Speech at the SAA Business Meeting

This past Wednesday, April 5, I was asked to say a few words about my concerns regarding US border policy and its effects on the Shakespeare Association of America. I thought I might share that speech below. I didn’t get to read it myself because the heavens were being hammered by Thor himself, sadly, though I want to thank SAA President Heather James for reading it into the record for me.

I would like to start off by acknowledging that this conference is taking place on the traditional territories of the Creek peoples, whose settlement, Standing Peachtree, lent its name to the street upon which this hotel stands. I mention this because such an acknowledgement highlights the empty seats that have always been among us, unrecognized.

The SAA has prided itself for years on its seminar model; it is what makes the SAA unique. For several decades now, the tables that we meet at have been growing larger as more scholars have been welcomed. Chairs have been taken by scholars of all sexualities, nationalities, religions, races, backgrounds. The constitutional amendment to Article III.3 exemplifies that commitment to diversity of membership and is a part of a series of initiatives, outlined in the President’s Letter of February 2017 but begun over the past few years, to bring more people to the table.

This year we can see that we have empty seats that should be filled. LGBTQ+ scholars, Muslim scholars, black, middle eastern, aboriginal and Asian scholars are absent.

As the project coordinator for the Canadian Shakespeare Association, I know there are Canadians who haven’t come this year and who might not come again. For many who did decide to come, like myself, it was an agonizing decision weighing access and professional duties against, in some cases, personal safety and continued isolation. The SAA must address itself to those who feel that this nation does not welcome them and the changes the SAA makes to bring those people to the table must be effective and permanent, implemented as soon as possible.

To that end, I suggest the following:

  • An agile system of response to government initiatives. That is, as we only meet once a year, that means we have only one opportunity to engage in an open forum to discuss issues as a group and propose a statement that addresses the concerns of the members.
  • An online forum for all members (even if it begins as a facebook group). We need a permanent online forum (or set of online spaces) that will allow for us to discuss policy issues as they come up.
  • Podcasted/Vodcasted seminars and/or plenaries. Although electronic “presence” is never quite the same thing as physical presence, it can provide a much-needed bridge for those who have been excluded. In addition, making certain parts of the conference available publicly will help to reach out to a wider public and membership. These could also be useful for teaching and research purposes
  • A new officer of the SAA or committee of the trustees specifically devoted to addressing membership inclusivity issues.
  • A formal commitment to regularly hosting the annual meeting (say every three years) outside of the United States, be that in Canada, the Caribbean or somewhere else in the Americas.

These suggestions require, in some cases, constitutional change. As a part of a permanent process of inclusivity, however, they seem necessary. There have always been empty chairs at the table, but by making formal, permanent commitments online and in the constitution, we can hopefully supply those empty spaces.


Sounds of Early Modern London

If you have ever been to London, or you are from there, you probably know that the city today is awash with noise, from passing buses, construction overhead, the occasional train, cars, and the crush of people from all over the world speaking every different language under the sun.

London in the time of Elizabeth I and Shakespeare was rather different. Well, obviously, no cars. But in the Jacobethan period, London was the largest urban centre in England by far and was to continue its massive growth throughout most of the next century. In Europe, only Paris and Naples had greater populations by 1600, though even these cities were dwarfed by the cultural and military powerhouse that was Istanbul. So, fewer people, less noise.

Also, around 1600, the very loudest noises that someone might encounter in a tour around the city were far quieter than the loudest noises that we might encounter today. No jackhammers and automobiles here. Rather, the sounds of unamplified voices, animals, and industry filled the air. Barry Truax, speaking about pre-modern societies generally, notes that “more ‘smaller’ sounds can be heard, more detail can be discerned in those that are heard, and sounds coming from a greater distance form a significant part of the soundscape. In terms of acoustic ecology, one might say that more ‘populations’ of sound exist, and fewer ‘species’ are threatened with extinction” (70-1).

