Katie O’Hare is a PhD candidate in Literature at UC Santa Cruz. Her dissertation focuses on Shakespeare’s contributions to the vernacular history play genre through a focus on Richard II, 1 & 2 Henry IV, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. O’Hare has twice served as the C.L. Barber Fellow through THI’s Public Fellows Program, and spent the 2022-2023 academic year in a year-long Public Fellowship with Santa Cruz Shakespeare. This summer, we learned more about O’Hare’s research, her exploration of Shakespeare as a pedagogical tool, and her growth as a dramaturg working with Santa Cruz Shakespeare for the 2021 and 2023 summer seasons.
Hi Katie! Thank you for chatting with us about your ongoing research and public humanities work! To begin, would you provide us with an overview of your dissertation project and what you are focusing on right now?
My dissertation is on Richard II, 1 & 2 Henry IV, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Reading these plays together, I explore Shakespeare’s contributions to the vernacular history play genre of the 1590’s – an exciting moment at the end of the reign of Elizabeth I, when the history play genre flourished. I consider the way that Shakespeare’s plays reflect the arc of an emerging distinction between spectator and actor, and situate the audience in a unique position as historical intermediaries.
Through these plays I think we can experience history as something that is constantly emerging and imprinting itself on what has come before.
In my dissertation, I explore how each play in the Henriad tetralogy has a radically different texture. Richard II establishes itself as a kind of ancient foundation myth, 1 & 2 Henry IV feels more situated in the Elizabethan moment, with moments of metatheatricality and tavern scenes featuring Falstaff, while Henry V seems to me to be the most directly present play of the tetralogy, insisting on the “now” of the moment of performance, but also functioning as an epic. Through this sequence of plays, I argue that Shakespeare is educating audiences about how they should participate in history plays, and adapt them for their own uses. Whenever I see these history plays in performance, I am struck by the way that they resonate politically with audiences and mean something new depending on the current historical moment. Through these plays I think we can experience history as something that is constantly emerging and imprinting itself on what has come before, which I think is really exciting, as they are always evolving!
As someone with extensive experience teaching Shakespeare to young people, how does your pedagogical experience with the plays intersect with your scholarship and research?
My interest in Shakespeare is deeply rooted in my previous experience as a high school English and Drama teacher. The experience of facilitating classes for students so that they can read aloud and embody characters from his plays, whether simply from reading a monologue or soliloquy for the first time in front of the class, or memorizing a speech and performing collaboratively, as part of a group has shown me how powerful Shakespeare can be in providing young people with opportunities to perform in front of their peers, and to build confidence by taking ownership over what is often described as challenging, and even inaccessible language. I think that Shakespeare’s plays also provide educators with a variety of topics to engage students with. Sometimes these are difficult and uncomfortable issues, such as social injustices involving race, class, and gender inequality. I think it’s really important for young people to read, watch, study, and act in these plays, while also acknowledging and discussing the problems presented in them, and to talk about their ongoing relevance in today’s world.
As part of your work as a year-long THI Public Fellow with Santa Cruz Shakespeare, alongside Rebecca Haley Clark, Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s Education Programs Manager, you have undertaken to develop Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s social justice curriculum for workshops in schools. How, for you, do Shakespeare plays provide pedagogical opportunities to address issues of racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of social hierarchies and inequities?
In Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s 2023 production of Lear, Paul Whitworth’s costume was based on a homeless man he met in Santa Cruz, and so we’d discuss with students how relevant the issue of homelessness is to us in our local context.
