Women and Shakespeare

S1:E4:Farah-Karim Cooper on Shakespeare's Globe, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Cosmetics, Gestures

July 23, 2020 Dr Varsha Panjwani Season 1 Episode 4
S1:E4:Farah-Karim Cooper on Shakespeare's Globe, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Cosmetics, Gestures
Women and Shakespeare
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Women and Shakespeare
S1:E4:Farah-Karim Cooper on Shakespeare's Globe, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Cosmetics, Gestures
Jul 23, 2020 Season 1 Episode 4
Dr Varsha Panjwani

In this episode, we discuss Shakespeare's Globe, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, cosmetics, and gestures and the way in which they are connected to race, women, and power. Check out http://www.womenandshakespeare.com for a complete transcript.

Interviewer: Dr Varsha Panjwani 
Guest: Professor Farah Karim-Cooper
Producer: Ms Lauren Yingqi Cheung
Artwork: Mr Wenqi Wan 

Sponsored by NYU Global Faculty Fund Award

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

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we discuss Shakespeare's Globe, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, cosmetics, and gestures and the way in which they are connected to race, women, and power. Check out http://www.womenandshakespeare.com for a complete transcript.

Interviewer: Dr Varsha Panjwani 
Guest: Professor Farah Karim-Cooper
Producer: Ms Lauren Yingqi Cheung
Artwork: Mr Wenqi Wan 

Sponsored by NYU Global Faculty Fund Award

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

Varsha (00:03):

Welcome to 'Women & Shakespeare' podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Varsha Panjwani. And I'm thinking about the reopening of the theaters in the UK, both with utter pleasure and with a desperate hope. It is well documented that the Shakespeare theater industry was an exclusionary space before the shutdown. While we were enjoying performances, such as Emilia, Richard II, & Juliet, and Teenage Dick, to name a few off the top of my head, with their commitment to inclusivity. We also knows scores of actors, directors, outreach and education departments, and the theaters that have taken whiteness as their norm. So what kind of theater will we build when we emerge from this lockdown? Will we use this opportunity to build back better? Will we work hard to focus on every aspect from casting to directing, to lighting, to design, to education, as we try and diversify our theater? How might we achieve this? What commitments can we make beyond posturing and tokenism?

Varsha (01:13):

With these questions buzzing in my mind, I'm thrilled to introduce this episode's guest who provided valuable insight into these issues when I spoke to her before the lockdown. Professor Farah Karim-Cooper is the Head of Higher Education and Research at Shakespeare's Globe Theater. She's also the professor of Shakespeare Language and Literature at King's College London and Vice President of the Shakespeare Association of America. She's the author of several books on Shakespeare, including Cosmetics in Shakespearean and Renaissance Drama and The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage. We recorded this episode at Shakespeare's Globe. And in the background, you will sometimes hear noises from the props workshop that was taking place contiguous to this conversation. I did not edit out these sounds because if you are missing the theater and it's hustle bustle, as much as I am, I am sure you enjoy the ambient soundscape.

Varsha (02:16):

Hello, Farah. I have to say that I have been an ardent follower of yours on Twitter. I find the projects that you're doing very inspiring and the discourses that you're promoting so great for my students to come across as well.

Farah (02:32):

Thank you so much.

Varsha (02:34):

I'm really pleased that we are having a face to face conversation today. So welcome to 'Women & Shakespeare'.

Farah (02:41):

Thank you.

Varsha (02:43):

I wanted to know when was your first encounter with Shakespeare and what was the nature of that encounter?

Farah (02:48):

Well, I grew up in Houston, Texas, and I had a ninth grade English teacher. We were doing Romeo and Juliet and she put on Zeffirelli's film and I was just completely captivated by that film and by the words and the music, and of course Romeo's eyes.

Varsha (03:12):

Of course.

Farah (03:12):

It was an extraordinary film. And then I just lost interest. I just became a normal teenager in some ways. But I came back to it at university when I decided to study English and I had some really fantastic professors at Cal State Fullerton. It just made me want to go on and do further study. Sometimes it's the way it's taught, and that's why I like being part of an education department in a theater.

