Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 24 February 2012

A few notes and points of interest from the world of Shakespeare studies this week:

  • London’s Globe Theatre has awarded its first PhDs to Sarah Dustagheer and Penelope Woods. These women are both friends of the OCS: Woods presented on audience studies at our 2009 Blackfriars Conference, and Dustagheer observed an Actors’ Renaissance Season, giving presentations to the MBC MLitt/MFA program on the differences between playing the Globe and playing the Blackfriars Playhouse. Congratulations to them both, and to the Globe for enacting this joint degree-awarding venture with Queen Mary, University of London, and King’s College London.
  • The new “Shakespeare’s Sisters: Voices of English and European Women Writers, 1500-1700” exhibit at the Folger Library challenges the notion that early modern women didn’t write (or, as Virginia Woolf famously asserted, that, if they did, they must have been driven mad by the frustrations of it). The exhibit celebrates such notable female authors as Veronica Franco, Lady Anne Clifford, Lady Mary Wroth, the Mancini sisters, Aemilia Lanyer, Aphra Behn, Susanna Centlivre, and (my personal favorite early modern woman) Lady Mary Herbert. If you can’t make it to DC to see the exhibit in person, selections from it are also available online.
  • This week, the OCS welcomes alumni from Dartmouth College for a weekend of entertainment and scholarship. Peter Saccio, the Leon D. Black Professor of Shakespearean Studies at Dartmouth College, was the editor of A Mad World, My Masters for the Middleton Complete Works. Saccio gave a public lecture last night, detailing some of the textual oddities of the script and what that can mean for the stage, and will give several private lectures to the Dartmouth group throughout the weekend.
  • Education Week featured an article on the challenge educators face when attempting to tie their lesson plans to Core Curriculum Standards. “Their current materials fall short, and there is a dearth of good new ones to fill the void.” OCS Study Guides (now available on lulu.com!) feature not only guidelines for fulfilling Virginia’s Standards of Learning, but also the U.S. Core Curriculum Standards.

As a final note, remember that you still have a few days to get in your nominations for the 2012 Shakespearean March Madness. I’ve already heard support for Hotspur, Cassius, the Duke of Cornwall, and Richard II. Pitch your pick for this no-holds-barred brawl here.

Exploration and Revelation: The Winter 2012 Teacher Seminar

This past weekend, we held our Winter Teacher Seminar, a two-day event where participants attend workshops and lectures and see two of the plays of the Actors’ Renaissance Season. Thanks in part to a generous grant from the Richard and Caroline T. Gwathmey Memorial Trust, more educators than ever were able to join us – and we had a group from diverse teaching backgrounds: middle schools, high schools, and universities, public and private, military and religious, as well as some professional acting companies and arts organizations. We also had participants join us from as far away as Florida and Pennsylvania, as well as representing 16 cities and counties within Virginia. It was so exciting to have such a full, enthusiastic group with us for the weekend. I always feel so energized after these events, so full of joy for the work that we do together and for the new avenues of insight these educators feed back to me.

Saturday’s workshops focused on Much Ado about Nothing, Sunday’s on Richard III. Ralph drew connections between the two plays, and how each has its moments of invited and inappropriate laughter, and each its moments inviting or castigating silence. He drew a correlation between these moments on stage and in the classroom – after all, there are times teachers desperately hope that their students laugh at a joke, and there are times teachers abhor hearing laughter. He also encouraged the teachers to find their own personal hook within the play, something that calls to them and energizes them, and to teach those moments. Teaching requires no small part of vulnerability, to lay out the things you care for to what may often seem an unruly mob of the disaffected and cynical.

Saturday morning, we also modeled one of the activities out of the Much Ado about Nothing Study Guide. This one was my baby, and I’d been looking forward to working through it with our seminar attendees ever since I wrote it back in November – so I was actually fairly nervous heading in. Like any teacher, I have had, on occasion, something I’m really excited about flop rather pathetically when brought to the table. I always learn something from that experience – how I might need to tweak the activity, toss out elements that aren’t working, or graft a new idea on – but failure isn’t exactly pleasant to go through, however constructive it may ultimately be. So, heart in my hands, I stepped up to lead this workshop. And it went wonderfully(!).

The exploration is an active one, examining how language can inform character choices in the various sparring matches between Beatrice and Benedick. Participants – with the help of the rest of the class – look for moments when one character repeats the other, builds on a metaphor the other started, or arranges contrast of some kind. What the seminar attendees discovered – as I’d hoped they would – is that while Beatrice and Benedick use the same rhetorical devices with each other in three different scenes, the way they use them creates three very different moods, from the aggressive sparring of 1.1 to the tender hesitation of 4.1 to the playful equilibrium achieved in 5.2. We make these devices visual and kinetic – to appeal to different kinds of learners – by having our Beatrice and Benedick peg nerf balls at each other each time, highlighting the verbal tennis match they engage in. It was great to see at what moments one of them (usually Beatrice) was able to score more points.

I love this activity for how it demonstrates several different advantages of performance-based learning: first, how Shakespeare creates these characters as so right for each other. No one else in the play – even in a play as full of quick wits as Much Ado is – can quite match their verbal dexterity. Second, the activity highlights that “infinite variety” of performance choices Sarah and I are always talking about. The rhetoric gives actors – and students – not an answer, but the grounds on which to make a decision. Our avatar Beatrices and Benedicks were able to offer so many alternatives on even the smallest moment – it really drives home that idea of performance-based learning. Finally, this activity appeals to many different kinds of learners, as it involves verbal, textual, visual, and kinetic elements. Everyone from the class clown to the shiest member of the class has a place in this activity. I think all of those elements came across for our seminar attendees, and I’m so pleased I got to share this workshop with them.

You can view a sample of this workshop in-progress on YouTube:

The Gwathmey grant also allowed us to bring two guest speakers to Staunton, giving our participants the chance to interact with scholars whose research bears a direct emphasis on the plays they saw and their classroom activities. Chelsea Phillips, a veteran of MBC’s MLitt/MFA program and now a third-year Ph.D. student at Ohio State University, came down to share thoughts related to her dissertation: the presence of pregnant bodies on stage. This discussion is particularly relevant this year, as Miriam Donald, who plays Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing and the Duchess of York, among other roles, in Richard III, is visibly pregnant. We wanted to offer teachers – especially those bringing their students to see one of those two productions this year – the benefit of Chelsea’s research into the historical precedent of pregnant actresses playing non-pregnant roles, in order to give them a solid grounding on which to base classroom discussion. Chelsea also works on Ohio State’s partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company implementing the RSC’s Stand Up for Shakespeare program in local schools, making her a valuable resource on Shakespeare in the classroom. On Sunday, Carter Hailey joined us for a lecture-demo on textual variants. Carter has taught Medieval and Renaissance literature, Shakespeare, and textual studies at Washington and Lee University, the College of William and Mary (where yours truly was one of his students), Sweet Briar College, and Georgetown University, and he publishes on matters bibliographical, lexical, and editorial. In addition to discussing the textual histories of Much Ado about Nothing and Richard III, he shared Hailey’s COMET, a portable optical collator of his own design and construction, which provides critical editors with a new way of examining variants between texts. We synthesized Carter’s lecture with an exploration of how to use textual variants in the classroom as a way to give students greater ownership of the text, allowing them to realize that there is no One Shakespeare to Rule Them All – rather, that the text as they see it has already passed through the hands of many compositors and editors, and that they may make choices based on this awareness.

