Tag Archives: Twelfth Night

Janelle Jenstad’s Map of Early Modern London, or Shakespeare’s Serial

Not much can get me out of my dissertation-writing groove. Maybe it’s the progress, or maybe it’s just the opportunity to sit out Kingston’s awful winter from my armchair: pajamas, hot chocolate, and cat snuggles unlimited. But when Janelle Jenstad came to my university, her alma mater, to give a talk on the Map of Early Modern London (MoEML) project, I was there with bells on. MoEML is the supremely accomplished Jenstad’s brainchild and, spoiler alert: it’s a wunderkind.

Professor Jenstad, showing a student her project

Professor Jenstad, showing a student her project

Do you remember the opening credits of Shakespeare in Love, when Henslowe is rushing through the streets of London to confront Will Shakespeare about his writer’s block? MoEML visualizes that. Well, to be precise, it visualizes a map drawn around 1561, about 30 years before Shakespeare was writing for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. So, why is the map so exciting? Because it allows us to investigate the theatrical culture, as well as daily life, of early modern London. It shows us where we can find Ben Jonson’s inspiration for his comedy, Bartholomew Fair, and where on a map we can situate Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside. In terms of daily life, we can discover where the conduits ran, for people to gather fresh water. What do water cans on the map tell us? They don’t tell, they show. They show us about where people would have exchanged important information with friends in their direct proximity, without the long-distance reach of cell phones and social media.

best-buy-payphone-hed-2014Listening to Janelle’s talk, I began to think about NPR’s smash-hit podcast, Serial. So much of host Sarah Koenig’s reasonable doubt was based on the placement of a Best Buy. To be precise, she wanted to know whether there was a payphone at a certain Best Buy at the time of this one crime, as a suspected accomplice said that he had used it to call the other suspect. Jenstad’s “Agas Map” bears witness to London as it was in 1560, and it lies waiting to be used by people with mysteries to solve. What people are looking for is yet to be known, which is why the site is always looking for feedback. This team of scholars keeps reworking the entire website to adapt with the scholarly needs of the times, using the latest technology in the Digital Humanities. They perform the painstaking coding of layers upon layers of data to keep this 400 year old map so digitally current it’s on its way to being integrated with the coordinates on Google Maps. For the MoEML team, the job is never done.

Using the Map of Early Modern London is fun for curious history fanatics, London tourists figuring out which theatres once stood in terms of today’s ultra-hip Shoreditch, and for teachers on a never-ending search for the best visual aids to bring history to life. Choosing your own search terms, building type, or route through London, the website visualizes the material, but also allows you to bookmark and save these images for personal and pedagogical use. For fun, I searched for the Globe Theatre on the map, and sure enough, there is a highlighted space for where Shakespeare’s best-known playhouse would be erected in 1599. Take a look:

The Agas MapThat yellow square is where the original Globe Theatre would stand forty years after the map was drawn. What strikes me from this picture is just how close the Globe was built to the bear- and bull-baiting gardens outside of the city walls. I had always heard that bear-baiting pits were close to Shakespeare’s theatres, but I didn’t realize that they were this close! This discovery brings new meaning to Sir Toby’s ominous plans to “gull” or humiliate the surly Malvolio in Twelfth Night. Sir Toby tells Sir Andrew Aguecheek: “To anger him we’ll have the bear again; and we will fool him black and black.” Their idea of fooling is exceptionally violent. Sir Toby’s revenge on Malvolio will emulate the early modern practice of whipping a blinded bear, a form of entertainment that Malvolio himself had encouraged Olivia to outlaw from her estate. This practice is almost as gruesome as the most commonly-known mode of bear-baiting, setting dogs loose on a bear chained to a stake. In this case, though, they blind Malvolio by “hav[ing] him in a dark room and bound,” imprisoned and tormented almost to the point of believing that darkness is light and light is dark. Almost. This is a humiliating experience for Malvolio, who, unlike the unfortunate bears, lives to have the last word. Addressing the revelers as if they are the dogs who seized on him, Malvolio proclaims: “I’ll be revenged on the pack of you!”

