Spring 2011 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival – Session 1

Good morning, all. Today at the Blackfriars Playhouse, thirteen students from Mary Baldwin College will give presentations on their MLitt and MFA projects. These presentations are a required portion of the thesis project for all candidates. The ASC education team will be live-blogging throughout the day-long event. The first session runs from 9:30 to 12:25.

Mediated Dramaturgy: Using Technology to Improve Different Forms of Dramaturgy, by Paul Rycik (MFA candidate)

Paul begins by apologizing for the pun in his title, noting that his thesis focuses on the use of media technology, but that “mediate” as a verb does not necessarily include components of media. How, then, Paul posits, is a dramaturg a mediator? Paul then explicates the job of the dramaturg within the Actors’ Renaissance Season and the specific needs and requirements of the actors working under the ARS’s rehearsal conditions. These demands led him to create a combination of social media, web material, digital videos, and conventional dramaturgy packets. Paul moves on to describing his process in producing material for 3 Henry VI: a packet for glossary of terms, costume suggestions, video biographies of major characters, websites built for the pertinent historical background and geographical details, and a blog documenting his ongoing research. He then demonstrates how he used the blog to answer questions for actors during the rehearsal process, giving the example of exploring a possible textual variant in King Henry’s lines. He also showed the audience his video biography of Richard, Duke of York, with Michael Wagoner (an MLitt first-year) narrating over a series of portraits, battle illustrations, family trees, and other visual information. Paul explains how the combination of visual and auditory information allows for greater fluidity in presenting information than a traditional packet would. Another aspect of Paul’s project, playing deformity, involved information from his MLitt thesis, offering a production history of Richard Crookback. Paul concludes by speaking on the responsibilities of a dramaturg and by noting that dramaturgy is, by its nature, a continuing process.

Shakespeare’s Chaucer, by Matthew Charles Carter (MLitt candidate)

Matthew prefaces his project with a critique of source studies, suggesting that simply knowing what Shakespeare used as a source for a given play isn’t enough. He says his thesis includes three arguments “that the proverbial book is not yet closed.” He begins with the parity of literature on the subject, as only two main books on Shakespeare’s sources currently exist. He discusses the many possible sources for Troilus and Cressida, then introduces Geoffrey Chaucer (Kimberly Maurice) and William Shakespeare (Maria Hart) to discuss the biographical similarities and differences between the two authors. Matt then moves to looking at a linguistic and rhetorical comparison between the texts, specifically looking at the character of Pandarus and the devices erotema, anthypophora, and interrogatio. Kim and Maria, along with Paul Rycik, Monica Tedder, and Riley Steiner present scenes from Shakespeare’s play along with staged segments of Chaucer’s poem. Matt then relates the use of rhetorical devices to the sexual euphemisms and circumlocution prevalent in both the poetry and the play. Matt then relates the play’s sparse production history to its literary origins, presenting arguments that the play “right from the start, was seen as a literary artifact” rather than as a playing text; Matt, however, argues that Shakespeare recognized the performative elements of Chaucer’s original and brought them to the stage. He concludes by restating his belief in the value of source studies.

Recovering London: Editing a Forgotten Script for Performance and Study, by Glenn F. Schudel (MFA candidate)

Glenn begins with the unusual publication history for A Larum for London, then asks the question, “Why would I spend so much time on a play no one cares about?” His answer: “This play is a lot of fun,” featuring bloodthirsty Spaniards, devious Belgians, a cannon discharging, lots of violence, and “a violent, jaded, one-legged protagonist named Stump.” Glenn connects his love for this play with the ASC”s tendency to revive obscure scripts. He moves on to the question of why anyone should edit an early modern playscript, and he suggests that a fair bit of it has to do with job security for “specialists in a fairly small field.” Glenn discusses the tendency of these specialists to gloss over the printing oddities and idiosyncrasies of early modern text while reading. While experts make these changes somewhat automatically, casual readers may not be able to adjust as swiftly — thus, the need for the production of edited texts. He introduces the frequent use of the long-s in A Larum for London and the confusions and potential embarrassment it could cause for teachers using an un-edited text where an “s” might easily look like an “f”, with the example, “the babe that sucks.” Other difficulties include inconsistencies in speech prefixes, syntactical errors, and unspecific directions. Glenn sums up his job rather neatly: “Every bit of clarity one can get is helpful.” Glenn calls for volunteers to do a cold reading, one of an unedited prologue and one of an edited epilogue: Bonnie, reading the prologue, stumbles through the reading, despite being, as part of this program, familiar with textual oddities, while Angelina, reading the edited epilogue, has no trouble either understanding the words herself, nor relating them to the audience. Glenn admits that “this is probably not a radical point that I’m making,” but it nonetheless proves that the job needs doing. His textual difficulties, he states, began with the title page, indeed, with the title of the play itself: A Larum or Alarum? How accurate is the subtitle, The Siedge of Antwerp? As Glenn notes, the 1914 Seige of Antwerp is notably absent from Renaissance drama; the 1576 Spoil of Antwerp, also known as the Spanish Fury, however, was a well-known event and a touchstone for Englishmen full of anti-Spanish sentiment. Glenn then calls up two more volunteers to read a passage, then says, “I’m going to dramaturg you. Don’t worry, it’s painless, usually.” He explains that the odd phrase “a Faulcon and two Harguebuz of Crocke” has several historical connotations lost on modern readers, which he would need to footnote in his edition. His visuals demonstrate that the “faulcon” is a rather solid and respectable type of small cannon, while a “Harguebuz of Crocke” appears to be “a goofy guy firing a gun on a stick,” explaining a character’s consternation at its use. Glenn concludes by noting that there is a lot of work left to be done in bringing this text up to standard.