So, that was the weekend. As ever, I wished I had more time. There’s always so much more to say, more staging moments to discuss, more of Shakespeare’s word- and stagecraft to explore. I’m already looking forward to our spring seminar, in April, when we’ll be leaping into A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Winter’s Tale. I’m also going to be releasing a survey soon, both to our seminar participants and to anyone who’s purchased a Study Guide from us, asking for feedback on the information and activities we provide. It’s interesting to have to examine what it is I need to know from our teachers – a sort of backwards self-evaluation. I’ll be putting their feedback into practice when I start – very soon – building the Study Guides for next year. My first endeavor will be Twelfth Night, as we already have folks booking the touring company asking for it. I love seeing so much advance enthusiasm for the OCS’s synthesis of education and performance. I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who joined us this past weekend, and I sincerely hope we’ll see you all again soon.

2012 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival: Session 3

Welcome back for the afternoon session of the 2012 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival. This session will feature six presenters and runs from 1:30-4:30pm.

Dori Koogler: “Upon a True Contract: Handfasting and Clandestine Marriage in Shakespeare’s Plays”

Koogler opens with a discussion of the conditions of marriage in the early modern period, focusing on the physical components of a “spousal contract”: vows, joining of hands, kiss, and the exchange of rings. Made in the present tense, these components constituted a marriage; in the future tense, they constituted a betrothal, which was still considered legally binding. Koogler offers evidence not only from historical realities but also from clues within Shakespeare’s plays. In early modern England, while marriage might have legal entanglements, and while paperwork could be useful in a dispute over validity, all that the Church required was mutual consent; this changed with the Marriage Act in 1754. The Church did require, however, the presence of witnesses; without witnesses, a marriage was considered “clandestine and irregular”. Due to common cultural awareness of these irregular marriages, Koogler notes that it became fertile ground for exploration on the early modern stage. Shakespeare treats in some manner with these irregular marriages in a third of his plays. Adkins and Malicki present several instances of espousal contracts and handfastings in Shakespeare’s plays.

Koogler gives a deeper examination to the idea of betrothal in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. In 2.2, Julia and Proteus make vows, exchange rings, join hands, and “seal the bargain in a holy kiss”. Koogler argues that, because the “cultural experiences of betrothal have changed so much in the past 400 years”, modern audiences may not as easily grasp the depth of the situation. The transgression, she argues, would have resonated more strongly with an early modern audience, who saw Proteus not only breaking up with his girlfriend, but breaking a legal bond and a scared vow. Koogler further speculates on the suspected betrothal between Florizel and Perdita in The Winter’s Tale. Though this play does not include lines detailing the ceremony, as The Two Gentlemen of Verona does, Koogler argues (and Malicki and Adkins demonstrate) that it may be possible for Florizel and Perdita to enact the entire ceremony during a 6-line monologue of Camillo’s. Koogler finishes by stating that using modern marriage signifiers, particularly with regard to the exchange of rings, modern productions can amplify the importance of these betrothals to better approach the weight they would have had for an early modern audience.

Stephanie Tschetter: “In the Closet: Unstaged Staged Directions during the Interregnum”

Tschetter opens by surveying the audience’s awareness of closet drama. She positions her exploration during the Interregnum, while the theatres were closed, and notes that closet dramas were initially intended for readers to imagine, rather than for actors to perform in a theatre. Tschetter notes that both early critical and modern conceptions seem to consider closet dramas as undesirable, without a reason to take the dramatic form that they do. Tschetter challenges the idea that closet dramas ignore theatrical realities and conventions of the stage; rather, because of their inherent form, the stage directions “are clearly conceived for the conditions of the early modern theatre.” She focuses on those plays written during the Interregnum, which suggest that the plays may indeed have been meant to be played, but were legally prevented from public presentation. Tschetter’s actors (Monica Cross, Jessi Malicki, Michael Wagoner, Jamie Weaver, and Liz Lodato) read stage directions from these plays, demonstrating their potential connections to the actual stage.

Tschetter offers an example from William Chamberlain’s Love’s Victory. She notes the difference between the embedded stage direction an actor could rely on and the explicit directions needed to make a visual picture clear for a reader’s imagination. Tschetter argues that writers expected these readers to have familiarity with the picture of the stage, as those audience members would likely, before the 1642 closing of the theatres, have seen plays on the stages they now had to imagine.

Further directions inform the reader not only of early modern staging conditions but of the tricks of the trade, such as the concealment of blood within sponges tied to the middle finger and concealed in the palm. In this way, Tschetter points out that closet dramas deserve attention for what they have to teach us about early modern staging effects.

James Byers: “Concealing the Mere Irish: An Analysis of English Performance of Irish Ethnicity on the Early Modern Stage”

Byers opens with a presentation from Ben Jonson’s Irish Masque (with help from actors Jonathan Haas, AJ Sclafani, and Jarom Brown); Byers notes the long, complex, and often contradictorily-characterized nature of the millennium-long conflict between the English and Irish. He gives a short history of the conflict, dating back to Henry II’s initialization of the conquest of the island. The original colonists in the Pale became isolated from the English and eventually came to occupy a liminal state between the native Gaelic Irish and the English on the other side of the Irish Channel. By the 1500s, Henry VIII and other monarchs had sent more colonists to reinforce English presence in and control of the island. After a period of relative peace in the late 16th- and early 17th-century, rebellions crested again in the 1630s; Cromwell moved in during the Interregnum to re-establish control. The idea of the “barbarous Irishmen” served as a source of apprehension and fear for the English, with wild myths springing up around their supposed possession of strange patterns.

Byers moves to examining characteristics of Irish characters on the English stage. First, the accent, which is not necessarily the be-all and the end-all of an Irish character, but which are a signifier and which provide a mean of “tracking the evolution” of such characters. He also examines the various character types, including rebels, military captains, criminals, bawds, servants, and apprentices. The latter of these “represent the subservience of the Irish in England.” With the help of his actors, Byers presents examples of all of the various types for the audience. This exploration carries weight, Byers notes, not only for better understanding of the early modern plays, but, with consideration for the ongoing nature of relations between the two nations, by way of “exploring the nature of reactions” to ethnic representations and to our own concepts of stereotypes.

Angelina LaBarre: “Hip Hop Pedagogy and Shakespeare: Performative Verse, Then and Now”

LaBarre and her actors (Elizabeth Rentfro, AJ Sclafani, Jarom Brown, and Melissa Tolner) slouch their way onto stage in hoodies and sunglasses. LaBarre begins by acknowledging the racial and cultural history of hip-hop, then stating that those origins have no direct relevance for the scope of her thesis. Rather, she intends to focus on the linguistic similarities between hip hop and Shakespeare and how those similarities can provide an advantage for modern teachers. She argues that early modern theatre occupied the same cultural space as hip hop does today, as a rhythmic verbal performance tradition. She relates the squaring-off between the Caesarian faction and the Liberators in 5.1 of Julius Caesar to “The Dozens“, an insult contest of personal power, valuing quick responses and verbal acuity.

