As you may have noticed I sometimes have a problem with concision, about a year ago now a couple of friends suggested I might like to tackle this. No, they didn’t quite recommend therapy, though I’m sure that is an option, they suggested I got a Twitter account. Despite being very sceptical of Twitter (my only knowledge of the site was limited to the widely reported incident, even featuring on Radio 4’s Today programme, of Stephen Fry tweeting when he was stuck in a lift) and conscious of how much time social media can take up I eventually conceded and low and behold an account was duly set up. Hopeful that this new 140-character-mindset would help they left me to it. A year on I’m not convinced the whole concision business has been entirely successful but it was a good on their part nonetheless. But stepping away from a Twitter-promo, the character limiting concept of Twitter got me thinking as did a couple of day conferences I’ve been to recently, one on Shakespeare, the digital world and education and another on Digital Dickens. Twitter and social media was a big player at both events, from live tweeting to using social media as a teaching tool and a platform to get stuck into texts. The best example of this about at the moment is the Our Mutual Friend project which has seen an invasion of fictional accounts to the Twittersphere as people literally get beneath the skin of those characters Dickens penned. Have a quick look here for a taster. But I started thinking about how this could be adapted as a teaching tool. At the Shakespeare symposium a few weeks ago one of the teaching methods suggested was to get students to profile play characters Facebook style, this is 21st century character profiling people. Both tact’s see people engaging with characters beyond the words on the page, it’s like putting on 3D glasses but the definition is even better.
With accessibility of a text at the forefront of my mind, and determined to cure at least one “Eugh! Shakespeare Miss. Really? He’s SO boring” (once Dickens makes a curriculum comeback I bet he’ll get a similar reaction from some students) or as the Cambridge student I was cleaning with yesterday remarked, “I get it Shakespeare’s supposed to be great but I bet if any Professor took their favourite author they could teach on it for a term” (bring on the course on Douglas Adams I say!) and point taken.
Great though he is for some he can be boring, seen as a guy perched so high up no-one can possibly get anywhere close to saying something important about him, or worse still as the only bloke in literature worth paying any attention to. I thought I’d Tweet a play. Let me explain, I’m not just regurgitating Shakespeare – there are accounts a-plenty on Twitter that regularly tweet entire plays. The main idea behind this is basically a plot summary broken down into 140 character snippets. Ending with a grand finale, as I attempt to sum up the whole play in a tweet.
So here you have it, my summary of Henry VI part one in 140 character instalments (or thereabouts):
(The act and scene numbers relate to The Oxford Shakespeare Complete Works, 2nd edition pp. 127-154)
1.1: Henry V dead France lost men turning against leaders. Bedford steps up claims he’d rather murder than weep. Winchester’s first little moment
1.2: French want to lay off the hungry English a bit.
1.3: Bastard brings Joan to Charles; they fight and then get all intimate. She agrees to help. English fight like clockwork.
1.4: LOTR incident. Gloucester told “you shall not pass”, Winchester’s orders. He refuses to obey, heads in and fights.
Winchester paints Gloucester as the bad guy. Mayor & Officer breakup fight. W & G to talk later.
1.5: Boy takes over from Father watching for Englishmen.
1.6: Talbot rescued; Salisbury half-blinded, Gargrave killed. Blood bath.
1.7: Talbot fights with joan. Come on, it’s not really the moment is it now?
1.8: France celebrates. A big ol’ sing song. Give the glory to God, oh and future saint Joan. Obviously.
2.1: Keep watch. Oh woe is me, I am a watcher. It’s a hard nut life..
They cheat. Scaredy cats pull in a mystic French lady. Surprise surprise she’s like Khan from Star Trek. She’s been using them.
English solider cries Talbot and they all scarper. Worth making a note of how useful yelling this name could be..
2.2: Done and dusted, Salisbury’s dead but Talbot’s avenged him. 5 to 1 with murder. Not sure Dauphin is pleased. We’ve yet to meet elusive Joan.
French fled two love birds in tow. Auvergne fancies a word with Talbot. Burgandy unimpressed. War’s not the time for wooing women. Honestly!
War and wooing a bad combo surely advice he should’ve given to Henry V.. But Bradford doesn’t fancy accompany Talbot, so he heads off alone.
