MLitt Thesis Festival 2014: Session 3

Sarah Blackwell: “Turning Sonnet: Performing Lyric Poetry”
Actors: Josh Brown, Molly Harper, Jamie Jager, Sara Vazquez
Blackwell opens with the sonnet she wrote for Ralph Cohen’s “Language of the Performance” class, performed by her four actors, structured so that the audience could “visually and aurally experience” the argument of the sonnet. Though she did not write the sonnet initially intending it for performance, her four actors “turned sonnet” and embodied the verse. Blackwell characterizes sonnets in performance as “reasons in rhyme,” and notes that the sonnets in Shakespeare’s plays challenge the traditional solitary nature of sonnets. Blackwell also points out how often sonnets within the plays do not reach their intended audiences, often going astray in the delivery, allowing Shakespeare to use them as “transformative devices.”

The most sonnet-heavy play is Love’s Labour’s Lost. Blackwell notes that, while Dumain’s ode is not structured like a sonnet, it still has syllabic similarity if re-lined. Blackwell and her actors then walk through the various transformations, as the King and Longaville “turn perjurer”. Blackwell posits that the performance of the sonnet is key to this transformation, as they cannot be perjured without an audience — which the King provides for Longaville, Berowne for the King. Blackwell also identifies Berowne as a character who can “burst into sonnet”, as in the moment when he interjects spontaneous poetry into the argument over whether or not to sign the King’s oath. The King, Longaville, and Dumain respond with their own tercet, which Berowne then volleys with a fourth rhyme, demonstrating that all men are consciously aware of their own poetical capabilities. Blackwell identifies the progression of rhymes as moving from reason towards ridiculousness.

Blackwell then questions what happens if the performed sonnet is a soliloquy, performed without an onstage audience. She uses Beatrice as an example of the sonnet becoming an argument with the self. Beatrice not only shifts from prose into verse, but into an incomplete sonnet. Her first set of rhymes set up questions, which the second two answer; in the next quatrain, the rhymes are weaker, offering an actor a variety of choices on how to perform the awkward rhyme and rhythm. Blackwell identifies this as a transformative moment for Beatrice, and posits that she may be her own, self-aware audience — as Benedick is in his later attempt at poem-making. Benedick comments on the “ominous endings” of his own bad rhymes. Blackwell suggests that this may inform their belief in the final scene that they do not have the “reason” to love each other. Claudio and Hero then provide the physical evidence of the sonnets. Blackwell concludes that the volta turn for a character happens in performance, and that the presence of an on- or off-stage audience is key for the transformation.

Q&A: Cyndi Kimmel raises the question of translation. A: Blackwell has not addressed that, as she’s only been looking at Shakespeare’s sonnets. She notes, however, that the transition words for the volta likely serve the same purpose in other languages.
Q: Danielle Guy questions if Blackwell also looked at Romeo and Juliet, who fall in love in rhyme. A: Blackwell nods emphatically, noting that they are each others’ audience. “They transition from strangers into kissing strangers.”
Q: Doreen Bechtol asks Blackwell about the term volta, particularly as it relates to a dancing term. A: Blackwell says she has not looked at the history of the word volta, but more on the many alternate definitions of the word “turn”.
Q: Paul Menzer asks about the tangibility of paper sonnets versus the sonnets which do not have paper attached to them, asking if Blackwell has been able to track qualities of sonneteering when paper is or is not present. A: Blackwell notes that reading of a sonnet occurs less often, more that “he writes characters who burst into sonnet”. She admits that it can be difficult to pick out a sonnet just by listening to it, especially when it’s broken up, as with Berowne’s during the oath scene.
Q: Matt Davies follows up by asking how it might relate to cue script, wondering when actors using cue scripts pick up on the sonnet. A: Blackwell speaks to the variant styles of printing the sonnets in the Folio, admitting the difficulty of representing the sonnets on paper for either a reader’s or an actor’s benefit.

Scott Campbell: “Selling Imagined Dearth on the New Early Modern Stage”
Actors: Josh Brown, Adrienne Johnson, Charlene Smith
Campbell seeks to look at the intersection of scholarship and performance in under-rehearsed Shakespeare performances, which he qualifies as non-perjorative, but as “companies that are intentionally limiting the amount of rehearsal they are doing”. Campbell discusses the increased attention in the 20th and 21st centuries of production companies on early modern rehearsal practices with such practices as direct audience address, universal lighting, and reduced rehearsal time. Campbell seeks to interrogate the research behind the practice of rehearsal time in particular, because of its reductive nature.

Campbell argues that the marketing of under-rehearsed shows is a re-shaping rather than a re-creation, which he posits as a discrepancy between the research and its application. He examines five Mid-Atlantic companies which use reduced rehearsal practices. He suggests that the marketing for these companies attempt to sell dearth as authentic and/or as a novelty, framing it as “a withdrawal of modern conveniences”. Campbell believes that, while compelling, these marketing approaches “only tell one side of the story… one which does not accurately reflect the early modern stage.” He compares this to KFC’s 2007 re-branding as “trans-fat free” — selling absence rather than presence, the “novel merit of what it does not possess, rather than what it does”. Campbell then refers to Taffety Punk’s method of marketing a one-day rehearsal period as capable of challenging modern notions of theatre, as well as Richmond Shakespeare’s idea of “anything can happen”. This, Campbell notes, is the theatrical equivalent of baiting rubbernecking, which he relates to the early series of MTV’s The Real World. He identifies that marketing shows this way is somewhat misleading, as a production can be unpredictable no matter how well-rehearsed it is or how much it costs (referring to the ill-fated Spiderman musical’s travails).

