It’s pancake day, my friends.
And that always makes me remember one of the best nights of my life.
When I was in grad school, for complicated reasons, I moved my thesis project up by a semester. As a result, I was one of the first (maybe the first?) from my cohort to present my thesis. This was at the Mary Baldwin/American Shakespeare Center’s graduate program (now called Shakespeare and Performance), and our thesis was a little weird. In addition to writing a paper and doing a private defense with a committee, we also had to put together a performance component that involved presenting our paper and using scenes to illustrate the points we were making. My paper was about auditory signalling in Shakespeare’s plays (for example, a particular trumpet signal was used to announce a certain king, kind of like his theme song). One of the scenes I featured was from a play called Shoemaker’s Holiday, by Thomas Dekker. It’s a comedy…a little hard to explain, but the relevant point is that there’s a scene where a bell starts ringing to signal to a bunch of young apprentices that it’s time for their free Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner. They go nuts. “The pancake-bell rings, the pancake-bell! Trillil, my hearts!” As I directed it, the apprentices really did go wild, throwing their hats and each other in the air, dancing with each other, nearly forgetting, in their excitement, to actually go get those pancakes. It was one of the most fun scenes to work on in the whole project, and it got all kinds of positive engagement from the audience. I should also note that my cast from this project was an absolute delight to work with. They didn’t need much encouragement to have fun together. I loved these apprentices so much, in fact, that my second thesis was mostly about London apprentices. Dekker, it turns out, did not exaggerate them much.
My advisor on the paper, the late Dr. Frank Southerington, told me that these pancake dinners were still given in England, where he grew up, well into his high school years. He remembered actually hearing the pancake bell. I loved this detail, how the pancake bell had probably begun ringing at some point in the Middle Ages, and kept on ringing every Shrove Tuesday for a thousand years. Maybe it still rings in some parishes, I don’t know.
A few days after my presentation, I came out of an evening class at the Blackfriars, and my entire cohort popped out from the corner of the building, shouting for me: “Your thesis now is ended!” (I protested that it wasn’t, as there was still the defense and the revisions, but no one listened to me…) They nearly carried me across the street and up the steps to my apartment, where they threw a party, just for me, to congratulate me on being the first to finish the thesis performance. They brought cake and wine and hugs and support. I have rarely in my life felt so loved and so honored by a group of people I admired so much. It’s been a decade now, and I imagine few of them remember that night, but I do, in crystal clear detail.
And although that would have been in November, I think about it always at the beginning of Lent, instead. Because it’s Pancake Tuesday for me, and always will be. And many of those who were in that cast, or those who saw the presentation (or, much later, another colleague’s full production of the play) post on Facebook or even text me, “Trillil, my hearts!”
And it does make my heart “trillil.”