Shakespearean March Madness 2012: Meet the Competitors

Welcome back to another year of Shakespearean March Madness, a no-holds-barred, anything-goes contest for supreme domination of the Complete Works. What matters more, brain or brawn? Guile and cunning or rallying armies? Might or magic? You get to decide — and at the end of the month, we will crown the 2012 Champion.

On this, the last (and bonus) day of February, I’d like to take a few minutes to introduce you to this year’s competitors. Thanks to everyone who made nominations — your input has definitely changed the line-up from 2011. I think we’re in for some exciting matches!

1. Aaron (Titus Andronicus)
Also Known As: the Moor
Weapon of Choice: scimitar, psychological warfare
Bio: A man of the south who somehow ended up in Scythia, Aaron keeps company with Tamora, Queen of the Goths. His list of evil deeds is long, and he proudly boasts of it. There seems to be literally nothing he won’t stoop to perform, including stabbing nursemaids and convincing his lover’s sons to commit rape, dismemberment, and murder.
Quote: “Even now I curse the day—and yet, I think,
Few come within the compass of my curse,—
Wherein I did not some notorious ill,
As kill a man, or else devise his death,
Ravish a maid, or plot the way to do it,
Accuse some innocent and forswear myself,
Set deadly enmity between two friends,
Make poor men’s cattle break their necks;
Set fire on barns and hay-stacks in the night,
And bid the owners quench them with their tears.
Oft have I digg’d up dead men from their graves,
And set them upright at their dear friends’ doors,
Even when their sorrows almost were forgot;
And on their skins, as on the bark of trees,
Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,
‘Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead.’
Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.”

2. Beatrice (Much Ado about Nothing)
Also Known As: “this harpy” (epithet courtesy of Benedick)
Weapon of Choice: wit
Bio: A witty and warm-spirited lady of Messina, Beatrice’s clever wordplay and merriness cover hidden depths. Benedick accuses her of being “possessed with a fury,” and when Claudio dishonors her cousin Hero, Beatrice demonstrates a capacity for boundless rage. Beatrice’s words are sharp enough — “She speaks poniards, and every word stabs” — but proper provocation might turn her into a real contender.
Quote: “Is he not approved in the height a villain, that hath slandered, scorned, dishonoured my kinswoman? O that I were a man! What, bear her in hand until they come to take hands; and then, with public accusation, uncovered slander, unmitigated rancour, –O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market-place.”

3. Cassius (Julius Caesar)
(Sponsored by Alexi Sargeant)
Also Known As:
Weapon of Choice: cunning language, Roman legions
Bio: A political discontent with “a lean and hungry look”, Caius Cassius Longinus unsettles even the great Julius Caesar. Cassius’s actions lead to the most famous assassination of all time and up-end the Roman Republic. A capable general in his own right, with a canny awareness of the political scene, Cassius might have won the war against Antony and Octavian if not for his colleague Brutus’s missteps. This man, bold, nigh-fearless, and secure in his convictions, is not an opponent to take lightly.
Quote: “For my part, I have walk’d about the streets,
Submitting me unto the perilous night,
And, thus unbraced, Casca, as you see,
Have bared my bosom to the thunder-stone;
And when the cross blue lightning seem’d to open
The breast of heaven, I did present myself
Even in the aim and very flash of it.”

4. Cordelia (King Lear)
(Sponsored by Alexi Sargeant)
Also Known As: the third daughter, Queen of France
Weapon of Choice: honesty, virtue, French armies
Bio: Best known for her failure to flatter her father, Cordelia may not be much of a diplomat, but that doesn’t stop her from taking the field against her own sisters, leading the armies of France to battle. Courageous in her convictions, Cordelia will go to any length to rescue her father from the usurpation of her sisters.
Quote: “Our preparation stands
In expectation of them. O dear father,
It is thy business that I go about.
Therefore great France
My mourning and important tears hath pitied.
No blown ambition doth our arms incite,
But love, dear love, and our ag’d father’s right.”

5. Coriolanus (Coriolanus)
Also Known As: Caius Martius, “thou Mars”
Weapon of Choice: Roman legions
Bio: Coriolanus begins his career as a celebrated hero-general of the Roman armies, but he can’t play the political game as well as he can manage the battlefield. When the fickle city turn against him, his quest turns to one of vengeance that puts all of Rome in fear. He allies with his former enemy, Aufidius of the Volscians, and the Roman senate thereafter speaks of his unstoppable power and military prowess, fearing his retribution as they would a god’s.
Quote: “All the contagion of the south light on you,
You shames of Rome! you herd of—Boils and plagues
Plaster you o’er, that you may be abhorr’d
Further than seen and one infect another
Against the wind a mile! You souls of geese,
That bear the shapes of men, how have you run
From slaves that apes would beat! Pluto and hell!
All hurt behind; backs red, and faces pale
With flight and agued fear! Mend and charge home,
Or, by the fires of heaven, I’ll leave the foe
And make my wars on you”

6. Doll Tearsheet (Henry IV, Part 2)
Also Known As: Mistress Dorothy
Weapon of Choice: knife
Bio: A wench of the Boar’s Head, Doll has been through more than her fair share of barfights and has had to chase off unwelcome customers. Scrappy and uncowed by the soldiers and mercenaries who frequent Mistress Quickly’s establishment (or by the local sheriff), Doll can curse, cavort, and cudgel with the best of them.
Quote: “Away, you cut-purse rascal! you filthy bung, away! By wine, I’ll thrust my knife in your mouldy chaps, an you play saucy cuttle with me. Away, you bottle-ale rascal! you basket-hilt stale juggler, you!”

7. Duke of Cornwall (King Lear)
(Sponsored by Jason Dempsey)
Weapon of Choice: dagger, sword
Bio: An ambitious man, Cornwall acts quickly to support his wife Regan’s bid for power. A swift, no-nonsense decision maker, Cornwall throws Kent in the stocks for insulting him, then later puts out the Duke of Gloucester’s eyes as retribution for taking King Lear’s side. Merciless, bloodthirsty, and power-hungry, Cornwall has no shame in bloodying his own hands to further his goals.
Quote: “Out, vile jelly!
Where is thy lustre now?”

8. Duke of York (Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3)
(Sponsored by Alexi Sargeant)
Also Known As: Richard Plantagenet, earlier the Duke of Gloucester
Weapon of Choice: sword, armies, the House of York
Bio: The man at the center of the Wars of the Roses, the Duke of York challenges Henry VI for the throne. After serving in France and trying desperately to hold onto England’s possessions there, and then serving as Protector of the Realm during Henry’s bouts of madness, York decides he can manage affairs better than the weak king. His conflict with the Lancasters defined decades of English history, and though he never wore the crown he craved, his actions set the stage for his sons to establish a new (if short-lived) dynasty.
Quote: “From Ireland thus comes York to claim his right,
And pluck the crown from feeble Henry’s head:
Ring, bells, aloud; burn, bonfires, clear and bright,
To entertain great England’s lawful king.
Ah! sancta majestas, who would not buy thee dear?
Let them obey that know not how to rule;
This hand was made to handle naught but gold.
I cannot give due action to my words,
Except a sword or sceptre balance it:
A sceptre shall it have, have I a soul,
On which I’ll toss the flower-de-luce of France.”

9. Guiderius (Cymbeline)
(Sponsored by Jennifer Jones)
Also Known As: Polydore
Weapon of Choice:
Bio: The son of Cymbeline and thus a rightful prince of England, Guiderius was stolen as an infant by a banished courtier, and has been raised, along with his brother, in secrecy, under the name Polydore. A mountain man with a royal heart, Guiderius is responsible for killing and beheading the evil Cloten. Rough around the edges, Guiderius matches his noble spirit with powerful physical might, a quick temper, and an utter lack of pity for his enemies. Even when facing execution for killing Cloten, he stands bold and resolute, proudly proclaiming his deed as right and just.
Quote: “To who? to thee? What art thou? Have not I
An arm as big as thine? a heart as big?
Thy words, I grant, are bigger, for I wear not
My dagger in my mouth. Say what thou art,
Why I should yield to thee?”

10. Henry V (Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2; Henry V)
Also Known As: Prince Hal
Weapon of Choice: broadsword, inspirational speeches
Bio: The royal rebel, Henry begins as a dissolute prince whose “reformation, glitt’ring o’er” his faults turns him into one of England’s most celebrated monarchs. He becomes a valiant warrior at a young age, assisting his father in throwing down rebellions. He also knows how to use language to stir the hearts of other men, inspiring acts of valor even in the face of despair. He leads his army to victory at the famous Battle of Agincourt, using tactical skill and sheer willpower to overcome formidable odds. Last year, Henry made it to the finals. How will he fare in 2012?
Quote: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood […]
On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. […]
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'”

11. Hotspur
(Sponsored by Colin O’Grady)
Also Known As: Harry Percy
Weapon of Choice: broadsword
Bio: Son to the Earl of Northumberland, Hotspur’s battle prowess is such that it makes King Henry IV wish that “it could be proved that some night-tripping fairy had exchanged in cradle-clothes our children where they lay.” He defeats many noble Scots in battle and takes them prisoner, then later thumbs his nose at the Welsh prince Glendower. Hotspur is bellicose by nature, never at ease, ever-restless, and with the skill on the battlefield to support his warlike desires. The foil to Prince Hal, Hotspur demonstrates intense focus, military acumen, and a fiery hunger for victory.
Quote: “I thank him, that he cuts me from my tale,
For I profess not talking; only this—
Let each man do his best: and here draw I
A sword, whose temper I intend to stain
With the best blood that I can meet withal
In the adventure of this perilous day.
Now, Esperance! Percy! and set on.
Sound all the lofty instruments of war,
And by that music let us all embrace;
For, heaven to earth, some of us never shall
A second time do such a courtesy.”

12. Iago (Othello)
Also Known As: ancient Iago, honest Iago
Weapon of Choice: rumors, dagger
Bio: His nature forged by jealousy and malevolence, for Iago, nothing will do but the complete annihilation of those he sees responsible for his frustrations. He demonstrates no remorse for his deeds, and no care for any innocents swept up in his plots. Iago crafts his words to make Othello believe his wife has betrayed him and to spur Cassio into engaging in a drunken brawl. When his wife exposes his crimes, he murders her without a flinch. Last year, Iago made it to the Elite 8 — Will he advance farther this year?
Quote: “Divinity of hell!
When devils will the blackest sins put on,
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows,
As I do now: for whiles this honest fool
Plies Desdemona to repair his fortunes
And she for him pleads strongly to the Moor,
I’ll pour this pestilence into his ear,
That she repeals him for her body’s lust;
And by how much she strives to do him good,
She shall undo her credit with the Moor.
So will I turn her virtue into pitch,
And out of her own goodness make the net
That shall enmesh them all.”