Campbell then notes that the original early modern companies could not sell their dearth in the same way, because it was not a deviation from the norm, but the norm itself. “Early modern theatre succeeded in spite of dearth, rather than because of it.” He suggests that the research actually exhibits a “resource-rich environment”, rather than one founded on absence, and identifies several of those resources: lasting communities, actor familiarity, and common vocabulary. His thesis suggests “a fixable disconnect” between the research and the marketing practices of the companies, and that re-creating these conditions will let 21st-century companies “produce powerful theatre that more accurately reflects” theatre of the early modern period.

Q&A: Cass Morris mentions that OCS Education has long used the term “technology” when referring to cue scripts, to frame the practices as positive and constructive, rather than reductive. A: Campbell says, yes, he thinks that language could be productive, and that he has noticed a shift in the OCS’s marketing terminology towards that sort of language since about 2011.
Q: Who ever said that marketing had to be truthful? A: Campbell admits that, yes, it is still selling something and can be generative, as this is a new product, rather than framing it in terms of re-creating. He hopes to address the disconnect between what companies of this sort sell and what they actually provide.
Q: Matt Davies addresses the idea that “Shakespeare done by the experts is bad for you… and that ‘Shakespeare-lite’ is ‘fun'”, and he wonders if Campbell has picked up on that sense. A: Campbell is aware of the idea though has not encountered much of it in his research for this project, as he has largely looked at just a few specific theatres in the past 15 years. Menzer points out an “ethical responsibility” when claiming authenticity.
Q: Arlynda Boyer asks if Campbell looked at the Globe’s marketing and if this might be “a uniquely American privileging of being a historical blank”. A: Campbell’s research is just now starting to look at the Globe. He notes that he thinks the OCS’s Actors’ Renaissance Season has strongly influenced the theatrical companies and the marketing of those companies in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Amy Grubbs: “Rogues, Vagabonds, and Common Players: The Interaction of Late Elizabethan Theatre Companies with the Unsettled of London.”
Actors: Linnea Barkland, Sarah Blackwell, Molly Harper, Rebecca Wright
Grubbs begins by identifying the 1590s as a time of desperation for many English citizens, with the number of “poor and unsettled residents of London’s suburbs” greatly increasing. A year of plague followed by five years of poor harvests decimated the population and then unsettled the survivors, combining “to create an environment of downward social mobility and early death”. She identifies the greatest problem brought on by these conditions as vagrancy.

And then, two fights over phones break out in the audience, ending in the public proclamation of Rebecca Wright and Molly Harper as rogues. Grubbs then explicates that her actors have re-enacted incidents which led to the rewritten 1598 Poor Laws. The common threads are wandering and begging, which rendered a person worthy of punishment. Grubbs clarifies that there were some classes of the poor who were protected and deemed worthy of charity. She further identifies how important it was in this time to belong to a community; London’s suburbs were then, full of people who “did not belong”. Grubbs goes on to discuss how theatrical companies interacted with these Poor Laws, noting that they were usual contributors to charities, evidence she draws both from legal writs and from references within the plays. The theatres also “encouraged the employment of the unsettled”, most obviously in the apprenticeship of young boys within the company. Grubbs also states that the theatrical companies “worked together with their neighbors”, helping to create demand for other professions such as the watermen who ferried playgoers across the River Thames.

Beyond merely financial concerns, Grubbs argues that the theatre companies “created a community”. She refers back to the language of the Poor Laws, which included language similar to that of acting — seeming, calling themselves, feigning to be, etc — and she discusses the punishments given to vagrants. Grubbs argues that “theatres welcomed the unsettled as part of their community”, particularly since the price for a groundling remained at a single penny for over seventy years, despite great inflation in London in general. She suggests that this allowed the poor, servants, and other disadvantaged classes to attend the theatre, thus becoming part of the community. Grubbs also points to the choice to re-build the Globe in the same location across the river, despite that the King’s Men were making much more money at the Blackfriars, as evidence that “the King’s Men felt a civic responsibility” to their Southwark neighborhood. Grubbs encourages other theatre historians to continue exploring the relationship between the theatres and the unsettled poor, beyond her temporal parameters and beyond the suburbs of London. She notes that many of the moments in Shakespeare’s plays which relate to the poor, such as Falstaff’s speech about his impressed soldiers, are designed for direct audience address, strengthening that connection.

Q&A: Ralph Cohen begins by questioning the “unofficial contract there seemed to be between the theatres and the poor”, particularly with regards to the decision to keep both the Blackfriars and the Globe open. Jessica Schiermeister then offers her own research on Continental theatres.
Q: Clare von Rueden questions if the relationship between the poor and the theatre was affected by the fact that unaffiliated actors were considered vagabonds. A: Grubbs acknowledges the legal and figurative ways in which players were identified as unsettled.

Mara Sherman: “Theatrical Spinach”
Actors: Nicola Collett, Dane Leasure
Sherman’s thesis examines the educational materials and programming at five Shakespeare companies. She specifically interrogates the tendencies to teach the same material to privileged and under-privileged groups in different ways. Sherman begins by questioning the American affinity for Shakespeare, despite its tendency to uphold the very hierarchal society which America had broken away from in the Revolution. She identifies a combination of revived Anglophilia and “the conscription of Shakespeare into American myth-building” as reasons for the dominance of Shakespeare in American education. She then walks through a brief history of Shakespeare’s role in American culture, ending on the idea that Shakespeare is “theatrical spinach”, promoted as “good for you”.

Sherman first addresses the question of “Does Shakespeare taste good?” In response, she has her actors present a re-creation of a tuna fish commercial, wherein a fish emulates Shakespeare in order to prove he has good taste, which she claims illustrates “Shakespeare’s immense cultural capital” and that demonstrates the idea that “Shakespeare can change you” for the better. Sherman then questions how Shakespeare in education supplements or challenges the ideas that Shakespeare can increase your upward social mobility, make you smarter, or otherwise enhance your life.