2.3: Talbot meets with Countess. She’s conniving (whips out flattery card and invites them to dinner).
Talbot says he’s a shadow and predicts this hit http://youtu.be/i-4uKgXRnpI but doesn’t stop there, he’s got even mightier power you know..
2.4: Roses picked. It’s team Plantagenet (in white) v. Team Somerset (in red). Banter about blood. Save bloody battle for another day.
2.5: Richard: “Hey Uncle Edmund! I’m heir by blood man” [Ah! Edmund dies] Richard jets off to parliament to declare his birth right. He’s THE Man.
3.1: Violence breaks out only stone’s throw away. Chaos! King begs for peace – shake hands & makeup. Richard knighted. Exeter soliloquises.
3.2: School sports day? Not quite a sack race.. Joan & French troops sport sacks so they can slip subtly into the city. Yup, it’s as crazy as it sounds.
3.3: Charles meets up with Joan. Wedding planning gets well underway and a few executions planned alongside.
3.4: Talbot pretty miffed when he hears France is using a witch.
3.5: Burgandy and Bedford taunted by Joan, Talbot retaliates, Falstaff flees, Bedford dies. Jam packed scene.
3.6: Town won. Burgandy and Talbot have a good ol’ knees up. After a bit of tidying they plan to head to Paris to touch base with Henry.
3.7: Joan convinces (with subtle tongue) Burgandy to speak with Charles. “Go on! Come over to the dark side” she cries.
3.8: Henry meets Talbot crowned Earl of Shrewsbury. Vernon and Basset quarrel.
4.1: It’s coronation time! Letter from Burgandy arrives (he’s anti-Henry). Falstaff banished (sound familiar Henry IV part two readers?
Vernon and Basset fight over roses. (Did they ever think of painting them?) Henry picks red. Dangerous move mate.
4.2: Fight is coming. A storm is brewing. Talbot psyche’s himself up for it, gives himself a pep talk.
4.3: Talbot’s dying, Richard wants to help he can’t hold his horses because lo and behold they STILL haven’t arrived.
4.4: Is he dead? Somerset tries to help. Meanwhile Lucy rubs salt in the wound.
4.5: Rhyming father and son duo unite in life/death to face the foe.
4.6: Father rescues John from clutches of death, both refuse to flee to protect themselves – so they unite to face death.
4.7: Both Talbots are dead. Son in father’s arms. French wreak havoc, determined to win now Talbot’s out of the picture.
5.1: Pope wants peace. Gloucester suggests Henry marries French bird (following in his father’s footsteps?) Winchester dressed as cardinal plots.
5.2: English army unite against France.
5.3: Joan’s spirits drop.
5.4: Joan captured. She curses them (Macbeth witches style).
5.5: Suffolk woo’s Margaret (on Henry’s behalf) and gets her father’s permission. She sends him off with no tokens. Shock horror!
5.6: Joan off to be burnt at stake. Claims she’s pure, denies her father and curses all present. Meanwhile Charles makes truce with Englishmen.
5.7: Suffolk sells Margaret to Henry who falls in love with her description. Suffolk sent to get her but reveals his ulterior motives…
Of course, this is only way of linking social media with Shakespeare, and teaching more generally. I’d like to eventually do a similar thing for the whole canon. (I’m happy to take requests for the next play..) but I think mixing it up is good too. So there’s also the possibility of live tweeting a play, (as the Shakespeare Institute did for their recent Heywood marathon), tweeting as though you are each character of the play (like they’re doing over at Our Mutual Friend) and you can even have fun with twitter handles because @Romeo is far too boring.. or else adopting a much more serious teaching method..
Just one other thing, I realise I am using Tweeting very loosely here, since these summaries were never published on Twitter itself, it’s more the concept being adapted. Given that these tweets are published on a blog, perhaps they should be called bleets? (Presumably the sound a sheep unable to spell would make and continuing the animal sound of Twitter of course).
As promised, here’s the final treat, Henry VI part one all in one tweet (yes, I know I know this doesn’t cover everything, but if it did surely Shakespeare would’ve done his play in 140 characters):
Young Henry tries to lead nation to victory. But hadn’t factored in rose-fights, witch on the other side, or his inability to woo (déjà vu?)