Varsha (03:36):

And now you are the Head of Higher Education and Research at Shakespeare's Globe. So what does that role entail?

Farah (03:44):

My job really is to oversee a vast amount of university courses that we run in collaboration with universities from all over the world. Our flagship course is the MA in Shakespeare Studies with King's College London. And my colleague, Will Tosh and I, run that Globe component of that. And that's something we're really proud of. I've been here for 15 years and so it's grown a lot, I like to think under my care. And then also the research program here. The Globe is seen by many as a sort of mothership of all things Shakespeare. I suppose it has a huge responsibility to get things right, or at least know what the state of play is in Shakespeare studies. What are people saying about it right now? What can we say about it? What original contribution can we make to the understanding of Shakespeare through our resources like the Globe theater and the indoor theater, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse?

Farah (04:37):

The other aspect of my job is to chair our architecture research group. This is a group of scholars and theater practitioners, and staff members of the Globe who have a sort of eye to the two theater spaces, keeping an eye on research that's developing, how it might change what we know about the theater spaces and can we change the theater spaces in concert with new knowledge. We also, we're responsible for guiding the research and design and construction of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which is probably the best project I've ever worked on, was helping to build a theater. And responsible for what the research strategy is at the Globe. What does the Globe care about? What is it interested in and what connections can we make with the wider academic world? And so right now, the big research strand is race.

Varsha (05:27):

You organized a festival, I believe in 2018.

Farah (05:31):

I did.

Varsha (05:31):

Yes, the Globe's first ever Shakespeare and Race festival. What were some of the goals?

Farah (05:37):

I realized that at the Globe, we hadn't really been good at getting scholars of color into the building, and speaking. I was often the only one in the room. And one of my jobs is to run lots of conferences and events. And so I wanted to address that. And I also wanted to get the Globe interested in conversations about race, because it affects things from casting to the language of the plays and how that's handled, to the history of early modern London, all of those things, systems of the body and how all of those things have been talked about in our discipline as if whiteness was the norm. I wanted to challenge that as well.

Varsha (06:21):

What were some of the vital learning points that came out of the conversations and performances that were going on during the festival?

Farah (06:29):

Yes. Well, we had a really fantastic workshop, which was a little scary actually putting together, and it was about how we stage racial diversity. So if you're going to have a diverse cast, then you need to make sure there is not a lot of unconscious bias in the way you direct, light, dress a production or design and production. So we wanted to look at that really closely and really confrontationally. We did it in our Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which is a theater that uses candlelight. And often actors of color walk in there and feel like it's a space not built for them. And I felt really conflicted about that because I helped design the space. So we wanted to address that. One of the big learning curves was that if you're going to light a show, whether it's with electric light or candle light, you have to think really carefully about how you do that with a cast of actors of color.

Varsha (07:24):

What I find really refreshing, Farah, is the willingness to go and look at this again, even if it's problematic or the theater has already been built, or we have been involved. Because oftentimes if we have been involved in these projects and we ourselves have overlooked the question of race or assumed whiteness, we are very reluctant to touch it. What I find absolutely refreshing is the willingness to admit and engage with these questions and see how we can do better.

Farah (07:55):

Yes. It's hard. It makes people uncomfortable. A lot of people don't want to have these conversations. And I find that particularly true in this country, in our sector. But I'm finding that more and more, our students are demanding it. They want these conversations to happen.

Varsha (08:09):

Great. And an amazing thing, isn't it, that the students are now leading the way and leading the research agenda in a very, very good direction.

Farah (08:18):


Varsha (08:18):

So there's hope.

Farah (08:19):

Yeah. Exactly.

Varsha (08:19):

I also want to talk about your first book, in this regard to where we are talking about the body and the lighting and the makeup. So Cosmetics in Shakespeare and Renaissance drama, what I think is pretty widely known is that there was so much anti-cosmetic rhetoric going around in the period. Hamlet famously says to Ophelia, "God hath given you one face and you make yourselves another." But I don't think it's widely known how much people were using cosmetics. So were regular women using a lot of cosmetics?