So what were the species of sound that you might hear if you were transported back to Jacobethan London?

As Bruce R. Smith notes in The Acoustic World of Early Modern England, we actually know a bit about this from the diary of Philip Julius, Duke of Stettin-Pomerania, who rode into London on 12 September 1602 and described:

On arriving in London we heard a great ringing of bells in almost all the churches going on very late in the evening, also on the following days until 7 or 8 o’clock in the evening. We were informed that the young people do that for the sake of exercise and amusement, and sometimes they lay considerable sums of money as a wager, who will pull a bell the longest or ring it in the most approved fashion. Parishes spend much money in harmoniously-sounding bells, that one being preferred which has the best bells. The old Queen is said to have been pleased very much by this exercise, considering it a sign of the health of the people.

Loudest of all the bells was that of St Mary-le-Bow, and it was that bell that signalled the rhythms of the workday. Shopkeepers, artisans, and apprentices rose and worked to the sound of that bell tolling out the days of their life. In fact, there was a proverbial association between the sound of the bells of St Mary-le-Bow and the true Londoner. By 1617, Fynes Moryson wrote “Londoners, and all within the sound of Bow-bell, are in reproach called Cockneys, and eaters of buttered toast.”

The sound of the bells was only one form of music that would have pervaded early modern London. Music was present in the pre-modern city in ways that are alien today. It wasn’t just entertainment. It accompanied daily chores and work (working songs); it served as a way for shoesellers, oystersellers, and rag-and-bone men to advertise; it could be heard emerging from barber shops and brothels and public houses alike. Women at spinning and carding wool would sing, as evidenced by John Case who asked in The Praise of Musick in 1586 “Who does not straightways imagine upon music when he hears his maids either at the woodhurdle or the milking pail?”  Sailors and waterboatmen would sing at their work as they went up and down the Thames. Songs emerged from the schools of the day, where school songs were a mainstay of the educational culture until well into the twentieth century. Even though, as Christopher Marsh points out, professional minstrels had been largely eliminated over the course of the 1500s by statutes that saw them as nothing more than beggars and vagabonds, songs still emerged everywhere.

The sounds of the workplace would also fill the ears of a visitor. Thomas Dekker in his pamphlet The Seven Deadly Sins of London from 1606 invokes the sounds of a London street.

Hammers are beating in one place, tubs hooping in another, pots clinking in a third, water-tankards running at tilt in a fourth: here are porters sweating under burdens, there merchantmen bearing bags of money, chapmen (as if they were at leapfrog) skip out of one shop into another.

The sounds of each industry, from the hammering of blacksmiths and farriers, to the turning and scraping of plates and candlesticks, to the anguished cries of the slaughtered cattle, sheep and chickens permeated the city as it was no longer the case, as it had once been in the early 1500s, that each industry was relegated to a particular part of London. No matter where you went, you’d hear the sound of industry and manufacture – the hammering and scraping, tapping and making of every object of the early modern world.

Let’s not forget voices though. A huge portion of the population of London were immigrants who came from the rural counties beyond the city and their voices would have been trained by years of living outdoors without the sound reflective walls of the city. They would have used their voices differently than an urban dweller would, as urban residents tend to restrict our voices, pulling them back to fit in the small flat rooms of our daily lives. Indeed, this distinction between indoor and outdoor sound was puzzled over by Helkiah Crooke in his 1616 Microcosmographia, where he argued that voices from within a house can’t be heard outside, while voices outside a house can be heard within because “the sound entering the house is contracted, gathered, or united, and therefore it must needs move the sense more fully” (700).

The cry of unrestricted voices would resonate off of the architecture of the city and carry in ways that we can’t really understand today. The sound of the city would depend on where the listener stood and where the speaker stood. Some streets were cobbled, to be sure, reflecting the sound back and forth along the road and the walls of the houses, but most streets were merely sound absorbing mud and dirt (Smith 59-60). Thus the soundscape of an individual street would be totally different from its neighbour. The penetration of certain species of sound into the houses of even side streets could be wholly unpredictable.

