Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Wake-Up Workshop: Textual Variants

This morning’s Wake-up Workshop covered the topic, Textual Variants, and attendees included professional actors, teachers and professors..  Kayla Blue is an as an Education Artist with the OCS .  She began the workshop by explaining how Early Modern texts are “alive and constantly changing.”  Printers, editors and even booksellers and academics manipulate the plays into a version they prefer rather than attempt to present an authoritative copy for posterity.

Blue moved on to her first subtopic, From Shakespeare to the Printer: How did these texts come into print they way they have?  She then asked for six volunteers from her audience to join her on the Blackfriars stage to engage in an activity which would help illustrate the answer to that question.  She assigned the first volunteer to personify Shakespeare’s “Foul Papers.”  All of the foul papers, which may include plays in their original forms, she explained, were lost, as opposed to surviving extant “Fair Papers.” Blue assigned the second volunteer to personify Fair Papers, which may include cue scripts and recopied plays.  In the recopying process, ” ‘Sin’ can become ‘sign’,” Kayla explained to help her audience gain a deeper understanding of the origins of some variants in texts.

Blue explained that the terms, “role” and “part” came from the standard Early Modern practice of actors using cue scripts.  Actors were not presented with a complete copy of the play they were rehearsing, as printing a copy for each cast member was usually prohibitively expensive.  Instead, actors worked from a partial script which contained only the “part” he would play.  The actor’s script would contain the cue preceding his lines, and the script was transcribed onto a parchment roll, from which the word, “role” derived.

Fair copies, Blue continued, were copied into “presentation copies” which were kept for performance records.  These records were known as, “Book Copies” for bookkeeper use, she explained, and additional stage directions frequently were added in the process, including cues for “dumb shows.”  Shakespeare’s star clown from his stock company, Will Kemp is listed in one of these added stage directions in the place of the character’s name.  This may indicate that a bookkeeper added Kemp’s name to record his role in a specific production or performance.

One of Blue’s volunteers then asked her about published plays called, “Playbooks,” wanting to know if they were ever intended for private consumption.  She answered  the question in the affirmative, and she discussed the origins of the term, “quarto” as explanation.  Blue said that the term, “quarto” referred to the way the printed booklet was folded: where a folio is folded into two pages out of a single sheet, she demonstrated with a piece of paper, a quarto is folded into four pages.  The two-page per sheet folio cost one English Pound and was considered expensive in Shakespeare’s day.  The more paper used in printing, she explained, the more expensive the publication.  S&P student George Kendall added to this by informing the rest of the audience that a quarto originally cost only five- or sixpence.

Blue continued her discussion by asking the question, How did printers obtain play copies?  Copyright laws of the day were largely ineffectual at the time.  Most playwrights didn’t receive money for their printed plays.  One remedy, she suggested was the possibility of a “memorial reconstruction.”  This is a play published from a player’s or patron’s memory after a performance.  Printers may have added stage directions at this stage as well.  Some scholars allege that the practice may have been invented and never actually happened.

There are five “Romeo and Juliet” quartos, Blue continued.  She then distributed handouts, copies of “Romeo and Juliet” quarto covers, beginning with that of the First Quarto, or ‘Q1″ as it is now known.  The copies of the cover are available on the internet from the website, “Early English Books Online”: http://eebo.chadwyck.com/home  On the handout’s reverse side, Blue had transcribed a piece of the play’s text.  The First Quarto of “Romeo and Juliet” or Q1 was published in 1597, she explained, and it is 688 lines shorter than Q2, the Second Quarto.  She then asked volunteers to identify some textual variants between their copies of quarto covers.  Volunteers observed from the handouts that cover pages often included the name of the shop in which the quarto was sold.  Later quartos included such descriptions as, “newly corrected and augmented” on their covers.  This language biased scholars over the years that earlier copies were “bad quartos” and were less authoritative than “corrected and augmented” later quartos.  Scholars today challenge this presumption, however, as Blue informed her listeners.  One of her volunteers suggested that the “correction” terms publishers used were most likely a marketing ploy to sell new copies.

Blue next read the reverse side of her first handout, the “Romeo and Juliet” tomb scene from Q1 and compared that against a later quarto by reading aloud changes in the scene’s dialogue.  She finished her the workshop by displaying several various and different “authoritative” editions of “Romeo and Juliet,” reminding us that editors, and not Shakespeare, were responsible for most textual variants.

–Bill Leavy

Blackfriars Conference – Plenary Session VI

Hi there! Molly Beth Seremet again, reporting from the beautiful Blackfriars Playhouse. Plenary Session VI is underway, running from 2:30pm – 3:45pm. This plenary session is moderated by Barbara Bono.

Amanda Zoch (Indiana University)

Maternal Revision in Middleton’s More Dissemblers Besides Women

Zoch’s work will focus tightly on Middleton’s play, a play once called by a patron “the worst play I ever saw.” Zoch’s interest lies in the Page, a character who is actually a pregnant woman in disguise. The Page, a cross-dressed lover, eventually goes into labor during a dance lesson. Zoch point out that even in this moment, the dance-master considers the laboring page a miracle, a boy who is with child, failing to recognize maternity even in its most emergent (and obvious) moment.

Zoch now turns to a historical consideration of maternal legacy. She describes the manner in which expectant mothers materially prepare for childbirth during their pregnancies. Texts authored by mothers in later life, however, often do not refer to pregnancy at all. Zoch terms this phenomenon ‘maternal revision,’ in which the fears and dangers of pregnancy cause mothers to define themselves as maternal figures and not formerly pregnant women.

Zoch compares Middleton’s Page to Shakespeare’s Hermione, managing their self-presentation in the ways they revise themselves as maternal figures. The dramatic representation of the Page in Middleton’s work stages pregnancy by staging the Page’s body, troubling the other characters’ conceptions of the world. Zoch points out that frequently in Middleton’s text, other characters discuss the physical ambiguities of the Page’s body within the text. Zoch parallels this with societal discomfort with the ambiguities of the pregnancy body, suggesting that Middleton’s dramatic language stages a cultural concern with the maternal power of the female “troublesome body.”

Zoch describes an instant in the Middleton text in which the dance-master instructs the Page to dance faster and harder, spreading his (her) knees “Wider. Wider. Wider!” and exhorting “have you ever seen a boy dance this clenched-up.” Not surprisingly, the Page in trying to comply with the dance-master’s order goes into labor and calls for the midwife. Thus, the boy begins to give birth.

After this vivid imagery, Zoch moves into an exploration of the Page’s silence after the moment of the birth, a silent presence in the play’s final scene. Zoch contends that this moment would be highly noticeable in the world of the play, staging maternal silence after the rich of activity of birth.

Zoch’s paper ends on a cliffhanger, however, as the Bear chases the valiant Zoch offstage!

Bob Jones (University of Texas – Austin)

“Heave Up!”: The “wicked weight” of Shakespeare’s Antony and York’s Christ

This paper features American Shakespeare Center actors Gregory Jon Phelps, Alli Glenzer, and Chris Johnston.

Jones comes out of the gate with a raucous comparison of Shakespeare’s Antony with a crucified Christ.  Jones posits that the hoisting of Antony up over the balcony constitutes a “naughty challenge” in the theatrical world. Jones suggests that the Folio text of Antony and Cleopatra demands that Antony’s body must be ‘heaved’ into position, given the fact that no exit is specified for the character in this moment. Indeed, Jones urges us to remember that the word “heave” is a unique word with distinct physical behaviors required as a result.

Jones provides an example of this stage direction in practice, describing a Shakespeare in Winedale production in which Antony almost fell.  That Antony happens to be in the house for this plenary and corroborates Jones’ anecdote from the balcony, to cheers and grimaces from the gathered scholars.

Jones now turns us to a close look at the crucifixion scene in York, pointing up the challenges of depicting an onstage crucifixion without actually resorting to the action itself (more laughs from the audience). Jones suggests an inherent tension between theatrical display and oral discourse. The OCS actors and Jones now move to a presentation of the crucifixion scene. Glenzer, Johnston, Phelps, and Jones stage a moment in which they work together to lift the (imaginary) cross and bear it heavily on their shoulders, while grimacing their way through York’s text.  This staged teamwork reinforces Jones’ position that these dramatic moments stage both language and the effort embedded in the text.

The scene now shifts to the scene in Antony and Cleopatra in which Antony is lifted to Cleopatra’s monument. Johnston and Phelps support Jones, holding him up to the aloft Cleopatra, portrayed by Glenzer. Jones’ Antony cannot reach his Cleopatra and the audience enjoys this productive “failure” heartily.

Jones posits that these moments in early modern drama stage moments of ‘burlesque comedy of effort” allowing for instants of surprising success.  Jones suggests that these moments exist precisely to stage work, while also epitomizing sacred events.  Further, secondary characters bear the responsibility of the effort in these moments, staging the work they do and their comic struggles to fulfill their orders.  As Jones urges, these moments instill feelings of relief and pride in ‘jobs well done’ into the theatrical frame, foregrounding the physical labor that enables theatrical work with cognizance of its own fragility.

Dan Venning (CUNY Graduate Center)

Great Lengths? Shakespeare’s History Cycles on Stage

Venning begins his presentation with an anecdote from current Broadway show Something Rotten, saying “Why is he doing Richard II? He just did Richard III? Who goes backwards?!” Venning points out that while it is easy to imagine history plays as cycles, these plays were likely not written as marathon theatrical events. Venning notes that the first recorded instance of the history plays as a cycle appears in history in 1864 in Germany, helmed by Franz von Dingelstedt.