LaBarre delineates some of the similarities between rhythm and vocabulary. Rentfro demonstrates “flowcabulary” — a method which translates Shakespeare’s language into modern vernacular. LaBarre notes that this teachers students nothing but the plot. Tolner then presents a quote from a modern hiphopper, and LaBarre points out that almost no one in the audience understood what she was saying. This, she states, provides a teachable moment about the use of slang and colloquialism in verse. She describes an exercise which compares today’s slang to Shakespeare’s, asking students what people four hundred years from now might make of the word “gangsta”. LaBarre’s actors then demonstrate the iambic pentameter rhythm of modern hiphop verse, and LaBarre points out the presence of irregularities and caesuras in the lines. These breaks in the rhythm serve both the plot and the emotional mood of the verse. Her next example relates to alexandrines, with natural mid-line breaks, as well as demonstrating several rhetoric devices employed by the rapper.

LaBarre ends her presentation by expressing her hopes that these connections between Shakespeare’s language and modern hip hop will provide fertile ground for educators seeking new ways to make Shakespeare relevant and interesting to their students. The lyrical inventiveness and rhetorical dexterity of both forms provide a strong basis for comparison. She is currently developing a curriculum based around these concepts for a teacher in Richmond, VA.

Jonathan Haas: “Virginity and the Problem Plays: An Investigation”

Haas’s presentation examines the moral, social, and spiritual ambiguity of virginity’s importance in Shakespeare’s “problem plays”. He begins by examining the idea of the pre-contract and the idea of whether or not a formal betrothal allowed for sexual congress. Using David Cressy as his source, Haas notes the double standard: that many considered varying degrees of sexual liberties acceptable, despite potential legal and religious consequences.

Haas moves to an examination of Measure for Measure and the ambiguity of Claudio’s and Juliet’s exact nuptial state. He presents various opinions, both from libertines and the supposedly virtuous characters, about the acceptability of post-contract pre-nuptial sexual contract. Even Isabella, who professes to hate the sin of lust, expresses approval of the activity and her hope for the child that will come of the union. Haas posits this as representative of the tension between cultural and legal/religious expectations in early modern society. Haas also notes the differences between Catholic and Protestant opinions on virginity. After the Reformation, the veneration of virginity faded, and many patriarchal views condemned the chosen permanent virginity of a nun as “a dangerous and disruptive thing”, a way out of the strictures and expected roles for women. Measure for Measure explores both sides of the argument, demonstrating both characters who view virginity as a noble and appropriate choice and as an inferior, subversive, or dangerous choice. In this way, the problem play engages the cultural conflict over “the messy standards of virginity”.

Maria Hart: “Munday Seeking More: Religion, Politics, and Biography on the Early Modern Stage”

Hart’s presentation examines how Sir Thomas More contains reference to a political agenda by its primary author, Anthony Munday. Hart believes that, in this selection of More as a topic, Munday revealed a sympathy for English Catholics, in relation to the martyrology of Thomas Becket and Thomas More during the early modern period. Hart gives a short history of More’s political history and his conflict during the English Reformation. She continues through the shifting religious allegiance of England as a state during the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I, following the narrative of English recusants and secret Catholics in particular. This tradition included a print culture which propagated stories of Thomas More “as martyr and saint” — one of several famous for their refusal to renounce Catholicism. These traditions linked More to the earlier martyr Becket, assassinated under the reign (and ambiguous instructions) of Henry II for his refusal to submit to the king more than to the Church. The Protestant view, by contrast, considered the Catholics as heretics, and those Protestants that they burned the martyrs.

Hart follows this up with Munday’s personal history, who on the surface may appear a “flip-flopping opportunist”, as well as a government informant on recusants, but who Hart believes reveals himself in his plays as having stronger convictions. Her actors (Liz Lodato, Jonathan Haas, Rachel Ratkowski, Brian Maxwell, AJ Sclafani) present More’s execution scene, which Hart notes as portraying More with definite sympathy. The rest of Munday’s plays, she explains, likewise treat with issues of the Catholic/Protestant divide in England. At the least, she sees in Thomas More “a reverence and sympathy for the ex-Chancellor,” suggesting that Munday may have felt some guilt in himself for his role as an informant, and sought to exonerate that guilt dramatically.

We’re off for a dinner (or, perhaps, tea) break now — back at 5:30 for the final session of the festival.

For the rest of the Festival, see these posts:
Session 1
Session 2
Session 4

2012 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival: Session 2

Good morning, scholars — We’re back again, bright and early, for Session 2 of the MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival. This session runs from 9:30am to 12:00pm.

Clara Giebel: “Playing Paper”

Giebel’s presentation begins with an interesting tableau: Katy Mulvaney, Linden Kueck, and Amanda Noel Allen on-stage, crafting — rather than, as we might expect, sitting on the gallant stools holding scripts. Giebel explains that sometimes a tradition should be broken “just because there’s something we’d rather do,” and that she hopes their presence will provide a meaningful counterpoint to her ideas.

She moves into discussing the typical structure and tropes of fairy tales, and she shares illustrations from some classic fairy tales via a Powerpoint presentation. She explains that these images are not only beautiful but “look right to our eyes”, with conventional tropes reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts. She expands the idea further, referring to how Disney’s fairy tale movies often open with the frame narrative of books, giving images of pages turning before the animation begins. Giebel explains these frame devices as important because of the “time of textual transmission” we currently exist in. The movement of page to screen, first scene from books to movies, is now prominent in the idea of moving from books to e-readers. She demonstrates various “skins” and covers for e-readers which attempt to recover the tangible and visual elements that are lost in the transmission to digital text. She posits that the two most important elements lost are the paper itself and the “codex”, or non-textual visual information, which she demonstrates through a reading of “The Monster at the End of This Book” and through a consideration of pop-up books, which “glory in the paper-ness of paper”. Giebel talks about the importance of sound, smell, and texture to the experience of reading, and relates those concepts to ideas of crafting.

Giebel then brings her ideas around to the early modern period, looking at the history of textile handwork, particularly with regards to gender assignations of various tasks such as embroidery and knitting, seen as female tasks both in the early modern period and in the 21st century. She notes, however, that these tasks no longer have the same cultural significance, thanks to mass marketing — similar to the fading essentialism of paper in books.

Teachers, parents, and the media, as Giebel points out, teach fairy tales to children, but particularly to girls, emphasizing the female character “as the object of other characters’ acts and desires”, not as the agent. She notes that Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well both draws on and inverts these fairy tale tropes, featuring not just one, but several active women. Helena has to mangle her own sentences to try and fit herself into the expected passive role. All’s Well is “a fairy tale, but a problematic one… a deliciously messy one” in contrast to the neat, happy endings of Disney’s fairy tales. Giebel has worked with Linden Kueck to design a paper-based set for All’s Well That Ends Well based on these concepts, particularly as an exploration of the gender issues at play. She ends by foregrounding the need to examine, in this concept of textual transmission and shifting gender roles, what we want to keep from the past and what we want to move on to — a world where we can both read blogs on our cellphones, but also enjoy the texture and physical reality of paper, “where boys can learn embroidery and girls can be the king”.

