In William Shakespeare’s Coriolamus Act II, Scene III Coriolamus claims,
What custom wills, in all things should we do’t,
The dust on antique time would lie unswept,
And mountainous error be too highly heap’d
For truth to o’er peer
(Shakespeare, Evans & Tobin 1460).
Although the verbiage appears a bit archaic, the sentiment applies even now. There are times when change is necessary; if change does not happen, then problems (or errors) of the past will only worsen. This advice is even pertinent to the current education system. For the most part, Shakespeare’s works have been taught in the same outdated way for generations. The few additions primarily centered on the addition of film to the syllabus. Why has so little changed? It is no wonder students struggle with Shakespeare in schools.
Remix and e-editions could revolutionize the way Shakespeare is taught in schools. When everything is becoming digital, even the most classic works may benefit from the shift in paradigm. Advanced high school students and undergraduate students may find Shakespeare’s works more accessible through the creation and inspection of remixed works of Shakespeare and the supplementation of e-editions.
Shakespeare may be easier for students to understand, if they understand that even his first folios were not written by him, but by his contemporaries and friends. We know the plays were his, sometimes with the help of a co-playwright, but we do not have his handwriting on paper. So, his friends and contemporaries made a copy, with appropriate attributions, which is a concept which will be considered in this paper (Hirsch).
This paper is exploring different ideas which could be combined to create an e-edition, remix site which students could use as a way to more easily access Shakespeare’s works. This could be used as an educational tool for teachers and a way for students to continue their interest in Shakespeare outside of the classroom.
Shakespeare in Schools
In high school and some undergraduate studies, many students see reading Shakespeare as a tedious task. It is no surprise students feel this way when teachers use the same teaching method that was used on the students’ parents and grandparents. When students lose interest, the entire reason for teaching them one of the most highly-regarded pieces of literature is lost.
The Common Core Standards, which have been adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia, include Shakespeare in their high school literacy program. According to the standards a student should be able to, “Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text,” by the time they are a senior (corestandards.org).
Students are required to learn the content, so how should teachers approach the task? In Teaching English by Susan Brindley, she recommends teaching Shakespeare’s works actively, instead of students learning Shakespeare in a more solitary manner. She recommends teachers see his works as a script instead of a mere sheet of text. Bruce Avery expands on Brindley’s basic ideas in “You Don’t Know Jack: Engaging the Twenty-First Century Student with Shakespeare’s Plays.” Avery’s approach to reengage Jack with Shakespeare includes a multitude of foci, but the most important aspect of his approach is challenging electronic media for a student’s attention. He also explains students are able to mold their own identity through the use of social media. Phenomenon like Facebook and YouTube make self-representation a central theme to the lives of students.
The ‘theatricality’ of Shakespeare’s culture is nothing compared to the multimediated theatricality of our own, and this fact prompts my attempt at answering the second question above with another question: is there a way to explore contemporary attitudes about self-representation in such a way that they form an approach to Shakespeare’s language? (Pg. 139)
The use of remix and e-editions may be the answer to Avery’s question. By teaching Shakespeare in such a way that the “multimediated theatricality” of Shakespeare is on display, there may be a greater chance of the students connecting.
What is Remix?
What is remix? At first sight, the question seem simplistic, but in all reality, there are a multitude of answers. There are many differing definitions of remix; three of the most well-known experts on remix are Lawrence Lessig, Eduardo Navas, and Kerbie Ferguson; the three take varying stances in regard to remix.
Lessig shapes two cultures: read-only culture (RO) and read/write culture (RW). RO culture is one in which the audience passively consumes. This is currently how most Shakespeare is taught in the classroom. Students do not interact with the piece, they merely view it from a distance. RW culture is what most understand as remix culture. It is a culture in which people can interact with the piece. They can shape it and mold it in ways the author has no control over. Lessig says the obstacle facing RW culture is the question of how can we nurture creativity and still maximize a profit. His solution is to use the distribution channels as the place of profit, instead of hiding the pieces behind copyright (Lessig).