Unlike the revelers of Twelfth Night, the MoEML team doesn’t look to discern between insiders and outsiders. In an act of generosity not always seen in the academy, this site is entirely open access. That means that even though scholars run it and universities fund a bunch of it, the team are determined to make it accessible for anyone with the internet, including you! Check it out!Bear+Baiting-1

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Trauma gravitates towards trauma

This post was originally published in my Secret Diary of PhD Candidate column for The Shakespeare Standard.

My 2012 recreational reading/listening list looks a bit like this:

–       Jane Austen’s Persuasion (audio book read by a wonderful librivox.org volunteer)

–       The Hunger Games (the entire series, twice; first in print and then over audio book)

–       Ernest Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms (also an audio book, extra points because Mad Men’s John Slattery reads it)

–       The Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s Twelfth Night Soundtrack

When I look at the list, I feel the satisfaction of having enjoyed good books and music – a pretty fair way to spend the time that I was recovering from some family trauma of my own.

Today, after a trip to see a previously-recorded version of the Stratford Festival’s 2011 production[1] of Twelfth Night, I realized that now, more than ever before, I had become addicted to trauma narratives. No longer was Twelfth Night the same old story of “girl-dressed-as-boy meets boy, boy loves other girl, but other girl is obsessed with girl-dressed-as-boy.”

Suzy Jane Hunt as Viola (disguised as Cesario) in Stratford's Twelfth Night. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

I mean, think about it this way: Viola of Messaline was on one of those Costa cruise ships with her twin brother, her counterpart, when it hits a storm and the boat capsizes. They each survive, but she lives in grief thinking that Sebastian has been lost to the waves. Viola lands in Illyria, the country against which her country is at war. How convenient – landing in the country of your enemy, a woman, escorted only a moment longer by the captain, who has survived (how are we not surprised?). She begs him to hide her identity so she can live under the protection, and enjoy some of the privileges, of a great house. Smart girl.

But Viola doesn’t pick just anyone to live with – at first she wants to serve Lady Olivia. We can tell by the similarity of names that there will be some similarity of character. Here is what Viola learns about Lady Olivia:

A virtuous maid, the daughter of a count
That died some twelvemonth since, then leaving her
In the protection of his son, her brother,
Who shortly also died: for whose dear love,
They say, she hath abjured the company
And sight of men.

Viola gravitates towards the person who can empathize with her grief – they both carry the burden of fresh wounds, having lost their brothers earlier in the year. Olivia’s father has also recently died and Viola, whose voice is high enough to pass for a eunuch, had experienced the same grief when only a couple of years before, her father had “died that day when Viola from her birth / Had number’d thirteen years.” Trauma on one’s birthday – I’ve been there and don’t recommend it. Before she decides to work as a boy for Orsino, Viola shows how that she had rather be a lady-in-waiting for a woman who “like a cloistress, … will veiled walk / And water once a day her chamber round / With eye-offending brine” – tears.

I could go on. Of course Maria thinks Olivia will order to “hang the fool” – he has abandoned her in her time of grief. Why is this? In this pansexual play, is he, too, grieving over the untimely loss of Olivia’s brother? The Stratford production offers some interesting sexual tension between Olivia and Feste – hath she abjured the sight of this man? She lets Malvolio stick around, and doesn’t even wholeheartedly cast off Sir Andrew. Interesting. Feste proves Olivia the fool by catechizing her into admitting that one mustn’t grieve for those living in luxury in heaven above. Only then can her heart begin to open for a return of our usual programming, throwing herself at the girl Viola, dressed as a boy, Cesario.

Percy Shelley wrote: “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” and I’d like to think that this production offers that same message of hope.


[1] Hilarious at the Festival itself, the filmed broadcast added dimension to my understanding of Des McAnuff’s production because I got to see the characters’ facial expressions close-up. It was excellent, but the machines playing it kept cutting out. On the bright side we got passes, so I’m going to try to see it in full on the 21st, when it’s playing at 7 pm for an encore presentation.

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