Brian Maxwell: “The First Generation: The Dawn of American Shakespeare”

Maxwell’s presentation begins by interrogating our awareness, in the American Shakespeare Center, of the history of Shakespeare in America. Actors Jarom Brown, Brian Falbo, Rebecca Hodder, and Zach Brown assist by taking on the personas of various 19th-century American Shakespearean actors. Maxwell contrasts the various acting styles of these historical actors: Forrest, Cushman, Booth (Edwin, not his infamous brother), and Jefferson. Forrest represents the emotional style, requiring the actor to give himself over entirely to the affect of the character. Maxwell notes that this style was incredibly popular in the first half of the nineteenth century in America and drew in the working-classes to the theatre. By contrast, Booth and Jefferson display the style which became popular in the second half of the century. This style was a “launching point for Stanislavski’s method”, praised for its naturalism, but less popular with those of the working classes seated in the galleries and a bit too far from the gaslit stage to appreciate the nuances.

Maxwell then encourages Forrest and Booth to dueling monologues. The contrast, with Forrest’s bombastic style and Booth’s understated delivery, makes plain the differences between the early and late methods. Maxwell credits both styles as important to American theatrical heritage. He also posits that these actors, others like them, and their companies gave America cultural credit on the world stage. He shares a 1902 video of Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle and an 1890 wax cylinder audio recording by Edwin Booth.

Daniel Kennedy: “From Place to Space: The Abstraction and Diminution of Hell on the Renaissance Stage”

Kennedy begins by coaxing us all into singing “Happy Birthday” to Christopher Marlowe. He then discusses the OCS Actors’ Renaissance Season production of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, and the dismay of the actors when, each time they revealed the painted-plywood hellmouth, the audience chuckled. Kennedy sketches out the history of the hellmouth, with its roots in medieval representations of Biblical stories. Early illustrations envisioned “an open pit” to invoke Hell; later a volcano, initially considered appropriate for its fiery and sulpherous nature, but later rejected as too passive; later the heads of beasts, particularly dragons. He positions the evolution in relation to attempts to convert the Danish pagans of north England: “Now, if I know Vikings, at least one of those bad motherf*ckers has walked out of a volcano. I don’t think any have walked out of a dragon’s mouth.” Clearly, this imagery would have had a resonance for the England-occupying Danes.

The hellmouth became a convention of the morality plays, an intricate construction, but one which, Kennedy notes with some dejection, audiences found “amusingly wonderful” rather than terrifying or awe-inspiring. He shows an illustration of the stage mansions of Valenciennes, the elaborate decorated carts used for these plays. He notes that, while the hellmouth itself disappeared, the opposition of Heaven and Hell remained prominent. While the structure of the medieval stage mansions positioned Heaven and Hell in horizontal opposition, the early modern audience was conditioned to think of up, the balcony or “heavens”, as good and down, through the trap, as bad. The stage pictures became less religious spectacle, less a stylistic presentation, and more an interpretation of inner struggle.

Kennedy moves on to a discussion of the various texts of Doctor Faustus, noting that the A text, earlier published, lacks elements present in the later B text, considered the version closer to Marlowe’s intended play. The stage direction “Hell is discovered” indicates that, reminiscent of the medieval morality plays, Hell must be visibly represented on the stage. Where, however, remains ambiguous. Kennedy presents it first as revealed in the discovery space, drawing on the image of a dragon’s head gaping open to consume Faustus; then a second time, using the trap. In the second version, the Bad Angel’s description becomes more critical to feeding the audience’s imagination as the means for invoking Hell, rather than an actual stage depiction. Kennedy notes that while Shakespeare never directly calls for a hellmouth as Marlowe does, he still visually invokes the concepts of Hell, demons, and the afterlife in several plays (Hamlet, Macbeth, 1 and 2 Henry VI). He suggests that the accepted convention of the trap as Hell can inform the interpretation of the ghost of Hamlet’s father; if he enters from the trap, the audience may assume him as a demonic figure. He also relates the concept to certain resonances in Macbeth to the idea of the Harrowing of Hell, particularly as relevant in the Porter scene.

Elizabeth Rentfro: “For I Am She: The Development of Margaret of Anjou in Performance”

Rentfro’s presentation opens with a presentation from Richard III, with most of the cast (Liz Lodato, Brian Falbo, Mel Johnson, Dane Leasure, Deb Streusand, Jessica Schiermeister, Stephanie Tschetter, Kelly Elliot, and Rachel Ratkowski) on-stage, and Rentfro, as Margaret, moving in from the audience. Following Margaret’s intrusion into the body of the scene, Rentfro details her experience having played Margaret in both full productions and staged readings across the “Margaret canon” of Henry VI, Parts 1-3 and Richard III. She prefaces that the presentation will work through the scene with a few breaks for her to explain her exploration as a self-evaluating performance study.

As they progress through the scene, Rentfro notes that while Margaret harbors special hate for Richard III and is the first person to see him for what he is, she also feels a kinship with him due to some of their inherent similarities. Likewise, she sees a reflection of herself in Elizabeth, the “poor painted queen” she mocks. Rentfro moves on through Margaret’s exit, leaving the Yorkists behind to “muse why she’s at liberty”. She then relates her experience to that of Sarah Fallon, someone else who has seen Margaret all the way through her arc. She notes the experience as fairly rare, since so few companies perform the full tetralogy.

Jared Fair: “The Grieving Parent in Shakespeare and the Early Modern English Children’s Epitaph”

Fair begins by positing the opinions of Laurence Stone as to the emotional distance between parents and children in the early modern period, which he views as necessary due to the high child mortality, depicting these parents as detached and unemotional even upon the death of a child. Fair juxtaposes this with the ideas of David Cressy, who claims that early modern people were deeply emotional and loving, with a great capacity for tenderness both in their families and their communities. Cressy uses diaries and letters as examples that early modern people experienced intense emotions upon the death of a loved one.

Fair presents (through actors Jarom Brown and Dr. Julie Fox) epitaphs from the early modern period, which demonstrate the emotions felt by parents upon the death of a child. These epitaphs imagine sleep as a death, which Fair suggests as a coping mechanism to soften the blow. They also suggest that “death is not the end, that life continues for the child.” He presents an epitaph written by Ben Jonson on the death of a child actor, the first epitaph to so commemorate an actor. Jonson also wrote an epitaph when his own daughter died at 6 months and when his son died in the plague of 1603. Fair points out that Jonson describes himself as possessed by his own emotions; the epitaph serves as method to “loose” the bonds that hold him in thrall to grief. Fair then moves to considering Shakespeare’s experience with a child’s death, particularly in the proximity of the composition of King John to the death of his son Hamnet. Constance’s grief “is anticipatory”, upon Arthur’s disappearance. Fair argues that if Hamnet suffered an illness rather than a sudden death, Shakespeare’s own emotions may have informed this sense of anticipatory dread. He notes that Constance sinks into a suicidal depression, haunted by her son’s image, reminded of him everywhere. She later dies “in a frenzy”, inconsolable. Fair links this depiction of dramatic pain to Shakespeare’s personal experience as a parent.