Given all this, it is easy to sympathize with characters like Jonson’s Morose in Epicœne. Apart from the sounds of industry, there was also the sound of entertainment, which Morose seems most upset at. In fact, Morose’s description of what he’d gladly listen to rather than be married to a talkative woman is a kind of thumbnail sketch of the soundscape of early modern London itself. He’d happily sit “in a belfry, at Westminster Hall, i’ the Cockpit, at the fall of a stage, the Tower wharf (what place is there else?) London Bridge, Paris Garden, Billingsgate, when the noises are at their height and loudest. Nay, I would sit out a play that were nothing but fights at sea, drum, trumpet and target!”

If we could get in a time machine and listen to the sounds of early modern London, the speciation of sound, rather than the wall of noise that greets us in contemporary London, is what would probably surprise us most. From the choir of schoolboys carried on the wind to the incessant tapping of the neighbouring goldsmith, every London street would be different and every one would have its own unique character and voice.


For more on this topic, please read

  • Bruce R Smith. The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: Attending to the O-Factor
  • David Lindley. Shakespeare and Music
  • Christopher Marsh. Music and Society in Early Modern England
  • Ross Duffin. Shakespeare’s Songbook
  • Wes Folkerth. The Sound of Shakespeare

1641 The Grand Remonstrance

The relationship between King Charles I and Parliament began on a sour note.

Charles, who had been personally insulted in marriage negotiations with Spain, forced a war upon the divided Parliament in 1625.

Charles I by Daniel Mytens

Though the House of Commons agreed to the war, the first Parliament of his reign did not explicitly grant Charles the traditional right to collect excise and import duties, known as poundage and tonnage.

The war with Spain expanded to include France and over the next few years, bankrupted the country.  Charles faced increasing opposition from the House of Commons until he prorogued Parliament in 1629.

For the next eleven years, Charles attempted to rule the country without Parliament.

This was not in and of itself unusual – Charles father James had ruled without parliament for a period of seven years – but given the antagonistic nature of Charles and the House of Commons, Charles own authoritarian style of government and finally his overwhelming unpopularity, the decision to move to Personal Rule was politically dangerous.


Charles was able to rule without Parliament for so long, mostly because the wars with France and Spain had been concluded and he avoided entering continental conflicts throughout the 1630s.

Internally though, dissent grew as Charles imposed his sense of decorum and order upon the government and the churches.

Charles attempted throughout his reign to unite the governments of his three Kingdoms, with quite poor results.

In fact, it was his attempt to unify all of his kingdoms under one prayer book that resulted in Civil War in Scotland.

Prayerbook Rebellion

For the first time since he prorogued Parliament in 1629, Charles needed to raise funds to prosecute a war and to do that, he needed to recall Parliament.

The resulting session, known as the Short Parliament because it sat for only three weeks, saw the King and the Commons at loggerheads.

The King saw Parliament as his bankroll so that he could execute a war against the rebelling Scots.

The Commons saw Parliament as a chance to present Charles with a list of their grievances, which had been unaddressed in the years of Personal Rule.

Charles and Parliament

After a few weeks of deadlock, Charles realized that the Commons had no intention of helping him and called Parliament to an end.

This action fed the accusations of paranoia that had dogged him all of his life.

The Scots invaded England and the English army in the North rebelled and rioted alongside Scottish troops.

It became apparent to all that Charles would have to call another Parliament, this time called the Long Parliament as it sat for eight years.

The Long Parliament pulled concession after concession out of Charles:

  • The Triennial Act which stated that Parliament must be called at least once every three years;
  • The imprisonment and execution of some of Charles closest advisors;
  • The abolition of the Star Chamber, a kind of supreme court which always acted in favour of the king.