13. Jack Cade (Henry VI, Part 2)
Also Known As: John Mortimer
Weapon of Choice: violent mobs
Bio: Set up by the Yorkists to make trouble for the Lancasters, Jack Cade swiftly sparks revolts in England that threaten to unseat civil order entirely. On a platform of anti-intellectualism and alcoholism, Cade promises the poor of England power over their elite rulers. The fury he incites leads to multiple stabbings, beheadings, and beatings throughout Kent. What’s more, Cade has endurance; his sponsor the Duke of York says of him, “I seen this stubborn Cade oppose himself against a troop of kerns, and fought so long, till that his thighs with darts were almost like a sharp-quill’d porpentine.” This black horse could prove a powerful spoiler for many of our heavyweights.
Quote: “The proudest peer in the realm shall not wear a head on his shoulders, unless he pay me tribute; there shall not a maid be married, but she shall pay to me her maidenhead ere they have it: men shall hold of me in capite; and we charge and command that their wives be as free as heart can wish or tongue can tell.”

14. Jack Falstaff (Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2; The Merry Wives of Windsor)
Also Known As: Sir John
Weapon of Choice: sack and sherry
Bio: A notable coward who nonetheless makes it safe through several wars, Falstaff’s tactics are more of avoidance and petty crime than of might or valor. He commits literal highway robbery only to be re-robbed by Prince Hall, avoids battle whenever possible, fills the ranks of his army with degenerates and diseased men, fakes his own death then tries to claim credit for the slaying of Hostpur — and yet he always comes through in the end, with a certain cunning instinct for self-preservation. Can Falstaff buy, bribe, and bully his way through Shakespearean March Madness?
Quote: “Well, ’tis no matter; honour pricks me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off when I come on? how then? Can honour set to a leg? no: or an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? he that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no. Doth he hear it? no. ‘Tis insensible, then. Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so ends my catechism.”

15. Katharina Minola (The Taming of the Shrew)
Also Known As: Kate, “plain Kate, bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst”
Weapon of Choice: household objects, an open palm
Bio: Constantly overlooked in favor of her younger sister, Kate has had a lot of time to build up a lot of rage. She’s not afraid to strike those who displease her, whether her sister or her suitor, and she once broke a lute over a man’s head, causing the hapless would-be instructor to suggest that she might make a good soldier. Feisty and fearless, Kate is undaunted by the world’s disdain and will come out with fists flying.
Quote: “I’ faith, sir, you shall never need to fear;
Iwis it is not halfway to her heart;
But if it were, doubt not her care should be
To comb your noddle with a three-legg’d stool,
And paint your face, and use you like a fool.”

16. Lady Macbeth (Macbeth)
Also Known As: Queen of Scotland
Weapon of Choice: drug-laced possets, possible demonic intervention
Bio: Married to a Scottish thane, Lady Macbeth has high ambitions. She engineers the assassination of King Duncan after inviting evil spirits to remove all womanly tenderness from her body. When Macbeth fails to leave the murder weapons, Lady Macbeth takes them back herself so that she can “smear the sleepy grooms with blood” to implicate them. Lady Macbeth suppresses compassion, gentleness, femininity, and weakness, all in the name of working her and her husband’s way to the crown. Lady M was another Elite 8 contender last year; will her ruthless cunning advance her further in 2012?
Quote: “When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And, to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both:
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.”

17. Macbeth (Macbeth)
Also Known As: the Thane of Glamis, the Thane of Cawdor, King of Scotland
Weapon of Choice: daggers, broadsword
Bio: Initially one of King Duncan’s trusted thanes and a hero of battle, Macbeth, consumed by a prophecy that he will be king, murders Duncan in his sleep. Macbeth then goes on to engage in wholesale slaughter of anyone and everyone that might be a threat to his reign, including his friend Banquo and the wife and children of the mistrusted Macduff. He thus earns a reputation as “bloody, luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful, sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin that has a name.” Ambitious and bloodthirsty, Macbeth continues fighting even when the odds and fates turn against him. Like his wife, Macbeth made it to the Elite 8 in 2011; will he murder his way to the top this year?
Quote: “I will to-morrow,
And betimes I will, to the weird sisters:
More shall they speak; for now I am bent to know,
By the worst means, the worst. For mine own good,
All causes shall give way: I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er:
Strange things I have in head, that will to hand;
Which must be acted ere they may be scann’d.”

18. Marcus Antonius (Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra)
Also Known As: Antony, Antonio
Weapon of Choice: Roman army, Egyptian navy, rhetoric
Bio: Protege to murdered Caesar, Mark Antony describes himself as “a plain blunt man,” though Cassius calls him “a shrewd contriver.” Cassius, fearing his power, wants him dead along with Caesar. Following Caesar’s death, Antony first stirs the common people against Brutus and Cassius and then defeats their powers at Philippi. Though he later worries that his love for Cleopatra may have unmanned him, with one of his officers stating that “those his goodly eyes, that o’er the files and musters of the war have glow’d like plated Mars, now bend, now turn,” Antony nonetheless takes on Octavius’s forces with the courage of a true Roman.
Quote: “I will be treble-sinew’d, hearted, breathed,
And fight maliciously: for when mine hours
Were nice and lucky, men did ransom lives
Of me for jests; but now I’ll set my teeth,
And send to darkness all that stop me.”

19. Oberon (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Also Known As: King of the Fairies, King of Shadows
Weapon of Choice: magic, charmed flowers
Bio: King of the Fairies, Oberon possesses mystical powers in abundance. When he argues with his queen, their conflict affects the weather, upending the seasons and destroying crops. He controls the mischievous Puck and directs his actions, and his actions against Titania demonstrate that once his ire is raised, no deception is too low for his revenge.
Quote: “What thou seest when thou dost wake,
Do it for thy true-love take,
Love and languish for his sake:
Be it ounce, or cat, or bear,
Pard, or boar with bristled hair,
In thy eye that shall appear
When thou wakest, it is thy dear:
Wake when some vile thing is near.”

20. Othello (Othello)
Also Known As: The Moor of Venice
Weapon of Choice: sword, pillow
Bio: An accomplished and capable general, Othello wins the trust of the Duke of Venice so wholly that the Duke sends him against the Ottomans to defend the island of Cyprus. Othello feels secure in the good opinion of the Duke and his advisers, having earned a powerful and noble reputation for himself. Othello’s weakness is in a jealous temper, which causes him to lash out violently; when this thread is plucked, Othello becomes hot, intemperate, and murderous.
Quote: “Her father loved me; oft invited me;
Still question’d me the story of my life,
From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes,
That I have passed.
I ran it through, even from my boyish days,
To the very moment that he bade me tell it;
Wherein I spake of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field
Of hair-breadth scapes i’ the imminent deadly breach,
Of being taken by the insolent foe
And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence
And portance in my travels’ history:
Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,
Rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven
It was my hint to speak, — such was the process.”

21. Paulina (The Winter’s Tale)
(Sponsored by Alexi Sargeant)
Weapon of Choice: sterling willpower, eloquent words
Bio: A noble lady and attendant to Queen Hermione, Paulina is nonetheless tough as nails and fearless for her own safety. When King Leontes goes mad with jealousy, she risks her own life to try and save her queen and the queen’s infant daughter. She defies threats of torture and presses her case when everyone else in the court shrinks back from challenging their king. With an iron will and a rapier tongue, Paulina demonstrates that bravery and valor don’t only occur on the battlefield.
Quote: “It is an heretic that makes the fire,
Not she which burns in’t. I’ll not call you tyrant;
But this most cruel usage of your queen,
Not able to produce more accusation
Than your own weak-hinged fancy, something savours
Of tyranny and will ignoble make you,
Yea, scandalous to the world.”

22. Philip the Bastard (King John)
(Sponsored by Alexi Sargeant and Tim)
Also Known As: Philip Faulconbridge, Richard Plantagenet
Weapon of Choice:
Bio: The illegitimate son of Richard Lionheart, Philip the Bastard marries a quick wit with a strong arm. When he learns of his misbegotten royal heritage, he immediately takes up with his uncle John against the French-supported claim of Arthur and Constance. The Bastard demonstrates both political cunning and military prowess, beheading the Duke of Austria in revenge for his father’s death and leading the English armies against Philip of France, making a far stronger showing than King John himself. A rare non-villainous illegitimate son, the Bastard also serves as a roundabout moral compass for the play, musing that England does more damage to herself with internal strife than any foreign enemy ever does to her.
Quote: “Ha, majesty! how high thy glory towers,
When the rich blood of kings is set on fire!
O, now doth Death line his dead chaps with steel;
The swords of soldiers are his teeth, his fangs;
And now he feasts, mousing the flesh of men,
In undetermined differences of kings.
Why stand these royal fronts amazed thus?
Cry, ‘havoc!’ kings; back to the stained field,
You equal potents, fiery kindled spirits!
Then let confusion of one part confirm
The other’s peace: till then, blows, blood and death!”

23. Prospero (The Tempest)
Also Known As: the former Duke of Milan, Master to Ariel and Caliban
Weapon of Choice: magic (learned from books)
Bio: Exiled by his own brother, Prospero has had thirteen years on an island to hone his magical talents, and now he commands great and terrible elemental powers. With the help of the spirit Ariel, he can summon great storms, bewitch minds, and inflict pain; he also employs elves, goblins, and other spirits to do lesser tasks for him. His tempest creates “wild waters” and a sky that “would pour down stinking pitch, but that the sea, mounting to the welkin’s cheek, dashes the fire out” — but his control is great enough to bring the ships only to danger, not to destruction, as he wills. Prospero’s magic got him to the Elite 8 last year, against considerable odds — will his luck hold in 2012?
Quote: “Go charge my goblins that they grind their joints
With dry convulsions, shorten up their sinews
With aged cramps, and more pinch-spotted make them
Than pard or cat o’ mountain. […]
Let them be hunted soundly. At this hour
Lie at my mercy all mine enemies:
Shortly shall all my labours end, and thou
Shalt have the air at freedom: for a little
Follow, and do me service.”

