Blackfriars Conference 2013 — The End of Shakespeare’s Verse?, Part 2

Hi, I’m Charlene V. Smith and I’ll be taking over the live blogging from Molly for part 2 of The End of Shakespeare’s Verse?, from 10am-11am, specifically Giles Block’s section of the presentation.

While listening to the Patrick Spottiswoode’s introduction, it struck me that the word ‘end’ has several meanings within the question Giles Block and Abigail Rokison are asking. What is the end of Shakespeare’s verse, i.e., what is the purpose of Shakespeare’s verse? Where is the end of Shakespeare’s verse, i.e. what does lineation tell us about theatrical delivery? Is Shakespeare’s verse ending, i.e., are we losing Shakespeare’s verse in modern performance, or even, perhaps, should we lose Shakespeare’s verse in modern performance?

Block opens by admitting that it is difficult to describe to people what he does. Mark Rylance calls him, “the ear on the play.” Block will work with American Shakespeare Center actors René Thornton, Jr., Allison Glenzer, John Harrell, and Benjamin Curns to reveal what he does in the rehearsal room.

Block asks, what do we do with enjambments, when a thought runs over from one line of iambic pentameter into the next? He says there are three ways, using some example text from The Merchant of Venice.

1. with the punctuation: When I told you My state was nothing, I should then have told you That I was worse than nothingBlock notes that this is not how Shakespeare wrote the line.

2. a thought and a breath goes together, delivering the line in a single breath, without any pauses. Block notes that this doesn’t sound like spontaneous speech, like us coming up with words as we speak.

3. Block suggests following the form. We acknowledge there is a single thought, but it is expressed in three parts
When I told you
My state was nothing, I should then have told you
That I was worse than nothing.

He believes this replicates the way we speak and achieves clarity of expression, and also opens a window onto how the speaker is feeling. He argues that the more a speaker is feeling something, the more the speeches get enjambed.

In Macbeth, the enjambments aren’t necessarily associated with moments of high joy or sorrow, but just the way people are speaking all the time. As an example, John Harrell performs a Malcolm speech from 4.3 of Macbeth: “It is myself I mean.” Block points out that most of the lines do not have a punctuation mark at the end. This speech is about comparison. Macbeth and Malcolm. Black and pure as snow. Block asks Harrell to deliver again, following the verse structure more. Block feels that the line ending is never arbitrary, and can help bring greater emphasis to the first stress of the next line. Block asks for the speech a third time, using the “my” in the final line a bit more (“With my confineless harms.”). Block notes that he never wants to know what an actor is doing at the end of the line – he doesn’t call it a pause. Block notes that enjambment are a hallmark of an active mind when engaged in speaking.

The next example is “Cure her of that,” performed by Thornton, Jr. Block says that this speech has a different sound; the speaker’s mind is not busy formulating persuasive arguments. Instead we hear deep longing and Macbeth’s need to disburden himself of this knowledge. Blocks asks Thornton, Jr. to think about the sounds of the speech. We go from ‘m’ sounds to ‘r’ sounds to ‘s’ sounds: minister, mind, memory; raze, troubles, brain; some, sweet, cleanse, stuffed, bosom, stuff. Block says the m’s sound like longing, s’s sound like secrets, whispering. Using Block’s adjustments, Thornton, Jr. gives a moving reading of those lines.

Block says the problem with Macbeth is that we know it too well. We all could be saying these words along with the actors. Block says this is too bad; if only we could forget it, because he feels there is something about this play that makes it stand out. The original audience would have been less familiar with this story, unlike other Shakespeare plays many of which had a preceding theatrical version (Other early modern plays exist about Richard III, Henry V, King Lear, and Hamlet, for example). The play is actually quite weird and enigmatic. It takes until the seventh scene of the play before we hear the first major speech which says the things that haven’t been said up unto this point. Block characterizes this speech as exposition happening deep within the play.

