St. David’s Day and Welshness in Shakespeare

Did you know that March 1st is a holiday? Well, actually, according to Wikipedia, it’s several, including Independence Day for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Roman Matronalia, and Beer Day, celebrating the end of prohibition in Iceland. But for those of an early modern bent, it’s most important as St. David’s Day, honoring the patron saint of Wales.

Though little is actually know about the saint’s life, he is supposed to have died on March 1st in 569 CE. St. David’s Day has been celebrated by the Welsh since the Middle Ages, and seems to have come to prominence as a day of national pride during Welsh resistance to the Norman Conquest. Both St. David and his day remained important to the Welsh throughout their struggles with the English in the subsequent centuries. Observance, in the modern day as in the medieval, involves parades, wearing the national costume, recitation of Welsh literature, and turning daffodils or leeks into accessories — a practice Shakespeare refers to in Henry V:

Welsh Guards affixing the leek to their caps, 1921

Welsh Guards affixing the leek to their caps, 1921

FLUELLEN
Your grandfather of famous memory, an’t please your
majesty, and your great-uncle Edward the Plack
Prince of Wales, as I have read in the chronicles,
fought a most prave pattle here in France.
KING HENRY V
They did, Fluellen.
FLUELLEN
Your majesty says very true: if your majesties is
remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a
garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their
Monmouth caps; which, your majesty know, to this
hour is an honourable badge of the service; and I do
believe your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek
upon Saint Tavy’s day.
KING HENRY V
I wear it for a memorable honour;
For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.
FLUELLEN
All the water in Wye cannot wash your majesty’s
Welsh plood out of your pody, I can tell you that:
God pless it and preserve it, as long as it pleases
his grace, and his majesty too!
KING HENRY V
Thanks, good my countryman.

In a subsequent scene, Fluellen comes into conflict with the boastful swaggerer Pistol, who mocks the Welsh Captain and his nationality. Fluellen cudgels Pistol, quite possibly with the very leek he then makes Pistol eat, stating, “If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek.”

Wales occupied a somewhat strange place in the worldview of early modern London. The Welsh were still seen in many respects as foreigners. They were, since the Act 1536 Act of Union, subject to English law, but not fully English themselves. Many at this time did not even speak English, and common observance noted strong accents in those who did (the sort of accent Shakespeare writes into Fluellen’s dialogue, above, with consonant shifts confusing Ps and Bs, as well as Ts and Ds). On the other hand, the Tudor dynasty was part-Welsh itself, and earlier centuries’ conflicts between the English and the Welsh had died down. Wales had helped Henry VII win his crown, and the country was now the jumping-off point for wars with Ireland. Shakespeare’s plays illustrate England’s mixed acceptance and ostracization of their near neighbors.

Though it will be somewhat after St. David’s Day, audiences at the Blackfriars Playhouse will be able to see a lot of Welsh-ness on stage this spring when 1 Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor return home from tour. In these two plays, Shakespeare presents two very different views on the Welsh. In 1 Henry IV, the English speak of Glendower as a near-mythological terror, and Glendower himself readily builds on this larger-than-life legend (however little Hotspur thinks of his prophetic birth and self-proclaimed magical powers). The stories the English characters tell about their Welsh opponents are terrifying — they consort with devils, they mercilessly slaughter defeated foes, and their women perform unspeakable transgressions upon corpses. Both Glendower and his daughter, Lady Mortimer, give the lie to rumor a bit. Though Glendower embraces and encourages his supernatural legend, he shows himself educated and cultured. He speaks in perfect, unaccented iambic pentameter, just like the English nobles, and seems far less inclined towards random violence than report would have it. Lady Mortimer speaks no English, but through her song and as an object of desire for both Mortimer and Hotspur, she represents an English exoticization of another culture. However much a threat the Welsh might be, there is something attractive about them, too.

p039-z4By contrast, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare writes a Welsh buffoon in the character of Hugh Evans. Evans displays no element of threat whatsoever. Instead, Shakespeare calls on other, more humorous stereotypes about the Welsh, including a pronounced accent and an utter lack of pith. Evans displays a tendency towards circular speaking and repetition that reflects English prejudice of the Welsh as an overly garrulous people. There are also a great many jokes about cheese (an early modern equivalent of our current cultural conceptions about Wisconsin). Despite these slights on his nationality, however, Evans appears to be an integrated and valued member of the Windsor community — if no less ridiculous than many of his neighbors, certainly not a wide margin moreso, either.

