Plenary Session VIII – Blackfriars Conference 2013

Good Evening from the Blackfriars!  This is Clare with the 8th paper session of the Conference!

Paper Session VIII
Moderator: Rene Thornton Jr.

John Mucciolo:  The Opening Storm Scene of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and its European Pictorial Milieu
Jacque Vanhoutte: A Lazar-like Ghost?
Peter Hyland: Scare bears: Mucedorus and The Winter’s Tale
Paige Martin-Reynolds:  “Anatomiz[ing] Regan”: Performing Parts in King Lear
Jeanne McCarthy: John Lyly’s Spectacural Plays for the Children of Paul’s
George Walton Williams: Retreat and Flourish: Backwards and Forwards on Shakespeare’s Stage
Virginia Vaughan: “Storm still”: Staging 3.2-3.4 of King Lear

It appears in The Tempest that the actors easily presented the ship on the Early Modern stage. The question then becomes, how did they present the ship? Ships from the period include the grand vision of the “Prince Royal” 1613.  There are many beautiful images of ships in storms or in sea scapes from the time period which Mucciolo presented in a slide-show and suggested that these paintings were common.  Pictures of ships had two common visual modes.  The first is that of fore-grounding in which the painter places the boat in the foreground.  The second is that of a ship at a distance in panorama. The Tempest views the ship from each of these two perspectives.  The first lines (1-4) begin with the foregrounded idea of the ship. In 1.2 the ship is described with a panoramic view by Miranda. The 2013 production at the globe presents the actors in the foreground carrying a ship which looks like a panoramic view. Mucciolo urges we examine the way that we present this idea with a self-conscious decision about these two.

In Medieval culture, leprosy was a spiritual and physical disfigurement. Theater is also connected in some ways to leprosy and the idea that you can present one thing while being another.  Melancholy, introversion, impersonation, etc. “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” are all indications of leprosy presented in Hamlet. The descriptions surrounding the ghost (a rotting individual) sound similar to leprosy. Early Moderns also suppose the insatiable need for sex to indicate leprosy.  Claudius shows many transgression marks and characteristics of leprosy, but no physical symptoms. He himself uses “foul,” “rank,” and other ideas of rottenness and sin (which Early Moderns thought of as closely related to leprosy). Claudius does not show any of the physical signs of leprosy.  Claudius’s offense makes his soul black, but his body remains whole, making it difficult for Hamlet to know for certain if he has sinned. The ghost is not a leper, but Lazar-like, an emblem of the ancient diseases. The doubling of the ghost and Claudius allows the conversion of the conversion from simile to metaphor in and the appearance of leprosy.  The actor playing the ghost may even have painted the marks of leprosy which Shakespeare indicates in the description of the ghost’s skin.  Shakespeare may be indicating that the accidents of leprosy stand for the fading assumptions that looking sick indicates being sick at heart.

The most famous stage direction in Shakespeare is from the 1613 folio text “exit pursued by a bear” however, this comes from the 1598 Mucedorus play which was revived in 1610 in which a polar bear chases characters on the stage. The common theory is that theater practitioners used real bears in performances.  Mucedorus was the most popular play in its period with 17 quarto editions.  The bear in Mucedorus dies, and a man disguised as a shepherd carries in the bear’s head.  Later, another character stumbles upon the bear.  The question then arises whether there really was a real bear.  Bears were available in the time period as dancing bears and bear bating were common forms of entertainment.  A problem arises, however, in training a bear to follow stage directions. A real bear would most likely have caused unwarranted anxiety in the audience  at a point in the play which does not call for such a reaction.  In Mucedorus, a character defends himself saying that it must have been a person disguised as a bear.  Using a person in a bear’s disguise negates the dangers of using a real bear and the necessity of using a real bear. The staging of the bear is crucially significant to establish the tone of the rest of the play for both Mucedorus and The Winter’s Tale.