Sherman then addresses her assessment of the word choices used in the marketing of theatre companies which target underprivileged groups. She chose to identify those groups which she considers to target upper-middle class families based on the tuition costs for programs. She notes that three prominent companies offer scholarships to their programs, though she raises the question of other potential roadblocks, such as travel costs, clothing needs, financial aid applications and essays, etc. She then identifies the key problem as how various companies choose to address their targeted socioeconomic groups, whether personal enrichment and skills needed to succeed within the theatrical industry, or benefits based more on the public good or as alternatives to “more punitive measures”. The real trouble that Sherman identifies is the treatment of Shakespeare as a way of fixing problems as opposed to encouraging personal enrichment.

Sherman concludes by offering up alternate theses, tangentially related to her own research, for the consideration of the MLitt first years, and with recommended reading for the audience. She then invites any interested parties to join her in planning the educational revolution at her house this evening (BYOB).

Q&A: Patrick Harris questions if Sherman has encountered gentrification, where Shakespeare has been brought into the locale of the inner city but still marketed to the upper-middle class. A: Sherman has seen some hints around it and would like to explore more.
Q: Celi Oliveto asks first if she knows when Shakespeare was first required in school and, second, how she feels about Shakespeare’s inclusion in the Common Core Curriculum. A: At least by World War I, though Sherman notes that Shakespeare was important and prominent in the culture well before then. Sherman says she is against the Common Core in general, and also doesn’t trust public schools to teach Shakespeare well on a regular basis.
Q: Jessica Hamlet asks if Sherman has personal experience with any of these programs. A: Sherman attended a program at OSF in 2006 and describes it as “completely transformative”. She notes that, though her family was nowhere near poor, she was still a scholarship kid at that program and one of the least well-off students in the program, a fact which unsettled her at the time and which she finds increasingly disturbing now.
Q: Monica Cross questions what the programs for “at risk” students look like and where those students eventually end up. A: Sherman notes a dearth of readily available information on that topic.
Q: Wondering if the “instrumental language” in marketing is aimed more at funders than at the students, if there is a difference in what they do with the kids and what they say in order to earn attention from donors. A: Yes, absolutely.
Q: Scott Campbell asks if this is intrinsic to Shakespeare camp or if it also extends to sports leagues and other academic camps? A: Campbell believes it is definitely not limited to Shakespeare, though the position Shakespeare occupies in our culture is unique.

Emma Patrick: “’There’s a double meaning in that’: An examination of thematic doubling in Shakespeare’s works”
Actors: Sarah Blackwell, Josh Brown, Molly Harper, Merlyn Sell, Aubrey Whitlock, Rebecca Wright, Molly Ziegler
Patrick begins acknowledging the impossibility of knowing what, precisely, influenced Shakespeare in his youth. She presents the sort of title page for the type of play Shakespeare might have seen as a child, which more typically demonstrated the players and doubling than did the title pages of plays written in Shakespeare’s adulthood. Her actors present a scene from Cambyses, demonstrating the potential power of thematically doubling a child whom a king kills with a bow and arrow with the bow-and-arrow-bearing Cupid. Though unrelated characters, embodying them in the same actor suggests revenge for the child, particularly since Cupid’s actions eventually lead to Cambyses’s death.

Patrick moves to considering similar potential doublings in Shakespeare’s King John, doubling Arthur with John’s young son Henry. As Arthur is the target of John’s murderous intentions, and dies through a mishap trying to escape them, this doubling creates a significant echo for the audience, particularly as Henry receives the crown and the allegiance of the English lords. Patrick suggests that this doubling will give the audience “a sense of closure and poetic justice at the end of this play.” Patrick argues that Shakespeare “took the convention of thematic doubling … and transformed it for his works”, noting that there are many other potential doubling tracks worth exploration.

Q&A: Matt Davies asks about the big “if”, noting the lack of evidence that this significant doubling was done by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. A: Patrick specifies that the only play within Shakespeare’s career’s timeframe showing such doubling was Mucedorus, which suggests that the practice was ongoing, but that the absence in other plays does not necessarily mean it was not.
Q: Julia Nelson queries if Patrick has considered the Boy and Princess in Henry Vwho both speak French. A: Patrick says yes, that example is in her thesis.
Q: Clare von Rueden questions the presumption that the actors had influence on the doubling lists of the early plays. A: Patrick admits that no, there is no direct evidence, though she finds the suggestion of it in the directions for the interludes. “Somebody intended it to be that way”, whether or not it was a sole original author.
Q: Davies asks further if there’s any evidence that there may have been status-driven divides between full casts in London and doubled casts on the road. A: Patrick has not identified a status divide, but rather a temporal one with the move towards permanent playing companies in London.

MLitt Thesis Festival 2014: Session 2

Rebecca Wright: “Infants as Characters: An Investigation of Babies Onstage”
Actors: Josh Brown,Ian Charles, Kelly Elliott, Amy Grubbs, Patrick Harris
Wright begins by interrogating the audience’s perceptions of props as tied to certain plays. To a list including rings, letters, beds, trunks, and rapiers, she adds “babies”. Wright wishes to interrogate the position of an infant on-stage as a character, rather than as an inanimate prop. She notes that most productions do not use live babies on-stage, though it has been done. Despite this, however, she finds few references to babies as properties. Wright notes the difficulty in presenting an inanimate prop as a live baby, generally unconvincing yet just as generally accepted by audiences.