Venning postulates that history play cycles serve as an assertion of  virtuosity in Shakespearean performance. He refers first to a German staging of the history cycle by von Dinglestedt, influenced by Schiller. This cycle was presented right after a staging of Schiller’s history cycle, uniting English and German history in parallel dramatic history marathons.  Historically, this is a fOCSinating image of unification in a historical moment.  Venning then explains that von Dinglestedt’s cycle aimed to a site-specific endeavor which Venning compares to work made in the reconstructed Blackfriars Playhouse.

Venning now moves to an exploration of marathon plays at large, which he defines as plays extending for longer than five hours in length. He explains that these cyclical plays may be “necessarily boring,” requiring that audiences perform a feat of their own in endurance spectatorship. This brings up interesting intellectual and theoretical issues as these history cycles deal thematically with issues of war and human suffering, in which form seems to highlight content. Venning concludes that directors frequently invest audiences in a particularly clear version of today’s world through engagement with these historical cycles.

Melissa Aaron (Cal Poly Pomona)

The Bear Essentials: Cost-Effective Bears in Original Practice Productions of The Winter’s Tale

Aaron leads off by saying, “It all begins with a bear,” summoning up images of her own initial experience with Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Aaron is particularly interested in non-textual Shakespeare and in reading Shakespeare through an economic lens, such as looking at the acquisition of props, costumes etc.

Aaron now moves to a historical look at early modern fOCSinations with white bears, such as those staged in Oberon and Mucedorus. As a result, Aaron posits that the King’s Men would have already owned a bear suit and suggests that having a bear suit on hand means the bear practically writes himself into The Winter’s Tale at all. In addition, Aaron points out that this repetition is a productive and common one in early modern original practices.

Aaron now dangles the provocative question, “what is the economic significance of original practices?” Aaron suggests while we must be careful to not become Doctors Frankenstein in our engagement with early practices, we must not ignore the benefits we might gain from echoing historical practices. Aaron then wonders what might be gained from borrowing historically informed theatrical economics. She suggests some possible examples in this model such as no more purpose-built theatres, actors providing their own costumes, and reusable props. She also suggests some shifts to the public funding paradigm, but due to time (and bear!) constraints, she asks that we chat about those aspects over a drink after her paper presentation.

Aaron now moves to a specific examination of the Blackfriars Bear. She reminds us that bear suits are expensive and not terribly cost-effective, unless reasons can be found for it to be staged frequently. Aaron then calls out the frequency with which companies like the American Shakespeare Center stage The Winter’s Tale and then employ the Bear to chase recalcitrant scholars off the stage during the Blackfriars Conference. Aaron asks “do we ever get tired of the bear?” earning a hug (and a curtain call) for our trusty bear.

In conclusion, Aaron urges us to consider the ways in which mirroring early modern business practices can enrich modern day theatre-making. The Bear cheers!

Patrick Midgley (American Shakespeare Center)

Echoes and Entreaties

This paper features American Shakespeare Center actors Chris Johnston, Alli Glenzer, and Gregory Jon Phelps.

American Shakespeare Center actor Patrick Midgley now takes the stage! He begins with a list of the questions he and the other actors answer over and over again. “How do you speak in old English? How do you learn your lines? Do you ever forget what play you’re in?” and so forth. Midgley tells us that this is paper written from the wings, as it were, focusing on theatrical echoes in the space of rehearsal and performance.

Midgley elucidates that for him, the word “rehearsal” is aurally evocative – ” re — hears — all.” He mentions, however, that during the OCS’s Actors Renaissance Season, the abbreviated rehearsal process and cue script practice is more like “first time ever, hears a little.”

Midgley now turns to an exploration of language in Webster’s The White Devil. Actor Chris Johnston performs some of Flamineo’s text, harkening up the animal imagery in Webster’s text, revealing a repeated motif of animalistic imagery such as “bitches, dos, curs, spaniels” etc. Midgley muses about the uses of researching this aural motif as an actor, and how to work with this repetition in performance practice. Midgley further details that this motif is well-researched, called up and glossed by many prior scholars.

Midgley then explains that he took an interest in looking for similar motifs in other plays in Actors Renaissance Season as well.  He points out the word “entreat” appears 14 times in The Taming of The Shrew, occasionally with an alternate spelling echoing after the normal spelling of “entreat.” Midgley jokes that “you can’t play an alternate spelling” and he is right, though actor James Keegan heckles him from the peanut gallery saying, “maybe you can’t!”  Midgley gathers us back into his argument, noting that unlike Webster’s animal imagery, the switches between “entreat” and “intreat” in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew are not often researched by scholars. He ponders this and asks us to imagine what performance might unlock about the significance of these switches. Midgley turns to an exploration of the way the words “entreat” and “intreat” function across The Taming of the Shrew, spelling variants notwithstanding. He terms this an echo and asks us to hear this echoes as “calling backs.”

Midgley now calls on fellow American Shakespeare Center actor Alli Glenzer to demonstrate the multiple uses of the word “entreat” in Kate’s monologue and the presentation closes out with those lovely words resonating through the Blackfriars.

Matt Kozusko (Ursinus College) 

Implied Stage Directions

Kozusko begins his paper by calling out a final moment of proto-feminism in the final scene of Measure for Measure. He asks the audience to locate the embedded stage direction in the text of this final scene. As Kozusko points out, there is a pause in the Duke’s proposal line in this scene which might open up a moment in which Isabella responds in some way to the situation. Kozusko’s work will explore embedded stage directions and implied embedded stage directions.

Kozusko now asks us to look at a moment from Romeo and Juliet, in which the Watchman introduces us to a Friar who “trembles, sighs, and weeps” and also bears a “mattock and this spade.” This moment is performed nicely by American Shakespeare Center actors Johnston and Glenzer. Kozusko points out that this moment stages several overt stage directions that govern both performative behavior and stage properties.

Now, Kozusko turns to a moment in Comedy of Errors, in which Egeon asks Antipholous of Ephesus, “Why look you strange on me?” which the actors again perform for us. Kozusko suggests that this might be an embedded stage direction dictating behavior, but also be a moment in which the text replaces a visible behavior.

We now return to the original Measure for Measure example, which Kozusko stages for us as well.  Here, Isabella (played by Glenzer) backs away from the Duke (Phelps) when asked for her hand. The Duke pauses and turns towards Claudio (Johnston) who smiles to the audience, perhaps in preparation to offer his own hand. The audience delights in this moment and laughter fills the playhouse. Kozusko notes that this staging may be an exaggerated bit of silliness, but also points out that the silence in the text at this moment might make us see something.

Now, Kozusko presses on this moment further, suggesting the potential this moment has to make us as an audience look (or perhaps not look) as Isabella. The notion that Isabella needs to respond non-verbally in this moment suggests a behavior of consequence. If Isabella were supposed to “look strange” upon the Duke, we might assume that the text would say so.  Kozusko then offers this Measure moment as a challenge to notions of embedded stage directions and the behaviors they dictate.  For Kozusko, this moment of silence creates discomfort which may perhaps represent authorial intention and may also show an audience something uncomfortable that we need to see.  He concludes his work be celebrating this uncertainty and the potentiality for reading and staging possibility.

Three cheers for a rousing and enlightening plenary session!

-Molly

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Plenary Session 5″

Hey folks! It’s Mary Finch once again to live blog this plenary session running from 1:00-2:15 pm, moderated by Marina Favilia from James Madison University.

Elizabeth Sharrett, Shakespeare Institute
Bed Curtains and the Second Blackfriars

Sharrett opens with some numbers about beds and the Blackfriars; according the numbers, beds are most frequently used in the Blackfriars space, and only three of the plays with beds performed in that space explicitly mention bed curtains. Sharret will be looking at prop beds and the details of their construction, namely the use of curtains.

Most likely, prop beds at the Blackfriars were basic in order to be changed to match the requirements of a variety of plays. For all her research, Sharrett admits that the information on prop beds is sparse and inconclusive. Nevertheless, looking at the patterns from the information we do have is worth considering.

The ambiguity about curtains comes from the assumption that all beds had them, as stated by multiple scholars including Andrew Gurr. Sharrett showed several images of different Elizabethan beds from a range of institutions that did not have curtains. Audiences and playwrights would have known about the difference between a couch-bed or a half-headed bedstead, whether on stage or alluded to. The half-headed bedstead was easy to transport and served people of varying status, therefore making it a good candidate to function as a prop bed.

Sharrett shares several instances of beds and curtains in one scene, but highlights that the stage directions do not require that the curtains are on the bed itself. A research and action exercise allowed Sharrett to experiment with staging using beds with and without curtains. We should not assume that curtains and beds must be connected, and use that to evaluate how we see the Blackfriars space and use of large properties.

Jeremy Lopez, University of Toronto
Act three, scene one

“In any Shakespeare play there is no scene more important that act 3, scene 1.”

Lopez documented the major plot points that occurs in this scene across a huge range of scenes from Hamlet to Henry V to Twelfth Night and well beyond.

“It is the structural center of any play.”

Some of the less seemingly event scene are no less important, or interesting, such as in All’s Well That Ends Well, Antony and Cleopatra, and Cymbeline. These scenes rove into mundane life, clowns, or politics–they frequently feature characters that appear for the first and last time, transitioning the tone and, often, the location of the play. These plays give a glimpse of how the play world ought to be: a place of serious politics and delightful truth. 3.2 returns to real, imperfect, world of the play with vengeance.

In the more dramatic 3.1 scenes, 3.2 echoes the preceding scene by often containing things “unseen” and heightening the drama began.

Of course, act three scene one is an arbitrary and anachronistic structure that has been added after the plays were written and published. Therefore, the point of this paper might just be “this play has definite centers.” When 3.1 is a complex scene, it will be followed by a more complex scene that echoes it through juxtaposition. When 3.1 is less complex, it creates a longing for how the world might be.

However, Othello breaks all of these rules with a clown scene dealing with honesty. Then, 3.2 briefly allows us to see Othello be a general, the thing he is best at being.

