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.



Dean Wagner in the chair. Other members present: Ake, Bartlett, Bornemann, Cheston, Cramer, Di Stefano, Dobson, Dunn, Dupee, Fallon, Fisher, Green, Griffin, Ingersoll, Lehmann, Madeira, Peck, Pickering, Warden.

The Dean thanked the members of the ad hoc committee on membership for their prompt and thoughtful work. They included the Rt. Rev. Mr. Bartlett, chairman, and Messrs. Friedman, Green, Madeira, Warden, and Wheeler. Mr. Bartlett presented the committee's report. The committee considered the several emails and letters received by the Dean before their meeting in mid-December (including comment from some of the Society's most senior and most admired members). The committee's recommendations are summarized below.

First, the society might accept guidelines but should not bind itself by formal rules. Second, our goals in electing new members should be to further sociability among members and to increase the likelihood of stimulating discussions of Shakspere's plays. Third, we must be careful not to expand our membership to such a degree that the usual number attending our biweekly dinner meetings is so large that sociability is hindered. Many members feel that this number should on the average be less than twenty. Fourth (a related point), we now have forty-two "active" (dues-paying) members, and we do not wish to create a separate "inactive" category for those who can no longer attend regularly. These are further reasons why we must "be discreet about adding to our numbers."

The committee's next recommendations involved the election process. At the start of each season, the Society's officers should recommend guidelines for the year about membership needs: numbers, and. perhaps, "academic qualifications, age, diversity." At least two members should sponsor a candidate for membership, both of whom have a more than a superficial acquaintance with the prospective member. Candidates should have attended at lest two of our dinner meetings. Proposers should then seek the advice of officers as to whether and when a candidate should be proposed for election. An election should be by secret ballot; the committee recommended a two-thirds affirmative vote of those present when the vote is taken.

Vigorous discussion ensued, with comments from many members about many aspects of these recommendations, especially as to how to decide the election of a new member. Perhaps all members should be asked to vote, if they wish, for a new member, by communicating with the Dean, with notice well in advance of a final count. Perhaps three-quarters of votes cast should be needed for election. Are three or four or five negative votes sufficient to disqualify a candidate regardless of the number of affirmative votes? Given the variety of opinions expressed, Mr. Bartlett has decided to reconvene his committee to reconsider this particular issue.

The the committee recommends that before we consider other candidates for membership, we vote on the two gentlemen who were proposed for membership this fall by Messrs. Ake and Lehmann. The committee suggested that we then consider women candidates; that we elect two women when suitable candidates are proposed; and that we then declare a temporary moratorium on the election of new members, a policy to be reviewed at the start of our next season. Such a moratorium would not preclude visits to dinner meetings by guests, male or female.

More animated discussion ensued! The Dean finally proposed that all members be advised that a vote on whether women should be eligible for election to the Society will be taken at the dinner meeting of February 5, 2003. Those who cannot be present may vote by expressing their wishes to the Dean or the Secretary, by email or telephone or regular mail, before this meeting. Women will be declared eligible for election if that policy is favored by three-quarters of those who vote.

The Vice Dean introduced our first reading of Two Gentlemen of Verona in half a century. This play is written in the long tradition of literature of love stemming from the rise of courtly love in the Middle Ages. The anguished lover writes poems or letters to his beloved, telling her how he worships her and how she tortures him by her disdain even though he knows how unworthy he is of her love. The topic, and the witty treatment of the language, replete with lots of wordplays, rapid repartee in stichomythia, and both comic and serious treatment of love, remind us of other early plays of the Bard like Love's Labor's Lost and Romeo and Midsummer Night's Dream. Witty and disrespectful servants who both help and hinder lovers are frequent in this tradition of comedy from Plautus and Terence's Roman plays on. They are represented here by Speed and Lucetta. In the first act. We also meet Launce, one of Shakspere's earliest oafish farcical characters. Like Dogberry, he murders the language and cannot keep a train of thought going without tripping over both ideas and words.

In Act Two, we are in Milan, where Proteus has been forced to join his friend Valentinus and to leave behind his adored Julia. In the first scene, the servant Speed wittily (and laboriously) explains to his eager but dull master Valentinus that the beautiful Silvia avoids writing love letters to Val that might embarrass her if they were discovered; but she returns Val's love letters to her to the ardent lover, saying they are for him. Val doesn't get it; Speed patiently spells out the clever girl's compliment to her attractive but thickheaded pursuer.

We will begin reading of Two Gentlemen of Verona at Silvia's entrance in Act Two, Scene One when we next meet on January 22, 2003.

Respectfully submitted Robert G. Peck Secretary

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