Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session II

Hi! I’m Julia, I’ll be liveblogging Plenary Session II from 3:15 to 4:45.

Moderator: Hank Dobin, Washington and Lee University

Time to Play
Steven Urkowitz, University of Southern Maine

Urkowitz discussed the duration of performances in Early Modern Theater. Some scholars have tried to argue that all performances adhered strictly to the “two hours traffic of our stage,” even though some early modern plays are a good deal longer than others. He mentioned that a performance of a play would include music before and dancing after, so that even if a performance was expected to be more or less the same duration, the other entertainments could be shortened or lenghthened to accomodate the difference. He also discussed script cutting as a possibility raised by scholars such as Andrew Gurr, but Urkowitz dismisses the arguments that script cutting was necessary.

The Bookend Project:
Transforming Shakespeare’s Revenge Play from Violence to Virtue in Titus Andronicus and The Tempest

Tara Bradway, St. John’s University

Bradway, artistic director of the Adirondack Shakespeare Company, discussed one interesting comparison she and her performers discovered when the same actress played Lavinia and Caliban. Early in Titus Andronicus, Lavinia fails to play within the form of the iambic pentameter line, but later in the play she breaks out of the pattern, uses initial trochees and lines witn 9 or 11 syllables, and in so doing struggles for greater agency within her own life. Caliban also uses an irregular verse pattern to assert his agency within is position of servitude. Both characters are also marked by sexual violence, and both become more eloquent through silence. Miriam Donald performed as Lavinia, Benjamin Curns as Caliban, and James Keegan as Prospero.

Laughter in Time and Space
Casey Caldwell, Mary Baldwin College

Caldwell brought together two ongoing scholarly discussions (the study of laughter in Shakespeare, and the study of sound in Shakespeare) to point out that neither discussion integrates laughter as a sound. He goes on to point out that the Blackfriars’ status as an Early Modern reconstruction gives us a tension when we come into it bringing our own time period, as there is a tension between our time and the time to which the Blackfriars belongs. Laughter is a way of imposing our own imminence onto our surroundings, but we are not laughing at the space. In the same way, a sleeping Bottom (performed by Benjamin Curns) awakes from his dream and chooses to remain imminent by re-formating his perception of his experience and using it to commission a work of art.

Remember the Porter:
Knock-Knock Jokes, Tragedy, and Other Unfunny Things

Chris Barrett, Harvard University

Barrett discussed the Porter’s scene as an extended knock-knock joke; the first, she says, in the English language. The porter, as the keeper of the threshold, has no trouble playing both the host and the interrupter in the joke. A knock-knock joke has a formula that suggests not only fear, but a disruption of the rules of hospitality: the guest is an uncouth interrupter and the joke is always on the host. Implied is a laughing forgiveness for the transgression — thus pity and fear are integral to the knock-knock joke and also, as it happens, to tragedy.

Performing Verse/Prose Transitions
James Loehlin, The University of Texas at Austin

Loehlin presented several instances of transitions between verse and prose in Shakespeare, using examples from Hamlet and As You Like It, performed by Shakespeare at Winedale actors Isto Barton, Sonia Desai, and Kelsi Tyler. He demonstrated that when a character switches from verse to prose, the other characters onstage have an opportunity to confirm or deny that transformation. He also discussed lines within prose scenes that sound and scan like verse, and concluded that characters can manipulate verse/prose transitions to rhetorical effect.