Next Block works with Allison Glenzer on Lady Macbeth’s speech at the end of this same scene. In this speech we learn the back story. Macbeth has sworn to kill the king, which we don’t see during the play. They’ve talked about this and made a pact before the play begins. Blocks says this information helps everything fall into place. Lady Macbeth’s behavior makes sense. The vagueness of their previous conversations makes sense. Block says Macbeth is already guilty when the witches talk to him. The baby that is mentioned is the topic they never talk of, because it is too painful. Block asks Glenzer to make “time” and “place” sound different and to use the “know” more. He asks her to find little phrases which he characterizes as “pop-up thoughts.” He points out “whilst it was smiling in my face” as an example of this. Glenzer’s powerful performance is met by ‘ooo’s by the audience. Block gives Glenzer a couple more notes, and she performs the speech again. The dynamic result seems to leave the audience breathless.

Next Block returns to the top of this scene, to the “If it were done” speech. He has given the actors the speech broken up into thought units, which they read unit by unit. Block is interested by soliloquies and to whom they are spoken. Yes, they are spoken to the audience, but to which part? Block has a feeling that the early part of this speech isn’t for the groundlings. Block argues that Macbeth is saying the first lines to his non-present wife. Perhaps practicing for the conversation they planned to have later: “we will speak further.” The actors demonstrate, with Glenzer representing the absent Lady Macbeth. Harrell says this exercise has made him see this first line in a new light: “If it were done, WHEN ’tis done,” i.e. “if the leaves get raked… WHEN the leaves get raked.”

This is no time in Macbeth, that is what makes the story work, and that is why there is no early exposition: there is no time for it. Block suggests the speech shifts on “This even-handed Justice.” Now it is less about talking to Lady Macbeth; perhaps Macbeth is speaking to the gods, looking for answers. The actors continue working the speech in this manner. Curns makes a fOCSinating choice to take back to Lady Macbeth the line about being Duncan’s host. For the next step, Block asks where we should place Lady Macbeth since we can’t actually have her on stage. Block points out that there’s something about how the imagery moves upwards: heaven, angels, etc. He points that out and also asks the actors to use the intimacy of this space in their delivery.

In the final moments, Block looks at Macbeth’s speech “Within this hour.” In his example text, Block has marked all the pop-up ideas with parentheses. Curns reads the speech, leaving those marked thoughts out. The sense and story is still clear. Block notes that Macbeth has all these add-ons and it is in the add-ons where the character resides. Curns does the speech again, this time with the add-ons. Block lists two ways to do an add-on: either drop them down, or make them more important than the surrounding text.

Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Folger Digital Texts

I’m Charlene V. Smith and I’m live blogging Saturday’s Lunch and Learn Session featuring a website demonstration by Michael Poston and Rebecca Niles of the Folger Digital Texts.

Niles opens the presentation by describing the basics of the Folger Digital Texts. FDT are XML-encoded versions of the Folger Shakespeare Library Editions. They are a free and reliable resource, professionally edited by Paul Werstine and Barbara Mowat. The XML infrastructure means that every word, space, and punctuation mark has its own identifier within the code. Currently this project has published online the play-texts of fifteen plays. They can be read online or copied and pasted for offline use. All of the source code is also available for download.

From the website you can download the code as well as documentation about how the code works. An audience members asks what the benefit of downloading the code would be, instead of the regular text. Niles explains that the code has information embedded which you can alter if you need to. For example, you could run a code that pulls out all of Romeo’s speeches.

While in the play menu section of the website, you can search through the text, make comparisons, or read an individual play. When you call up a play, the left side of the screen displays a table of contents, allowing for quick moving around. You can also skip to a particular act, scene, and line number. These texts are also coded with Through Line Numbering. Every navigation choice you make reloads a new URL. This feature is a powerful help, as you can save a URL to a particular line or speech. For example, here is Juliet’s most famous line. Niles notes, in response to audience questions, that they would like to move towards a more sophisticated search function. Because they were adding one text at a time, and thus there wasn’t much information to search through at first, such a search function wasn’t a high priority initially.