Audiences have a fascination with the dead body on stage.  Plays show a particular fascination with examining the female corpse, both from interest of the text itself and from other characters. Lear and the audience often anatomize Regan as wicked.  Lear suggests that attendants cuter her open and examine her evil anatomy after she dies.  Early Moderns also pulled criminals to theaters of anatomy in which people watched dissections.  Regan often uses the royal “we” and identifies herself with power.  She is a sophisticated reader of her own circumstances. Her father threatens her according to his moods, and threatens to the honor her mother if she does not show constant love and affection to him. All the daughters in King Lear must realize that loyalty and love have limits. Martin-Reynolds states that audiences often place Lear as the morally correct individual, and that it is the fault of the daughters that drive him to madness rather than him driving himself mad. At the end of the play, the girls become faceless bodies laid out on stage and ready to be anatomized.  Lear’s fantasy of Regan’s atomization leads back to the beginning of the play in which he wants lists of her love.  Martin-Reynolds asserts that the audience is not responsible for what happens to the girls, but it is responsible for siding with Lear when his transgression begins the play.

John Lyly writes highly literary drama as well as many spectacle events in his plays written for children players. Lyly changes the relationships of characters and identifiers. For example, some have different family from their classical sources, or different professions. Lyly invites audiences into the interpretive and philosophic act of the plays. These plays present philosophical debates and literary images. Lyly’s use of properties draw on traditional symbols and questions the idea of signifiers and symbols.  He also places a literary abuse of logic in his plays (reliance on traditional symbols, rather than logic for conclusions).  The privileging of the meaning of traditional symbols over logic can also lead to a discussion of grammar. The plays emphasize a detached artifice.  The actors’ use of emotion also plays into the idea of what is presented as a signifier. The question of whether the children were having fun pretending, or seeking to imitate other acting they had seen is often left out of this discussion. The plays should present an interior state rather than an exterior show. The props also should signify something deeper than what they represent. Lyly’s Blackfriars plays are similar to court masques. The achievement of John Lyly is his promotion of a thoroughly literary drama.

Walton Williams:
Trumpets often symbolize movement backwards, forwards, and retreats on the Blackfriars.  Specific trumpet flourishes accompany each of these movements.  There is little or no written music which survives for trumpet accompanied stage directions. Sometimes words will imitate sounds of the percussive trumpet style.  The sounds of retreat often indicate the end of a war, and can lead into the new sound of a flourish for coronation.  There are some scenes in Shakespeare which do not indicate a scene change between the end of a battle and the beginning of the coronation, but there is a flourish. The trumpets could indicate the change of scene, and the dead bodies could then remove themselves rather than building a change of scene into the written text.  These transitions often occur at the same point in the play and the stage directions simply read “retreat” and on the next line read “flourish.” Even though the location of the action does not change, the characters enter into a new fictional location of action for the play. Victors can also enter at the sound of a flourish into a discussion of the battle by other characters. This is a transition on stage which indicates the clear ending of one scene and the beginning of another. Other plays have a moment of success which is followed by “flourish,” and then“alarum” and “retreat” there is no other indication of change of locus. Some editors indicate that there is a change of place, however, and some question the placement of these stage directions.  Walton Williams has not found an explanation for these reversals which he finds satisfactory to himself, but he does find that the phenomenon indicates the end of one scene and the beginning of another.

In King Lear, Shakespeare revolutionized the representation of the tempest on stage.  The storm in King Lear runs for 22 minutes, over multiple scenes (approx 340 lines). Multiple scenes open with the indication “storm still.” The question then arises whether the storm is stilled for a time, whether the direction indicates the continuation of the storm.  Vaughan proposes that the storm is continuous, this requires wind machines and other storm affects.  The characters themselves indicate a continued storm. The characters often describe the storm, and must also be heard over the sound effects. Twenty minutes is a long time for a storm.  Previous to this direction, thunder and lightning indicated the gods being angry, a severe emotional disturbance, or a foreshadowing of something bad about to happen. Lear is raging, emotionally upset, and the patriarchal structure is falling apart.  The play shows a disruptive social order. The audience does not hear about the tempest in the abstract, but hears the storm itself.  The storm does not just act as a chorus, because there is no single meaning that the audience can take from the storm. This play does not have the gods “pulling the strings” but humans enacting with each other, and no divine body intervening to restore order.