Shakespeare also shows a different angle on the idea of Welsh magic. Whereas Glendower claims mystical power and summons music-playing spirits from the air, Hugh Evans is as solidly Christian as they come — an actual parson without the hint of devilry about him. Until, that is, he takes on the personage of a demonic fairy in order as part of the trick against Falstaff. Shakespeare turns the idea of Welshness that he presented in 1 Henry IV on its head, and continues to develop it in Henry V with the character of Fluellen (he who righteously defends the honor of the leek). Fluellen is somewhere between the two extremes: prone to loquaciousness and to fits of temper, but a capable military commander, full of heart and utterly loyal to King Henry.

For more on Shakespeare’s treatment of the Welsh, see the upcoming ASC Study Guide Henry, Hal, and Falstaff, on sale at Lulu and in the Box Office during the Spring Season.

MLitt Thesis Festival 2014: Session 3

Sarah Blackwell: “Turning Sonnet: Performing Lyric Poetry”
Actors: Josh Brown, Molly Harper, Jamie Jager, Sara Vazquez
Blackwell opens with the sonnet she wrote for Ralph Cohen’s “Language of the Performance” class, performed by her four actors, structured so that the audience could “visually and aurally experience” the argument of the sonnet. Though she did not write the sonnet initially intending it for performance, her four actors “turned sonnet” and embodied the verse. Blackwell characterizes sonnets in performance as “reasons in rhyme,” and notes that the sonnets in Shakespeare’s plays challenge the traditional solitary nature of sonnets. Blackwell also points out how often sonnets within the plays do not reach their intended audiences, often going astray in the delivery, allowing Shakespeare to use them as “transformative devices.”

The most sonnet-heavy play is Love’s Labour’s Lost. Blackwell notes that, while Dumain’s ode is not structured like a sonnet, it still has syllabic similarity if re-lined. Blackwell and her actors then walk through the various transformations, as the King and Longaville “turn perjurer”. Blackwell posits that the performance of the sonnet is key to this transformation, as they cannot be perjured without an audience — which the King provides for Longaville, Berowne for the King. Blackwell also identifies Berowne as a character who can “burst into sonnet”, as in the moment when he interjects spontaneous poetry into the argument over whether or not to sign the King’s oath. The King, Longaville, and Dumain respond with their own tercet, which Berowne then volleys with a fourth rhyme, demonstrating that all men are consciously aware of their own poetical capabilities. Blackwell identifies the progression of rhymes as moving from reason towards ridiculousness.

Blackwell then questions what happens if the performed sonnet is a soliloquy, performed without an onstage audience. She uses Beatrice as an example of the sonnet becoming an argument with the self. Beatrice not only shifts from prose into verse, but into an incomplete sonnet. Her first set of rhymes set up questions, which the second two answer; in the next quatrain, the rhymes are weaker, offering an actor a variety of choices on how to perform the awkward rhyme and rhythm. Blackwell identifies this as a transformative moment for Beatrice, and posits that she may be her own, self-aware audience — as Benedick is in his later attempt at poem-making. Benedick comments on the “ominous endings” of his own bad rhymes. Blackwell suggests that this may inform their belief in the final scene that they do not have the “reason” to love each other. Claudio and Hero then provide the physical evidence of the sonnets. Blackwell concludes that the volta turn for a character happens in performance, and that the presence of an on- or off-stage audience is key for the transformation.