Poston next takes over the presentation to talk about the future of FDT and the implications of this coding project. Poston tells us about the F21 project, a project designed to enhance the EEBO coding of early modern drama in order to make hundreds of new plays readily available. He displays an example of Massacre at Paris. For this play, like many others, we don’t have a clean, edited text to start with, unlike the plays by Shakespeare. Poston has also been working on an API for FDT, which allows you to interact with the text on a single word basis, calling up information on whether there are alternate readings, where the word is located in a text, and who speaks the word. The API also can identify what characters are on stage during a particular line, and what characters are included in a particular stage direction. This information can be placed into chart form. This feature is currently a work in progress. The audience is excited by the possibilities for doubling charts this feature could have.

They are also developing textual notes which would display the Folger’s punctuation versus Folio punctuation, and other such textual variants. Poston tells the audience that they are still working on how to make this information accessible, while remaining a readable text. They also intend to create an annotation environment which can link information, sound, video, and pictures to specific words or moments in the text.

Poston and Niles discuss the issues and questions they’ve struggled with while developing FDT. Print allows you to be ambiguous in a way that coding does not. In coding the character is either onstage or he is offstage. Poston points out a moment in Shrew in which servants enter – Which servants? How many? Which servant is the one that Petruchio hits? Which servant is the first one to exit? Which servant is Nathaniel and which is Peter? How do you code ambiguity? Poston has come up with a decimal system that allows you to put in what you know, but leave in other possibilities. Messengers.x.1 could be the same as Messengers.x.2, but doesn’t have to be. Macbeth has 3 murders, but also moments where a murderer is non-specified. These would be coded as Murderers.1, Murderers.2, Murderers.3, and then Murderers.x, which could be either 1, 2, or 3.

This coding also allows for the creation of parts (cue scripts) that includes the pertinent stage directions. These are still a work in progress and unpolished. So though some of them are published to the internet, they are not yet readily available from the main webpage. They are also developing WIT scripts (for witness) that would display the scenes in which a certain character is present.

The challenge they are facing is adding functionality to the website without being theatrically or textually prescriptive.

Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Colloquy Session XV: Critical Theory

Hello, Charlene V. Smith here again, live blogging Colloquy Session XV on Critical Theory. This session is co-chaired by Janna Segal and Donald Hedrick and the other participants are Matt Kozusko, Matt Davies, James Keegan, and Paul Menzer.

Segal opens the panel by introducing the panelists and noting that the specific topic of this panel is theoretical approaches to character and characterization in the Shakespearean canon.

James Keegan – “An Epilogue to Henry IV, Part 2: The Liminal Moment and the Actor-Character”

Keegan admits to theory fear upfront owing mostly to his experience as an actor. For this panel, Keegan continues his thoughts about the epilogue of 2 Henry IV, some of which many of us heard yesterday in a paper session. He describes the epilogue as a liminal moment between actor and character, but also liminal in space between the historical moment of the play and the moment of performance. Keegan grounds his discussion in the work of Gregory Currie who writes that film exerts “fictive dominance.” Keegan argues that a theatrical space like the Blackfriars allows for a fictive fluidity which is fuller and more gratifying for an audience than a situation in which the fiction is dominant. In the epilogue, character and actor exist at the same time to equal degrees.

Matt Kozusko

Kozusko notes that the word ‘character’ does more work than we typically think. The word is defined in multiple ways. Pointing to the paper session we just saw, Kozusko argues that Iago’s character is defined by responding to the audience, and in that way, he’s not actually changing. Kozusko argues that when we define Shakespeare’s characters, we are influenced by factors beyond Shakespeare himself. These characters are inflected with extra-Shakespearean influences and expectations that in turn become a part of the characters and how we read them. Keegan wonders about aware audiences versus unaware audiences, using the example of Falstaff’s fake death. Audiences in-the-know will read this moment with the knowledge that Falstaff is pretending to be dead. New audiences, however, react very differently, and may be honestly surprised when Falstaff stands back up.

