Gender and Behavior in TWELFTH NIGHT

Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from the OCS Education Study Guide on Twelfth Night, available for purchase in our Gift Shop or through lulu.com as a PDF download or a print-on-demand hard copy. You’ve got til November 27th to see our current production of Twelfth Night and discover for yourself how OCS actors portray the confusions and complexities of gender and identity in the play.

Perspectives

Gender and Behavior

Twelfth Night is one of several of Shakespeare’s plays to feature a heroine who dresses as a man. At the beginning of his career, Shakespeare included a cross-dressing heroine in The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Julia dresses as a pageboy to follow her boyfriend to another city. She reveals herself at the end to stop him from marrying another woman. Julia’s disguise is a plot convenience, allowing her to travel and to observe Proteus without suspicion. Later plays push that plot device further, creating the cross-dressed woman as an object of desire. In As You Like It, written two or three years before Twelfth Night, Rosalind dresses as a boy named Ganymede to travel into the forest; when she runs into her crush, Orlando, she offers, as Ganymede, to pretend to be Rosalind so that Orlando can practice wooing. She also finds herself the object of desire of a shepherdess named Phebe. In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare presses the mismatched desire even further, having a primary character, Olivia, and making that desire a central point of conflict in the play, rather than a side joke. This creates a double-play of suggested homoeroticism; Olivia is in love with Cesario, who is actually another woman, while Orsino thinks he’s falling for a boy, who is actually a woman, who was originally played by a male actor.

Twelfth Night | American Shakespeare Center

Jessika Williams as Viola and John Harrell as Orsino in TWELFTH NIGHT. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Gender issues could prompt quite a bit of social anxiety in early modern England. Many of the anti-theatrical polemics leveled at the playing companies lamented the presentation of boys as women, particularly in romantic roles. Conversely, the idea of women usurping men’s roles suggested an upending of convention. Though a female monarch had ruled England for over forty years – and for all of Shakespeare’s lifetime – women were still considered subordinate to men, legally, socially, and religiously; even Queen Elizabeth spent much of her life pressured by her councilors to find a man to share her throne. Many pamphlets published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sought to instruct women on their “proper” place – suggesting that a great many of them had stepped outside the proscribed bounds and entered spheres typically dominated by males. Only two or three years before Twelfth Night, in As You Like It, Shakespeare has Rosalind reappear in women’s garb at the end of the play, which some scholars have suggested was a deliberate method of allaying social anxiety about her ability to resume her feminine role. Viola in Twelfth Night, like Julia in the earlier Two Gentlemen of Verona, never reappears in her “women’s weeds,” remaining in a state of gender ambiguity through the end of the play.

Twelfth Night | American Shakespeare Center

Allison Glenzer as Olivia and Jessika Williams as Viola in TWELFTH NIGHT. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Today, the definition of gender roles remains a hot-button issue. Political debates continue to challenge ideas about balance between the sexes, both socially and financially. In many ways, however, the conversation has changed from determining what one gender or the other can or can’t do to debating the very meaning of gender itself. As the 21st-century begins, advocates for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights continue to push at the boundaries of the binary gender system. In 2010, a British expatriate living in Australia became the world’s officially and legally neuter person, though some cultures of the Indian subcontinent and of Southeast Asia have long recognized the existence of a “third gender.” More recently, transgender advocates such as Laverne Cox, of Orange is the New Black fame, have raised the profile of the transgender population – which has, in turn, led to political debates over bathroom use and legally protected classes. The ongoing gender debate suggests the existence of gray areas between male and female and in the spectrum of sexual attraction – the very sort of grey area that Viola-as-Cesario inhabits.

Twelfth Night, along with the other gender-bending comedies featuring cross-dressing heroines, suggests that, in the view of society, at least, a person’s role in life is more defined by what they wear and how they behave than it is by anatomy. How does Viola challenge or affirm the idea of strictly defined roles for genders? How convincing is her disguise? Several characters tell her during the course of the play that she behaves in a way unbefitting a man, particularly when she does such stereotypically feminine things as fainting at the sight of blood. How does Viola give herself away? How much double-speak does she engage in, allowing the audience to appreciate her duality without explicitly telling other characters about it?

To explore these issues in your classroom, download these sample activities or purchase the OCS Study Guide for Twelfth Night today!

MLitt Thesis Festival 2014: Session 1

Stephan Pietrowski: “Getting Dirt On-Stage: Shakespeare’s Gardens”:
Actors: Linnea Barklund, Monica Cross, Susan Scaccia, Deirdre Shupe, Jordan Zwick
Pietrowski begins by explaining that his presentation will focus on the “Definitions” chapter of his thesis, examining the difference between wild and cultivated settings in Shakespeare. He moves through several definitions, supplemented by examples from the plays, as when Orlando believes that the Forest of Arden is a desert in As You Like It, Othello’s reference to “a wilderness of monkeys,” and the “blasted heath” in Macbeth. He then examines the places in between the two extremes of cities and total wilderness — parks, fields, and forests. “Many forests are closer to wilderness on the cultivation spectrum,” Pietrowski notes, citing the range of such settings in Shakespeare’s plays. Pietrowski uses A Midsummer Night’s Dream to explicate how Shakespeare sets up expectations of the forest — in this case, familiar to the characters, but still supposedly bereft of other humans. In Macbeth, Shakespeare first establishes the permanence of a forest, then has Malcolm’s army subvert that expectation.