So a revision: “In any Shakespeare play, there is no more important scene than act 3, scene 2.”

James Seth, Oklahoma State University
When Merchants Became Actors: Why the East India Company Performed Shakespeare in Sierra Leone

Seth opened with a passage from the journal of trader of the East India Company recounting royal meetings, a Hamlet performance, and an elephant hunt. It is very well likely might a forgery, but is cited as the first performance of Hamlet outside of Europe. The physical journal that recounts this has been lost, throwing the accounts of performance into doubt. Many scholars doubt that a traders could have staged such complex play.

Seth is less concerned with the veracity of these accounts than what these accounts tell us about the culture of performance on trade ships. These performances might have been signs of peace and means of earning favor, and were certainly not impossible for those used to performing for foreign powers.

There are other accounts of “very fine entertainment” from other, less contested, journalistic travel narratives. The EIC had their own script to follow when meeting foreign dignitaries in order to form trading relationships. English merchants played the roles of host and guest constantly, and their safety and success depended upon the skill in their performance. Giving kind entertainment allowed the traders to bring new products, and possibly Shakespeare, around the world.

Nell McKeown and Stephanie Donowho, The University of Texas at Austin
Foul Fiends of France: Staging Interpretations of Joan of Arc and Margaret of Anjou

NcKeown and Donowho presented a two women show consisting of the scenes with two of Shakespeare’s most tyrannical French women. They looked to make them sympathetic and morally justified.

In the text, Joan is wildly incoherent. To make her sympathetic, they believed what she said about herself. Although the men challenge her chastity, Joan only claims sexual behavior when threatened with death. One of the difficult scenes was Joan’s rejection of her father. Interestingly, Joan does not speak at all until her father threatens to die with her, making her renouncement an attempt to save her father’s life. The second difficult scene is the moment with the fiends; what if this is the first time Joan has reached out to the devil instead of to god? In a moment a doubt and desperation, she listens to the accusations of those around her of witchcraft and tries to invoke witch craft. She even says, “help me this once” helping the interpretation that she had not used demons before. OCS actor Abbi Hawk performed the roles with this lens of interpretation. The scholars admitted that this interpretation “fights the text.”

Margaret has strong similarities with Joan in their politics, war tactics, sexual aggression, and they are both French. Margaret even enters immediately after Joan exits to die. Where Joan is virtuous, Margaret decides to “earn her titles” that the men give them. “They have a shared experience of disempowerment and danger.” The only thing that makes Joan and Margaret monstrous is their gender.

The harshest scene for Margaret is when Margaret kills York. York does not have a good record: he killed Joan and did not care that she might have been pregnant. Margaret appeals to the audience to remember all of his wrongs. She is not a murderer, but giving justice.

Playing these women as evil is interesting, but not the only choice for interpretation.

William Proctor Williams, University of Akron
Cecily Neville’s Parenting Skills

Williams began by giving a brief history of the life of Cecily Neville, the mother of Richard III and his brothers. Although she is important, she seldom appears in historical plays, one of the few exceptions being Shakespeare’s Richard III.

One of her most famous scenes, in act four scene four, is when she curses Richard III on his way to Bosworth; however, this story has no basis in fact. Nevertheless, this moment is excellent theater even if it is political propaganda. OCS actors John Harrell and Abbi Hawk staged the moment. Although the cursing is not historical, the Duchess’ opposition to Edward’s marriage is historical. Again, the actors staged this moment from Haywood’s play.

Despite slight reconciliation, there was never a full forgiveness. Neither of her sons listened to her advice, despite her desperation. In both cases, her harsh mothering makes great theatre.

Peter Kanelos, Valparaiso University,
Hamlet and the Art of Memory

“Theater is the art of memory” where actors defy the gravitational pull of forgetting lines and cues. Like memory, theater is also transitory. Even our clearest memories are imperfect and fading.

Francis Yeats suggests that Elizabethan theaters might have been “memory palaces.” Memory was understood in spatial terms. For Cicero, the key to memory is sight.

Therefore, the art of memory is the striking arrangement of distinct images in a unique architecture. So Shakespeare arranged theater properties in such a manner. Hamlet is Shakespeare’s play most focused on memory, and indeed it was branded into the mind of Elizabethan audiences by previous versions of the story.

Shakespeare interrogates memory in Hamlet through a number of artful emblems scattered throughout the play. Memory is mentioned from Hamlet’s first scene to the final scene: “Heaven and earth, must I remember”… “Rights of memory in this kingdom.”

Memory itself instigates the action, since the ghost is a figure of memory. The ghost calls Hamlet to remember, not vengeance. After the ghostly encounter, Hamlet looks to write down all that has happened, rather than grasp his sword. Of course, memory is always contested, as we see when Ophelia attempts to return “remembrances.” A manner of madness was even called “forgetting oneself.” Most famously, the skull represents remembering death, or more specifically, remember Hamlet remembering death. Perhaps forgetting might have been better. Looking at death, Hamlet does not think of his father, but a fool.

Using the signet ring of his father to avoid death and return to Elsinore, Hamlet comes into his own title, but also forgets his mission; neither his father nor the mission are mentioned again in play.

(Kanelos barely finished his sentence as the bear stalked across the stage to pounce.)

— Mary Finch
MLitt Student at MBC Shakespeare and Performance

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Lunch and Learn Session: Meet and Drink with MBC Shakespeare and Performance

Today’s Lunch and Learn session, Meet and Drink with Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare & Performance hosts, all of whom are S&P instructors: Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, Dr. Paul Menzer, Professor Doreen Bechtol, Dr. Matt Davies, and Professor Janna Segal.  Dr. Menzer, director of the program, opened the session by mentioning the opportunity for prospective students to attend the MBC Shakespeare & Performance program.  He said the “&” denotes the new and original approach to learning Shakespeare in training students to be both practitioners ‘&’ scholars: “Above all, what we study here is in collaboration,” Dr. Menzer stated.  Several of the S&P program’s alumni next introduced themselves to the congregation, and this entry lists each one in the following paragraph.

Jemma Alix Levy, Assistant Professor with Washington and Lee University was the first alumna to speak to session attendees about MBC’s Shakespeare & Performance program.  She discussed how the program’s “marriage” between scholarship and practice attracted her to undertake it and earn both of its degrees, the M.Litt (Master of Letters) and the MFA (Master of Fine Arts).  She will present the devised show, “Believe None of Us”, which the conference’s program describes as, “An exploration of Shakespeare’s three Hamlets,”  late Friday night.  Casey Caldwell was the next alumnus to speak.  He is completing his PhD in English at Northwestern University.  He thanks the program for giving him the scholarly and intellectual foundation to speak to everyone he encounters in academia as well as to members of Chicago’s performing community.  He said The Blackfriars Playhouse gave him an awareness of the role that a performing space plays in helping to achieve a greater understanding of Shakespeare and Early Modern texts.  Alumnus Rick Blunt, the next to speak, now performs with OCS as one of its regular cast members.  He discussed the help MBC S&P program’s faculty gave him the help he needed to write his first thesis as well as train him to perform in an ensemble.  Alumna Katherine Mayberry, Class of ’07, is now the Executive Director of Pigeon Creek Shakespeare, Michigan.  She is an Adjunct Professor at her undergraduate alma mater, Grand Valley State University, and in addition she freelances as a dramaturg.  She expressed that the MBC S&P student community remains a vital part of her life and work.

Natalia Wallace, a current MFA candidate announced her upcoming performance in the original show, “One Woman Town” by her fellow “Sweet Wag” (fellow MFA candidate) Merlyn Q. Sell.  The show debuts tonight (Thursday) in the Blackfriars Playhouse at 11:30 pm.  Wallace talked about her experiences in her first two years with the program.  She wrote her M.Litt thesis on neuroscience, and she expressed her gratitude for the S&P faculty’s help and how she now incorporates what she learned in her first two years into her MFA year.  Patrick Aaron Harris, MFA candidate, also a “Sweet Wag” was the next to speak, and he shared with his listeners how another S&P alumnus he knew from the theatrical community of which Harris was a member suggested that he consider enrolling in MBC’s S&P program.   He mentioned how the S&P faculty supported him on his thesis idea about hipsters.

After the S&P alumni shared their stories, Dr. Menzer introduced the program’s founder, Dr. Cohen to discuss the creation of the Shakespeare & Performance program.  Professor Cohen wanted Mary Baldwin College to help with the Blackfriars Playhouse.  The college agreed to supporting the playhouse, and Dr. Cohen thanked his colleagues for sending him people who now constitute a “community of helpers.”  The ‘&’ of “S&P denotes the intersection of performance with metrical and textual work, he said.

Dr. Menzer then introduced Dr. Matt Davies to discuss the third year of the S&P program, the MFA year.  MFA training reinforces “disciplinarity” and “individuality,” Dr. Davies explained.  He stated what is the program’s major innovation in its training approach with the following analogy: actors preparing for a role ask of their characters whom they portray, “What do I want?”  Dr. Davies adapted that fundamental question into “What do we need?” to better help a producing theatrical company in facing what he sees as its essential challenge.   He then went on to describe the program’s training model as one consisting of three “pillars.”  The first pillar of the model is collaboration.  The second pillar is participation in the company’s ongoing discussion and then making decisions as an ensemble.  The final pillar is employabliity, which for the purposes of today’s globally competitive and ever-changing marketplace, Dr. Davies defines as “entrepreneurship.”  The MFA program, Dr. Davies concluded, is both a class and a professional training program.