The actors deliver a list of shows which call for the use of an infant onstage, from the early modern period up to modern musical theatre. Wright moves on to discussing the pageant of Princess Elizabeth’s christening in Henry VIII. She interrogates the interaction between Henry and Elizabeth in this scene, wondering if it is significant that Henry kisses but does not hold the infant. Conversely, in Titus Andronicus, off-stage trumpets herald the arrival of a prince — Tamora’s illegitimate child by Aaron the Moor. In this scene, a nurse enters with the child swaddled, sufficiently to disguise its skin tone, which she later reveals. Aaron takes possession of the child, asks who else has seen it, and murders the nurse to keep his secret, serving as the child’s protector both verbally and physically. In Pericles, the nurse hands the infant Marina to her father; Pericles chooses to lay the child with her supposedly-dead mother. Wright argues that, when an infant is set down on stage, the lack of actor interaction removes some context from the infant-as-prop. The actors then present a scene from The Winter’s Tale where Paulina lays the infant Perdita at Leontes’s feet; he refuses to take it up. The protecting male figure who does eventually pick up the child is, instead, Antigonus.

Wright argues that actors provide manipulation and significance to the prop infant. This is particularly important in instances where the infant, over the course of the show, grows to an adult character. She argues that infants “needs stronger character consideration on stage.” Wright then brings a live infant, her ten-week-old nephew William, onto the stage. She asks if having a real infant on stage seems “too real” compared to the fake babies, especially in context of the infant characters who have violence threatened against them. Still holding William, she asks her actors what challenges they felt interacting with her prop infant. Amy Grubbs identifies a challenge in expressing the nurse’s revulsion for the baby, competing with her experience handling infants. Ian Charles admits that he felt as though he had to be “acting for two”, which is a challenge, but also allows him to endow the baby with reactions through the eyes of his character. Josh Brown expresses difficulty thanks to his own inexperience with children, identifying his interaction with the baby as “glass-like”. Kelly Elliott saw it as “relief” to be able to transfer the baby off to Pericles and to gain the father’s acceptance. Finally, Patrick Harris discusses the challenge of fighting while holding a baby, trying to be threatening while not endangering the baby. “It was easy to forget that what I was holding was supposed to be alive”. Wright concludes that, whether a real baby or a property doll, the actors involved with an infant character need to work to endow the infant with character.

Q&A: Ralph Cohen begins by snapping a picture of “the youngest performer on our stage”.
Q: Matt Davies asks about how to invest the baby with its own movement, suggesting that it is dependent upon the actor holding it to be in constant motion. He suggests another play for Wright to look at, wherein a baby is stoned to death in its pram.
Q: Celi Oliveto wonders how much it has to do with the focus of the audience, suggesting that a live baby draws focus. A: Wright acknowledges the possibility, noting that, yes, it is more difficult to work with something alive than something inanimate. She would like to continue looking at how this idea influences other creatures onstage, such as the dog in Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Q: Scott Campbell notes the similarity between a real baby and real stage violence as possibly being detrimental to an audience’s experience. A: Wright is still dealing with the discussion of what is “too real”.

Arlynda Boyer: “Plague, Playing, and Publication: A New Narrative”
Boyer seeks to re-examine Shakespeare’s publication history, particularly the gaps which occur when “he ought to have been at the height of his popularity”. She notices a correlation between these gaps and years of plague, particularly with regard to the tendency of title pages to publicize “diverse and sundry performances”. She suggests that “plague interrupts playing interrupts publication”.

Boyer traces the relationship of the plague to the theatre, noting that anti-theatrical polemics tended to see them as God’s judgment upon the theatres. The conditions to close the playhouses changed over time, from total mortality rising above 50 per week, to plague-specific deaths rising above 30; for the playhouses to re-open, mortality had to drop below 30 for three weeks. She notes the difficulties in assessing closure dates from mortality records, since the strictures were not always exact. She points to the 1603 major outbreak of plague, which did not ebb and flow as expected, but persisted in London for eight years. Shakespeare’s plays written in this period had to wait to see audiences until there was a break in the plague. Boyer cites Roz Knutson’s theories on quartos serving as part of the marketing strategy for a play, as much to sell books as to remind potential audiences that a play was ongoing. Plague disruptions affected this interaction. “If a play never had its full first run, what reason would a company have for allowing it to reach a stationer?”

Boyer refers to a handout, which demonstrates that plays supposed to be written in plague years were more likely to be first published in the Folio rather than in quarto. She notes that Julius Caesar and As You Like It, likely written in 1599, were also not printed until the Folio. Though there was no plague that year, there was a strange closure in the summer of that year. These closures may have had more to do with financial difficulties, renovations of the Rose, or staggered re-openings. Boyer also notes the possibility that plague may have been used as an excuse to close theatres, when the real reasons were more political. 1599 saw rumors of a second Spanish Armada and threats of revolt, and these may have contributed to authorities’ decisions to close the theatres. Boyer then examines the complicated textual history of King Lear and Pericles. Boyer concludes by reiterating her hypothesis that publication depended on performance, and that plague disrupted both.

