Blackfriars Conference 2013–Paper Session #6

Happy Friday, everyone! Sarah Martin back here in the beautiful Blackfriars Playhouse to liveblog Paper Sesion #6 of the conference. This session’s moderator is Betsy Craig of Grove City College and features papers from Katherine Cleland, Brian Chalk, Jessica Schiermeister, Antonia Forster, Danielle Rosvally, Deb Struesand, and Travis Curtright.

Katherine Cleland, Virginia Tech

“This woman’s of my counsel”: Clandestine Marriage and the Politics of Female alliance in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi

Cleland begins her presentation with a summary of the fascination that scholars have with Cariola’s relationship with the Duchess in The Duchess of Malfi. Cleland notes that scholarship has neglected the complex relationship between the two women. She examines their relationship through a political lens. As witnesses were not required to legitimize early modern marriages, many clandestine marriages were difficult to prove and “morally suspect”. Cleland points to the fact that the clergy were outspoken opponents of such secret marriages as evidence of the risk of clandestine marriage. Cleland states that the Duchess’s marriage  is inevitably political and that the Duchess uses Cariola’s presence at the marriage to legitimize her otherwise incredibly risky union. Cleland argues that the Duchess’s use of the word “counsel” when she says, “this woman’s of my counsel” in reference to Cariola elevates the maidservant to the position of legal counsel. Cleland references the ASC Touring Troupe’s recent production of the play in which the stage configuration of the Duchess, Antonio, and Cariola made Cariola look like the officiator at the wedding, underscoring Cariola’s role in legitimizing the marriage. Cleland notes that Cariola is reluctant to be complicit in the clandestine marriage, but has no choice because of her low social status. Cleland argues that the relationship between the Duchess and Cariola is “exploitative” as the Duchess’s actions condemn Cariola to death. The legal power of the female alliance is solidified When the Duchess and Antonio’s son is named the next Duke at the end of the play.

Brian Chalk, Manhattan College

Fletcher’s Future: Dividing Posterity in Henry VIII

Chalk argues that Henry VIII demonstrates that posterity is  the product of collaborative action–whether that posterity is the issue of the title character, or the text itself. Henry VIII is included in the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, but scholars agree that the play was a collaborative work between Shakespeare and John Fletcher. Chalk notes that Henry destroys the lives of others because of his lack of posterity in personage of a son. The end of the play, which features a prophecy about a phoenix, links Elizabeth with James I. Chalk argues that “in death, Elizabeth produces the male heir she could not in real life”. Henry’s posterity is not only his biological children, but an outsider–Elizabeth’s cousin. Chalk argues that the Tudor name culminates in the Stuart dynasty, noting that Henry’s posterity is the product of two names, just as the play is itself. Fletcher, Chalk claims, cared about the afterlife of his works and understood that the collaborative nature of posterity was essential to his success.

Jessica Schiermeister, Mary Baldwin College

“Youth in Petticoats”: The Early Modern Boy Actor, the All-Male Stage, and Female Performance

Scheirmeister argues that the long-held assumption that women were not allowed on the early modern English stage is incorrect. She notes that women were involved in guilds and that guild-members took part in the staging of small plays. Women performed in Mountebank productions as musicians, acrobats, and even actresses. Scheirmeister gives an example of such an actress, “Vittoria”, who was so popular, she had to have bodyguards accompany her home. Foreign troupes that had actresses also performed in England. Scheirmeister argues Queen Anna of Denmark acted in a mask and Queen Henrietta Maria gave instruction for such masks. Moll Frith could perform onstage because she dressed as a man, Scheirmeister argues. She notes that in Henslowe’s Diary, women are listed as pawnbrokers–very much a part of the commercial theatre world. Scheirmeiser argues that women had a commercial interest in theatre itself. Scheirmeister argues that the reason women were not employed as actresses because of the apprentice system in early modern England. Companies hired theatre apprentices, boys, to play the female roles in their plays. Scheirmeister argues that the lack of women on the early modern English stage was a “product of convenience, rather than ideology.”

