Blackfriars Conference 2011- Plenary Session III

Hi, I’m Deb Streusand, and I’ll be liveblogging Plenary Session III from 9 am to 10:15 am.

“Lie there, Religion”: Implications of the Vestment Controversy on the Early Modern English Stage
Margaret Rose Jaster, Pennsylvania State University Harrisburg

Jaster argues that one of the lasting effects of the Vestment Controversy might have been satirical treatment of Roman Catholic clergy on stage. She suggests that vestments served as a metonymic device for all things Roman Catholic, and that the cultural event we refer to as the Vestment Controversy did affect the early English stage. Vestments were regarded as “indifferent,” that is, not necessary to the honor and glory of God. The reformers despised the vestments as symbolic of excess, and wanted to return to a more pristine spiritual institution, free of such trappings. On stage, whoever dons the Roman Catholic vestments appears as a Roman Catholic cleric to the audience, even in the case of characters who are in disguise. In the anonymous play Look About You, the scoundrel Skink disguises himself as a monk in order to con the other characters. In Measure for Measure, Duke Vincentio dons religious garb for his own ends, but, scandalously, he actually confesses Mariana in the process. If the portrayal of characters in clerical garb was always satirical, it is possible that the Roman Catholics in the audience might have been horrified or indignant. If both reformers and Catholics considered vestments indifferent, however, and the characters misusing the vestments were not Roman Catholic at all, as in the case of disguise, the contention that vestments were used this way is not so controversial.

“The mirror of all Christian kings”: Choral Medievalism in the Henry V Folio
Christina Gutierrez, The University of Texas at Austin

Gutierrez argues that Shakespeare can be regarded as one of the most recognizable writers of medieval history. As a historical account, Henry V‘s double vision of its central character destabilizes audience perception of this historical period. She reads the play in the light of current medieval historiography and analyzes contemporary stagings of the play. She cites Umberto Eco’s argument that the Middle Ages have never ended in the popular imagination, arguing that “Medievalism constructs the Middle Ages to suit post-medieval values, concerns, and effects.” The play can be used to stage tensions between the historical past and the present moment. She cites the Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh movie versions, drawing a contrast between their respective treatments of Henry and of the Middle Ages. This ambiguity about how we should view Henry and his historical period comes from the text itself, particularly in the differences between how the Chorus describes Henry and how he is portrayed in person. The Chorus exists to provide a contrast to the Henry that the audience sees. In the 1600 Quarto, the choral passages do not appear. Scholars debate the reason for this absence-had they not been written yet, or were they redacted for political reasons? The Quarto’s portrayal of Henry is unambiguously heroic. Shakespeare may have meant this to be an image of Elizabeth I. Gutierrez discusses the productions of Charles Kemble and William Macready, who respectively cut and restored the Chorus. She argues that Macready’s restoration of the Chorus allowed the play to live in the gaps of time between the historical period being portrayed, Shakespeare’s time, and the time of the production. More recent productions have set the play in various modern conflicts, whether to promote patriotism or portray the folly of war. The play’s double presentation of its central character represents the duality of our view of the Middle Ages, allowing directors to make a choice as to how they will stage Henry and the play’s approach to war.

Linden Kueck performs as the Chorus in Henry V for this presentation. A.J. Sclafani performs as Henry.

Making Malapropism: Reconsidering Mistress Quickly
Emily Sloan-Pace, University of California, Santa Cruz

Sloan-Pace points out that Mistress Quickly is often read solely for her malapropisms and is not considered relevant enough to the Falstaff plot or to the play’s historical project to be worthy of much more analysis. She argues that in this typically upper-class genre, Quickly offers an alternative voice, representing the middle class and a female with linguistic agency in a play dominated by the mOCSuline and martial. Quickly is distinct for her control over the economy of her alehouse and her body. In 2 Henry IV, she becomes a developed character outside of her relationship to Falstaff and the other tavern characters. The characters outside of the tavern allow her agency by providing her with positive acknowledgement. Aside from Falstaff, men seem to respect Quickly, but in his company she is subjected to a constant barrage of slurs. Editors have allowed this barrage to color their view of Mistress Quickly. Yet the Lord Chief Justice, for example, immediately accepts Quickly’s claims over those of Falstaff, implying that the men in power respect her. The Justice’s refusal to view her sexually leads Falstaff to admit his debt, giving Quickly the power and thereby placing her in the mOCSuline role in this sexual exchange. Reading this scene in a non-malapropistic way provides a new view of this character as a respected figure who can employ language to her own ends.

How to Shrew
Joe Ricke, Taylor University and Hungry Shakespeare

Ricke begins his presentation in the character of Stephanie Stern, Tiffany Stern’s fictional younger sister, illustrating the ways in which we view the concept of “shrewing.” In his own person, he argues that the short answer to “how to shrew” is not “you’re beaten to a bloody pulp,” but that you are loud and argumentative, being tried as a shrew after an accusation made by a specific man or men. In a shrew play, the shrew must defend herself against the audience and her male accuser. Although some critics argue that Shakespeare’s shrew must be viewed in the light of contemporary concerns about shrewish women, we should consider his approach to the shrew in terms of the tradition of staged shrews in other shrew plays rather than viewing it as an anomaly of cultural hysteria. In Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare uses one of the most popular contemporary ways of talking about the battle of the sexes. In these plays, shrews are on display as shrews because of the characters who accuse them. They then defend themselves in dialogue. The ubiquity of the shrew plays challenges any simplistic view of the Early Modern perspective on shrewish women because of the plays’ allowance for dialogue and self-defense. We must also take into account the shrew’s characterization of the men around her as lazy and not contributing to the household economy, which further complicates any argument that the plays unequivocally portray the shrews in a negative light. “Saintly shrews” in the mystery plays turn out to be on the side of righteousness. In Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare portrays his own saintly shrew in the person of Paulina, showing that shrews can do good work by protecting others and themselves.