24. Queen Margaret (Henry VI, Parts 1-3; Richard III)
Also Known As: Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England, “she-wolf of France,” “tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide”
Weapon of Choice: English armies, womanly wiles, curses
Bio: Married young to King Henry VI, Queen Margaret quickly despairs of her husband’s weakness and grasps the reins of power for herself. When the Wars of the Roses start, Margaret herself leads the Lancastrian armies to victory. Her fury grows when Henry VI disinherits their son to appease the Yorkists, and she wages war without his consent. She taunts the fallen Duke of York with a handkerchief dipped in his own son’s blood and gives him a paper crown before helping Clifford stab him to death. When the Yorkists gain the throne, Margaret lingers on, cursing them with misery and destruction — all prophetic invectives which come to pass. Margaret is a force of nature, fierce in defending her interests, brimming with bitterness, willing to throw off her woman’s role and assume power for herself. Can last year’s reigning champion defend her crown?
Quote: “I prithee, grieve, to make me merry, York.
What, hath thy fiery heart so parch’d thine entrails
That not a tear can fall for Rutland’s death?
Why art thou patient, man? thou shouldst be mad;
And I, to make thee mad, do mock thee thus.
Stamp, rave, and fret, that I may sing and dance.”

25. Richard II (Richard II)
(Sponsored by the good folk at Pursued by a Bear)
Weapon of Choice: monologues, English armies
Bio: Often dismissed as a weak king, there’s more to Richard II than meets the eye. Crowned at a young age, Richard demonstrated courage and determination in his youth and grew into an absolutist monarch. Analytical by nature and keenly intelligent, Richard stands solidly for his beliefs, and he makes his usurper dance a merry dance before he can claim the throne. Securely cloaked in the Divine Right of Kings, Richard believes that his power and his actions are ordained by God.
Quote: “Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm off from an anointed king;
The breath of worldly men cannot depose
The deputy elected by the Lord:
For every man that Bolingbroke hath press’d
To lift shrewd steel against our golden crown,
God for his Richard hath in heavenly pay
A glorious angel: then, if angels fight,
Weak men must fall, for heaven still guards the right.”

26. Richard III (Henry VI, Parts 2-3; Richard III)
Also Known As: Duke of Gloucester, Dick Crookback, misshapen Dick, “Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog”
Weapon of Choice: sword, daggers, barrels of wine
Bio: Born misshapen and deformed, Richard declares that “since I cannot prove a lover… I am determined to prove a villain.” He shows himself vicious and brutal in war, cunning and malicious in peace, stirring up rumors so that his enemies turn on each other, and not hesitating to betray those who have supported him in the past. Though he assists his brother to victory in the Wars of the Roses, Richard always keeps his eye on the prize for himself. He hires murderers to kill his brother Clarence, usurps the throne of his nephew, young King Edward V, then has Edward and his brother killed, murders the relatives of Queen Elizabeth, poisons his wife so he can marry another, and executes his erstwhile friend Buckingham. Last year, Richard made it to the Final Four but lost to his eternal rival, Queen Margaret. Will his fortunes be better this year?
Quote: “Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,
And cry ‘Content’ to that which grieves my heart,
And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,
And frame my face to all occasions.
I’ll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall;
I’ll slay more gazers than the basilisk;
I’ll play the orator as well as Nestor,
Deceive more slily than Ulysses could,
And, like a Sinon, take another Troy.
I can add colours to the chameleon,
Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,
And set the murderous Machiavel to school.
Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?
Tut, were it farther off, I’ll pluck it down.”

27. Shylock (The Merchant of Venice)
Also Known As: the Jew of Venice
Weapon of Choice: law, bonds
Bio: Proud and clever, Shylock strikes back at a world which holds him in disdain and disregard. Uncowed by the prejudices leveled against him, Shylock stands firm, taking revenge for wrongs done to him and defiantly scorning all appeals. His methods may be cruel, but so too have his conditions been. Will Shylock take a pound of flesh from his opponents in Shakespearean March Madness?
Quote: “What judgment shall I dread, doing no wrong?
You have among you many a purchased slave,
Which, like your asses and your dogs and mules,
You use in abject and in slavish parts,
Because you bought them: shall I say to you,
Let them be free, marry them to your heirs?
Why sweat they under burthens? let their beds
Be made as soft as yours and let their palates
Be season’d with such viands? You will answer
‘The slaves are ours:’ so do I answer you:
The pound of flesh, which I demand of him,
Is dearly bought; ’tis mine and I will have it.
If you deny me, fie upon your law!
There is no force in the decrees of Venice.
I stand for judgment: answer; shall I have it?”

28. Tamora (Titus Andronicus)
Also Known As: Queen of the Goths, Empress of Rome
Weapon of Choice: her sons
Bio: Taken prisoner after a war with Rome, Tamora seeks vengeance on Titus Andronicus for her eldest son’s death and for her humiliation in the streets. Once she becomes Saturninus’s Empress, she uses her power to orchestrate the rape and mutilation of Titus’s daughter and the deaths of his sons, then taunts him for his losses. She callously ignores Lavinia’s begging, instructing her sons, “Away with her, and use her as you will, the worse to her, the better loved of me.” When she gives birth to a mixed-race child with Aaron, she orders the babe killed rather than have it expose her infidelity. Pitiless and merciless, Tamora gives no quarter because she never received any.
Quote: “I’ll find a day to massacre them all
And raze their faction and their family,
The cruel father and his traitorous sons,
To whom I sued for my dear son’s life,
And make them know what ’tis to let a queen
Kneel in the streets and beg for grace in vain.”

29. The Bear (The Winter’s Tale)
(Sponsored by Lauren Rogers)
Weapon of Choice: being a bear
Bio: Most famous for exiting, the infamous bear of The Winter’s Tale acts in accordance with nature, making a snack out of hapless Antigonus.
Quote: (The bear being unable to speak for himself, we offer the testimony of the Clown) “And then for the land-service, to see how the bear tore out his shoulder-bone; how he cried to me for help and said his name was Antigonus, a nobleman. But to make an end of the ship, to see how the sea flap-dragoned it: but, first, how the poor souls roared, and the sea mocked them; and how the poor gentleman roared and the bear mocked him, both roaring louder than the sea or weather.”

30. Titus Andronicus (Titus Andronicus)
Weapon of Choice: the Roman gladius, kitchen utensils, baked goods
Bio: Titus initially wins victory over the Goths, losing 21 sons in the bargain. He stabs another son for the crime of defiance. He cuts off his own hand because he thinks it will save two other sons from execution. He slays Tamora’s two sons and bakes them into a pie, then holds a dinner party where he feeds them to their mother, then kills his own daughter and stabs Tamora to death. Titus’s ruthlessness, callous disregard for human life, and murderous fury took him to the Final Four last year — Will he make it to the top in 2012?
Quote: “Hark, villains! I will grind your bones to dust
And with your blood and it I’ll make a paste,
And of the paste a coffin I will rear
And make two pasties of your shameful heads,
And bid that strumpet, your unhallow’d dam,
Like to the earth swallow her own increase.
This is the feast that I have bid her to,
And this the banquet she shall surfeit on;
For worse than Philomel you used my daughter,
And worse than Progne I will be revenged:
And now prepare your throats.”

31. Sir Toby Belch (Twelfth Night)
(Sponsored by Ben Ratkowski)
Weapon of Choice: sword, sack, trickery
Bio: A drunkard knight who’s past his prime, Sir Toby nonetheless retains a fearsome temper and a talent for inciting discord. He revels all night in defiance of the steward Malvolio, then sets up Malvolio’s humiliation; when he hears Malvolio disparage him, he can barely contain his anger. He later sets Cesario and Sir Andrew to fight each other, and ultimately takes the worst of it in a fight with Sebastian. A brash, crafty wildcard, Sir Toby may have tricks enough up his sleeve to advance in the bracket.
Quote: “O, for a stone-bow, to hit him in the eye! […] And does not Toby take you a blow o’ the lips then?”

32. Tybalt Capulet (Romeo and Juliet)
Also Known As: King of Cats
Weapon of Choice: rapier and dagger (trained in the Spanish style)
Bio: Choleric and hot-tempered, Tybalt defies the Prince and his uncle Capulet to pursue his feud with the Montagues. Mercutio describes his fighting prowess in great detail, noting his advanced technique and lightning-fast ability. Tybalt defeats Mercutio in a duel, provoked by Mercutio’s taunting and Romeo’s apparent cowardice. Tybalt hates peace as he hates hell, and he fights with nigh-unparalleled skill.
Quote: “This, by his voice, should be a Montague.
Fetch me my rapier, boy. What dares the slave
Come hither, cover’d with an antic face,
To fleer and scorn at our solemnity?
Now, by the stock and honour of my kin,
To strike him dead, I hold it not a sin.”

And, the bracket itself (mostly randomly-generated, though I did tinker to avoid any first-round repeat matches) — Click to expand:

Shakespearean March Madness 2012

So, those are our 2012 Shakespearean March Madness competitors. Who are your picks for the Final Four? Who do you think will reign supreme as Shakespeare’s ultimate fighting champion? One of last year’s favorites, or a Cinderella story? Let me know, here or on Twitter!

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 24 February 2012

A few notes and points of interest from the world of Shakespeare studies this week:

  • London’s Globe Theatre has awarded its first PhDs to Sarah Dustagheer and Penelope Woods. These women are both friends of the ASC: Woods presented on audience studies at our 2009 Blackfriars Conference, and Dustagheer observed an Actors’ Renaissance Season, giving presentations to the MBC MLitt/MFA program on the differences between playing the Globe and playing the Blackfriars Playhouse. Congratulations to them both, and to the Globe for enacting this joint degree-awarding venture with Queen Mary, University of London, and King’s College London.
  • The new “Shakespeare’s Sisters: Voices of English and European Women Writers, 1500-1700” exhibit at the Folger Library challenges the notion that early modern women didn’t write (or, as Virginia Woolf famously asserted, that, if they did, they must have been driven mad by the frustrations of it). The exhibit celebrates such notable female authors as Veronica Franco, Lady Anne Clifford, Lady Mary Wroth, the Mancini sisters, Aemilia Lanyer, Aphra Behn, Susanna Centlivre, and (my personal favorite early modern woman) Lady Mary Herbert. If you can’t make it to DC to see the exhibit in person, selections from it are also available online.
  • This week, the ASC welcomes alumni from Dartmouth College for a weekend of entertainment and scholarship. Peter Saccio, the Leon D. Black Professor of Shakespearean Studies at Dartmouth College, was the editor of A Mad World, My Masters for the Middleton Complete Works. Saccio gave a public lecture last night, detailing some of the textual oddities of the script and what that can mean for the stage, and will give several private lectures to the Dartmouth group throughout the weekend.
  • Education Week featured an article on the challenge educators face when attempting to tie their lesson plans to Core Curriculum Standards. “Their current materials fall short, and there is a dearth of good new ones to fill the void.” ASC Study Guides (now available on lulu.com!) feature not only guidelines for fulfilling Virginia’s Standards of Learning, but also the U.S. Core Curriculum Standards.