Q&A: Cyndi Kimmel raises the question of translation. A: Blackwell has not addressed that, as she’s only been looking at Shakespeare’s sonnets. She notes, however, that the transition words for the volta likely serve the same purpose in other languages.
Q: Danielle Guy questions if Blackwell also looked at Romeo and Juliet, who fall in love in rhyme. A: Blackwell nods emphatically, noting that they are each others’ audience. “They transition from strangers into kissing strangers.”
Q: Doreen Bechtol asks Blackwell about the term volta, particularly as it relates to a dancing term. A: Blackwell says she has not looked at the history of the word volta, but more on the many alternate definitions of the word “turn”.
Q: Paul Menzer asks about the tangibility of paper sonnets versus the sonnets which do not have paper attached to them, asking if Blackwell has been able to track qualities of sonneteering when paper is or is not present. A: Blackwell notes that reading of a sonnet occurs less often, more that “he writes characters who burst into sonnet”. She admits that it can be difficult to pick out a sonnet just by listening to it, especially when it’s broken up, as with Berowne’s during the oath scene.
Q: Matt Davies follows up by asking how it might relate to cue script, wondering when actors using cue scripts pick up on the sonnet. A: Blackwell speaks to the variant styles of printing the sonnets in the Folio, admitting the difficulty of representing the sonnets on paper for either a reader’s or an actor’s benefit.

Scott Campbell: “Selling Imagined Dearth on the New Early Modern Stage”
Actors: Josh Brown, Adrienne Johnson, Charlene Smith
Campbell seeks to look at the intersection of scholarship and performance in under-rehearsed Shakespeare performances, which he qualifies as non-perjorative, but as “companies that are intentionally limiting the amount of rehearsal they are doing”. Campbell discusses the increased attention in the 20th and 21st centuries of production companies on early modern rehearsal practices with such practices as direct audience address, universal lighting, and reduced rehearsal time. Campbell seeks to interrogate the research behind the practice of rehearsal time in particular, because of its reductive nature.

Campbell argues that the marketing of under-rehearsed shows is a re-shaping rather than a re-creation, which he posits as a discrepancy between the research and its application. He examines five Mid-Atlantic companies which use reduced rehearsal practices. He suggests that the marketing for these companies attempt to sell dearth as authentic and/or as a novelty, framing it as “a withdrawal of modern conveniences”. Campbell believes that, while compelling, these marketing approaches “only tell one side of the story… one which does not accurately reflect the early modern stage.” He compares this to KFC’s 2007 re-branding as “trans-fat free” — selling absence rather than presence, the “novel merit of what it does not possess, rather than what it does”. Campbell then refers to Taffety Punk’s method of marketing a one-day rehearsal period as capable of challenging modern notions of theatre, as well as Richmond Shakespeare’s idea of “anything can happen”. This, Campbell notes, is the theatrical equivalent of baiting rubbernecking, which he relates to the early series of MTV’s The Real World. He identifies that marketing shows this way is somewhat misleading, as a production can be unpredictable no matter how well-rehearsed it is or how much it costs (referring to the ill-fated Spiderman musical’s travails).

Campbell then notes that the original early modern companies could not sell their dearth in the same way, because it was not a deviation from the norm, but the norm itself. “Early modern theatre succeeded in spite of dearth, rather than because of it.” He suggests that the research actually exhibits a “resource-rich environment”, rather than one founded on absence, and identifies several of those resources: lasting communities, actor familiarity, and common vocabulary. His thesis suggests “a fixable disconnect” between the research and the marketing practices of the companies, and that re-creating these conditions will let 21st-century companies “produce powerful theatre that more accurately reflects” theatre of the early modern period.