Today, Remix (the activity of taking samples from pre-existing materials to combine them into new forms according to personal taste) has been extended to other areas of culture, including the visual arts; it plays a vital role in mass communication, especially on the Internet” (Navas).
In the video, “Everything is a Remix, Part 1: The Song Remains the Same,” Kerbie Ferguson argues that it is possible to say “everything is a remix.” He says remixing is a folk art. He explains that “copy” and “knock-offs” are two forms of remix which are generally found within the music genre. He continues his ideas in, “Everything is a Remix, Part 2: Remix Inc.,” where he cites specific examples of remixes, like Star Wars. Ferguson states, “Creation requires influence. Everything we make is a remix of existing creations, our lives, and the lives of others.” In “Everything is a Remix, Part 3: The Elements of Creativity,” Ferguson explains that “copying is how we learn.” We must emulate others before we can create something new through transformation. Copy, transform, and combine are the basic elements of creativity, according to Ferguson. His last video of the series, “Everything is a Remix, Part 4: System Failure,” Ferguson approaches how our laws are failing our system of creativity. Many of his ideas mirror Lessig in this manner.
In Professor Martin Irvine’s abstract, “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A model for Generative Cominatoriality,” he writes of placing ideas into the “combinatorial conceptual software.” While he specifically cites music in his example, it can also be applied to the works of Shakespeare. Professor Irvine writes, “The meaning of a remix emerges from the symbolic (re)uses of the quotational units in a new context of meanings, not from their prior disquotational function in other expression.” So, within Shakespeare, the remix is most importantly understood within the context of the present, not necessarily from the previous meaning.
In this paper, Navas’s definition will be held as the commanding authority. Remix is taking samples from an archive and using these samples to combine them into a new form. Ferguson’s interpretation should also be taken into account. I agree with his claims that remix is a folk art. It is possible to remix without the use of digital technologies, but it would be naive to claim technology has not certainly shaped remix into an even more prominent part of culture through music, video, art, etc.
Why use online or e-editions?
The advantage of creating online, hypertext Shakespeare editions are numerous and convincing for many Shakespeare scholars. While some examples have been mentioned, it is also beneficial because of the ability hypertext has to expand the understanding of Shakespeare’s works.
First and foremost, the common theme amongst all of the writers is the de-centralized text. Michael Best says, in “Standing In Rich Place: Electrifying the Multiple-Text Edition or, Every Text Is Multiple,” the texts themselves are “fluid,” and an online, hypertext Shakespeare archive would help the text be realized. It is fluid because it is known that there are multiple versions of Shakespeare’s works. Rather than trying to create one text, which will likely limit the “real presence” of Shakespeare in his works, David Kastan says we should make the works as available as possible (Kastan 87). This means we should offer versions of the play before and after they were subjected to use on stage; we should offer paperbacks, single plays, and complete compilations of his works; we should present versions with modernized English and others with old English; we should offer Shakespeare unedited, with facsimile copies. Even with these many different versions, we could not possibly find the “real presence” of Shakespeare, but we could more easily understand the fluidity of Shakespeare’s works. Here, Kastan returns to the digital text. As there are not size limitations and it is fluid, it serves as the perfect host to this combination of texts. Kastan explains on page 87:
For a Shakespeare edition, one could have an edited text (or indeed more than one), as well as digital facsimiles of all early printings; and additional resources could be included, like source texts or concordances, theater reviews, illustrations, audio clips, and even film versions, all of which can be linked to allow easy movement back and forth between them.