Kim Maurice portrays Kate in this presentation. A.J. Sclafani performs Petruchio. Maurice portrays Paulina and Sclafani Leontes in Winter’s Tale. These two actors also play scenes from an earlier shrew play concerning Noah and from Peele’s The Old Wives’ Tale.

Competing Heights in As You Like It
Jemma Alix Levy, Muse of Fire Theater Company

Levy lays out the textual contradiction between the descriptions of Rosalind’s and Celia’s heights in two different scenes, and reminds us that in production Rosalind is usually portrayed as taller. Editors and directors seem to have reached the consensus to that Le Beau’s statement that Celia is taller is a mistake. Levy discusses the performance potential of leaving this contradiction intact. What if Le Beau is referring to their current physical positions, or following the Duke’s requirement that he see Celia as taller? Levy argues that the explanation with the greatest potential in performance is that the two women may be so close in height that each appears taller at different times. Staging their heights in this way draws attention to the competitive aspects of Rosalind and Celia’s relationship. Competition is a theme throughout the play, but the competition between Rosalind and Celia is limited to the time when they are both presenting as female. While at Frederick’s court, they continually one-up one another. Since Rosalind is the speaker who describes herself as taller, while Le Beau is speaking in public in the court, the shift in height may reflect a shift in perspective rather than a mistake. By insisting she is taller, Rosalind earns the right to become male while they are in disguise, preventing comparison to her cousin for that period, which allows her to become a unique individual, an initiator rather than an onlooker. In the forest, they compete only when alone or with Touchstone, as in their conversation about Orlando’s poems, but this scene is interrupted, suggesting that it is no longer important who would have won. The cousins have changed in the forest, and the play replaces the language of competition with the language of equality. Now that the women have truly separated from each other, they seem prepared to embrace their equality. Levy argues that staging this contrast, rather than regarding it as a mistake, illuminates the characters and their relationship.

Linden Kueck and Charlene Smith portrayed a taller Rosalind and a shorter Celia. Smith and Kim Maurice portrayed a Rosalind and Celia of indistinguishable heights.

The presentations finish promptly and we have time for questions.

A questioner describes Quickly and Mistress Overdone as shrews of a sort, and wonders whether Overdone has agency in a fashion similar to Quickly. Sloan-Pace suggests that Mistress Overdone is portrayed more exclusively as a madam, but that men may also show her respect in a manner similar to how the men outside the tavern world treat Quickly. Ricke discusses these women as shrews in terms of the ubiquity of shrew plays and their portrayal of female agency.

The next questioner asks whether women were becoming more of an economic force in England at this time. Ricke replies that there is a dialogue about women’s struggle to gain the upper hand, as portrayed in contemporary ballads. The female character is given the opportunity to voice opposition in the dramatic tradition.

The next questioner asks Jaster about the representations of authentic churchmen on stage, as opposed to characters in disguise. Jaster thinks that even when the characters are supposed to be clerics, the authors are still being satirical, as in the portrayal of Canterbury at the opening of Henry V. The cultural moment provided too good an opportunity for satire for the playwrights not to have taken advantage of it, she argues. In Look About You, Skink explicitly identifies his clerical disguise with religion itself, addressing the words “lie there, religion” to his clerical cloak.

The next questioner asks Sloan-Pace about the relationship between malapropisms and justice scenes, as in Much Ado About Nothing. Sloan-Pace points out that in these cases it is the character of lowest class who is able to discover the truth.

The final questioner discusses the first OED definition of shrew, which applies to men. Petruchio is said to be almost as shrewish as Kate is, so the issue of shrewishness and gender is much more complicated than the exclusive assignment of that identity to women. Ricke discusses the English dramatic tradition of shrewish characters and related name-calling, where “shrew” is often used to refer to men, especially in the earlier plays. This word, he asserts, tells us as much about the person who’s saying it as about the person described.

Holly Pickett of Washington and Lee University moderates this session.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session II

Hi! I’m Julia, I’ll be liveblogging Plenary Session II from 3:15 to 4:45.

Moderator: Hank Dobin, Washington and Lee University

Time to Play
Steven Urkowitz, University of Southern Maine

Urkowitz discussed the duration of performances in Early Modern Theater. Some scholars have tried to argue that all performances adhered strictly to the “two hours traffic of our stage,” even though some early modern plays are a good deal longer than others. He mentioned that a performance of a play would include music before and dancing after, so that even if a performance was expected to be more or less the same duration, the other entertainments could be shortened or lenghthened to accomodate the difference. He also discussed script cutting as a possibility raised by scholars such as Andrew Gurr, but Urkowitz dismisses the arguments that script cutting was necessary.

The Bookend Project:
Transforming Shakespeare’s Revenge Play from Violence to Virtue in Titus Andronicus and The Tempest

Tara Bradway, St. John’s University

Bradway, artistic director of the Adirondack Shakespeare Company, discussed one interesting comparison she and her performers discovered when the same actress played Lavinia and Caliban. Early in Titus Andronicus, Lavinia fails to play within the form of the iambic pentameter line, but later in the play she breaks out of the pattern, uses initial trochees and lines witn 9 or 11 syllables, and in so doing struggles for greater agency within her own life. Caliban also uses an irregular verse pattern to assert his agency within is position of servitude. Both characters are also marked by sexual violence, and both become more eloquent through silence. Miriam Donald performed as Lavinia, Benjamin Curns as Caliban, and James Keegan as Prospero.

