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Prindle Reviews Past Shakespearean 'Actions' for Annual Spencer Lecture

April 14, 2003

[ City Opera House Photo ] DELAWARE, OHIO -- The annual Spencer Lecture has stemmed from an incident in 1885 when 59 Ohio Wesleyan students were suspended from the university for defying the college prohibition against "dramatic entertainments" to attend a production of Shakespeare's Richard III at the City Opera House.

Based on research in the archives of both Ohio Wesleyan and the Delaware Historical Society, the presentation is titled "'Actions That a Man Might Play': Shakespeare and the Pretexts for Play." It is an illustrated lecture that will take place at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 15, in the Bayley Room of Beeghly Library. Dennis Prindle, who will be giving the talk, is currently the Benjamin T. Spencer Professor of English at Ohio Wesleyan University and researches and teaches Shakespeare, early drama and theater history.

"Look at what was playing in Delaware's thousand-seat City Opera House and hundreds more like it springing up all over the country in those days," Dr. Prindle observes, "and you begin to understand what happened. Long before Hollywood, television or the couch-potato, popular theater was the first really alarming form of mass entertainment to reach every part of America on a regular basis. And yes, Shakespeare was arranged and played for popular appeal. Perhaps the real challenge is to understand how just twenty years later OWU students would be turning Shakespeare into a 'dramatic entertainment' themselves, not only under faculty direction but very soon with faculty participation on stage."

The lecture also considers some ways in which Shakespeare and his contemporaries faced a similar sense of moral alarm at first as huge public theaters sprang up around London. In both cases, Shakespeare's plays succeeded in part because they could take as pretext the accepted ideas and texts of an educated elite and turn them into inventive and unpredictable forms of play-acting.

The Spencer Lecture is free and open to the public. For more information, call 740-368-3570.