Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Shakspere Society of Philadelphia
Maybe not the first, but the oldest Shakespeare club in America or possibly even the world, has kept minutes for over a hundred fifty years.

SHAKSPERE SOCIETY January 22, 2003


Vice Dean Fallon in the chair. Other members present: Ake, Bartlett, Binnion, Bornemann, Cramer, Friedman, Griffin, Lehmann, Madeira, Peck, Warden, Wheeler.

We remind all members of the Society that at our next meeting on February 5, a vote will be taken on whether to admit women to membership in the Society. Members who cannot be present may vote by indicating their preference to the Dean or the Secretary, by email, snail mail or telephone, before that dinner meeting. Women will be eligible for membership if three-quarters of the votes cast are in the affirmative. We will discuss other membership issues at future meetings, based on recommendations by the "Bartlett Commission.".

The Secretary wishes to thank Mr. Ingersoll, on behalf of all the members, for rediscovering a treasure trove of Society books and memorabilia in the library of the Philadelphia Club, where we held our meetings for many years. This collection includes old editions of the Bard's plays and scholarly books on Shakspere from the early and mid-twentieth century. They include Roland Frye's magisterial studies Shakespeare and Christian Doctrine and The Renaissance "Hamlet". We also have former member Alfred Harbage's Shakespeare and the Rival Traditions, given to the Society by Mrs. Harbage, presumably after Professor Harbage's death in 1976. Several of the older members of the Society, including your scribe, remember both of the Harbages with great fondness.

Most precious of the Society's volumes at the Philadelphia Club are a short history of the Society in its earliest decades, and two collections of annual dinner menus and other memorabilia from the years1856 till 1921 They are a mine of interesting information about a vanished social and cultural world. To wit: At the annual dinner in 1856, nine courses were served, and new selections of wine were served with all but the initial oysters and the final rum cake. Brandy, vintages 1800 and1820, was served before and after dinner, and three kinds of punch were served with dessert.

Evidence from other menus suggests that annual dinners in the nineteenth century began at five or five-thirty PM and adjourned at about eleven PM. Toasts were numerous, including those to bachelor members and then to "Benedick brothers"'explained by the quotation from the fifth act of Much Ado included in one menu, "Here comes Benedick, the married man." Nineteenth-century annual dinners included "Literary Exercises,"--with a long list of topics for discussion. Were these disquisitions always welcome after nine courses, seven wines, and some brandy? The quotation that accompanies one list of topics is from Bottom: "I have an exposition of sleep come upon me."

The Vice Dean introduced the discussion of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which we began reading in the middle of Act Two, Scene One. The comic character Speed reminds us of a series of witty, even brazen servants in the Bard's plays, his speeches replete with outrageous plays on words. He is contrasted to the loutish Launce, who in Dogberry-like fashion murders the Queen's good English by ridiculous malapropisms. A member recalled a British student production of the play some twenty years ago, with the comic characters' lines spoken at great speed.

Members relished the soliloquy of Launce to his shoes, who become his parents as they bewail his departure for foreign shores'in sharp contrast to his dog Crab, who callously refuses to shed a tear (2.3).

More on comic language: The Vice Dean noted the sarcastic jibes of Valentine to his rival in loveThurio, about the verbose Thurio's "exchequer of words" without substance.

2.6'Proteus wrestles with his conscience in a long soliloquy, admitting that he is about to be unfaithful to both his lady and his best friend, but exclaiming that he cannot resist his sudden new passion for Silvia. He will tell Silvia's father of Valentine's plan to ascend to her balcony, so to speak, and steal her away that night. He villainously congratulates himself on his quick wit in thwarting his old friend'recalling later villains like Richard of Gloucester and Iago who revel in their dastardly betrayal of those who trust them.

3.1'A scene full of tediously extended speeches by Proteus, Silvia's father, and Valentine, who is made a fool of by the duke, now aware of Proteus's plan to steal Silvia from her locked room. Members commented that Shakspere learned in later plays to be much more forcefully concise and dramatically effective in such scenes. However, we remember some similarly windy speeches by Juliet's mother and father in a later play about lovers who plot to deceive the girl's parents so that she can escape their control and go off with the man she loves.

. 4.4'Launce is given another long farcical soliloquy about Crab'in language much more vivid, inventive, and entertaining than most of the blank verse in the play.


Respectfully submitted Robert G. Peck Secretary

Originally published: Thursday, January 31, 2008; most-recently modified: Wednesday, June 05, 2019