Matt Davies – “Drawing Shakespearean characters in black and/or white: conflicting methodologies in the contemporary rehearsal room”

Davies finds that actors and directors are finding themselves adjudicating between competing conceptions of character in the rehearsal room. First, is character in its original, lexical meaning: the typeface on a page. Second, is the psychological realists who build inner life from the subtext. Davies notes that many practitioners are now trying to balance those two systems, particularly when performing Shakespeare. Drawing from his experience co-directing (with Doreen Bechtol) Pericles for the MLitt Shakespeare and Performance program, Davies looks at how we can use text and subtext in a way that will co-habit the early modern and the modern conceptions of character. He posits that maybe we should operate both systems concurrently in the rehearsal room, rather than blending them. Davies found noticeable differences in the ways students responded to the rehearsal process. Scott Campbell, who played Pericles, constructed his character from the line out, basing his work on rhetorical structuring. Amy Grubbs, who played Marina, began with a powerful super-objective which influenced the rest of her work. Davies notes that these two approaches actually fit the characters themselves, arguing that Marina has a much richer inner life than Pericles.

Janna Segal – “Whom love hath turned almost the wrong side out”: Exploring the Transversality of the Tragic Lovers in Othello

Segal’s paper looks at the relationship between Emilia, Desdemona, and Othello to demonstrate a theoretical model developed by Bryan Reynolds and others. Segal argues that the behaviors of these characters would have caused ruptures in the contemporary audience’s ideology. Shakespeare’s representation of amorous desire interrogated dominant conceptualizations of gender and sexuality. In another example, Segal argues that Jacquenetta and Don Armado are the most subversive characters of Love’s Labour’s Lost because they are the most hopeful, despite being types that aren’t supposed to end up together. Segal points out that the usefulness of this theory is that it gives characters more agency than they are usually thought of to have, an idea which actors can directly apply to the rehearsal room.

Paul Menzer – The 4th Unity

Menzer opens by defining theory as a way of organizing and answering questions. Theory is not something to be afraid of, but something of which to be aware. Over the past couple of years, Menzer has been interested in AC Bradley who haunts all questions of Shakespearean character. Bradley’s work is the most discredited scholarly work of the 20th century, but at the same time has a major influence within the rehearsal room. Menzer’s working thesis is that character is a system of organization. Character is the 4th unity (next to time, place, and action); it binds together the many elements of performance, such as costumes, properties, architecture, etc. Characters are effects created by a range of distributed meanings, rather than an agent that causes things to happen. Individual character is a mystification of theatrical effect and collaboration. It takes a lot of people to make a person on the stage.

Don Hedrick – “Fun: the Shakespearean Actor-Character and Entertainment Value”

Hendrick’s paper responds in a way to Menzer’s paper, asking what happens when that organizing principle refuses to organize? Following our focus on Falstaff, Hendrick points to his moment of playing dead as anti-theatrical: we don’t pay to watch someone sleep on stage. Hendrick is interested in the entertainment value of character and how they create multiple pleasures for the audience. How do they make the most return in the least amount of time, a successful element of wooing scenes of Lady Anne in Richard III and Katherine in Henry V? 

Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Paper Session VII

Hello, I’m Charlene V. Smith and I’ll be live blogging Paper Session VII, running from 1:00pm to 2:15pm on Friday, October 25. The moderator for this panel is Peggy O’Brien from the Folger Shakespeare Library. The panelists are joined by American Shakespeare actors Tracie Thomason, Dylan Paul, John Harrell, Benjamin Curns, and Allison Glenzer, and Whitney Egbert from the Shakespeare Forum.