Q&A: Paul Menzer confirms Boyer’s acknowledgement that this is a London-centric narrative, since plague closures in London did not necessarily mean no plays happened, since companies were likely to tour during plague closures. A: Boyer is still working on incorporating that element into her thesis, but states that since print industry was centered in London, the correlation remains strong.
Q: Matt Davies questions the printers’ advertisements and their role in the thesis. A: Boyer notes alternate title pages which either swore that a play was or wasn’t performed.
Q: Dane Leasure asks if Boyer had considered using the 2nd edition of the Oxford’s chronology of the plays. A: Boyer has not, but will.
Q: Menzer asks how the Stationer’s Record weaves into the conversation. A: Boyer notes that the information on Shakespeare’s plays is scant in the Stationer’s Record. Boyer notes that, of other plays published in plague years, their title pages almost never mention performance. She acknowledges the difficulties in determining chronology to begin with, pointing to the recently changed supposed performance date of Twelfth NIght from 1599 to 1601i

Clare von Rueden: “The Moral of the Story: Medieval Morality Plays and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale”
Actors: Monica Cross, Amy Grubbs, Megan Manos
Von Rueden begins with a story about Disney, regarding the influence that Lady and the Tramp II may have had on her youngest sister’s attitude towards their parents. She notes that stories have an ability to impact not only children, but also adults, in terms of behavior and identity. “Stories shape who we are”. Morality plays, she argues, recognize this ability “and exploit it.” She specifies that she will be discussing pre-1500, pre-Protestant Revolution plays. Through “a rhetoric of ethics”, morality plays seek to persuade audience members towards certain behaviors. Shakespeare, Von Rueden notes, was aware that theatre “plays a part in our ethical lives”.

Von Rueden examines the use of audience contact in morality plays, suggesting that morality plays developed this relationship in order to enhance the play’s ability to affect its audience. Amy Grubbs presents a selection of Lucifer soliciting the audience for sympathy, which Von Rueden notes as typical to, not extraordinary for, morality plays. She relates this to the fact that every named murderer or commander of murders in Shakespeare gets a monologue with the audience in which to explain himself and try to earn sympathy. This extends even to intended or attempted murderers, as Monica Cross demonstrates with a monologue of Leontes. Von Rueden notes that the more vice characters, in Shakespeare or in morality plays, solicit the audience, the more likely they are to lose sympathy, especially when they start to sermon against themselves. Von Rueden also discusses the interactions of virtue characters with the audience.

These sympathies often relate to ideas of grief and repentance, as Von Rueden and her actors demonstrate in two reconciliation scenes: one from a morality play, and one from The Winter’s Tale. The latter, she notes, is not presented, but recounted by witnesses. Von Rueden posits this as an example of Shakespeare’s awareness that everyone who sees a play will respond to it emotionally, though perhaps in different ways, and that plays “exert an ethical influence on our lives”. She concludes by suggesting that productions need to be responsibly aware of this connection as well.

Q&A: Kelly Elliott asks for clarification if Von Rueden was intentionally connecting Leontes to the vice characters. A: Not intentionally; more of a vice “state”, since he’s attempting to justify murder.
Q: Charlene Smith asks if Von Rueden had read Shaw’s writings on Shakespeare, since Shaw complains about Shakespeare’s lack of moral instruction. A: No, but Von Rueden did read something which stated “Shakespeare is not a moralist, but presents morals”, actually allowing a stronger emotional response from the audience, since they have to work through it themselves. Ralph Cohen suggests that she also look at Tolstoy’s comments on the topic.
Q: Celi Oliveto asks if Von Rueden can identify places where Shakespeare may be consciously drawing on the morality play tradition and either subverting or mocking it, or using it to do something else. A: Von Rueden has not looked specifically at that, though he does refer to the vice characters.
Q: Scott Campbell questions her final thought about production responsibility, if Von Rueden is looking specifically at this moment in time, as 21st century theatre needing this responsibility, or more generally. A: Both. “We need to be aware that we are encountering their ethical being.”

Nora Manca: “Shakespeare Walks into a Bar”
Actors: Ian Charles, Kendra Emmett, Jess Hamlet, Meredith Johnson, Aubrey Whitlock
Manca’s presentation opens with an imagined conversation of several of Shakespeare’s early contemporaries, including the famous invectives of Robert Greene, together with commentary by Nashe, Lodge, Peele, and Marlowe. The scene explicates the marks against Shakespeare according to the established poets and playwrights of the age: too common, too contradictory, too prolific, too imitative, too uneducated, too avaricious, a moneylender. It falls to the imagined Marlowe to defend Shakespeare on these counts, but a malfunctioning time machine prevents Will from appearing himself.

Manca explicates that she hopes to take the facts known of Shakespeare’s life together with his own writings to explore the idea that Shakespeare’s portrayal of “Others” in his plays stems from his identity as an “Other” himself. Manca discusses the sociological tendency of all groups to set themselves up as the “One” in opposition to the “Other”. She notes the contempt of the University Wits for Shakespeare, as seen in Greene’s “Groatsworth of Wit”. Manca then looks at Shakespeare’s family history, particularly John Shakespeare’s social climbing, and how it positioned William Shakespeare in society. She moves on to the theory that Shakespeare’s family may have been Catholic recusants, then to the circumstances surrounding Shakespeare’s marriage. She then attempts to fill out some of the missing years in Shakespeare’s history with supplements from events that occurred in his home county of Warwickshire. Manca then draws a correlation between Shakespeare’s experience as an “Other” and the character of Shylock, whom she posits would be more Othered than any other character if dropped into Shakespeare’s England. Her full thesis will involve a closer reading of the character of Shylock.

Q&A: Amy Grubbs asks if Manca found any connection to the French Catholics possibly present in London. A: Manca has not, but is interested.
Q: Martha Walker questions if Manca’s thesis would hold up under any other definition of “Other”, depending on the absolutism of alterity. A: Manca believes that it does, though she is unfamiliar with the alternate definition Walker presents.
Q: Matt Davies asks, “Why does biography matter?” A: Manca thinks that the facts of Shakespeare’s life are key to whether or not he can be defined as an Other. Q: Davies continues, asking, “To write about Iago, why does he need to be an Other?” A: Manca admits that he doesn’t, necessarily, but posits that all of us are Others in some way and believes that that would have influenced his writing.
Q: Clare von Rueden asks if this can then influence the performance of Otherness in his plays. A: Manca says yes, and she hopes that this will help her in her directing in the future. Q: Von Rueden continues, asking if Manca has had any revelations on that count thus far. A: Manca thinks that, for an actor, understanding Shakespeare’s Otherness “would probably be influential”.

