Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December! (or, "God knows you")

Technically, I don't have time to post today. But if I went on technicalities, I'd never post again! I am meant to be helping the OUSC move staging and equipment over to St. Peter's College Chapel for the concert in about an hour, after which I have a few hours in which to prepare my presentation for tomorrow's class (the last A-course class of term!) before I have to be back at St. Peter's (in black tie) for rehearsal at 4, and the concert is at 7:30. However, as it is a glorious morning--there were blue skies and pink wispy clouds till the grey ones took over about ten minutes ago...but I have high hopes for later--and as it is the first of December, I thought I ought to update everyone on the doings of the past week.

On Wednesday last, at the suggestion of my Shakespeare professor, Emma Smith, I attended a Drama In Performance Seminar that included three scenes from "Mother Bombie," a play by John Lyly, performed by the King Edward's Boys, a troupe of 11 and 12-year olds from the Stratford school of King Edward VI. It was introduced by Leah Scragg, who has just finished an edition of Lyly's plays. While her talk was interesting enough, I was fascinated by the boys, who played some very demanding parts (male and female, young and old, choristers and witches, languishing lovers and doddering imbeciles) with confidence and understanding of their roles. I was even more impressed during the Q&A afterward, when they answered questions and reflected on the acting process with such maturity and wisdom, I could hardly believe they were so young. Apparently they were on their way to London to perform the play at the Globe, lucky little ducklings!

The next day (Thursday) at the end of Paleography we received our exam, two photocopied texts, one in mainly secretarial hand, the other in a transitional hand that was far easier to read because there were more italic letters. Will Poole had originally said we'd have 48 hours to complete the exam, so we all expected it to be due on Saturday, but as he handed it out he announced that it was due to him, either electronically or hand-delivered to the porter of New College, by midnight on Friday. This was vastly inconvenient, as I had a dinner that night, and I had signed up to volunteer at the Christmas Lights Night ceremony on Friday evening, thinking I would have Saturday morning to go over my transcription once more before turning it in. Friday morning I had crew at 6:30, followed by a quick shower before my Hand Press Printing class from 10-12, after which I had about 4 hours to work on the transcription before heading to my volunteer briefing. Fortunately, I was able to talk it over a bit with some of my classmates during the hand press class (we were permitted to do this), and I felt a little better about it after that.

When I really got down to it, actually, I was amazed at how much of the early modern writing was clear to me--a fact made even more clear when one of the Victorianists in the printing class asked to see the exam and was just astonished at how it looked like another language! (Their paleography classes involve learning to decipher messy or erratic hands, but always the letter forms are modern.) When I got home, I had a lot of fun googling names in the one text to try to identify the author--it ended up being Edmund Campion's History of Ireland, in which he lists the counties and some of the cities. He also uses a great word, which I transcribed "defalked" and then doubted myself because I wasn't sure what it would mean. Classmates thought it might be "disabled," but I was certain there was a "k" in there. Thanks to the OED, I was vindicated--and I learned that defalk means "to diminish by cutting off a part; to reduce by," which worked perfectly in context. I guess it is hard to communicate just how exciting it was to make that discovery, when that particular word had had me stumped for about an hour! There were also two other hands that had annotated the manuscript, so I had to figure out what they were for as well (one was a printer's annotation, the other was the pagination of the compilation manuscript in which we find it today). The other manuscript was a formal (probably presentation) copy of Middleton's "A Game at Chess," most likely in the hand of Ralph Crane. It was, as I have said, much easier to read, in beautiful italics (mostly) with far fewer margin notes and ink-bleeds from the next page than the Campion. Indeed, the hardest part of this MS was the Latin at the top, and the i/j and u/v swaps that were common in the period. Tomorrow we will (hopefully) find out how we did when Will goes over the texts with us.

