My name is Meryl Federman, I am currently a student. I'm about to graduate and go on to a sort of a starter career in financial consulting, which is exciting because I do a lot of quantitative stuff. I like Math, so that's sort of up my alley there. I get to look at a lot of numbers, which is kind of what I do as an Applied Math Major right now. I also minor in French where I do a lot of drama, and drama really is my second love. I like classical theater. I do hope at some point to do Energy Policy, so my life is kind of all over the place. I like the quantitative stuff, I like policy things, I like the worldly stuff, I think it's very interesting, but sort of as a break from that, I really like this classical drama which kind of taps into these universal themes. Not being a professional right now, I don't have a lick what I do yet, but I hope to create that in the years to come.
Cassius is absolutely one of my favorite characters, I generally love the choleric types (Cassius, Hotspur). I particularly love Cassius because he is so passionate, so personally touched by what probably started as an entirely political antipathy. He's self-sufficient and anti-religious, meaning that he tries to wrench power away from the gods, and be the master of his own domain.
Math and Drama?
I think that having a scientific background makes me analyze plays a bit differently than someone with a humanities background, but other than a slight shift in tone when discussing the more nit-picky literary stuff (I'm less likely to end up thinking about the literature in fancy formalist ways), I don't think there's much of a difference here
What’s your background with Shakespeare?
I'm not professionally involved in Shakespeare, but I fell in love with Shakespeare when I was fourteen. I started reading the plays as fast as I can get my hands on them. I'm still amazed when I look back at that time; How much better I understand the plays now. I do have several years of Shakespeare under my belt. I love watching the plays, seeing the plays. When I got to school, I became heavily involved in the Shakespeare company on campus (The undergraduate company, which I was President of for three semesters,) during that time I directed two Elizabethan Tragedies: One Shakespeare, Richard II, and the other is a Thomas Kyd play, The Spanish Tragedy which was a heavy influence on Hamlet. It was the first modern revenge play, a very Elizabethan verse drama, very tragic, lots of death, and all that good stuff. I did have a small part in The Spanish Tragedy, actually, as the Viceroy of Portugal, so I've had the opportunity to present some of these roles but as a woman, it is kind of hard to get cast in the very few female roles that they typically have. I've produced Shakespeare as well, a production of Pericles (a really weird, weird late play that is, but it was a great production,) so I guess I've really done all sorts of things with Shakespeare, but mostly I'm an avid reader and consumer of Shakespeare productions. I'm really excited always to see Shakespeare plays and to sort of delve into the questions that they raise. I mean, I've debated Hamlet zillions of times. I debate Richard II a lot, which is the play that I directed (with an all-female cast, by the way, so there's quite a lot to debate on my take on the play.)
What was the reason that started you doing Shakespeare videos?
I'm a born critic. I like to look at things, really dig into the choices made. Video reviewing is as fun as any a way to do that, and I do hope to continue doing that when I'm living in New York. I hope to get into the “critic” kind of mode as I see things, because I do have something to say. I've thought a lot about Shakespeare, I've read it, and I've studied it academically a lot, so I do feel like I have something valid to say. I'd like to get a great experience of viewing under my belt so I can really make these comparisons a little better.
How long have you been doing Shakespeare-related productions?
Four years. Freshman year, I was in a production of Twelfth Night as Curio (I had four lines. It was awesome.) It was a fantastic cast, just a really great experience to see Shakespeare up close and personal, it was a grand production. My Sophomore year, I was tangentially involved in a Hamlet production, and I ended up getting very involved in it. I was Assistant Stage Manager and Prop Mistress and Light Operator, so I really got to see the background of a production there. My Junior year was when I directed Richard II and produced Pericles, and Senior year, I directed The Spanish Tragedy in the Fall, I Assistant Produced Antony and Cleopatra at the same time, and I am currently in a production of Measure for Measure, and I'm the Provost who has to execute Claudio, and I get to interact to all the people I just directed in The Spanish Tragedy, and that's great because they're awesome and I love them.
Was it intimidating at all to approach Shakespeare through this type of format?