Farah (08:53):

Yes. I think it depends on social class. So class is another area of intersectionality that we have to think about. Women in the upper classes were wearing makeup widely. It was trendy. Playwrights made fun of this. Ben Jonson, for example, pokes fun at this all the time. In order to be a woman of society, you have to know certain things. You have to know about the fashions from the continent, you need to know what the best makeup is and what the latest trends and makeup are. And Johson found all of this quite foolish, but also enticing. You couldn't go to Boots and buy your makeup. So most of it was sort of ingredient-based and made at home. If you were wealthy, then you would have had servants who made makeup for you. If you were a middle class women, you'd probably wear makeup. You would generate this material in your own kitchens.

Farah (09:42):

If you look at recipe manuals that were made by women and passed down generation to generation, you'll find cooking recipes, medicinal recipes, but you'll also find makeup recipes there as well. So sometimes a lot of the same materials are used across all of these different areas. So there's a kind of great scientific knowledge and at the same time as sort of folklore about creating makeup. So there's a lot more to it than just a woman's white painted face and the men who opposed it. It was really part of female culture in that period.

Varsha (10:14):

Was that because of the media? Today, we have all of these images and women to conform to those media images that are applying more and more makeup, spending more on makeup. Was that the same in that day?

Farah (10:28):

Absolutely. Absolutely. The standard of beauty has been around since before Christ, as it were. I mean, in Shakespeare's time, we know that the ideal of beauty was golden blonde hair and pale skin with rosy cheek that reflects a sort of blush or perhaps a sign of modesty, dark eye, and a high forehead. These are all considered.

Varsha (10:52):

It's a tall order.

Farah (10:52):

Yes, it's a tall order. And this is not just particular to Shakespeare's England. This is Europe, even ancient Rome. So we know that there is the white ideal, which obviously has racial implications as well. There's something else going on there, particularly in Elizabethan England. And yeah, women would have found that difficult and it would have been transmitted to them via poetry, iconography, in theater even. So I think the pressure on them would have been great, especially when you needed to, in order to be financially secure, you need to secure a husband. And beauty is kind of key in that. That's the only power that you have as a single woman.

Varsha (11:34):


Farah (11:35):


Varsha (11:36):

Oh dear.

Farah (11:38):

Yes. Not much has changed then.

Varsha (11:38):


Farah (11:40):

Except that we don't need husbands anymore.

Varsha (11:42):

Yes. Thank God for that.

Farah (11:43):


Varsha (11:44):

The players, they would have had a very complicated relationship with makeup. On the one hand characters in certain plays are declaiming against makeup, but obviously they must be wearing makeup.

Farah (11:57):

Indeed, indeed. Yes. Actors would have worn makeup for a variety of reasons. For example, boy actors who were simply signaling they're playing a part of a woman would have wigs and makeup women's clothing. And if you were playing a prostitute or someone who might have exaggerated amount of makeup, depending on what play you're in, then you'd have extra makeup on your face. If you're playing a ghost, you might have some white makeup across your face. Clowns may have worn makeup. So there's a variety of ways in which makeup shows up on stage. It's a special effect. It's a technology of theater. Actors saw that, I think, from a really pragmatic point of view. I think playwrights had a lot of fun with it. They liked making fun of the moralists because those same moralists were shouting about theater at the same time.

Varsha (12:47):

Of course.

Farah (12:47):

So it was just another way to take a jab at those guys. So yeah, it was a complex relationship that theater had to makeup, but absolutely vital because makeup is another illusion.

Varsha (13:01):

Did you find any recipes in your research for blackness things that they would have used for say playing Othello or potentially other roles?

Farah (13:10):

Yes. I mean, there's a variety of theories about how blackness was performed, and certainly there's new research that's coming out as well. So I and others, have argued that they would have blacked up using makeup. They would have used potentially things like burnt cork or lantern soot. You might make some of this material, a walnut shell ground. It might be mixed with a sort of almond oil to create a kind of paste. It might be mixed in with fucus, which is their foundation white makeup. And it may not have been dark black. It might have been various shades of black or brown. It just depends on what they considered blackness, right? They consider you were black if you had black hair, in those days. Others have argued, Ian Smith argues that they would have used textiles and created sort of masks and various other things to create blackness. But my sense is that if they're using makeup to play the part of women, they would have found an ingredient-based way of playing blackness.

