Blackfriars Conference 2013–Special Panel

Hello everyone! Sarah Martin here to liveblog Saturday afternoon’s Special Panel in the Blackfriars Playhouse. Today, we will hear two presentations: Tiffany Stern from the University of Oxford’s Why Der Berstraffe Brudermord Might Be a Puppet Play (you can see Der Berstraffe Brudermord performed as a puppet play courtesy of Beth Burns and the Hidden Room theatre this evening at 9:30pm in the Blackfriars Playhouse) and The Complete Works presented by Paul Menzer from Mary Baldwin College, Jeremy Lopez from the University of Toronto, Andrea Stevens from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Genevieve Love from Colorado College.

Tiffany Stern, Oxford University

Why Der Berstraffe Brudermord Might be a Puppet Play

Stern begins her presentation with a brief explanation of Der Berstraffe Brudermord saying that it is an “eighteenth-century play of extraordinary awfulness”. She says that Der Berstraffe Brudermord is probably not a puppet play, but that this possibility is certainly there. Stern’s interest  in the play began with research about puppet plays and the discovery of a puppet Hamlet. She explains that the text of the Der Berstraffe Brudermord is very close to the Quarto 1 Hamlet.  This informs us that Q1 Hamlet must have been circulating in Germany at some point before Der Berstraffe Brudermord was written. Stern notes that the first mention of the possible puppet Hamlet was in 1779. She explains that Germany experienced a period of fascination with Shakespeare’s works during the eighteenth century. She gives a brief history of English players in Germany. She explains that the same English players also performed in the Czech Rebublic. A Czech account of the English players’ performances states that the actors, “alternately performed an actors’ and a marionette repertoire”. Stern gives an example of an Italian puppet Hamlet called Amleto from the 1660s that informs us that Shakespeare’s plays were circulating on the continent before the plays were available in good translations.

As evidence for why Der Berstraffe Brudermord might be a puppet play, Stern notes that the Prologue requires four women, but the play only has two women characters. When the character of NIGHT enters, she does so in “flying machinery”–much easier for a puppet to accomplish rather than a person, obviously. The play also includes a lot of violent moments that occur from behind. All action in puppet shows takes place from behind and this contributes to why Der Berstraffe Brudermord might be a puppet play. Stern notes that Der Berstraffe Brudermord has several moments of fireworks–another hallmark of puppet shows. She points to the “Closet Scene” moment when the Hamlet character sees the ghost of his father and fireworks go off. Including fireworks at this moments seems odd and contributes to the “absurdity” one expects in puppet shows.

Sterns contacted Beth Burns about the possibility of the puppet show performance and Burns jumped on the idea. Stern says that she was nervous about the actual performance, and said “what if I’m wrong, oh but what if I’m not” and that led to tonight’s production.

Paul Menzer, Mary Baldwin College; Jeremy Lopez, University of Toronto; Andrea Stevens, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; and Genevieve Love, Colorado College

The Complete Works

Paul Menzer begins his presentation by having the Mary Baldwin College MFA students pass out sheets of paper that contains lists of words all beginning with the same two letters (I have “ex” words). He then asks the audience to read aloud all of the many words on their pages as he does the same. As the reading comes to a close, Menzer notes that the ASC will produce Timon of Athens this Spring and will at that point, have performed all of Shakespeare’s words. He then points out that we have done just that in a matter of a few minutes. The papers contained all of the words found in Shakespeare’s works. Menzer points out that our performance, in claiming to have performed The Complete Works of Shakespeare, represents a “scaling fallacy”. He notes that the “Complete Works” idea has the problem of scale. He explains that Shakespeare’s Complete Works is large in comparison to Marlowe, but not compared to that of Thomas Heywood.  Menzer then goes on to note that “Shakespeare’s Complete Works is not bigger than Marlowe’s, there’s just more of it”. He points out the problematic idea of “Complete Works” is that it implies a finishing point. He explains that scale is a measure not just of size, but of form as the agent doing the measuring is part of it. We, as those agents, contribute to Shakespeare’s Complete Works–and contribute to what that term means exactly.

Jeremy Lopez begins by telling the audience that the word “disappointed” occurs only once in all of Shakespeare’s works. Lopez gives several examples of word counts throughout works of great literature. Lopez argues of such “word counting” exercises are only applied to iconic authors and plays. He argues that we only decide to look for the instances of the word “blood” in Macbeth, for example, because we already know the play. Giving examples of several such instances of repeated words in plays that do not really have anything to do with those words, Lopez argues that repetition does not equal emphasis or meaning. He notes that though his paper, “is about disappointment, the word “disappointed” appears only once.”

Andrea Stevens begins her presentation with an explanation of the use of the term “invulnerable” in Shakespeare’s plays. She explains that it is the “vulnerable” bodies that are the victims of violence. Quoting Judith Butler, Stevens notes that our bodies are never exclusively our own. Our bodies also always have political value. She argues that Shakespeare’s tragedies are explorations of how characters discover that they are, in fact, vulnerable and that their bodies are not their own.

Genevieve Love begins with a discussion of the “vulnerable”. She talks about how characters with missing limbs and other physical disabilities give important bibliographical and textual history as well. Prosthetic bodies, Love argues, represent the incomplete articulation of the plays themselves. She points to Dr. Faustus–a play with both “A” and “B” texts as an example of how the disability of the body also represents the disability and deformity of corrupt texts. She argues that the dismemberment and multiplication of one, whole body into diverse incomplete parts is a reflection of the corruption and mutilation of early modern texts.