I don't think so. I think that because of my years of experience, I do feel like I have something to say, and I have the right to say it. It's definitely not as intimidating as trying to delve into the text of a play like Richard II and put on that production. That was the first production I did, and it's a really advanced text, so that was the most intimidating. I had done three Shakespeare scene exhibitions where I got to do little bite-sized bits, but it wasn't the same, so I feel like after things like that and a production of The Spanish Tragedy, which is this massive Elizabethan play. Obviously, doing something like this is putting yourself out there, but I feel like it's not as risky as some other stuff that I've done in my Shakespeare experience.
What’s your one piece of advice for other educators trying to reach students with Shakespeare?
I have not taught Shakespeare, per se. I've directed people with various levels of experience, especially in the scene exhibitions. I have sort of helped bring it to life, and people who have to teach the plays, very often in an Academic or Literary setting, have to remember is that these are people, this is how they talk, and I would really urge any educators to put the play on its feet, show people productions of plays, get into the questions that are raised by actually trying to do it, because I think that talking about the literary questions of things is fantastic and it's great, but it inevitably leads to “How does that look on a person, who has to feel those emotions and say those things, and deal with their fellow characters?” I would say, have them act out plays informally. I would necessarily make it a graded thing or anything, if that's part of what's going on, but have them put it on its feet and look at scenes sort of side by side from different productions. (I would stay away from a late '70s BBC productions because it's very high-flown, very “let's flog the text halfway to death.”) I love the text, don't get me wrong, but the text is part of how people talk. There's a reason why iambic pentameter is used: If you listen to hexameter, it sounds like a song, it doesn't really sound like speech, but Iambic Pentameter kind of does, and I feel like it's wrong to lose sight of that. You have to show them productions where people really own the text and make it sound like directed, focused, highly emotional and highly logical at the same time. Obviously, there is a formality to it that natural speech doesn't have, but I feel like it's important to show them that, because looking at it on a page, it can get very confusing with as many notes –or footnotes-- as you have and that's not how people were meant to experience it. The main thing is, “Make it real,” I think is the simplest thing that I can say because it is.; These characters are so compelling, there's no reason that students should think otherwise. They're very, very real. Make it real.
What’s your favorite Shakespeare play?
Julius Caesar, which is kind of a bizarre choice. I love politics. It's a brutal story about motivations and alliances,and personal emotion and everyone is so deep and interesting. They have these public faces, these private faces, what they really believe and what they have to end up acting on, and manipulation of others. Everything is just so brilliant. Brutus and Antony and Caesar are obviously super-interesting characters, but even the minor characters. Octavius Caesar is barely in this play, and he's a brilliant character. You see him coldly moving through, building his power base and undercutting Antony. Everything in Antony and Cleopatra is there. That rivalry between the two of them is there in Julius Caesar. Antony has that great soliloquy where he's just in awe of what was done, but he is not above using this ruthlessly to his own ends. I can't help loving it. “Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” what else can I say?
Who is your favorite Shakespeare Character(s)?
I love the choleric characters who just feel so strongly that it just trips them up, like Cassius, and also like Hotspur, from Henry IV-1. Hamlet is, of course, a brilliant character, I just think there's so much there that I sort of can't help loving Hamlet as well. Again, Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke, I sort of see them as two sides of the same coin, not to say that they're mirror images of each other, but I feel like because of just how opposite they are, they really bring a great sort of rivalry to life.
If you could spend an evening with the Bard, what would you do?
I would ask him some of the questions to try to pick apart some of the places in the play where things get a little funky. “How old his Hamlet?'” things like that. I would try to pin some of that down just to satisfy my own curiosity. I'm sure it would be an eye-opening experience because I feel like the concerns that we have as modern readers are probably things that would surprise Shakespeare. I don't think that, when Shakespeare wrote these plays, he had people coming to him backstage asking “How old is this character, anyway?” I think it was just a very different kind of concern back then. It was such a public, populist form of entertainment. I feel like he'd be surprised at how over thought his plays have become.
Any last comments?
Thank you so much! This is exciting. Farewell!
That wraps up our 3 parts series with PursuedByABear.net
If you want to know more about getting your kid to love Shakespeare, check out some books we have written.