Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Paper Session VII

Hello, I’m Charlene V. Smith and I’ll be live blogging Paper Session VII, running from 1:00pm to 2:15pm on Friday, October 25. The moderator for this panel is Peggy O’Brien from the Folger Shakespeare Library. The panelists are joined by American Shakespeare actors Tracie Thomason, Dylan Paul, John Harrell, Benjamin Curns, and Allison Glenzer, and Whitney Egbert from the Shakespeare Forum.

Roslyn Knutson, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Everything is interesting about the lost play, ‘Gowrie’

Knutson’s first point is simple: lost plays should be a serious part of the conversation in early modern scholarship. Her paper today is specifically on ‘Gowrie‘. John Chamberlain describes ‘Gowrie’ as a tragedy, twice represented by the King’s Players, and refers to displeasure over the play due to it’s presentation of a living prince on the stage. Our knowledge of the plot of this lost play comes from the pamphlet Gowrie’s Conspiracy which describes an assassination plot on 5th August 1600 involving James VI of Scotland. During ‘Gowrie’s’ composition, London playhouses were closed due to the plague. The King’s Players may have considered the Globe, due to open in the fall, and the court as possible playing spaces for this piece. But Knutson wonders why would the newly minted King’s Men chose this risky play in 1604? The likeliest motive is a simple one: they thought the King would be flattered.

Sybille Bruun, The Shakespeare Forum, You That Way, We This Way – Letters and Possibilities in Love’s Labour’s Lost

Bruun, who directed Love’s Labour’s Lost recently in New York, investigates how a textual ambiguity has shaped the character of Costard. Bruun directed this play recently in New York. In rehearsals, the actor playing Costard asked her questions about why he does what he does. In act four, Costard delivers two letters, one from Berowne to Rosalind, and one from Don Armado to Jaquenetta. He misdelivers these letters. Why? If he can’t read, he may misdeliver the letters accidentally. He may also be able to judge the superscripts and choses to misdeliver them. Bruun also points out that Armado’s letter may have been folded differently, allowing Costard to tell the difference. One again, he could purposely give the wrong letter. Bruun, with the help of actors Curns, Glenzer, and Egbert, shows that the Princess could hand the letter to Rosalind or back to Costard after discover that the letter isn’t for Rosalind. If Costard doesn’t get the letter back, he purposely choses to give the remaining, wrong letter to Jaquenetta. This choice gives Costard agency and perhaps even some maliciousness, traits we don’t typically associate with this character. This question hinges on the Princess’ line, “Put up this; twill be thine another day.” Bruun notes that editorial tradition closes down the possibilities of this moment by noting that the Princess is giving the letter to Rosalind. While talking to actors and directors who had worked on this play in the past, Bruun discovered that it hadn’t occurred to them that there was another choice to back beyond what the edited text told them was happening in this moment. Bruun says we need a greater awareness of how the communities of academia and theatre interact with each other, and to realize that we don’t need to pigeonhole ourselves or others.

Andrew Blasenak, Emory and Henry College, “I would you were as I would have you be”: Negotiation of Character with/for/by an Interactive Audience

While in the modern theatre, audiences assume characters are set from performance to performance, at early modern re-creation theatres, audience interaction has the possibility of changing performance and character. Blasenak argues that character arises from the interaction of actor and audience and the reaction of the audience to the actor. In interviews with Blasenak, actors didn’t speak of finding character in rehearsal, but on finding “what works.” “What works” is hard to define; it is a sense of something clicking, of causing an audience’s heightened attention. The uncertainty of audience response makes acting in this style like windsurfing, according to one Globe actor. Jim Warren of the American Shakespeare Center calls this form of theatre, “improvising with a script.” Blasenak discusses some examples of audience informing character. The actor who played Edmund in a recent RSC tour of King Lear told Blasenak that he would adjust his cockiness and smoothness based on audience response. Benjamin Curns of the American Shakespeare notes that sometimes his speeches as Henry VIII were met with boos, feeding his character’s need to get the audience on his side. Blasenak next demonstrates, with the help of Curns, with Iago’s “What’s he that says I play the villain?” The first time through, we as the audience are directed to cheer and applaud Iago. The second time, we are asked to give resistance. Curns takes the audience’s attitude and changes the character and speech in response.

