Wandering through Wordles, Part the Third

Those of you who have been following the Education blog for some time are by now familiar with our work on Wordles. We use these word clouds primarily to introduce to students the idea that Shakespeare’s vocabulary is not what can make reading Shakespeare difficult. It helps to eliminate some of the fear, to look at all the words set out in this way, and to notice that there are very few, if any, unfamiliar words. Most of those which are strange will either be names or places, or else are fairly easy to figure out the meaning of once restored to their context. We include this as part of our Basics section in OCS Study Guides, and we can use it as a bridge into discussing rhetoric (ie, the order the words come in — usually what can make a passage difficult, and usually something that conveys character information). But, as I’ve discussed before on this blog, I’ve also discovered that distilling scenes into Wordles can reveal other information as well, about how Shakespeare is directing the audience’s focus, what information he chooses to share or to conceal, how he sets a mood, what topics are important for that scene.

I’m in the process of creating a blended Study Guide for both the Henry IVs and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and while building the Wordles for those plays, I noticed something that I haven’t been able to get over. Take a look at the Wordle for the first 100- lines of Henry IV, Part 1:

1H4-100Wordle

The two largest words, repeated most frequently, are “news” and “now”. Closer examination of the text shows that those most prominent words gets repeated four times — not, actually, a whole lot, which tells me that there isn’t a lot of repetition in the first 100 lines of the play. (And what does that, in turn, tell us about the verbal choices made by King Henry and Westmoreland?). A lot of the other oft-used words are names of people involved in the battles — but, considering the low degree of repetition overall, just getting said twice can increase a word’s prominence, as is the case with “Douglas” and “Mordake”. What information is Shakespeare giving us about the energy of this first scene? To me, it bespeaks a sense of urgency — but somewhat unfocused urgency. Henry isn’t just dealing with one problem here; he’s dealing with several all at once. As I can see by this Wordle, he’s having issues with Earls. He’s having issues with his son. He’s having issues with Scotland. These are all news, and they are all immediate issues he needs to solve.

So, that was interesting enough on its own, but then I did the Wordle for Henry IV, Part 2:

2H4-100Wordle

There, again, the largest word is “news”, and here, there is a higher frequency of repetition: “news” occurs seven times in the first 100 lines. The speaker for the first 40 lines is an anthropomorphic representation, not a historical character — and it makes sense that Rumour would have its mind on news, news, news. That fixation carries through the first scene as well, and many of the other repeated words reflect the characters’ concerns: Northumberland is waiting for word of what happened at Shrewsbury, of which Harry prevailed, of who will come home, of how the rebellion fared.

I asked Sarah what she thought would be the largest words for the first 100 lines of Henry IV, Part 1, and her guess was something like mine would have been: king, Henry/Harry, England. That would seem reasonable. Those are, after all, the major concerns of Shakespeare’s English histories. Take a look at the Wordles for the first 100 lines of Henry V and Richard III:

H5Wordle-NEW

R3Wordle-NEW

So what is it about the Henry IVs that makes them different? How is the energy different at the top of the play, how does that trickle through the following scenes, and, most importantly, what good can any of that do an actor? These are the questions we’re asking teachers and students to consider when they begin examining the language of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and we hope it will lead to fruitful exploration.

Dr. Ralph Presents: Love’s Labour’s Lost (2013)

American Shakespeare Center Co-founder and Director of Mission, and Mary Baldwin College Professor Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen delivers a pre-show lecture on William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost before a live audience at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, VA, on April 24th, 2013.

Dr. Ralph Presents: Love’s Labour’s Lost
File Size: 36.2 MB; Run Time: 37:41

Hit the jump cut for the text which Ralph used during this lecture:

Continue reading

"In states unborn and accents yet unknown": Caesar’s legacy

It’s been 2057 years since Brutus, Cassius, and between six and sixty other conspirators stabbed Gaius Julius Caesar to death in the Senate’s makeshift meeting-place, a theatre built by Caesar’s friend, ally, and eventual nemesis, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Over two millennia later, the words “Beware the Ides of March” are all over the Internet today. Would it please Caesar to know that his death is still remembered? If he could look back, might he be glad that he was struck down at the height and thus immortalized in story, rather than living on to a natural death, which might have relegated him to a lesser place in history?

Flowers left at Caesar’s grave, 2011;
credit An American in Rome.

I’ve talked before about how the Ides of March retains a strange place in our cultural awareness. As Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen pointed out in a recent lecture, the fact that Julius Caesar was assassinated by his friend Brutus on the Ides of March may be the one historical fact that nearly everyone in the Western world knows. Somehow it permeates, reinforced by all sorts of media — books, TV, movies, song, and theatre. As an example of just how strongly this awareness still resonates, I discovered not too long ago that people still leave flowers at the (supposed) site of Caesar’s grave (or, rather, at the site of his cremation, since most Romans did not inter the bones of the dead as Shakespeare implies). The picture at right shows one example, and Googling “flowers left at Caesar’s grave” yields many more. They change over time — someone takes the old away, making room for the new, and in all of those pictures, the flowers always look fresh and colorful. I would love to take a closer look at some of those notes that get left for him, to know where these people come from, what they have to say to this famous corpse, what drives them to remember his death so many years later.

Considering the longevity of the tale of Caesar’s epic life and death, Shakespeare puts premonitory words in Cassius’s and Brutus’s mouths, just moments after the conspirators perform their savage butchery/noble sacrifice.

CASSIUS

Stoop, then, and wash. How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown?

BRUTUS

How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport,
That now on Pompey’s basis lies along
No worthier than the dust?

CASSIUS

So oft as that shall be,
So often shall the knot of us be call’d
The men that gave their country liberty.

For Shakespeare, this was obviously a tongue-in-cheek joke, since his company was acting it over in England, which from Brutus’s perspective wouldn’t be a unified country for nearly a thousand years, in the English language, which, though heavily influenced by Latin, was still centuries and several Germanic, Dutch, Scandinavian, and French invasions away from developing into something Shakespeare would even begin to recognize. For the OCS this season, in yet another nation that didn’t exist either in Shakespeare’s time or in Caesar’s, in a variety of American accents (with one Australian in the mix), the lines have an extra layer of sly knowing painted on them. We’re contributing to the tradition, and at this rate, it seems unlikely that human civilization will ever forget Julius Caesar — or how he died.

If you want commemorate Caesar’s death by learning more about his life, you could do worse than starting with Shakespeare’s version of the story. Despite dramatic license and some imaginative emotional scenes, he adheres pretty closely to his sources, primarily Plutarch’s Life of Caesar and Life of Brutus. You could also look to Velleius Paterculus, Nicolaus of DamOCSus, or Appian. If you’re more a secondary source sort of researcher, I can also recommend the podcast series The History of Rome. Episodes 39-44 chronicle Caesar’s life, but if you’re any sort of classicist, the entire series is well worth a listen. If you prefer the sensationalist take, HBO’s Romeis fantastic entertainment and extraordinarily well-acted. HBO compresses time, conflates characters, takes its own liberties, and gives you a different angle on events than Shakespeare does, but on the whole, it’s actually not that far off from reality, either. The showrunners said they strove for authenticity rather than accuracy, and the result is an exciting political drama that just happens to be set more than two thousand years ago. If you’re looking for a good long read, Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series covers the collapse of the Roman Republic beginning with Gaius Marius, whose martial reforms and political machinations in many ways set the stage for Caesar to be able to achieve what he did a few decades later, and ending with Antony and Cleopatra. Western culture has never been short on either nonfiction or fiction about Caesar and the Roman world — and if you have any good recommendations for me, I’d love to hear them.

The Rabbit Hole of Textual Oddities

This story started innocently enough. One of my current projects is to complete a full metrical and rhetorical analysis of Romeo and Juliet (as I did for Julius Caesar last year), but in order to begin that, I first have to complete a full check against the Folio. At OCS Education, we like to return to the 1623 First Folio to recover stage directions, emotionally inflected punctuation, and other textual variants which editors have sometimes obfuscated over the years. This practice can lead to a lot of intriguing discoveries; little did I know that one such curiosity yesterday would end up devouring a significant portion of my morning.

While checking 1.4, where Mercutio and Benvolio attempted to cheer Romeo up as they head for the Capulets’ ball, I ran across the fOCSinating error at right: Hora. as a prefix, presumably for Horatio. There is no character in Romeo and Juliet named Horatio, though the stage direction for this scene does specify the presence of “five or six other Maskers, Torch-bearers.” ‘How odd,’ I thought. ‘I wonder if that error is in the Q2.’ The 1599 second quarto of Romeo and Juliet is the other reliable text for this play; most modern editions conflate elements from the Q2 and the Folio to arrive at their preferred version of the text (though many slip in elements from Q1 as well). As you can see below, yes, the 1599 Q2 does contain this error — even more explicitly as Horatio. The Folio, then, simply retains what Q2 shows.