Nicola Collett: “But One Only Man: MOCSulinity in Julius Caesar”
Actors: Marshall Garrett, Jamie Jager
Collett suggest that Julius Caesar, more than any other of Shakespeare’s plays, is “about men” — not a single man, but four very different men with competing interests and variant approaches. Collett posits that Caesar, Brutus, Antony, and Cassius represent four distinct aspects of mOCSulinity, which she defines as imperial, stoic, performative, and emotional, respectively. She runs through other critical approaches to analyzing mOCSulinity in Julius Caesar, before moving on to her own approach, analyzing mOCSulinity “not as a unified whole, but as fragmentary”, which she will present in opposition to each other rather than in opposition to femininity.

First, she examines the disconnect between the frailty of Caesar’s mortal form as opposed to the strength of his immortal, imperial spirit. Both Cassius’s stories, COCSa’s reporting of his swoon, and Caesar’s own admission of physical failings demonstrate his weaknesses. Yet Caesar puts forth an image of himself as “constant as the Northern Star”, immoveable and eternal, and his assassination in fact cements that immortality of spirit, despite killing the body. By contrast, Brutus is dominated by his stoic philosophy, focused on denial or control of the passions. “His struggle is that his emotions are in conflict, with themselves and with his reason.” Cassius, meanwhile, conflates the personal and the political, particularly in regard to the wrongs Caesar has supposedly done him. Collett links these passions with Cassius’s tendency towards suicidal rhetoric and, eventually, to suicide itself. Jamie Jager presents Cassius’s offer of suicide in the 4.2 “tent scene”, when he offers himself up first to the absent Antony, then to his own dagger, wielded by Brutus. Though Cassius’s emotions give him insight into other characters, they also lead to his downfall. Collett identifies Antony as an actor, able to adapt his presentation to the circumstances. His offer of suicide is calculated, not emotional, and a bluff that he knows Brutus will not call. Collett notes the rhetoric of Antony’s funeral oration as manipulative of his audience’s emotions, even to the extent that he denies his own power to do precisely what he’s doing. Antony also shows himself as an expert in the use of props: Caesar’s will, Caesar’s mantle, and Caesar’s body.

Collett concludes by reiterating the four disparate types of mOCSulinity the men embody, and then offers a rhetorical analogy: that Caesar represents ethos; Brutus, logos; Cassius and Antony, pathos (internal for Cassius, externally for Antony).

Q&A: Menzer begins by stating that mOCSulinity “seems to keep shimmering between material and immaterial” and asks how Manca has addressed that idea of where mOCSulinity is located. A: Collett has not addressed that yet, but hopes to find it through her future rhetorical analysis
Q: Cyndi Kimmel asks if Collett has looked at the presentation of male friendship through a homosexual lens. A: Collett has encountered it tangentially, but believes it beyond the purview of her project at this time.
Q: Patrick Harris questions if, in performance, a female actor playing one of these roles could embody that aspect of mOCSulinity and still play the role as a female. A: Collett thinks, yes, that would be possible.
Q: Ralph Cohen suggests an article for Collett’s inspection, as well as mentioning Vanessa Morosco’s recent re-gendered Cassius.
Q: Marshall Garrett questions where Octavius fits into all of this. A: Collett places him under Caesar’s aegis, noting that he “comes on and becomes the spirit of Caesar”, a “new physical locus for the idea of Caesar-ness”.
Q: Monica Cross asks if Collett sees an effect of one type of mOCSulinity on the other. A: Collett is still working on that aspect.

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 — Colloquy Session XV: Critical Theory

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

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

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

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

Matt Kozusko

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Menzer – The 4th Unity

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

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

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

Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Colloquy Session I: Staging Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The pancake bell rings, the pancake bell! Tri-lil, my hearts!": Shrove Tuesday in Early Modern England

Nowadays in America, we know today — the day before Ash Wednesday, 41 days before Easter — as Mardi Gras, a festival of extravagance and delight, with traditions passed down to us from the French and Italians. From the bayou to Rio, the Carnival season ends in a triumphant celebration of life and laughter, with parades, parties, fantastic costumes, throwing of beads, and yes, some degree of inebriation.

But for Shakespeare and his contemporaries in late-16th century England, this day was something different: Shrove Tuesday. And on Shrove Tuesday, you ate pancakes. Why pancakes? Because they involved many of the rich foodstuffs — sugar, fat, flour and eggs — whose consumption was restricted during Lent (which Anglicans still observed, despite the break with the Catholic Church). It was also a day to gorge yourself on meat and drink, to clear the larders of all those things you couldn’t eat during Lent and couldn’t afford to let spoil in the meantime.

This tradition is the subject of several scenes in Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday, where the apprentices of the City of London look forward to a great feast:

Firk: I’ll lead you to victuals, my brave soldiers. Follow your captain. Oh, brave! (Bell rings). Hark, hark!

All:
The pancake bell rings, the pancake bell! Tri-lill, my hearts!

Firk:
Oh brave! O sweet bell! O delicate pancakes! Open the doors, my hearts, and shut up the windows. Keep in the house, let out the pancakes. Oh, rare, my hearts! Let’s march together for the honor of Saint Hugh to the great new hall in Gracious Street Corner, which our master the new Lord Mayor hath built.

Ralph:
Oh, the crew of good fellows that will dine at my Lord Mayor’s cost today!

Hodge:
By the lord, my Lord Mayor is a most brave man. How shall prentices be bound to pray for him and the honor of the Gentlemen Shoemakers! Let’s feed and be fat with my lord’s bounty.

