Blackfriars Conference 2011- Plenary Session III

Hi, I’m Deb Streusand, and I’ll be liveblogging Plenary Session III from 9 am to 10:15 am.

“Lie there, Religion”: Implications of the Vestment Controversy on the Early Modern English Stage
Margaret Rose Jaster, Pennsylvania State University Harrisburg

Jaster argues that one of the lasting effects of the Vestment Controversy might have been satirical treatment of Roman Catholic clergy on stage. She suggests that vestments served as a metonymic device for all things Roman Catholic, and that the cultural event we refer to as the Vestment Controversy did affect the early English stage. Vestments were regarded as “indifferent,” that is, not necessary to the honor and glory of God. The reformers despised the vestments as symbolic of excess, and wanted to return to a more pristine spiritual institution, free of such trappings. On stage, whoever dons the Roman Catholic vestments appears as a Roman Catholic cleric to the audience, even in the case of characters who are in disguise. In the anonymous play Look About You, the scoundrel Skink disguises himself as a monk in order to con the other characters. In Measure for Measure, Duke Vincentio dons religious garb for his own ends, but, scandalously, he actually confesses Mariana in the process. If the portrayal of characters in clerical garb was always satirical, it is possible that the Roman Catholics in the audience might have been horrified or indignant. If both reformers and Catholics considered vestments indifferent, however, and the characters misusing the vestments were not Roman Catholic at all, as in the case of disguise, the contention that vestments were used this way is not so controversial.

“The mirror of all Christian kings”: Choral Medievalism in the Henry V Folio
Christina Gutierrez, The University of Texas at Austin

Gutierrez argues that Shakespeare can be regarded as one of the most recognizable writers of medieval history. As a historical account, Henry V‘s double vision of its central character destabilizes audience perception of this historical period. She reads the play in the light of current medieval historiography and analyzes contemporary stagings of the play. She cites Umberto Eco’s argument that the Middle Ages have never ended in the popular imagination, arguing that “Medievalism constructs the Middle Ages to suit post-medieval values, concerns, and effects.” The play can be used to stage tensions between the historical past and the present moment. She cites the Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh movie versions, drawing a contrast between their respective treatments of Henry and of the Middle Ages. This ambiguity about how we should view Henry and his historical period comes from the text itself, particularly in the differences between how the Chorus describes Henry and how he is portrayed in person. The Chorus exists to provide a contrast to the Henry that the audience sees. In the 1600 Quarto, the choral passages do not appear. Scholars debate the reason for this absence-had they not been written yet, or were they redacted for political reasons? The Quarto’s portrayal of Henry is unambiguously heroic. Shakespeare may have meant this to be an image of Elizabeth I. Gutierrez discusses the productions of Charles Kemble and William Macready, who respectively cut and restored the Chorus. She argues that Macready’s restoration of the Chorus allowed the play to live in the gaps of time between the historical period being portrayed, Shakespeare’s time, and the time of the production. More recent productions have set the play in various modern conflicts, whether to promote patriotism or portray the folly of war. The play’s double presentation of its central character represents the duality of our view of the Middle Ages, allowing directors to make a choice as to how they will stage Henry and the play’s approach to war.

Linden Kueck performs as the Chorus in Henry V for this presentation. A.J. Sclafani performs as Henry.

Making Malapropism: Reconsidering Mistress Quickly
Emily Sloan-Pace, University of California, Santa Cruz

Sloan-Pace points out that Mistress Quickly is often read solely for her malapropisms and is not considered relevant enough to the Falstaff plot or to the play’s historical project to be worthy of much more analysis. She argues that in this typically upper-class genre, Quickly offers an alternative voice, representing the middle class and a female with linguistic agency in a play dominated by the masculine and martial. Quickly is distinct for her control over the economy of her alehouse and her body. In 2 Henry IV, she becomes a developed character outside of her relationship to Falstaff and the other tavern characters. The characters outside of the tavern allow her agency by providing her with positive acknowledgement. Aside from Falstaff, men seem to respect Quickly, but in his company she is subjected to a constant barrage of slurs. Editors have allowed this barrage to color their view of Mistress Quickly. Yet the Lord Chief Justice, for example, immediately accepts Quickly’s claims over those of Falstaff, implying that the men in power respect her. The Justice’s refusal to view her sexually leads Falstaff to admit his debt, giving Quickly the power and thereby placing her in the masculine role in this sexual exchange. Reading this scene in a non-malapropistic way provides a new view of this character as a respected figure who can employ language to her own ends.