So I wondered, ‘Huh. How strange. Does this error exist in Q1, then?‘ A quick check revealed that: no, it doesn’t. These lines are not in Q1, which jumps straight from Romeo’s “So stakes me to the ground I cannot stirre” to Mercutio’s “Give me a case to put my visage in,” skipping the pictured section of dialogue entirely. So how did the wandering speech-prefix come about? (And ought I to call it a prefix-errant?).

The simplest explanation is basic printer error: speech prefixes and names were often struck as sets, rather than assembled from individual letters. This practice is why the prefixes and names within the verse generally appear in an italicized font rather than the plain text. It’s easy to imagine, then, that a Horatio, struck for some other play, somehow got mixed in with the Mercutios intended for this scene, and that the type-setter’s quick fingers grabbed it and placed it without the type-setter consciously noticing the incongruity. It’s possible, though I suspect far less likely, that the printer did strike the speech prefix Horatio for this single instance. Perhaps Shakespeare wrote Horatio once where he meant Mercutio (in simple Italianate error, or perhaps thinking of another role the same actor played) and that error stayed in the fair copy or prompt book Creede received to set the type off of. Other similar errors exist, as in the editions of Much Ado about Nothing which have Kemp instead of Dogberry — but each of those gets used more than once. It seems less likely that Creede would create and strike a new full-length nameplate to use only once, so, for the intellectual exercise, I decided to pursue my first theory.

I was at first only tickled by this appearance, amused to picture Hamlet’s best friend getting ready to go to a party in Verona. Did he take a weekend trip away from Wittenburg? Did he decide to move south after the tragedy at Elsinore? Fanfiction-like possibilities abound. But then I remembered — the Romeo and Juliet Q2 was printed in 1599. The first quarto of Hamlet wouldn’t be printed for another four years, so it’s unlikely that the speech prefix was struck for Hamlet‘s Horatio. The light amusement began to grow into a prickling curiosity. What character could it have existed for, then?

The only other Horatio who jumped to my mind is the gentleman in Thomas Kyd’s A Spanish Tragedy — which, as it turns out, had a quarto printed in the same year as the Q2 of Romeo and Juliet in which this error originates. Ah-ha! This seemed to fit my theory perfectly. How easy to make the error if both plays were being printed at the same time, or at least within a reasonably close amount of time — especially since both are full of Spanish/Italianate names.

So, I went to Early English Books Online (EEBO) to find out, first, who printed the Q2 Romeo and Juliet, and if that was the same printhouse that put out the 1599 Q3 of The Spanish Tragedy. Answer: No. Thomas Creede printed the Romeo and Juliet Q2, while William White had the 1599 Spanish Tragedy. The next-earliest Spanish Tragedys were in 1592 and 1594, printed by Edward Allde, so there’s no strong connection there, either.

Who, then, is Horatio? How did this speech prefix sneak in? I felt compelled to push my theory farther. If we accept our Occam’s-Razor-Compatible explanation of a wandering prefix from something else originating at the same printhouse, then what other plays and books were that printer putting out around the same time, and was there a Horatio in any of them? Between 1597 and 1599, Creede printed six other plays, including the 1598 Richard III, John Lyly’s Mother Bombie, and the anonymous Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, as well as a lot of prose histories. I skimmed through a couple of the plays — no Horatios (though, as a side note, skimming just the stage directions in an unfamiliar play can give you an interesting perspective on it. The Comicall Historie of Alphonsus apparently includes a brazen head, Venus and the Muses, Medea and Iphigenia having a conversation, and at least one murder). I, sadly, do not have the time to look through all of the narrative histories and discourses to see if Horatio appears in the text of any of them. As such, I have no notion where this error originates, who that first Horatio was that ended up reveling with Mercutio and Benvolio, and I may never have that curiosity satisfied. Such is often the travail of academia.

Why does any of this matter? I recognize that, while I found this to be a wonderful scavenger hunt and an entertaining game, not everyone is thoroughly geeky enough to share those effusive emotions about a relatively minor textual variant. So what’s the practical application? Well, that has to do with the choices editors have made in repairing the error over the years. Every modern edition of Romeo and Juliet that we have here in the OCS Education office assigns those lines to Mercutio. It makes sense. He and Romeo are enjoying a back-and-forth. But… they don’t have to be Mercutio’s lines. Would anything change by giving them instead to Benvolio? It would certainly make him more involved in Mercutio and Romeo’s conversation, part of their lively sparring, not separate from it. What sort of a different Benvolio might that yield for the entire production? I don’t know, but I’d like to give that option back to production companies and classroom discussions so that we can find out.

"You know it is the feast of Lupercal": February Traditions Then and Now

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar opens on a holiday — but a holiday no one in Shakespeare’s England any longer celebrated. Unlike Twelfth Night, Shrove Tuesday, Whitsuntide, or any other liturgical holiday of the Christian calendar, the Lupercalia was something no one in Shakespeare’s audiences would have had personal experience with, and we are even further removed from it today. But what correlations does it have to Tudor-era traditions and to our modern late-winter festivities? More than you might immediately guess.

Abbi Hawk, Gregory Jon Phelps, and Benjamin Curns
in Julius Caesar, 2013. Photo by Pat Jarrett.

So what is this strange Roman festival? Plutarch discusses the Lupercalia, held February 13th-15th, in his “Life of Romulus,” the first of his Twelve Lives. He describes it there as the Romans celebrated it early in the Republic, as a feast of purification, but also as a memorial to the she-wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus after their exposure in the wilderness. He gives the following description of the ceremonies:

… the priests slaughter goats, and then, after two youths of noble birth have been brought to them, some of them touch their foreheads with a bloody knife, and others wipe the stain off at once with wool dipped in milk. The youths must laugh after their foreheads are wiped. After this they cut the goats’ skins into strips and run about, with nothing on but a girdle, striking all who meet them with the thongs, and young married women do not try to avoid their blows, fancying that they promote conception and easy child-birth. …

A certain Butas, who wrote fabulous explanations of Roman customs in elegiac verse, says that Romulus and Remus, after their victory over Amulius, ran exultantly to the spot where, when they were babes, the she-wolf gave them suck, and that the festival is conducted in imitation of this action, and that the two youths of noble birth run “Smiting all those whom they meet, as once with brandished weapons, Down from Alba’s heights, Remus and Romulus ran.” And that the bloody sword is applied to their foreheads as a symbol of the peril and slaughter of that day, while the cleansing of their foreheads with milk is in remembrance of the nourishment which the babes received. But Caius Acilius writes that before the founding of the city Romulus and his brother once lost their flocks, and after praying to Faunus, ran forth in quest of them naked, that they might not be impeded by sweat; and that this is the reason why the Luperci run about naked. 

The Lupercalia had, by Caesar’s time, also grown to incorporate an earlier festival called the Februalia, which was more strictly a purification ritual having to do, it seems, with spring cleaning and washing. The name of the month February (Februarius to the Romans) derives from this holiday. Perhaps in recognition of the connection, the strips of goat flesh used during the Lupercal were called februa. The Lupercalia was so popular that it hung on as a tradition in Rome long after the advent of Christianity. In 494 CE, the Pope finally took measures to halt the pagan practice (telling the wealthy men of Rome that they should go run naked in the streets themselves if they liked the holiday so much), transforming the Lupercalia into the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary — better known as Candlemas.

Shakespeare gives a fairly faithful rendition of the Lupercalia in Julius Caesar. Antony enters “for the course” (though presumably, in 1599, not naked or clad only in a goatskin loincloth — but if anyone knows of a production of the show that has had Antony appear in the historically-accurate altogether, I have a purely intellectual curiosity about such a staging). Caesar himself gives the audience a brief run-down of the ritual and its significance to the Roman populace:

CAESAR
[to Calphurnia]
Stand you directly in Antonio’s way,
When he doth run his course. Antonio.

ANTONY
Caesar, my lord?

CAESAR
Forget not, in your speed, Antonio,
To touch Calphurnia; for our elders say,
The barren, touched in this holy chase,
Shake off their sterile curse.