Varsha (14:20):

Do you think though, that black is considered beautiful by Shakespeare? I often wonder because Cleopatra at one point says she's black and we also have a mysterious dark lady of the sonnets.

Farah (14:35):

Well, I always tell my students that I like Shakespeare because he likes brown girls and I'm a brown girl. Kim Hall's research, actually, she wrote a wonderful book. She suggests that there's this alternative beauty standard and you can find it in a variety of poems. And there's a whole of revering, a darker brown, nut brown, or black beauty. And my research really picks up on hers. The Sonnets, for example, by Shakespeare, he's speaking out against this notion of a uniform idea of what's considered beautiful. It is such a subjective thing, and how dare you tell me that that woman is beautiful? What if I don't think she is? And I think Shakespeare's work in general tells us how complex the human body is, the human mind is, the human heart is. How can there just be one notion of what is considered beautiful, in all those realms?

Farah (15:26):

And so the Dark Lady Sonnets provides us with an alternative as well as providing us with an alternative sonnet, because the original blazons were all doing similar things, and Shakespeare comes along and does something quite different. So I think in some ways he is saying that a dark beauty is a beautiful thing. And obviously there is a connection which is a little bit less comfortable for us, between sexual promiscuity and darkness. Blackness is often talked about in terms of sexual promiscuity. And of course, we know the Dark Lady and the sonnets is a little fast and loose with the rules. And so I think that it's ambiguous. He's providing us with alternatives at the same time as saying, "Well, I quite like this alternative because she's sexually available to me." So it's problematic.

Varsha (16:17):

To change the topic completely, you've also edited a collection of essays on Titus Andronicus for Arden. What made you pick that play?

Farah (16:27):

Well, Titus is my favorite play. It's a fantastic play. And it's been underrated for many years. In recent years it's sort of come back into fashion and people recognize the modernity of that play, and it was set in ancient Rome. I don't love the violence in the play, at all. But I love the confrontation that Shakespeare asks his audience to make, with family relationships, with race, with women and how they are objectified to the point where Lavinia is objectified.

Farah (17:03):

I think that the confrontation with looking at the past and trying to revere the past and the way that they did in the Renaissance saying classical texts and classical philosophy, classical ideology must be somehow replicated in our own period. It was all about sort of bringing all of that back, wasn't it? Shakespeare sort of challenges that to a certain extent, because of the use of classical text in the play. And the cycle of violence is something that is endemic in all societies. We can all relate to that utter violence. And so, I think that play confronts us viscerally. When we did it here at the Globe originally in 2006 and then revived it 2014.

Varsha (17:47):

Is that the Lucy Bailey?

Farah (17:48):

Yes, Lucy Bailey.

Varsha (17:49):

Yes, I saw it.

Farah (17:50):

She's a wonderful director.

Varsha (17:52):

I agree.

Farah (17:52):

It was visceral, it was hard. And we had, sometimes 15 fainters a night being confronted with that violence. It was hard for people.

Varsha (18:04):

I find it compelling in performance. Lucy Bailey's was fantastic. But even so, even Julie Taymor's movie. But like you, I find it so, so problematic as well.

Farah (18:15):

It is.

Varsha (18:16):

And what do you think about staging rape scenes on stage and screen and the sexual violence of it, in the context of a Shakespeare play? What are your thoughts on that?

Farah (18:28):

Yes. Fortunately, Shakespeare doesn't show us the rape scene, does he? But he does show us the aftermath, which is not any easier. I'm sort of ambivalent about trigger warnings, but I personally feel if you're going to stage this, you need to state in your publicity material, that there's going to be some sexual violence depicted. Because I think women who have been traumatized would not be able to sit through that, would struggle with that deeply. You must place a trigger warning on any production of Titus.