Fields stand in contrast to forests, open land, especially though not necessarily that used for pasture or crops; some fields are thus more cultivated than others. Pietrowski uses the example of the ladies’ lodging in the field in Love’s Labour’s Lost to explore its liminal status with regard to human civilization. Parks were, in early modern usage, more for the keeping of animals than our modern sensibility of the term, more cultivated than forests and generally under single ownership. Pietrowski relates Windsor park in The Merry Wives of Windsor to the forest in Midsummer — a place commonly known, remote yet accessible at the same time.

Pietrowski then moves to more obviously cultivated settings: orchards and gardens. The terms were occasionally used interchangeably, though orchards generally imply fruit-bearing trees, and gardens are often decorative. Pietrowski identifies differences in characters’ interactions with the environment between wild and cultivated settings. Pietrowski notes the use of gardens and orchards for eavesdropping scenes in both Twelfth Night and Much Ado about Nothing. Gardens have not only fences and boundaries, but often doors, as seen in Twelfth Night. The garden is still a semi-public space, as characters who are not part of Olivia’s household have visual access to it. The orchard and garden of Much Ado have arbors and bowers, but apparently no foliage sufficient to provide coverage for the hiding Benedick and Beatrice, as the other characters clearly demonstrate that they can see their targets. Pietrowski then brings up 2 Henry VI to demonstrate the invasion of a private garden by Jack Cade: Cade moves from the forest, where he has no food, to the brick-walled garden, but the gardener, protecting his cultivation, punishes Cade’s invasion with death.

Pietrowski concludes by previewing the rest of his thesis, which will compare the elements of safety and danger present in both wild and cultivated spaces.

Q&A: Paul Menzer notes that the idea of a “cultivation spectrum” challenges the idea that Shakespeare’s plays all take place either in the court or the country. Pietrowski answers that most of these spaces do still, broadly, belong either to the court or country binary, but that the idea of a “desert”, where there are no people, is impossible on stage (since, as Menzer notes, as soon as you bring a person on, it’s no longer a desert), eliminating part of the spectrum from production.
Q: Amy Grubbs asks how Pietrowski’s research may relate to performance. A: Pietrowski thinks it may help develop character traits with regard to feelings of safety or danger, especially on entrances to scenes. He also hopes to add context back to some of the words whose precise meaning has shifted over time.
Q: Kelly Elliott questions the idea of Caesar’s will leaving his “parks and orchards” to the people and how to instruct actors on what to do with that revelation. A: Pietrowski notes that this would shift a private space into a public space, as well as providing a place for sustenance in the orchard.
Q: Marshall Garrett asks where battlefields fit in to the research. A: Pietrowski fits them in with the heath in Macbeth.

Ashley Pierce: “Two Genders, Both Alike in Dignity: The Re-Gendering of Three of Shakespeare’s Villains”:
Actors: Josh Brown, Danielle Guy, Jamie Jager, Meredith Johnson, David Loehr, Tiffany Waters, Andrew White
Pierce’s presentation opens with two competing casts, one male and one female, both attempting to take the stage to present the thesis. Pierce notes that Shakespeare’s plays contain 840 male roles to 148 female roles, a convention which makes sense in the context of early modern drama, when female roles were played by prepubescent “Bieber wannabes”, but which is not entirely compatible with modern practice. Jamie Jager and Tiffany Waters present part of an Orsino-Viola scene from Twelfth Night, which Pierce notes that, in early modern context, this allowed the boy actor to actually portray his own gender on-stage. Jager and Waters then present a scene from Macbeth, with Jager as Macbeth and Waters as a cross-cast Banquo. Pierce notes that this cross-gender casting is what has become the norm in modern theatre, asking the audience to ignore Waters’s true gender, supplanting it with the character’s gender. Pierce then posits that re-gendering, actually changing the gender of the character, is another possibility, and she cites several recent examples, including the re-gendering of Prospero as Prospera in The Tempest and the Rogues’ re-gendering of Faustus. She then asks why there is so much resistance to the idea.

Pierce points out that while both leading and secondary roles have seen prominent re-gendering, few villains have seen re-gendering. Her question aims to find out why these roles “seem impervious” to re-gendering. Josh Brown and Danielle Guy then present competing Iagos; then David Loehr and Meredith Johnson present competing Shylocks. Pierce discusses some of the varying physical and vocal choices that the actors discovered while rehearsing these scenes. Pierce also notes the difficulties in changing a female body and voice to imitate a male body and voice, and that re-gendering lifts this burden from an actor.

Pierce then addresses the potential accusation that this trade is unfair, asking men to “give up” the villain roles. She clarifies that she doesn’t intend that “men give up the villain roles forever”, but rather that she hopes productions will keep a more open eye with regard to casting. Her two casts “negotiate” a trading of roles, a male Paulina for a female Antigonus. Pierce expresses her hopes that this might — “and get a few more female actors jobs in the process”.

Q&A: Ralph Cohen asks Pierce to explicate some of the practical research she did through scenework. Pierce notes that in re-gendering Tybalt, a lot came down to the embodiment of violence and fight scenes, and that re-gendering Iago created a lesbian relationship in Othello.
Q: Rebecca Hodder asks if the difference in the fight had as much to do with gender as with body type. A: Pierce notes that, yes, the male and female actors had different body types to begin with, but indicates that the relationship between Tybalt and Capulet still seemed to alter based on gender, not physical body type. She acknowledges a need to find ways to control for those differences.
Q: Patrick Harris questions her nod towards female-to-male regendering and how it might affect other forms of non-traditional casting. A: Pierce acknowledges that it opens up a lot of other issues as well, and speaks to the need to make sure that female-to-male role re-gendering not become comedic.

