Digit(al) Shakespeares brings Deaf studies perspectives to bear on both disability studies and digital humanities. Deaf studies focuses on what the experience of deafness enables, rather than disables. Just as we can reconceptualize hearing loss as deaf gain, so we can reframe Shakespeare’s works as being at heart visual rather than auditory. This can lead to a richer experience of Shakespeare for everyone, regardless of hearing status. Throughout the video, clips illustrate the power of sign language to convey the Bard’s virtuosity in creating images through words. New media and technology allow Deaf people to share translations and performances of Shakespeare’s works across the globe. Digital archives can collect and preserve these, so they are available for Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people to study and appreciate. Deaf and hard of hearing people also need access to digital Shakespeare archives based on spoken language via high quality captioning. Access should be built into digital archives from the start, so that it becomes a central element of the overall project design, rather than a problem to be solved at the end.
Watch the video:
Tyrone Giordano is Assistant Project Director for Eyes on Shakespeare, the D.C. stop of the national tour of *First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare*, coming to Gallaudet University in October 2016. Tyrone has worked in many capacities: as a producer and creator of educational and artistic content, as an educator in a broad number of subjects, as a performer on film, television, and the stage, and as a theater practitioner. He is currently a Conspirator with dog & pony dc, a local group looking to expand definitions and practices of theater. Tyrone holds an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from California State University, Northridge, and is forever seeking ways to break silo walls across disciplines.
Jill Marie Bradbury is Professor of English and Project Director for Eyes on Shakespeare, the D.C. stop of the national tour *First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare*, coming to Gallaudet University in October 2016. She received her PhD in English from Brown University and specializes in eighteenth-century British literature. Publications include articles on eighteenth-century British genre theory, Anglo-Irish banking literature, and Jonathan Swift. Digit(al) Shakespeares is Jill’s first contribution to a video project and she thanks Tyrone for his patience with her (cough) suggestions.
Transcript and description of video (provided by creators)
(NOTE: There is no sound throughout the video. Everything is expressed through American Sign Language and English subtitles.)
The video begins with a black screen with white pictures of the manual alphabet spelling out “ASL.” After a pause, the S disappears and the A and L move together. They become part of the word “Digital” in the title “Digit(al) Shakespeares.” The screen goes black and a quote appears in white text: “They have been at a great feast of languages, and stol’n the scraps,” a quote is spoken by Moth in Shakespeare’s play, “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”
The screen goes black again and then opens to a white man in his late thirties sitting in at an office desk with a computer to the left. The office is full of books, posters, and papers. He is wearing a black t-shirt, has short brown hair, and a short beard. He is identified as Ethan Sinnott, MFA, from the Theatre Arts Program at Gallaudet University.
“There’s a stubbornly persistent popular belief that Shakespeare is something to be spoken or vocalized. The tradition is that when one reads his work, what is usually imagined is an actor or someone standing on stage and delivering an oration through speech. The emphasis is entirely on sound.”
A montage of 8 short clips follows. They are from different productions of Shakespeare in sign language. No identifying information is given. The clips are as follows:
Clip 1) A middle aged actor on stage. Although not identified, he is Peter Cook, a well-known ASL performer and poet, playing the role of Feste the Clown. Behind him, another actor can be partly seen, although he is mostly in the shadows. Peter Cook is dressed in clothing typical of the 16th-century; a red shirt, brightly striped pants, and a floppy, red checkered hat. A large round drum is slung behind his back. He raises his hands to cover his mouth, then his eyes, ending with the signs for donkey ears and goodbye. This clip is from Twelfth Night, directed by Peter Novak, in 2006.
A low quality color shot of a stage showing a red curtain with tan trim across the top. A painted castle wall appears in the background. A woman in a light pink gown and red cloak stands to the left while a man in a dark pink robe signs to her. This clip is from Gallaudet University’s production of Macbeth in 1955.