[Extended interjection: At this point in my writing I left to go move the drums from the Music Faculty with a few other choristers and Theo, our director, which we accomplished with the help of a big, rattly trolley that made a fantastic noise over the cobblestones. Then we went (with the same trolley) to Christ Church to borrow their risers. Such a great place, Christ Church, with their porters sporting bowler hats and their Hermes fountain still going even though half of it was frozen over, and their enormous Christmas tree in the snowy front quad, as well as another just outside the cathedral. We got to hang out in the cathedral for a long time while the curator got the key to the shed, so I spent some time marveling at the windows and carvings and all the pretty stuff. I realised I had actually been in there before, but had almost forgotten it all; it really is beautiful, with boldly coloured stained glass and elaborately carved wood and stone and wrought iron, and there are bits of it dating from Anglo-Saxon and medieval times. We got to go through a door behind a red velvet curtain marked "PRIVATE" (the door, not the curtain) and into a little courtyard from which you could see the famous (and now dangerously leaning) horse chestnut tree that the Cheshire Cat used to sit in, all twisted and gnarled and black against the winter sky. Then we made many trips to move all the metal stands and boards that comprise the risers out to the trolley--with only one or two slips on the ice which was everywhere! We pushed and pulled the trolley back across town (which was half uphill, and no easy feat! I got a workout this morning) and then we were all headed to our respective homes for lunch (it was noon by this point), but I had walked by the Ecco shoe store so many times and wanted to go in, I thought this might be my chance, so I went in and had a lovely conversation with the shop girl, who brought me some very nice shoes in my size (42, which tends to be unusual, but they had some--for £85 of course) which I tried on and walked around in, but was too gun-shy from the Clarks disaster to purchase (I may go back later).

Then I left and was going to head straight home when I saw that card shop by Bonn Square...I think it's called Scribbler? I thought I might see what kind of Christmas cards they had, but it was really crowded, so I only stayed for a minute and then left. I was crossing the street and just considering walking into Marks and Spencers (where I have still never been) when I was accosted by three girls. They said, "Excuse me, this is going to sound really weird, but we're from a Bible School and we wondered if we might pray for you?" They explained that they had been working on a little assignment where they were supposed to feel inspiration, and they had *seen* me in little visions, wearing my colorful hat and coming out of a green building (Scribbler is green-fronted). They showed me a paper with questions they had answered and a little stick figure drawing. They asked me my name, and then said they had all been guessing names with -el at the end--one said her guess had been "Muriel". The one girl who had spoken first said, "we just want you to know that God knows you, and he wanted us to find you and pray for you." I was so touched by their sincerity, so inexplicably moved, it brought tears to my eyes! I said they could pray for me, if they wanted to. They asked if I had anything in particular I wanted them to pray for, and I said just my family, to which they replied that they had thought that family was very important, and wondered if I were concerned for them over the holiday. I said only because I wasn't going home to see them. So we stood in a little circle and the one girl prayed aloud for me and my family, and she thanked God for showing me to them and for helping them to share the power of prayer. Then they wished me a good day, and I wished them the same. As I walked away from them, feeling somehow joyful, I smiled at a rather gruff-looking man walking by (not a flirty smile, more just a pay-it-forward kind of smile) and he smiled back. He dropped a glove as he did so, but he didn't notice and walked on, so I picked it up and ran after him. When I gave it back he stared at me with a sort of raptured face, as if he had seen an angel, and he thanked me repeatedly. What a very strange afternoon interlude!]

I think I shall have to end there for today, as it is already 2:00 and I have not showered nor dressed for tonight, nor have I worked on that presentation. I will try to find time to fill in the rest of November soon--I was looking forward to writing about the Christmas Lights night, the Student Occupation of the Radcliffe Camera, the Thanksgiving Dinner put together by the Americans in my strand, the IWL-B races on a freezing Sunday afternoon, drinks with the Telethon organisers, and the amazing lecture by new Professor of Poetry Geoffrey Hill! All this and more, coming soon to a blog near you.


  1. Are those boys the kind of acting company that Shakespeare complains about in Hamlet? I can't wait to tell my 7th graders about the horse chestnut tree!

  2. I suppose they are, though not quite the same, as these boys are not professionals. They are well-known, but they are just schoolboys putting together a production with their English teacher. I think that makes them all the more impressive, though! Wish our Doane students could see them--I'm sure they'd be inspired. (And I wish I'd had a camera to take a picture of the tree! I don't know how I could get back in to see it, but if I do, I will be sure to send you a photo.)

  3. Awesome! They were impressed when I told them! I read your post at 6 a.m. and it made me think of Shakespeare's "bare ruined choirs" and what do you know, it happened to be a sonnet that we discussed in Poetry today! (73) By the way, I loved your theory about Kemp and Armin! It's kind of hilarious to think of the Bard calling Will in and saying, "I've decided to go in a new direction..." Oh, the reason I thought of that phrase from 73 was William Empson's discussion of it in connection with all of the church destruction that went on in the Reformation in his 7 Types of Ambiguity. I may have read something about Christ Church escaping that?