How to Shrew
Joe Ricke, Taylor University and Hungry Shakespeare

Ricke begins his presentation in the character of Stephanie Stern, Tiffany Stern’s fictional younger sister, illustrating the ways in which we view the concept of “shrewing.” In his own person, he argues that the short answer to “how to shrew” is not “you’re beaten to a bloody pulp,” but that you are loud and argumentative, being tried as a shrew after an accusation made by a specific man or men. In a shrew play, the shrew must defend herself against the audience and her male accuser. Although some critics argue that Shakespeare’s shrew must be viewed in the light of contemporary concerns about shrewish women, we should consider his approach to the shrew in terms of the tradition of staged shrews in other shrew plays rather than viewing it as an anomaly of cultural hysteria. In Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare uses one of the most popular contemporary ways of talking about the battle of the sexes. In these plays, shrews are on display as shrews because of the characters who accuse them. They then defend themselves in dialogue. The ubiquity of the shrew plays challenges any simplistic view of the Early Modern perspective on shrewish women because of the plays’ allowance for dialogue and self-defense. We must also take into account the shrew’s characterization of the men around her as lazy and not contributing to the household economy, which further complicates any argument that the plays unequivocally portray the shrews in a negative light. “Saintly shrews” in the mystery plays turn out to be on the side of righteousness. In Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare portrays his own saintly shrew in the person of Paulina, showing that shrews can do good work by protecting others and themselves.

Kim Maurice portrays Kate in this presentation. A.J. Sclafani performs Petruchio. Maurice portrays Paulina and Sclafani Leontes in Winter’s Tale. These two actors also play scenes from an earlier shrew play concerning Noah and from Peele’s The Old Wives’ Tale.

Competing Heights in As You Like It
Jemma Alix Levy, Muse of Fire Theater Company

Levy lays out the textual contradiction between the descriptions of Rosalind’s and Celia’s heights in two different scenes, and reminds us that in production Rosalind is usually portrayed as taller. Editors and directors seem to have reached the consensus to that Le Beau’s statement that Celia is taller is a mistake. Levy discusses the performance potential of leaving this contradiction intact. What if Le Beau is referring to their current physical positions, or following the Duke’s requirement that he see Celia as taller? Levy argues that the explanation with the greatest potential in performance is that the two women may be so close in height that each appears taller at different times. Staging their heights in this way draws attention to the competitive aspects of Rosalind and Celia’s relationship. Competition is a theme throughout the play, but the competition between Rosalind and Celia is limited to the time when they are both presenting as female. While at Frederick’s court, they continually one-up one another. Since Rosalind is the speaker who describes herself as taller, while Le Beau is speaking in public in the court, the shift in height may reflect a shift in perspective rather than a mistake. By insisting she is taller, Rosalind earns the right to become male while they are in disguise, preventing comparison to her cousin for that period, which allows her to become a unique individual, an initiator rather than an onlooker. In the forest, they compete only when alone or with Touchstone, as in their conversation about Orlando’s poems, but this scene is interrupted, suggesting that it is no longer important who would have won. The cousins have changed in the forest, and the play replaces the language of competition with the language of equality. Now that the women have truly separated from each other, they seem prepared to embrace their equality. Levy argues that staging this contrast, rather than regarding it as a mistake, illuminates the characters and their relationship.

Linden Kueck and Charlene Smith portrayed a taller Rosalind and a shorter Celia. Smith and Kim Maurice portrayed a Rosalind and Celia of indistinguishable heights.

The presentations finish promptly and we have time for questions.

A questioner describes Quickly and Mistress Overdone as shrews of a sort, and wonders whether Overdone has agency in a fashion similar to Quickly. Sloan-Pace suggests that Mistress Overdone is portrayed more exclusively as a madam, but that men may also show her respect in a manner similar to how the men outside the tavern world treat Quickly. Ricke discusses these women as shrews in terms of the ubiquity of shrew plays and their portrayal of female agency.

The next questioner asks whether women were becoming more of an economic force in England at this time. Ricke replies that there is a dialogue about women’s struggle to gain the upper hand, as portrayed in contemporary ballads. The female character is given the opportunity to voice opposition in the dramatic tradition.

The next questioner asks Jaster about the representations of authentic churchmen on stage, as opposed to characters in disguise. Jaster thinks that even when the characters are supposed to be clerics, the authors are still being satirical, as in the portrayal of Canterbury at the opening of Henry V. The cultural moment provided too good an opportunity for satire for the playwrights not to have taken advantage of it, she argues. In Look About You, Skink explicitly identifies his clerical disguise with religion itself, addressing the words “lie there, religion” to his clerical cloak.

The next questioner asks Sloan-Pace about the relationship between malapropisms and justice scenes, as in Much Ado About Nothing. Sloan-Pace points out that in these cases it is the character of lowest class who is able to discover the truth.

The final questioner discusses the first OED definition of shrew, which applies to men. Petruchio is said to be almost as shrewish as Kate is, so the issue of shrewishness and gender is much more complicated than the exclusive assignment of that identity to women. Ricke discusses the English dramatic tradition of shrewish characters and related name-calling, where “shrew” is often used to refer to men, especially in the earlier plays. This word, he asserts, tells us as much about the person who’s saying it as about the person described.

Holly Pickett of Washington and Lee University moderates this session.