David Loehr: “Shakespeare’s Theatrical References”
Actors: Marshall Garrett, Celi Oliveto, Aubrey Whitlock
Loehr’s presentation opens with the famous the “Seven Ages of Man” speech from As You Like It, then addresses the various ways in which Shakespeare refers to theatrical practices within his plays. Loehr dismisses the use of the term “metatheatricality”, in keeping with dominant views within the SAP program. He posits that Shakespeare “used theatrical references in reaction to the world around him”, not simply poetically or because he lived and worked within a theatrical setting. Loehr notes that Shakespeare’s view of theatre actually contains some similarities to the anti-theatrical polemics popular in the early modern era, but that while he acknowledged its complexities, he did not see it as an evil to be eliminated, but a necessary “reflection on humanity”. Loehr’s cast then move through several quotes throughout history regarding opinions on theatre as detrimental, unproductive, or even satanic. These address not only the vice and sloth which theatre supposedly encouraged, but also the “gender anxiety” attendant upon it. Loehr identifies “a great deal of mistrust” about theatre in Shakespeare’s time.

Loehr moves on to examination of Hamlet’s “rogue and peasant slave” speech, positing that Shakespeare presents Hamlet as simultaneously condescending towards and jealous of the actor’s position. He notes that Hamlet’s mockery of actors is, in fact, being spoken by an actor, perhaps causing the audience to question the Hamlet-actor’s investment in his role as much as Hamlet questions the actors within the world of the play. It also comments on the ability of theatre to “transcend social boundaries”, as the actor, though occupying a common, even despised role in society, can emulate all layers of society. Loehr then discusses the “Seven Ages” speech, characterizing it as less “a picture of beautiful life” than popular thought often believes it, a cynical depiction of life as mere entrances and exits, lacking individuality in their proscribed roles. He relates this speech to the theatrical reference in Macbeth’s “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech, where Macbeth “condemns life in theatrical language.” He presents this as a “nihilistic” view, noting that it reduces both life and theatre to empty noise.

Loehr suggests that Shakespeare seems to posit that theatre can comment on cause-and-effect in life. He uses the complex role of Rosalind in As You Like It as an example, with the multiple layers of acting and playing commenting on each other. Their supposed marriage in 4.1 further blurs the boundary between reality and pretend. Loehr then moves to discussing plays-within-plays, the most explicit method of theatrical reference within Shakespeare’s plays. His actors read from the rehearsal scenes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both exhibiting theatrical practice, but also poking fun at some of the suppositions made by anti-theatrical polemics. Loehr concludes by placing Shakespeare’s views in opposition to the anti-theatrical polemics, viewing it as a necessary mirror to life, demonstrating life both at its best and its worst, and as such, “belongs as part of our lives”.

Q&A: Clare von Rueden asks if Loehr has noticed a changing attitude towards theatre across Shakespeare’s plays. A: No, he hasn’t noticed that.
Q: Scott Campbell questions the anti-theatrical tracts saying that theatre removed people from god, relating it to Stephanie Howieson’s presentation on supernaturality, and where the assumption of sinfulness in theatre came from. A: Loehr agrees that, yes, they seem to believe that the action is inherently sinful. Campbell clarifies, asking if the polemics state that theatre happened at the same time as theatre, literally taking one audience away to another activity. Loehr’s answer is: sometimes.
Q: Doreen Bechtol asks about the modern-day voices of anti-theatrical prejudice. A: Loehr says that he addresses this in the conclusion of his thesis, relating specifically to arts funding and to objections to plays based on content.

Sarah Martin: “Reconstructing the History Play”
Actors: Josh Brown, Megan Manos
Martin opens by noting how author Howard Brenton teases the audience with an awareness of historical reality in his 2010 play Anne Boleyn. Megan Manos presents the opening monologue, which Martin notes as establishing Anne’s relationship with an audience, and specifically a 21st-century audience. Martin addresses the idea that we are, currently, in the middle of a “Tudor renaissance” of our own, given both scholarly and popular focus on and fOCSination with the Tudor era. She chose to focus her interrogation on Anne Boleyn because it was a new play, focused on the past, performed in a re-construction of an early modern space.

Martin then moves through a brief history of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, particularly as “creating a space for theatre, not re-creating it”. She argues that the play Anne Boleyn is an equivalent of the architectural endeavor of the Globe, stemming from history, but also attached to modern sensibilities. Anne Boleyn, commissioned  specifically for the Globe, premiered in the same year as Hilary Mantel’s book Wolf Hall, the finale of Showtime’s The Tudors, and the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age, as well as acting as a sequel to Shakespeare and Fletcher’s Henry VIII. The difference is that the central character “is aware that she is dead, and wishes to tell her story” — thus aware of the audience and of the gap in time between them, though she does view them as “demons of the future”. Manos and Josh Brown then present a scene where Anne’s ghost and King James I have a conversation regarding James’s commissioning of the King James Bible. (Anne dismisses James, too, as a demon, with demon thoughts). Through it, Brenton has Anne “remind the audience of their role in the creation of performance”.