Farah (19:02):

But I do think that to, I suppose, make it disappear the center of the play would just fall apart. But you would also be suggesting that sexual violence is not problematic enough for us to stage and confront and think about and challenge. Because when you are staging a production of Titus Andronicus, hopefully you are challenging some of the issues at the core of that play. And confrontation is the way to deal with it. Hiding your face from it as a society is not the way to deal with it. And obviously, rape is a timeless, ageless crime, and people, they need to keep recognizing it, that it hasn't gone away.

Varsha (19:49):

No. And I'm sure you heard of the horrific Delhi rape case that happened. In fact, that is when I realized the importance of Titus Andronicus for me, that this is something beyond sexual. It is madness, it has violence that we are, and if we keep burying it under the carpet, and not confronting the ugliness of it or the violence of it, it's there still.

Farah (20:14):


Varsha (20:15):

It's there. So actually, I totally agree with you that we need to talk about it.

Farah (20:20):

And challenge the structures that continue to enable it.

Varsha (20:24):


Farah (20:25):

And that make it impossible for it to be punished. I think that's one of the major issues. What is redeeming and Titus Andronicus is that those rapists get what's coming to them.

Varsha (20:39):


Farah (20:40):

But there's so many problems with the ending of that play as well.

Varsha (20:43):

Indeed. Talking of mutilations and body parts.

Farah (20:48):

Favorite topic.

Varsha (20:49):

It is indeed, right? Especially, one of the body parts that interests you a lot, the hand.

Farah (20:55):


Varsha (20:55):

How did the idea for writing an entire book on the Hand on the Shakespeare Stage come about?

Farah (21:02):

Well, when I was working on my research on cosmetics years ago, I discovered that a lot of the recipes, when they say, after they tell you how to make the concoction, they tell you to paint it onto your face and then your hands. And of course I realized, well, those are the only two parts of the body that people see, in those days. So obviously they're the most readable parts of the body. And obviously there is an art to read the hand, chiromancy, and an art to read the face, physiognomy.

Farah (21:28):

So what is embedded in the hand? What is there? What meanings does the hand make that we don't necessarily think about in this day and age? So I really wanted to get to the heart of what it meant. And then I created a database of all the references to the hand in Shakespeare and to gestures and to the sense of touch made by the hand. And, oh my God, it's just so many. The hand really meant something to Shakespeare, it was a marker of identity and character and experience and sexuality. And it just meant so many things. And because it was the thing that people could touch and read and look at in public discourse. That's why I was fascinated by it.

Varsha (22:09):

I was fascinated by it after I read your book.

Farah (22:12):

Thank you.

Varsha (22:13):

I love when you talk about the different ways in which gestures such as wringing of hands or Hamlet, we are told, we don't see it, but we're told, holds Ophelia by the wrist. You suggest that that would signify in a number of ways to an Elizabethan audience. Do you think that there's any way to capture those layered meanings for a contemporary audience today, when it comes to gestural language of Shakespeare?

Farah (22:42):

Yeah, I think there is. I think some gestures are timeless in many ways. Holding them by the wrist or grabbing them by the wrist, is known as the Impedio gesture. It's a hierarchical gesture. It's intervention, it's violence rendering you immobile in your hand. And your hand is your agent of power, right? Enables you to eat and to do everything. So I think that is still implicit when you talk about that. I mean, Shakespeare's time, they were very specific meanings and lots of iconography dating back to the middle ages of people being held by the wrist and what it meant in the various contexts. It was always a gesture of power. But that notion of power still, I think, reads today. And hand wringing, for example, we still do that when we're nervous and anxious. Seneca writes about hand wringing as a gesture of anger and despair.

Farah (23:39):

It meant the same thing in the Middle Ages and it was a absolute recognizable, iconic gesture of despair. And so when Shakespeare references it and tells Gertrude when he has Hamlet tell Gertrude, leave wringing of your hands, he's giving the stage direction to Gertrude. But at the same time is really telling us something about her emotional state in that moment. It's powerful.

Varsha (24:01):

And speaking of power, you also organized another festival really recently, Women and Power, love the title. You organized it at Shakespeare's Globe. And I wanted to ask you, what, according to your, is the relationship between women, power and Shakespeare?

