The End of Shakespeare’s Verse?: Blackfriars Playhouse, Sunday 10/27/2013 Blackfriars Conference

Good morning everyone –

This is Molly Zeigler, I’m live-blogging this morning the first hour of the final presentation of the 2013 Blackfriars Conference.

Today’s presentation is “The End of Shakespeare’s Verse” at the Blackfriars Playhouse on Sunday 10/27/2013.  The presentation is being introduced by Patrick Spottiswoode, Director of Education for Shakespeare’s Globe with presenters: Abigail Rokison and Giles Block.

Participating Actors: Ben Curns, Allison Glenzer, John Harrell, and Rene Thornton, Jr.

Patrick Spottiswoode took the stage to introduce the symposium and today’s presenters.  Today’s symposium is part 3 of 5 of the program “The End of Shakespeare’s Verse” being presented in cooperation by the American Shakespeare Center and Shakespeare’s Globe (and co-sponsored by the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon).

The idea of the presentation is to explore verse and its role in performance and Shakespearean studies.  This symposium is not intended to present a unified front, but rather it is intended to explore a variety of angles regarding this topic.

When, for two examples, script writer Julian Fellowes says he had to cut the verse in Romeo and Juliet to accommodate modern audiences and when major theatrical enterprises spend time organizing  prose editions of the plays – the role of verse needs to be addressed.

Abigail Rokison presented first.  She is exploring some contemporary and popular assertions regarding particular approaches to verse.  These attitudes, approaches, and assertions are expressed  in the  work of Cicely Berry, Patsy Rodenburg, Peter Hall, and John Barton (to name a few). Such assertions can be traced to the work of, among others, William Poel.  Poel’s attempts to incorporate Early Modern theatrical and textual elements into active artistic expression have influenced enterprises for decades.

Poel’s work has been taken and expanded upon by the contemporary scholars and practitioners mentioned.  However, it is not easy to draw direct correlations between Poel and modern efforts.

Shared lines, short lines, ambiguous presentation, and punctuation are of concern.  Furthermore, the canon can be divided in time periods which helps locate trends and issues.

 Shared lines are seen in three major configurations:

1) Linking short lines

2) Linking a shorter and longer line

3) Linking two longer lines

With shared lines we can see a variety of performative options.

In Macbeth there is a considerate number of shared lines.  It is with these shared lines that a sense of heightened emotions and shared intensity can be seen,

Short unconnected verse lines are prominent in the middle tragedies.

In the later (post 1600) works, the number of scenes ending in short lines increases.  To end a scene with a short verse line, rather than with a rhymed couplet, provides a sense of speed, urgency, and suddenness.  It is often seen that the final short line follows a  rhymed couplet, perhaps offering a demand to continue or move on after the satisfying couplet.

Shared lines: There is a marked increase in the number of shared lines in later plays such as The Winter’s Tale.

Of course, there are elements of subjectivity here, and considerations (regarding pauses and actions) depend on theatrical intent, purpose, and choices.  There is no hard and fast rule, but the breaks in lines and the use of shorter and shared lines is a physical fact within the text and should be given attention.  Pauses and breaks and the manipulation of lines are representative of rhetorical structures such as aposiopesis (Greek for’becoming silent’).  Aposiopesis is the deliberate breaking off of a sentence and leaving it unfinished.  The ending of the sentence, of the thought, is meant to be supplied by the imagination.  Aposiopesis can give an impression of unwillingness or of the inability of a character to continue.

Lineation & Punctuation:  There are a number of theories about the role of lineation and punctuation in the deliverance of verse lines.

Peter Hall (and others) insists that each distinct line of verse is a single entity and breath comes only at the end of the line.

In contrast, the likes of Berry, Rodenburg and Donnellan suggest that the meaning take precedence over the line structure and that an actor should follow punctuation in relation to breath (but, whose punctuation?).

Stops in punctuation traditionally include the comma, the colon, and the period with the related pause increasing with each stop.

To avoid ambiguity different delivery methods can be explored.

Rokison suggests that a strict adherence to any one method of delivery is reductive.

It is necessary to explore the role of verse in performance.  These works were constructed purposefully, after all.

Abigail Rokison and the actors presented moments from the canon, primarily from MacbethGlobe symposium – Macbeth – handout

The presentation today is set to continue with Giles Block.

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It has been my pleasure to blog portions of this wonderful conference,  I hope one and all have enjoyed these last few days as much as I have.  It has been a truly wonderful experience.