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Rediscovering Shakespeare: an interdisciplinary collaboration between literature and music

(Report by student journalist) What if you could listen to the music of Shakespeare’s dramas? The Department of Foreign Languages and Literature and the Department of Music at NSYSU got together for interdisciplinary collaboration. “Hearing Words, Envisioning Music” is a series of lecture concerts on the recreations of the classic dramas by Shakespeare. This year’s program – “Revisiting Shakespeare” – was a very different collaboration from the one given in 2016. Dr Chi-Fang Sophia Li of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature and Dr Yu-Wen Chen of the Department of Music respectively explained the literary and music texts in an introductory talk, while Dr Jung-Ying Lee of the Department of Music was invited to give a vocal soprano performance, and Dr Chiung-I Huang accompanied her on the piano. Four performances attracted students and faculty members from universities in North, Central and South Taiwan.

Different from Dr Yu-Wen Chen’s violin performance of 2016, “Revisiting Shakespeare” performed the musical texts that involve piano and vocal extracted from composers’ Twelfth Night and Hamlet. What is worth noting is that the plays’ protagonists refashioned in the musical texts are not the most analyzed ones by literary researchers: Feste from Twelfth Night and Ophelia from Hamlet are the composers’ main focus of attention. The most difficult part of the lecture concert was to explain how the literary texts were translated into musical texts. Thanks to Dr Li and Dr Chen’s introductory talks, students could better understand the creation process of the playwright’s characterizations and the composers’ musical renditions. Apart from Shakespeare’s influences, the zeitgeist is what impacted on the varied styles of the composers’ creations.

The students inquired about the process of musicalization and about how to know whether the composer has thoroughly understood and analyzed the literary work. Dr Li replied that no text is produced in isolation, and each literary or musical creation is the product of its times and reflects the colors of a past era. For example, if the composer lived through war times, his/her melody describing Ophelia would impart a mood of melancholy. Composers who wrote songs for Shakespeare’s Feste could also use the same melody to interpret two different texts for Feste. Besides, Dr Chen also demonstrated the grammar of music on the piano onstage so that students could better understand music in literature and literature in music.

Recollecting their first collaboration, Dr Li and Dr Chen felt that it was not easy. In the beginning, it was just an enthusiastic discussion between a literary critic interested in music and a violinist interested in literature. While the former had to listen attentively and study the music compositions, the latter had to read and study Shakespeare’s original texts. Both worked hard together to piece together the content of this year’s lecture concerts. This year the two departments of NSYSU collaborated again and presented different pieces of work across different universities in Taiwan, the purpose of which was to enable students to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to read beyond their original disciplines in order to understand a whole new Shakespeare different from the classical Shakespeare.

The series of lecture concerts was possible thanks to the generous sponsorship and support of the Office of Research and Development, the Higher Education Sprout Project team, the College of Liberal Arts, as well as the Center for the Arts of National Taiwan University, Center for General Education of Feng Chia University, and Kaohsiung City Dadong Arts Center.

(Edited by Public Affairs Division)
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