Martin posit’s that Anne Boleyn‘s performance forms “a near perfect parallel” between the construction of the building and the play, both products of the 21st-century, yet inspired by history: “Grounded with the present, with an eye on the past”. Martin notes ongoing interest in the Tudor era, with tv series Reign, another award-winning book by Mantel, and the adaptation of Mantel’s novels for the stage. She suggests that theatres like the Globe have an interest not only in resurrecting Shakespeare’s plays, but the Tudor-era world.

Q&A: Matt Davies begins by discussing the Anglo-American interest in Tudor history, noting that Hollywood has had that fOCSination at various periods. He understand why the Brits would “have this romantic, nostalgic vision” of the era, he asks what the American interest is? A: Martin admits there’s something strange, yet not, about that fOCSination. She notes that American culture also has a more recent fOCSination with the Edwardian era, and that perhaps it has to do a lot with periods that are easy to glamorize.
Q: Dane Leasure questions if Martin intends to look at the Blackfriars Playhouse as well as the Globe, particularly with regards to Menzer’s The Brats of Clarence. A: She has not yet, but plans to. (Menzer chimes in to note that “Anne Boleyn is a very, very good play.”)
Q: Charlene Smith asks what Martin makes of the Wanamaker theatre both moving towards and away from its historical origins, using candle-lighting, but naming itself after a 20th-century personage. A: Martin admits that that’s interesting. Menzer explicates the history of the name from Inigo Jones through to the donation that requested them to name it the Wanamaker. Cohen notes that their promotional materials continue to draw a connection to the Blackfriars.
Q: Sarah Enloe asks if she’s looked at the “non-authentic” reconstructed theatres or is sticking to “authentic” reconstructions. A: For now, for the purposes of the theatre, she is limiting herself to the “authentic” theatres.
Q: Clare Von Rueden asks about the conflict between production and marketing when it comes to originality vs reconstruction. A: Martin hasn’t thought about that yet, but might, and thanks Von Rueden for the suggestion.
Q: Melissa Huggins discusses the Rose excavation site and their exhibition space, which has hosted both early modern and newly written works and suggests it as an alternate avenue for exploration.

MFA Thesis Festival 2014

Session 1

Riley Steiner: To Find the Mind’s Construction: Masks in Macbeth: Steiner discusses masks in performance as “not a concealing device, but rather a revealing one.” Masks, she suggests, can be particularly useful to draw the audience into the fractured world of Macbeth, with its thematic focus on the dissociation between seeming and reality and the “equivocal language” used throughout the play. Her presentation focuses on the use of masks in the Rogues’ rehearsals for Macbeth (which Steiner directed) and the production choices that came out of them. Steiner discusses how the neutral masks, despite obliterating identity in one way, also helped three actors to differentiate the physicality of their Witches. Within the language, they identified a “hierarchy” of prophetic abilities and drew that into their production choices. Melissa Huggins demonstrates the “menacing” nature of her witch. Steiner comments that they also used neutral mask for Banquo’s ghost, allowing “the audience to impart their own fiction, their own fear” onto the blank face of Banquo, rather than using stage blood. Cyndi Kimmel demonstrates her actions as the Ghost of Banquo. Steiner concludes by stating that working with a mask encourages an actor to “find the mind’s construction … well beyond and deeper than the face.”

Celi Oliveto: Challenging Social Gender Typing through Performance: Oliveto begins by commenting on an embedded stage directions scene conducted during the Rogues’ tour of Macbeth, where two seven-year-olds nearly came to blows over which of them would have to read the female role of Lady Macbeth. Oliveto suggests that using Shakespeare to bring issues of gender roles and gender coding into the classroom is imperative, in order to help students “interrogate, define, and recognize their personal experience of gender in the present cultural moment”. She posits that seeing female actors play both male and female characters will help them to re-assign character traits as gender-neutral, rather than as strongly codified for one gender or the other. Oliveto introduces the survey given to students before and after viewing Macbeth and has the audience in the Playhouse answer those questions, then walks through the students’ responses. She concludes by addressing the punching boys in her first anecdote, noting that girls and women are used to being asked to identify with male-figured characters, and that a stronger female presence on the stage would be a benefit, allowing girls and women to have more to identify with, and perhaps shifting their perceptions of gendered character traits.

Jessica Schiermeister: “If it were made for man, ’twas made for me”: Faustus Re-gendered and an Exploration of the A-Text: Schiermeister begins by noting the gender disparity of their company’s composition (11 women to 1 man) and explains that the company decide to examine re-gendering for one of their plays: Faustus, with the character of Joan Faustus. Re-gendering involves actually changing the gender of the character, as opposed to cross-gender casting, having an actor play a character whose gender is opposite of their own. She notes that Huggins commented on how re-gendering presented something unusual for the stage: a woman whose main goal in life is not pursuit of a romantic relationship. Schiermeister explains that audience reception ranged from “never giving Faustus’s new gender a second thought” to audience members becoming more involved with the story because of the new gender. Schiermeister notes that some in the audience found Joan’s transformation during the play as revealing how modern culture views female power as a sort of fetish. Re-gendering, Schiermeister says, forces us to question the status quo of “male as normative and male as more important”. She links this to the opportunity for theatres to expand their audiences and create more inclusive works of theatre.