As a final note, remember that you still have a few days to get in your nominations for the 2012 Shakespearean March Madness. I’ve already heard support for Hotspur, Cassius, the Duke of Cornwall, and Richard II. Pitch your pick for this no-holds-barred brawl here.

ASC Study Guides now available on Lulu.com

The Education Department is pleased to announce the transfer of 10 full-length Study Guides to Lulu.com, a site which allows both for PDF downloads and for print-on-demand hard copies of the text. This is a vast improvement over our old system, and will increase both the visibility and the accessibility of ASC educator resources.

Much of the credit for this transfer goes to ASC Senior Graphic Artist Lauren Rogers, who not only helped get us onto the website, but also redesigned our covers into this far-more-attractive format. The idea comes from Wordles, which we advocate as a way into the text for some of your particularly Shakespeare-skittish students, since they demonstrate how few words in a play or in a given speech are actually unfamiliar. Lauren found the visuals of the Wordles appealing, and she took it from there, giving us these fabulous new covers:

Yesterday, we received our own hard copies, which Sarah will be taking down to Orlando and displaying at the Shakespeare Theatre Association Conference. They’ve been the source of much delight and merriment in the office:

All of next year’s Study Guides — Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, along with any mini-guides — will go directly to Lulu. I’m so looking forward to the opportunities this new integration will present for us.

"The pancake bell rings, the pancake bell! Tri-lil, my hearts!": Shrove Tuesday in Early Modern England

Nowadays in America, we know today — the day before Ash Wednesday, 41 days before Easter — as Mardi Gras, a festival of extravagance and delight, with traditions passed down to us from the French and Italians. From the bayou to Rio, the Carnival season ends in a triumphant celebration of life and laughter, with parades, parties, fantastic costumes, throwing of beads, and yes, some degree of inebriation.

But for Shakespeare and his contemporaries in late-16th century England, this day was something different: Shrove Tuesday. And on Shrove Tuesday, you ate pancakes. Why pancakes? Because they involved many of the rich foodstuffs — sugar, fat, flour and eggs — whose consumption was restricted during Lent (which Anglicans still observed, despite the break with the Catholic Church). It was also a day to gorge yourself on meat and drink, to clear the larders of all those things you couldn’t eat during Lent and couldn’t afford to let spoil in the meantime.

This tradition is the subject of several scenes in Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday, where the apprentices of the City of London look forward to a great feast:

Firk: I’ll lead you to victuals, my brave soldiers. Follow your captain. Oh, brave! (Bell rings). Hark, hark!

All:
The pancake bell rings, the pancake bell! Tri-lill, my hearts!

Firk:
Oh brave! O sweet bell! O delicate pancakes! Open the doors, my hearts, and shut up the windows. Keep in the house, let out the pancakes. Oh, rare, my hearts! Let’s march together for the honor of Saint Hugh to the great new hall in Gracious Street Corner, which our master the new Lord Mayor hath built.

Ralph:
Oh, the crew of good fellows that will dine at my Lord Mayor’s cost today!

Hodge:
By the lord, my Lord Mayor is a most brave man. How shall prentices be bound to pray for him and the honor of the Gentlemen Shoemakers! Let’s feed and be fat with my lord’s bounty.

Firk:
Oh, musical bell still! Oh Hodge, o my brethren! There’s cheer for the heavens: venison pasties walk up and down piping hot like sergeants, beef and brewis comes marching in dry fats, fritters and pancakes comes trolling in in wheelbarrows, lemons and oranges hopping in porters’ baskets, collops and eggs in scuttles, and tarts and custards comes quavering in in malt shovels.

Enter more prentices.


All:
Whoop! Look here, look here!

Hodge:
How now, mad lads, whither away so fast?

First Prentice:
Whither? Why, to the new great hall. Know you not why? The Lord Mayor hath bidden all the prentices in London to breakfast this morning.

All:
O brave shoemaker! O brave lord of incomprehensible good fellowship! Hoo, hark you, the pancake bell rings.

Cast up caps.


Firk:
Nay, more, my hearts: every Shrove Tuesday is our year of jubilee, and when the pancake bell rings, we are as free as my Lord Mayor; we may shut up our shops and make holiday. I’ll have it called Saint Hugh’s holiday.

All:
Agreed, agreed! Saint Hugh’s holiday!

Hodge:
And this shall continue forever.

All:
Oh brave! Come, come, my hearts! Away, away!

Firk:
Oh, eternal credit to us of the Gentle Craft! March fair, my hearts. Oh, rare!

As someone who has had the “oh, rare!” honor to play Firk in a production of The Shoemaker’s Holiday (directed by Casey Caldwell back in 2010, as part of his MFA), I can verify that this scene only works if you embrace its jubilant madness entirely — much in the spirit of Shrove Tuesday or its modern descendents. You have to let the good times roll over you and indulge thoroughly in the exuberance — and there’s something marvelously freeing about giving yourself over to that on stage.

But, as a scholar, I enjoy what this scene tells us about the historical celebrations: Firk gives a detailed menu, listing what the prentices can look forward to at their feast; the ringing of the bell to announce the holiday has historical precedence; and the freedom to “shut up shop” for the afternoon is likewise chronicled elsewhere. Dekker thus provides social historians with a glimpse into Shrove Tuesday’s place in the religious and celebratory calendar of early modern England. The tradition lives on — pancakes are still a typical Shrove Tuesday meal in many Anglican and Lutheran communities, and several cities in England still hold pancake races on the holiday.

So — Who’s up for some pancakes?

Shakespearean March Madness: Who Makes the Playoffs?

Those of you who have been following our blog for at least a year now will remember last year’s Shakespearean March Madness game. For the entire month of March, we debated which Shakespeare character could best all others in a no-holds-barred match. Might versus magic, cunning and guile versus brute strength and military prowess — We debated and you decided. Last year’s finals came down between Queen Margaret and Henry V, and the lady won the day in a stunning come-from-behind victory.

Some of you got really into this. Our actors and audiences alike embraced the rivalry between Richard and Margaret. Our friend Colin encouraged his high school class to participate, and they kept a running bracket on their whiteboard, which he was good enough to share with me:

This year, I’d like to open up nominations for who should be included in our 32 competitors. Did someone get left off of last year’s list who you think deserves a shot at the title? Did any Cinderella story make it last year who you think didn’t warrant the slot? And how about last year’s greats — which of them absolutely must stay on the ballot for this year?

But here’s the catch: If you want to convince me to add someone to the Final 32, or to kick someone off, I need evidence from the plays. You must support your candidate with quotes, clips, artwork, photos, or other supplementary materials. Make your case, and make it strong.

Let me know who you think should be named 2012’s Shakespearean March Madness Champion! Answer here or ping me on Twitter.

Exploration and Revelation: The Winter 2012 Teacher Seminar

This past weekend, we held our Winter Teacher Seminar, a two-day event where participants attend workshops and lectures and see two of the plays of the Actors’ Renaissance Season. Thanks in part to a generous grant from the Richard and Caroline T. Gwathmey Memorial Trust, more educators than ever were able to join us – and we had a group from diverse teaching backgrounds: middle schools, high schools, and universities, public and private, military and religious, as well as some professional acting companies and arts organizations. We also had participants join us from as far away as Florida and Pennsylvania, as well as representing 16 cities and counties within Virginia. It was so exciting to have such a full, enthusiastic group with us for the weekend. I always feel so energized after these events, so full of joy for the work that we do together and for the new avenues of insight these educators feed back to me.

Saturday’s workshops focused on Much Ado about Nothing, Sunday’s on Richard III. Ralph drew connections between the two plays, and how each has its moments of invited and inappropriate laughter, and each its moments inviting or castigating silence. He drew a correlation between these moments on stage and in the classroom – after all, there are times teachers desperately hope that their students laugh at a joke, and there are times teachers abhor hearing laughter. He also encouraged the teachers to find their own personal hook within the play, something that calls to them and energizes them, and to teach those moments. Teaching requires no small part of vulnerability, to lay out the things you care for to what may often seem an unruly mob of the disaffected and cynical.

Saturday morning, we also modeled one of the activities out of the Much Ado about Nothing Study Guide. This one was my baby, and I’d been looking forward to working through it with our seminar attendees ever since I wrote it back in November – so I was actually fairly nervous heading in. Like any teacher, I have had, on occasion, something I’m really excited about flop rather pathetically when brought to the table. I always learn something from that experience – how I might need to tweak the activity, toss out elements that aren’t working, or graft a new idea on – but failure isn’t exactly pleasant to go through, however constructive it may ultimately be. So, heart in my hands, I stepped up to lead this workshop. And it went wonderfully(!).

The exploration is an active one, examining how language can inform character choices in the various sparring matches between Beatrice and Benedick. Participants – with the help of the rest of the class – look for moments when one character repeats the other, builds on a metaphor the other started, or arranges contrast of some kind. What the seminar attendees discovered – as I’d hoped they would – is that while Beatrice and Benedick use the same rhetorical devices with each other in three different scenes, the way they use them creates three very different moods, from the aggressive sparring of 1.1 to the tender hesitation of 4.1 to the playful equilibrium achieved in 5.2. We make these devices visual and kinetic – to appeal to different kinds of learners – by having our Beatrice and Benedick peg nerf balls at each other each time, highlighting the verbal tennis match they engage in. It was great to see at what moments one of them (usually Beatrice) was able to score more points.

I love this activity for how it demonstrates several different advantages of performance-based learning: first, how Shakespeare creates these characters as so right for each other. No one else in the play – even in a play as full of quick wits as Much Ado is – can quite match their verbal dexterity. Second, the activity highlights that “infinite variety” of performance choices Sarah and I are always talking about. The rhetoric gives actors – and students – not an answer, but the grounds on which to make a decision. Our avatar Beatrices and Benedicks were able to offer so many alternatives on even the smallest moment – it really drives home that idea of performance-based learning. Finally, this activity appeals to many different kinds of learners, as it involves verbal, textual, visual, and kinetic elements. Everyone from the class clown to the shiest member of the class has a place in this activity. I think all of those elements came across for our seminar attendees, and I’m so pleased I got to share this workshop with them.

