Spring Thesis Festival – Session 2, Part 2

Following Elissa Dubinsky in the second session of today’s thesis project festival, Sarah Keyes presented Puppets on the Early Modern Stage. Puppet shows were a popular form of entertainment in early modern England, but we know little of how puppet shows were incorporated into the drama of the period. Most of the evidence surrounding these shows is from provincial records and the terms themselves are fluid: for instance, puppet shows were sometimes called “motions.” She points to The Blind Beggar of Bednall Green and Bartholemew Fair as a primary examples of plays that feature puppet shows, and cites multiple quotes from the latter play that make reference to puppet shows. Keyes points to Henslow’s diary, which lists dragons and dogs as properties, and dumb shows by Luprene that suggest that the actors used puppets rather than dressing up as animals to perform the dumb shows. The B text of Doctor Faustus, has a stage direction, enter a devil, Mephistophiles, in the shape of a dragon, and Keyes suggests that the dragon was a puppet. Keyes argues that the dragon/devil (synonymous terms in the early modern period) would have come through the trap in the floor, as the woodcuts and the cue in the promptbook suggest, and demonstrates her argument with a successful staging. In discussing the terms, “puppet”–which during the early modern period had derogratory connotations of frivolity, emptyheadedness, or religious idolotry–and “motion”–gestures, bodily movements, impulses of the mind and body–Keyes demonstrates that puppet shows deal with base humour, bodily functions, religious satire, or frivolity.

Spring Thesis Festival – Session 2, Part 1

Hi everyone, I’m back. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll be helping Sarah Keyes with her presentation this afternoon, so I’ve recruited fellow graduate student Victoria Reinsel to keep things up to date while I operate a puppet.

First up, we’ll have MFA candidate Elissa Dubinksy presenting “Staging Henry IV, Part 1 in the Classroom: Using Dramaturgical Practices to Teach Shakespeare through Performance.” Dubinsky starts off by introducing her approach to dramaturgy as being the sort that is geared more toward the classroom than for performance. She highlights, however, the importance of performance in understanding the work of Shakespeare, and details some of her dramatrgical work as a teacher’s assistant in introducing a performance based-curriculum toward understanding the play. The introduction to the performance based curriculum had some predictable difficulties, requiring instructor intervention to highlight what stage actions were communicated through the lines of the text, but it was not long before they were discovering these moments on their own. It was from these experiences that led Dubinsky to develop a modern performance edition for students.

In preparing this edition, she used the Moby Shakespeare as it was an electronic, public domain text in modern spelling. She keeps Shakespeare’s text separated from the comments on stage directions, and uses footnotes doe individual word definitions. She also highlights the contrast between explicit stage directions and embedded ones, citing Gadshill’s need to borrow a lantern in 1 Henry IV as an example. Her performance text highlights clues within the text of the scene to suggest stage action that could create meaning in performance. She explores other scenes from 1 Henry IV, including Falstaff’s boasting of his fight and wounds during the robbery, Glendwr and Hotspur arguing over the map, and Falstaff’s mocking of the king, Hal’s father.

The crux of Dubinsky’s argument lies in the acceptance that literature students are too unfamiliar with staging conventions to envision dramatic possibilities on their own. The edits she has made to the text are to, in her words, help her students “see the text through a theatrical lens.” In Q&A Justin Schneider (who was heard form this morning) points out that there may be a danger in making these directions too specific as it limits the imaginative possibilities of the scene. Although Dubinsky argues that she has attempted to keep the directions vague enough to allow for interpretation, another audience member suggests phrasing these directions as questions. Dubinsky admits that she hadn’t considered that, but stands by her affirmation that she wants to keep the focus of her edition on students who are less familiar with reading Shakespeare as a performance text.

And now I need to run down to the trap room to get ready to unleash a dragon, so I’ll turn this over to Victoria.

Spring Thesis Festival – Session 1

Mary Baldwin College’s M.Litt/MFA Spring 2010 Thesis Festival is here, and right out of the starting gate we’ve got Veronica Watts, presenting “Meeting Virginia State 9th grade Language Arts Standards of Learning Through Best Practices Instruction of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.” Watts explores survey statistics analyzing how Virginia teachers approach teaching the texts of Shakespeare in general, and Romeo and Juliet in particular. She explores issues that educators face, such as administrators who are opposed paying actors to perform in their schools. Watts also explores some approaches to teaching Shakespeare using performative components.

Next we have Justin Schneider presenting “Live Nude Dramaturgy.” Schneider begins by declaring his preference for the question “why a dramaturg” as opposed to “what is a dramaturg.” He compares the use of a dramaturg in a production to visiting Italy with a knowledgeable tour guide as opposed to just a guidebook. He establishes the ethical responsibility of the dramaturg as someone whom, if incorrect, will likely not be noticed as such. For his presentation, Schneider demonstrates the dramaturgical process by having his actors read through a scene and ask him follow up questions.