Q&A: Cass Morris mentions that ASC Education has long used the term “technology” when referring to cue scripts, to frame the practices as positive and constructive, rather than reductive. A: Campbell says, yes, he thinks that language could be productive, and that he has noticed a shift in the ASC’s marketing terminology towards that sort of language since about 2011.
Q: Who ever said that marketing had to be truthful? A: Campbell admits that, yes, it is still selling something and can be generative, as this is a new product, rather than framing it in terms of re-creating. He hopes to address the disconnect between what companies of this sort sell and what they actually provide.
Q: Matt Davies addresses the idea that “Shakespeare done by the experts is bad for you… and that ‘Shakespeare-lite’ is ‘fun'”, and he wonders if Campbell has picked up on that sense. A: Campbell is aware of the idea though has not encountered much of it in his research for this project, as he has largely looked at just a few specific theatres in the past 15 years. Menzer points out an “ethical responsibility” when claiming authenticity.
Q: Arlynda Boyer asks if Campbell looked at the Globe’s marketing and if this might be “a uniquely American privileging of being a historical blank”. A: Campbell’s research is just now starting to look at the Globe. He notes that he thinks the ASC’s Actors’ Renaissance Season has strongly influenced the theatrical companies and the marketing of those companies in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Amy Grubbs: “Rogues, Vagabonds, and Common Players: The Interaction of Late Elizabethan Theatre Companies with the Unsettled of London.”
Actors: Linnea Barkland, Sarah Blackwell, Molly Harper, Rebecca Wright
Grubbs begins by identifying the 1590s as a time of desperation for many English citizens, with the number of “poor and unsettled residents of London’s suburbs” greatly increasing. A year of plague followed by five years of poor harvests decimated the population and then unsettled the survivors, combining “to create an environment of downward social mobility and early death”. She identifies the greatest problem brought on by these conditions as vagrancy.

And then, two fights over phones break out in the audience, ending in the public proclamation of Rebecca Wright and Molly Harper as rogues. Grubbs then explicates that her actors have re-enacted incidents which led to the rewritten 1598 Poor Laws. The common threads are wandering and begging, which rendered a person worthy of punishment. Grubbs clarifies that there were some classes of the poor who were protected and deemed worthy of charity. She further identifies how important it was in this time to belong to a community; London’s suburbs were then, full of people who “did not belong”. Grubbs goes on to discuss how theatrical companies interacted with these Poor Laws, noting that they were usual contributors to charities, evidence she draws both from legal writs and from references within the plays. The theatres also “encouraged the employment of the unsettled”, most obviously in the apprenticeship of young boys within the company. Grubbs also states that the theatrical companies “worked together with their neighbors”, helping to create demand for other professions such as the watermen who ferried playgoers across the River Thames.

Beyond merely financial concerns, Grubbs argues that the theatre companies “created a community”. She refers back to the language of the Poor Laws, which included language similar to that of acting — seeming, calling themselves, feigning to be, etc — and she discusses the punishments given to vagrants. Grubbs argues that “theatres welcomed the unsettled as part of their community”, particularly since the price for a groundling remained at a single penny for over seventy years, despite great inflation in London in general. She suggests that this allowed the poor, servants, and other disadvantaged classes to attend the theatre, thus becoming part of the community. Grubbs also points to the choice to re-build the Globe in the same location across the river, despite that the King’s Men were making much more money at the Blackfriars, as evidence that “the King’s Men felt a civic responsibility” to their Southwark neighborhood. Grubbs encourages other theatre historians to continue exploring the relationship between the theatres and the unsettled poor, beyond her temporal parameters and beyond the suburbs of London. She notes that many of the moments in Shakespeare’s plays which relate to the poor, such as Falstaff’s speech about his impressed soldiers, are designed for direct audience address, strengthening that connection.

Q&A: Ralph Cohen begins by questioning the “unofficial contract there seemed to be between the theatres and the poor”, particularly with regards to the decision to keep both the Blackfriars and the Globe open. Jessica Schiermeister then offers her own research on Continental theatres.
Q: Clare von Rueden questions if the relationship between the poor and the theatre was affected by the fact that unaffiliated actors were considered vagabonds. A: Grubbs acknowledges the legal and figurative ways in which players were identified as unsettled.

Mara Sherman: “Theatrical Spinach”
Actors: Nicola Collett, Dane Leasure
Sherman’s thesis examines the educational materials and programming at five Shakespeare companies. She specifically interrogates the tendencies to teach the same material to privileged and under-privileged groups in different ways. Sherman begins by questioning the American affinity for Shakespeare, despite its tendency to uphold the very hierarchal society which America had broken away from in the Revolution. She identifies a combination of revived Anglophilia and “the conscription of Shakespeare into American myth-building” as reasons for the dominance of Shakespeare in American education. She then walks through a brief history of Shakespeare’s role in American culture, ending on the idea that Shakespeare is “theatrical spinach”, promoted as “good for you”.