Though most of the events of the day occur off-stage, the narration of them closely resembles what Plutarch has to say about them. Antony, though consul at the time, did run with the luperci priests on that day (and earned criticism from the conservatives for what they saw as action too undignified for his rank). Shakespeare’s greatest aberration is that he conflates several days into one, merging the 44 BCE Lupercalia together with a series of triumphs that Caesar celebrated following his defeat of Pompey and Cato. The incidents involving Murellus and Flavius un-decorating Caesar’s statues and involving Antony attempting to give Caesar a crown both occurred on the Lupercalia of 44 BCE, a month before Caesar’s assassination. This was also the first day that he wore the purple toga of the Dictator-for-Life in public, a visible signal of his power that would have been unmistakable and tremendously significant for the Romans. By conflating this day with his triumphs — during which a Roman general was literally considered a god on earth — Shakespeare presents us at the top of the play with an image of Caesar at his utmost pinnacle, possessing more power and authority than any Roman man before him ever had.

The Capitoline Wolf, honoree of the Lupercalia

As with most cultural transmission, historians have trouble drawing any direct links between the Lupercalia and other social and religious  holidays, but there are a cluster of similarly-timed, similarly-themed festivals at this time of year. St. Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year, Candlemas, Imbolc, and even Groundhog Day all speak in some way to rebirth and to the turning of the year, as the first hints of spring begin showing themselves (at least to those of us in temperate climes of the northern hemisphere). The sacred animal attached to the holiday was a goat for the Romans, a lamb for the Britons, a badger or a bear for the Teutons, and a groundhog for modern Americans. Each, in some way, either deals with weather prognostication or with ideas of nourishing milk and fertility (and some, like the lambs, cover both).

There is an interesting juxtaposition of the themes of purification and the themes of mating and fertility present in the various holidays celebrated at this time of year. The Lupercalia itself, thanks to the melding of traditions from the Februalia, mixed cleansing aspects and the sweeping of ashes with the ideas of conception and safe childbirth. The Celtic and Teutonic festivals of Imbolc all relate to the earth’s renewed fertility at this time of year, as visible by the lambing of ewes and the mating rituals of various animals. Though Candlemas, an answer to the Lupercalia, focuses on purification, another Christian holiday, St. Valentine’s Day, focused initially on marriage and now on love of all kinds (read about its history and development on the Intern Blog). St. Valentine’s also took on some of the connotations of mating in the animal world. As Shakespeare tells us in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, St. Valentine’s is traditionally when “woodbirds begin to couple.” Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, which together mark the dualism of excess and indulgence contrasted to sobriety and spiritual purifying, often fall during this time of year as well, or else fairly early in March — and the incorporation of ashes into a religious purification ritual is something that Ash Wednesday shares with the Februalia.

The major instigation behind all of these holidays seems to be things, whether human or animal, floral or vegetable, natural or spiritual, in potential, not yet come to the full flourishing of the spring that we’ll celebrate in March and April with holidays like Easter, Ostara, Earth Day, and Arbor Day. These celebrations focus more on mating and pregnancy, less on birth (or rebirth). We clear away the snow and dead earth in preparation for flower buds and fresh plantings. Warmth and growth aren’t quite back yet — but we know they’re coming, and that is itself cause for merriment.

Whether or not any of these myriad traditions inherit from each other, there certainly seems to be something in the air at this time of year that affects the bent of human thoughts. Perhaps it’s just that, by mid-February, halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, the buzz of Christmas has long since worn off and the grey of winter seems too dreary to endure, so we’re all eager to hurry it on its way. Whether you’re sending Valentines this week, smudging ashes on your forehead, sweeping the dust out of your home, or looking forward to swapping out winter wools for spring sundresses, you’ll be part of traditions that stretch back not just hundreds but thousands of years.

Now, if you feel the best way to get in touch with your cultural ancestry this week is to run naked through the streets, it’s certainly not my place to judge (though your neighbors and local police department may feel differently). But, if you’d like to celebrate less ostentatiously (and with less potential for arrest, frostbite, or potentially-damning Youtube videos), come to the Blackfriars Playhouse this week to see Julius Caesar or one of the other shows of the Actors’ Renaissance Season.

"Not Amurath an Amurath succeeds, but Harry Harry": Political Rhetoric in Inaugural Speeches

Last week, America engaged in one of its grandest celebrations of the power of democracy: an inauguration ceremony. Amid the pomp, parading, and pontificating, I started thinking about transfers of power and assertions of the right to rule in Shakespeare. How do various rulers express themselves, what does a ruler’s first speech tell you about his or her intentions, and how can actors use that information on the stage?

I began with a rhetorical analysis of President Obama’s 2009 and 2013 inaugural addresses. (A note on attribution: While I am aware that the President employs speechwriters, since I don’t know how much of this might have been their work and how much was his input, I shall err on the side of treating the speaker as I would a character). What sticks out to me the most is that President Obama is a man who appreciates the Rule of Three. Tricolon, the repetition of words or syntactical structures in series of three, is a powerful device. The human brain likes sets of three, though the precise neurological reasons why this may be the case are indistinct. Three is enough items to define a series and show some sort of progression from start to middle to end, which may provide the brain’s reasoning powers with satisfaction (especially in persuasion or in comedy). It may also relate to human memory storage, as three seems to be  an ideal number for the brain to hang onto. President Obama uses this structure many times in both inaugural addresses. Examples often come in threes — “through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall;” “from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown” — as do predicates to a single opening subject: “We have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

President Obama’s 2009 Inaugural Address

The President also has an interesting relationship with polysyndeton, the repetition of conjunctions, often buckling it together with the tricolon. When he speaks of the hardships the American people have faced in recent years, he often injects more conjunctions into his sentences: “these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked;” “none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.” He also uses this when he talks in broad strokes about what the future will need (“We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil”) and when appealing to America’s plurality (“what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names”). Using polysyndeton in this way underscores the tricolon, making the listener hear each unit separately. While it can often be a device which indicates a speaker’s lack of control over his words, President Obama’s employment seems deliberate. He seems to invoke it when he most wants to appeal to a sense of larger community, to the things that bind the entire country together, rather than those things which affect particular regions or groups. The expansiveness of the device mirrors the expansiveness of his message.

He also seems to appreciate anaphora, the repetition of beginning words, phrases, or structures — often in threes, as with “Together, we determined; Together, we discovered; Together, we resolved.” In his 2013 address, he begins many successive paragraphs with “We, the people,” invoking one of the most recognizable phrases related to our government and one which emphasizes the collective nature of the American populace. In what was probably the climactic paragraph, he used “our journey is not complete” five times, each with a predicate addressing a different challenge facing American citizens today. He also employs judicious use of epanorthosis, addition by correction, generally at the end of paragraphs, to strengthen a point already made or to add evocative details. That epanorthosis often blends with anadiplosis, repeating the last word or structure from the end of one phrase at the beginning of the next, a technique which chains thoughts together in a way that allows them to build and expand while still retaining a strong connection to the initial message.

President Obama’s 2013 Inaugural Address

The specific words which the President repeats are also significant. The Wordles of both speeches show, unsurprisingly, the repetition of words like “America,” “nation,” and “people.” What I find to be the interesting difference are the two words with the largest change between 2009 and 2013 — “new” and “must.” President Obama’s 2009 speech keyed in on the differences between what he offered and what the past eight years had been, as well as on the implications of America electing its first black President. “Newness” was a big deal in 2009. Now, in 2013, his message has shifted somewhat. “New” is still there, but smaller, while “must” has grown to be the largest and most-repeated word, outstripping even “America” and “nation.” The greater focus is on action — on what he believes America must do now to move forward. Other repeated words like “journey” and “requires” echo this shift from imagination to deed, from optimism to practicality, from the first step of a process to an effort begun but not yet completed.

So what is the ultimate synthesis of all of these devices? President Obama, in his inaugural addresses, speaks to the “united” part of United States, employing rhetorical figures which expand rather than those which narrow. He uses far more devices of repetition and addition than of omission; devices of direction tend to build or to create contrast, not to disrupt expected syntax structure; his devices of substitution mostly involve a typically political use of the passive voice, not a reliance on metaphors or symbolism. (See the OCS’s Roads to Rhetoric for more information on these categories). The overall effect is expansive and inclusive. His adherence to the Rule of Three not only creates harmony for his listeners’ brains, it also allows him to provide details in a meaningful way, calling on the experience of as much of the audience as possible and thus drawing them in to his message.

Despite the many transfers of power in Shakespeare’s plays, he rarely gives us a speech of the inaugural sort. More often, when a new king takes the throne, we next see him in conversation — either with his peers, his family members, or with dissolute characters that he needs to do terrible things for him. Only a few characters make public addresses, either to the court or the commons, immediately following their OCSension to the throne (and obviously, there are a few key differences between our method of choosing new rulers and the methods that typically occur in Shakespeare’s plays).

