Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 23, 2009
Summer Shakespeare program draws playwright, historian from England
BY JOSEPH WOODARD
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
DERWENT — Living Water College of the Arts announced its Summer Shakespeare Program 2009, last fall, playwright Martin Dodwell was, somewhat strangely, its first student applicant.
The college is set in very rural Derwent, two hours east of Edmonton and a half-hour north of Vermillion. Dodwell hales from southern England, from the ancient oak-nested village of Walgrave, 50 km from Shakespeare’s own Stratford-on-Avon. He was schooled at Faversham, where the Bard often drank in local Ship Inn.
So why is the Englishman travelling to rural Canada?
“I‘m going into the drama program partly for the enjoyment of it,” says Dodwell, by phone from his Northamptonshire home. “But it’s also a real opportunity to study Shakespeare.”
The Summer Shakespeare Program “has it all,” he says. “You learn the physical process of putting on a play. You study the history of Shakespeare’s age. And you live with the spirituality at the centre of Shakespeare’s life. If you can get inside Catholicism, you can get inside Shakespeare.”
At the Summer Shakespeare Program, students will study the cultural watershed from pagan to Christian heroism and tragedy, Shakespeare’s own faith and life, and the turbulent times of the English Reformation.
At the same time, they will actually produce Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with speech and movement instruction from veteran actor Frank Turner, and stage fighting classes by Fight Directors of Canada Maitre d’Armes J.P. Fournier.
At the end of the six weeks, they will stage Macbeth in local community venues.
“When you bring a play to life, you learn things that you can’t learn from a book,” says Dodwell.
Shakespeare was “forged in a crucible,” Dodwell says, “in an absolutely extraordinary period of tension, when people are being hung, drawn and quartered for their Catholic faith. When Merchant of Venice has someone demanding ‘a pound of flesh,’ that’s not exaggeration; people saw it happening at (London’s) Marble Arch.”
The Summer Shakespeare Program’s history expert, also travelling from England, is Lady Clare Asquith, author of the 2005 study of Shakespeare’s “coded” Catholicism, Shadowplay.
Asquith and Jesuit Father Peter Milward, author of Shakespeare’s Catholicism (1997), were the major speakers at a 2006 Shakespeare conference at Oxford, where both she and Dodwell met Living Water College of the Arts president Ken Noster.
Since then, the “Catholic Shakespeare” movement has stayed networked through Oxford Chestertonian Stratford Caldecott’s Second Spring website (www.secondspring.co.uk).
“Shakespeare came from an intensely Catholic environment, he had militantly Catholic friends, and his Catholicism is a driving force in his art,” Dowdell said. “Once Asquith gives people a few clues, they can see what’s going on in his art.”
Asquith agrees with Dodwell that literary critics “just don’t like” setting Shakespeare’s own faith and art within the context of the political and religious crisis of his day.
They assume that Shakespeare’s real concern for his Church and his country somehow detracts from his perennial brilliance as an observer of human nature.
History has indeed been re-written by the victors, Asquith affirms, first by Anglican politicians and Puritan merchants, then later by secular academic critics.
But there is real hope in recovering the Catholic past, she insists, “because the present so much coincides with the past: the apparent decline of the Christian faith, the nostalgia for liturgy, for the Bible, for moral authority. In all of this, one hears echoes of Elizabethan times.”
(Joseph Woodard, PhD, is the academic dean designate of Living Water College of the Arts in Derwent.)