Sherman first addresses the question of “Does Shakespeare taste good?” In response, she has her actors present a re-creation of a tuna fish commercial, wherein a fish emulates Shakespeare in order to prove he has good taste, which she claims illustrates “Shakespeare’s immense cultural capital” and that demonstrates the idea that “Shakespeare can change you” for the better. Sherman then questions how Shakespeare in education supplements or challenges the ideas that Shakespeare can increase your upward social mobility, make you smarter, or otherwise enhance your life.

Sherman then addresses her assessment of the word choices used in the marketing of theatre companies which target underprivileged groups. She chose to identify those groups which she considers to target upper-middle class families based on the tuition costs for programs. She notes that three prominent companies offer scholarships to their programs, though she raises the question of other potential roadblocks, such as travel costs, clothing needs, financial aid applications and essays, etc. She then identifies the key problem as how various companies choose to address their targeted socioeconomic groups, whether personal enrichment and skills needed to succeed within the theatrical industry, or benefits based more on the public good or as alternatives to “more punitive measures”. The real trouble that Sherman identifies is the treatment of Shakespeare as a way of fixing problems as opposed to encouraging personal enrichment.

Sherman concludes by offering up alternate theses, tangentially related to her own research, for the consideration of the MLitt first years, and with recommended reading for the audience. She then invites any interested parties to join her in planning the educational revolution at her house this evening (BYOB).

Q&A: Patrick Harris questions if Sherman has encountered gentrification, where Shakespeare has been brought into the locale of the inner city but still marketed to the upper-middle class. A: Sherman has seen some hints around it and would like to explore more.
Q: Celi Oliveto asks first if she knows when Shakespeare was first required in school and, second, how she feels about Shakespeare’s inclusion in the Common Core Curriculum. A: At least by World War I, though Sherman notes that Shakespeare was important and prominent in the culture well before then. Sherman says she is against the Common Core in general, and also doesn’t trust public schools to teach Shakespeare well on a regular basis.
Q: Jessica Hamlet asks if Sherman has personal experience with any of these programs. A: Sherman attended a program at OSF in 2006 and describes it as “completely transformative”. She notes that, though her family was nowhere near poor, she was still a scholarship kid at that program and one of the least well-off students in the program, a fact which unsettled her at the time and which she finds increasingly disturbing now.
Q: Monica Cross questions what the programs for “at risk” students look like and where those students eventually end up. A: Sherman notes a dearth of readily available information on that topic.
Q: Wondering if the “instrumental language” in marketing is aimed more at funders than at the students, if there is a difference in what they do with the kids and what they say in order to earn attention from donors. A: Yes, absolutely.
Q: Scott Campbell asks if this is intrinsic to Shakespeare camp or if it also extends to sports leagues and other academic camps? A: Campbell believes it is definitely not limited to Shakespeare, though the position Shakespeare occupies in our culture is unique.

Emma Patrick: “’There’s a double meaning in that’: An examination of thematic doubling in Shakespeare’s works”
Actors: Sarah Blackwell, Josh Brown, Molly Harper, Merlyn Sell, Aubrey Whitlock, Rebecca Wright, Molly Ziegler
Patrick begins acknowledging the impossibility of knowing what, precisely, influenced Shakespeare in his youth. She presents the sort of title page for the type of play Shakespeare might have seen as a child, which more typically demonstrated the players and doubling than did the title pages of plays written in Shakespeare’s adulthood. Her actors present a scene from Cambyses, demonstrating the potential power of thematically doubling a child whom a king kills with a bow and arrow with the bow-and-arrow-bearing Cupid. Though unrelated characters, embodying them in the same actor suggests revenge for the child, particularly since Cupid’s actions eventually lead to Cambyses’s death.

