For many years the English Department of the University of California at Berkeley has stressed performance as an aid to student understanding of Shakespeare’s plays, actively presenting them as scripts, not as eccentric novels for private reading. Its Shakespeare Program stimulates students’ theatre awareness, not just passively through film and video, but via live performances by faculty and professional actors. Above all students themselves are encouraged to stage short scenes, performed for classmates, which have often evolved into full public staging of his plays, attracting curious audiences with rarely performed scripts, such as The Two Noble Kinsmen and Henry VIII.
We search the campus for apt open-air venues, usually before classical buildings with many doors, steps and balconies, as well as using theatres, including one memorable production of Much Ado at Sam Wanamaker’s rebuilt Globe theatre in Southwark. Most are recorded and redeployed in widely distributed video documentaries: “Shakespeare and the Globe” (Films for the Humanities), “Shakespeare’s Globe Restored” and “Shakespeare and the Spanish Connection” (TMW Media). The internet also now permits redeployment of these materials to create an open website called Shakespeare’s Staging, with essays and bibliographies about the history of Shakespeare performance, plus galleries with two thousand images of performances from Shakespeare’s time to our own. These are supplemented by clips of our own Shakespeare productions, soon to be augmented from professional productions from YouTube.
Visually alert through their intense visual conditioning by television, video games, and digital media, modern students are aided by even brief excerpts from Shakespeare performances, which allow them to imagine more broadly how the plays are performed. Their valuation of this experience is shown by the current total of visits to our site: one and a half million. The site’s scholarly and critical value for more senior Shakespeareans registers in scores of listings by leading research universities, scholarly libraries, and theatre organizations. The site is found at http://shakespearestaging.berkeley.edu/ Its success has led us to create another, stressing performances of the works of John Milton, including our public production of Comus and perhaps the first live performance of “Paradise Lost” (1985) – accessible at http://townsendlab.berkeley.edu/milton-revealed/
Both sites show the importance of our previous accumulation of data and images under our own control, thus avoiding costly and protracted copyright and royalty issues. However, recently museums, galleries, and libraries are proving more willing to allow us free educational use of their materials. We also gained from access to competent UCB recording and digital facilities, but initial and sustaining funding remains a challenge – we were fortunate to draw on our video royalties! Site preservation also remains a concern, though archiving facilities are now being developed by many academic institutions
Hugh Macrae Richmond, Professor of English Emeritus, Director of the Shakespeare
Program at the University of California at Berkeley.