One of the most overt examples of this kind of speech in Shakespeare is, itself, a kind of second inauguration. In Henry VI, Part III, Edward IV does not give a big speech when he first takes the throne from Henry VI, but he does address the court when he wins it back after Henry’s brief reclaiming. The speech (left) is somewhat flowery, full of metaphors for his own party and for their vanquished foes. He arranges a series, listing those he has conquered. The series decreases in number, from threes to twos, but increases in nearness to himself, as he moves from those not directly related to him to his cousins Warwick and Montague. Edward provides each set of foes with a vivid descriptor of bravery and honor. Should an actor color these descriptions with pride, with regret, or with some combination of the two? Shakespeare leaves the choice of why Edward feels compelled to list his fallen enemies to us. Does he mark out these deaths because he feels secure now, or is he remembering how tenuous his hold on the throne has been? Is he more reminding himself or his audience?

He then abruptly turns personal, addressing himself not to the court at large but to his son in particular. Whether or not the conversation becomes private at this point or not, however, is a determination for an actor and a production. Edward could as easily be using the address to his son to underscore his own line of succession, demonstrating to all observers that he has reclaimed the throne not just for himself but for his dynasty, as he could be offering young Ned private advice. Is the shift in focus more personal or more political? Shakespeare leaves that open for our interpretation.

Perhaps the most famous political evader in all of Shakespeare is Claudius in Hamlet. Sarah and I frequently use him and his first public speech as king as an example of how Shakespeare uses rhetoric to demonstrate that a character is being deliberately difficult. Claudius comes to the throne under circumstances that would be awkward even if he weren’t a murderer: marrying his dead brother’s wife, leapfrogging over said dead brother’s legitimate son, and doing it all with unseemly haste. So when it comes time for Claudius to address his court, he does his best to bury the lead:

CLAUDIUS
Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death
The memory be green, and that it us befitted
To bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom
To be contracted in one brow of woe,
Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature
That we with wisest sorrow think on him
Together with remembrance of ourselves.
Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen,
Th’imperial jointress to this warlike state,
Have we, as ’twere with a defeated joy,
With an auspicious and a dropping eye,
With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole,
Taken to wife.

Claudius’s full text from Hamlet, 1.2

It’s no wonder that students take a look at that and panic, and I imagine Claudius’s courtiers would have been just as bemused by his linguistic acrobatics. I encourage students to untangle sentences like this when they encounter such disordered syntax (hyperbaton in general, or anastrophe, if only two words are inverted), to put them back together in the order that makes the most syntactical sense — and then to ask why Shakespeare, who was perfectly capable of writing simple sentences, chose to have a character speak in this fashion instead. In this case, that exercise would yield you something like “Discretion hath fought with nature so far that we think on Hamlet, our dear brother, with wisest sorrow together with remembrance of ourselves, though the memory of his death be yet green, and (though) it befitted us to bear our hearts in grief and (for) our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe. Therefore we have taken to wife our sometime sister, now our queen, the imperial jointress to this warlike state, as it were with a defeated joy, with an auspicious and a dropping eye, with mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage, weighing delight and dole in equal scale.”

Even untangled, it’s a bit of a mess, but flattening out the kinks does help you to see exactly what Claudius has done, especially in the second sentence, where he moves the subject (“we”), verb (“have taken to wife”), and object (“our sometime sister, now our queen”) as far away from each other as possible and also puts them in the wrong order. By the time any listeners have ironed out what he said, he’s on to the next part of his speech, concerning a potential invasion by Fortinbras of Norway. It’s an impressive dodge, though not quite the sort of thing you’d hope for in a politician’s inaugural speech.

King Henry’s full text from Henry IV, Part 2, 5.2

Another semi-public speech has the ruler addressing the matter of his deceased predecessor, though less scurrilously than Claudius. In Henry IV, Part 2, the title character dies, allowing his son, Henry V, to take over. Father and son had a contentious relationship (in Shakespeare, at least, less so in history), but Henry didn’t murder him, so he has nothing to hide in this first speech. Henry’s challenge is rather to assert his authority when for so many years he has allowed both his family and the public to think of him as a wastrel. Now is the time to “pay the debt [he] never promised” back in Henry IV, Part 1. Similar to President Obama, Henry takes a few moments to set out what he intends, and he uses tricolon to do it: “And with his spirit sadly I survive, / To mock the expectation of the world, / To frustrate prophecies and to raze out / Rotten opinion, who hath writ me down / After my seeming.” We also see an example of polysyndeton in this speech: “Let us choose such limbs of noble counsel / That the great body of our state may go / In equal rank with the best govern’d nation; / That war or peace or both at once, may be / As things acquainted and familiar to us.”

Henry uses a lot of hyperbaton and anastrophe, but not in the way Claudius does, to tangle his meaning. The disorder rarely extends out of a single line or clause, and the irregularities are simple to understand and to unravel, unlike Claudius’s deliberate verbal entanglements. These inversions are of the pattern that Dr. Ralph Cohen has suggested are indicative of an education in Latin (a syntactically unfixed language, where adjectives generally follow nouns and verbs their objects), generally used in Shakespeare by rulers or by clergymen. They express formality, education, and high status; Henry begins with fewer of them and more of his old conversational tone, peppered with oaths and parentheticals, but as he transitions further into King Mode, he uses hyperbaton and anastrophe to signal both his awareness of his new status and his capacity to fulfill it.

Yet even with this intention, the erstwhile cheeky Prince Hal can’t seem to keep from messing around with people. In the first section of this scene (right), he addresses his brothers — several of whom have been more dutiful sons than he, the heir, had been. What’s most interesting to me in this segment are the frequent reversals. Look at all the times Henry begins a clause with “Yet” or “But.” Each of those marks a shift in focus, as Henry moves from telling his brothers to grieve, then not to grieve, then back again. Is this genuine conflicted emotion on Henry’s part, or is he yanking his brothers’ chains? It depends on the sort of Hal the production wants. He then moves on to mess with the Lord Chief Justice, feigning anger and resentment against him because the Justice brought the law down on Hal’s head in his younger days — only to perform a heel-face-turn after the Justice explains himself, commending the magistrate’s sense of duty and impartiality. The prince’s pranks were written in larger and cruder strokes, but Henry the King retains an impulse to manipulate people into corners to see how they will react (as we see further in Henry V, when he similarly tricks the soldier Williams). How much Henry is enjoying this is something the actor can use those “yets” and “buts” to show. The frequent diminutives, turning his proper name “Henry” into the informal “Harry,” play into this as well, undercutting his authority even as he asserts it. How much of an invitation to formality is this? He can call himself Harry, but how well would he take it from someone else, even one of his brothers? And how does it play different from when he calls himself Harry in front of his troops in Henry V? Those answers depend on the Henry in any given production, but the rhetoric devices in play indicate that, from the start of his reign, Henry seems determined to keep others on their toes.

Shakespeare also gives us one interesting female example of the assumption of power, and that in a comedy: the Princess-turned-Queen in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Her speech is not public in a grand proclamation sort of way, but nor is it entirely private. She addresses it largely to the King of Navarre, deferring his declarations of love until a more fitting time, but there are both nobles and commoners present as well, to witness her first moments as a sovereign monarch. She uses some of the same devices as Henry, particularly with regards to hyperbaton and anastrophe (“Your oath I will not trust”; “There stay”; “Change not”), but she also uses epizeuxis, immediate repetition, twice (“No, no” and “Challenge me, challenge me”). This forcefulness may be necessary to exert her will against a fellow monarch’s. Perhaps Navarre is trying to interject, but her repetition prevents him. Perhaps she has to reinforce these things for herself.

Whether a head of state has been democratically elected, taken a throne by force, or inherited it from a predecessor, his or her first official speech in office can bear great weight as the first chance to influence the public or to display newly-assumed power. What a ruler chooses to display — or to conceal — in that first public speech can provide a lot of character information about that figure (whether real or fictional), and examining the rhetoric of those speeches can help reveal those clues.

Adventures in Dramaturgy: Rehearsals – Special Effects

Just because the Blackfriars Playhouse is a theatre which embraces Shakespeare’s staging conditions doesn’t mean that we don’t use technology in our shows; it means that we use technology that would have been available to Shakespeare and his company, and in many cases, those techniques can produce dazzling effects. Watching the 2013 Actors’ Renaissance Season troupe rehearse Julius Caesar allowed me to see the wonderful resourcefulness and creativity that goes into creating a spectacle on the Blackfriars Playhouse stage.