Patrick moves to considering similar potential doublings in Shakespeare’s King John, doubling Arthur with John’s young son Henry. As Arthur is the target of John’s murderous intentions, and dies through a mishap trying to escape them, this doubling creates a significant echo for the audience, particularly as Henry receives the crown and the allegiance of the English lords. Patrick suggests that this doubling will give the audience “a sense of closure and poetic justice at the end of this play.” Patrick argues that Shakespeare “took the convention of thematic doubling … and transformed it for his works”, noting that there are many other potential doubling tracks worth exploration.

Q&A: Matt Davies asks about the big “if”, noting the lack of evidence that this significant doubling was done by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. A: Patrick specifies that the only play within Shakespeare’s career’s timeframe showing such doubling was Mucedorus, which suggests that the practice was ongoing, but that the absence in other plays does not necessarily mean it was not.
Q: Julia Nelson queries if Patrick has considered the Boy and Princess in Henry Vwho both speak French. A: Patrick says yes, that example is in her thesis.
Q: Clare von Rueden questions the presumption that the actors had influence on the doubling lists of the early plays. A: Patrick admits that no, there is no direct evidence, though she finds the suggestion of it in the directions for the interludes. “Somebody intended it to be that way”, whether or not it was a sole original author.
Q: Davies asks further if there’s any evidence that there may have been status-driven divides between full casts in London and doubled casts on the road. A: Patrick has not identified a status divide, but rather a temporal one with the move towards permanent playing companies in London.

MLitt Thesis Festival 2014: Session 2

Rebecca Wright: “Infants as Characters: An Investigation of Babies Onstage”
Actors: Josh Brown,Ian Charles, Kelly Elliott, Amy Grubbs, Patrick Harris
Wright begins by interrogating the audience’s perceptions of props as tied to certain plays. To a list including rings, letters, beds, trunks, and rapiers, she adds “babies”. Wright wishes to interrogate the position of an infant on-stage as a character, rather than as an inanimate prop. She notes that most productions do not use live babies on-stage, though it has been done. Despite this, however, she finds few references to babies as properties. Wright notes the difficulty in presenting an inanimate prop as a live baby, generally unconvincing yet just as generally accepted by audiences.

The actors deliver a list of shows which call for the use of an infant onstage, from the early modern period up to modern musical theatre. Wright moves on to discussing the pageant of Princess Elizabeth’s christening in Henry VIII. She interrogates the interaction between Henry and Elizabeth in this scene, wondering if it is significant that Henry kisses but does not hold the infant. Conversely, in Titus Andronicus, off-stage trumpets herald the arrival of a prince — Tamora’s illegitimate child by Aaron the Moor. In this scene, a nurse enters with the child swaddled, sufficiently to disguise its skin tone, which she later reveals. Aaron takes possession of the child, asks who else has seen it, and murders the nurse to keep his secret, serving as the child’s protector both verbally and physically. In Pericles, the nurse hands the infant Marina to her father; Pericles chooses to lay the child with her supposedly-dead mother. Wright argues that, when an infant is set down on stage, the lack of actor interaction removes some context from the infant-as-prop. The actors then present a scene from The Winter’s Tale where Paulina lays the infant Perdita at Leontes’s feet; he refuses to take it up. The protecting male figure who does eventually pick up the child is, instead, Antigonus.

Wright argues that actors provide manipulation and significance to the prop infant. This is particularly important in instances where the infant, over the course of the show, grows to an adult character. She argues that infants “needs stronger character consideration on stage.” Wright then brings a live infant, her ten-week-old nephew William, onto the stage. She asks if having a real infant on stage seems “too real” compared to the fake babies, especially in context of the infant characters who have violence threatened against them. Still holding William, she asks her actors what challenges they felt interacting with her prop infant. Amy Grubbs identifies a challenge in expressing the nurse’s revulsion for the baby, competing with her experience handling infants. Ian Charles admits that he felt as though he had to be “acting for two”, which is a challenge, but also allows him to endow the baby with reactions through the eyes of his character. Josh Brown expresses difficulty thanks to his own inexperience with children, identifying his interaction with the baby as “glass-like”. Kelly Elliott saw it as “relief” to be able to transfer the baby off to Pericles and to gain the father’s acceptance. Finally, Patrick Harris discusses the challenge of fighting while holding a baby, trying to be threatening while not endangering the baby. “It was easy to forget that what I was holding was supposed to be alive”. Wright concludes that, whether a real baby or a property doll, the actors involved with an infant character need to work to endow the infant with character.