For the rest of the Festival, see these posts:
Session 1
Session 3
Session 4

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 22 April 2011

Just a few tidbits from the past couple of weeks:

  • Ever wondered what your brain looks like on Shakespeare? Now you can know! Scientists have conducted neurolinguistic experiments to suss out just what Shakespeare’s rhetoric does to the processing centers of your brain. It turns out that the brain enjoys the challenge of unusual syntax and receives a satisfying reward when it unravels Shakespeare’s linguistic riddles. Cass says: Scientific proof that my obsession with rhetoric is well-founded!
  • This article on Shakespeare and leadership cites our very own Director of Mission, Ralph Alan Cohen. The OCS works with the Federal Executive Institute several times each year to train government officials in leadership techniques, and we welcome any other corporate institutes to sign up for our leadership workshops.
  • This thoughtful essay examines the poignancy of Shakespeare’s perspective on parenting in The Tempest.
  • A new approach to Shakespeare and queer theory: “Rather than referring exclusively to homosexuality, ‘queer’ should encompass everything and anything odd, eccentric, and unexpected, such as the fairy queen Titania falling in love with the donkey-headed Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or King Lear’s complicated take on the limits of the human.”
  • An appeal for aid from a substitute teacher, hampered by educators who are letting their students get away with reading “modern translations” of Shakespeare. Sarah says: This breaks my heart. What I want to do more than anything in the world, is reach the teachers who fear Shakespeare and get them past it and into the realm of comfort, so that their students–our future audience members and–more importantly?–leaders will be able to speak well and appreciate deep text and the humanity Shakespeare so well portrays.

And don’t forget: Shakespeare’s 447th birthday is tomorrow! Join us at Gypsy Hill Park in Staunton on Saturday, from 10:30am-1pm, or at the Playhouse on Sunday, from 4:30pm-6pm, to celebrate with the OCS.

Spring 2011 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival – Session 2

We’re back for Session 2 of the MLitt/MFA Festival, with five presentations between now and 4:30.

What Would Will Do? Contemporary Playwrights Writing for Shakespeare’s Globe, by Katy Mulvaney (MLitt candidate)

Katy begins with a staging of the first words spoken on the stage of the new Globe, introducing her concept of producing new works in the early modern architecture. Katy argues that the new Globe presents an opportunity to synthesize modern sensibilities and theatrical conventions with the advantages offered by the early modern space, as well as to explore the points of conflict and contention between theatrical expectations in the two eras. She gives examples from plays by Peter Oswald, written for Shakespeare’s Globe, which parody the early modern conventions of staging darkness and asides to the audience. While these examples call out some of the suspensions of disbelief necessary in Shakespeare’s plays, they also toy with the audience’s expectations in a way that pushes normal boundaries and explores new avenues. She also discusses other ways of involving the audience, whether pulling a volunteer to take the place of an actor, or placing actors in the galleries to augment the feeling of discussion in a crowded hall. Katy argues that new plays produced for the Globe can explore opportunities the stage presents that early modern plays do not. During the Q&A, Katy says further than the most frequent early modern staging condition that new playwrights seem to explore is audience contact.

The Pyrotechnique Story: Commanding Dragons, Devils, the Natural and the Celestial, by Maxim Overton (MLitt candidate)

Maxim begins by apologizing for the lack of explosions in his presentation (and acknowledges that we have a right to be disappointed that he’ll be setting nothing on fire). He goes on to say that his research indicates a dearth of scholarship on the practice of special effects in early modern theatre. He argues that the two most significant inventions of the 15th-century in Europe were the printing press and gunpowder, and that while we in the early modern theatrical community have discussed much about the former, we have given almost no thought to the latter. Maxim connects the idea of special effects with the appearance and visual representation of magic on the stage, particularly the intersection of magic and scholarship, using Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay as his primary example. He argues that fire was a necessity (or, at least, that an acting company must have considered it a necessity) to represent a demon, dragon, or hellmouth, escalating the creature in question from the mundane to the magical. Maxim then moves on to a consideration of Dr Faustus, where the eponymous character has already gained command of every other scholarly discipline and now moves on to demonology. His first attempt at summoning yields a dragon, and Maxim argues that the accompanying stage direction indicates use of pyrotechnics. He refers to Sarah Keyes Chang’s 2010 thesis which posited that the dragon was a puppet, but Maxim considers that a puppet “would not be horrible enough” or “memorable enough to, twenty years later, be depicted on the title page.” He goes on to describe other places in the play where the presence of devils and magic suggests further use of fireworks, including the potential for “fire-breathing masks” or a costume which was, itself, on fire. (He also notes that there are four or five examples of such a costume “going badly”). During the Q&A, Maxim notes that the advance of gunpowder changed pyrotechnics and fire from an element of light, heavenly characters to dark, evil, satanic characters; fire became a threat rather than a source of comfort.

“What Imports This Song”: Transmitting Ballad Allusions in Hamlet to the Post-Modern Practitioner, by Michael Allen Hollinger (MLitt candidate)

Michael examines the references to popular songs written into Hamlet, allusions which are now lost on modern audience. His presentation opens with two poems, presented by Clara Giebel and Elizabeth Rentfro, the first comprised of lyrics from early modern songs, the second of lyrics from songs from the past fifty years. Michael points out that while we may not recognize any of the lyrics from the first poem, most of us could point out many, if not all, of the references made in the second poem. Michael questions first if it’s possible to make the early modern allusions as recognizable to modern audiences as they were to the original audiences; “The answer is no.” How, then, can practitioners approach the material in a way that illuminates meaning? He admits that the thesis is, in the words of Dr. Menzer, “productive trouble, working without a clear solution.” Michael seeks to open the discussion and to provide an avenue for further exploration in production. Looking at a song of Ophelia’s, he first sets the lyrics to the modernly-recognizable tune of “Scarborough Faire,” then attempts an invented melody, then finally to “Camptown Races” (all sung by Clara Giebel). He argues that the the melancholic first two options were superior to the third, upbeat tune, “unless you want Ophelia to look completely cracked-out.” In his next example, Hamlet (AJ Sclafani) and Polonius (Shannon Schultz) have a conversation in which Hamlet quotes or near-quotes several times from a ballad called “Jepha, Judge of Israel.” Without any tune, the allusions pass the audience by. AJ and Shannon then present the scene again, this time with all of the ballad-originated lines to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface,” then a third time, mixing speech and melody. The second staging makes Hamlet appear a little goofy, while the third staging explicates the point that Polonius is missing the reference, but may contain too little of the actual tune for the audience to recognize it. In a fourth staging, Polonius tries to acknowledge Hamlet’s allusion, but doesn’t know the tune. Michael explains that each tactic attempted during rehearsal “tells us something different about the characters,” and that exploring the ballad allusions in this way can open up many doors for interpretation. Shannon, AJ, and Elizabeth give another example, from the gravedigger scene, in which Michael identifies the gravedigger’s song as one out of “Tottel’s Miscellany.” He notes that the actors decided that the gravedigger could sing either a recognizable modern or an invented tune, as long as it is upbeat and cheerful, based on Hamlet’s reaction. In another interpretation, Michael switched the verses in Hamlet for different verses from the same song, these focused more on the subject of death, thus at once more appropriate and inappropriate for the gravedigger. Michael argues that the switch allows a modern audience to recognize more easily Shakespeare’s possible intent with the allusion. Michael argues that musical allusions in performance are certainly not foreign to modern audiences, and that he hopes that productions will work to discover Shakespeare’s possible intentions through the original allusions and then work to make those intentions clear on the stage.