Dan Kennedy and Rene Thornton Jr.;
photo by Jay McClure

I talked in my last blog post about the traffic patterns backstage, and those patterns are particularly important during the storm scene in Julius Caesar — which actually crosses over parts of four scenes, from 1.3 through 2.3. Even when only two or three characters appear on-stage, every actor in the troupe has something to do, either creating special effects or preparing to enter — or, very often, one and then the other, in rapid succession. It puts me in mind of a swimming swan: the surface image may be polished and serene, but underneath the water, there’s an energetic whorl of action. Conversations during the storm creation process then depended largely on who could be where when and for how long. Alli Glenzer, for example, is creating a visual effect using the Rose Window, which is a bit of a hike from the stage, and so she had to figure out how much of the storm she could create that effect for in order to leave her enough time to make her entrance in 2.1. Who could take over the thunder sheets so that Ben Curns could get downstairs for his entrance in 2.2? How long should the ocean drum keep going before it becomes distracting? Is this “thunder and lightning” cue long, short, or medium? The troupe had to negotiate all of these considerations to form a coherent scene.

Many of the special effects also demonstrate the benefit of a repertory troupe. While putting the storm together, I heard John Harrell say, “Remember what we discovered last year, about the bass on the piano?” He set to work re-creating that sound, and Friday night, I heard another audience member commenting on it as part of the soundscape. Other influences came from recent productions both in Ren Seasons and Summer and Fall Seasons, from The Tempest, from Dido, Queen of Carthage, from The Roman Actor. Conversely, for the battle noises in Act Five and the flourishes throughout, the troupe consciously chose not to use the same effects they have been using in the past. For four years now, the Ren Season has featured the three Henry VI plays and Richard III, and those plays have used similar soundscapes, creating a coherent thread throughout the tetralogy: identifiable trumpet calls for coming and going, the clashing of swords backstage accompanied by shouts to create the alarums. For Julius Caesar, the troop decided to use different musical cues for flourishes and to keep up a military stomping backstage during the battle scenes. The effect is striking, invoking the lock-step precision of the vast Roman legions without ever needing to see more than a few soldiers on-stage. The march took a lot of practice, though, and as Alli Glenzer pointed out, several scenes’ worth of stomping gave her character Strato a perfectly good reason to be falling asleep while Brutus is trying to find someone to assist his suicide. When the soldiers in 5.5 enter tired, the off-stage needs of the show have informed their on-stage performance in an unexpected way.

Ronald Peet, Chris Johnston, and Grant Davis; photo by Jay McClure

Almost all Shakespeare plays call for more sound cues than I think most of us are aware of when we just read the play, and it isn’t just for the “big” moments like storms or battles. All of those stage directions for flourish, sennet, tucket, alarum just sort of fade into the background. As I sat watching our troupe walk through the cue-to-cue Julius Caesar on the Thursday afternoon of their three-day rehearsal process, I became consciously aware of just how much has to go on back-stage to make the story on-stage make sense. In order for Cassius to say “the clock hath strucken three,” someone has to be upstairs striking a chime. Before Brutus can tell Lucius to see who’s at the gate, someone has to knock. Almost every scene has some such requirement, and at the OCS, none of those noises are electronically-generated or automated. Music forms part of the soundscape of the play as well, both during the pre-show and interlude and within the play itself. Julius Caesar opens with “Clap Your Hands” by The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, a wonderful piece which calls for clapping, stomping, and cheering from the audience, setting the mood perfectly for the jubilant chaos of the first scene. As Lucius in 4.2, Ronald Peet plays Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up” as a “sleepy tune,” and the lyrics (“It’s not what you thought when you first began it,” for example) perfectly suit Brutus’s increasingly difficult situation.

Not all of the special effects in Julius Caesar are auditory in nature or occur from off-stage. While in many plays, you can get away with leaving blood out of murders and battles, in this play, the text calls too much attention to the viscera. At least in Caesar’s assassination, the audience needs to see the red run. While some productions in recent decades have chosen to stylize the blood, using cloth or ribbons, our actors opted for liquid. It makes sense with the text, since Shakespeare makes so much of the ability of blood to transfer visibly from Caesar’s corpse onto various hands and daggers. In order for those “purpled hands” to “reek and smoke,” in order for Antony to shake all those “bloodied fingers,” the audience needs to see what a mess an assassination makes. Our Caesar, Ben Curns, worked with Costume Manager Erin West to create a trick shirt — identical to the white dress shirt he wears throughout the rest of the role, but in which he can conceal six blood packets, one for each conspirator. In Shakespeare’s day, these blood packets might have been actual bladders filled with pig’s blood procured from the local butcher’s shop. Today, we use a laundry-friendly syrupy solution.

Chris Johnston, Sarah Fallon, Ben Curns, Grant Davis,
and John Harrell; photo by Jay McClure

The effect when all six blood packets pop is delightfully gruesome, but getting all six to pop took some practice. It adds an additional level of difficulty to the combat of that scene — already tricky, given the number of people involved. Each of the actors not only has to be exquisitely precise about how they place their hands and daggers, but they have to find a way to squeeze, smack, twist, or otherwise puncture the blood packets, and they only have a brief second or two in which to do so. The picture at left shows what happened during the first attempt, when several of the cast members had trouble. By Saturday night, however, they had it — all of the packets popped to great effect, allowing Ben to clutch at his supposedly spilling guts, then touch René Thornton (playing Brutus), leaving a visible streak on his face. The conspirators had plenty of blood to bathe their hands in, and the scarlet sheen glinted off of their daggers. It makes their exit a more striking image, and I realized, from a practical standpoint, why Shakespeare might specify that they exit “waving [their] red weapons o’er [their] heads” — it keeps them from touching any doors or curtains before they have a chance to wash up. Caesar lay bleeding on the stage for several minutes more, and when Antony and a servant dragged him off at the end, a vivid smear trailed behind him.

These special effects under the creative constraints of Shakespeare’s staging conditions illustrate clearly the blend of practicality and theatricality that dictates production at the OCS all year, and which drives shows during the Ren Season in particular. The actors are looking for simple answers to their problems, yes, but without sacrificing impact to the audience. Sitting in the rehearsal room during the building of the storm, I could feel the actors’ excitement building over the discoveries they were making and the solutions they were building. There was a current of satisfaction as it came together, with several of the actors commenting on how very “cool” the effects were. This is part of why we, in OCS Education, encourage teachers to explore the value in Shakespeare’s technology. Sometimes the challenge of working as Shakespeare’s company would have yields results that are all the more impressive and more satisfying.

Cakes and Ale: Christmastide and Twelfth Night in Early Modern England

While modern culture in the West has extended the holiday season backwards to Thanksgiving (and, at least judging by many big box retailers, all the way to November 1st), our medieval and early modern ancestors instead pushed the celebration later, into January. The four weeks before Christmas, during which we now haul out the holly and deck the halls, were the season of Advent, distinct from Christmas and bearing a rather less celebratory feel. Advent was a time of preparation — specifically, preparation for the Second Coming of Christ, while thinking about his first visit to the earth. Most of December, therefore, was liturgically a time for spiritual contemplation and solemnity. Fridays and Saturdays during Advent were times of fasting and abstinence, and some traditions extended this self-denial to the entire season. The Christmas season did not properly begin until Christmas Eve, and it culminated in Epiphany Eve, or Twelfth Night.

The Twelve Days of Christmas that we all know from the carol were originally all feast days belonging to specific saints, beginning with the Feast of St. Stephen (think of Good King Wenceslas going out to visit the poor) on December 26th. Other honorees during this time included St. John the Evangelist, St. Sylvester, an early pope, and, pertinent for enthusiasts of English history, St. Thomas Becket, whose martyrdom in 1170 (as OCS patrons who saw The Lion in Winter this past fall may remember) was considered such a horror that ecclesiastical authorities kept the commemoration of his death on the day it took place, rather than moving it outside of Christmastide, as would have been common practice. Other days commemorated Jesus’s circumcision and naming, which, while not as obviously celebratory, are interesting because they point toward the idea of Jesus as a living human, subject to the same customs as other Jewish males of his era. Prayer during Christmastide was joyful rather than somber, and the two weeks from Christmas Eve to Epiphany Eve were a time for rest from labor, for feasting, and for revelry. Gift exchange took place either on New Year’s Day or on Epiphany itself, mimicking the visitation of the myrrh-, frankincense-, and gold-bearing Magi.