Doreen Bechtol next spoke, discussing the S&P program’s operational perspective.  She discussed the May Term at the start of the MFA year in which her students put together their upcoming year’s season in just three weeks.  The S&P program, she informed her listeners, subsidizes several internships with other Shakespearean companies presenting students with additional training options before they return in August at the start of the MFA year.  The first production of the training year is the “devised show,” which Bechtol explained is concerned primarily in helping the new student company it to find its voice.  The goal of the MFA company’s next show of the season is to tour schools and show school students in their audience “how accessible Shakespeare can be.”  Next on the season’s program is a small-scale touring show in which the MFA troupe is divided into two companies who perform at community and arts centers.  Next, Bechtol informed her listeners, is the Renaissance Show whose goal is to stage a production under conditions which are as close to those with which the original Blackfriars actors worked in Shakespeare’s day.  This includes actors having to use cue scripts instead of providing each actor with a complete copy of the whole play as is standard practice today.  The MFA company proceeds from that staging challenge to performing in a guest-directed show.  The goal here is to develop professional ties with the theater community by working with one of that community’s veteran directors.  Ultimately, the MFA training year culminates in a final production as well as “final chapter,” which Professor Bechtol explained can either take the form of a thirteen-minute conference or as a publishable work for a book which the MFA students author.

Janna Segal who is with both the S&P and the MBC undergraduate Theater Department, teaches the May Term course, “Company Management and Company Dramaturgy.”  She discussed company partnerships, such as that of MBC’s with OCS.  She searched extensively to find other graduate training programs in Theater and found only six MFA programs with “mentored professional stage experience” through full-time, professionally-performing regional theaters, including the S&P program.  Only four of these programs, she discovered, have MFA’s available in Performance and Production, and she found that all of these programs include Shakespeare as part of their training.  Only the Shakespeare Theater Company, she found, also includes other Early Modern theater works in addition to Shakespeare as part of its training, but it is an acting-only MFA degree.  The MBC S&P MFA training program, Professor Segal went on to explain, is the only such program to combine dramaturgy, collaboration and company management into its MFA curriculum.

Dr. Menzer brought the session to a close by mentioning the Shakespeare Intensive which is held on the first weekend in June to give prospective students an idea of what the S&P training program does in this community.  He then opened the floor briefly to questions.

–Bill Leavy, S&P M.Litt Student, blogger.

Keynote: Ayanna Thompson

Hello everyone, and thank you for joining the OCS blog for today’s Keynote speaker today, Liz is here to blog this session from ten thirty in the morning until eleven thirty in the morning. Our Keynote speaker today is Ayanna Thompson of George Washington University. Today, she will be speaking on Reading Backwards from Morrison to Shakespeare: Desdemona/Othello. John Attig sponsors this session.

First, Sarah Enloe, OCS Director of Education, comes out and introduces our very first conference sponsor, John Attig. We thank him for all of the really cool new events. Enloe also encourages everyone to get to the Lunch and Learn at Masonic as soon as possible after the Keynote ends at eleven thirty today. She also encourages scholars to fill out some prompts from Antony and Cleopatra to help with the staging session tomorrow. Finally, she advises presenters to email their presentations to [email protected]

Next, Dr. Ralph Cohen introduces Thompson, a Professor of English at George Washington University and Trustee of the Shakespeare Association of America. He enumerates her published works, both as an author and editor, most of which focus on race and Shakespeare. These include Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America, and Colorblind Shakespeare: New Perspectives on Race and Performance. Her current focus is on two in-progress books, one of which centers on Peter Seller’s form of directing. Dr. Cohen emphasizes that Thompson brings her research and scholarship puts her findings into practice in the real world. He ends his introduction and points out the largely white audience at the conference today and stresses the need for Thompson’s work today.

Thompson thanks Dr. Cohen for “possibly the best introduction she has ever had” (a rough paraphrase) and jumps right into her speech. Thompson points to Desdemona as an empowered and empowering female character, yet also disempowered and complicit to the Moor, Othello. Most performances choose to place Desdemona on one these two poles. Thompson mentions the misogynistic tendencies in both Iago and Othello throughout the play and shares an example of Iago’s flawed logic. She then states that scholars have grappled with how to portray these tendencies to modern audiences along with how to portray Desdemona.

This talk focuses on a specific form of adaptation of Othello, that of Toni Morrison’s Desdemona. Thompson clarifies that she believes that appropriation has a more direct and pointed purpose than adaptation. She then explains that she believes that re-vision takes appropriation a step further by breaking new ground. Thompson follows this up with an introduction to several late twentieth century adaptations and re-visions of Othello, including Goodnight, Juliet, Good Morning, Desdemona and Desdemona: A Play about a Handkerchief.

Morrison and Sellars collaborated to give Desdemona a full voice in the actress Rokia Traoré, who plays Barbary. Desdemona, in this production, is enigmatic, but also beautiful. Here, Desdemona’s voice dominates the play. The original intent for this production was for Morrison and Sellars to create a companion piece to Othello to show at secondary schools.

Thompson shares a story where she talked with Sellars’ The assistant told Thompson that the production team asked her to come in based on her research and work on casting. Thompson jokingly states that when she saw what was happening, she said, “Oh shit!”

Thompson explains that Morrison wanted to create a Desdemona that was different from any Shakespearean production with a great emphasis on music because “if Othello is about vision, Desdemona is about sound.” The goal was to unbind the story from time. The play takes place after death, in a “timeless” world. Desdemona knows more after death than she did during her life. Morrison’s response in this re-vision helps the audience reconcile with the tragedy of Othello that Iago brings to the life of Desdemona and the other characters.

Thompson explains that she offers a less optimistic view on the Othello/Desdemona binary. She believes that the lack of dialogue with other feminist writings has stunted development of new re-visions of Othello. She states that she sees the play as more of an event than a play, which impacts the play’s reproducibility. In addition, Thompson questions the ultimate utility of revisiting Othello.

As a performance product, Desdemona is a great experience. She describes the mostly-bare set, with the actress Traoré playing her guitar with teenage backup singers. Thompson describes these backup singers as upbeat and “in their own… play.” The stage is black with white costumes for the performers made of Malian linen. Projections on the background translate the text into the language of the location of the play, such as French. The actress playing Desdemona plays all of the other characters, with the exceptions of Cassio, who appears as a projected voice and Barbary – whose name is revealed to be Sa’aran [sic] – played by another actress. Thompson then plays a short clip of the performance with a song by Traoré for the audience.

In Desdemona, Desdemona and Othello’s mothers speak to each other. While the two women come to no clear resolution, but do come to an understanding about the different worlds from which they come. However, they cannot connect through religion. Desdemona’s mother wants to kneel and pray for her daughter, while Othello’s mother desires to make sacrifices for her son’s death. This found understanding comes through dialogue and appears again and again.

Thompson further talks about the character of Desdemona in the production Desdemona. Desdemona is the focus of the performance. Her parents named her “misery,” but she will not be passive to the misogynistic society which she was born into. Her character is “inquisitive, forceful, and direct.” Her insights alone are more hollow and shallow than in her conversations with other characters. These engagements with other characters allow her to explore herself and others. Here, Desdemona and Emilia gain a greater understanding with each other and Desdemona moves from judgment to understanding with Emilia. Time also allows Desdemona and Othello to gain a greater understanding of each other. Othello, in Desdemona’s afterlife timeline, tells his wife of his days in the army on the field. Othello describes to Desdemona how he and Iago raped a woman with a young boy viewer. He reveals their shame from this act, but also states that the memory will live in another: that of the young viewer. While Desdemona does not forgive him, but states that she will remain committed to him.

Here, in Desdemona, “we are not simply left with tragedy.” Thompson stresses that we get the apologies we have waited years for in this production. This re-vision allows for a resolution and the concrete possibility for another world. Desdemona’s interactions with other women creates a “queer space,” particularly with Barbary. Desdemona attempts to connect with Barbary; however, Barbary does not reveal an interest in further engagement with Desdemona. Desdemona includes her own suffering with Barbary’s suffering, which invites several interpretations of the connection of the suffering between these two women, including cultural appropriation.

Thompson states that the performance mode of Desdemona does not bridge the gap between sound and vision. Here, the potentials for the play contract, rather than expand, due to this limited scope. In addition, Thompson describes Traoré as the cornerstone of this production, and points out that currently the play does not have a run outside of her. In contrast, the production changed the actress for Desdemona at one point. This text, like many other re-visions, remains insulated and does not connect with other re-visions of Othello.

Thompson further stresses that Desdemona attempts to give a voice to the absent black woman in Othello through Traoré’s portrayal of Barbary.

Thompson, in quoting a woman who did not want her husband to play Othello in a performance, states that “This play is a struggle.” She then reflects that perhaps that should be the tagline for Othello, garnering a huge laugh from the audience.

Most revisionists have turned a blind eye to the breadth of Othello re-visions, particularly female-written re-visions, who seem to resist reading other re-visions of the play. Thompson notes that there is less of an intertextual dialogue between multiple present texts and a greater focus on the past original text, the Shakespearean text, and the present text in creation by the re-visionist.

Thompson notes that Traoré often talks about her travels between Mali and France and the greater death in childbirth among her friends in Mali. She has several concerns about death, a topic which she sings about a great deal in Desdemona. Thompson wonders if the play is the proper venue for these concerns that Traoré portrays within the contexts of Shakespeare’s story. She concludes by suggesting the possibility that Othello must stay on the shelf for this purpose, in order to fully explore this voice.

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Plenary Session 4

Welcome to the fourth plenary session, and the first of day two of the conference! I am Mary Finch and I will be live blogging this session that runs from 9:00 – 10:15 am. Thanks for joining us!

Hsian-Chun Chu, National Changhua University of Education
Performing Magic on StageL Conventions, Strategies, and Audience Participation

Chu began by defining magic in order to understand the term correctly: “the art of producing illusion as entertainment by use of sleight of hand, deceptive devices, and so on.” Using magic in plays can both intrigue and horrify audiences, and often contributed to the success of a play on the Elizabethan stage.