A black and white shot of three men on a stage with a plain wall in the backdrop. One man, dressed in tights, doublet, and crown, stands on a block about the others. A man standing to the right is wearing a dark Elizabethan outfit with white collar. He signs to the king, while the third man (also in a dark costume and white ruff) stands to the left and looks on. This clip is from Gallaudet University’s production of Hamlet in 1958.
Another clip from Twelfth Night in 2012. A group of actors stand on a stage. This clip is in color with sepia tones. They are all dressed in modern looking clothing. Three men standing on the left are wearing pants, long sleeved shirts, and vests. The man in the middle has a red hat. All three are looking to the right at an Asian woman, who is wearing a short, sleeveless reddish-brown dress. The woman is Deaf actress Monique Holt. The woman signs a joke to the three men, who laugh and slap in each other on the shoulder in amusement.
A black and white close-up of a woman in a long blond wig. She is wearing a dark sweater over a turtleneck and a long necklace of large round discs. The exterior siding of a the O’Neill Center Barn Theater is visible behind her. She is signing passionately. The actress is the late Deaf actress Phyllis Frelich playing Ophelia in the 1968 NBC show Experiment in Television: National Theatre of the Deaf.
A black screen with two videos juxtaposed next to each other. On the left, a woman with long curly dark brown hair leans on a balcony railing. A window is visible behind her. She is wrapped in a plaid shawl and wears a white blouse. She is staring dreamily off into the distance. On the right, the camera looks down on a blond man standing on a garden patio with plants visible behind him signing in British Sign Language. He is wearing a white shirt and signing. Captions in fancy script appear, reading “O speak again bright angel, for thou art as glorious to this night, being o’er my head.” This clip is from The Live Literature Company’s 2014 production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Valerie Doulton.
A black and white clip appears of three women standing on a stage with a white screen behind them. They are playing the three witches in Macbeth and wear cloaks with hoods. The woman in the middle is signing, while the other two stand to her left and right watching. The video is old and poor quality. This clip is of the 1973 production of Macbeth at Gallaudet.
Another clip from Twelfth Night appears with four male actors, three of whom were in the previous video. In the middle of the stage is a wood platform with a short staircase on the right. One man sits on the platform while another sits on the steps and signs to him. A third man stands to the left, slightly under the platform and watches a fourth man signing.
The montage ends and the screen returns to Ethan Sinnott.
“I remember first reading Shakespeare. I was really fascinated by the visualizations, really, by the heart of the language embedded in the text. Everywhere, there was this visual heart, making the story easy to imagine in my mind.” He continues, depicting the visualizations happening before him as he turns each page, and finally on his final sign of visualizing, it opens as if it were a portal, and his face enters it, wide-eyed.
Cut to black. “#transformDH” appears in white lettering, with DH in yellow. More white letters appear between the D and H so that the screen finally reads “#transform Deaf/Hearing.”
A new screen appears with a slender, middle-aged white man standing on a stage. He is wearing a black t-shirt, grayish-brown sport coat, and brown pants. He has short, light brown hair and is clean-shaven. Part of a projected slideshow presentation can be seen behind him and there is a podium to his left. He is identified as Dirksen Bauman, PhD, from the ASL-Deaf Studies Department at Gallaudet.
“Suddenly, at about the age of 21, I became hearing.” He nods, and pauses to look at the audience.
A black screen appears with a definition of the word “hearing” from the Oxford English Dictionary in white font: “hearing, noun. 1.a. perception by the ear, or auditory sense;”
The screen returns to Bauman: “That very first day, a boy walked right up and asked me if I was hearing or deaf. I had no idea what he was talking about.”
A black screen appears with a second definition of hearing from the Oxford English Dictionary in white font: “hearing, verb. 2. The act of actively giving ear, listening;”
The screen returns to Bauman: “I asked my supervisor what the boy said. Like the boy, he was deaf himself. He pointed at me, and told the boy that I was hearing. That revelation was the first time in my life I realized I was a hearing person.”