Early Modern Murderesses, by Asae Dean (MLitt candidate)

Asae prefaces her presentation with readings from murdering females (and a hapless victim), given by Linden Keuck, Amanda Allen, Katie Crandol, and Johnny Adkins. She notes that early modern authors had their templates from Greek and Roman (specifically Sencan) dramas, and then distinguishes between the murderous woman and the murderess. The murderous, working through a proxy, takes after Electra, the murderess, taking action herself, takes after Clytemnestra. She then lists examples of each type, then goes into the victims (lovers, would-be lovers, husbands, rivals, etc) and the reasons for murder (revenge, fury, greed, etc). She notes her surprise that more of her murderesses are stabbers than poisoners, considering the cultural fear of marital murder via poison. Asae then presents a few examples of the murderesses of early modern drama. Her first example, Bel-Imperia in The Spanish Tragedy, does not begin as a murderess, but initially seeks another form of revenge. Asae suggests that Bel-Imperia demonstrates both excessive grief and heated passions, and that Bel-Imperia “learns to dissemble” from her murdering brother. She contrasts Bel-Imperia with Evadne from The Maid’s Tragedy, who begins sexually deviant and unrepentant, married to an honest man to cover her affair with the king. Where Bel-Imperia’s brother is the (inadvertent) source of her darker thoughts and actions, Evadne’s brother brings her back around to virtue — which she then expresses by murdering her royal lover. As Asae points out, “For Evadne, murder is an act of penance.” Both Bel-Imperia and Evadne stand by their murderous actions, however. In The Bloody Banquet, Thetis initially regrets her murder of her former lover; her husband then offers her the choice to eat her lover’s hewn limbs or starve, and Thetis chooses to eat. If her husband wants her dead, he will have to kill her. During the Q&A, Asae expands on the differences between the murderous and the murderess and on the gendering of murder.

The Physics of Contranymy: Indefinition, Sublim(inal)ity, and Play, by Zachary Brown (MLitt candidate)

Zach begins by prefacing the struggles of “meaning-making” in language. He states that he wants to investigate the signifiers attached to the word “pharmacon”, meaning most simply ” a drug,” noting that it can mean either “remedy” or “poison,” which does not do justice to the variant nuances attached to the original Greek term. He connects this idea to Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet in his 2.3 speech regarding the dual uses of certain flowers. Zach then discusses the complications of meaning that can arise from grammatical errors or ambiguities, using the example of the lack of definite aural difference between “insincerity” and “in sincerity” in Measure for Measure. Further passages out of the play suggest that the ambiguity in language mirrors the weaving-together of sincerity and insincerity in the characters’ words, actions, and intentions. Zach explores the contranymy of many words in the English language, where words that sound alike mean opposite things, which would be obvious on the page but may not be easily distinguished in speech, including “raise/raze.” He also examines the various meanings attached to Lucio’s name, meaning “light” in Latin, and with “light” bearing several variant connotations in early modern English (illumination, lack of weight, promiscuity), and finally connects all of the ambiguity to the actions of the Duke. During the Q&A, Dr. Menzer points out that, by telling us about the sincerity/insincerity difference which Zach argues depends on its subliminality, he may have erased that effect for anyone who has listened to this presentation or who reads this thesis; Zach suggests that, in action, the subliminality will take over again, that it’s possible to watch the play without consciously thinking about the ambiguities.

That’s it for Session 1 — We’ll be back at 1:30pm for Session 2, with five more MLitt candidates.

(Read more from Session 2 and Session 3).