Firk:
Oh, musical bell still! Oh Hodge, o my brethren! There’s cheer for the heavens: venison pasties walk up and down piping hot like sergeants, beef and brewis comes marching in dry fats, fritters and pancakes comes trolling in in wheelbarrows, lemons and oranges hopping in porters’ baskets, collops and eggs in scuttles, and tarts and custards comes quavering in in malt shovels.

Enter more prentices.


All:
Whoop! Look here, look here!

Hodge:
How now, mad lads, whither away so fast?

First Prentice:
Whither? Why, to the new great hall. Know you not why? The Lord Mayor hath bidden all the prentices in London to breakfast this morning.

All:
O brave shoemaker! O brave lord of incomprehensible good fellowship! Hoo, hark you, the pancake bell rings.

Cast up caps.


Firk:
Nay, more, my hearts: every Shrove Tuesday is our year of jubilee, and when the pancake bell rings, we are as free as my Lord Mayor; we may shut up our shops and make holiday. I’ll have it called Saint Hugh’s holiday.

All:
Agreed, agreed! Saint Hugh’s holiday!

Hodge:
And this shall continue forever.

All:
Oh brave! Come, come, my hearts! Away, away!

Firk:
Oh, eternal credit to us of the Gentle Craft! March fair, my hearts. Oh, rare!

As someone who has had the “oh, rare!” honor to play Firk in a production of The Shoemaker’s Holiday (directed by Casey Caldwell back in 2010, as part of his MFA), I can verify that this scene only works if you embrace its jubilant madness entirely — much in the spirit of Shrove Tuesday or its modern descendents. You have to let the good times roll over you and indulge thoroughly in the exuberance — and there’s something marvelously freeing about giving yourself over to that on stage.

But, as a scholar, I enjoy what this scene tells us about the historical celebrations: Firk gives a detailed menu, listing what the prentices can look forward to at their feast; the ringing of the bell to announce the holiday has historical precedence; and the freedom to “shut up shop” for the afternoon is likewise chronicled elsewhere. Dekker thus provides social historians with a glimpse into Shrove Tuesday’s place in the religious and celebratory calendar of early modern England. The tradition lives on — pancakes are still a typical Shrove Tuesday meal in many Anglican and Lutheran communities, and several cities in England still hold pancake races on the holiday.

So — Who’s up for some pancakes?

2012 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival: Session 4

And we’re back for the fourth and final thesis session of the MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival. This session will run from 5:30-8pm.

Michael Wagoner: “‘When You Succeed Me, You Follow Not Me’: Processing Succession in Post-Tudor History Plays”

Wagoner’s presentation opens with the juxtaposition of England’s protestations of tremendous grief after Elizabeth’s death and their exuberant welcome of King James. 1603, as Wagoner notes, marks an important “liminal moment” in English history; his thesis explores the succession’s effect on early modern drama. With Elizabeth’s death, historical drama began to consider the more recent past, whereas previous plays had tended to stop with the rise of Henry VII. Within three years of Elizabeth’s death, a spate of plays with a “sudden and intense focus” on the Tudor dynasty sprang up; the effect was immediate and relatively short-lived. The significant shifts that marked the transition from Elizabeth to James (woman to man, Englishwoman to foreigner, virgin queen to man with an established family) were reflected in the drama, particularly with regards to “the cultural processing of such a shift”.

Wagoner interrogates the representations of the Tudor dynasty in William Rowley’s When You See Me, You Know Me, ultimately suggesting that both the male figures, Henry VIII and Prince Edward, figure King James, while the female figures, Jane Seymour and Katherine Parr, figure the deceased Elizabeth. Actors Katie Crandol, Brett Sullivan Santry, and Shannon Schultz present scenes surrounding the pregnant Queen Jane and the birth of Edward. While King Henry begins by expressing his concern for his wife, he also demonstrates the “Henry we expect”, consumed by his desire for a male heir. When asked to choose between saving his wife and his child, Rowley presents a Henry who grapples with the decision, but ultimately chooses his wife. The play then has Queen Jane advocate for her own death, placing the succession ahead of herself. Wagoner argues that the play presents Henry as more preoccupied with his own concerns and personal desires than those of the country, presenting perhaps a more sympathetic man but less responsible king.

Wagoner moves into a consideration of Elizabeth’s connection with the phoenix as propagated both Rowley’s play and in Thomas Heywood’s If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody. The trope was common in Elizabeth’s England, not least for its overtones of asexual progeneration (which, as Wagoner points out, is not precisely accurate, since Elizabeth certainly came from sexual union). The idea links the Tudor dynasty and the Stuart together in a “line of phoenixes”. The metaphor also stresses the idea of motherhood through self-sacrifice. Wagoner finishes by commenting on the way that these plays “comment on their moment”, offering insight into the cultural attitudes surrounding the transition from Elizabeth to James.

Rachel Ratkowski: “‘What Imports This Song?’: The Paradox of Music and Madness in Early Modern England”

Ratkowski’s presentation opens with AJ Sclafani and Maria Hart singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in a round, prompting the question from Jonathan Haas: “Are you mad, or what?” Ratkowski foregrounds her thesis as an exploration of the relationship between music and madness. She notes that music may either cause, cure, or be symptomatic of madness, all at once. The most common of these is music as a symptom, famously represented by Ophelia in Hamlet. Ratkowski notes that, since music is commonly perceived as symptomatic of madness, characters who feign madness often sing to assist with their portrayals. She next considers instances of music causing madness.

During this discussion, Hart begins singing in Sclafani’s ear, causing him to begin dancing uncontrollably, progressing through several recognizable dances of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and today. Ratkowski points out that this is clearly an unfortunate circumstance of “tarantism”, a phenomenon which occurred in early modern Germany — where madness caused by music which manifests itself in spontaneous terpsichorean expression. Fortunately, Ratkowski knows the solution. Music can cure madness as well as cause it, and so she encourages the audience to join Sclafani in dancing and singing until the fit leaves him. Ratkowski then gives several historical and dramatic examples of song being used to bring a mad person back to his or her senses.