A black screen appears with a new definition of hearing in white font: “hearing, adj. 1. An identity assumed by a person who can hear, especially after meeting a Deaf person.” After a pause, “not yet in dictionaries” appears in parentheses.
A new screen appears with a white woman in her late twenties. She is standing with a gray screen in the background. She is wearing a blue cardigan over a black shirt and has dark brown hair. A small white tree logo at the bottom right identifies the footage as being from ASLized! She signs, “Your child failed the hearing test.” The woman repeats the sign “failed” with emphasis.
A black screen appears with a definition of hearing from the Oxford English Dictionary in white font: “deaf adj. 1.a. lacking or defective in the sense of hearing;” After a pause, five more definitions of deaf appear. They are:
“2. fig; not giving ear; unwilling to hear or heed; inattentive.
3. Dull, stupid; absurd.
4. Numb, without sensation.
6. Lacking its essential character or quality; hollow, empty, barren, unproductive; insipid.”
After a pause, most of the words disappear, leaving only the ones with negative connotations in yellow font.
A new screen appear with the same woman from the ASLized clip. She signs, “Your child has been diagnosed.” She looks perplexed, then signs, “That term is typically used for disease, cancer, illnesses possibly leading to death. …Deaf?” She shakes her head no.
A montage of four black and white photograps dating from the 1950s to the 1970s appears. Each photo depicts children of various ages undergoing different kinds of speech therapy. In the first, a nun places a white toddler’s hand on his cheek, while another white woman looks on. In the second, A white woman sits at a long table with a group of mostly white children. The children all have black headsets over their ears, and watching the woman as she speaks into a microphone. The third photograph is of an advertisement for a TALKING RAIL, where various white students sit in two rows alongside a rail. Individual microphones and headphones are plugged into this rail. A white woman teacher is at the head of the class, speaking to the students through a microphone. The fourth photograph is of a black woman teacher with five students of varying ages, four of whom are black. The teacher is using a ruler to point to a chart that has the lyrics for the “Baa baa black sheep” rhyme.
While the montage plays, narration appear at the bottom of the screen: “Enforced normalcy was and is the reality of deaf people everywhere. An inordinate amount of time was and is spent attempting to make deaf people passable in hearing society by way of the voice.”
The screen returns to Bauman: “…where voice asserts its dominance, we have phonocentrism. Where visual languages have less presence, less power, less ability to penetrate minds.”
Cut to Austin Andrews who uses sign depiction to show a spoken word leaving someone’s lips, and traveling into space to another person’s forehead and exiting through the back of his head in an explosion, as if the spoken word were a bullet. This is repeated three times.
The screen goes black for 3 seconds, and then cuts to a black and white clip of Howard Palmer, an NTD actor in the NBC’s Experiment for Television episode. He is dressed in period costume, performing as Claudius from Hamlet, and kneels before a table with a crown on it. He signs evocatively of his heart being hard as the altar at which he prays, beseeching for it to turn soft as a newborn baby.
A black screen appears with the hashtag #transformDH. The lettering is is white except for DH, which is in bright green. The D fades into S and an X appears after the H, so that the hashtag now reads “#transformSHX.”
The screen returns to Ethan Sinnott: “For many deaf people, Shakespeare is not taught emphasizing the visual. Trying to force an audiological frame on the deaf audience experience? They’ll never be able to connect. Never.”
The screen cuts to a young man with curly brown hair. He is standing in front of a plain purple backdrop and is wearing a dark button down shirt. Although he is not identified in the clip, his name is Eric Epstein and he is performing an ASL translation of Shakespeare’s sonnet #130. The poem text appears at the bottom of the screen. In this clip, the lines are, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.”
The screen cuts to a woman in her early thirties with long, curly dark brown hair. She is wearing a purple short sleeve top, a black necklace, and black pants. Captions identify her as Miako Rankin, PhD, of the Linguistics Department at Gallaudet University: “Part of many peoples’ fascination with Shakespeare is his expert play on language. Looking over at ASL, the language already makes use of language play and this play is very much part of Deaf culture and language use throughout the Deaf world. There are strong parallels there.”