Julia Nelson: Early Modern Staging Conditions and Improvisation in the A-Text of Dr. Faustus: Nelson begins by stating that her thesis has its genesis in a paper by Dr. Robert Hornback at the 2013 Marlowe Conference. She suggests that theatre companies should consider treating certain scenes in certain plays as improvisation within a scripted text, specifically looking at the clowning scenes in Dr. Faustus. In performance, the actors used three approaches of implementing improvisation to examine what improvisation does for actors, how it affects audience reception and audience interaction, and whether it will draw in more or different audiences to a production. Her responses thus far come from talkbacks of Dr. Faustus, and she intends to implement an online poll to gain responses from a wider audience. While most audiences enjoyed the improvisation, she notes that they were split on whether or not the modern language of the improvisation was jarring or was something that enhanced the experience.

Dane C. T. Leasure: Playing Mephistophilis through Special Effects: Leasure introduces himself as the actor of Mephistophilis in the Rogues’ Spring 2014 production of Dr. Faustus. He discusses the types of special effects that would have been used in the original productions of the show: squibs for fireworks, citing Philip Butterworth’s study on the topic. He also notes that the unpredictable nature of original squibs made them impractical and inappropriate for the modern stage, fire codes, and the safety of actors. Leasure then links his challenge to the Actors’ Renaissance Season-style nature of Faustus in the company’s year. He identifies three types of spectacle, and in this presentation, focuses on the addition of sound effects and on the implementation of the fireworks stage direction. He came up with the idea to use a flint starter and potentially a flash fire to suggest the fireworks, then shows off a starter kit including a flint starter, flash cotton, and sparkle additive. Once he had the technical aspect down, Leasure had to address the character angle: his desire to use the cane from the company’s earlier devised piece, which then lead to an exploration grounding his physicality. Spectacle, he notes, helped him find his character. Turning to sound effects, Leasure noted that the company decided to add additional sound effects to augment Mephistophilis’s conjuring and other “magic moments on stage”. Leasure ends with a plug for the company’s upcoming book of their thesis papers.

Kelly Elliott: The Insatiate Countess as Sexual Satire: Elliott opens with a short scene from the induction of The Isle of Gulls depicting varying opinions on what should be on the stage, with characters favoring poetry, bawdiness, or critique, and then relates this to faculty opinions of The Insatiate Countess. She notes that the play is, from its 1st and 3rd quartos, “A Tragedy”, a title which sets up considerable expectations for the audience — but that the play itself undermines these expectation with its emphasis on the supposed sub-plot. Elliot posits that the play is, instead, “a debate about sexually appropriate behavior in both women and men examined through satire with both tragic and comedic moments”. She notes that genre confusion is not an oddity in early modern drama, but that modern thought tends to attach too much meaning to the genre as stated. Elliott expresses her pride that the Rogues’ production “did not live up to the proscribed” set of characteristics for a tragedy, particularly thanks to the concurrent comic plot. Elliott notes that the extreme casting of the play also enhanced the comedic aspects of the play. Rehearsal and performance assisted Elliott to see Countess as “a multi-genred social debate on sex.”

Session 2

Cyndi Kimmel: Mujeres Varoniles: Female Agency in Performance: Kimmel notes that her thesis is largely dependent upon the upcoming production of Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna, but that she has begun work by comparing the characters in that play to other women displaying agency on-stage. Mujeres Varoniles is a Spanish term referring to women who act, in one way or another, like men. Kimmel first discusses Lady Macbeth as an initiator of action, noting that Oliveto, who played Lady Macbeth in the Rogues’ production, sees the character as responding to the overwhelming mOCSulinity of the world she lives in. Second, Kimmel examines Isabella of The Insatiate Countess, a woman capable not only of earning the love of multiple men, but of inciting them to violence on her behalf. Third, the Duchess in Richard II, who uses gestural language of submission as a way of getting her way with Bolingbroke. Finally, Queen Isabel, whom Huggins, playing the role, sees as “greatly dependent upon a man” — her husband, King Ferdinand. These stand in contrast to Laurencia, a peasant woman who calls other women to action in response to injustice perpetrated by men. Kimmel hopes to “tease out female agency” in the various plays of the Rogues’ season.

Charlene V. Smith: Aural Identification in Richard IISmith notes her desire to use something other than costumes to differentiate between characters for the extreme casting production of Richard II, particularly in light of a desire not to imitate the choices made by the previous year’s company. She introduces the markers of extreme casting as stated by the 2012-2013 Rovers in their theses, and notes that her production of Richard II did not meet all of them. She worries about the use of prescriptive language when it comes to describing the methodology behind extreme casting. Smith interrogates the definitions and conditions set forward by the Rovers, by Jeffrey Chips, and by several theatres currently exploring extreme casting in their own productions. She questions whether or not it is necessary to “embody” a character with some sort of holding signifier when the actor is portraying a different character on-stage at the same time. She hopes that her full thesis will help future MFA companies to explore additional approaches, looking “not at what has to happen… but what could happen.”

Rebecca Hodder: Costume as Identity in Richard II: Hodder begins by discussing the idea of “identity as shaped or moderated by clothes”, noting the overlap in what clothing communicates between the early modern period and today. She examines accents of historical clothing as augmenting modern dress, clothing as status marker, and clothing as indicator of relationship. Hodder notes that fully realized historical costumes would not be practical in an extreme casting production like the Rogues’ Richard II. Base costumes allow minor variations to indicate changes in character, and Hodder intended to use modern dress for the base, not least because that made for an easier and cheaper choice than a historical base. While not “historically accurate in the traditional sense of the word”, the shape of the long-sleeved, tunic-length red shirts worn by the company still suggested something vaguely medieval. She notes that early modern costumes may have worked similarly, with 16th-century modern dress as a base, with a few historical accents added overtop. She then moves towards fabric as suggestive of status, comparing the early modern idea of high-quality fabrics to their modern-day equivalents. Finally, she discusses the ability of color combinations “to link characters together in meaningful ways”. Hodder finishes by noting that she did not set out to emulate early modern thought on costumes, instead focusing on the practicalities of performance, but realized that her “approach could be seen to reflect several early modern attitudes”. She expresses her hope that future MFA companies will continue to find “ways that early modern thought may influence modern performance.”