Sorcerer Plays, or magus plays, were a popular genre that featured a powerful magician at the center of events. The events normal included a search for power, a rivalry, a quest for advantage, and success (or failure) or the quest. In these plays, there were two kinds of magic: spiritual magic (which was more benign and used nature as a source of power) and demonic magic (which involved the invocation of otherworldy creatures). So the plays used literary and folklore traditions surrounding magic.

Chu then discussed the strategies for performing this magic on stage. The fantastical spectacles often use equipment, such as we see in The Tempest (a staff) and Doctor Faustus (books). Chu then analyzed an image from a title page of Doctor Faustus and images surrounding the magician: robes, books, a staff, and so forth.

Using Prospero as an example, Chu looked at the text to look at the appearance of a great magician. When Prospero removes his magic clothes he changes from being a magician to being a man. The robes were a means of transformation, and reflected the Elizabethan tradition of connecting clothes to status. Prospero also uses books, another sign of status and magic. The staff, which is only mentioned at the end of the text, is also used in The Tempest. Like a king’s scepter, it is a symbol of power and authority.

Jumping to the conclusion, Chu was interrupted by the bear.

Lauren Shepherd, University of Toronto
“Supposed to be distracted”: Performing the simple, mad, distracted lunatic

Shepherd went to England to examines the language of court records of institutions housing mental patients during the Early Modern period. These records allow actors and directors to make a connection between real life and the text of plays.

Starting with the word “lunatic,” Shepherd read several accounts of individuals being described as such and sent to Bethlehem. The origins of the word attributes the madness to the moon. Although not limited to women, the word was more commonly used to describe women. Looking at Twelfth Night, Shepherd asked actors to stage Malvolio’s diagnosis of being lunatic (Patrick Harris as Malvolio, Ian Charles as Feste).

Shepherd then turned to the term distracted, a word more commonly used to describe men than women. Hamlet’s madness frequently is described as such. Again, actors staged the moment when Hamlet considers murder (Patrick Harris as Claudius, Ian Charles as Hamlet). Distracted generally communicates not knowing how to behave, rather than a loss of control.

Finally, Shepherd discussed simple and ignorant, which are permanent rather than temporary (as lunatic and distracted were understood to be). Simple was often paired with distracted for female patients and alleviated some of the blame for their behavior. Again though, Shakespeare attributes these phrases to men more than women, in contrast of the common tradition. Shepherd staged the final monologue of Richard II (Marshall Garrett) as an example.

Temporary instances of madness are described as lunacy and distraction, while simple and ignorant indicate a permanent condition that is outside the control of the individual.

Sara B. T. Thiel, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
“Cushion come forth”: Materializing Pregnancy on the Stuart Stage

Thiel described the “chaste nymphs” of The Golden Age by Heywood which documents pregnancy, as being hidden and then discovered. In a dumb show, the characters undress and pregnancy is seen by all on stage and, maybe, the audience. The convention of an all male audience raises questions about what exactly everyone saw. This paper looks at the intersection between the boy actor and the pregnant character.

Pregnancy was a highly visible stage convention, and Thiel plans to look at possible ways of staging the pregnant body. In some cases, as in The Heir, costumes are removed to deconstruct gender and reveal a fake pregnancy or a disguise. Actors Marshall Garrett, Patrick Harris, and Ian Charles staged the moment of discovery with the stage direction “He flings the cushion at him” giving us a clue as to how they staged the pregnancy. The OED has a separate definition for this use of cushion, specifically known as “Mary’s Cushion” after Tudor Mary who was frequently mistakenly thought to be pregnant.

Shakespeare’s Henry IV part 2 also has a moment of claimed pregnancy when Doll Tearsheet is arrested for murder and the officer refers to a cushion.

In The Golden Age, the text draws attention to the pregnant body; actors again stage the moment, but this time the actor’s belly is upstage and therefore out of sight and the actors’ reactions tells the audience what has happened. In a second staging the actors faced forward allowing the audience to see the prosthetic belly. In other plays, the birth of a child reveals the pregnancy, but in this play it is the physical swelling that signals pregnancy.

Looking at this moment from The Golden Age illustrates how pregnancy can both create and dismantle the costume of the boy actor on the stage.

Claire Bourne, Virginia Commonwealth University
Turn It Up (Or Down): Dramatic Action and Typographic Experiment in Early Modern Playbooks

Bourne begins by challenging the assumption that 17th century printers were unconcerned with the typographic design of printing their plays. The awkwardness of the page shows “active experimentation” rather than indifference.

The turn up/over method showed that printers considered the relationship between dialogue and stage directions, and the nature of verse. Printers attempted to account for action on stage and make it legible to readers. In the earliest examples, the occasional brief stage direction was simply set to the edge of the page. As time goes on, stage directions become more detailed and more carefully situated on the page and varied in font, corresponding with the dialogue that should accompany action. Combing lines was also an economical decision; less lines meant less pages which meant a cheaper printing.

Bourne showed several examples of printers using parenthesis to indicate how the stage direction relates to lines other than the ones with which it shares space. In some cases, there are multiple of these where the stage direction spans several lines.

The printers used these cues to show the integral relationship between the interlexical business and the dialogue. The use of different alignment, font, and conventions were not meant to create division between the words and the directions, but meant to be legible and easy to understand.

Claire Kimball, independent scholar
Important Silence: Dumb Shows in Dekker and Middleton’s The Bloody Banquet

Kimball opened by announcing that The Bloody Banquet was staged for the first time in four hundred years this summer in Washington DC. As the title suggests, the play was served with lots of gore to a positive acceptance. Within this play, are two dumb shows which has caused scholars to question how they came to be in the play. Kimball asserts that these dumb shows are not textually inferior, but a moment for actors to take creative liberty.

The first dumb show gives exposition, and the second gives important plot and reviews major events; both are [paired with lines from the Chorus. Based on stagings and readings that remove dumb shows, it seems that many think these are antiquated and redundant.

“We don’t always trust them” — scholars and directors are unwilling to fully trust the text (and the dumb shows).

In staging the dumb shows, Kimball recounts how actors must give it an honest chance without making fun of it, even when the events are seemingly absurd. Kimball used actors to contrast the use of a chorus and the use of a dumb show (actors Ian Charles, Merlyn Snell, Meredith Johnson).

One audience member from the performance in Washington DC listed the dumb show as one of the most branding images of the play, equal to the gruesome cannibalistic violence.

Kimball closes by insisting that dumb shows are in the text for a reason, and that directors have a responsibility to stage the silent moments seriously, in order to see if they are worth performing.

“Pantomime performances are thorny, but inventive spaces,” and should not be lightly cast aside.

— Mary Finch
MLitt Student at MBC Shakespeare and Performance

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Wake-Up Workshop: ROADS to Rhetoric

Morning!  Whitney Egbert here to live blog the start of our second full day here at the Blackfriars Conference.  Our session is being run by Cass Morris, the OCS Academic Resources Manager.  The session runs from 8:00 to 8:45 on the stage in the theatre.

Cass will be introducing us to the way that the OCS teaches rhetoric.  She starts by giving us her background on rhetoric, coming from her background in Latin and then learning in college that we do it in English too.  She points out the need to start this much early to help students see the pattern of what is going on and how we can use language.

ROADS is the OCS’s methods stands for:

Repetition – it is built into our brains, we cling to it as it feels natural to us.  The most basic repetition is that of sound.  She gives us an example from Midsummer with the repetition of the “b” sound that sounds like a baby or a brooke or a sheep.  The actor can then make a decision of what it means – nerves or brilliance in this example – to color the character.  The next type of repetition is the repetition of a set of words – the first time we hear it, we don’t know; the second one we recognize it and anticipate the third (which is our natural preference as well).  Again actor choice of where the repetition comes from motivating the choice.  A third kind of repetition is structural – using a piece from Julius Caesar, Morris identifies how we start to see a character that understands and uses rhetoric on both other characters and the audience.

Omission – Morris points out first that this can sometimes be the hardest to wrap your hands around.  Omission is the idea where a word is left out but your brain fills in the gap.  Or, as in an example from Othello, where antecedents are left out by one character (Iago in this example) to get another character (Othello) to fill in something on their own.  The advanced version of this is paralipsis where a layer of meaning is left out.  The final version of omission is figurative where Morris uses an example from Romeo and Juliet when Mercutio dies and speaks of the stab wound as “a scratch.”

Addition – The first kind Morris speaks about is the descriptive addition, where a character adds in an abundance of words instead of the simplest version.  Morris uses an example from Macbeth where the horses break out but the description tell us more and more about the horses themselves as well as the situation at hand.  Unnecessary but descriptive.  The second kind of addition is the corrective – “ladies, or fair ladies” from Midsummer.  Really allows for character choice with the actor.

Direction – Morris starts by saying that this is what trips students up the most about Shakespeare.  By direction she means the syntax of Shakespeare, the ways in which the words are put together.  Using an example from Henry V where Henry saves his verb until the end.  Morris mentions that Dr. Cohen has a theory that many of the upper class characters might do this because they would have spoken Latin as well and fall into the habit of that syntax.  Or in this example, how Henry might be doing it on purpose to mess with the French ambassador.  Morris moves on to mention that direction is not just accidental disorder but can also be purposeful – Claudius’ open speech is potentially not meant to be understood.  Direction can also be purposeful to build emotion for the audience.  Morris uses the opening prologue from Henry V to show how a build up or a build down can change the emotion that the actor gives to the audience. Another kind of direction is contrast – the two choices that an actor poses.