Laughter in Time and Space
Casey Caldwell, Mary Baldwin College

Caldwell brought together two ongoing scholarly discussions (the study of laughter in Shakespeare, and the study of sound in Shakespeare) to point out that neither discussion integrates laughter as a sound. He goes on to point out that the Blackfriars’ status as an Early Modern reconstruction gives us a tension when we come into it bringing our own time period, as there is a tension between our time and the time to which the Blackfriars belongs. Laughter is a way of imposing our own imminence onto our surroundings, but we are not laughing at the space. In the same way, a sleeping Bottom (performed by Benjamin Curns) awakes from his dream and chooses to remain imminent by re-formating his perception of his experience and using it to commission a work of art.

Remember the Porter:
Knock-Knock Jokes, Tragedy, and Other Unfunny Things

Chris Barrett, Harvard University

Barrett discussed the Porter’s scene as an extended knock-knock joke; the first, she says, in the English language. The porter, as the keeper of the threshold, has no trouble playing both the host and the interrupter in the joke. A knock-knock joke has a formula that suggests not only fear, but a disruption of the rules of hospitality: the guest is an uncouth interrupter and the joke is always on the host. Implied is a laughing forgiveness for the transgression — thus pity and fear are integral to the knock-knock joke and also, as it happens, to tragedy.

Performing Verse/Prose Transitions
James Loehlin, The University of Texas at Austin

Loehlin presented several instances of transitions between verse and prose in Shakespeare, using examples from Hamlet and As You Like It, performed by Shakespeare at Winedale actors Isto Barton, Sonia Desai, and Kelsi Tyler. He demonstrated that when a character switches from verse to prose, the other characters onstage have an opportunity to confirm or deny that transformation. He also discussed lines within prose scenes that sound and scan like verse, and concluded that characters can manipulate verse/prose transitions to rhetorical effect.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session I

I’m Charlene V. Smith, and I’ll be liveblogging Plenary Session I from 1pm to 2:15pm.

Leslie Thomson, University of Toronto
The Tempest and the Stage-Sitters

Thomson starts by pointing out that the King’s Men had already started using the Blackfriars by the time that Shakespeare started writing The Tempest. Thus he would have known that the most expensive seats would have been those on stage. Thomson asks what effect the gallants onstage might have had, for example they created a type of stage dressing, and caused an alienating effect by reminding the audience that they were at a play.

The stage-sitters would have completed with the players for staging space and for audience attention, so Thomson explores whether the plays at the time included elements meant to counteract this or remind the sitters to behave? Thomson argues that The Tempest is constructed to quiet the stage sitters using elements such as soliloquies, discoveries, masques, and other staging devices.

The Tempest‘s 78 uses of “now”and  numerous mentions of the island create a single shared time and location. Events in the play such as the shipwreck, banquet, and the masque draw attention to drama onstage as opposed to the drama offstage. The text also suggests a number of sitting, reclining, or leaning positions. Groups of figures are also regularly observed by others. All these features help point the audience’s attention to the play itself. Thomson then suggests that Prospero acts as a stage-manager, speaking directly to the playgoers, and controlling moments of action during the play.

Thomson concludes with the thought that the presence of stage-sitters couldn’t be ignored during the early modern era and therefore shouldn’t be ignored now. By considering their effect on the performance, we can gather a more accurate and fuller picture of early modern theatre.

Mark Z. Muggli, Luther College
“After the first death, there is no other”: Except in the Case of Falstaff

Muggli mentions that much attention has been paid to Falstaff’s reported death in Henry V, and says he instead wants to focus attention on Falstaff’s first death in Henry IV, part one. Falstaff, to avoid fighting in the battle, “falls down as if he were dead.” The “as if” is ambiguous.

Should Falstaff rise up thirty lines later to the audience’s complete surprise? Or should he fall down with a wink to the audience so that we know he is faking during Hal and Hotspur’s fight?

Muggli says that a Falstaff who informs the audience that he is faking is an impressive trickster, but he is only a trickster. A Falstaff that convinces the audience that he is dead is a Falstaff who has the power to resurrect himself.

Muggli mentions a production he saw recently where an overweight Falstaff apparently suffered a heart attack and falls down. To Muggli, it was convincingly real. While speaking to colleagues about this production, one disagreed, telling Muggli that “it was obvious that Falstaff was faking.” Muggli suggest the cultural legacy of Falstaff means that audiences, even nonspecialists, are aware that he does not die in the first play he appears, and so his resurrection can never truly come as a surprise.

Walter Cannon, Central College
Complex Hearing

Cannon describes complex hearing as a moment when a character hears something that he or she cannot respond to directly, either due to disguise, eavesdropping, decorum, tact, or prevailing social norms.
Cannon says the character’s reticence and a restraint can be used as a guide to emotional and psychological complexity.

To demonstrate his point, Cannon looks at two speeches of Edgar’s in King Lear. The first in 3.6 is a soliloquy in which Edgar speaks out-loud to himself. The second is the speech he delivers in 5.3 to Albany and Edmund. These speeches deal with Edgar’s disguise of Poor Tom.

Cannon points out that disguises are often used to gain or regain power, but Poor Tom gives Edgar knowledge, but not power. It is a disguise that puts an emotional burden on Edgar that he reveals after his fight with Edmund.

Cannon stages the speech in 5.3 in order to demonstrate that the onstage hearers guide audience response. Edgar faces entirely upstage, where Albany and Edmund are located. Edmund and Albany’s faces were therefore much more visible to the majority of the audience.

Bill Gelber, Texas Tech University
A “Ha” in Shakespeare: the Soliloquy as Excuse and Challenge to the Audience

Gelber begins by mentioning the large debate surrounding soliloquies: should they be internal and introspective or external and taken to the audience? To explore the answer, Gelber looks at Shakespeare’s use of a single word, “Ha.” “Ha” can be a shorter version of the word “have,” when elision is necessary, or it can be repeating to simulate a character’s laughter: “ha, ha, ha,” or it can be a word of chiding, especially when located after a question.