Concluding our morning session we have Bonnie Morrison presenting “Country Clowns to City Wits: Kempe, Armin, and the Development of Shakespeare’s Fools.” As the title of her thesis predicts, Morrison reviews some of the changes in the development of clowns between when Will Kempe left the Chamberlain’s Men and was replaced by Robert Armin, but her thesis is that both of these men may have been members of the Chamberlain’s Men at the same time. Morrison cites the fact that Kempe referred to himself as one of the Chamberlain’s Men during his nine day’s Morris dance to Norwich. There is no clear evidence to indicate why Kempe left the Chamberlain’s, but the plays in the Worcester’s Men’s repertory seem to be less conducive to his particular clowning style. Hamlet, Morrison points out, has roles for two clowns, the first and second gravediggers, and was written at the time when both men would have been in the Chamberlain’s simultaneously, if in fact they were.

Bringing the morning session to a wrap, we’ll break for the moment and be back a little bit later with some more

William Proctor Williams

The distinguished bibliographic and textual scholar William Proctor Williams, author of An Introduction to Bibliographical and Textual Studies, visited the Blackfriars for a Q&A session today, and I’m pleased to say that I got to sit in on it. Over the course of the session, Williams addressed questions related to Early Electronic Books Online (EEBO), and by students interested in creating their own editions of some early-modern works for performance and/or publication.

On the question of EEBO, Williams talked about some of the problems he had with the collection. “The problem with EEBO is that it is digitizing from microfilm, which was done badly over a period of about 70 years,” he says. The manuscripts were initially photographed to microfilm, and then the EEBO collection was created using microfilm, but the quality of the microfilm itself may have bad. This process is still being done, and the Williams feels that the quality and accuracy of the procedure is “not great.” He cites an instance of reading through a large book and discovering that the text stopped abruptly, and he found himself through another large book; attributing this to the original photographers leaving a text half-finished over night, and not remembering which text to start from the next day.

Williams highlights some other problems with EEBO: you can’t tell anything about the paper, blind strikes (when the type made a mark on the paper, but there was no ink on the type), and that you can’t use the Povey system (which lets you see where type has pressed through the paper, and thus can help determine which side was printed first). More recent online databases, such as Shakespeare Quartos Online, do color photo scans of quartos without resorting to microfilm copy. Williams concludes that “A print on your wall of the Mona Lisa doesn’t have any effect on the Mona Lisa. That’s what EEBO is. It’s a copy of a document, and we need to think about it as such. These databases are really good for some things.”

On the topic of preparing editions, Williams says “I am an editor, and we do terrible things, and that’s why things need to be re-edited.” The myth of a definitive edition is exactly that because no one edition will serve all circumstances. When asked how one should treat a text for which the author is unknown (by yours truly), Williams replied to “treat it like Hamlet.” Williams also asserts that “No play was ever printed from foul papers, and feel free to quote me on this, no printer would accept it.” Printers couldn’t afford to have their apprentices spend time trying to decipher a playwright’s individual hand, and so the material they set their type from still would not have come from the hand of the author. Since all texts of the period went through fundamentally the same editing process, there is no reason to treat the texts any differently.

Thanks to William Proctor Williams for answering our questions, and to Paul Menzer from Mary Baldwin College’s M.Litt/MFA program for arranging this event.

Welcome to the OCS’s Education Blog

Hi everyone, remember me? I’m that guy who reported on the 2009 American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Conference, and they apparently liked it so much that they want me to keep all you good people of the Internet updated on the goings on here in the OCS’s Education department. We start off with a teacher seminar keynote presented by Kendra Preston Leonard.

Here’s a subject very near and dear to my heart: sound design; or in this case, sound and music on the Shakespearean stage. Having spent nearly a decade calling myself a sound designer, I have a keen feeling about how music can affect a play. The right soundtrack will clarify and enhance a good production, or will shrewdly subvert the text. In this teacher seminar’s keynote,Leonard examines the use of music on stage and film, citing the Roman Polanksi Macbeth, which uses traditional music for the domestic scenes of the Macbeth household, and a modern band for the scenes of the witches.
A further example is Tim Supple’s 2003 Twelfth Night, which uses four different musical cultures in the film: “high art” (i.e. The Magic Flute) indian, folk, and rock. Supple uses these four different musical cultures to reflect the cultural conflict that he explores in his production, in which Viola and Sebastian are East Indian refugees in London. Different types of music also help underscore (pun intended) Viola’s transformation in Cesario and her assimilation in the different cultures of the world of London. “Hold thy Peace” is a raucous hard rock jam, for example, and in Feste’s finale, all four musical elements are brought together.
Leonard contrasts this with She’s the Man, which cuts much of the plot to set Twelfth Night in a prep school environment. This is perhaps useful for showing students how the modernization of Shakespare’s language often falls flat. Much of the Twelfth Night‘s plot is subverted to the idea of “girl power:” this Viola is able to out-do the men in soccer and academia, and still be able to be the feminine debutante that her mother wants her to be. Here the music helps underscore the different gender roles that Viola plays as she switches them throughout the course of the movie. 

Following the keynote on the use of music and film in teaching the plays, discussion follows about the various ways that music can be used in the classroom to help illuminate the shows. Some of the ways suggested include having students come p with their own music for the shows, and even creating their own music for the “Hold thy Peace” catch in Twelfth night if conditions permit. All of which are great exercises for an introductory sound design class, in this humble sound designer’s opinion.