Playing Women Playing Men on the Blackfriars Stage, by Linden Kueck (MLitt candidate)

Linden states that her research began with a question: “Why was the early-modern English stage willing to take boys for women, and why are modern audiences willing to take women for men?” She argues that gender hierarchies remain present in casting practices and audience reactions. She focused on three productions: Kate Norris as Richard III, presenting a female actor as an adult male character, Vanessa Morosco as Helena in All’s Well That Ends Well, a female actor as a female character, and Denice Burbach as King Henry in 2 Henry VI, a female actor as a male but young and perhaps feminine character. Linden then gives over the stage to her doppleganger, Glenn Schudel, to re-enact first a conversation with Ralph Cohen (presented by Amanda Allen). This conversation illuminates some reasons behind OCS casting choices, including the choice never to change the gender of a character, as well as the roughly 8-4 male-to-female ratio amongst the actors. The conversation also probes the tendency of men playing women to be a “send-up,” and the tendency of females in male’s roles to be “functionary.” Female actors are required to adopt male traits seriously; the same is not often required from male actors regarding femininity. Next, Maxim Overton enters as another Linden for excerpts from her interviews with Jim Warren (presented by Bonnie Morrison). In the interview, Jim noted that, early on in the OCS’s history, some female actors had been unhappy playing even large male roles. The discussion also includes physical signifiers of femininity (such as hands-on-hips) and costuming; Jim noted that he tries to eliminate aspects that make the audience think about the actors as women. Maxim-Linden adds that, in more recent years, more female actors have been willing to audition for male roles. When it comes to performing gender, “mOCSulinity becomes creation by negation,” while femininity is prosthetic. The scene shifts to Amanda Allen as Linden and Glenn Schudel as Kate Norris, in a phone interview focusing on Kate’s performance as Richard III and on her current Hamlet project. Kate noted that she “didn’t try to suppress anything… I don’t take away anything that I am,” rather focusing on adding traits pertinent to the character. She also spoke to a “sense of entitlement” in male characters and to the need to figure out how to “take up more space… spread my legs wide” because that was a more mOCSuline assumption. Speaking to the response from audiences, Kate stated that she felt like it made them feel like they could do anything, like it called attention to the taboo about men playing women. Amanda-Linden went on to discuss the OCS practices of reducing feminine features through breast bindings, whereas men add false breasts and padding, relating it to Kate’s idea about women feeling the need to take up less space whereas men feel entitled to take up more space. Next, Bonnie Morrison as Linden re-creates an interview with Vanessa Morosco (Maxim), wherein Vanessa talks about the difference between watching female characters react to others and seeing Helena in All’s Well tell the audience about herself. Female characters tend to have fewer lines and few or no soliloquies, depriving them of opportunities to connect with the audience as strongly as the main male characters do. Linden also asked Vanessa what role in Shakespeare she would most like to play, leading to Vanessa stating that she would “like to live in some of the larger male roles for a while.” Linden herself retakes the stage, joined by all of her doubles, to sum up: the theatre needs to acknowledge the extant gender hierarchies and the implications of casting, and then to use theatre to challenge rather than reinforce gender constructs. She concludes that the OCS should push further, moving female actors past purely functional male roles and male actors past purely comic female roles. During the Q&A, Linden explicates that she asked Glenn to send-up femininity, Maxim and Amanda to try and play her specifically, and Bonnie to try and portray a typical female scholar, as a way of exploring the different options for portraying a female character on the stage.

Who Done It? A Case for Collaborative Authorship in Arden of Faversham, by Daniel F. Trombley (MLitt candidate)

Dan posits a two-author theory for Arden of Faversham, based on the notable disjuncture in the text. He notes that he will present scenes from the beginning, middle, and end of the play which best explicate the duality (with Melissa Tolner, Jonathan Haas, Liz Lodato, and Stephanie Tschetter acting). The first scene presents the plotting of a murder and concurrent promise of a marriage in somewhat comic strokes, along with fairly heavy-handed, though fast-paced, exposition. The language in the second scene changes considerably, with previously dull characters breaking out into surprising poignancy and demonstrating a deftness with literary allusions that they do not possess elsewhere. Further scenes continue to underscore the volatile nature of the text and the inconsistency in characters’ speech. Dan notes that there may be other elements at play as well, such as the impermeability of the text in early modern print culture, confusing the issue of transmission from original manuscript to what we have extant today. Dan then leads us through a history of the theories surrounding the authorship controversy of Arden of Faversham and the complications of attribution studies. During the Q&A, Dan introduces the idea of the “apocrypha texts,” whereby scholars have subjected various plays to a series of textual tests; a play which fails three is considered not-Shakespearean, but as many as nine failures may still be considered to have a Shakespearean hand in it.

And now we’re off for a dinner break (which I think ought more properly, at this hour, to be termed a tea break) — back at 5:30 for the final three presenters.

(Read more from Session 1 and Session 3).

Ophelia, Desdemona, and Juliet vs Beatrice, Rosalind, and Viola — Is the Tragedy Bias in Schools Sexist?

This post is credit in part to Duane at ShakespeareGeek, because the idea came to me after perusing the responses to a post of his asking “What Shakespeare did you read in high school?” (And if you haven’t popped over there to tell him your experience — do so). The responses have been more or less what I expected — a lot of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar, occasionally subbing in Othello or King Lear. Only infrequently does a comedy make the list, almost always A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It — but even those are rare appearances in the curriculum.

It’s long perturbed me that so many high schools will insist on only beating kids over the heads with the tragedies. Now, don’t get me wrong. The tragedies have great material, obviously, and most of it is not beyond your average high-schooler’s capacity to grasp. I just think that you’re more likely to get the kind of excited, engaged reaction we hope for out of teaching the comedies. (I know plenty of folk may disagree with me and think that the comedies rely too much on obscure jokes and convoluted language; flatly, I just believe those naysayers are wrong). I think it’s far easier for teachers to fall into traps with the tragedies, and to get bogged down in the doom and gloom that might be off-putting. Ignoring the comedies causes teachers to miss out on so many opportunities — clever wordplay, cross-dressing heroines, puns galore, and the bawdy, earthy, genuine sexuality that would give teachers a better chance to hook kids on Shakespeare and to keep their attention. Then, once you’ve convinced them it’s good stuff, you’ll have better luck getting them interested in the tragedies.

But that particular pet peeve of mine is a fight for another day. What’s just occurred to me on reading Duane’s post and its responses, however, is the notion that there might be something a little more insidious clinging on to these curriculum choices. The tragedies, far more than the comedies, are boy-centric, peopled with male figures, concerned with the problems and personal journeys of men. I have to wonder — Is the dogged adherence to teaching the same few tragedies in high schools perhaps the legacy of centuries’ worth of education as a male-dominated institution? Teaching, at least at the pre-collegiate levels, has become a more female domain, but that certainly has not always been the case. Do we teach Hamlet and Caesar simply because that’s what has always been taught, never minding what cultural norms might have influenced those decisions centuries ago?

Of course there are women in the tragedies — but, in most cases, hardly women we’d want high-school students emulating. Half the women in the tragedies are the bad guys, after all — Lady M, Goneril, Regan. The heroines of these plays, in the meantime, come off as a little weak. Ophelia is most effective in poignancy, and Gertrude is either astonishingly naive, or her strongest moment is in drinking poison. Portia and Calpurnia barely get any stage time at all in one of the most-frequently-taught tragedies. Cordelia may be sweet and well-intentioned, but her dramatic purpose is pretty much to die to make Lear feel bad about himself. Additionally, the women of the tragedies almost universally act only in reaction to the male central figures. Lady Macbeth may be an exception at the beginning of Macbeth, but she loses that dynamism and that ability to affect events as the play goes on. Juliet is perhaps the most proactive female among the commonly-taught tragedies, but we’d hardly want our fourteen-year-old students following her example. Most of the tragic women, however, don’t have agendas of their own, they don’t take initiative — they respond (usually by dying).

