions because I'm trying to get back to the staged performance?

Tiffany: And what will people think if I do that? So for instance, I'm wondering about directions like ‘Enter Ariel invisible’, because I'm kind of, I think this is information for the reader, but then I have to be careful. Is there a way you can act or dress to indicate that you are invisible, in which case it is a stage direction?

Tiffany: So those are the sorts of things I'm going to be thinking about. My approach to The Tempest more broadly, as you know, this is, it's a beautiful and tricky play that deals with, amongst other things, with issues of slavery, with colonizing. And it's now a play that's actually got so much, has accrued to it, I'm almost a bit nervous of it now.

Tiffany: I'm a bit nervous of, saying something that annoys people. But, what I do think about this play, so, Prospero arrives on an island and takes it over. And enslaves first Ariel, and then later Caliban. And we are currently telling the story that Caliban is a native of the island who is enslaved, a bit like maybe a Native American.

Tiffany: But the story says that Caliban's mother, Sycorax, came from Algiers and she took over the island and she enslaved Ariel. So I think I'm going to look at the way we tell these stories. But I myself will be telling a story of the main slave being Ariel because he was slave to Sycorax and then slave to Prospero.

Tiffany: And Caliban is not the native-born slave, he's a kind of second level slave. So I will also be thinking more deeply then about what colour is Ariel. We're always asking about what colour is Caliban. But what colour is Ariel, the native of the island? But then I'll also be asking, Ariel is somewhat invisible and is a spirit. Do they have colour?

Tiffany: But similarly, I will also be asking, Caliban's mother came from Algiers, but was also a witch. And I'll be asking, do witches have race? And if they do, is it the same race that we have? And obviously there aren't answers to these, but I'll be trying to work out what Shakespeare thinks he's saying in colour terms and in slavery terms.

Tiffany: And I think I'll be telling the same story in a slightly different way from the way people are currently thinking about it. And I really hope that will be okay. 

Varsha: But also it's quite interesting how we know these stories, right? So, for example, Caliban says the story one way, and then Prospero has his own version of the story. So it's quite interesting, like, whose version should we trust? I mean, do we really know? Because they could be manufacturing their own narratives, right?

Tiffany: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Varsha: I know we're out of time, but for my American students, I have to ask this question. Because they all come over for a term and they want to know: if somebody is interested in Shakespearean theatre history, what are the top museums or sites that they should visit in the UK? 

Tiffany: You need to come to my hometown of Stratford upon Avon and go to the Shakespeare Birthplace and you can go to Shakespeare houses and you can see trinkets and goods from Shakespeare's time. Other ones are trickier, but this is my suggestion. You are very near John Soane’s Museum, and I utterly, utterly recommend it. One, it's full of not just Shakespeare stuff, because it's also got you know, an Egyptian sarcophagus and Roman things because he was a hoarder-gatherer. And it's just got a pile of fabulous things in no clear order and you kind of walk through his amazing 18th century house looking at all the things he gathered, which do include a Shakespeare bust, a First Folio and all sorts of other things. So it's just a great, really fun museum of not too many rooms.

Tiffany: And the other thing. This is more for your students, but, but listeners also think about it, is that one of the people who works there is my brother, Jonty, and go there and look out for Jonty because he'll give you a really good tour. 

Varsha: Great. It is one of my favourite museums, I do like it, and it's rather fabulous, you can get really up and close to things as well. And it does have a rather fabulous painting of Shakespeare commanding all the muses. So with those suggestions, we thank you so much for all of these things, Tiffany. We have learned so much from you. So if we could give our guest a round of applause.

That was Tiffany Stern talking about rehearsal practices, ballads, popular entertainments, and editing The Tempest. I hope you'll agree that she was such a fitting guest to wrap up our star-studded Series 4.  However, don't worry too much because we will be back with our Series 5, which will be launched soon on Shakespeare's birthday.  So, dear listeners, adieu, adieu, adieu, but remember to tune in to Women & Shakespeare, streaming at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and numerous other platforms. If you want to listen to the podcast with a full transcript, head over to our website, www.womenandshakespeare.com. Until then, keep smashing the patriarchy.