Roslyn Knutson, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Everything is interesting about the lost play, ‘Gowrie’

Knutson’s first point is simple: lost plays should be a serious part of the conversation in early modern scholarship. Her paper today is specifically on ‘Gowrie‘. John Chamberlain describes ‘Gowrie’ as a tragedy, twice represented by the King’s Players, and refers to displeasure over the play due to it’s presentation of a living prince on the stage. Our knowledge of the plot of this lost play comes from the pamphlet Gowrie’s Conspiracy which describes an assassination plot on 5th August 1600 involving James VI of Scotland. During ‘Gowrie’s’ composition, London playhouses were closed due to the plague. The King’s Players may have considered the Globe, due to open in the fall, and the court as possible playing spaces for this piece. But Knutson wonders why would the newly minted King’s Men chose this risky play in 1604? The likeliest motive is a simple one: they thought the King would be flattered.

Sybille Bruun, The Shakespeare Forum, You That Way, We This Way – Letters and Possibilities in Love’s Labour’s Lost

Bruun, who directed Love’s Labour’s Lost recently in New York, investigates how a textual ambiguity has shaped the character of Costard. Bruun directed this play recently in New York. In rehearsals, the actor playing Costard asked her questions about why he does what he does. In act four, Costard delivers two letters, one from Berowne to Rosalind, and one from Don Armado to Jaquenetta. He misdelivers these letters. Why? If he can’t read, he may misdeliver the letters accidentally. He may also be able to judge the superscripts and choses to misdeliver them. Bruun also points out that Armado’s letter may have been folded differently, allowing Costard to tell the difference. One again, he could purposely give the wrong letter. Bruun, with the help of actors Curns, Glenzer, and Egbert, shows that the Princess could hand the letter to Rosalind or back to Costard after discover that the letter isn’t for Rosalind. If Costard doesn’t get the letter back, he purposely choses to give the remaining, wrong letter to Jaquenetta. This choice gives Costard agency and perhaps even some maliciousness, traits we don’t typically associate with this character. This question hinges on the Princess’ line, “Put up this; twill be thine another day.” Bruun notes that editorial tradition closes down the possibilities of this moment by noting that the Princess is giving the letter to Rosalind. While talking to actors and directors who had worked on this play in the past, Bruun discovered that it hadn’t occurred to them that there was another choice to back beyond what the edited text told them was happening in this moment. Bruun says we need a greater awareness of how the communities of academia and theatre interact with each other, and to realize that we don’t need to pigeonhole ourselves or others.

Andrew Blasenak, Emory and Henry College, “I would you were as I would have you be”: Negotiation of Character with/for/by an Interactive Audience

While in the modern theatre, audiences assume characters are set from performance to performance, at early modern re-creation theatres, audience interaction has the possibility of changing performance and character. Blasenak argues that character arises from the interaction of actor and audience and the reaction of the audience to the actor. In interviews with Blasenak, actors didn’t speak of finding character in rehearsal, but on finding “what works.” “What works” is hard to define; it is a sense of something clicking, of causing an audience’s heightened attention. The uncertainty of audience response makes acting in this style like windsurfing, according to one Globe actor. Jim Warren of the American Shakespeare Center calls this form of theatre, “improvising with a script.” Blasenak discusses some examples of audience informing character. The actor who played Edmund in a recent RSC tour of King Lear told Blasenak that he would adjust his cockiness and smoothness based on audience response. Benjamin Curns of the American Shakespeare notes that sometimes his speeches as Henry VIII were met with boos, feeding his character’s need to get the audience on his side. Blasenak next demonstrates, with the help of Curns, with Iago’s “What’s he that says I play the villain?” The first time through, we as the audience are directed to cheer and applaud Iago. The second time, we are asked to give resistance. Curns takes the audience’s attitude and changes the character and speech in response.