Mary Beth Geppert: The Collaborative Rogue Company Model: Geppert examines the collaborative approaches of past and present MFA company members, drawing both from concrete materials such as posters and programs, and from interviews with both Rovers and Rogues. Geppert discusses the idea of company identity, noting that the company’s idea may not always be what others outside the company identify. The Rovers created a company logo, whereas the Rogues created a particular icon for each play in their season. Geppert then presents both companies’ group photos, noting that they seem to represent the inverse of the posters. She quotes from variant experiences of the devised piece and its influence on the rest of the season, the notes how the dynamic changed when moving from the first large show (The Comedy of Errors for the Rovers, Macbeth for the Rogues) into the smaller units of the extreme casting shows. Geppert also notes company opinions relating the collaborative nature of the devised piece as preparatory for the ARS-style show. Geppert concludes by noting how each company in turn has the capacity to inform and advise those that follow it.

Stephanie Howieson: The Demons of Faustus, the Witches of MacbethHowieson opens by noting that the company’s season includes two plays featuring the supernatural and by noting the difference between early modern attitudes on such elements in real life and our own views on the paranormal. She runs through the “veritable parade” of supernatural personages in Faustus and notes them in opposition to the three Witches of Macbeth, presenting less of a pageant. Howieson notes that the cutting of Macbeth down to a one-hour runtime impacted what information the audience receives about the supernaturality of the Witches. She also notes other superstitions embedded in the play, familiar to early modern audiences but lost to the modern, such as the idea that the recently departed (such as Banquo) might return in search of food or to keep appointments (such as Macbeth’s feast). Moving to Dr. Faustus, Howieson notes that though they used the full A-text, there would still exist a disconnect between the early modern audience’s experience of supernaturality and the modern audience’s. Howieson questions how to contextualize the demonic: as horrifying or as comic, suggesting that both interpretations can co-exist. She suggests that the choice to portray certain supernatural elements as puppets emphasized “the separation between the human and non-human world” in the play. Howieson concludes by noting that the portrayal of the supernatural “will continue to fOCSinate audiences” given the enduring popularity of the plays in question.

Melissa Huggins: Translating Original Practices into the Spanish Golden Age: Costuming Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna for the Blackfriars Stage: Huggins notes the flexibility of the word “translation”, initially pertaining not only to languages, but also to the act of reclothing, incorporating new identity along with a new costume. She notes that, in her capacity as master of the build team for Fuente Ovejuna‘s costumes, she had to begin by identifying her parameters: original staging, a modern audience having an early modern experience, consistent w/ creator’s intent, a sense of authenticity, and speaking to the present. She notes the problems with several of those guidelines, particularly given the impossibility of knowing authorial intent. Huggins notes the similarities of early modern Spanish costuming practices to those used in England. Spanish theatre may have trended more towards idealism and romance in costuming. Huggins then presents examples of the costumes-in-progress for the show: Laurencia, the Musicians, and the Calatrava. Huggins explicates the thought process behind each costume, as well as the process of construction. Many of the costumes re-use and re-design fabric and costume pieces already in the company’s stock.

Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Plenary Session X

Welcome back to the 7th Blackfriars Conference. I’m Cass Morris, and from 2:15-3:30pm, I will be live-blogging Plenary Session X, moderated by Tom Delise of the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory. This is the final Plenary Session of the 2013 conference.

Dorothy Todd, University of Georgia — “‘We’ve Got Blokes in Dresses’: Cheek by Jowl’s As You Like It and the Challenges of Drag”

Todd opens by commenting on the “stir” created by Cheek by Jowl’s 1991 presentation of As You Like It, which featured an all-male cross-dressed cast (the first since 1967), and that even the director experienced discomfort on opening night — “What were we thinking? We’ve got blokes in dresses!”. Why, Todd wonders, did audience members have so much trouble putting aside the actors’ corporeality? Todd comments on many of the other strange conditions of early modern theatre which we as audiences are willing to accept, including deaths, storms, and exotic locations. She notes that the audience’s responses to the Cheek by Jowl show were “rooted in the physicality of the actors’ bodies and the gender significations they adopt”. The audience could only understand the cross-dressing as camp — noting that that hinges on specific signifiers as belonging to only one gender (gender itself not necessarily corresponding to sex). To move away from campy drag, the actors had to find different ways to signify femininity.

The production “asks that the audience see the world of the play, and all the world,  as a stage rife with possibilities”. By opening with Jacques’s famous monologue, with the actors in plain dress, the production created the division of male and female characters visually at the start, despite that all the actors were male-bodied. Todd then notes that the epilogue also reminds the audience of how slippery the typical gender code can be — whether that epilogue is spoken by a male- or female-bodied actor, interweaving “the factual and counter-factual” — but that it has peculiar resonances in an all-male cast. Todd then questions the strength of the automatic identity of “the lady” with “the epilogue”. She notes “Rosalind’s employment of the ‘if’ trope” as another marker that she “stands not for what is, but what can be.” This holds true both for the things which are true as for those things which are contrary to fact. Todd concludes by noting that these conditions of ambiguous gender identity made  As You Like It perfect choice for Cheek by Jowl to perform with an all-male cast.