There is also opportunity to change the academic field; in, “The Kingdom has been Digitized: Electronic Editions of Renaissance Drama and the Long Shadows of Shakespeare and Print,” B.D.Hirsch writes that this is an opportunity to expand the canon. Shakespeare is one of the only authors widely recognized from the Renaissance period, even though many of his plays were collaborative works. He first equates the layout of current critical analysis of Shakespeare and other Renaissance-period works as behind barbed wire; the many brackets and other devices used to further explain the work make it hard to access the actual language. Electronic editions removed the barbed wire as tools like hyperlinking can be used instead. He also cites the shaping of a community as an incredible benefit of using electronic editions. In what Hirsch argues is a far too limited group, this kind of group growth could change the entire climate of Renaissance-drama studies. Hirsch claims academia is doing a disservice to both Shakespeare and his contemporaries; his contemporaries are not acknowledged and scholars cannot truly examine and critique Shakespeare’s works if they do not understand other works which were widely-accepted during his era. Hirsch demands action; he proposes critical editions of Renaissance-period drama be published without the demand. He suggests a new model, which stretches the cannon should be implemented. He believes the only way to do this is to escape the boundaries of the printed word; there are too many obstructions, like publishers and marketing departments, involved in print. The growth of the canon is worth the challenges of maintaining the technologies necessary for electronic editions.
The use of multimedia only enhances the advantages of creating an online, hypertext Shakespeare archive. In “The Text of Performance and the Performance of Text in the Electronic Edition,” Best approaches how electronic media can act as a tool for times in which Shakespeare’s writing (and stage directions) may hinder the actor’s (or reader’s) ability to understand a scene. He writes that many times actors or directors may have to change part of a scene in order for it to make sense, Best then questions how this can be shown in electronic media for the reader.
Best first explains why using electronic media is more beneficial than strictly print:
One important difference between the electronic and the print text is, of course,the capacity of the electronic medium to go beyond text: to provide examples of the interaction of text and performance – on stage and ﬁlm – and to show how each illuminates the other (Pg. 269).
Best is essentially explaining that one can actually show what is taking place, as opposed to merely describing the performance. In online text, one can create hyperlinks to the different versions of the scene, so the reader can also see how it has been acted out. He explains that using digital media is the most efficient and effective way to express the different ways a scene can be constructed.
These elements make an online, hypertext Shakespeare archive especially alluring. The archive opens up many opportunities for students and academic scholars to further their understanding of Shakespeare’s works.
Shakespeare worked from an archive too, the concept of remix is not new, just the use of the word “remix.” Romeo and Juliet is easily the most well-known piece of Shakespeare. It is also fairly common knowledge that it is not an original story by Shakespeare. According to the Riverside Shakespeare Anthology, the first remenents of Romeo and Juliet comes from Ephesiaca, where sleeping potion is used as an escape from a forced marriage. Next, Masuccio of Salerno combines this concept with star-crossed lovers in Il Novellino. Luigi da Porto adds the setting, Verona, and the names for the feuding families. He also adds Franciscan Lorenzo, creating almost the exact story we now know through Shakespeare. “Shakespeare’s direct source was, however, none of these, but a poem by Aruthur Brooke, based on Boiastuau and published in 1562,” (Shakespeare, Evans & Tobin 1101). Brooke is “kinder” to his lovers and the relationship last longer. Shakespeare’s remix of the story includes the harsher tone. The major ways in which Shakespeare remixed the story is by placing it in a play and his famous use of iambic pentameter.
Information of this kind can be found concerning a multitude of Shakespeare’s works. It may be helpful to students if they understand that Shakespeare was a remixer. The reason he is well-recognized is his mastery of language, the eloquence in which he tells these stories. As he remixed works to create his masterpieces, many others have remixed his works.
Early Remixes of Shakespeare
Charles and Mary Lamb’s “Tales from Shakespeare” is arguable the earliest documented form of Shakespeare’s works being remixed. The brother and sister duo worked for Thomas Hodgkins to create children’s books from Shakespeare’s works. The book was published in 1807, with only Charles being credited. It is now known Mary also worked on many of the stories (Lamb iii-v).
The method in which the pair used to create these stories is important to understand. They actively avoided using language that was included in the English vocabulary after Shakespeare’s time. It is known that Mary primarily worked on the comedies and Charles primarily worked on the tragedies. The English histories and Roman plays were left untouched by the two (Lamb v-x). Charles maintains the themes and the period language, but steers away from creating a dialogue; he works strictly in narrative. Mary’s remixes are more conversational, although the introduction justifies this remix by saying the works she remixed were more difficult.