Hsiang-Chun Chu, National Changhua University of Education, From Cunning Fox to Libidinous Swine: Imposture and Sexual Sadism in the Wooing Scenes of Volpone

This paper discusses the wooing episodes between Volpone and Celia. Volpone is mostly confined to his bed as an old and sick man. In contrast, Volpone acquires much more energy and agency when he is cast as a lover. Volpone disguises himself as a mountebank in order to see Celia, allowing him to demonstrate his persuasive language skills in a way he is not able to when playing the sick man. In the second part of her paper, Chu looks at the sexual transaction between Volpone, Celia, and Corvino. Corvino is a possessive husband, yet Volpone convinces him to give Celia as a gift in order to secure a place in Volpone’s will. No matter how much identification an audience may have felt with Volpone, this sympathy evaporates as Volpone shifts into a lecherous swine in his attempt to win Celia.

Kate Moncrief, Washington College, “And are by child with me”: The Performance of Pregnancy in Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well 

In Alls Wells that Ends Well, Helena’s body is used as evidence that she has completed the tasks Bertram set before her, particularly that she is pregnant. Moncrief points out that Helena re-interprets Bertram’s challenges. He asks her to show a child; she instead is with child. The play’s timeline is not clear – how much time has passed since the bed trick? The play offers no physical description of Helena at this moment, leaving practitioners to decide just how pregnant Helena is. Moncrief next explores, with the help of actors Thomason, Paul, and Harrell, how this pregnancy can be performed: gestures, prosthetics, etc. In version 1 Thomason does not wear a pregnancy bump, forcing Bertram and the audience to rely on her word that she is pregnant. Paul hits the if in his line, “If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly,” expressing his doubt. The actors perform the scene again, with Paul believing the pregnancy and kissing Helena. Next, Thomason puts on the pregnancy bump and the actors play the scene twice again, one with Paul expressing doubt as Bertram and once with him truly believing her. Moncrief polls the audience, who seem to prefer the version without the pregnancy bump.

Nick Hutchison and Donald Jellerson, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art/Globe Theatre, Feste and the Performance of Character

In 2011, Hutchison directed Twelfth Night in Memphis, with Jellerson playing Feste. In this paper, with the help of Allison Glenzer, they share the discoveries they found while rehearsing. They found two questions they explored: why doesn’t Feste care for Cesario, and what is the something he care for (“Not so, sir, I do care for something; but in my conscience, sir, I do not care for you”)? Hutchison admits that after decades of dismissing character criticism, asking what a character wants can seem misguided or passé. Hutchison and Jellerson wish to demonstrate how expanding our understanding of character can involve both practitioners and literary critics. Hutchinson and Jellerson quote from a book defining character that Shakespeare might have read as a student, revealing how Shakespeare may have been trained to think of character and what conclusions we can draw from this knowledge. The book asks writers to imagine their characters in three parts: a past, present, and future, which gives them, according to Hutchison, the illusion of enduring consciousness and psychological depth for which we value Shakespeare. Hutchison suggests that possibly Feste figures out that Cesario is a woman, and is concerned that Olivia will get hurt. This choice can be reflected in the final scene based on when Feste is quoting Malvolio and when he is speaking directly to Olivia, as the punctuation is different in different versions of the text.

Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Keynote Russ McDonald

Hello, I’m Charlene V. Smith and I’ll be live blogging Russ McDonald’s keynote: Shakespeare and the History of the Bookish.

McDonald opens by admitting a kind of fatigue evident in his title, using the work “bookish,” and confesses that today he is taking on the role of “Mr. Fussy” and complaining about both bibliography and performance, at the risk of offending everyone in this room.