Ratkowski summarizes that, while we in the 21st century view the idea of music curing, causing, and reflecting madness as a paradox, the early modern culture did not seem to, due to the medical beliefs of the time period. She argues that the philosophy of the humours still informed medical opinions; an imbalance of the humours could cause not only illness but madness. Music could, then, be either the trigger, the remedy, or the symptom, depending on the nature of the imbalance. Music could stimulate the humors and get them moving through the body faster; this could cure a dominance of the sluggish fluids, but could overstimulate those which were already running hotter and faster. Ratkowski finishes by stating that an awareness of these theories can better inform the performance of madness in early modern plays.

Jessi Malicki: “‘Poor Tom’s a-cold’: Paleoclimatology’s Perspective on Shakespeare”

Malicki introduces her thesis in relation to paleoclimatology, the study of those time periods and cultures which could not or did not maintain consistent. She notes that Europe in the late 16th-century was in the grip of the “Little Ice Age”, which many historians have noted as the coldest period on earth since the last Ice Ages (assisted by quote-readings from Celi Oliveto, Kayla Renee Peterson, and Cyndi Kimmel). Though a drop of two degrees may not seem critical, it had a profound effect on life in the early modern period, particularly with regard to growing seasons and dead crops. The colder temperatures also drove insects indoors, leading to a spike in malaria and recurrences of plague. “The English fought a constant battle to stay warm,” Malicki notes, describing that the average temperature was below sixty degrees, the temperature at which it is possible for the human body to enter hypothermia without adequate protection.

Malicki notes that Shakespeare would have seen the full range of the Little Ice Ages effect, and she reminds the audience of the effect that the weather has on outdoor performances (such as those at the Globe or which the acting companies may have encountered on tour). She notes that many characters in Shakespeare seem to reflect the cold, even in plays nominally set in far more temperate climates, such as The Taming of the Shrew. The comedy of Katherine falling in the mud and riding to Petruchio’s house becomes somewhat more dire when the climatological reality is taken into account. Kate’s final argument regarding a husband exposing himself to the elements also takes on different meaning in light of the severity of those elements. Malicki also notes the mention of the disordered weather in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where the conflict between Titania and Oberon has had many of the same effects as the Little Ice Age had on England.

Malicki then compares some of the vocabulary used in Shakespeare with descriptions of continental tragedies related to meltwater flooding. She also notes the storms at sea common in Shakespeare and their potential relationship to the bizarre hurricane that destroyed the Spanish Armada, though she notes that such storms have been a trope since the advent of literature, and thus are not necessarily reflective of the Little Ice Age. Storms on land represented in drama, however, may bear a stronger correlation to England’s unfortunate climate. She goes on to note the further prevalence of mentions of weather in the songs in many of Shakespeare’s plays, particularly As You Like It and Twelfth Night. Malicki also notes that Shakespeare’s later plays contain more storms than the earlier ones, suggesting a stronger correlation towards the end of his career.

Jarom Brown: “Revising Revision”

Brown’s presentation aims to examine the prevalent ideas surrounding the idea that Shakespeare “actively and systematically revised his works”, a concept which has gained general acceptance in the scholarly community. He questions, though, what revision means when an “original” from which a revision would spring may be difficult to identify. Brown argues that Shakespeare not only revised versions of a play, but also revised “horizontally”, from play to play.

He uses Much Ado about Nothing as his litmus test (with help from Joshua Brown, Kelly Elliot, and Brian Maxwell), demonstrating what he believes to be a connection between Much Ado and Julius Caesar in references to opponents as “honourable men”. He posits Antony’s tactics in Julius Caesar as a refinement of Leonato’s technique in Much Ado, making more complete use of the theatrical audience. Another possibility links, by Brown’s estimation, Much Ado, the earlier Romeo and Juliet, and the later Twelfth Night. Brown claims these moments are “not simple coincidences”, and hopes that they will encourage further examination of the idea of horizontal revision.

Jamie Weaver: “Blood Will Have Blood: ‘Macbeth’ and the Renaissance Fetish in London”

Weaver seeks to examine “the ramification of the word ‘blood’ on the social ether”. She describes the prevalence of the word “blood” and its variants in the play Macbeth (used 45 times in one form or another). She argues that the play’s focus on blood not only aids the plot but also works on a social-historical level, as characteristic of an early modern fetishistic interest in blood, both real and imagined. She cites the cyclic representation of blood imagery with the actual depiction of stage blood as evidence of the fetish.

Weaver ties this idea to the popularity of bloodsports and executions as entertainment in early modern England. She also positions these concepts in relation to the changing ideals of medical science during this period. Her actors (Joshua Brown, Kelly Elliot, and James Byers) share some of those concepts, including the idea that the blood originates in the liver, and enact a rough approximation of a human dissection during the early modern period. Weaver also notes that these dissections did not have an audience exclusively consisting of medical students, but that they also drew in a crowd of spectators. This related to the popularity of bear-baitings (which Weaver’s actors also approximated in pantomime).

Weaver then traces the presence and absence of real and imagined blood in Macbeth, noting the pattern of a rise and fall, almost teasing the audience, then sating them, then offering respite. She considers that Macbeth mirrors the blood fetish prevalent in society, and places it in line with a social anxiety over monarchical transition that released itself in entertainment. She hopes that this will offer a new perspective on Macbeth as responding to something other than political considerations alone.

For the rest of the Festival, see these posts:
Session 1
Session 2
Session 3

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