Bob Hornback, Oglethorpe University — “Shall we have a play extempore?”

Hornback begins by exploring the probability that early modern clowns necessarily had improvisational abilities, noting that while some may have, others may have been scripted to sound improvisational. “Extemporal wit” was noted in the period as a rare quality, not a usual trait. He notes a critic from the period who lamented the lack of improvisational skills present in clowns at the time of his observation, and relates that to lines in Hamlet which “suggest a waning” of extemporal clowns. Hamlet also skewers “the spate of bad improv” present on the stage. Hornback then quotes from Nashe regarding the war between the extemporal clown and the authority of script and cues. Hornback then cites examples of scripted improvisational idiom, “seeming extempore” rather than genuinely spontaneous.

Hornback moves to considering the instances of Kemp’s true improvisation versus seeming improvisation, particularly in the role of Falstaff. “Kemp’s improvisation made him uniquely suited for the role, not ill-suited,” particularly due to the character’s potential for improvisation. He notes that Falstaff’s lines are “opposite to sparse lineality”. Falstaff is, himself, an improviser. Hornback also examines the possibility of connected repetitions indicating a mimicry of improvisational idioms. Falstaff also, he notes, cues his own jesting with questions.

Nashe and Shakespeare, Hornback argues, would have seen both successful and unsuccessful improvisational clowns and would have known what it was that created that success. They did not, in their plays, aim at eliminating the real thing. Instead, having delighted in it, they sought to re-create it in script. Robert Armin, Hornback says, was an even more famous improviser than Kemp. He concludes by noting that the conditions of the early modern stage, including those re-created at the Blackfriars Playhouse, encourage “improv with a script”.

Celestine Woo, SUNY Empire State College – “Isabella in Measure for Measure: Discovering the Pleasure of Performance”

Woo begins by thanking her actors, Scott Campbell, Patrick Harris, and Amy Simpson Grubbs. She begins by saying that Measure for Measure is more satisfying if there is some intimacy developed between Isabella and her various auditors, particularly the Duke. The actors first present the “too-rehearsed first appeal” of Isabella (Grubbs) to Angelo (Campbell), encouraged and amended by Lucio (Harris). Woo argues that Isabella’s “use of the second person is perfunctory” and that she does not really see or acknowledge Angelo. In her second attempt, she re-assesses her audience — and Woo notes that, after Sarah Enloe’s workshop on audience contact, she now thinks this could include the theatrical audience as well as Angelo. As she goes on, warming both to her theme and to her auditor, her vehemence and persistence earn Angelo’s attention and pique his interest. Woo’s staging has Isabella move to Angelo and touch him on the arm as part of her appeal. Woo notes that, once she drops her self-consciousness, “she’s good at this! Her rhetorical eloquence is a bit of a surprise to her.”

Woo then notes Isabella’s several oratorical strategies: imagining a reversal of roles, as well as pointing out the pattern of pronouns (from I to you to a hypothetical subjunctive I, then to third-person hypotheticals regarding Angelo and Claudio). Woo considers this reminiscent of Portia’s rhetorical strategy. Woo thinks that Isabella “falls in love with performance”, and that that leads to her ultimate success. Woo next looks at the moment where Isabella and the disguised Duke plot Angelo’s downfall through the bedtrick, noting that she has “always heard some glee” in Isabella’s speeches there. Isabella is “wryly amused at Angelo’s eagerness”. In baiting Angelo himself, though prompted by others in action, “she finds her lines herself” and “highlights her own cleverness” regarding some details of the bedtrick.

Woo believes that viewing Isabella as overly reactive, rather than possessing agency of her own (via the power of improvisation) is problematic. Her newfound love for improvisation can help to ameliorate the otherwise problematic ending of her silence. Grubbs demonstrates by offering, in that moment, an Isabella who takes a moment to consider, then gives Angelo her hand with a beaming, theatrical smile.

ETA: A question regarding Isabella; Woo notes that she has no desire to “negate the seriousness or the pain of what Isabella has to go through”, but that she still thinks that Isabella’s lines also convey a sort of joy in the limelight. She thinks that, since some Isabellas can seem “overly flat”, this interpretation could offer nuance.

Larry Weiss, Independent Scholar: “‘Ha! Ha!’ Ophelia’s Tell”

Weiss comments that, “early in the nunnery scene”, Hamlet realizes that Ophelia is not quite what she is presenting herself as at that moment. He notes that Hamlet’s behavior is, from Ophelia’s perspective, unexpected and unusual — but how, he wonders, has Hamlet come to be suspicious? Weiss discusses the extratextual solutions that directors have invented, generally involving some sort of unintentional reveal of the men behind the arras, which he believes are “contrived” and thus unsatisfactory. He argues that Hamlet’s “obnoxious behavior towards Ophelia is explicable” by examination of what is present in the play itself.