Gelber is interested in this final use, especially when it occurs in a soliloquy. Shakespeare uses it sparingly, and Gelber with the help of the actors explores two examples.

The first is from Measure for Measure, 2.2. Angelo asks, “Who sins most? Ha?” In this moment he is looking to the audience for an answer. Gelber argues that the “ha” here is an interjectional interrogatory used to explain Angelo’s previous aside in the scene with Isabella, an aside that is an abrupt and surprising admission of temptation. In this soliloquy, Angelo is making his case before a jury of playgoers.

Gelber then briefly looks at a couple examples where “ha” us used in dialogue, where it is used to provoke other characters to respond. Gelber says “ha” is used in much the same way in a soliloquy, only the other character is the audience.

Hamlet says “ha” in his “Am I a coward?” soliloquy. Gelber argues that the “ha?” seeks an actual response, otherwise why would Hamlet bother? This soliloquy assumes response. Gelber mentions the famous production of Hamlet starring David Warner where one night when Warner asked, “Am I a coward?,” a man called out, “Yes!” When Mark Rylance played Hamlet he performed this soliloquy at the edge of the stage, as close to the audience as possible in order to provoke a response.

Evelyn Tribble, University of Otago
Inset Skill Displays

Tribble’s paper is on early modern actors and their skill set. She bemoans that this aspect is not paid much attention in current studies. For example, the art of gesture is often dismissed as static and old-fashioned. Tribble feels that we should look at these skills positively and as part of an ecology of skill.

Tribble notes that the abundant stage directions in early modern play texts call for a wide range of physical and verbal abilities, including speaking, fencing, wrestling, vaulting, dancing, tumbling, and singing. Londoners could experience many of these skills in arenas other than the theatre, meaning that they were educated and informed.

Fencing displays were part of theatrical tradition and also civic life. and therefore viewers of drama were likely to have a high knowledge of the sport. Many plays also call for highly technical forms of dance. Dance had a wide cultural currency. Spectators attended performances at London’s dancing schools.

Tribble encourages us to consider how an early modern performer’s skills existed in a whole culture that cannot be discovered by looking at the printed page alone.

Katherine Mayberry, Grand Valley State University & Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company
Judging Spectators: The Manipulation of Audience Critical Response

Mayberry took the stage to discuss the use of prologues and epilogues in early modern drama. These speeches address the theatre audience as an audience; they define the audience role and give specific instructions. These prologues and epilogues frequently refer to the audience’s power to judge the performance, but manage to shifts the responsibility for the play’s success or failure onto the audience.

Playwrights use several tactics in their prologues and epilogues, including scripting and cueing applause, preemptively apologizing, anticipating criticism and dismissing them, and stating that the play will appel to discerning auditors.

Shakespeare cues the audience’s applause in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, and As You Like It. Puck says, “Give me your hands if we be friends.” This is a conditional phrase. The audience must either applaud or cease to be the players’ friends. Rosalind’s epilogue scripts the audience response: “bid me farewell,” and cues the audience: “when I curtsy.”

In the opening Chorus of Henry V, Shakespeare uses the tactics of preemptively apologizing, and anticipating criticism and dismissing it, specifically demands for onstage realism. The Chorus also enlists the audience in the creation of performance, thus suggesting if the play’s not successful the audience has failed.

Mayberry moves onto examples where the playwright is more insulting to the audience. Ben Jonson’s prologues were often antagonistic. He disparages the judgement of those who criticize the play.
Jonson doesn’t solicit the audience’s help, but places blame for negative response on the audience’s poor taste.

John Ford’s The Broken Heart offers auditors membership in an elite club of those with “noble judgement” and “clear eyes.” giving an incentive to like the play. Thomas Middleton’s No Wit/No Help Like a Woman concedes failure before the play begins: “How is it possible to suffice so many ears? So many eyes?”

Mayberry concludes that early modern authors recognized the audience’s power over playwright and performer and sought to control it. They sought to wrest that power back by orchestrating audience response.

The speakers in this session were aided by OCS actors John Harrell, Allison Glenzer, and Gregory Jon Phelps.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Welcome and Stephen Booth Keynote

Greetings to all — The 6th Blackfriars Conference has officially begun! A team of OCS employees and MBC MLitt/MFA graduate students will be live-blogging throughout the week, so that those of you who couldn’t be here to join us can still get a little taste of the scholarship and other exciting events. Our livebloggers for the week are: Christina Sayer Grey, the OCS’s Marketing Associate, graduate students Charlene Smith, Julia Nelson, and Deborah Streusand, and me, Cass Morris, the OCS’s Academic Resources Manager.

