Kristen Bennett brings the cosmos to FSU

Kristen Bennett, an FSU English professor, along with three members of the Hilltop Players and Mary MacDonald, a planetarium educator, gave a presentation in the FSU Planetarium, April 10.

The presentation, “‘All the World’s a Stage’: Cosmographical Contemplation in Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It,’” covered the history of censorship in the time of Shakespeare, as well as the concepts that inspired the many works he wrote in his lifetime, namely those involving the topic of space.

Bennett also discussed whether “As You Like It” is a satirical play.

“Critics are divided about whether Shakespeare writes satirically in ‘As You Like It,’” said Bennett.

Other scholars argue “this knit playfulness only lightly veiled its personal, political satire.”

“In 1590s England, words and ideas were a matter of life and death. Shakespeare and his contemporaries demonstrated their extraordinary literary creativity, as they pushed the boundaries of what could be said in a state governed by censorship,” said Bennett.

“Any critique of Elizabeth I’s government, religion, or court was very often met with interrogation that, subsequently, led to torture, imprisonment, and/or grizzly execution. … One had to be savvy about what they said and how they said it,” Bennett added.

During the presentation, members of the Hilltop Players interjected with recited quotes from “As You Like It,” emphasizing key points in Bennett’s presentation. The members in attendance included Kit Mauriello, Kyle Hicks, and Christan Tracy.

“And after you shall have examined the persons, you shall by authority put them to torture in Bridewell, and by the extremity thereof, draw them to discover their knowledge concerning libels,” recited Mauriello as they read a selection from a May 11, 1593 letter to Sir R. Martin, Anthony Ashley, and Alderman Buckle.

“Cicero’s dream of Scipio in the Republic, in addition to the theory of cosmographical contemplation whereby his fellow Roman statesmen may reflect upon their places in the world, in relation to the cosmic heavens, ideally realizing the path to a moral and civic virtue … Shakespeare’s hardly the first to deploy the Ciceroean trope for satire’s sake,” Bennett said.

“If you will only look on high and contemplate this eternal home and resting place, you will no longer attend to the gossip herd or put your trust in human rewards for your exploits,” read Hicks, assuming the role of Scipio Africanus’ spirit.

Near the end of the presentation, Mauriello and Hicks recited the famous “All the world’s a stage” speech, bringing the presentation back to Shakespeare’s work.

“I’m starting to get it after listening to this presentation for the third time,” said MacDonald as she began the Planetarium’s portion of the project.

Using the Planetarium’s technology, MacDonald took the 20 people in attendance on a journey to the end of the universe, explaining the history of how the universe was documented in Shakespeare’s time, as well as the contributions that the age of exploration provided to studying space.

“This is not all it is. … I think we need to go back,” said MacDonald upon completing the tour, before the presentation went back to the starting point on Earth.

“I urge you all to think like an Elizabethan the next time you look up at the sky,” said Bennett.

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