Q&A: Ralph Cohen begins by snapping a picture of “the youngest performer on our stage”.
Q: Matt Davies asks about how to invest the baby with its own movement, suggesting that it is dependent upon the actor holding it to be in constant motion. He suggests another play for Wright to look at, wherein a baby is stoned to death in its pram.
Q: Celi Oliveto wonders how much it has to do with the focus of the audience, suggesting that a live baby draws focus. A: Wright acknowledges the possibility, noting that, yes, it is more difficult to work with something alive than something inanimate. She would like to continue looking at how this idea influences other creatures onstage, such as the dog in Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Q: Scott Campbell notes the similarity between a real baby and real stage violence as possibly being detrimental to an audience’s experience. A: Wright is still dealing with the discussion of what is “too real”.

Arlynda Boyer: “Plague, Playing, and Publication: A New Narrative”
Boyer seeks to re-examine Shakespeare’s publication history, particularly the gaps which occur when “he ought to have been at the height of his popularity”. She notices a correlation between these gaps and years of plague, particularly with regard to the tendency of title pages to publicize “diverse and sundry performances”. She suggests that “plague interrupts playing interrupts publication”.

Boyer traces the relationship of the plague to the theatre, noting that anti-theatrical polemics tended to see them as God’s judgment upon the theatres. The conditions to close the playhouses changed over time, from total mortality rising above 50 per week, to plague-specific deaths rising above 30; for the playhouses to re-open, mortality had to drop below 30 for three weeks. She notes the difficulties in assessing closure dates from mortality records, since the strictures were not always exact. She points to the 1603 major outbreak of plague, which did not ebb and flow as expected, but persisted in London for eight years. Shakespeare’s plays written in this period had to wait to see audiences until there was a break in the plague. Boyer cites Roz Knutson’s theories on quartos serving as part of the marketing strategy for a play, as much to sell books as to remind potential audiences that a play was ongoing. Plague disruptions affected this interaction. “If a play never had its full first run, what reason would a company have for allowing it to reach a stationer?”

Boyer refers to a handout, which demonstrates that plays supposed to be written in plague years were more likely to be first published in the Folio rather than in quarto. She notes that Julius Caesar and As You Like It, likely written in 1599, were also not printed until the Folio. Though there was no plague that year, there was a strange closure in the summer of that year. These closures may have had more to do with financial difficulties, renovations of the Rose, or staggered re-openings. Boyer also notes the possibility that plague may have been used as an excuse to close theatres, when the real reasons were more political. 1599 saw rumors of a second Spanish Armada and threats of revolt, and these may have contributed to authorities’ decisions to close the theatres. Boyer then examines the complicated textual history of King Lear and Pericles. Boyer concludes by reiterating her hypothesis that publication depended on performance, and that plague disrupted both.

Q&A: Paul Menzer confirms Boyer’s acknowledgement that this is a London-centric narrative, since plague closures in London did not necessarily mean no plays happened, since companies were likely to tour during plague closures. A: Boyer is still working on incorporating that element into her thesis, but states that since print industry was centered in London, the correlation remains strong.
Q: Matt Davies questions the printers’ advertisements and their role in the thesis. A: Boyer notes alternate title pages which either swore that a play was or wasn’t performed.
Q: Dane Leasure asks if Boyer had considered using the 2nd edition of the Oxford’s chronology of the plays. A: Boyer has not, but will.
Q: Menzer asks how the Stationer’s Record weaves into the conversation. A: Boyer notes that the information on Shakespeare’s plays is scant in the Stationer’s Record. Boyer notes that, of other plays published in plague years, their title pages almost never mention performance. She acknowledges the difficulties in determining chronology to begin with, pointing to the recently changed supposed performance date of Twelfth NIght from 1599 to 1601i

Clare von Rueden: “The Moral of the Story: Medieval Morality Plays and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale”
Actors: Monica Cross, Amy Grubbs, Megan Manos
Von Rueden begins with a story about Disney, regarding the influence that Lady and the Tramp II may have had on her youngest sister’s attitude towards their parents. She notes that stories have an ability to impact not only children, but also adults, in terms of behavior and identity. “Stories shape who we are”. Morality plays, she argues, recognize this ability “and exploit it.” She specifies that she will be discussing pre-1500, pre-Protestant Revolution plays. Through “a rhetoric of ethics”, morality plays seek to persuade audience members towards certain behaviors. Shakespeare, Von Rueden notes, was aware that theatre “plays a part in our ethical lives”.