1. Doubting the Text

Recent books and articles have over-filled the hole found in Shakespeare studies twenty years ago: the book trade and the culture of early modern print. In this section of his paper, McDonald questions the supremacy this topic currently has in Shakespeare studies. McDonald wishes to cast a skeptical eye on some of this scholarship and some of its “dubious orthodoxy.” Though scholars have paid much attention to the book, they have paid little attention to the text. McDonald confesses to being irritated for two decades by the well-known and frequently cited essay, The Materiality of the Shakespearean Text by de Grazia and Stallybrass. The arguments in this essay have achieved and maintain importance in our field, shattering textual certainties. In their essay, de Grazia and Stallybrass argue that “word,” “work,” “character,” and “author” are vexed terms. McDonald points out that these words are changeable and complex, but not incomprehensible. He warns that we must not allow the history of the book to erase the text itself.

2. Cutting the Text

McDonald next objects to the despotism of modern directors; in particular, the way they cut the text. Recent productions of  A Midsummer Night’s Dream  have lacked wonder and a sense of transfiguration, partially caused by the excising of some of McDonald’s favorite speeches. Next McDonald points to the lack of Queen Margaret in Mark Rylance’s current production of Richard III, running in New York. In 2012, the BBC announced the production of The Hollow Crown. While initially excited by the idea and the line up of actors and directors, McDonald views the resulting TV movies as acts of vandalism. McDonald feels the cutting was too ideological, such as the lack of references in Richard II to the king’s guilt in in the Duke of Gloucester’s murder. McDonald feels the most damaged play in this series was Henry IV, part 2. This long and leisurely work of 3300 lines was reduced to 1 hour and 52 minutes. A colleague of McDonald’s pointed out, “It’s a pity the BBC didn’t make this series for the people who would watch it, instead making it for those who won’t watch it anyway.”

3. Reading the Text

McDonald asserts the importance of reading the text in order to experience scenes which you wouldn’t see on the stage. Directors frequently cut scenes that do not advance the plot. If they seem to have no function, McDonald points out, they must have a function. Shakespeare had a reason for including these scenes, which often add to the texture of the play. McDonald then discusses 4.3 of Coriolanus, a frequently cut scene between a Roman and a Volsce, two characters we haven’t seen before and won’t see again. McDonald argues that the scene is thematically rich, especially in fire and heat imagery. McDonald also looks at 3.1 of The Winter’s Tale, a scene, again, with two characters we haven’t seen before: Cleomenes and Dion. According to McDonald, this scene sets up the possibility of magic and establishes the oracle of Apollo as something special. The two characters feel diminished, “I was nothing,” in the wake of their experience, an idea that stands in direct contrast to Leontes’ hubris. These lost scenes give depth, layers, and texture to a play.


McDonald ends by arguing for disciplinary balance: an awareness of what others in the field are doing. He promotes the value of pluralism: page and stage, book and text. McDonald praises George Walton Williams, the honoree of this conference, for always maintaining this balance in his teaching.

Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Colloquy Session I: Staging Choices

Greetings: Charlene V. Smith here, live blogging  from the Tyson Center, Colloquy Session I: Staging Choices, which runs from 2:30pm to 3:45pm. Jemma Levy is the chair for this session and the presenters are Matthew Carter, Annette Drew-Bear, Andrew Harvey, Donald Hedrick, Claire Huber, Claire Kimball, and Angelina LaBarre.

This colloquy is about staging choices; Levy points out that the papers are eclectic, dealing with choices from a number of different angles.

Carter’s paper is about the use of weapons as indicators of characters in Romeo and Juliet, specifically looking at outsiderness and ethnicity. His argument is that since modern audience will no longer recognize the ethnicity attached to stage combat and weaponry, we need to identify these differences in other ways, possibly through costume. Levy asks how using costume to indicate ethnicity is different from what already happens through costume design. Carter suggests that costume designers may need to look more into combat and weapon based visual signifiers. Spanish style fighting was cut-centric instead of stab-centric, for example. Another example: Capulet calls for his long sword, implying an older style of fighting, which an early modern audience would have recognized as inappropriate for the fight. The participants discuss what information an audience may or may not recognize through modern or early modern weapons. Carter says he is convinced that a modern audience is more finely tuned to costume design than weaponry technology.