In 1641 a bloody rebellion brokeirish rebellions.jpg out in Ireland and Parliament adopted the Grand Remonstrance, reciting the evils of Charles’s reign and demanding church reform and parliamentary control over the army and over the appointment of royal ministers.

Charles responded to the Grand Remonstrance by attempting to arrest the MPs responsible for it, which drove a further wedge between the court and the Commons.

By 1642, the English Civil War had begun in earnest.


1645 Death of Aemilia Lanier

Nicholas_Hilliard_010Aemilia Lanyer is exceptional for her period (honestly, she is exceptional for any period), so in that sense she doesn’t serve as a good example of “typical” output from the period.

Lanier was born Aemilia Bassano in 1569 to a musician of Elizabeth I’s court who was himself of Italian extraction. This meant that she was raised on the fringes of the royal court and throughout her life she maintained connections with those in the highest realms of power. She married Alfonso Lanyer (or Lanier), another court musician, after having had an affair with the Lord Chamberlain to Elizabeth, Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon.

At some point in the later part of the first decade of the 1600s, though prior to 1611, she visited Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland at her home at Cookham Dean. Clifford was an intensely pious woman who Lanier praised throughout her poems. The meeting seems to have resulted in a kind of spiritual awakening in Lanier, whose major work, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Hail, God, King of the Jews), is both dedicated to Clifford and which ends with a the first “country house” poem published in English, “Description of Cooke-ham.” The Countess was a fervent reformist Anglican, who served as patron to a number of more Puritan minded preachers.

Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum was published in 1611 and was explicit about its engagement with literary and devotional coteries that were all-female groups. That is, this was not a text written for a “public,” where that public was understood to be gendered male. It was for women – literally. The dedications alone were given to the most powerful women in the land – the queen, the princess Elizabeth, “To all virutous ladies,” the Countess of Bedford, the Countess of Dorset, and finally the Countess of Cumberland. This was a statement for women, about women’s devotion, and a woman’s sense of God in the world. That said, it was a book published by two men (Valentine Simmes and Richard Bonnian) and sold at the heart of the London bookselling industry – St. Paul’s churchyard.

It is often claimed that Salve Deus… is the first example of a woman writing a book of poetry in English as a professional poet or someone who made money from their poetry. This is a bit contentious. The same kind of statement has also been made about Isabella Whitney, who in the late 1560s and early 1570s, put out a series of pamphlets and poetic texts from which she made money. One can even argue that the prayer books and devotional literature of Katherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII’s queens, were an example of poetic writing, though she was by no means a “professional poet” – whatever that means.

Now, you may have heard that Lanyer is one of the primary candidates for “The Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Indeed, it was only in 1993 that the whole of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum was published on its own without any reference to the possibility of her being Shakespeare’s inspiration. You may even have heard some of the more obscure theories that she wrote Shakespeare. (Apparently everyone wrote Shakespeare but Shakespeare.) These rumours are, at best, rumours and, at worst, they seriously detract from the artistic value of her own work.  As Lorna Hutson puts it in Lanyer’s Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry:

Although there is insufficient evidence to establish the identification it illustrates a tendency that, interestingly, her own poetry strives to overcome—that is, the tendency to read a woman’s emergence into the sphere of public discourse as a form of indecency, signalling promiscuity. The central poem of her volume, which celebrates the ‘worthy mind’ of her patron Margaret, dowager countess of Cumberland, is remarkable for managing to avoid identifying female virtue with chastity, articulating in its place a feminine mastery of those dialectical skills that constituted the humanist ideal of masculine virtue.

As Lanyer’s early life was relatively scandalous (an affair with Lord Hunsdon and a visit to a necromancer among other things), scholars even in a post-second wave feminist world tend to read her work in light of her relationship to chastity. I want you to question this tradition of interpretation and instead see her work in light of her reworking of the story of Eve. Rather than providing a psychodrama of Lanyer’s own life, which is far too easy to dismiss, I want you to think of the excerpt from your text as a philosophical or theological statement.