Modern Shakespeare Remixes
Remixes of Shakespeare have progressed through the centuries. In the eighteenth-century, neo-classists started to make adaptions of their own to Shakespeare’s works. John Dennis qualifies his remix of Coriolanus by saying “he was opposed to preserving the unities at the cost of ‘offending all Common Sense,’” (Branam 21). Dennis wrote The Invader of the Country by combining six of Shakespeare’s ten scenes to create his first act. Dennis also changed the location in some of the scenes. Creating an atmosphere of unity (Branam 21-22).
With the introduction of film, there was also a new form of remix introduced. Romeo + Juliet, which was released in 1996, is an example of a remixed Shakespeare on film. The era in which the play takes place is where the major aspect of remix takes place. They speak directly from the Romeo and Juliet script by William Shakespeare.
Improvisation is another form of remix which has become popular in recent times. Vigjay Iyer argues that improvisation should be regards as “identical with what we call experience.” He further explains that through this definition there is not a difference between what we experience as humans and improvisation. We are always improvising. He also explains that some improvisation can be considered good or bad, like saving someone from danger or harming someone. Iyer says, “In other words, you might say that there are degrees, layers or levels to what we call “improvisation.” There’s a primal level at which we learn how to just be in the world, and then there’s another level at which we’re responding to conditions that are thrust upon us.”
Paul Miller stated that digital media is “not necessarily about the process per se, it’s about never saying that there’s something that’s finished. Once something’s digital, essentially you’re looking at versions. Anything can be edited, transformed, and completely made into new things.” This interpretation of improvisation is more embraceable as it seems a bit more definable.
The Improvised Shakespeare Company has been in existence since 2005 and performs every Friday night in Chicago. I think this is an interesting example of Miller’s interpretation of improvisation. The actors are creating new work based upon something old: in this case, it is the style and speech of Shakespeare. This is a contrast from working solely from Shakespeare’s scripts. Which leave little room for improvisation. While there is still a bit of space built into the script for improvisation, but not an extensive build up.
How to use Shakespeare in the Classroom
As technology improves, there are more and more ways in which remix can be used in education. In “Utopian Plagiarism, Hypertextuality, and Electronic Cultural Production” released by the Critical Art Ensemble, they state:
This is the age of the recombinant: recombinant bodies, recombinant gender, recombinant texts, recombinant culture. Looking back through the privileged frame of hindsight, one can argue that the recombinant has always been key in the development of meaning and invention; recent extraordinary advances in electronic technology have called attention to the recombinant both in theory and in practice (for example, the use of morphing in video and film).
As remix or “recombination” becomes more and more prevalent in society, it would be a disservice for the pedagogy of education not to incorporate this very idea. In the same way experiential learning has become a component of many educational pedagogies, remix should also play a role. Remix offers a new way for students to learn; generally a very hands-on approach can be used. Remix can make some things more accessible to students, like in aforementioned case of Shakespeare. It also can turn something which seems old and worn out into something more exciting and interesting. Remix also unpacks the technologies in a way; to create a remix, one must often break it into many smaller pieces.
The use of remix in education is much different than the use of remix in a more corporate sense. Ideally, money should not be the driving factor behind an education, which is a tangent I could speak on for hours. Educational remix should make learning more fun and make the students more invested, as they are able to put a personal spin on a piece of literature which may seem so distant and out of touch.
A Remixed Lesson Plan
The following is a lesson plan teachers and professors could use after the website is created. Anything in italics are the notes I would use as the professor of this lecture and assignment.
First, assign the students Act V, Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, short readings from Navas, and the videos from Ferguson. The students will already have read the rest of the play. It would not be assigned in one piece, but in multiple, smaller assignments.