Farah (24:20):

Interesting one. Well, growing up in the Shakespeare industry as a grad student, undergraduate, grad student, I didn't feel powerful as a female and perhaps a woman of color as well. That feeling stays with you for quite some time and you get imposter syndrome and you think I don't belong in this field. Certainly, gosh, I have an American accent and I'm talking about Shakespeare to English people. It's like, how dare you?

Farah (24:48):

But I'm Head of Higher Education and Research at Shakespeare's Globe. And I looked around me thinking about the power structures and how women are locked out of them, or they try to lock women out, but then some women get in and they hold the doors open. And I just wanted to name it. I just wanted to say, "Yeah, women have power. We're not going to let you keep telling us that we don't. And if I want power, I can take it." I'm not one of these people who will say, "Oh, Shakespeare is feminist." I don't know, Taming of the Shrew tells me otherwise. But I don't believe he was a misogynist. I think he writes powerful women. And I think he writes powerful women because he must have known powerful women. And I think he must have really admired that because sometimes the women in these plays outshine the men.

Varsha (25:38):

I think always.

Farah (25:39):

Yes. Except maybe in Titus, Tamora...not really one of the outshining women.

Varsha (25:44):


Farah (25:48):

I guess, yeah, I think he sees women as a powerful force and I don't think I'm over worshiping Shakespeare when I say that.

Varsha (25:58):

So just to wrap up, what do you think is next for Shakespeare and women? Or what would you like to see in this field?

Farah (26:07):

Well, I'd like to see more intersectionality in the field. So for example, I would love to see more women writing about Shakespeare and women without taking whiteness as the normative, which is something obviously theorists and thinkers have been trying to, like Kimberlé Crenshaw.

Varsha (26:26):

Yeah, she's wonderful.

Farah (26:29):

Have been trying to get people to do for a long time. And I think in our field, it's still not quite there. Of course we have wonderful scholars who are doing that work, like Joyce MacDonald, Kim Hall, Ayanna Thompson, and many more. And so I would like to see that roll out across the academy, to see if you're going to write about women you need to think about women across all of the different sections, essentially. Class, race, sexuality, it's important.

Varsha (27:00):

Do you think global Shakespeare will help us with that? Because certainly, if we include international Shakespeare productions from all over the world, we get a sense of different kinds of women and different races. And we get to see them in different roles, playing Shakespeare's characters in multifaceted ways. Do you think global Shakespeare might help us with that?

Farah (27:24):

Yeah, absolutely. We ran a globe to globe festival here. We had 36 companies come in and do productions from different parts of the world. And I'm from Pakistan originally. And the Pakistani Taming of the Shrew was the only one I could really manage to watch because Taming of the Shrew is a hard play for me. And I actually thought that was really interesting. It was really interesting to see Pakistanis in those roles. It changed it for me in many ways. I understood the culture of the play better because I understand my own heritage and it just played right into that culture. I absolutely do believe that. Yeah, global Shakespeare, thinking about Shakespeare in racial terms. Let's not have too many more white Cleopatras.

Varsha (28:07):

Yes. Donna Croll was on the podcast. So we did have a wonderful, wonderful conversation about that.

Farah (28:14):

Can't wait to hear that

Varsha (28:16):

Yes. And we can't wait to hear this again.

Farah (28:20):

Thank you so much.

Varsha (28:21):

Thank you so much.

Farah (28:21):

Thanks for having me.

Varsha (28:23):

That was Farah Karim-Cooper, talking about race, cosmetics, gestures, and the education department at Shakespeare's Globe. Next month, we have a guest who embodied Portia in the opening production of Shakespeare's Globe. She has radically changed the interpretation of several Shakespeare women, such as Ophelia and Lady Anne. She is...

Kathryn Pogson (28:48):

Hello. I'm Kathryn Pogson and you're listening to 'Women & Shakespeare'.

Varsha (28:54):

So dear listeners, adieu, adieu, adieu. Remember to tune in to 'Women & Shakespeare', streaming at Apple Podcasts and Spotify. If you want to listen to the podcast with full transcripts, head over to our website, www.womenandshakespeare.com. Until then, keep shattering those glass ceilings.