The screen returns to Eric Epstein. He is performing the lines, “And in some perfumes is there more delight.” His translation is playful, drawing a 5-hand shape with wiggling fingers across his nose to show the delightful smell.
The screen cuts to Dirksen Bauman, now in his office. He is a few years older than in the previous clip and his hair is graying. He wears a light colored button down shirt and brown pants. He is surrounded by shelves of books. Part of a bare desk can be seen on the right: “Everyone uses their hands, uses gestures, but we should look at what Deaf people are already doing with the human hand. We see a certain threshold of usage of the hand by hearing people. Deaf people far exceed this and are pushing its potential.”
The screen returns to Eric Epstein. He is performing the lines, “That music hath a far more pleasing sound.” His translation is playful, using his right index finger to show music entering his ear and prompting a him to sway as if dancing. His eyes are closed, as if in deep enjoyment of the music.
The screen returns to Ethan Sinnott: “Shakespeare represents the Holy Grail, the mountain to be conquered. He represents a psychological breakthrough. If you can solve the Shakespeare puzzle and figure out how to translate from and audiological framework to a visual one, the rest becomes easy.”
The screen returns to Miako Rankin: “I think that allows more opportunity for ASL, too. With translations that are fresh, and imbued with the deaf experience, the deaf world, Deaf culture, it’s not just signing the lines, but encompassing the Deaf experience.”
The screen returns to Ethan Sinnott: “Viewing and interacting with, analyzing, and finally confronting Shakespeare, we achieve a breakthrough. We need that psychological achievement, and also need a way to document that.”
A black screen appears with the hashtag #transformDH. The lettering is is white except for DH, which is in red. The H moves down and over to the right. New text appears in white, so that the hashtag now reads #transform Digital sHakespeares, with Shakespeares on a separate line, and the D and H still in red.
This video is Monique Holt performing an ASL interpretation of Shakespeare’s sonnet 24. It is a sepia-toned visual experiment using series of intercuts between a medium shot of Monique from the waist upward so we see her entire body and signs, and closeups of various parts of her hands and body. Every movement in sign is captured via the camera arriving at a sign’s final destination or starting point. One example is of Monique bringing an image seen to the heart, and then the screen cuts in with a closeup of her heart, and we see the object transform via sign language to a frame, which then expands, and we see Monique again with the frame expanding to fit her chest, then bringing a light to shine into the frame.
The screen returns to Miako Rankin: “So much has happened in the last 15 years, with smartphones, touchpad technology, video-to-video interaction, Deaf people are interacting and communicating with one another more than ever before.”
The screen cuts to a woman in her forties. She sits in an office with full bookshelves behind her. She has medium length curly light brown hair. She is wearing a black top with a flower pattern over a blue camisole. Captions identify her as Jill Bradbury, PhD, English Department, Gallaudet University: “Digital technology is fast and cheap now, enabling Deaf people the world over to experience Shakespeare’s poetry and create films and translations to share so others might enjoy that work.”
The screen returns to Ethan Sinnott: “All this becomes a library, a library that the Deaf community can access regardless of their background: whether their interests lie in theatre, education, English, or if they are interested in improving bilingual ASL-English access.”
The screen returns to Jill Bradbury: “It is paramount that we collect those films and experiences, essentially forming a digital archive for us, not only to preserve this work for future generations, but also to create a space where deaf and hearing people both can study and appreciate the work.”
A screenshot appears of The ASL Shakespeare Project, a website with resources in ASL and English about Shakespeare. In the middle of the screen, a woman appears signing. She is Genie Gertz, a Deaf scholar. The screen cuts to a screenshot of the Deaf Studies Digital Journal. The volume shown contains a video of Bernard Bragg signing the lines from Shakespeare’s “The Seven Ages of Man.”
The screen returns to Jill Bradbury: “At the same time, we Deaf and hard of hearing teachers and scholars need to be able to access other digital archives. Many are set up for the spoken word and it is often that we find that those archives are not accessible to us. Looking online, we’re often stymied by the lack of captioning.”