LaBarre’s paper explores the question of stage management in the early modern theatre through her experience as a member of MBC’s MFA in Shakespeare and Performance 2012-2013 company, Roving Shakespeare. She investigates different terms that were present during the early modern era that may have been equivalent to a modern day stage manager and the responsibilities of these positions. For example, medieval prompters would be placed in the center-front of the stage and would prompt not only lines, but also movements with the use of a guiding stick. Later the stage manager domain shifts to backstage due to greater spectacle and increased technology. Levy points out even today a stage manager’s duties can vary greatly from production to production and director to director, musing that the shifts in terms and definitions historically continue for that position to this day. Hedrick asks about how the hierarchy of these positions have shifted over time. LaBarre points out that the high status of the book keeper in the early modern theatre stems partially from the fact that the book keeper had access to the play’s full text.

Drew-Bear wrote on the staging of evil in Lust’s Dominion (possibly written by Thomas Dekker). Drew-Bear refers to the character of the machiavellian Moor (Eleazar) as a playwright, and LaBarre, connecting to her paper, suggests that he might actually be more of a book keeper. Drew-Bear’s paper explores the metatheatricality of Eleazar and his text. Lust’s Dominion has a play-within in which Eleazar sets up the staging and tells the actors what to do in a pseudo-rehearsal. Drew-Bear points out that Eleazar is quite self-conscious in his use of theatrical terms. Levy asks whether there is an implication that Eleazar is performing the role of villain, as opposed to actually being a villain. Drew-Bear thinks it is more accurate that Eleazar is revealing in the role of villain as opposed to suggesting that he is, at heart, someone else.

Kimball’s paper argues that we should re-embrace The Bloody Banquet as a prime example of Jacobean revenge drama and identifies elements in the play that would be appealing to a modern audience. Kimball is fOCSinated by the fact that this play contains so many theatrical elements and yet modern companies are unfamiliar or uninterested in this play. She loves both the gore and violence, but also the number of staging repetitions that are set up in the play. For example, the play contains a pre-banquet in addition to the titular banquet. Kimball says part of the viability of the play can be found in the title. An audience is expecting to see a bloody banquet, an expectation which is frustrated by the inclusion of a first banquet that isn’t the bloody one. Carter asks how Kimball would recommend situating this play to make it marketable. Kimball suggests linking it with other violent or Jacobean pieces such as Titus Andronicus or The Duchess of Malfi. (As possibly the only person in this room other than Kimball to have read this play, I heartily support her recommendation to stage it!)

Harvey’s paper is on Julius Caesar, arguing that Brutus exemplifies Aristotle’s definition of the Noble Man and is the moral center of the play. With that line of thought, Caesar’s ghost cannot be a manifestation of Brutus’ guilty conscience. Levy asks what journey this leaves the actor playing Brutus and Harvey says he sees the character as static and as one that doesn’t have a journey. As a staging choice, Harvey suggests having Caesar’s ghost come from the trap, indicating to an audience that he is a malevolent spirit.

Hedrick’s paper looks at Henry V’s wooing scene with Katherine as part of a larger work on the arousal of monarchs in history plays. Hendrick questions how arousal might be played. He provides a scale of options: 1. Do nothing physically, using only the language of love. 2. A la Laurence Olivier, saddle up close to your acting partner. 3. Monty Python approach, with a wink wink, nudge nudge to the audience or let the other actors react to or point out the arousal. 4. the Lysistrata method. Hendrick points out that James was against the use of codpieces in costumes. He asks how we point out the possible subversiveness / comic effect of an aroused monarch for a modern audience? LaBarre suggests that both comedy and violence lives in all these choices. Levy asks at what point would an audience member be removed from the play and miss moments as they process a large prosthetic or a naked appendage. Carter points out that the Princess in Henry V is body-centric while learning English, which might suggest something about how she would react to a possible erection.