And even when those women do appear, they hardly get the stage time or line counts of their male counterparts. The largest female role in a tragedy is Cleopatra, with close to 700, and she is the exception to pretty much everything I’ve said about women in tragedies so far — and she’s the central figure of a play most high schools don’t attempt. Juliet comes in 2nd, a little over 500, but after that it’s down to Desdemona, just under 400, and Emilia and Lady Macbeth, at around 250 each. Gertrude, Ophelia, all three of the Lear sisters — none of these ladies bank more than 200 lines. Compare that to Iago’s 1100, Othello’s nearly 900, Lear at close to 800, Antony (in Antony and Cleopatra) at around 750, Brutus at about 700, Romeo and Macbeth topping 600, and, of course, Hamlet trumping them all at over 1400 lines, nearly as long in his one role as some of Shakespeare’s shorter plays.

The girls, overall, get a much fairer shake in the comedies. Rosalind speaks more than twice as much as her male counterpart, almost 700 to Orlando’s almost 300. Helena speaks almost 100 more lines than Demetrius, and Lysander only has Hermia by about 10; Helena has the third-most lines in the play, falling only just short of Nick Bottom and Theseus. Viola and Olivia top 300, about the same as Feste and Sir Toby, and far more than the romantic heroes of Twelfth Night. Benedick only outstrips Beatrice by about 60 lines. There also tend to be, overall, more women in the comedies than in the tragedies. Midsummer has Helena, Hermia, Titania, and Hippolyta; Much Ado has Beatrice, Hero, Margaret, and Ursula; Love’s Labour’s Lost has the four ladies plus country-girl Jaquenetta; As You Like It has Rosalind, Celia, Phoebe, and Audrey. These women also tend to be in more scenes, making the female presence on stage far greater in the comedies than in the tragedies.

Furthermore, the women of the comedies make their own decisions and act as their own agents. They are, if not always the sole central characters, sharing the stage much more evenly, and they are certainly the characters whose decisions drive the plot in many of the comedies. They often act in defiance of men’s wishes or of societal expectations, rather than succumbing. And, perhaps most importantly, they live. Fiery and feisty and resilient, they live. They survive shipwrecks, heartbreaks, wildernesses, outlaws, exiles, threats of execution — and they go on to triumph. For this, I find the women of the comedies just plain more interesting that the women of the tragedies. Shakespeare seems to give them a lot more credit.

So why don’t we showcase Beatrice’s wit to our high-schoolers? Viola’s eloquence, Rosalind’s spirit, Hermia and Helena’s passions, Titania’s magic, Kate’s fire, Portia’s cleverness? Why does our focus default to the male perspective?

I wonder if it has something to do with something that’s more generally pervasive in our culture — the notion that it’s the male viewpoint that’s considered universal. This debate came up recently in the film world with Disney’s decision first to rebrand the film Rapunzel as Tangled, then to stop making fairy tales all together, because they don’t market as well to boys. Boys, after all, don’t want to go see a movie about a girl, but girls will readily see movies about boys, so Disney’s turning to the Pixar model of the male universal viewpoint. There was also a minor hullabaloo in the literary world this past summer over the marginalization of female authors and female-dominated genres. Publishers and production companies routinely appeal to male readers and male audiences, despite that women go to more movies and purchase more books — precisely because they know they can bank on the women turning up and forking over cash anyway. The bias continues to get validated.

So I don’t think it’s a stretch to suppose that this trend has carried over, even subconsciously, to how we teach Shakespeare and which of his plays we select. We can get a 16-year-old girl to consider Hamlet, to dig into his words and his psyche, even to identify with him and his struggle, but a 16-year-old boy is far less willing to extend that courtesy for Beatrice or Rosalind. Even within Hamlet, I’m sure it holds true — I’d love to hear from teachers about how many boys choose to write their essays on Ophelia or Gertrude, versus how many girls do. I know as a student in high school and college, I wrote my assignments on the female characters whenever possible, looking closely at Lady Macbeth’s language, trying to coax out Gertrude’s backbone, attempting to vindicate Goneril and Regan, positing Juliet as the far stronger character than Romeo — not out of any desire to make a stand for feminism, but simply because those were the characters, the arcs, and the issues that most interested me. It would’ve been nice, however, to have had the opportunity to consider a female character who was central, rather than marginal, who was the main focus of the play and the instigator of action, rather than a sidelined role.

The good news is that I don’t appear to be alone in desiring an appeal on behalf of the comedies. A few of the teachers who replied to Duane’s post say that, despite having been fed all the tragedies in their own high school years, they now turn to Much Ado about Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest, and Twelfth Night, mixed in with the typical tragedies and a few histories. I’d be glad to see this turning of the tide as a continuing trend. Students should get a broader sampling of Shakespeare’s works as early on as possible, and we should be celebrating Shakespeare’s women as much as his men.

Fall MLit/MFA Thesis Festival – Session 1

Welcome back to another live blogging event here at the American Shakespeare Center. We’re pleased to bring you the Fall 2010 Thesis Festival, featuring presentations of the works of MLitt and MFA students in our partner program at Mary Baldwin College. We’ll start off with three papers in our morning session, followed by an early afternoon session after lunch, and then a later afternoon session after a tea break. There will be a separate blog post for each session, which I’ll be updating as we go.

Miranda as Native: An Exploration of Sexual Politics and Cultural Hegemony in Caribbean and African Postcolonial Adaptations of The Tempest
presented by Amy L. Bolis

Presentation begins with Maxim Overton reading a speech of Caliban’s, while Kimberly Maurice and Johnny Adkins echo with descriptions of the character from elsewhere in the play. Amy explicates that the language reveals the “legacy of colonization,” and that in The Tempest, we see Caliban as the colonized and Prospero as the colonizer, and then asks — where does that put Miranda?

She links this idea with the influence of Shakespeare in colonized regions, introducing the idea of examining post-colonial adaptations of The Tempest from regions such as Zambia and Trinidad. Amy posits that casting Miranda as “native to the island” gives her rape the connotation of the results of colonization; she then explains that Johnny will be portraying Prospero throughout her presentation, Kimberly Miranda, and Maxim Caliban. Amy then helps out those of the audience un-familiar with the term “post-colonial,” situating the term in helpful concrete terms, with the unifying “central concern of cultural power”.

Amy then discusses a tradition in productions of The Tempest which focuses on spectacle, highlighting spiritual themes and quotes like “We are such stuff as dreams are made on” and “O brave new world.” Amy asserts that these productions take a reluctant approach to the colonial implications. Casts Prospero as sympathetic, makes audience “inclined to pardon Prospero”. Her actors then presented a scene which foregrounds Caliban’s implied inferiority; she highlights Miranda’s complicity in this view, that the gentle girl who sympathized with the shipwrecked sailors could not help “being socialized into” the view of Caliban as part of a “vile race.”