The screen returns to Ethan Sinnott: “It is a frustration of mine, as an educator, when we’re reading a script in class, and it’s time to show what a staging of that might look like, I can’t do that.”
The screen cuts to a clip from a recent film version of Macbeth live streamed on PBS. This shot is a close up of Patrick Stewart in the title role. He is speaking, but there are no captions. A computer mouse arrow appears, minimizes the screen, and scrolls down from the player window to select Closed Captioning.
The screen returns to Jill Bradbury: “It’s especially frustrating considering how, now that captioning technology is easy to use, and cheap. With available software, there’s no reason to not include captions.”
The screen returns to Patrick Stewart as Macbeth. The mouse arrow clicks on “Closed Captions,” bringing up a screen that with information on what the viewer should do if there are no captions. There is a very long process involved with steps outlined and contact information.
The screen returns to Jill Bradbury: “A major problem that’s highlighted is that access should be built into the design process. Think about it: if I start with the question of how access can be an advantage, or improve the overall project itself, it becomes part of the artistic design and vision, and not just something added on, ‘Oh!’ and at the last minute.”
The screen returns to Miako Rankin: “When using video and visual technology, you should consult with those who already possess expertise in visual experiences, visual languages, visual communication, and the myriad alternate ways we are able to communicate visually. There’s a rich resource already there, waiting to be shared and made use of. To simply overlook it and ignore it just seems like a waste.”
The screen returns to Dirksen Bauman in his office: “It’s odd, because there’s such a strong alignment between the two, almost as if they were made for each other, both Digital Humanities and Deaf Studies. Not just a blending together, but even a marriage, but for the fact it seems they are off on their own paths. They haven’t really met, so it’s nice to see that we make sure they’re introduced, as if on a date. Even set up a blind Deaf date, maybe.” (laughs).
The screen goes black. “Transform the world” appears in large, all capital white letters. A line appears under it and then, at the bottom of the screen, the hash tag #transformdh. “Transform the world” disappears and is replaced by “#transform Deaf/Hearing,” “#transformSHX,” and “#transform Digital sHakespeares.” The font coloring is the same as when the hashtags first appeared in the video.
The screen fades to black and the creators’ names appear: Project concept and creation by
Jill Marie Bradbury
A new black screen appears with citation information for the film and video clips used. They are:
Andrews, Austin. Word = Bullet. That!Vlog, 2015. YouTube video.
A Reflection in the Painting. Dir. Tracey Salaway. Perf. Monique Holt. Deaf Studies Digital Journal vol. 1:2. Gallaudet University, 2010. Online video.
Bauman, Dirksen. Audism and Deaf-Gain. Gallaudet University, 2010. Gallaudet Video Library, 2012.Online video.
Early Intervention: The Missing Link. Prod. Elsie Stecker. Perf. Rachel Benedict. ASLized!, 2011. YouTube video.
Epstein, Eric. Sonnet 130: My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun (ASL). 2015. YouTube video.
Experiments in Television: National Theater of the Deaf. Prod. David Hayes. Dir. Dick Schneider. NBC, 1968. DVD.
Hamlet. Prod. Gallaudet University Theater Arts, 1958. Gallaudet Video Library, 2013. Online video.
Macbeth. Prod. Gallaudet University Theater Arts, 1955. Gallaudet Video Library, 2012. Online video.
Macbeth. Dir. Rupert Goold. Perf. Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood. PBS Great Performances, 2010. Online film.
Saunders, Crom. William Shakespeare’s Sonnets 18 and 19 translated into ASL. 2015. YouTube video.
Shakespeare in Sign Language. Romeo and Juliet: The Balcony Scene. Dir. Valerie Doulton. The Live Literature Company, 2014. YouTube video.
Twelfth Night. Dir. Peter Novak. Gallaudet University Press, 2006. DVD.
A final black screen appears with white text that reads, copyright Gallaudet University 2015.