You can view a sample of this workshop in-progress on YouTube:

The Gwathmey grant also allowed us to bring two guest speakers to Staunton, giving our participants the chance to interact with scholars whose research bears a direct emphasis on the plays they saw and their classroom activities. Chelsea Phillips, a veteran of MBC’s MLitt/MFA program and now a third-year Ph.D. student at Ohio State University, came down to share thoughts related to her dissertation: the presence of pregnant bodies on stage. This discussion is particularly relevant this year, as Miriam Donald, who plays Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing and the Duchess of York, among other roles, in Richard III, is visibly pregnant. We wanted to offer teachers – especially those bringing their students to see one of those two productions this year – the benefit of Chelsea’s research into the historical precedent of pregnant actresses playing non-pregnant roles, in order to give them a solid grounding on which to base classroom discussion. Chelsea also works on Ohio State’s partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company implementing the RSC’s Stand Up for Shakespeare program in local schools, making her a valuable resource on Shakespeare in the classroom. On Sunday, Carter Hailey joined us for a lecture-demo on textual variants. Carter has taught Medieval and Renaissance literature, Shakespeare, and textual studies at Washington and Lee University, the College of William and Mary (where yours truly was one of his students), Sweet Briar College, and Georgetown University, and he publishes on matters bibliographical, lexical, and editorial. In addition to discussing the textual histories of Much Ado about Nothing and Richard III, he shared Hailey’s COMET, a portable optical collator of his own design and construction, which provides critical editors with a new way of examining variants between texts. We synthesized Carter’s lecture with an exploration of how to use textual variants in the classroom as a way to give students greater ownership of the text, allowing them to realize that there is no One Shakespeare to Rule Them All – rather, that the text as they see it has already passed through the hands of many compositors and editors, and that they may make choices based on this awareness.

So, that was the weekend. As ever, I wished I had more time. There’s always so much more to say, more staging moments to discuss, more of Shakespeare’s word- and stagecraft to explore. I’m already looking forward to our spring seminar, in April, when we’ll be leaping into A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Winter’s Tale. I’m also going to be releasing a survey soon, both to our seminar participants and to anyone who’s purchased a Study Guide from us, asking for feedback on the information and activities we provide. It’s interesting to have to examine what it is I need to know from our teachers – a sort of backwards self-evaluation. I’ll be putting their feedback into practice when I start – very soon – building the Study Guides for next year. My first endeavor will be Twelfth Night, as we already have folks booking the touring company asking for it. I love seeing so much advance enthusiasm for the ASC’s synthesis of education and performance. I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who joined us this past weekend, and I sincerely hope we’ll see you all again soon.

2012 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival: Session 4

And we’re back for the fourth and final thesis session of the MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival. This session will run from 5:30-8pm.

Michael Wagoner: “‘When You Succeed Me, You Follow Not Me’: Processing Succession in Post-Tudor History Plays”

Wagoner’s presentation opens with the juxtaposition of England’s protestations of tremendous grief after Elizabeth’s death and their exuberant welcome of King James. 1603, as Wagoner notes, marks an important “liminal moment” in English history; his thesis explores the succession’s effect on early modern drama. With Elizabeth’s death, historical drama began to consider the more recent past, whereas previous plays had tended to stop with the rise of Henry VII. Within three years of Elizabeth’s death, a spate of plays with a “sudden and intense focus” on the Tudor dynasty sprang up; the effect was immediate and relatively short-lived. The significant shifts that marked the transition from Elizabeth to James (woman to man, Englishwoman to foreigner, virgin queen to man with an established family) were reflected in the drama, particularly with regards to “the cultural processing of such a shift”.

Wagoner interrogates the representations of the Tudor dynasty in William Rowley’s When You See Me, You Know Me, ultimately suggesting that both the male figures, Henry VIII and Prince Edward, figure King James, while the female figures, Jane Seymour and Katherine Parr, figure the deceased Elizabeth. Actors Katie Crandol, Brett Sullivan Santry, and Shannon Schultz present scenes surrounding the pregnant Queen Jane and the birth of Edward. While King Henry begins by expressing his concern for his wife, he also demonstrates the “Henry we expect”, consumed by his desire for a male heir. When asked to choose between saving his wife and his child, Rowley presents a Henry who grapples with the decision, but ultimately chooses his wife. The play then has Queen Jane advocate for her own death, placing the succession ahead of herself. Wagoner argues that the play presents Henry as more preoccupied with his own concerns and personal desires than those of the country, presenting perhaps a more sympathetic man but less responsible king.

Wagoner moves into a consideration of Elizabeth’s connection with the phoenix as propagated both Rowley’s play and in Thomas Heywood’s If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody. The trope was common in Elizabeth’s England, not least for its overtones of asexual progeneration (which, as Wagoner points out, is not precisely accurate, since Elizabeth certainly came from sexual union). The idea links the Tudor dynasty and the Stuart together in a “line of phoenixes”. The metaphor also stresses the idea of motherhood through self-sacrifice. Wagoner finishes by commenting on the way that these plays “comment on their moment”, offering insight into the cultural attitudes surrounding the transition from Elizabeth to James.

Rachel Ratkowski: “‘What Imports This Song?’: The Paradox of Music and Madness in Early Modern England”

Ratkowski’s presentation opens with AJ Sclafani and Maria Hart singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in a round, prompting the question from Jonathan Haas: “Are you mad, or what?” Ratkowski foregrounds her thesis as an exploration of the relationship between music and madness. She notes that music may either cause, cure, or be symptomatic of madness, all at once. The most common of these is music as a symptom, famously represented by Ophelia in Hamlet. Ratkowski notes that, since music is commonly perceived as symptomatic of madness, characters who feign madness often sing to assist with their portrayals. She next considers instances of music causing madness.

During this discussion, Hart begins singing in Sclafani’s ear, causing him to begin dancing uncontrollably, progressing through several recognizable dances of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and today. Ratkowski points out that this is clearly an unfortunate circumstance of “tarantism”, a phenomenon which occurred in early modern Germany — where madness caused by music which manifests itself in spontaneous terpsichorean expression. Fortunately, Ratkowski knows the solution. Music can cure madness as well as cause it, and so she encourages the audience to join Sclafani in dancing and singing until the fit leaves him. Ratkowski then gives several historical and dramatic examples of song being used to bring a mad person back to his or her senses.

Ratkowski summarizes that, while we in the 21st century view the idea of music curing, causing, and reflecting madness as a paradox, the early modern culture did not seem to, due to the medical beliefs of the time period. She argues that the philosophy of the humours still informed medical opinions; an imbalance of the humours could cause not only illness but madness. Music could, then, be either the trigger, the remedy, or the symptom, depending on the nature of the imbalance. Music could stimulate the humors and get them moving through the body faster; this could cure a dominance of the sluggish fluids, but could overstimulate those which were already running hotter and faster. Ratkowski finishes by stating that an awareness of these theories can better inform the performance of madness in early modern plays.

Jessi Malicki: “‘Poor Tom’s a-cold’: Paleoclimatology’s Perspective on Shakespeare”

Malicki introduces her thesis in relation to paleoclimatology, the study of those time periods and cultures which could not or did not maintain consistent. She notes that Europe in the late 16th-century was in the grip of the “Little Ice Age”, which many historians have noted as the coldest period on earth since the last Ice Ages (assisted by quote-readings from Celi Oliveto, Kayla Renee Peterson, and Cyndi Kimmel). Though a drop of two degrees may not seem critical, it had a profound effect on life in the early modern period, particularly with regard to growing seasons and dead crops. The colder temperatures also drove insects indoors, leading to a spike in malaria and recurrences of plague. “The English fought a constant battle to stay warm,” Malicki notes, describing that the average temperature was below sixty degrees, the temperature at which it is possible for the human body to enter hypothermia without adequate protection.

Malicki notes that Shakespeare would have seen the full range of the Little Ice Ages effect, and she reminds the audience of the effect that the weather has on outdoor performances (such as those at the Globe or which the acting companies may have encountered on tour). She notes that many characters in Shakespeare seem to reflect the cold, even in plays nominally set in far more temperate climates, such as The Taming of the Shrew. The comedy of Katherine falling in the mud and riding to Petruchio’s house becomes somewhat more dire when the climatological reality is taken into account. Kate’s final argument regarding a husband exposing himself to the elements also takes on different meaning in light of the severity of those elements. Malicki also notes the mention of the disordered weather in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where the conflict between Titania and Oberon has had many of the same effects as the Little Ice Age had on England.

Malicki then compares some of the vocabulary used in Shakespeare with descriptions of continental tragedies related to meltwater flooding. She also notes the storms at sea common in Shakespeare and their potential relationship to the bizarre hurricane that destroyed the Spanish Armada, though she notes that such storms have been a trope since the advent of literature, and thus are not necessarily reflective of the Little Ice Age. Storms on land represented in drama, however, may bear a stronger correlation to England’s unfortunate climate. She goes on to note the further prevalence of mentions of weather in the songs in many of Shakespeare’s plays, particularly As You Like It and Twelfth Night. Malicki also notes that Shakespeare’s later plays contain more storms than the earlier ones, suggesting a stronger correlation towards the end of his career.

Jarom Brown: “Revising Revision”

Brown’s presentation aims to examine the prevalent ideas surrounding the idea that Shakespeare “actively and systematically revised his works”, a concept which has gained general acceptance in the scholarly community. He questions, though, what revision means when an “original” from which a revision would spring may be difficult to identify. Brown argues that Shakespeare not only revised versions of a play, but also revised “horizontally”, from play to play.

He uses Much Ado about Nothing as his litmus test (with help from Joshua Brown, Kelly Elliot, and Brian Maxwell), demonstrating what he believes to be a connection between Much Ado and Julius Caesar in references to opponents as “honourable men”. He posits Antony’s tactics in Julius Caesar as a refinement of Leonato’s technique in Much Ado, making more complete use of the theatrical audience. Another possibility links, by Brown’s estimation, Much Ado, the earlier Romeo and Juliet, and the later Twelfth Night. Brown claims these moments are “not simple coincidences”, and hopes that they will encourage further examination of the idea of horizontal revision.