Amy goes on to note that the post-colonial adaptations she studied give Miranda a greater connection to the island than does Shakespeare’s play (where Miranda willingly leaves). “She becomes the battleground upon which the battle for serenity is being fought.” She then considers the sexual politics at play, from Prospero’s obsession with Miranda’s virginity to the implications of sexual relations and procreation between two different races. To illustrate this, Amy has her actors portray scenes from the four adaptations she considered:

1) from Elizabeth Munez’s Prospero’s Daughter, with a scene illustrating Virginia’s innocent inability to differentiate between races. Also highlights Virginia’s association with the island, which she comes to consider herself indigenous to, though she was born in England; Kimberly delivers a monologue where Virginia explains this.
2) from David Wallace’s Do You Love Me, Master?, where Miranda describes herself as “cross-grained,” underscoring her mixed-race background. Prospero, despite having no respect for Miranda’s mother, holds his daughter to a higher standard, seeking to match her to the only other European on the island. Miranda retains an awareness of her mixed-race throughout the play.
3) A Tempest, by Aime Cesaire, which higlights Miranda’s comfort and familiarity with the island, which she wishes to share with willing listeners. Cesaire even reassigns some of Caliban’s lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest to Miranda, changing the tenor of those lines.
4) George Lamming’s novel Water with Berries, which Amy uses to discuss the sexual politics, as the Miranda-character describes the graphic rape which dissociated her from identification with the island. The islanders here become the savage stereotype, but only because they have learned it from their colonial masters.

Amy finishes by presenting the idea of stories as the means of identification for conquered peoples. The presentation of Miranda as native “foregrounds questions of indigenousness” and allows The Tempest to become an enduring arena for a discussion on the power dynamics between colonizers and the colonized.

Rosalind and Cleopatra: The Androgyne in Performance
presented by Lem A. Prades

Lem begins by connecting the heroines of Shakespeare’s plays to the sexual/gender ambiguity of Queen Elizabeth, at once the ultimate female and a removed, and thus asexual, force. Using this conception of Elizabeth, Lem suggests a connection between Elizabeth’s persona to both the comic cross-dressing heroines and the primary females in tragedies who also take on mOCSuline attributes. Lem states that the aim of his presentation is to examine the “collapsing mOCSuline and feminine features in Shakespeare’s dramatic features,” using the comic example of Rosalind and the tragic example of Cleopatra. Lem suggests that “Rosalind and Cleopatra exercise the greatest degree of autonomy,” layering sexual identities that “perpetuates autonomy over the self and others.”

Lem begins by explicating the theories of gender and performativity that he will be working with throughout his presentation. This introduces the third gender, the androgyne, taken from Plato, an idealized figure synthesizing both the mOCSuline and the feminine attributes, transcending duality. So where in this do Rosalind and Cleopatra most neatly fit?

Lem suggests that the most basic level of gender synthesis is transvestism, seen literally in the comedies, but more figuratively in the tragedies. Rosalind initially uses transvestism as a defense mechanism, but it evolves into a more enduring identity. Lem quotes Marjorie Garber, who attributes Rosalind’s continued cross-dressing, even after the threat has been neutralized, to an essential effect on Orlando’s development, because Rosalind can only get close to Orlando in the guise of a boy. Cleopatra’s transvestism, on the other hand, is less obvious; she occupies a male position in society, as ruler. Lem relates societal disease with this idea, despite the present of female monarchs in the 16th century, to Knox’s “First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.” This discomfort appears in the play, when Enobarbus questions Cleopatra’s right to take part in the wars; “Enobarbus sees Cleopatra as a distraction rather than the ruler responsible for the kingdom,” and he relies heavily on insecurities related to sexuality. Lem states that the Romans see Cleopatra as “too feminine when she shouldn’t be, and never quite feminine enough” when she ought to be.

Lem goes on to discuss the power wielded by Rosalind and Cleopatra through love. He looks at Rosalind in 3.5, when she discovers audacity after watching Phebe and Silvius. Rosalind there discovers that she has attracted Phebe despite her harsh words; Phebe explicates her attraction, and reveals her attraction to both mOCSuline and feminine attributes. He then compares this to Enobarbus’s initial description of Cleopatra, wherein Cleopatra asserts her power and sovereignty. “Her creative personality has little to no end of mOCSulinity in it.” Yet she never gives over entirely to mOCSulinity; nor does Rosalind. Both blend their power plays with feminine mischief and coyness, and each woman exercises teasing command over her partner.

Each woman, though, Lem notes, resigns herself to a role as “feminine counterpart;” both women agree to follow rather than to lead. Rosalind tells Orlando, “I am yours,” handing herself over to him entirely. Interestingly, Cleopatra’s declaration comes with her death, as she prepares herself as a bride for the already-dead Antony, and takes her doom to her breast, mixing the most life-giving and supremely feminine image of the nursing mother with the poison of death. Lem finishes by asserting that transvestism provides opportunity for change, and for exploring the grey area between the binary opposites of mOCSuline and feminine.

‘Sblood, Zounds, and Marry: Oaths as Indicators of Character Change on the Early Modern Stage
presented by David C. Santangelo

David opens by suggesting that oaths and expletives can express, not just momentary frustration or reaction, but aspects of character or of change. He grounds uses of these in the context of an Act which levied fines on any uses of profanity, as well as several other laws, from the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I, with penalties ranging from 12p fines to whippings. He also refers to some polemic attempts by clergymen to “dissuade Englishmen from swearing.” These acts also led to some instances of censorship, particularly in the Caroline period.

David moves on to explaining that his thesis focuses on the oaths of Hamlet, Othello, and Iago, but for the purposes of this presentation, he’ll be looking solely at Iago. Iago’s opening line, which includes “‘sblood,” indicates that Iago’s tendencies lean towards the blasphemous and the profane. He continues to swear throughout his first scene, “blaspheming three times in quick succession,” indicating that he “is not only vulgar, but may be of a questionable moral standing.” When talking to Othello, however, Iago adopts the more unusual “by Janus” as his oath of choice; the god involved, the double-faced god of doorways and of looking both forward and backward, however, may relate to Iago’s own two-faced nature. His oaths become milder when he feels the need to maintain his “honest” affectation. David also asserts that Iago’s jesting, mild oaths demonstrate his disregard for his wife (later augmented by, well, murder).

David goes on to explicate the other character attributes that Iago’s oaths reflect: his arrogance and that he is a liar. As a self-proclaimed villain, his frequent blaspheming underscores his surety in his villainy. He makes false oaths, swearing “by this hand,” by an honor the audience knows he does not truly have. Iago thus tailors his oaths to who is listening and to the ends he desires to achieve. David sees these techniques as evidence of Iago’s intelligence and cunning.

David also looks at the timely use of “As I am an honest man,” which he paints as “a cunning comment on Iago’s character.” It comes when he has just, quite dishonestly, manufactured the brawl which destroys Cassio’s reputation. He thus perpetuates his honest image while in the process of wreaking chaos. He sees this, and other instances of saying one thing while meaning another, as evidence of Iago’s “Janus-like character.”

Iago’s final oath, “Zounds,” in Act 5 brings him back around to the foul-mouthed soldier we saw in the first scene; with his plans discovered, he can safely drop the honorable image and revert to form. Iago’s profanities, in this instance, come from his inability to control the situation. He thus begins and ends the play with blasphemy, abandoning the more elegant and crafty oaths used elsewhere in the play. “He is, at his core, vulgar.” David ends by asserting that oaths exhibit character change and personality, and that studying these oaths can help an actor when working through roles.

And that’s it for Session 1 — I’ll be back at 2pm (Eastern) for Session 2.