Spring Thesis Festival – Session 3

Welcome to the final session of the Spring 2010 Thesis Festival. We start off with Sarah Gusky Kemer’s “Gesture, Movement, Analysis, and Text,” where Kemer has researched the use of gesture and movement to understand text in her classroom. Kemer explores the vocabulary of movement in her classroom, and attempts to teach her students to understand the gestural language of a person and a performer. She then moved her students into explorations of how gesture and posture could be use to create meaning in a text, having them create stage pictures between Bottom and Quince in the rehearsal scene. From the general use of the body to the specific use of hands, Kemer introduces her students to American Sign Language, specifically the relation of the shape of the hand to the body.

From their work with ASL, Kemer moves her students into Laban, and the idea of graphically representing meaning and gesture. This led to an exercise whereby Kemer has her students perform a scene using only the language of movement and gesture. Kemer and her students discussed the challenges of performing the more linguistically complicated scenes, but while student groups agreed that their peers understanding of movement vocabulary applied to text, they had more critical opinions of their own work. Kemer takes this as a positive sign, as it shows her students have an understanding of their movement work that allows them to imagine other possibilities.

Now we’ll move on to Edward Sheehan and “The Martyr’s Function, The Martyr’s Cause, Coriolanus and Timon of Athens.” Sheehan explores martyrdom as “a telescope from which one can only look backward” in trying to understand the function of both Timon and Coriolanus. Sheehan cites John Jowett in drawing similarities between the two: in both cases the characters see themselves standing outside of the normal give and take at the heart of any society, and both suffer the ill effects of their excesses in attempting to live beyond their abilities. Neither one of these men is capable of living meaningfully outside of their societies.

Timon and Coriolanus both only reveal their own feelings when no others are present, and here the audience sees them as conflicted. The “role of the martyr that both play is, essentially, a role,” and the two both reveal themselves uncomfortable with the roles they have chosen to play and their own desires. As Timon meets Flavius, his steward, in the latter scenes of the play, he comes close to retrieving his humanity, but pulls back from this desires at the last moment, rejecting “any last vestiges of humanity he may have possessed.”

Unlike Shakespeare’s most heralded heroes or tragic figures, we are not meant o identify with them, we are meant to confront them and our feelings toward them. Coriolanus and Timon both embody tragic virtues that set them apart from other tragic heroes. This is, Sheehan argues, precisely the function of a martyr. Timon presents himself as a martyr to insufficient social virtues that Shakespeare is powerless to change; he essentially dies for nothing and goes unrevenged. Coriolanus shares a similar fate. Shakespeare means for us to be disheartened by these works, but the martyrdom of both characters allows the audience to consider themselves in relation to the values they hold dear.

With that, we’ll bring our 2010 Spring Thesis festival to a close. Thank you for joining us for our live blog of these thesis presentations. See you again soon!