Jamie Weaver: “Blood Will Have Blood: ‘Macbeth’ and the Renaissance Fetish in London”

Weaver seeks to examine “the ramification of the word ‘blood’ on the social ether”. She describes the prevalence of the word “blood” and its variants in the play Macbeth (used 45 times in one form or another). She argues that the play’s focus on blood not only aids the plot but also works on a social-historical level, as characteristic of an early modern fetishistic interest in blood, both real and imagined. She cites the cyclic representation of blood imagery with the actual depiction of stage blood as evidence of the fetish.

Weaver ties this idea to the popularity of bloodsports and executions as entertainment in early modern England. She also positions these concepts in relation to the changing ideals of medical science during this period. Her actors (Joshua Brown, Kelly Elliot, and James Byers) share some of those concepts, including the idea that the blood originates in the liver, and enact a rough approximation of a human dissection during the early modern period. Weaver also notes that these dissections did not have an audience exclusively consisting of medical students, but that they also drew in a crowd of spectators. This related to the popularity of bear-baitings (which Weaver’s actors also approximated in pantomime).

Weaver then traces the presence and absence of real and imagined blood in Macbeth, noting the pattern of a rise and fall, almost teasing the audience, then sating them, then offering respite. She considers that Macbeth mirrors the blood fetish prevalent in society, and places it in line with a social anxiety over monarchical transition that released itself in entertainment. She hopes that this will offer a new perspective on Macbeth as responding to something other than political considerations alone.

For the rest of the Festival, see these posts:
Session 1
Session 2
Session 3

2012 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival: Session 3

Welcome back for the afternoon session of the 2012 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival. This session will feature six presenters and runs from 1:30-4:30pm.

Dori Koogler: “Upon a True Contract: Handfasting and Clandestine Marriage in Shakespeare’s Plays”

Koogler opens with a discussion of the conditions of marriage in the early modern period, focusing on the physical components of a “spousal contract”: vows, joining of hands, kiss, and the exchange of rings. Made in the present tense, these components constituted a marriage; in the future tense, they constituted a betrothal, which was still considered legally binding. Koogler offers evidence not only from historical realities but also from clues within Shakespeare’s plays. In early modern England, while marriage might have legal entanglements, and while paperwork could be useful in a dispute over validity, all that the Church required was mutual consent; this changed with the Marriage Act in 1754. The Church did require, however, the presence of witnesses; without witnesses, a marriage was considered “clandestine and irregular”. Due to common cultural awareness of these irregular marriages, Koogler notes that it became fertile ground for exploration on the early modern stage. Shakespeare treats in some manner with these irregular marriages in a third of his plays. Adkins and Malicki present several instances of espousal contracts and handfastings in Shakespeare’s plays.

Koogler gives a deeper examination to the idea of betrothal in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. In 2.2, Julia and Proteus make vows, exchange rings, join hands, and “seal the bargain in a holy kiss”. Koogler argues that, because the “cultural experiences of betrothal have changed so much in the past 400 years”, modern audiences may not as easily grasp the depth of the situation. The transgression, she argues, would have resonated more strongly with an early modern audience, who saw Proteus not only breaking up with his girlfriend, but breaking a legal bond and a scared vow. Koogler further speculates on the suspected betrothal between Florizel and Perdita in The Winter’s Tale. Though this play does not include lines detailing the ceremony, as The Two Gentlemen of Verona does, Koogler argues (and Malicki and Adkins demonstrate) that it may be possible for Florizel and Perdita to enact the entire ceremony during a 6-line monologue of Camillo’s. Koogler finishes by stating that using modern marriage signifiers, particularly with regard to the exchange of rings, modern productions can amplify the importance of these betrothals to better approach the weight they would have had for an early modern audience.

Stephanie Tschetter: “In the Closet: Unstaged Staged Directions during the Interregnum”

Tschetter opens by surveying the audience’s awareness of closet drama. She positions her exploration during the Interregnum, while the theatres were closed, and notes that closet dramas were initially intended for readers to imagine, rather than for actors to perform in a theatre. Tschetter notes that both early critical and modern conceptions seem to consider closet dramas as undesirable, without a reason to take the dramatic form that they do. Tschetter challenges the idea that closet dramas ignore theatrical realities and conventions of the stage; rather, because of their inherent form, the stage directions “are clearly conceived for the conditions of the early modern theatre.” She focuses on those plays written during the Interregnum, which suggest that the plays may indeed have been meant to be played, but were legally prevented from public presentation. Tschetter’s actors (Monica Cross, Jessi Malicki, Michael Wagoner, Jamie Weaver, and Liz Lodato) read stage directions from these plays, demonstrating their potential connections to the actual stage.

Tschetter offers an example from William Chamberlain’s Love’s Victory. She notes the difference between the embedded stage direction an actor could rely on and the explicit directions needed to make a visual picture clear for a reader’s imagination. Tschetter argues that writers expected these readers to have familiarity with the picture of the stage, as those audience members would likely, before the 1642 closing of the theatres, have seen plays on the stages they now had to imagine.

Further directions inform the reader not only of early modern staging conditions but of the tricks of the trade, such as the concealment of blood within sponges tied to the middle finger and concealed in the palm. In this way, Tschetter points out that closet dramas deserve attention for what they have to teach us about early modern staging effects.

James Byers: “Concealing the Mere Irish: An Analysis of English Performance of Irish Ethnicity on the Early Modern Stage”

Byers opens with a presentation from Ben Jonson’s Irish Masque (with help from actors Jonathan Haas, AJ Sclafani, and Jarom Brown); Byers notes the long, complex, and often contradictorily-characterized nature of the millennium-long conflict between the English and Irish. He gives a short history of the conflict, dating back to Henry II’s initialization of the conquest of the island. The original colonists in the Pale became isolated from the English and eventually came to occupy a liminal state between the native Gaelic Irish and the English on the other side of the Irish Channel. By the 1500s, Henry VIII and other monarchs had sent more colonists to reinforce English presence in and control of the island. After a period of relative peace in the late 16th- and early 17th-century, rebellions crested again in the 1630s; Cromwell moved in during the Interregnum to re-establish control. The idea of the “barbarous Irishmen” served as a source of apprehension and fear for the English, with wild myths springing up around their supposed possession of strange patterns.

Byers moves to examining characteristics of Irish characters on the English stage. First, the accent, which is not necessarily the be-all and the end-all of an Irish character, but which are a signifier and which provide a mean of “tracking the evolution” of such characters. He also examines the various character types, including rebels, military captains, criminals, bawds, servants, and apprentices. The latter of these “represent the subservience of the Irish in England.” With the help of his actors, Byers presents examples of all of the various types for the audience. This exploration carries weight, Byers notes, not only for better understanding of the early modern plays, but, with consideration for the ongoing nature of relations between the two nations, by way of “exploring the nature of reactions” to ethnic representations and to our own concepts of stereotypes.

Angelina LaBarre: “Hip Hop Pedagogy and Shakespeare: Performative Verse, Then and Now”

LaBarre and her actors (Elizabeth Rentfro, AJ Sclafani, Jarom Brown, and Melissa Tolner) slouch their way onto stage in hoodies and sunglasses. LaBarre begins by acknowledging the racial and cultural history of hip-hop, then stating that those origins have no direct relevance for the scope of her thesis. Rather, she intends to focus on the linguistic similarities between hip hop and Shakespeare and how those similarities can provide an advantage for modern teachers. She argues that early modern theatre occupied the same cultural space as hip hop does today, as a rhythmic verbal performance tradition. She relates the squaring-off between the Caesarian faction and the Liberators in 5.1 of Julius Caesar to “The Dozens“, an insult contest of personal power, valuing quick responses and verbal acuity.

LaBarre delineates some of the similarities between rhythm and vocabulary. Rentfro demonstrates “flowcabulary” — a method which translates Shakespeare’s language into modern vernacular. LaBarre notes that this teachers students nothing but the plot. Tolner then presents a quote from a modern hiphopper, and LaBarre points out that almost no one in the audience understood what she was saying. This, she states, provides a teachable moment about the use of slang and colloquialism in verse. She describes an exercise which compares today’s slang to Shakespeare’s, asking students what people four hundred years from now might make of the word “gangsta”. LaBarre’s actors then demonstrate the iambic pentameter rhythm of modern hiphop verse, and LaBarre points out the presence of irregularities and caesuras in the lines. These breaks in the rhythm serve both the plot and the emotional mood of the verse. Her next example relates to alexandrines, with natural mid-line breaks, as well as demonstrating several rhetoric devices employed by the rapper.

LaBarre ends her presentation by expressing her hopes that these connections between Shakespeare’s language and modern hip hop will provide fertile ground for educators seeking new ways to make Shakespeare relevant and interesting to their students. The lyrical inventiveness and rhetorical dexterity of both forms provide a strong basis for comparison. She is currently developing a curriculum based around these concepts for a teacher in Richmond, VA.

Jonathan Haas: “Virginity and the Problem Plays: An Investigation”

Haas’s presentation examines the moral, social, and spiritual ambiguity of virginity’s importance in Shakespeare’s “problem plays”. He begins by examining the idea of the pre-contract and the idea of whether or not a formal betrothal allowed for sexual congress. Using David Cressy as his source, Haas notes the double standard: that many considered varying degrees of sexual liberties acceptable, despite potential legal and religious consequences.

Haas moves to an examination of Measure for Measure and the ambiguity of Claudio’s and Juliet’s exact nuptial state. He presents various opinions, both from libertines and the supposedly virtuous characters, about the acceptability of post-contract pre-nuptial sexual contract. Even Isabella, who professes to hate the sin of lust, expresses approval of the activity and her hope for the child that will come of the union. Haas posits this as representative of the tension between cultural and legal/religious expectations in early modern society. Haas also notes the differences between Catholic and Protestant opinions on virginity. After the Reformation, the veneration of virginity faded, and many patriarchal views condemned the chosen permanent virginity of a nun as “a dangerous and disruptive thing”, a way out of the strictures and expected roles for women. Measure for Measure explores both sides of the argument, demonstrating both characters who view virginity as a noble and appropriate choice and as an inferior, subversive, or dangerous choice. In this way, the problem play engages the cultural conflict over “the messy standards of virginity”.