Then teach a lesson on the history of Shakespeare’s texts and the lack of source text. This lecture should also include ideas from Navas and Ferguson. Shakespeare initially created plays, actors would have their own editions of the play, which often underwent changes, but there was not master script for his plays. It seems that he never intended they be published. So, this means there is no text we can say with certainty is the centered (master) text. This archive has been created to help us understand the fluidity of Shakespeare’s text. The first folios were created by Shakespeare’s friends and contemporaries after he died. They are often attributed as the most accurate. Theatrical versions of the plays may capture what Shakespeare had in mind more than anything else. Ideas from Navas and Ferguson will include sampling, copy, transform, and combine.
Now, the students will access the e-edition, (the remix/e-edition website which is the focus of this paper) and write a short blog post on the experience. The blog posts should contain information about how they navigated the website and which links they inspected. It should explain what they learned about Shakespeare, hopefully that he left some pieces of the play rather ambiguous and up to the director (him, in most cases) to decide. Students should also note how different the first folio and Arden seem to be structured, yet they both contain the play. Once class reconvenes, discuss the blogs and the experience in the same way they were discussed on the blog.
Have students pick the text and video clip they imagine to be the most appropriate portrayal of the scene. This does not necessarily mean period appropriate, but appropriate to the aura of the text. Once they pick, have them compare the two. See if they find differences or similarities that are notable, specifically, how they have been remixed. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the text will not play as apparent an effect as the video. Students will need to defend their choice in video by explaining how the costume, background, actors, etc. seem to portray the play in a way that honors the themes and narrative.
Now the students will be given their major assignment. In small groups the students will create their own remixes of the scene. The will take into account stage direction, costuming, props, and language. After each group gives performance, they will explain the reasons for their interpretation and entertain questions. They will not be graded on ability to memorize lines or act. They will be graded on understanding of text, ability to cite sources for their remixes, and explain what their most significant changes were .The students should be able to defend their choices by talking about how they understood the themes and narrative. They should reference back to their experience using the archive and explain anything which translated across all media. Ultimately, the students will need to have an academic reason for every decision they made concerning the scene they created.
After researching education, Shakespeare, and remix, I have found what I believe to be the appropriate purpose for Shakespeareremixed.com. The website should be used as an educational resource. Students should be able to easily understand there is more to Shakespeare than the workbooks teachers (occasionally) use instead of teaching. Students should use professional examples of remix from the website to help them shape their own remixes of Shakespeare. Shakespeare should be an experience. Shakespeare should not live only in the Read-Only Culture. It belongs in the Read-Write Culture as well.
Shakespeareremixed.com should house a hypertext, e-edition for students to work from; from the website, students can see the multiple versions of Shakespeare’s works: first folios, performed plays, film, etc. They can choose to use this as a tool or as a place to showcase their own remixed works through the use of forums.
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Best, Michael. “Standing In Rich Place: Electrifying The Multiple-Text Edition Or, Every Text Is Multiple.” College Literature 36.1 (2009): 26-39. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 23 Oct. 2013.
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Ferguson, Kerbie. “Everything Is a Remix Part 2.” YouTube. YouTube, 02 Feb. 2011. Web. 07 Dec. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-HuenDPZw0>.
Ferguson, Kerbie. “Everything Is a Remix Part 3.” YouTube. YouTube, 22 June 2011. Web. 07 Dec. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wq5D43qAsVg>.
Ferguson, Kerbie. “Everything Is a Remix Part 4.” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Feb. 2012. Web. 07 Dec. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAmmtCJxJJY>.
Ferguson, Kerbie. “Everything Is a Remix.” Everything Is a Remix. N.p., 16 Feb. 2012. Web. 07 Dec. 2013. <http://everythingisaremix.info/watch-the-series/>.
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William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. Dir. Baz Luhrmann. By Craig Pearce. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, Jesse Bradford, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Brian Dennehy, John Leguizamo, Miriam Margolyes, Harold Perrineau, Christina Pickles, Pete Postlethwaite, Paul Rudd, Paul Sorvino, Diane Venora, and M. Emmet Walsh. Released by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 1996. DVD.