If you look deeply enough into the rabbit hole, the stained glass windows, the use-value of Essie Mae’s, the dubious exchange-value of its meal credits, across the picturesque courtyard at the weary door of the Intercultural Center, up at the exaggerated Gothicity of its bell-tower, and finally down into the bright florescent lit basement, at the Kitsch, the condoms and the candy that go for sale next to monolithic stacks of often unbearably dense and inapplicable textbooks, Swarthmore’s Clothier Hall and Shakespeare resemble something like a Church and its Pope, or a couple centuries-old theology, a religious institution in any event suddenly reinvigorated by the always threatening, dramatic, sometimes even godless gestures of its students.
Heidegger says somewhere that places teach us more about phenomena than people do.
And I’m fairly certain the phenomenon of Clothier Hall was once a church, as much as Swarthmore College and the Quakers were once, in some form, Christian, just as all Christians were once pagans. As a result, the Yellow Stocking’s “Night of Scenes” doesn’t truly begin within Clothier, nor even at the tip of Shakespeare’s feather, but with these words:
“You know, that’s not a good place for you,” said an actor to me, like the priest of some abstract afterlife (in his case: the soon to commence performance of his scene), firmly, as I attempted to set up a camera’s tripod at the top of a staircase and looked out over the wood-paneled floor on the second floor of Clothier as the Yellow Stockings Shakespeare troupe prepared to perform.
“Yeah, I know, ” I replied, in more ways than one. Only weeks earlier I’d heard the same words from another student around whom I was trying to put my arms and dance, in between two other sweaty swatties, to the tune of “One More Time,” by Daft Punk at the Halloween Party.
Despite repeated attempts at joining the “Intentional Community” at Swarthmore, it seems some methods are sometimes rejected precisely because they’re too direct and to the point.
E.g. A Shakespeare was performed beneath yellow lights. There was laughter. There was silence.
Shakespeare is performed like a prayer on most college campuses throughout the English-speaking world. And when I say “Shakespeare,” I don’t mean the act of taking a pen and filling the bars of one’s social milieu with murderous, romantic and climactic scenes analogous to the crescendos of a Chopin or to the vengeful denouements of a Flaubert, in the form of the words that might comprise a phenomenon like “Julius Caesar,” “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark”, and “A Midnight Summer’s Night Dream,” among others.
On the contrary, I mean the act of memorizing the apices of these plays, respectively cutting away the fat, juicy tension that builds over the course of five acts in the development of characters, and acting these fat-free scenes and more famous monologues out in a “Night of Scenes,” as nothing but mere allusions to the balanced flavor of a man’s brilliance.
It’s like attending a Church without God — or Clothier Hall without religion.
Before I could lose my faith in Shakespeare, this “Night of Scenes” took a dangerous, daring pause and altogether took leave of the Church slash Student Space slash Diner slash Halloween Dance Party slash Discotek slash Beer Garden slash Bookstore of Clothier Hall — so much more clear and concise from the outside anyway — taking the confused audience with it.
This must have been how Shakespeare was first written, performed and taken in: completely disturbing its writer, its actors and its audience with the sheer, incomprehensible violence and mind-numbing conjecture it represents: that human beings are capable of these things! Violence, love and conjectures that, in the modern age, ironically no longer impress eyes accustomed to CGI and HD-streaming pornography and consciences accustomed to Iraq wars.
A Shakespeare scene was performed upon green grass, before a backdrop of naked trees, a setting sun.
Before I could lose my faith in Shakespeare, the ‘Night of Scenes’ decided for whatever reason to take a pause, to lose the name of action, and to depart the second stage: that of nature, directing its audience to the next stage.
The audience snaked between the stone façades of Kohlberg and LPAC like Lady Macbeth’s tongue, between the macroeconomic models and the English Literature seminars that wriggle in between its bedroomish walls, like ghosts and bloody daggers of Truth.
But before I could lose my faith in Shakespeare, the Science Center approached like the Death Star approached Luke, Han, C-3PO, R2D2, Ben, and Chewbacca.
“That’s no moon,” George Lucas whispered.
Like a god without a name, the Center of Science spread its beauty of the unknown before us in the Starship Enterprise-esque hum of its monolithic doors. In contrast to Clothier’s Gothic architecture, this building was unlike anything any religion, playwright, or notion of authenticity could have ever dreamt of.
“Where are they taking us?” an audience member asked, confused, unaware, like High Education in the 21st century.
Yellow Stockings was taking us into the very heart of innovation, into the very core of the gesture that was originally Shakespeare’s — and perhaps even Swarthmore’s.
There was still a distinct scent of Belief in the Science Center, wafting from the faithful minds of Swarthmore students studying in Cornell Library onto the second-floor bridge that connected it to the Edwin Martin Biological Laboratory Building, where the wandering audience had been reassembled. What is Darwin’s sober science after all without a little of the scentless expanse of Doubt — doubt of humanity’s good nature — that fills Prince Hamlet’s contemplative monologue?
Another Shakespeare scene was performed upon the bridge between the Science and Biology buildings, and of course the frame of my camera’s memory card.
Before I could lose faith in Shakespeare, the ‘Night of Scenes’ took a pause, departed the bridge, just like Christianity had left its Pontifex (‘bridge-maker’ in Latin) in Shakespearean England; and I awkwardly pressed ‘stop’ on the recording button of my camera.
The frame of my camera was too small to capture the phenomenon of the multifaceted, abstract theology without a name that continues to reinforce the very buildings, institutions and extra-curricular activities in which we walk and see ourselves today. In this case it was nothing less than the artful violence of a Shakespearean gesture that broke down the façade of the present, and connected science to religion, like Shakespearean London to Brutus’ Rome, and the structure of Swarthmore’s campus to the structure of a playwright’s, a theatre group’s, and a journalist’s respective dramas.