9:45 am – Welcome Address
The welcome opens with Ralph Alan Cohen introducing Amy Wratchford, the OCS’s managing director, Paul Menzer, director of the MLitt/MFA graduate program, Dean Catharine O’Connell from Mary Baldwin College, Steven Owen, Staunton City Manager, and OCS Director of Education Sarah Enloe.
Sarah and Ralph give everyone an overview of their packet materials, both those essentials of the conference, such as maps, nametags, schedules, and directories, and the fun bits: the Truancy Award (given to the person who spends more time exploring Staunton than actually attending conference events) and the swag, including a thermos and water bottle (so that the conference can “go green” and not offer plastic or styrafoam cups for water and coffee).
Ralph comments about the special late-night shows, 11pm performances of original (but Shakespeare-related) works. Ralph then warns everyone about the bear. It’s a bit infamous at our conference that, if your paper runs over time, you will have to exit, pursued by a bear. A thunder sheet gives presenters a 2-minute warning, and Sarah lets the bear out of the cage so that everyone can see what they’ll be baiting if they go on for too long.
Ralph calls attention to a few changes and additions to the program. In celebration of our partnership with Washington and Lee, who are now hosting the OCS archives, we will be holding a champagne reception at 4:45pm, immediately following the last paper session.
Farah Karim-Cooper and Neil Constable from Shakespeare’s Globe in London then take the stage to discuss their plans to build a new indoor theatre in London. Farah explains the history of the research behind their plans — that the architectural designs were originally thought to be created by Inigo Jones in 1616, but that later research revealed them to be a later creation. As a result, the Globe has decided to construct an archetype of Jacobean theatres, rather than re-creating one specific building. Neil then walks the audience through a short Powerpoint presentation which conveys the visual plans for the indoor theatre. He discusses the planned timeline for project completion, estimating that by the fall of 2013, the indoor theatre will be open and in use, allowing the Globe to perform 52 weeks a year — which will make the Globe and the American Shakespeare Center the only two Shakespeare theatres in the world who run shows continuously.
Ralph thanks everyone at the Globe for their support not only for the Blackfriars Playhouse but for their ongoing support of our goals to build Globe II, a re-creation of the 1614 Globe.
Ralph then moves into introducing Stephen Booth, Professor emeritus of English literature at the University of California at Berkeley. Booth is the author of On the Value of Hamlet; Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Edited with Analytic Commentary; King Lear, Macbeth, Indefinition, and Tragedy, and Precious Nonsense: The Gettysburg Address, Ben Jonson’s Epitaphs on His Children, and Twelfth Night. Ralph shares some anecdotes about working with Stephen over the years, then introduces him by saying, “Today Stephen is going to share with us some things about audience that he already knows and that we have never thought about.”
10:30am – Stephen Booth Keynote: “Shakespeare vs the Audience”, or, “The Audience as Lady Anne”
“You will notice, with pleasure, how briefly the previous speakers have spoken. That is all over.” Stephen then absconds with two cushions from the gallant stools, to further elevate his reading podium. Booth claims that we should look at Richard III as the greatest author analog in Shakespeare, relating Shakespeare’s joy in “rhetoric over circumstance” to Richard III’s delight in the rhetorical power to woo Lady Anne. He then moves on to the odd abortive ending of Love’s Labour’s Lost and to The Tempest, “Shakespeare’s greatest success in leading the audience to increasingly improbably responses”. Prospero, he says, is a failure both as a character (“he bores us”) and as a leader, who he characterizes as “casually unjust”. Booth argues that audiences come away with an impression of Prospero that reflects his final generosity, not his moment-to-moment cruelties. Similarly, audiences at the end of Romeo and Juliet feel they have seen the play the prologue promised, when the play itself undercuts much of the outline. The Winter’s Tale he categorizes as another instance of inappropriate responses to circumstances, with giant logic holes that the audience blithely ignores, and with characters such as Autolycus, “who seems to be there just to see if the play can get away with it”.
Not all of Shakespeare’s plays, however, achieve such a success of theatre over context, nor are they always consistent within a play. Booth relates Shakespeare’s overconfidence with language again to Richard III, whose triumph in his second wooing scene is less justified than his first. He then provides a list of plays where the contextual misalignments tempt the audience to dismiss or question circumstances: Richard III ends with Henry of Richmond, Macbeth with the bloodless Malcolm. In Much Ado about Nothing, “the unnecessary detail that asks audience’s minds to accommodate the presence of two people in Hero’s window who have no business in Hero’s bedchamber” and the subsequent request that they believe this would cause Claudio to believe Hero unfaithful, Booth says strains credulity. He moves next to the Chorus in Henry V, who asserts a confidence in the King that the play itself undercuts. In Hamlet, audiences agree with the Ghost for chastising Hamlet’s delay, even though both Ghost and audience know that Polonius’s corpse is right there and that the Ghost’s pointed language imitates the weapon Hamlet used. In Macbeth, audiences “ignore the comic klutz that Macbeth is” when his superstitions lead him to unnecessary murders (when warned against Banquo’s children, he kills Macduff’s). In King Lear, the “wicked” sisters Goneril and Regan give voice to what the audience must think about a father and a king overconfident in his own omnipotence, yet forty minutes later, the audience believes them as pure and entirely sympathetic victims. “Shakespeare manipulates audiences into unlikely acquiescence.” Julius Caesar makes the relation very plain through its association of the audience with the plebeian mob.
Booth warns that he may be leaving us with the impression Shakespeare felt the same contempt for audiences that Richard III felt for Lady Anne and Lady Elizabeth. He claims that he had no intention of giving us that impression when he began the paper, but now feels sure that he has, and asks us to “consider the evidence.”
The address ends early enough that we can open for questions. One question asks if the audiences might be seen to derive pleasure from being insulted by Shakespeare, as Groucho Marx became famous and adored for insulting audiences. Booth responds that he thinks the critical importance is that intelligent audiences like being insulted if they know they’re being insulted, whereas Shakespeare, he believes, “doesn’t offer a smirk” of knowledge at them. Another question asks if Booth believes Shakespeare gets us to consent to his treatment; Booth agrees, yes, he does. Another scholar comments that “we’re not really rationalists” when we’re in the audience. She brings up Measure for Measure, where the Duke manipulates Isabella, claiming that he’ll offer her comforts when he does nothing of the kind. She asks, “Where is the emotion?” and wonders if it’s up to the actors either to connect with the audience or to make them feel the disconnect.

Notes from the Hathway Brown residency

I spent the past week in Shaker Heights, OH, working with Kelley McKinnon and Chad Bradford (both formerly of the OCS touring troupe). This expedition was the first OCS educational residency, where we send a team out on location to work with students on text exploration, Shakespeare’s staging conditions, rehearsal observation and coaching, and a plethora of other OCS mission-driven programming that we can develop for the specific school or pull from our existing publications. It’s sort of the inverse of our Little Academes, where college professors bring their classes to us in Staunton for a custom-designed week of lectures, workshops, and play-going. The residency gives us the extra benefit of being able to reach many more students from the same school than could feasibly travel to Staunton for an extended stay. Molly Cornwell, the theater teacher at Hathaway Brown School and director of their plays, brought us in to work with everyone from 7th-graders up to college-bound seniors.