Substitution – The first kind of substitution is figurative – the most common form is the metaphor: “share the crown,” “oh this accursed hand that did this deed,” etc.  Often it creates a removal of agency from the character.  The next kind of substitution is one kind of grammar for another – a noun for a verb or vie versa.  This is a natural phenomenon that is prevalent in our language today – I’m going to text someone, I’m going to google something, etc.  In Shakespeare, often the characters that do this are verbally intelligent – Cleopatra for example.  The next kind of substitution is a form of sentence for another – a statement becomes a question for example.  Questions are used to engage characters and the audience.  Malapropism is the final form of substitution – where a word that sounds like the correct word is said instead.

We wrap up with a handout describing all the things Morris spoke about and giving resources for furthering what you know about rhetoric.  Or you can buy the flashcards that Morris developed and are sold in the gift shop or online from the OCS.

And we are off to the rest of the day!

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Plenary Session 3

Welcome to the third plenary session, and the final session for day one of the conference! I am Mary Finch and I will be live blogging this session that runs from 4:15-5:30 pm. Thanks for joining us!

Jeanne McCarthy, Georgia Gwinnett College
The “Studious” Actor in Sixteenth-Century Popular Theatre; Or, Reconsidering the Influence of the Grammar School on Popular Culture

McCarthy begins by observing how several of Shakespeare’s scenes discuss literacy and study, most notably the mechanicals in A Midsummer’s Nights Dream. While most players could read, not all of them could and certainly not their entire audience. Progress towards literacy throughout Elizabethan England was inconsistent. Players attracted those who followed the tradition of an oral culture with its pageantry in costumes and plot.

Turning towards the school drama, McCarthy discusses the influences of the philosopher Quintilian. McCarthy explains that the works of the schools were, like Shakespeare’s plays, deeply literary and performative due to the influence of Quintilian, which raised the bar for performance of adult actors as well. The textual study that grew out of Quintilian’s philosophy focused on feeling, not just displaying. The pedagogy of Quintilian also focused on empathy, encouraging students to imagine what their characters were feeling or thinking.

McCarthy then highlighted how Hamlet’s disdain for indicative acting follows along with the acting philosophy of Quintilian. The similarities between Quintilian and the methods Stanislavsky and A. C. Bradley challenge how we view acting from the Elizabethan time.

Ann Thompson, King’s College London
Chests and Trunks on the Early Modern Stage

Thompson begins by discussing the most notable, and dramatic, use of a chest in Cymbeline. Thoughout Elizabethan plays, trunks and chests are used for numerous reasons, benign and malevolent, for purposes ranging from hiding identity to storing gods to a discreet location for illicit sex. Today, trunks most often contain a body. Interestingly, both trunk and chest are terms for the human body.

Thompson elaborates on the use of the words in the context of plays. The trunks can also refer to parts of trees as well as places to store things, according to OED which lists storage as one of the final uses of the word. The term only refers to furniture six times in Shakespeare’s work. It is far more likely to refer to a human body. In many cases, he puns with the word invoking both meanings.

In contrast, chest more commonly refers to the non-corporeal meaning, but still appears as a referent for the body occasionally, in Shakespeare’s texts. The variety of meanings and contexts for trunks and chests provide a wealth of interpretive decisions, either referenced or brought on stage.

Thompson concluded by observing that a trunk on stage would be an ideal hiding place from the Bear.

Kerry Cooke, James Madison University
Address for Success: Epistolary Theory in Twelfth Night

Cooke plans to argue that Shakespeare did use letters for dramatic effects, not just to convey meaning or act as a messenger. She neatly broke her lecture into three parts:

Part 1: “Theoretically Speaking”

To begin, Cooke highlighted the ways that letters reflected the social hierarchy of Early Modern England. In letter writing, status of the writer and receiver governed the features and style of the writing. Letters contained a number of formalities, one of them being the use of a secretary hand or italic hand. Everything from status, content, and gender determined what handwriting was most appropriate. Cooke further explained the content and recipients of the letter even determined the alignment of the words on the page.

“Letter writing was a goal orientated activity” where conventions were a means to success.

Part 2: The Twelfth Time You’ve Seen this Scene

Cooke draws upon the moment when Malvolio examines the letter he assumes is from Olivia, using actor Marshall Garrett to read the famous lines. Commenting as Garret reads, Cooke shows how Malvolio’s description of the letter draws in the audience. A “lady’s hand” means the letter is written in italics, not just that it appears feminine. Malvolio then acknowledges the other formalities such as the waxen seal,  which indicates privacy along with authorship.The interspersion of prose and verse fills the page, and the salutation, signature, and post-script complete the physical image of the letter, along with the written message.

Part 3: All Dressed Up

Looking at the effect of the letter on Malvolio, Cooke shows how successfully Maria considered her audience, the haughty Malvolio. Maria used the italic hand of an upper class woman, framed her letter appropriately on the page, and created a signature that allures to Malvolio. According to Cook, Malvolio did not misread the letter because he was proud or lustful, but he read it exactly as Maria intended it, making it successful letter.

Shannon Kelley, Fairfield University
Crooked Trees and Mistresses: Staging the Contreblason in Lyly’s Endymion

Kelley begins by asking as to imagine the pillar on the stage as a tree, which actor Marshall Garrett will fall in love with during the course of the lecture. (His moving performance caused interspersed laughter throughout.)

Kelley establishes that while stage trees are not rare, no playwright uses them as frequently with as much specificity as Lyly. The trees are not just a prop, but also a symbol invoking romance and the ideas of Ovid. They can even suffer violence. Some trees even speak in the plays.

In Endymion, Sir Tophas genuinely renounces young women in favor of older women, which prepares audiences for his romantic interest in the stage tree later on since he already resists societal expectations of love and romance. The use of Aspen specifically, a smooth yet loud tree, reflects women full of talk and noise, just the sort of older women Tellus prefers. Kelley shares a myth about the devil giving women the gift (or curse) of speech through an Aspen leaf strengthening the connection between the tree and Tophas for Elizabethan audiences.

However, Kelley goes on, Tophas’ love towards the tree becomes too much. Dipsas’ transformation back into a person is met with disdain from Tophas rather than adoration. This disappointment comes not only from the loss of the tree, but also that she is no longer “crone,” who he prefers to the Petrarchan ideal of beauty.

Sarah Neville, Ohio State University
Death Properties in Renaissance Drama: Coffins

Neville opens her speech by challenging the long hold assumption that there are numerous skulls on stage during the gravedigger scene–looking at stage directions, there is only a requirement for a shovel. Comparing the stage directions in the quarto and folio publications, Neville points out the differences in how Ophelia’s body is brought on stage. There is a long standing tradition assuming that the coffin of Ophelia must be open. Yet, Hamlet cannot see her and does not realize that it is Ophelia until Laertes identifies her. This examples embodies the problems of dealing with corpses and coffins on stage.

First, in order to have a corpse, someone had to bring it on stage, and then off again. Neville mused that the use of severed heads alleviated the weight of transporting bodies around the stage, and perhaps is why Shakespeare (and other authors) used them frequently.

This paper addressed the death problem and the way that Elizabethan play makers learned to solve the issue. The prevalent use of coffins in histories also brought them into comedies, romances, and tragicomedies.

Death properties allowed playwrights to explore the differences between “bodies within boxes, and those without.” Even today, as demonstrated by the process to stage today’s demonstration, dead bodies still present a problem for companies today.

Coffins appear at the start of Henry VI part 1 and Richard II, and Henslowe’s diary shows that they had two coffins in possession. In some cases, the body is left exposed with the more ambiguous stage directions “enter corpse” or the dialogue of the surrounding characters which remarks on the corpse. The most striking entrances of a corpse might be Lear’s carrying of his daughter Cordelia. This contrasts to the bringing of the treacherous daughters that are simply brought in. Several actors demonstrated the different effects of bring a corpse in a container, as opposed to carrying one on.

As Neville described it, “Coffins are a portable discovery space” that can contain doom, revival, and even transformation.

Neville has found that these uses are not only the result of an interest in death, but also a practical use. The increase use of death properties addresses with the problem of corpses, but also contributes to the ambiguity of tragicomedies, bringing death close to the living.

Paige Reynolds, University of Central Arkansas
Performing the Female Body in Macbeth

Reynolds started with anecdote about ways to avoid the “Curse”–one production blessed the shoes the actors wore to ward off ill will. A lesser known curse, but one as serious, surrounds the challenge of staging and dealing with the body of Lady Macbeth.

Reading Lady Macbeth as the embodiment of sexuality and moral depravity makes playing her deeply difficult, since the body of Lady Macbeth should both attract and repulse. The first mention of this curse of this comes from Malcolm’s descriptions of her as beast-like and sexually depraved.

Lady Macbeth’s famous “Unsex me here” speech achieves the opposite when staged; it clearly sexes her with its focus on the body and the repetition of the “come” (which has a disputed erotic history). The erotic performance contradicts the purpose of achieving a cool and detached commitment to ambition. Because of this contradiction, Lady Macbeth’s language and performance frequently registers as a “male fantasy.”

In contrast, Reynolds stresses that Lady Macbeth’s sexuality does not reflect a mental illness, nor can it be a characterization, just like “be seduced” could hardly function as characterization for Macbeth. Emphasizing the powers of seduction reduces Lady Macbeth to the insults of Malcolm.

Finally, the sleep walking scene forecasts Lady Macbeth’s death and exposes her internal struggle, while Macbeth’s struggle becomes more hidden from the audience. The observing doctor and waiting lady act as an audience, scrutinizing the night gown clad female body, and her exposed mind. The curse of figuring out the staging of Lady Macbeth’s sexual body offers as much potential for destruction as the other “Curse.”