Most of Twelfth Night’s traditions were food-and-drink-related, with fruits, cakes, and wassail particularly popular gastronomical focuses. January 5th was the day to eat and drink everything that had been prepared during the Christmastide season, as well as the last day to enjoy the festive decorations. The tradition of taking down Christmas decorations on Epiphany, January 6th, persisted into colonial America, and many still observe it to the modern day, considering it unlucky to leave decorations up any longer. Some of the traditions of Twelfth Night have, over the centuries, drifted into other holidays. Several early modern sources describe the baking of a Twelfth Night cake with a bean, a pea, or a penny inside of it. Whoever found the errant item in his slice would be proclaimed king for the day — a tradition with roots in the Roman festival of Saturnalia, but which has since become attached instead to Mardi Gras celebrations on the eve of Lent. In some countries, the season of Epiphany was also the season of Carnival, which may explain the tradition’s unmooring from Twelfth Night and getting stuck onto Mardi Gras instead. The extension of celebrations throughout the winter also makes logical sense for agricultural societies, where there was less work to do in the cold, barren months, and when people may have had greater need for good cheer.

Stephanie Holladay Earl as
Olivia in 
Twelfth Night.
Photo by Michael Bailey.

So what does any of this have to do with Shakespeare’s play? Certainly a production could choose to set Twelfth Night during Twelfth Night, but nothing in the play necessitates that association. No dialogue refers to the holiday or gives any indication of the season, and the secondary title, What You Will, seems more appropriate both for the content of the play and as a sly bawdy joke in the same style as the other “festive” comedies, Much Ado about Nothing and As You Like It. The title might indicate that the Chamberlain’s Men originally performed the play on Twelfth Night, but the earliest recorded performance isn’t until Candlemas, February 1st, 1602. Was there an earlier performance that went unrecorded? Perhaps, and plays were certainly popular entertainment at court during Christmastide – but we don’t know for sure. There are a few thematic similarities between the events of the play and the traditions of the holiday, but you have to squint and tilt your head a little sideways to see them. Toby and Andrew’s cheerful inebriation would certainly fit with Christmastide celebrations, but it hardly seems a holiday-only indulgence for them. Viola’s cross-dressing and Malvolio’s determination to turn from steward to lord might be seen as reflecting the up-ending of social order that attended some Christmastide traditions such as the bean-finding or the Feast of Fools, but the connection is tenuous, particularly given those themes’ prevalence in other plays as well. The criticism of Malvolio’s revel-hating ways (“Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”) may bear some relevance to the Protestant tendency to pull away from the festivals that they saw as tainted by Catholic idolatry, but that religious trend did not become pronounced for a few more decades, peaking under the Commonwealth’s outright banning of the Christmas holidays, and so it seems a more general indictment of Puritan hypocrisy. The threads of connection may be present, but they’re definitely frayed. If nothing else, though, the title of Twelfth Night has helped to keep the idea of the holiday more prominently in the public consciousness than it might otherwise be.

At the OCS, we carry the spirit of celebration with us year-round, with performances at the Blackfriars Playhouse 52 weeks a year — Advent, Christmastide, and Epiphany all included. Our Holiday Season shows, A Christmas Carol, The Santaland Diaries, and The Twelve Dates of Christmas continue through December 28th, and on the last weekend of the year, you can catch our Tempt Me Further shows before they head back out on the spring leg of the tour: Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Duchess of Malfi, and, of course, Twelfth Night. Then join us January 4th as we open our 2013 Actors’ Renaissance Season with Julius Caesar. Whatever and however you celebrate, we at the OCS hope that you have a lovely holiday season. Cheers!

Adventures in Dramaturgy: The Packet

I recently completed one of my Big Projects for the year, and it was one that was a little new and different for me — a dramaturgy packet for use in the Actors’ Renaissance Season production of Julius CaesarI was excited to tackle it, since Caesar is a pet favorite play of mine. I have a strong classical background in addition to my early modern training, which made dramaturging this show a natural fit for me. The interpersonal contortions of loyalty that surround the assassination of Julius Caesar make this period of classical history particularly fOCSinating. Revisiting my old Roman buddies was (as anyone who passed my desk while I was working on the project could attest) a giddy delight for me. 

The primary challenge with creating packet for the ARS is figuring out how much of which information to present. Everything needs to be streamlined for maximum efficiency and useful for the actors — playable information, not details that have no bearing on the production.
So, however interesting I may find the nuances of the Roman political system or maps of the city in the first century BCE, those are not things that are as likely to help the actors. On the other hand, a brief explanation of the cursus honorum, the sequence of term-limited political offices a Roman man would aspire to hold, can provide helpful information about status in the same way that the more familiar ranks of English nobility can, if I present it in the right way. I settled on an annotated diagram (right, original from vroma.org), depicting not only the levels of offices, but which characters hold which offices at the time of the play, and which offices they’ve held before. Hopefully this will help to translate the relative power dynamics into terms that the actors can use on stage. Relationships are also important; several actors have mentioned in conversation or in podcasts that knowing who was related to whom helped during the Henry VI plays, so I created a family tree for the important members of the Roman elite. As it turns out, nearly all the major figures in Julius Caesar are connected through blood or marriage as well as politically, causing Sarah to refer to the play as “really the world’s worst family reunion.”

There are also ways in which Julius Caesar gives me a little more leeway to provide historical information than some other plays might, because Shakespeare adheres more nearly to his sources (mostly Plutarch) here than he does almost anywhere else. Compared to his English histories, Julius Caesar is practically a documentary. For that reason, I’ve done a lot with those original sources, pointing out scenes and lines that seem to come straight out of Plutarch or Appian, but I’ve also included some of the corollary information that doesn’t make it directly into the play, but might still be helpful — like popular perceptions of Cassius’s character or the chaos of the assassination scene. Consider this description from Plutarch’s Life of Brutus:

As Caesar entered, the senate rose in his honour, but as soon as he was seated the conspirators surrounded him in a body, putting forward Tullius Cimber of their number with a plea in behalf of his brother, who was in exile. The others all joined in his plea, and clasping Caesar’s hands, kissed his breast and his head. At first, Caesar merely rejected their pleas, and then, when they would not desist, tried to free himself from them by force. At this, Tullius tore Caesar’s robe from his shoulders with both hands, and COCSa, who stood behind him, drew his dagger and gave him the first stab, not a deep one, near the shoulder. Caesar caught the handle of the dagger and cried out loudly in Latin: “Impious COCSa, what doest thou?” Then COCSa, addressing his brother in Greek, bade him come to his aid. And now Caesar had received many blows and was looking about and seeking to force his way through his assailants, when he saw Brutus setting upon him with drawn dagger. At this, he dropped the hand of COCSa which he had seized, covered his head with his robe, and resigned himself to the dagger-strokes. The conspirators, crowding eagerly about the body, and plying their many daggers, wounded one another, so that Brutus also got a wound in the hand as he sought to take part in the murder, and all were covered with blood.

Compare that to 3.1 of Julius Caesar:

CAESAR
Are we all ready? What is now amiss
That Caesar and his senate must redress?
METELLUS CIMBER
Most high, most mighty, and most puissant Caesar,
Metellus Cimber throws before thy seat
An humble heart,–
CAESAR
I must prevent thee, Cimber.
These couchings and these lowly courtesies
Might fire the blood of ordinary men,
And turn pre-ordinance and first decree
Into the law of children. Be not fond,
Thy brother by decree is banished:
If thou dost bend and pray and fawn for him,
I spurn thee like a cur out of my way.
Know, Caesar doth not wrong, nor without cause
Will he be satisfied.
METELLUS CIMBER
Is there no voice more worthy than my own
To sound more sweetly in great Caesar’s ear
For the repealing of my banish’d brother?
BRUTUS
I kiss thy hand, but not in flattery, Caesar;
Desiring thee that Publius Cimber may
Have an immediate freedom of repeal.
CAESAR
What, Brutus?
CASSIUS
Pardon, Caesar; Caesar, pardon:
As low as to thy foot doth Cassius fall,
To beg enfranchisement for Publius Cimber.
CAESAR
I could be well moved, if I were as you:
If I could pray to move, prayers would move me:
But I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
The skies are painted with unnumber’d sparks,
They are all fire and every one doth shine,
Yet in the number I do know but one
That unassailable holds on his rank,
Unshaked of motion: and that I am he,
Let me a little show it, even in this;
That I was constant Cimber should be banish’d,
And constant do remain to keep him so.
CINNA
O Caesar,–
CAESAR
Hence; wilt thou lift up Olympus?
DECIUS
Great Caesar,–
CAESAR
Doth not Brutus bootless kneel?
COCSA
Speak, hands for me.
           They stab CAESAR.
CAESAR
Et Tu Brute? ———– Then fall, Caesar.