In Hathaway Brown’s fabulous black box theatre, we met with drama and English classes to introduce OCS rehearsal practices and methods of learning through performance. The acting classes did some in-depth monologue work with Kelley and Chad, bringing the nuances of Shakespeare’s language to the forefront. Several of those students are also in Cornwell’s production of Macbeth, currently in rehearsals, and so they worked on monologues or important staging moments from the play. Improv classes played word games and worked with cue scripts, while English classes examined issues of mOCSulinity, asides and audience contact, and the challenges and opportunities of playing darkness. The 7th grade intro to drama class explored the many vocal and physical choices an actor can make — and also learned how to die dramatically as Juliet. Watching a 12-year-old perform Juliet’s death so passionately that she actually creeps herself out is one of the more amusing things I’ve gotten to do lately.

We also got to work with the full cast of Macbeth, with Kelley and Chad serving as rehearsal coaches each afternoon. They encouraged the students to make big choices. Everything, they pointed out, is a choice — or at least, it should be. If you’re not making a choice, you’re throwing a line away. They also helped the actors interrogate Shakespeare’s language to find all of the delivery clues he provides. Hathaway Brown is educating some incredibly talented young women — during the week, I saw wonderful transformations as the students really dug in to the text. The witches discovered disparate identities that still worked in unison, Lady Macbeth built ways to present herself both as a powerful instigator and as a fearful madwoman, Macbeth explained his soul-shaking quandaries to the audience, and the entire cast navigated the challenges of group scenes like the revelation of Duncan’s death or the banquet featuring Banquo’s ghost. Other activities during the week included practicing safe stage combat, looking for embedded stage directions, and learning how to share focus on the stage.

I was so impressed by the young ladies at Hathaway Brown. Not only were they bright, active, and engaged, willing to experiment with Shakespeare’s text and to try new things, but they also all seemed so kind and generous, both with us and with each other. I loved that, when I asked the 7th-graders to explore different ways of delivering the first line of Macbeth — “When shall we three meet again?” — I got 18 completely different responses from each of the 18 girls, each one fully committed to her choice and excited to show it off to the rest of the class. That sort of effervescent enthusiasm was prevalent in the whole school. Everyone there really seemed to be enjoying the learning process — which is, of course, exactly what we hope for. Molly Cornwell has done a great job building her drama program, and I’m so glad the English teachers are working with her to bring new ways of looking at Shakespeare to their students.

We finished off the week with an assembly, opening with some snippets from Macbeth that the cast had worked on during the week. The Porter took on the challenge of presenting a monologue she’d only learned two days earlier, and she did an incredible job, strolling nonchalantly through the audience, mocking her classmates, and setting the tone for the rest of the hour. Then Macbeth and Lady Macbeth presented Act One, scene seven, the famous “If it were done, when ’tis done” speech and following conversation. They demonstrated wonderful focus and intensity, and I can only imagine that their classmates will be excited to see the final, finished product. Kelley and Chad performed the Macbeth-Young Siward fight, and then we demonstrated some of the workshops, in brief, that we’d done during the week with classes. Kelley had two volunteers find the delivery clues in a scene between Katharine and Petruchio, using the alliteration as a physical direction, and used cue scripts to find the moments where Romeo asks Juliet for a kiss. Chad led a group of students in a Shakespearean insult contest, and then Kelley unleashed total delightful mayhem by demanding that the faculty come up to give it a try. We ended the week on just the right note, leaving the students with the idea that Shakespeare is exciting, energetic, and an overall good time.

After one last group photo with the cast of Macbeth, it was, sadly, time to head home. Photos from the week are up on the OCS Facebook page, and I hope I’ll have video to share with you all soon. Kelley, Chad, and I had an absolutely wonderful time, and I can’t wait till the next educational residency.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Study Guide Now Available

The OCS Study Guide for A Midsummer Night’s Dream is now available on our website. And, I promise you, this one’s a lot of fun. Midsummer has so much potential for playing, and I think we’ve found some ways to really bring that to life in classrooms.

Here is a ten-page preview. The Study Guide contains the following activities:

  • The Basics: Getting your students on their feet, working with iambic pentameter, paraphrasing, exploring rhetoric, and turning your classroom into an early modern stage. These sections include, for your benefit, the first 100 lines of text, already marked-up, to use as a model in the classroom.
  • Line Assignments: A way to give your students ownership over a small section of text, which they will use in further language-based activities and staging explorations.
  • Metrical Magic: Examines the performance clues provided by the shifts between normal iambic pentameter and the unusual trochaic tetrameter, the rhythm of spellcasting. The moments when a speaker transitions from one form to the other provide the basis for performance choices. Does the unusual meter call for music? A different physicality? How can actors emphasize the mysticism of what’s going on in those moments?
  • Staging Challenges: Titania’s Bower explores the opportunities presented by the early modern stage. When Titania falls asleep on stage, where can she be placed? She can’t be too much in the way of what’s going on, but she also needs to be close enough for Oberon to ensorcel her and for Bottom to wake her. Students will experiment with different options and determine which they think is most effective.
  • Perspectives: Courtship Rituals examines the social context of the romantic troubles in the play. How would Shakespeare’s audience have perceived Egeus’s ruthless inflexibility and Hermia’s defiance? What implications of pre-contracted betrothals are in the play?
  • Staging Challenges: Actors Playing Actors. The well-meant shenanigans of the Mechanicals can illuminate some potential clues about Shakespeare’s own theatrical world. In this activity, your students will first explore the rehearsal process that Quince, Bottom, and the rest display, and then will prepare their own production of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’. We expect the result to be far more mirthful than tragical.
  • Perspectives: Fairies explores the changing nature of the fae in literature, from its darker origins in English folklore to the benign transformation effected by the Victorians and Disney. Students will choose a source as inspiration for costume design in their vision of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  • Textual Variants: Examines a curious difference in speech prefixes between the Quarto and Folio versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which I discussed in my last post).
  • Creative writing exercises based on the play, involving imitating Pyramus’s questionable poetry or giving relationship advice to one of the lovers
  • A guide to producing a 1-hour version of the play in your classroom

If you would like to purchase a downloadable copy of the study guide for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or any of our other available titles, please visit our website. Next up on the slate: Henry V.