— Mary Finch
MLitt student at MBC Shakespeare & Performance

Paper Session II

Hello everyone – this is Liz once again to blog for Paper Session II at the Blackfriars Playhouse. This session is full of great presentations, moderated by Mary Hill Cole of Mary Baldwin College. The presenters, in order, are Stephen Purcell of the University of Warwick with Just Who Do We Think We Are?: Some Models for Practice-as-Research in Shakespeare Studies, Nick Hutchison, a freelance director, with Is This Winning? Thoughts on The Two Noble Kinsmen in Performance, Jess Hamlet of Mary Baldwin College with Q2 Hamlet and its Neighbors, Sid Ray of Pace University with Staging Epilepsy in Othelloand Catherine Loomis of the University of New Orleans with “Sore hurt and bruised”: Visual Damage on the Early Modern Stage. Live-blogging of this session will run from two forty-five to four in the afternoon.

Mary Hill Cole introduces the panel, but it seems that one presenter is missing… She passes the question to Dr. Cohen, and the decision is made to have Stephen Purcell start off the session.

Stephen Purcell: Just Who Do We Think We Are?: Some Models for Practice-as-Research in Shakespeare Studies

Purcell begins with examples of practice as research, such as Mark Rylance’s work of performing Romeo and Juliet lines in monotone and inviting the audience to give an emotional cast upon the performance. He asserts that there seems to be a divide between the practitioner and researcher. Purcell gives the Globe recreation as a case where both practice and research can merge, particularly in how the remodel allows for an investigation of original staging practices. 

Purcell gives three different models for collaboration between the actor and researcher and suggests a fourth model. The first model is the expert and the craftsperson. This model lets the researcher overlook the research and theory, however, this method also sees the actor primarily as a skilled craftsperson. He points out that, in this model, “one of them makes through thinking and the other thinks through making.” The practitioner is the source and the researcher is the witness, in his second model. In a way, he clarifies, his second proposed method is almost the reverse of the first model. Here, theory translates to practice, rather than the other way around. He speaks about anthropological research, collaborative research together, which segues into the third method: co-examiners. In this method, the practitioner and researcher work together to explore. This method allows for an open-ended method. He then suggests a fourth method, that of an academic practitioner that is a never-ending cycle of questioning and searching for answers. Here, the practitioner and researcher are one, simultaneously practicing and researching to ask and answer questions.

Nick Hutchison: Is This Winning? Thoughts on The Two Noble Kinsmen in Performance

Hutchinson talks about working on The Two Noble Kinsmen at a university, during a season when he had the ability to do productions he normally would not be able to do. Previously, he states, much scholarship focused on who wrote which parts of this collaborative play between John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. In his production, Hutchinson wanted to focus on one authorial voice and theorized that Shakespeare relished working with Fletcher. 

Hutchinson brings out OCS actresses Allison Glenzer and Sarah Fallon to perform some segments from The Two Noble Kinsmen, in cross-gendered roles. He argues that the inconsistencies in the authorial voice are inherent in the characters, rather than “dramatically inconsistent.” He believes that these inconsistencies make the characters more human, rather than unbelievable and poorly written. 

Hutchinson then states that the women in The Two Noble Kinsmen are at the heart of the play and the two authors’ intentions. Glenzer and Fallon join Hutchinson again to perform more segments from the play, now as female characters. He speaks about the sexuality of the female characters, particularly Emilia and the Jailer’s Daughter. He speaks of the inherent sexual implications between these two women. To illustrate, Hutchinson has Glenzee and Fallon perform a scene and highlights the inherent sexuality in the dialogue. 

In contrast, he speaks of the boys’ adoration toward these women. He states that, in the end, no one is ultimately happy with their fate. Hutchinson points to the mixture of moods, comedic and tragic, in the play that reinforce the whole of the play. He expresses his hatred for the Morris dance, but then speaks of the courting dance and the “bouncing” in the woods that this portrays. This leads to the dark ending of the play. Hutchinson states that this dark ending illustrates the price of chivalry, because the characters will soon be dead. Hutchinson states when he focused on one voice in the play, rather than the inconsistencies, the true heart of the play became clear.

Jess Hamlet: Q2 Hamlet and its Neighbors

Hamlet starts with reminders that the print and book trade fell, ultimately, into the hands of the publishers. In the early 1600s, publishers judged which plays and texts appealed to patrons more. The second quarto of Hamlet, Hamlet states, appeared on the shelves of Nicholas Ling’s bookshop on Fleet Street. 

The second quarto appears in a short-title catalog on the shelf of this bookshop that worked with about six printers, two in particular more often than the rest. The short-title catalog names other Shakespearean titles surrounding the Q2 Hamlet. These were The First Part of the Contention betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster, Titus Andronicus,  the first quarto of Hamlet from 1603, and Henry IV. 

Hamlet suggests that, despite the similarity in authorship of Hamlet to the other Shakespearean plays, Gowrie was actually the more interesting of the surrounding books. Many similarities in the revenge plots and strong family ties solidify this assertion. She suggests that the similarities between Hamlet and Gowrie inspired reader to read both books: one as a dramatic text and another as a sort of sensational political writing. 

The first quarto of Hamlet also shared the shelf with the second quarto. This presented, in Hamlet’s words, a “unique marketing challenge.” A bookseller could market the second quarto as an elaboration of the original text. In addition, Q2 also emphasized the original authorship of the second quarto, rather than the performance nature of the first. Hamlet concludes that, without time-travel, we will never know the true story, however, we may speculate.

Sid Ray: Staging Epilepsy in Othello

Ray talks about Act IV, scene i as a sort of epilepsy. She states that Othello takes the position of the starer in this scene and wonders how this moment could bring up questions of perception for the audience, who are the “starers”of the play. 

Ray references the depiction of a falling sickness narrated in Julius Caesar. In Julius Caesar, Cassius narrates Caesar’s falling sickness and uses the narration to feminine Caesar. She states that in contrast, Othello demonstrates this epilepsy onstage. 

Here, Iago works Othello into an epileptic state. She looks at the stage directions, where the folio states that Othello “falls in a trance” versus other editions that state that he simply “falls down.” She talks about the impact of the staging of this scene where a black man writhes on the ground while a white man stands above. Ray acknowledges diagnosis studies and states that many psychologists and other professionals give their ideas on Othello’s condition, all differing in their conclusions. She points out that none of the professionals revert to the beliefs of Shakespeare’s day, which took into account cosmic goings-on and excesses of phlegm. She also talks about Iago’s medical views, through which the audience hears of Othello’s epilepsy, which she sees as dubious. Ray further explains that audiences in Shakespeare’s day believed that the mere sight of a disease passed on the disease. 

Ray then has Rene Thornton Jr. (Othello), Allison Glenzer (Iago), and Sarah Fallon (Cassio) perform this scene from Othello. Ray states that what the audience feels now, involving our history, experiences, and biases, is what the theatre of this scene is all about.

Catherine Loomis:“Sore hurt and bruised”: Visual Damage on the Early Modern Stage.

Loomis talks about visible and physical evidences of violence on the stage. She focuses on Othello, in the scene where Othello strikes his wife. 

Loomis brings Fallon (Lodovico), Glenzer (Emilia), and Thornton (Othello) to stage this scene from Othello. She talks about the use of the word “strike,” which normally shows status and authority. The character striking often has status over the stricken character. She wonders about the effect that a colored mark on Desdemona’s cheek has on an audience. 

The actors, Fallon, Glenzer, and Thornton, stage the scene again, this time with Desdemona applying makeup to indicate a mark from the strike. Loomis then previews of the next scene, where Desdemona can bear the black and blue marks of a bruise through more makeup application. She also states that a bruised Desdemona brings to mind a woman beaten to death. 

The actors then stage this next scene and Loomis points out the language that actively references the bruise from the previous strike. Glenzer and Fallon then stage a scene between Emilia and Desdemona. She asks the audience to focus on how these moments work both dramatically and thematically and the different perceptions audience members gain or lose with the visibility or invisibility of the bruise.

Questions and Answers

A scholar asks the actors what they think about staging the Othello scenes. Fallon states that a physical bruise makes it more apparent that Othello has hurt Desdemona. Thornton states that the use of makeup gave him a physical reaction. Due to another question from a scholar, Fallon reveals that she palmed a tube of makeup in her hand which she squeezed onto her face when she dropped to the ground. She reveals that with talking between scenes, she was able to apply more bruise makeup to make the bruise look darker and different.

A scholar asks a question about outsiders and disabilities in Shakespeare’s plays and if a more accepting society changes the influence of these characters. Ray states that Shakespeare’s audiences most likely saw seizures, which may affect their perception of epilepsy onstage.

A scholar asks how Hutchinson staged the relationship between Emilia and the Woman, or Jailer’s Daughter. He states that he believes that productions often neglect Emilia, and that he wanted to foreground Emilia to bring light to her in the production.

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Plenary Session 1

Welcome to the first plenary session of the 8th Blackfriars Conference! I’m Cass Morris, and I’ll be live-blogging this session from 1pm-2:15pm. OCS Board Chair Mary McDermott is moderating.

Lars Engle, University of Tulsa
Performing Shameless Performativity in Antony and Cleopatra

Engle opens by stating that “Cleopatra is performative”, and then moves to unpacking what, exactly, that means. He questions the definition of performative and performativity, wondering how nearly it means “theatrical”, and connects it to theorists (Butler and Sedgwick) whose work examines the performing of gender and sexuality. He then discusses how performativity connects to ideas of shame, and posits that it is possible that society has now transferred shame from queer sexuality to those who would shame queer sexuality.

Engle moves to discussing how Cleopatra foregrounds the very idea of performing: “Cleopatra, catching but the least noise of this, dies instantly: I have seen her die twenty times upon far poorer moment.” In 3.2 (selections presented by James Keegan and Sarah Fallon), Cleopatra prepares a performance meant for Antony, instructing Charmian in a story to carry to Antony. She adjusts her performance in 1.3 based on her audience — on how Charmian finds Antony and on his entrance. In doing so, she throws off his pre-planned farewell speech.

