The Fan Performance: Mr Shakespeare Reads

Mr Shakespeare Reads offers a playful investment in the human face behind the texts – or at least a simulacrum of the author drawn from popular culture representations. By adding the visual gimmick of Shakespearean disguise and hairstyle, the videos develop the established YouTube genre of the vernacular Shakespeare performance. What we here is a curious animation of an authorial and textual corpus in the form of an embodied performance of the Droeshout image from the First Folio. Through the paratexts that accompanying the videos, such as the channel description (‘William Shakespeare reads “The Complete Works of Me”. Sonnets, speeches, and prose, in full Elizabethan regalia’) and the description below each video (‘William Shakespeare reading from…’), we are encouraged to view the performances as the Bard taking up YouTube’s invitation to ‘Broadcast Yourself’. Holding his book, with a copy of the Folio image on the front, ‘Shakespeare’ reads a sonnet, occasionally looking to the camera. It is no accident that thus far the series has focused on the Sonnets, for it is these texts that have proved most accommodating to the idea of the singular author as literary genius. Mr Shakespeare Reads may signify little beyond the obvious visual gag. In part, the undertaking may be about acquiring the username ‘Mr Shakespeare Reads’ on YouTube and being the first to do so. Yet, as visual registers of the mythic author, the videos posit a Stratfordian Shakespeare. As such, they indirectly engage with the authorship controversy, itself a space where the primacy of individual genius finds ongoing expression in the popular imagination. The videos are continuous with a theme-park Shakespeare, or those street-performers that don Shakespeare disguises for the entertainment of visitors to Stratford-upon-Avon, and other locations of the Shakespeare industry. As in those instances, the simulacrum of ‘the man himself’ in Mr Shakespeare Reads reflects a desire for a grounding authenticity, which permits the illusion of unmediated access to the texts. Read more about fan performance and amateur Shakespeare in Shakespeare and YouTube (http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/shakespeare-and-youtube-9781472500281/).

The Fan Performance: “Geeky Blonde” Shakespeare

The Geeky Blonde videos are examples of the dynamic and evolving nature of vernacular Shakespeare production on YouTube. The first video in the series, The Merchant of Venice, was posted in April 2011. While moving across Shakespearean genres, with comedy (The Merchant of Venice, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night), tragedy (Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet) and romance (Cymbeline The Winter’s Tale), the videos are nonetheless consistent in terms of their overall approach and aesthetic. That said, some developments are evident when more recent videos are compared with earlier ones. The productions are noteworthy not only because they each involve one-person performances of the major – and indeed minor – parts by the creator, but also because they range beyond Shakespeare’s most prominent plays. With the shortest of the videos lasting ten minutes, they also challenge YouTube’s reduced attention economy. There is a striking variety to The Geeky Blonde’s performances, with characters differentiated through vocal modulation, facial and other non-verbal expressions, an extensive wardrobe (especially of hats) and well-paced editing. Read more about Geeky Blonde’s videos in Chapter one of Shakespeare and YouTube (http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/shakespeare-and-youtube-9781472500281/).