Call Philostrate and/or Egeus

Working on the OCS Study Guide for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’ve had my first chance in a while to examine differences between Quarto and Folio versions of a text. Intern Kim Lenz prepared the Textual Variants section for the Hamlet study guide, and everything else I’ve worked on since the end of last season has been a text which only exists in the Folio. I knew that, looking at Midsummer, I wanted to find a Quarto/Folio variation, rather than looking at a choice made by modern editors. I found a great opportunity for exploration in 5.1, when Duke Theseus is debating who to select for the post-nuptial entertainment. In the Quarto edition of the text, Theseus reads off the list of potential entertainments and responds to himself. His servant Philostrate responds to the idea of watching the Mechanicals’ version of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe.’ In the Folio version of the text, however, Lysander reads off the list to Theseus, and Egeus attempts to dissuade him.

Quarto Version

Folio Version

What interested me about this isn’t just that the speech prefixes get reassigned — what I find particularly intriguing is that almost nothing else changes between the two versions. Throughout the conversation and the itemization of theatrical endeavors, most of the spellings and puncutation remain consistent between the editions. Even the least-orthodox of the spelling variations — “muſicke”, “Wee’l”, “tipſie”, “vſuall” — remain the same between the Quarto and the Folio. At Philostrate’s/Egeus’s speech beginning “A play there is,” inconsistencies begin to appear, but until that point, it looks as though whoever did the typesetting for the Folio copied the Quarto nearly identically — except for the prefixes.

The striking similarities in typesetting, despite the considerable change to the speech prefixes, really makes me wonder what the cause for that change was. Could this be an example of the Folio text reflecting a change to the play-as-produced? Somewhere between 1600 and 1623, did Shakespeare the author, or the King’s Men as a company, decide that the scene worked better as a dialogue between Lysander and Theseus? Did a new doubling mean that whoever played Philostrate in 1.1 could not be available for this section of text? This change seems too large and too deliberate to have been an error, since it involves not only reassigning speech prefixes but also breaking a monologue into a dialogue. There must have been a reason — but we’re not ever likely to find out what that reason was. This textual variant offers a tantalizing opportunity for speculation — just the sort of intellectual and imaginative experiment that makes working with early modern texts so intriguing.

Hamlet Study Guide now available

I am pleased and proud to announce that the Hamlet OCS Study Guide is now available for purchase online!Here is a ten-page preview, for your viewing enjoyment. This Study Guide covers the following:

  • Our Basics: getting students on their feet, giving them ownership of specific sections of text, exploring iambic pentameter and the rhythms of prose, discovering acting choices, paraphrasing, introductory level rhetoric, how to turn your classroom into an early modern stage, and the hidden guidance of embedded stage directions and audience contact
  • 15 questions your students will ask (Did Ophelia kill herself? Is Hamlet in love with his mother?) and how to deal with them.
  • Staging Challenges: Darkness — The opening scene of Hamlet is one of the best examples of how Shakespeare uses his staging conditions and the talents of his actors in order to set a mood. Your students will explore the information Shakespeare provides about how to “act darkness.”
  • Perspectives: Catching Consciences — Did early modern theatre improve the moral judgment of its audiences, or did it lead them into lives of sin? How did this viewpoint influence Hamlet’s attempt to learn Claudius’s guilt through The Mouse-trap? And how does media continue to influence behavior — or does it?
  • Staging Challenges: Heard and Overheard — Hamlet’s most famous monologue, “To be or not to be,” is not, as it often gets portrayed in media, a soliloquy. Ophelia, Claudius, and Polonius are all listening — but is Hamlet aware of that? Your students will explore the different opportunities presented by this scene and how those choices can affect the audience’s perception of Hamlet’s “antic disposition.”
  • Staging Challenges: Placed to the View — Hamlet ends in a bloodbath, so what do you do with all of those bodies left on stage? Your students will explore the staging of the play’s final moments, working through both the technical requirements and the emotional potential.
  • Rhetoric: Matter and Art — Polonius talks a lot, and how he says something is often as important as what he says. Your students will look in-depth at his use of two different rhetorical figures to examine what that can tell an actor about his character.
  • Textual Variants — Hamlet exists in several early modern editions, with notable variations between them. In this activity, your students will examine some differences between Quarto 1, the supposedly “bad” quarto, and the Folio-standard text.
  • Perspectives: Revenge Tragedies — Hamlet fits in with the popular early modern genre of the revenge tragedy, a tradition which gave the stage a number of bloody spectacles and philosophical quandries. Your students will explore Hamlet‘s similarities and differences to two other early modern revenge tragedies, The Spanish Tragedy and The Revenger’s Tragedy, looking at ghosts, poisoned skulls, and the on-stage presence of death.
  • Production Choices — How did Shakespeare’s company actually go through the process of putting on a play? How does the OCS negotiate those same challenges today? Your students will explore cutting a script, doubling, casting, and other technical aspects of production. This activity also includes instructions for producing a 1-hour version of the play in your classroom.