“When no other cunning solution presents itself, I like to look at the text.” Weiss walks briefly through the action of the scene in question, noting that, when Hamlet rejects the returned gifts, Ophelia mistakes his meaning, interpreting it as part of his madness. He notes the shift from courteous to discourteous as occurring at “Ha ha, are you honest?” He does not believe the “Ha ha” is a laugh; “Hamlet has no reason to laugh here”. Weiss thinks that this line instead indicates that “Ophelia has slipped and put Hamlet on notice”. But this does not explain what alerts Hamlet to Ophelia’s disloyalty. Rejecting any extratextual possibilities, Weiss looks at Ophelia’s previous lines: “My honour’d lord, you know right well you did; / And, with them, words of so sweet breath composed / As made the things more rich: their perfume lost, / Take these again; for to the noble mind / Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind. / There, my lord.”

These lines, Weiss argues, sound more like Claudius than they do like Ophelia, and he believes that that reading “can convey the idea” of Ophelia having been coached so that it works in performance. Celi Oliveto (Ophelia) and Jordan Zweick (Hamlet) present the scene. Oliveto’s Ophelia becomes stilted as she tries to remember the “script” given her by Claudius, then rushes through “There, my lord,” eager to have the business over with. This moment, Weiss notes, “is easy to miss. It has been missed for 400 years.” He claims knowledge of no productions and only one editor to have commented on this possibility. He concludes by noting that this idea connects to Polonius’s instructions to Laertes; that Hamlet’s comments on beauty and honesty are then placing an immediate timeframe on his “now” in those lines; and that Ophelia’s response, if delivered in quavery tone, can reconfirm Hamlet’s suspicion; and finally, that Ophelia’s closing half-line opens up opportunities, perhaps originally suggested by the actors.

Lars Engle, The University of Tulsa: “Shame and Contempt in Montaigne, Tomkins, and The Tempest

“Actors are frequently accused of or credited with shamelessness,” Engle opens. He examines Montaigne’s commentaries on personal shame, both those which he dismisses and those which he invokes in regards to cruelty. Shakespeare, he argues, finds personal shame harder to cast off. He quotes Tomkins’s belief that shame is accompanied by a number of gestures which close off the shamed person from the shaming, perhaps in an attempt to reclaim some space.  “Shame turns the attention of the self and others” to the visible resonance of self in the focus, outward or inward, of the eyes. These are the negative affects attached to positive emotions or desires such as admiration or love. That which ties the self to the object (of love or affection) also ties the self to shame. He seeks to draw a distinction between shame-humiliation (which ties) and contempt-disgust (which unties). The former relates us to those we still seek the good opinion of; the other precludes any equality or mutuality of relationship. Tomkins notes that, in unequal relationships such as master-servant, teacher-student, parent-child, or conqueror-conquered, there is then a choice as to whether to base disapproval on shame-humiliation or contempt-disgust.

Engle applies this to Prospero. Rebecca Hodder (Caliban), Rebecca Wright (Miranda), and Michelle Johnson (Prospero) present part of 1.2 from The Tempest. Engle posits Caliban as child in one of the above relationships, but also as a former sovereign who was formerly a sovereign. In his lines, Caliban attempts to use shame-humiliation on Prospero. Prospero then attempts to recast himself in a contempt-disgust relationship. Engle explores the strange relationships that these three have had on the island in isolation, particularly with regard to the fact that “something shameful happened between Caliban and Miranda”, something sexual and something recent — and that this incident was interrupted, but that we do not know how or by whom. This leaves the relationship between all three in need of clarification. Miranda then, too, tries to turn shame into contempt.

“We deal here in imponderables,” Engle notes, and we do so because it matters to us, as scholars and audiences, what happened in these relationships. He relates this to socio-political issues regarding the colonizer and the “Other”. To conclude, Engle notes that Prospero “attempts to expunge the shame that he and Miranda feel with regard to Caliban … by transforming it into contempt, and by transforming Caliban from a son-pupil into a monster-slave.” This fails, however, and shame overwhelms contempt.

Catherine Loomis, University of New Orleans — “Bringing Justice to Bear: An Unusual 1609 Trial”

Loomis begins by thanking Adrienne Johnson and an anonymous actor for their help, and invites the auditors to “bark along at the appropriate moment”. She then comments on references to bears in early modern England. She relates a story of merchants who came late to an inn because they had been hunted by a bear during their travel. The innkeeper mocked them, claiming that he would slay ten bears if they should pursue him. An overhearer, Scoggins (or perhaps Scroggins?) decided to play a prank: went out, bought a bearskin, propped it up on sticks and and stuffed it with straw so it would look alive, and then stuffed its mouth with two children’s shoes. In the night, Scoggins convinced the merchants to call for drink; the innkeeper sent his maid, who saw the bear, thought it had killed her master’s children, and killed herself. Loomis notes that this story may have been based on the real event of a captive bear killing a child in 1609. This bear then was to be put to death by lions, but they inexplicably refused to fight, so it was chained, staked, and baited with dogs on a stage.

Loomis then stages the death of our very own Blackfriars bear. Many scholars, tormented by the bear during the past four days, applaud.

Loomis then describes the typical staging of a bear-baiting, highlighting its cruelty as well as the utter impossibility of survival for the bear in question. Though the 1609 bear execution likely did not occur at the Globe, but it was not long thereafter before The  Winter’s Tale  featured a bear pursuing Antigonus off. Was this, perhaps, Shakespeare’s retribution for the bear?

ETA: In the Q&A, William Proctor Williams questions that, if you kill the bear off in your paper, can you continue talking forever? We conclude that Loomis may have set a dangerous precedent for future bears.