I worked extensively in this wonderful year-long role as public fellow with Santa Cruz Shakespeare to develop a curriculum for high school students reading Shakespeare’s plays through the lens of social justice issues that we currently face. For each play, Rebecca and I would discuss what social justice issues we wanted to highlight and then we designed workshops based on these ideas, and then implement them in local schools in Santa Cruz County. Some examples of pedagogical opportunities the plays provide are homelessness in King Lear, with the character Edgar, who takes on the disguise of ‘Poor Tom,’ a common name in Shakespeare’s day for beggars who escaped from a hospital for the mentally disturbed in London. In Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s 2023 production of Lear, Paul Whitworth’s costume was based on a homeless man he met in Santa Cruz, and so we’d discuss with students how relevant the issue of homelessness is to us in our local context, and what it means that Edgar decided to disguise himself as someone who is mentally ill and homeless. Another great example is from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For this play Rebecca and I wanted the students to think about gender, and the way women in the play are labeled and insulted. A 2023 Shakespeare’s Globe Production chose to highlight ableism in this play and we looked at right wing critics responses to the fact that the Globe attached a trigger warning for ableism in their choice to cast an actress with dwarfism as Hermia, who in the play is insulted as a ‘dwarf, bead, acorn.’ We also designed lessons on bullying in Romeo and Juliet, and in Twelfth Night, and the racial injustices in Othello and The Merchant of Venice. Every one of Shakepseare’s plays lends itself to drawing awareness to social justice issues that are relevant today!
You have twice served as the C.L. Barber Fellow (in Summer 2021 and Summer 2023). Tell us a little about what these experiences entailed. What did you spend the majority of your time doing? How have you grown as a dramaturg through these experiences?
The Barber Fellowship is such a fantastic and unique experience. As Dramaturg I was in the very privileged position of being present for the rehearsal period of two Santa Cruz Shakespeare productions. With each production I began working a month or so before rehearsals started, researching each play. This includes finding out about the play’s cultural context, textual history, critical reception, and performance history, as well as the main themes of the play. I then presented this research in the form of a Dramaturgy Packet and Notes for the actors and director. During the first period of rehearsal, called ‘table work’, I presented my research to the cast. As the rehearsal period progressed, actors frequently had questions about their characters, or about what certain archaic or obsolete words mean. When these questions arise I usually research and create individual notes for the actors on the specific area they want to know more about. Some examples of questions that came up this summer were about the meaning of references to classical works such as Ovid’s Metamorphosis that Shakespeare makes. There were also questions relating to the presentation of actors’ physicality on stage, such as: What did bowing look like in the Elizabethan era? The plays I worked on were an adaptation of Richard II, called RII in 2021, and The Taming of the Shrew this summer (2023). I think I really grew in my understanding of the role of Dramaturg this summer in particular because there was a much bigger cast, so I was able to be useful to more people. With RII because it was still in the pandemic there were only three actors, so it was on a much smaller scale, but still incredibly enjoyable, and I worked with Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s Textual Consultant and UCSC Professor Emeritus Michael Warren, and learned so much from him, so I am very thankful for that experience.
What is one moment from this summer’s Santa Cruz Shakespeare season that stands out to you?
I worked with a really lovely intern called Abbs Lyman, who is from New York and we had a lot of fun. There was one rehearsal in particular that stood out because M.L (who played Petruchio) and Kelly (who played Kate) were trying to work with a bike and we had to leave the rehearsal room and go to the hallway because there wasn’t enough space for them to ride the bike! The fight choreography for M.L running over Kelly’s foot with the bike was hilarious, and fight storytelling and choreography in general was so interesting to watch in Taming of the Shrew. With Richard II Paige and Mike worked a lot on sword fighting but with Taming the actors worked more with rope and physical violence. It’s amazing to watch the actors build trust with each other and of course put each other’s safety first!
Finally, what is one Shakespeare play you hope everyone has the chance to spend some time with?
I am really interested in the Green World in Shakespeare’s plays, so any plays that have forest scenes – As You Like It, or Midsummer Night’s Dream are the obvious ones! I am also fascinated by spectacle and masques in Shakespeare’s plays – these are often in the later ‘Romance’ plays like Cymbeline, Pericles or The Winter’s Tale, and usually occur in the final act. There’s an interesting ‘antimasque’ in The Tempest, which I think is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. Who doesn’t love this speech?
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Banner Image: Katie O’Hare in conversation with Rebecca Haley Clark, Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s Education Programs Manager.