Engle marks Cleoaptra’s shift from shameless performativity to an apparently genuine moment of self-searching at “Sir, you and I must part, but that’s not it.” Following, she calls attention to the dangers both of performing and of believing in performativity. “This scene, then, both enacts performativity and anatomizes it.” Engle sees a philosophical warning in Cleopatra’s speech.

Alice Dailey, Villanova University
“I See Dead People”: 2 Henry IV and the Corpse of History

Dailey opens by discussing Nashe’s defense of theatre within Piers Penniless, calling upon the dramatic vitality of Shakespeare’s English history plays. Nashe argues that drama is a medium that can grant the figures of the past immortality, and Dailey notes that scholars have pointed to this passage as proof of Shakespeare’s ability to “make the past present.” She wants to look closer at what is made present and how. On stage, the Talbot Nashe describes in 1 Henry VI is “the walking dead”,

Dailey argues that theatrical revivification restores the dead hero as the subject of the dramatic present, but the subject remains bound to the object of his corpse. History plays stage a representational overlap of anterior and imminent death which argues against claims that theatre can create immortality. Dailey then considers the scene in 2 Henry IV where Morton relates the death of Hotspur to his father Northumberland. In doing so, he “constructs a temporal space in which Percy is both perpetually alive and perpetually dead”, never defeated and never undefeated. The text places the corpse prominently in the speech, with a dual meaning of both Hotspur’s body and the defeated body of the whole army. His metaphors of frozen fish and other motionless objects present a “compressed illustration of how the present of historical theatre unfolds” as a reminder of both deaths that have been and deaths that will be.

Dailey then presents a photo of Lewis Payne shortly before his 1865 execution, noting that, as we see the picture, he is both dead and going to die, and she connects this with the image Morton paints of Hotspur alive and a Hotspur who will die. “The heroes of the past do not transcend the corpse of history but are continually scripted to it.” Theatrical space then represents the “is”, the “was”, and the “will be” of the corpse all at once. Contextualizing Shakespeare’s play alongside photography highlights this temporal merging.

(Moderator notes that it’s always a relief to her when, at the end of history plays, everyone stands back up again).

Richard Preiss, University of Utah
The Alchemical Lavatory

“If you like reckless anachronism, I’ve got more for you. … In the first scene of Pulp Fiction…” Preiss describes a brief shot of a main character at the start of the movie, only revealed at the end of the movie when it becomes clear that the first scene is actually the last. The shot can only be caught, however, on repeat watching. Preiss notes that movies are now designed for “infinite instant replay”. He suggests that early modern theatre’s similar design was not in print, but in performance.

Preiss notes that the “notion of repertory as inventory is an abstraction”, considering the company in aggregate but not the individual plays. While a play may initially have occurred in repertory, we consider it a single thing. But — what if the form of the repertory permeated their content? He clarifies that he means the very fact of multiple performances, in that every play preceded and followed itself, whether or not immediately. Preiss then shares data about multiple performances in the early modern period, with some plays enjoying multiple-day runs and others running multiple times within a given period, though not consecutively.

“Does a play mean the same the second time it’s watched? How about the tenth?” Preiss suggests we experience plays as textual and singular, and that key moments are always described as though for the first time. Plays are considered self-contained and proceed without reference to earlier performances; “what we know by act five is all there is to know”. Early modern theatre, however, had to expect audiences for whom act one was also act six, as many may have seen the same production of the same show more than once, possibly within just a few days. Preiss suggests that playwrights may have written with this expectation in mind, and uses a scene from The Alchemist (performed by MBC students Joshua Williams, Aubrey Whitlock, and Shane Sczepankowski) to demonstrate. Immediate repetition seems to augment the humor for the audience in the theatre.

Theatre “feeds us ourselves” and “does so brazenly…. not made, but merely recycled.” Preiss employs many metaphors of ingesting, defecating, and sewage to underscore his point.

Amy W. Grubbs, Father Ryan High School
Rogues, Vagabonds, and Common Players: Late Elizabethan Playing Companies as a Stabilizing Force in Suburban London

Grubbs begins with a picture of early modern London as a desperate and impoverished place and foregrounds her intention to discuss the playhouses and their companies as a stabilizing force in an era when downward social mobility was high. She discusses three ways parishes might respond to the unsettled: charity, employment, and punishment. The general idea was that those who could work should do so, those who could not should be cared for, and those who could but did not should be whipped and marked out as “not part of a community, and therefore dangerous”.

At the turn of the 17th century, London’s theatrical suburbs were full of people who “did not belong”. Grubbs then shares early modern testimony suggesting that theatre companies, far from contributing to vagrancy, were known to be charitable and encouraged the employment of the unsettled. She cites the apprenticing program of bringing young boys into the companies, which could become a familial and therefore stabilizing dynamic. Grubbs also notes the relationship of the theatres to the watermen of the Thames, helping to create other economic opportunities in their neighborhoods.

To the third response, punishment, Grubbs notes that pickpockets in the theatre were treated similarly to adulterous women, forced to acknowledge their faults and ask forgiveness, positing the theatre as a community similar to that of a parish church. Grubbs suggests that, while these communities may have been temporary, citizens sought them out. The cheap price of entry encouraged this, as even the unsettled and poor could afford to attend as groundlings. “Something about the Globe was, evidently, important enough to the King’s Men” that they rebuilt even at cost, thus enabling them to continue offering cheap entertainment, even though by that time they had a more lucrative operation at the Blackfriars. “Their actions… show that the playing companies did engage in a stabilizing relationship with London’s unsettled.”

Grubbs finished by stating her hope that this research might inform the performance of plays with unsettled characters as well as the production of plays in our own unsettled and poor neighborhoods.

Tiffany Stern, Oxford University
Dumbshows, Revision, and Authorship

Stern opens by noting that she’s been thinking about stage directions and dumbshows: “Dumbshows: Why are they so weird?” She puts the 1604 version of the Hamlet dumbshow on the projector, followed by the 1623 Folio version, noting that the dumbshow is verbally different, but describes the same actions, in both dumbshows. She wonders, then, why did the dumbshow get changed? Where did the new words come from? “Why rewrite words that will never be spoken?” She then presents the two overlaid with each other, to illustrate some “pointless revisions”.

Next, Stern shares a segment from John Lyly’s 1591 Endimion, followed by the same play printed in 1632. By 1632, a dumbshow has been added to the selection, though the text of the plays are entirely the same. The songs and dumbshows added, she suggests, traveled differently from the rest of the text — but why? Stern shares examples of texts where both songs and dumbshows appear collected together at the start or end of a play. For songs, this is easily explained, but she questions why the same thing would be true for an unspoken dumbshow.

“This might help us think about it,” she notes, showing the frontispiece of Locrine, with a note on it illustrating that dumbshows were not necessarily written by the same person who wrote the play. Like songs, Stern suggests that many dumbshows may have been lost or moved due to the simple fact that they were on different paper, which might fall out or get reassembled. She also suggests that they may have had separate rehearsals.

Stern finishes by stating that this was a way of helping her explore stage directions, of which dumbshows are one kind, and she notes that the term “stage direction” does not occur until the 18th century. As such, when we think of stage directions, we may be imposing something onto the term which does not necessarily exist. The first use occurs in Lewis Theobald’s 1733 version of The Works of Shakespeare, and Theobald uses it to say “this is a really rubbish thing” regarding the dumbshow in Hamlet.

James Keegan, OCS & University of Delaware
Macbeth and PTSD: Combat Trauma and the (Un)Doing of a Character

Keegan speaks of his own creation of Macbeth, for whom “doing and undoing” is central. The title of the piece, and a key component of his character work, stems from Shay’s work on soldiers with PTSD after combat. He notes that Shay used Lady Percy’s description of Hotspur from 1 Henry IV as a diagnosis of combat trauma; Sarah Fallon presents the speech with Keegan interjecting the symptoms Shay identified. He notes that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth suffer many of the same symptoms – insomnia, traumatic dreams, hallucination, a sense of the dead being more present than the living, social withdrawal, isolation, lack of capacity for intimacy, depression, loss of ability to experience pleasure – and Keegan and Fallon enact examples from Macbeth.

Keegan notes that while it might not be unusual for a man who murders a houseguest king to suffer PTSD over the act, he is arguing that Macbeth was actually suffering PTSD before the murder, which in fact made him more susceptible to committing it. He aligns the early description of Macbeth in combat as a “berserk combatant”, and notes that Macbeth suffered two of the triggers Shay identifies for causing a soldier to enter such a state. Drawing from this, Keegan states that it made it easier for him to consider the witches as a sort of hallucination; he admits that the matter is complicated by the fact that Banquo sees them too, but he notes that Banquo has come from a similar berserker state. The 2014 casting of three muscular men in the roles of the witches “had a martial aspect that resonated” with the described scenes of battle. Patrick Midgley, in fact, doubled as the bloody captain and quick-changed into a witch.

Macbeth, fresh from the brutality of war and the predictions of the witches, can be seen as similar to Achilles in the Iliad, though Keegan notes that Macbeth has less reason to believe himself betrayed than Achilles. Keegan describes the scene where Duncan names his successor — not the warrior he has admitted deserves the honor, but his son, who had to be protected in battle. Keegan argues that Macbeth might see this as a betrayal of what is right, even though it was not a betrayal of anything promised.

Keegan notes that his examination of the character in this light is not to excuse his actions, but to explore where his decisions to act came from. Lady Macbeth attacks the essential component of his martial aspect, his courage. Killing Duncan brings those martial aspects into the domestic sphere, ultimately upending the rest of Macbeth’s life. Keegan notes the use of this concept in other productions, quoting Michael Fassbender about his role preparation and speaking of a production which tried to add in battle scenes to assist the audience in their understanding.

–Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager