Call Philostrate and/or Egeus

Working on the ASC Study Guide for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’ve had my first chance in a while to examine differences between Quarto and Folio versions of a text. Intern Kim Lenz prepared the Textual Variants section for the Hamlet study guide, and everything else I’ve worked on since the end of last season has been a text which only exists in the Folio. I knew that, looking at Midsummer, I wanted to find a Quarto/Folio variation, rather than looking at a choice made by modern editors. I found a great opportunity for exploration in 5.1, when Duke Theseus is debating who to select for the post-nuptial entertainment. In the Quarto edition of the text, Theseus reads off the list of potential entertainments and responds to himself. His servant Philostrate responds to the idea of watching the Mechanicals’ version of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe.’ In the Folio version of the text, however, Lysander reads off the list to Theseus, and Egeus attempts to dissuade him.

Quarto Version

Folio Version

What interested me about this isn’t just that the speech prefixes get reassigned — what I find particularly intriguing is that almost nothing else changes between the two versions. Throughout the conversation and the itemization of theatrical endeavors, most of the spellings and puncutation remain consistent between the editions. Even the least-orthodox of the spelling variations — “muſicke”, “Wee’l”, “tipſie”, “vſuall” — remain the same between the Quarto and the Folio. At Philostrate’s/Egeus’s speech beginning “A play there is,” inconsistencies begin to appear, but until that point, it looks as though whoever did the typesetting for the Folio copied the Quarto nearly identically — except for the prefixes.

The striking similarities in typesetting, despite the considerable change to the speech prefixes, really makes me wonder what the cause for that change was. Could this be an example of the Folio text reflecting a change to the play-as-produced? Somewhere between 1600 and 1623, did Shakespeare the author, or the King’s Men as a company, decide that the scene worked better as a dialogue between Lysander and Theseus? Did a new doubling mean that whoever played Philostrate in 1.1 could not be available for this section of text? This change seems too large and too deliberate to have been an error, since it involves not only reassigning speech prefixes but also breaking a monologue into a dialogue. There must have been a reason — but we’re not ever likely to find out what that reason was. This textual variant offers a tantalizing opportunity for speculation — just the sort of intellectual and imaginative experiment that makes working with early modern texts so intriguing.

Hamlet Study Guide now available

I am pleased and proud to announce that the Hamlet ASC Study Guide is now available for purchase online!Here is a ten-page preview, for your viewing enjoyment. This Study Guide covers the following:

  • Our Basics: getting students on their feet, giving them ownership of specific sections of text, exploring iambic pentameter and the rhythms of prose, discovering acting choices, paraphrasing, introductory level rhetoric, how to turn your classroom into an early modern stage, and the hidden guidance of embedded stage directions and audience contact
  • 15 questions your students will ask (Did Ophelia kill herself? Is Hamlet in love with his mother?) and how to deal with them.
  • Staging Challenges: Darkness — The opening scene of Hamlet is one of the best examples of how Shakespeare uses his staging conditions and the talents of his actors in order to set a mood. Your students will explore the information Shakespeare provides about how to “act darkness.”
  • Perspectives: Catching Consciences — Did early modern theatre improve the moral judgment of its audiences, or did it lead them into lives of sin? How did this viewpoint influence Hamlet’s attempt to learn Claudius’s guilt through The Mouse-trap? And how does media continue to influence behavior — or does it?
  • Staging Challenges: Heard and Overheard — Hamlet’s most famous monologue, “To be or not to be,” is not, as it often gets portrayed in media, a soliloquy. Ophelia, Claudius, and Polonius are all listening — but is Hamlet aware of that? Your students will explore the different opportunities presented by this scene and how those choices can affect the audience’s perception of Hamlet’s “antic disposition.”
  • Staging Challenges: Placed to the View — Hamlet ends in a bloodbath, so what do you do with all of those bodies left on stage? Your students will explore the staging of the play’s final moments, working through both the technical requirements and the emotional potential.
  • Rhetoric: Matter and Art — Polonius talks a lot, and how he says something is often as important as what he says. Your students will look in-depth at his use of two different rhetorical figures to examine what that can tell an actor about his character.
  • Textual Variants — Hamlet exists in several early modern editions, with notable variations between them. In this activity, your students will examine some differences between Quarto 1, the supposedly “bad” quarto, and the Folio-standard text.
  • Perspectives: Revenge Tragedies — Hamlet fits in with the popular early modern genre of the revenge tragedy, a tradition which gave the stage a number of bloody spectacles and philosophical quandries. Your students will explore Hamlet‘s similarities and differences to two other early modern revenge tragedies, The Spanish Tragedy and The Revenger’s Tragedy, looking at ghosts, poisoned skulls, and the on-stage presence of death.
  • Production Choices — How did Shakespeare’s company actually go through the process of putting on a play? How does the ASC negotiate those same challenges today? Your students will explore cutting a script, doubling, casting, and other technical aspects of production. This activity also includes instructions for producing a 1-hour version of the play in your classroom.

If you would like to purchase a downloadable PDF of the Hamlet Study Guide (or any of the others currently available), please visit our website. I’m plugging away at the guide for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I hope to have available soon!

Second Issue of The Playhouse Insider — Now on Sale!

I’m pleased to announce that the second issue of The Playhouse Insider is now available for purchase online. You can purchase access to the downloadable PDF or you can request a mail order print copy. Print copies will soon be available for purchase in our box office at the Blackfriars Playhouse as well.

Inside This Issue:

  • Introducing the Summer and Fall Seasons and the Almost Blasphemy Tour.
  • Nick Hutchison, director of our 2004 The Importance of Being Earnest, discusses the challenges and opportunities presented by producing an 1895 play on an early modern stage.
  • Ralph Alan Cohen, the ASC’s Director of Mission and director of this season’s Henry V, shares his thoughts about the play as Shakespeare’s essay on the theatre and imagination.
  • Touring actors Denice Burbach and Rick Blunt talk about the unique life they live on the road with the ASC on Tour.
  • Christina Sayer Grey examines the storytelling structure of Shakespeare’s romances, specifically the devices at work in The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale.
  • Eminent Marlovian scholar Roslyn Knutson discusses why Tamburlaine is her personal hero.
  • Teachers Kerry Kisa and Linda Nicholson share tales of what makes trips to the Blackfriars Playhouse such a transformative experience for their students.

I hope you enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at the Summer and Fall Seasons and the Almost Blasphemy Tour. I’ve already begun putting together the articles for our Winter-Spring issue, which will highlight the shows in the 2012 Actors’ Renaissance Season, and which will also check back in with the Tour in preparation for their Spring Season residence in the Blackfriars Playhouse.

Echoes and Ghosts

I had the good fortune last week to be able to watch a dress rehearsal for Henry V, which opens on the 16th. It got me thinking about the performance echoes that resonate in that building. I don’t mean the actual quality of the sound (although our wooden space is quite nice for that as well) — I mean the almost metaphysical residue of past performances, the ghosts floating along, superimposed over the present.

With our company, the echoes are always present in some form. It’s impossible not to encounter them, especially when you see all of the sixteen plays we present each year. The cast performs in ensemble and in repertory, the same actors in different plays not just in the same season, but often returning year-to-year. When you’ve seen them take on dozens of roles, there are always some funny quips or interesting comparisons to draw. Watching Henry V, however, there were two moments that struck me particularly hard. They seem to echo a bit louder than they might otherwise, thanks to the Rise and Fall of Kings series that the ASC has been producing for the past few years. The characters in Henry V exist not in isolation, but stretching back, into the Henry IVs, which we’ve produced in our Fall Seasons since 2008, and forward, into the Henry VIs, which have been part of our Actors’ Renaissance Seasons since 2009. This, I think, is the real benefit to doing the history cycles the way we’ve done them: the connections weave in and out of each other, creating a richer and more complex theatrical experience than seeing any one of those plays in isolation would be.

The first moment which pulled at those threads for me was almost at the very beginning of the play, in Henry’s first scene, when he enters and takes unquestioned command of his surroundings. His nobles fall in ranks behind him, and he sits in the throne with full and unwavering ownership of it. Gregory Jon Phelps plays Henry for us in this production, and this scene reminded me, immediately and strikingly, of watching him play Henry VI earlier this year, in Henry VI, Part 3 during our Actors’ Renaissance Season. The visual made for a striking contradiction: bold, assured, confident Henry V versus weak, uncertain, yielding Henry VI. Henry VI never seemed comfortable in his throne, never quite gave off that aura that he knew, in his marrow, that it was his. Henry V has no doubt. Even when he contemplates what it means to be a king, what burdens that means he has to bear, he doesn’t question what he is. There’s a grounded certainty to Henry V that his successor lacks. With Phelps playing both of those roles in the same year, they both, in a way, exist on stage at the same time. Trailing along beside Henry V is the faint shadow of his yet-unborn, but already-seen, son.

The other moment which I thought striking was Fluellen, played by James Keegan, in the following exchange:

FLUELLEN
I speak but in the figures and comparisons of it: as
Alexander killed his friend Cleitus, being in his
ales and his cups; so also Harry Monmouth, being in
his right wits and his good judgments, turned away
the fat knight with the great belly-doublet: he
was full of jests, and gipes, and knaveries, and
mocks; I have forgot his name.

GOWER
Sir John Falstaff.

FLUELLEN
That is he.

There’s something both sad and a little alarming there — because, of course, Keegan played Falstaff for us the past two years, in Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2, and in The Merry Wives of Windsor. The line “I have forgot his name” would be meaningful from any actor, at least for anyone who’s seen the Henry IV plays — because who could forget a character John Falstaff? But to have that line come from the mouth of the actor who played Falstaff, who laid down his stuffed doublet in the epilogue, saying, “This is not the man,” it’s somehow that much more poignant. It helps, too, that Gower is played by Allison Glenzer, who also plays Mistress Quickly (and has done in the earlier shows in this history cycle as well). The moment of vague remembrance here, towards the end of the play, recalls the earlier scene when Quickly, Pistol, Nim, Bardolph, and the Boy mourn Falstaff, weeping and laughing and telling tales. Falstaff’s ghost hovers more prominently than does Henry VI’s, because Shakespeare wrote the awareness of his death into the play — but Keegan as Fluellen augments that memento mori tremendously.

These intangible connections between shows are part of why I always hope that students will come to see us not just for one play, but over and over again — I think if they can watch the ghosts, as I do, and see the same actors doing something completely different, they’ll realize more fully how the magic of theatre lies not solely in the text, flat on the page, but in those words given life by the relationship created by an actor’s skill and an audience’s attention.