This comparison shows how close Shakespeare’s version of the scene is to the historical record, but also how much he leaves to the actors to choreograph. Would his original company have been familiar enough with Plutarch’s version of events (and Appian’s, and Suetonius’s, and Nicolaus of DamOCSus’s) to fill in the gaps? I don’t know. It’s as possible that they did as that they didn’t. Our actors may find some details helpful or inspirational but others irrelevant or impractical. My job is just to present the information so that they can make those choices — and I know I can’t wait to see how they handle this moment.

Of course, Shakespeare being Shakespeare, he still takes some liberties. Between 3.3 (Cinna the Poet) and 4.1 (the Second Triumvirate in action), he jumps several years and an entire war that occurred as Antony and Octavius struggled for control of Caesar’s legacy. Why does Shakespeare do this? I’m not sure. It certainly helps to focus the action more on Brutus and Cassius, augmenting the idea that this is really Brutus’s tragedy, not Caesar’s, and it blunts some of the political complexities of the situation. So how much do the actors need to know about what happens during that interlude? I’ve tried to summarize as succinctly as possible, including links to the (vast wealth of) information in Plutarch, should any of the key players involved in those dynamics be interested in exploring that further. Mostly what they need to know, however, is that Antony and Octavius are only tenuous allies, with plenty of bad blood already between them.

Another problem with any history play is how much background information to give on events that occur before the play begins. How much do the actors need to know about Caesar’s conquests or his war with Pompey? By the time the play opens, after all, Caesar has already subjugated Gaul and Pompey is already dead. Pompey never appears on stage, even as a corpse, but many characters do refer to him, from the first scene onward. Murellus berates the commoners for cheering the man who “comes in triumph over Pompey’s blood” when previously they had cheered Pompey with equal fervor. The conspirators and Antony clearly tell us that Caesar dies in Pompey’s Theatre, at the feet of Pompey’s statue, even though no statue would exist on a bare stage like that of Shakespeare’s Globe or our Blackfriars Playhouse. These details, I think, mean that Pompey has some lingering, ghost-like relevance in the play — relevance that Shakespeare’s actors and audiences would likely have been more aware of, since the Roman greats were more common reading then than they are today. Similarly, some information on Caesar’s conquests may help to explain why he was such a big deal, why the conspirators hated him so much, and whose allegiances shifted away from Caesar over time. But, again, I don’t want to overload with details that really have no bearing on the events of the play — so summary again becomes important.

After determining what information I wanted to provide, I had to figure out how to present it in a way that maximized its usefulness for the troupe. After a few introductory sections, the bulk of the guide is a scene-by-scene breakdown of questions that the play raises. The lovely Miriam Burrows furnished me with the idea to create a secondary table of contents, listing information by character rather than by topic. I also listed the relevant characters at the top of each page in the scene breakdown, and the bibliography includes annotations for each character. I hope that this system of cross-referencing will help the actors get to the information they need quickly, without bogging them down in information that has no direct relevance for them.

Some dramaturgy packets, especially if they need to help design teams as well as actors, will include extensive image galleries with information about costumes, settings, character appearances, and previous productions of the play. These details have less relevance at the OCS, particularly in a Ren Season production. While I did include a short image gallery in the packet itself, I decided to place the bulk of visual information on a Pinterest board. This not only cuts down on the length and file size of the packet, it also allows me a little more freedom with what I include: original Roman frescos, sculptures, and mosaics; pictures of modern re-enactors; maps and landscapes; and a few screencaps from HBO’s Rome (because I just can’t help myself). Some of the actors may not be interested in this sort of visual inspiration, but it may help others, especially when they go to pull costumes. Even if they don’t go the traditional toga-route, the colors and fabrics may still help them when they start thinking about what clothes will best communicate their characters to the audience.

Rehearsals for Julius Caesar start on New Year’s Day, so my next Adventure in Dramaturgy will be sitting in the room while the actors work, ready to answer any questions that may come up on the fly. I’m already planning out ways to pre-load my dashboard with the major sources and pertinent links in order to maximize my usefulness to our troupe. Check back in January for my thoughts about sitting in on rehearsals, and be sure to come see Julius Caesar and the other shows in our always-exciting Actors’ Renaissance Season.

"Some to the common pulpits and cry out": Political Rhetoric (Part 1)

Every four years, it becomes a really great time to be a rhetoric geek.

My head got turned to this topic by an article from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Affairs detailing the differences in structure between Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention last week and Ann Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention the week before. As measured by the Flesh-Kincaid readability levels, Ann Romney “set a record for delivering a speech written at the lowest grade level in convention history by the wives of presidential nominees,” speaking on a 5th-grade reading level, while Michelle Obama broke the record for highest grade level in a spousal convention speech, above the 12th-grade level. Flesh-Kincaid mainly measures by words in a sentence and syllables in a word, looking at those complexities to determine readability. Despite this higher difficulty level, however, Mrs. Obama received rave reviews of her speech, even from conservatives. Though pundits and audiences alike gave both women favorable ratings, Michelle Obama’s speech seems to have had broader appeal, in spite of — or perhaps because of — its greater complexity.

Looking at Wordles of the two speeches reveals that the higher rating for Mrs. Obama seems to come from longer sentences and more complex sentence structure, not necessarily more difficult or more polysyllabic words. Both speeches have accessible vocabulary, and, as is so often the case with political speeches, they share a lot of key words between them. Ann Romney and Michelle Obama both also have idiosyncratic verbal tics that slip into their sentences — for Mrs. Romney, it’s “just;” for Mrs. Obama, “you see.”

Ann Romney’s speech at the RNC, 28 August 2012
Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC, 4 September 2012
In addition to the lower Flesh-Kincaid rating, Mrs. Romney’s speech is also rhetorically simpler. She uses a lot of repetition — not in of itself a bad thing. Devices of repetition can be hugely significant and, when used skillfully, immensely persuasive. But Mrs. Romney failed to structure her repetitions in a fruitful way. They come either at rote, simple anaphora at the beginning of successive phrases, unmatched with any devices of direction like auxesis or chiasmus that could drive a persuasive point, or else they come at random, entirely devoid of pattern. This method of structuring a speech actually fights against the brain. If you intentionally break a pattern, the brain will latch on to the “one of these things that’s not like the other;” if you never set a clear pattern to begin with, however, the brain will spend a lot of energy trying to figure it out or to force one — and that can be subconsciously frustrating. The brain likes harmony, and when devices of repetition set it up to expect a pattern but none emerges, that discord can create negative emotions rather than positive ones.

Her devices of addition also create a similar problem. While doing the markup of Ann Romney’s speech, I sometimes found it difficult to find the end of a parenthetical phrase. The delineation between main thought and sidebar was not always clear. That lack of distinction is something else that challenges the brain in a non-productive way; when it has to work too hard to untangle a sentence’s syntax, it stops listening to what meaning those words are actually conveying. That can be an effective speaking technique if (like Claudius in 1.2 of Hamlet), you want to obscure your main point — but it’s hardly the goal of a speech at a national political convention. A little like Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mrs. Romney at points gives the impression of a speech that is “like a tangled chain; nothing impaired, but all disordered.” Where Mrs. Romney’s speech succeeds is in arranging contrast. Many of her arguments follow a “not this, but this” structure, which can be particularly persuasive in a political context, since it pits one set of ideas (and ideals) neatly opposite another.

Mrs. Obama’s speech uses many of the same devices, but structured with a more clearly delineated system of rise and fall. She uses isocolon (parallel structure) and auxesis (the arrangement of a series) to particularly good effect several times. Her devices of addition tend to be in the form of superlative descriptors rather than tangential parentheses. She uses anaphora, but in a more condensed format than Mrs. Romney does. Ann Romney began a series of paragraphs with “You know” and then “I want to talk to you about,” but these paragraphs were of uneven length, often with other matter in between, weakening the effect of the repetitive device. Michelle Obama, on the other hand, tended to use shorter sequences closer together, as when she said, “Every day, the people I meet inspire me. Every day, they make me proud. Every day, they remind me how blessed we are to live in the greatest nation on earth.” In this way, Mrs. Obama links the anaphora together with tricolon, the power of three, and with auxesis, building from one idea to the next to the greatest. These devices, particularly when yoked together, give the brain a sense of harmony to appreciate, subconsciously making the listener more receptive to the speaker’s ideas. Mrs. Obama also uses more rhetorical questions than Mrs. Romney, giving the audience greater opportunity to enter into a dialogue, even if only imagined, with her — another tactic that draws a listener in and creates a kind of alliance. Mrs. Obama’s greatest rhetorical weakness is probably an over-reliance on polysyndeton — excessive conjunctions, particularly at the beginnings of sentences. It’s another way of verbalizing a pause, and it tends to be more noticeable when looking at the speech on paper than when actually listening to it.

The differences between these two speeches made me think of Brutus and Antony in Julius Caesar. After killing Caesar, Brutus enters to explain his actions to the plebeian mobs. It is the only point in the play where he talks in prose rather than in verse. Prose and verse do not always point to a class difference — in plays such as As You Like It, high-status characters often speak in prose — but in Julius Caesar, the split is fairly distinct, with the commoners speaking in prose and the aristocrats speaking in verse. Brutus talks to the plebs on their level. Antony, on the other hand, doesn’t talk down to the plebs — he stays in verse and uses elegant language, but he does so in such a way that renders the increased complexity ultimately more persuasive.

Out of curiosity, I ran Brutus’s and Antony’s speeches through a Flesh-Kincaid analysis. Brutus comes in at a mid-7th grade reading level, Antony at a high-9th. (Both are above the play’s average of a mid-6th grade level). What I like about this analysis is that it demonstrates something phenomenal about rhetoric: it’s not just the words, but also the structure in which you place those words that matters. Check out the Wordles for each speech:

Brutus’s eulogy, Julius Caesar, 3.2

Antony’s eulogy, Julius Caesar, 3.2

Neither character uses terribly difficult vocabulary. Antony’s higher grade level comes more from longer and more complex sentences than from polysyllabic words. Yet something about Antony’s speech grips an audience more, despite the higher difficulty and the verse structure. His rhetoric allows him to bring the audience along on a point, rather than badgering them as Brutus does, and so we are more likely to feel “on his side.” He doesn’t have to talk down to us to be one of us.

As a side note, the analyzer I used also provided some suggestions for improving readability, advising me to look at altering the following phrases,which made me think about what beauty of language and what persuasive power might be gained or lost by restructuring for easier comprehension:

“Hear me for my cause, and be silent, that you may hear: believe me for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour, that you may believe: censure me in your wisdom, and awake your senses, that you may the better judge”
“The question of his death is enrolled in the Capitol; his glory not extenuated, wherein he was worthy, nor his offences enforced, for which he suffered death.”
“You all did see that on the Lupercal I thrice presented him a kingly crown, Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?”
“When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept: Ambition should be made of sterner stuff: Yet Brutus says he was ambitious; And Brutus is an honourable man.”

There’s also an appeal to pathos, another, less quantifiable aspect of rhetoric, in Brutus’s and Antony’s speeches that I heard reflected in Ann Romney’s and Michelle Obama’s. Pathos is the appeal to emotion. This appeal involves the speaker knowing his audience and what will appeal to them on a personal level. Values, morals, fears, and affections may all play a part in a pathetic appeal. At its most basic level, pathos is when a speaker makes the argument all about the audience, rather than about objective fact or about himself. Brutus and Ann Romney both appeal to the red button words — for Brutus, “honor,” “valor,” “wisdom,” “love;” for Mrs. Romney, “America,” “moms,” “hard work,” and, again, “love” — by way of getting to their audiences’ hearts. Consider the following selection from Brutus’s speech:

As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I slew him. There is tears for his love; joy for his fortune; honour for his valour; and death for his ambition. Who is here so base that would be a bondman? If any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman? If any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so vile that will not love his country? If any, speak; for him have I offended. I pause for a reply.

And now this selection from Ann Romney’s:

I don’t think there’s a woman in America who really expects her life to be easy. In our own way, we all know better! And that’s fine. We don’t want easy. But these last few years have been harder than they needed to be. It’s all the little things — that price at the pump you just can’t believe, the grocery bills that just get bigger, all those things that used to be free, like school sports, are now one more bill to pay. It’s all the little things that pile up to become big things. And the big things — the good jobs, the chance at college, that home you want to buy, just get harder. Everything has become harder.

The appeal in each speech is broad, designed to reach as many people as possible. The speakers hit the points that they believe matter most to their audience, and they do so in a way that makes it all about that you, the listener, rather than about the speaker. On the surface, this technique seems like it ought to be an effective tactic. It feels inclusive, and it demonstrates that the speaker knows what the audience cares about.
So why is it that the method taken by Antony and by Michelle Obama seems to generate greater emotional response?

Look at this selection from Antony’s speech:

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
You all do know this mantle: I remember
The first time ever Caesar put it on;
‘Twas on a summer’s evening, in his tent,
That day he overcame the Nervii:
Look, in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through:
See what a rent the envious COCSa made:
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabb’d;
And as he pluck’d his cursed steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar follow’d it,
As rushing out of doors, to be resolved
If Brutus so unkindly knock’d, or no;
For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel:
Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him.
This was the most unkindest cut of all;
For when the noble Caesar saw him stab,
Ingratitude, more strong than traitors’ arms,
Quite vanquish’d him: then burst his mighty heart;
And, in his mantle muffling up his face,
Even at the base of Pompey’s statua,
Which all the while ran blood, great Caesar fell.
O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!

And now this from Michelle Obama’s:

I loved Barack just the way he was. You see, even back then, when Barack was a Senator and presidential candidate, to me, he was still the guy who picked me up for our dates in a car that was so rusted out, I could actually see the pavement going by in a hole in the passenger side door. He was the guy whose proudest possession was a coffee table he’d found in a dumpster, and whose only pair of decent shoes was a half size too small. But see, when Barack started telling me about his family, now that’s when I knew I’d found in him a kindred spirit — someone whose values and upbringing were so like mine.

Though the subject matter is vastly different, the approach is similar: draw the audience in with specific moments, rather than broad subjects. Antony talks about what he remembers, but links it to the audience’s observations, and then he draws an explicit picture of Caesar’s death for those who were not there to see it. Mrs. Obama begins with her personal recollections, so specific that they could belong to no one else, then moves into more abstract values only once she has that grounding. Personal anecdotes, more than sweeping generalizations, tend to strike a greater emotional chord — even if those generalizations are the red button words that people tend to key in on. Brutus wasn’t wrong to mention honor and valor, any more than Ann Romney was wrong to mention America and motherhood. But where Antony and Michelle Obama outstrip their opposite numbers is in the details — in making the subjects of their speeches (Caesar and Barack Obama, respectively) more personal and relatable to all of their listeners, no matter how removed or lowly. Antony and Michelle Obama evoke pictures of minute details rather than painting with a brush so broad as to remove the scenery entirely. Even at her most specific, Ann Romney refers to periods of life, things that could have happened at any time or in any place, rather than giving the sense that she has one moment crystalized in her mind. Pathos works more effectively when the audience can feel a speaker’s passion, and specific details enhance that sense, while generalizations obliterate it, but it also gains persuasive power when mated with that touch of ethos, the personal credentials and evidence of experience. Blending the two appeals together buttresses one type of persuasion with the other, and this multi-faceted approach often has the ability to reach more people with greater potency.

I’m thrilled that the election cycle draws greater attention to eloquence and elocution. You don’t have to perform a Flesh-Kincaid analysis on every speech you hear. You don’t have to do a R.O.A.D.S. markup (unless you’re like me and it simply amuses you to do so). You don’t even have to own this awareness of rhetoric to know what it is that you like about one speech and what fails to grab you about another. But knowing rhetoric will help. As I tell students (of all ages) every time I lead our Sweet Smoke of Rhetoric workshop, this awareness, even on a basic level, will just plain make you smarter. It makes you a better writer and speaker, but it also makes you a better listener, and that may be even more important on a day-to-day basis.

I love rhetoric, and as I said at the top of the post, election years are an excellent time to have that fOCSination. We listen more acutely during this time than is usual, and the media draws more attention to how politicians get their points across, because good ideas alone won’t carry the day — a candidate must be able to express those ideas in a way that appeals and persuades. So in honor of this, I’ll be posting an ongoing series of Political Rhetoric posts. Next up, hopefully: How much of President Clinton’s famous charisma is rooted in his rhetoric? How does that help a politician work a crowd? We’ve already seen a bit from Antony, but I would like to look at some of the great speakers of the history plays: Buckingham, Talbot, Henrys IV and V, Richards II and III. Who uses rhetoric to connect with the audience, and who ends up isolating himself?