If you would like to purchase a downloadable PDF of the Hamlet Study Guide (or any of the others currently available), please visit our website. I’m plugging away at the guide for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I hope to have available soon!

Second Issue of The Playhouse Insider — Now on Sale!

I’m pleased to announce that the second issue of The Playhouse Insider is now available for purchase online. You can purchase access to the downloadable PDF or you can request a mail order print copy. Print copies will soon be available for purchase in our box office at the Blackfriars Playhouse as well.

Inside This Issue:

  • Introducing the Summer and Fall Seasons and the Almost Blasphemy Tour.
  • Nick Hutchison, director of our 2004 The Importance of Being Earnest, discusses the challenges and opportunities presented by producing an 1895 play on an early modern stage.
  • Ralph Alan Cohen, the OCS’s Director of Mission and director of this season’s Henry V, shares his thoughts about the play as Shakespeare’s essay on the theatre and imagination.
  • Touring actors Denice Burbach and Rick Blunt talk about the unique life they live on the road with the OCS on Tour.
  • Christina Sayer Grey examines the storytelling structure of Shakespeare’s romances, specifically the devices at work in The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale.
  • Eminent Marlovian scholar Roslyn Knutson discusses why Tamburlaine is her personal hero.
  • Teachers Kerry Kisa and Linda Nicholson share tales of what makes trips to the Blackfriars Playhouse such a transformative experience for their students.

I hope you enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at the Summer and Fall Seasons and the Almost Blasphemy Tour. I’ve already begun putting together the articles for our Winter-Spring issue, which will highlight the shows in the 2012 Actors’ Renaissance Season, and which will also check back in with the Tour in preparation for their Spring Season residence in the Blackfriars Playhouse.

Echoes and Ghosts

I had the good fortune last week to be able to watch a dress rehearsal for Henry V, which opens on the 16th. It got me thinking about the performance echoes that resonate in that building. I don’t mean the actual quality of the sound (although our wooden space is quite nice for that as well) — I mean the almost metaphysical residue of past performances, the ghosts floating along, superimposed over the present.

With our company, the echoes are always present in some form. It’s impossible not to encounter them, especially when you see all of the sixteen plays we present each year. The cast performs in ensemble and in repertory, the same actors in different plays not just in the same season, but often returning year-to-year. When you’ve seen them take on dozens of roles, there are always some funny quips or interesting comparisons to draw. Watching Henry V, however, there were two moments that struck me particularly hard. They seem to echo a bit louder than they might otherwise, thanks to the Rise and Fall of Kings series that the OCS has been producing for the past few years. The characters in Henry V exist not in isolation, but stretching back, into the Henry IVs, which we’ve produced in our Fall Seasons since 2008, and forward, into the Henry VIs, which have been part of our Actors’ Renaissance Seasons since 2009. This, I think, is the real benefit to doing the history cycles the way we’ve done them: the connections weave in and out of each other, creating a richer and more complex theatrical experience than seeing any one of those plays in isolation would be.

The first moment which pulled at those threads for me was almost at the very beginning of the play, in Henry’s first scene, when he enters and takes unquestioned command of his surroundings. His nobles fall in ranks behind him, and he sits in the throne with full and unwavering ownership of it. Gregory Jon Phelps plays Henry for us in this production, and this scene reminded me, immediately and strikingly, of watching him play Henry VI earlier this year, in Henry VI, Part 3 during our Actors’ Renaissance Season. The visual made for a striking contradiction: bold, assured, confident Henry V versus weak, uncertain, yielding Henry VI. Henry VI never seemed comfortable in his throne, never quite gave off that aura that he knew, in his marrow, that it was his. Henry V has no doubt. Even when he contemplates what it means to be a king, what burdens that means he has to bear, he doesn’t question what he is. There’s a grounded certainty to Henry V that his successor lacks. With Phelps playing both of those roles in the same year, they both, in a way, exist on stage at the same time. Trailing along beside Henry V is the faint shadow of his yet-unborn, but already-seen, son.

The other moment which I thought striking was Fluellen, played by James Keegan, in the following exchange:

FLUELLEN
I speak but in the figures and comparisons of it: as
Alexander killed his friend Cleitus, being in his
ales and his cups; so also Harry Monmouth, being in
his right wits and his good judgments, turned away
the fat knight with the great belly-doublet: he
was full of jests, and gipes, and knaveries, and
mocks; I have forgot his name.

GOWER
Sir John Falstaff.

FLUELLEN
That is he.

There’s something both sad and a little alarming there — because, of course, Keegan played Falstaff for us the past two years, in Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2, and in The Merry Wives of Windsor. The line “I have forgot his name” would be meaningful from any actor, at least for anyone who’s seen the Henry IV plays — because who could forget a character John Falstaff? But to have that line come from the mouth of the actor who played Falstaff, who laid down his stuffed doublet in the epilogue, saying, “This is not the man,” it’s somehow that much more poignant. It helps, too, that Gower is played by Allison Glenzer, who also plays Mistress Quickly (and has done in the earlier shows in this history cycle as well). The moment of vague remembrance here, towards the end of the play, recalls the earlier scene when Quickly, Pistol, Nim, Bardolph, and the Boy mourn Falstaff, weeping and laughing and telling tales. Falstaff’s ghost hovers more prominently than does Henry VI’s, because Shakespeare wrote the awareness of his death into the play — but Keegan as Fluellen augments that memento mori tremendously.

These intangible connections between shows are part of why I always hope that students will come to see us not just for one play, but over and over again — I think if they can watch the ghosts, as I do, and see the same actors doing something completely different, they’ll realize more fully how the magic of theatre lies not solely in the text, flat on the page, but in those words given life by the relationship created by an actor’s skill and an audience’s attention.