Antonia Forster, University of Akron

Another History Play

Actors: Stephanie Holladay Earl, Patrick Earl, and Fernando Lamberty

Forster asks ASC Touring Troupe actor Stephanie Holladay Earl to perform a section of a history play. She first delivers a monologue alone and then is joined by actors Patrick Earl and Fernando Lamberty who inform her that the queen of the play is dead. The scene takes place in the middle of a battle. Forster notes that, in 1795, forged letters between Shakespeare and Elizabeth I and a copy of King Lear and another unnamed play were discovered and circulated. Samuel Ireland who discovered the forged letters and the play, known as Vortigern and Rowena, claimed that it is Shakespeare’s until his son, William Henry Ireland, admitted the forgery. The scandal surrounding the play’s discovery led to a performance in London. Audiences did not respond positively to the play and it had to stop mid-performance. Forster notes that London newspapers lambasted the play and detailed the audience’s disdain for the play. Forster argues that Vortigern and Rowena was dismissed in performance because of the scandal of its forged origins.

Danielle Rosvally, Tufts University Department of Dance and Drama

“Off With His Head!”…so much for Hewlett/Brown; The African Grove Theatre Presents Richard III

Rosvally gives a history of the first African American theatre company who performed for an African American audience: The African Grove Theatre. Their 1820 production of Richard III led to their arrest in New York City. Authorities even made the company members swear that they would never again perform Shakespeare. Rosvally gives examples of what The African Grove Theatre’s performance space may have looked like. She notes that Richard III was uniquely suited to their small performance space because the play does not require many set pieces. Rosvally provides brief biographies of the principle actors in the company and also describes the appearance of their costumes. She describes the acting style of the company and references reviews that claim the acting was “intense and intimate”.  The performance had one actress act each of the female parts in the play. Rosvally argues that the director, William Brown,  significantly cut the text to allow such doubling. She claims that the text would have been around 13,500 words and would have taken about 90 minutes to perform and would not need an intermission. Rosvally concludes by asking theatre historians to learn more about William Brown’s company and their significance in the American theatre history narrative.

Deb Streusand, University of Texas at Austin

“Pardon, gentles all”: Performing the Meta-theatrical.

Actors: ASC Touring Troupe members Patrick Midgley and Patrick Earl

Streusand discusses how metatheatricality operates in performance. She argues that the most difficult moment of metatheatricality for an actor is a textually-mandated direct reference. Streusand states that using humor can help an actor overcome this difficulty. She gives an example from the 2011 Blackfriars Conference. ASC actor Patrick Midgley performed a section of a speech from Henry  V while Streusand played a Western theme on a melodica. She argues that using the audience’s modern shared film reference helps the audience envision the horses that Midgley spoke about. The humor, she argues, “conveyed the significance of the reference”. Streusand also talks about the “metaphor of performance”. Streusand also references  the 2012 ASC production of Julius Caesar’s preshow. ASC actors Patrick Earl and Patrick Midgley took to the stage and sang “Clap Your Hands” and invited the audience to participate. Streusand argues that the actors “primed the audience”to become involved in the performance. She states that the textually-mandated direct reference alienates the audience more than the performance metaphor, but that both use humor to engage the audience in the moment of metatheatricality. Both methods use extratextual elements in order create that humor which should, “enhance the audience’s understanding of that reference”.  Streusand argues that such humor should be used in different ways by different companies and admits that the Blackfriars (with its thrust-staging and universal lighting) may have an advantage in such practice.

Travis Curtright, Ave Maria University

Kate’s Obedience Speech as an Exercise in Declamation

Curtright argues that the obedience speech at the end of The Taming of the Shrew represents a schoolboy’s successful understanding of the use of rhetoric in the early modern humanist education system rather than the defeat or “taming” of Kate. He argues that Shakespeare was familiar with the grammar school exercise of declamation and made references to it in several of his plays. Curtright notes that early modern grammar schools were dedicated to the “marriage of Classical rhetoric to Pauline Christianity”, and that Kate ironizes the curriculum of the grammar school, Richard Brinsley’s recommendations for declamations, and the overall obedience theme. Curtwright argues that Kate “uses rhetoric’s art to alter or expand the terms of Petruchio’s argumentum” and that, in doing so, she was able “re-describe and appropriate the moral content Brinsley’s method takes for granted.”  Hence, “actors who play Hortensio, Lucentio, and Petruchio must choose how to respond to these lines, from cheering Kate on to playing some recognition of irony.”