Shakespeare & Scherenschnitte


If I could think of two activities that require an immense amount of concentration, patience, and perseverance, they would be reading Shakespeare and the art of papercutting. For both, the process can be quite a bastard, but the payoff is almost always priceless.

When I was in grad school, I was required to take an advanced-level Shakespeare course. I dreaded it. Not only did I find reading Shakespeare cumbersome, but I also found lugging The Riverside Shakespeare, a hardcover anthology of 7.7 lbs in my backpack, exceptionally oppressive. When all was said and done, I was surprised how much I really enjoyed the class and how much I really loved reading LinkShakespeare. I know Shakespeare is revered for his words more than his stories (predominately because he was the P. Diddy of his time, sampling many of his plots from existing tales), but I just love the drama. The tragedies - they're like bad episodes of General Hospital - one guy will kill his mayoral brother to get his wife and his power. The tortured son is suffering from teenage angst and is leading on his girlfriend with false promises. Her brother is sort of a prodigal son, who returns upon the accidental death of his blubbering father and seeks revenge. Oh yeah, and the mayor who bit it earlier in the episode pissed off another family (let's pretend they're in the mob) and they are on their way to pop some caps in the dead guy's gang. So, I pretty much just summed up Hamlet (in probably the most disgraceful way possible).

Hamlet is right up there as one of my favorite tragedies (Othello and King Lear are close behind) and this mashup allowed me to revisit the classic. It's funny - rereading Hamlet proved to be much easier than I remembered. Perhaps it was because I already knew the story or because I appreciate the text so much more now that I'm older. In any case, I encourage everyone who is hesitant to read Shakespeare or a self-proclaimed "Bard-hater" to revisit the plays one more time.

Scherenschnitte, pronounced "Sharon-shnit-uh," is the German word for scissor cutting. I'm sure you've all taken part in a scherenschnitte or two in your lifetime. Did you ever make paper snowflakes or those people garlands where they all are connected by holding hands? Thought so. There are tons of paper cutters out there, each with his or her own style and subject matter. I didn't realize this fact until I really started to research - and boy are some people AMAZING at this craft. Two of my favorite cutters are Beatrice Coron and Cindy Ferguson.

Beatrice Coron has an extensive resume, showing her papercuts and graphic designs around the world. One of her cuts was featured in the F train, a subway line I often ride. I would stare at this cut, cramped in my subway car, trying not to inhale the noxious odor coming from the person's naked armpit directly in front of my face. One of her series, Identity Project, are life-size cuts of the different "layers" we have and contribute to our identity.

Cindy Ferguson also has numerous years of paper cutting under her belt. She has a great blog called Scherenschnitte, where she posts templates and "How To" videos for others to use as a resource. She was also commissioned to do a series of papercuts for an expo at the Tower of London (how appropriate for Shakespeare!). This image is the beheading of Anne Boleyn - morbid but marvelous.

With all this knowledge and inspiration pulsating through my veins, I set out to do my first schereschnitte for The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. I knew I wanted to incorporate the main image of Hamlet along with some small mini scenes and a quote. I ultimately chose the scene when Hamlet stabs Polonius behind the arras and when he discovers the skull of Yorick. To me, both scenes encompass the mood of the play - death, depression, anger, impulsiveness and hesitation - and echoes the quote.

The materials I used included a cutting mat, X-acto knife, silhouette paper, a drawing I created through various sketches, and a lot of PATIENCE (and let me tell you, this 'lil Italian struggles with that attribute more than any other). There were many times when I wanted to rip the whole thing up. There were many times when I would get a finger cramp or sharp stabbing pain in my back from being hunched over my kitchen table for hours. But, in the end, I was so happy with the way this came out, I might just become a full-time papercutter - now accepting commissions!

A work in progress


  1. AMAZING! You are so talented. Get yourself a gallery girl and go there!

  2. This appears to be quite a challenge. But, as always a job well-done!!! Of course, I'm a little bias. Love, Mom

  3. Love this! Papercutting IS hard! A good friend of mine did it all through grad school--I was always impressed--then they used it for silk-screening art! Totally beyond me. And it'd be awesome if we lived in the same city, I'd love to start a Shakespeare book club of sorts--I was a hater in high school, but am not sure how'd I'd feel about it now. Sounds like some good reads, especially with a group!