Maria Hart: “Munday Seeking More: Religion, Politics, and Biography on the Early Modern Stage”

Hart’s presentation examines how Sir Thomas More contains reference to a political agenda by its primary author, Anthony Munday. Hart believes that, in this selection of More as a topic, Munday revealed a sympathy for English Catholics, in relation to the martyrology of Thomas Becket and Thomas More during the early modern period. Hart gives a short history of More’s political history and his conflict during the English Reformation. She continues through the shifting religious allegiance of England as a state during the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I, following the narrative of English recusants and secret Catholics in particular. This tradition included a print culture which propagated stories of Thomas More “as martyr and saint” — one of several famous for their refusal to renounce Catholicism. These traditions linked More to the earlier martyr Becket, assassinated under the reign (and ambiguous instructions) of Henry II for his refusal to submit to the king more than to the Church. The Protestant view, by contrast, considered the Catholics as heretics, and those Protestants that they burned the martyrs.

Hart follows this up with Munday’s personal history, who on the surface may appear a “flip-flopping opportunist”, as well as a government informant on recusants, but who Hart believes reveals himself in his plays as having stronger convictions. Her actors (Liz Lodato, Jonathan Haas, Rachel Ratkowski, Brian Maxwell, AJ Sclafani) present More’s execution scene, which Hart notes as portraying More with definite sympathy. The rest of Munday’s plays, she explains, likewise treat with issues of the Catholic/Protestant divide in England. At the least, she sees in Thomas More “a reverence and sympathy for the ex-Chancellor,” suggesting that Munday may have felt some guilt in himself for his role as an informant, and sought to exonerate that guilt dramatically.

We’re off for a dinner (or, perhaps, tea) break now — back at 5:30 for the final session of the festival.

For the rest of the Festival, see these posts:
Session 1
Session 2
Session 4

2012 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival: Session 2

Good morning, scholars — We’re back again, bright and early, for Session 2 of the MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival. This session runs from 9:30am to 12:00pm.

Clara Giebel: “Playing Paper”

Giebel’s presentation begins with an interesting tableau: Katy Mulvaney, Linden Kueck, and Amanda Noel Allen on-stage, crafting — rather than, as we might expect, sitting on the gallant stools holding scripts. Giebel explains that sometimes a tradition should be broken “just because there’s something we’d rather do,” and that she hopes their presence will provide a meaningful counterpoint to her ideas.

She moves into discussing the typical structure and tropes of fairy tales, and she shares illustrations from some classic fairy tales via a Powerpoint presentation. She explains that these images are not only beautiful but “look right to our eyes”, with conventional tropes reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts. She expands the idea further, referring to how Disney’s fairy tale movies often open with the frame narrative of books, giving images of pages turning before the animation begins. Giebel explains these frame devices as important because of the “time of textual transmission” we currently exist in. The movement of page to screen, first scene from books to movies, is now prominent in the idea of moving from books to e-readers. She demonstrates various “skins” and covers for e-readers which attempt to recover the tangible and visual elements that are lost in the transmission to digital text. She posits that the two most important elements lost are the paper itself and the “codex”, or non-textual visual information, which she demonstrates through a reading of “The Monster at the End of This Book” and through a consideration of pop-up books, which “glory in the paper-ness of paper”. Giebel talks about the importance of sound, smell, and texture to the experience of reading, and relates those concepts to ideas of crafting.

Giebel then brings her ideas around to the early modern period, looking at the history of textile handwork, particularly with regards to gender assignations of various tasks such as embroidery and knitting, seen as female tasks both in the early modern period and in the 21st century. She notes, however, that these tasks no longer have the same cultural significance, thanks to mass marketing — similar to the fading essentialism of paper in books.

Teachers, parents, and the media, as Giebel points out, teach fairy tales to children, but particularly to girls, emphasizing the female character “as the object of other characters’ acts and desires”, not as the agent. She notes that Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well both draws on and inverts these fairy tale tropes, featuring not just one, but several active women. Helena has to mangle her own sentences to try and fit herself into the expected passive role. All’s Well is “a fairy tale, but a problematic one… a deliciously messy one” in contrast to the neat, happy endings of Disney’s fairy tales. Giebel has worked with Linden Kueck to design a paper-based set for All’s Well That Ends Well based on these concepts, particularly as an exploration of the gender issues at play. She ends by foregrounding the need to examine, in this concept of textual transmission and shifting gender roles, what we want to keep from the past and what we want to move on to — a world where we can both read blogs on our cellphones, but also enjoy the texture and physical reality of paper, “where boys can learn embroidery and girls can be the king”.

Brian Maxwell: “The First Generation: The Dawn of American Shakespeare”

Maxwell’s presentation begins by interrogating our awareness, in the American Shakespeare Center, of the history of Shakespeare in America. Actors Jarom Brown, Brian Falbo, Rebecca Hodder, and Zach Brown assist by taking on the personas of various 19th-century American Shakespearean actors. Maxwell contrasts the various acting styles of these historical actors: Forrest, Cushman, Booth (Edwin, not his infamous brother), and Jefferson. Forrest represents the emotional style, requiring the actor to give himself over entirely to the affect of the character. Maxwell notes that this style was incredibly popular in the first half of the nineteenth century in America and drew in the working-classes to the theatre. By contrast, Booth and Jefferson display the style which became popular in the second half of the century. This style was a “launching point for Stanislavski’s method”, praised for its naturalism, but less popular with those of the working classes seated in the galleries and a bit too far from the gaslit stage to appreciate the nuances.

Maxwell then encourages Forrest and Booth to dueling monologues. The contrast, with Forrest’s bombastic style and Booth’s understated delivery, makes plain the differences between the early and late methods. Maxwell credits both styles as important to American theatrical heritage. He also posits that these actors, others like them, and their companies gave America cultural credit on the world stage. He shares a 1902 video of Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle and an 1890 wax cylinder audio recording by Edwin Booth.

Daniel Kennedy: “From Place to Space: The Abstraction and Diminution of Hell on the Renaissance Stage”

Kennedy begins by coaxing us all into singing “Happy Birthday” to Christopher Marlowe. He then discusses the ASC Actors’ Renaissance Season production of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, and the dismay of the actors when, each time they revealed the painted-plywood hellmouth, the audience chuckled. Kennedy sketches out the history of the hellmouth, with its roots in medieval representations of Biblical stories. Early illustrations envisioned “an open pit” to invoke Hell; later a volcano, initially considered appropriate for its fiery and sulpherous nature, but later rejected as too passive; later the heads of beasts, particularly dragons. He positions the evolution in relation to attempts to convert the Danish pagans of north England: “Now, if I know Vikings, at least one of those bad motherf*ckers has walked out of a volcano. I don’t think any have walked out of a dragon’s mouth.” Clearly, this imagery would have had a resonance for the England-occupying Danes.

The hellmouth became a convention of the morality plays, an intricate construction, but one which, Kennedy notes with some dejection, audiences found “amusingly wonderful” rather than terrifying or awe-inspiring. He shows an illustration of the stage mansions of Valenciennes, the elaborate decorated carts used for these plays. He notes that, while the hellmouth itself disappeared, the opposition of Heaven and Hell remained prominent. While the structure of the medieval stage mansions positioned Heaven and Hell in horizontal opposition, the early modern audience was conditioned to think of up, the balcony or “heavens”, as good and down, through the trap, as bad. The stage pictures became less religious spectacle, less a stylistic presentation, and more an interpretation of inner struggle.

Kennedy moves on to a discussion of the various texts of Doctor Faustus, noting that the A text, earlier published, lacks elements present in the later B text, considered the version closer to Marlowe’s intended play. The stage direction “Hell is discovered” indicates that, reminiscent of the medieval morality plays, Hell must be visibly represented on the stage. Where, however, remains ambiguous. Kennedy presents it first as revealed in the discovery space, drawing on the image of a dragon’s head gaping open to consume Faustus; then a second time, using the trap. In the second version, the Bad Angel’s description becomes more critical to feeding the audience’s imagination as the means for invoking Hell, rather than an actual stage depiction. Kennedy notes that while Shakespeare never directly calls for a hellmouth as Marlowe does, he still visually invokes the concepts of Hell, demons, and the afterlife in several plays (Hamlet, Macbeth, 1 and 2 Henry VI). He suggests that the accepted convention of the trap as Hell can inform the interpretation of the ghost of Hamlet’s father; if he enters from the trap, the audience may assume him as a demonic figure. He also relates the concept to certain resonances in Macbeth to the idea of the Harrowing of Hell, particularly as relevant in the Porter scene.

Elizabeth Rentfro: “For I Am She: The Development of Margaret of Anjou in Performance”

Rentfro’s presentation opens with a presentation from Richard III, with most of the cast (Liz Lodato, Brian Falbo, Mel Johnson, Dane Leasure, Deb Streusand, Jessica Schiermeister, Stephanie Tschetter, Kelly Elliot, and Rachel Ratkowski) on-stage, and Rentfro, as Margaret, moving in from the audience. Following Margaret’s intrusion into the body of the scene, Rentfro details her experience having played Margaret in both full productions and staged readings across the “Margaret canon” of Henry VI, Parts 1-3 and Richard III. She prefaces that the presentation will work through the scene with a few breaks for her to explain her exploration as a self-evaluating performance study.

As they progress through the scene, Rentfro notes that while Margaret harbors special hate for Richard III and is the first person to see him for what he is, she also feels a kinship with him due to some of their inherent similarities. Likewise, she sees a reflection of herself in Elizabeth, the “poor painted queen” she mocks. Rentfro moves on through Margaret’s exit, leaving the Yorkists behind to “muse why she’s at liberty”. She then relates her experience to that of Sarah Fallon, someone else who has seen Margaret all the way through her arc. She notes the experience as fairly rare, since so few companies perform the full tetralogy.

Jared Fair: “The Grieving Parent in Shakespeare and the Early Modern English Children’s Epitaph”

Fair begins by positing the opinions of Laurence Stone as to the emotional distance between parents and children in the early modern period, which he views as necessary due to the high child mortality, depicting these parents as detached and unemotional even upon the death of a child. Fair juxtaposes this with the ideas of David Cressy, who claims that early modern people were deeply emotional and loving, with a great capacity for tenderness both in their families and their communities. Cressy uses diaries and letters as examples that early modern people experienced intense emotions upon the death of a loved one.