Hsiang-Chun Chu, National Changhua University of Education, From Cunning Fox to Libidinous Swine: Imposture and Sexual Sadism in the Wooing Scenes of Volpone

This paper discusses the wooing episodes between Volpone and Celia. Volpone is mostly confined to his bed as an old and sick man. In contrast, Volpone acquires much more energy and agency when he is cast as a lover. Volpone disguises himself as a mountebank in order to see Celia, allowing him to demonstrate his persuasive language skills in a way he is not able to when playing the sick man. In the second part of her paper, Chu looks at the sexual transaction between Volpone, Celia, and Corvino. Corvino is a possessive husband, yet Volpone convinces him to give Celia as a gift in order to secure a place in Volpone’s will. No matter how much identification an audience may have felt with Volpone, this sympathy evaporates as Volpone shifts into a lecherous swine in his attempt to win Celia.

Kate Moncrief, Washington College, “And are by child with me”: The Performance of Pregnancy in Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well 

In Alls Wells that Ends Well, Helena’s body is used as evidence that she has completed the tasks Bertram set before her, particularly that she is pregnant. Moncrief points out that Helena re-interprets Bertram’s challenges. He asks her to show a child; she instead is with child. The play’s timeline is not clear – how much time has passed since the bed trick? The play offers no physical description of Helena at this moment, leaving practitioners to decide just how pregnant Helena is. Moncrief next explores, with the help of actors Thomason, Paul, and Harrell, how this pregnancy can be performed: gestures, prosthetics, etc. In version 1 Thomason does not wear a pregnancy bump, forcing Bertram and the audience to rely on her word that she is pregnant. Paul hits the if in his line, “If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly,” expressing his doubt. The actors perform the scene again, with Paul believing the pregnancy and kissing Helena. Next, Thomason puts on the pregnancy bump and the actors play the scene twice again, one with Paul expressing doubt as Bertram and once with him truly believing her. Moncrief polls the audience, who seem to prefer the version without the pregnancy bump.

Nick Hutchison and Donald Jellerson, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art/Globe Theatre, Feste and the Performance of Character

In 2011, Hutchison directed Twelfth Night in Memphis, with Jellerson playing Feste. In this paper, with the help of Allison Glenzer, they share the discoveries they found while rehearsing. They found two questions they explored: why doesn’t Feste care for Cesario, and what is the something he care for (“Not so, sir, I do care for something; but in my conscience, sir, I do not care for you”)? Hutchison admits that after decades of dismissing character criticism, asking what a character wants can seem misguided or passé. Hutchison and Jellerson wish to demonstrate how expanding our understanding of character can involve both practitioners and literary critics. Hutchinson and Jellerson quote from a book defining character that Shakespeare might have read as a student, revealing how Shakespeare may have been trained to think of character and what conclusions we can draw from this knowledge. The book asks writers to imagine their characters in three parts: a past, present, and future, which gives them, according to Hutchison, the illusion of enduring consciousness and psychological depth for which we value Shakespeare. Hutchison suggests that possibly Feste figures out that Cesario is a woman, and is concerned that Olivia will get hurt. This choice can be reflected in the final scene based on when Feste is quoting Malvolio and when he is speaking directly to Olivia, as the punctuation is different in different versions of the text.

One thought on “Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Paper Session VII

  1. I’m grateful that you are live-blogging these sessions. As it happens, my students back at home in Victoria, BC, were talking about letters in Love’s Labour’s Lost with their guest instructor at the very moment that Sybille Bruun was giving her paper. How wonderful it is to be able to send my students to your blog so that they can benefit from from the many insights generated at this wonderful conference! (Janelle Jenstad)

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