More than Fun and Plays

Just who is this Falstaff cad, and what makes him think he can woo two wealthy ladies? As the Shakespeare at Pace Festival moves full steam ahead, wrapping up a performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor and rolling out Merchant of Venice in February, Pace introduces several educational components to open audience’s eyes to the Bard’s many nuances.

Merry Wives

Earlier this month, Pace Distinguished Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies Martha Driver, PhD, gave the centerpiece lecture on The Merry Wives of Windsor, delving into some of the historical figures who may have helped shape Shakespeare’s famous fool, Falstaff. In this column, this expert in medieval and early Tudor texts, who has published numerous articles on the history of publishing and whose books include The Medieval Hero on Screen and Shakespeare and the Middle Ages (edited with Pace Professor and Chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department Sid Ray) shares her insight as well as what she thinks will be some of the highlights of the festival.

What do you think makes the Shakespeare at Pace Festival unique?

It is thrilling to see live Shakespeare in almost any context—from Theater in the Park to Theater in the Parking Lot! Pace is bringing live productions downtown. The Festival is picking up on an earlier Pace tradition of live theater. I am thinking here of the wonderful productions of Tony Randall’s theater company, especially of Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui and the classical play The Persians, both performed at the Schimmel Theater.

This is the second time the Globe has returned to Pace, and hopefully the first of an annual Shakespeare festival designed to make Pace “the downtown place” for Shakespeare. What do you think this festival means for the community and Pace’s academic reputation?

Did you see the New York Times review of the Globe production of Love’s Labour’s Lost at Pace last year? It was a rave! These continuing excellent productions will establish the reputation of the Shakespeare series and also of Pace University as a place where such plays are taught, studied, performed, and loved. [Note: To read reviews of The Merry Wives of Windsor, click here and here.]

For those who missed it, what was the theme of your centerpiece lecture?

The talk focuses on Falstaff and explores some of the medieval underpinnings of his character, including the Vice character in early medieval drama, as well as two historical figures who may have helped to shape Shakespeare’s comic creation. The lecture will then turn to discussion of Falstaff in America and early production history, ending with an analysis of one specific scene of Merry Wives, the culmination of the action at Herne’s oak, again drawn in part from earlier medieval sources.

What is the one message you hope people have taken away from your lecture and the performance?

From the lecture, that Shakespeare was influenced by medieval romance traditions, along with English folklore, in his creation particularly of Falstaff while also making something quite new– a rogue hero who has been popular with audiences from the Elizabethans to modern moviegoers down to the present day. From the performance, the joyfulness of Shakespeare’s comic timing and wit!

The Globe performance is the only one of the four performances that is staged in a traditional manner; the other three are using more modern settings. What do you think are some of the pros and cons to this modern approach?

We saw Patrick Stewart in Macbeth at BAM in modern dress fairly recently (relentless and dark), which was entirely effective, and Richard Burton’s Hamlet in street clothes remains one of the best productions of that play on record. Almereyda’s Hamlet is also very good, set in modern New York. Costume, sets, lighting, all are very important but must reflect the director’s vision; if that is consistent, the rest follows.

Other than Merry Wives, what performance are you most looking forward to?

I am looking forward to all four performances and intend to take students to see them. I have seen F. Murray Abraham’s Shylock in Merchant of Venice once before and would love to see it again and compare it with the Al Pacino production currently on Broadway.

Next on her plate, Professor Driver will be publishing an essay on Shakespeare’s Pericles and another regarding medieval manuscript illumination. She’s also writing about early Tudor texts and their illustration, working with Pace colleague Eugene Richie on a translation project that will be discussed at a conference in Spain, editing the Journal of the Early Book Society (which will be published by Pace University Press in fall 2011), organizing a conference with colleagues at the University of York, and reading screenplays and trying to finish another book in her spare time!