Fair presents (through actors Jarom Brown and Dr. Julie Fox) epitaphs from the early modern period, which demonstrate the emotions felt by parents upon the death of a child. These epitaphs imagine sleep as a death, which Fair suggests as a coping mechanism to soften the blow. They also suggest that “death is not the end, that life continues for the child.” He presents an epitaph written by Ben Jonson on the death of a child actor, the first epitaph to so commemorate an actor. Jonson also wrote an epitaph when his own daughter died at 6 months and when his son died in the plague of 1603. Fair points out that Jonson describes himself as possessed by his own emotions; the epitaph serves as method to “loose” the bonds that hold him in thrall to grief. Fair then moves to considering Shakespeare’s experience with a child’s death, particularly in the proximity of the composition of King John to the death of his son Hamnet. Constance’s grief “is anticipatory”, upon Arthur’s disappearance. Fair argues that if Hamnet suffered an illness rather than a sudden death, Shakespeare’s own emotions may have informed this sense of anticipatory dread. He notes that Constance sinks into a suicidal depression, haunted by her son’s image, reminded of him everywhere. She later dies “in a frenzy”, inconsolable. Fair links this depiction of dramatic pain to Shakespeare’s personal experience as a parent.

For the rest of the Festival, see these posts:
Session 1
Session 3
Session 4

2012 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival: Session 1

Good evening, all. Tonight and tomorrow at the Blackfriars Playhouse, twenty-three 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 both days of the event. The first session runs this evening from 6:30pm-9:30pm.

With his characteristic wit, Dr. Paul Menzer opens by apologizing for scheduling this event during that great Sunday ritual, but reminds us that Downton Abbey re-airs on Thursdays. He also notes the infeasibility of sharing chicken wings and airing misogynistic commercials between presentations.

Amy Bolis: “Color-Conscious Shakespeare: A Dramaturgical Investigation of ‘Othello’ and Its Legacy

Bolis begins by noting that, in Othello, the word “Moor” appears more times than Othello’s actual name; she then moves on to a list of the “contradictory characterizations” of the title character contained within the play. She then probes the “problematic construction of blackness” within the play, questioning what role Othello should hold in modern theatre. The problem, as she notes, is further complicated by the divergent opinions of those in the field; her actors Brittany Fauzer and Katy Mulvaney read from such opinions throughout the presentation. She uses the example of Patrick Stewart’s photo-negative production, but notes that such a production encourages white audiences still to sympathize with the white man, experiencing only the fear of losing their own privilege. She notes that, for the remainder of the presentation, she will focus on Harlem Duet by Djanet Sears.

Harlem Duet is an Americanized prelude to Othello, set in Harlem during the 1990s, with flashbacks linking different moments of black experience in American history. She foregrounds four questions: 1) What is the relationship between non-white theatre practitioners and the Shakespeare canon? 2) Given lack of roles for non-white characters, how can modern companies approach these plays? 3) Where do actors of colours reside within the realm of Shakespeare performance? 4) Given Harlem Duet‘s critique, what is the legacy of Othello?

Fauzer presents a monologue from Harlem Duet by Billie, Othello’s first wife, where she discusses her decision to poison his handkerchief. Through this story, Sears gives the handkerchief a tangible history, positioning it as an heirloom that “holds the ancestry of generations” through slavery and emancipation, rather than as a magical object of ambiguous origin. Fauzer also presents a statement from Sears on the need to integrate the black narrative into the theatrical world. Bolis concludes with the thought that, “Adaptation has allowed for a different dream of Othello,” one that allows for a shifting of the play’s legacy.

David Ashton: “Staging the Censored Text”

Ashton’s presentation explores the question of “How do you stage a censored text?”, focusing on the most obviously altered sections of George Chapman’s 1608 The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles Duke of Byron. Actors Amanda Noel Allen and Brian Falbo present an altered scene, where characters report on a conversation involving Queen Elizabeth and French politics. The alternations make the scene noticeably awkward. Ashton suggests that, while theories exist as to the reason for the alteration, none seem plausible. He looked to production history for possible illumination.

Ashton relates his methodology to that of Genevieve Love, exploring the theatrical impact of absences and voids for those early modern plays which have no strong performance record. He posits the notion of “fantasy performances” suggested by those absences, which may be a means of recovering the pre-censored version. Ashton claims that Act Four allows for at least three “fantasy performances” using the extant text as sole source, a fourth informed by historical context, and a fifth from textual criticism. Actors Maxim Overton, Melissa Tolner, Allen, and Falbo present Ashton’s various possibilities.

The fourth version draws from the historical context of the play’s censorship, which Ashton details; Chapman apparently wanted his plays printed and fought for their restoration. Chapman’s history suggests that he was likely involved in the printing of the plays, often overlooking proofs before they went to print, and that he thus authorized leaving the 1625 reprint unchanged from the 1608. Moreover, Ashton posits that statements from Chapman suggest that he believed readers could fill in the gaps on their own, that “a reader’s mind is capable of imagining moments of theatrical effect.” This fourth version of the scene, then, is a conflation of the extant texts with what Chapman assumed his readers could fill in, the shade of an original performance. Ashton’s suggested fifth version takes critical context into account, a methodology he believes most likely as a way to “stage the censored text”, an exercise both in edition and creation.

Elizabeth Lodato: “From Alehouse to Household: Women in Service in Early Modern Drama”

Lodato begins by having the audience close their eyes and imagine being in a 16th-century alehouse; she suggests that we, as she would have months earlier, probably conjured a romanticized vision of a warm, happy tavern populated with cheerful folk. The reality, she notes, was somewhat darker, as alehouses were often dens of criminal behavior, including prostitution, money-lending, thievery, and fugitive-harboring. She then posits that alewives suffered more complaints and condemnation because of the economic threat they posed to working men, suggesting considerably anxiety about a female-dominated trade.

Lodato’s presentation examines depictions of alewives in both dramatic and non-dramatic literature, with the aid of actors Stephanie Tschetter, Angelina LaBarre, and Elizabeth Rentfro. The popular depictions, Lodato argues, grossly dominated over the actual faults of the trade, often along themes of uncleanliness. She notes the odd juxtaposition of positive statements on an alewife’s congeniality and sociability with the insults regarding unsanitary brewing conditions and dishonesty of practice. She then moves to noting the difference in depiction of alewives in early modern plays, where the women are less often gross caricatures of slovenliness, and more amiable comedic characters, “full of malaprops and earnest”. She suggests that the plays present male hosts as far more dishonest characters than their female counterparts. Lodato pulls examples from the anonymous Every Woman in Her Humour and Heywood’s Fair Maid of the West. The latter particularly displays a virtuous woman defending her reputation against bullies and cheats. Lodato finished by summarizing the sexist depiction of alewives in popular literature and its connection to male anxiety over female independence, and her desire to further investigate the evolved role those characters hold in early modern theatre.

Kimberly Lenz: “‘What’s in a Name?’: Proper Name as Performance Clue”

Lenz opens by commenting on the attraction of the idea of demonic possession in the entertainment industry. She relates the idea of the power of a proper name to expel a demon to the notion of characters in a play using a proper name to exercise power over another character. She uses The Maid’s Tragedy as her example, noticing the frequency with which other characters use Amintor’s name, particularly by those characters who are manipulating his fate. Lenz notes that there seemed to be an epidemic of demonic possession and exorcism in England in the 16th and 17th century. Some men won great fame as exorcists, though often fell from grace and were exposed as frauds; popular awareness of the phenomenon found its way into plays such as The Devil is an Ass (scenes presented by James Byers, Mel Johnson, Joshua Brown, and Justine Mackey).

Lenz describes that her project aims to explore the applicability of the idea of the power exercised through use of proper names. She admits that the results are in no way quantifiable, but that they are nonetheless valuable. Her actors present an exploration of a scene from King Lear. Lenz notes that she is developing rehearsal techniques based around this idea and intends to explore the idea further.

AJ Sclafani: “Distancing Techniques in Modern Early Modern Playhouses”

The presentation opens with the inimitable Dane Leasure giving a version of the traditional pre-show Playhouse-opening speech, Maria Hart giving out tickets for a raffle, and Dan Stott giving the actor’s pre-show speech on our staging conditions. Jessica Schiermeister then enters in an approximation of Sclafani’s sartorial style and takes the podium. Sclafani eventually reclaims the stage and notes that his project looks at the paratextual material of the Blackfriars Playhouse.

He discusses how some of the paratextual material, such as the posters for the shows, emphasizes to the audience that they are about to see actors in a play. He suggests that posters containing the actors’ faces, actors’ names, photographer’s name, and title of the play, but not the name of character portrayed, leads the audience to focus on matters other than the actor’s representation of the role. He moves on to the pre-show speech, which he states positions the audience as an observer of the customs of the Playhouse. He notes that some aspects of the pre-show have become vestigial, while others (asking for donations and asking audience members to turn off cell phones) has reversed the effect of the speech, originally designed to integrate unfamiliar audiences into the unique conditions of ASC productions. He argues that, especially in the context of “problem” plays, distancing techniques transfer the creation of synthesis onto the audience.

Monica Cross: “Modern Adaptations of ‘Hamlet'”

Cross begins by noting the proliferation of adaptations in the MLitt/MFA program within the past few years, and declares her intent to examine how adaptations comment on their source material. She looks at several adaptations of Hamlet from the 1990s and 2000s: Fortinbras, by Lee Blessing (1992), Claudius, by Ken Gass (1993), Something’s Rotten, by Michael Burdick (2003), and 12 Ophelias (a play with brokensongs), by Caridad Svich (2004). She focuses in this presentation on Fortinbras and Something’s Rotten (with scenes presented by Clara Giebel, Linden Kueck, Celi Oliveto, Stephan Pietrowski, and Shane Sczepankowski), the latter of which was presented in a one-act version at the 2011 Blackfriars Conference.

Something’s Rotten follows the reactions of the the gravediggers to the play and its aftermath, taking fragments from Hamlet‘s language. Shifting the focus from court life to commoners “breaks the Aristotelian model”, particularly with such prominent speeches as “To be or not to be”. Burdick’s reimagining breaks the concept down into ideas of being an aggressor or being a victim, as represented by the two gravediggers’ divergent opinions. It also examines the concept of different kinds of death. Fortinbras, by contrast, features the titular character trying “to manipulate the story of Hamlet to suit his own purposes”. This play breaks traditional modes and the fourth wall equally, having characters comment on their own situations. One character actually gets a hold of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and becomes engrossed, suggesting, as Cross notes, that even the characters in the play find the original superior to the adaptation. Cross positions her interest in these plays in particular for what they have to say about the role of adaptation as a form of commentary.

And that’s it for tonight — We’re back at 9:30am tomorrow (Monday, February 6th) for a full day of presentations.

For the rest of the Festival, see further posts:
Session 2
Session 3
Session 4