Von Rueden examines the use of audience contact in morality plays, suggesting that morality plays developed this relationship in order to enhance the play’s ability to affect its audience. Amy Grubbs presents a selection of Lucifer soliciting the audience for sympathy, which Von Rueden notes as typical to, not extraordinary for, morality plays. She relates this to the fact that every named murderer or commander of murders in Shakespeare gets a monologue with the audience in which to explain himself and try to earn sympathy. This extends even to intended or attempted murderers, as Monica Cross demonstrates with a monologue of Leontes. Von Rueden notes that the more vice characters, in Shakespeare or in morality plays, solicit the audience, the more likely they are to lose sympathy, especially when they start to sermon against themselves. Von Rueden also discusses the interactions of virtue characters with the audience.

These sympathies often relate to ideas of grief and repentance, as Von Rueden and her actors demonstrate in two reconciliation scenes: one from a morality play, and one from The Winter’s Tale. The latter, she notes, is not presented, but recounted by witnesses. Von Rueden posits this as an example of Shakespeare’s awareness that everyone who sees a play will respond to it emotionally, though perhaps in different ways, and that plays “exert an ethical influence on our lives”. She concludes by suggesting that productions need to be responsibly aware of this connection as well.

Q&A: Kelly Elliott asks for clarification if Von Rueden was intentionally connecting Leontes to the vice characters. A: Not intentionally; more of a vice “state”, since he’s attempting to justify murder.
Q: Charlene Smith asks if Von Rueden had read Shaw’s writings on Shakespeare, since Shaw complains about Shakespeare’s lack of moral instruction. A: No, but Von Rueden did read something which stated “Shakespeare is not a moralist, but presents morals”, actually allowing a stronger emotional response from the audience, since they have to work through it themselves. Ralph Cohen suggests that she also look at Tolstoy’s comments on the topic.
Q: Celi Oliveto asks if Von Rueden can identify places where Shakespeare may be consciously drawing on the morality play tradition and either subverting or mocking it, or using it to do something else. A: Von Rueden has not looked specifically at that, though he does refer to the vice characters.
Q: Scott Campbell questions her final thought about production responsibility, if Von Rueden is looking specifically at this moment in time, as 21st century theatre needing this responsibility, or more generally. A: Both. “We need to be aware that we are encountering their ethical being.”

Nora Manca: “Shakespeare Walks into a Bar”
Actors: Ian Charles, Kendra Emmett, Jess Hamlet, Meredith Johnson, Aubrey Whitlock
Manca’s presentation opens with an imagined conversation of several of Shakespeare’s early contemporaries, including the famous invectives of Robert Greene, together with commentary by Nashe, Lodge, Peele, and Marlowe. The scene explicates the marks against Shakespeare according to the established poets and playwrights of the age: too common, too contradictory, too prolific, too imitative, too uneducated, too avaricious, a moneylender. It falls to the imagined Marlowe to defend Shakespeare on these counts, but a malfunctioning time machine prevents Will from appearing himself.

Manca explicates that she hopes to take the facts known of Shakespeare’s life together with his own writings to explore the idea that Shakespeare’s portrayal of “Others” in his plays stems from his identity as an “Other” himself. Manca discusses the sociological tendency of all groups to set themselves up as the “One” in opposition to the “Other”. She notes the contempt of the University Wits for Shakespeare, as seen in Greene’s “Groatsworth of Wit”. Manca then looks at Shakespeare’s family history, particularly John Shakespeare’s social climbing, and how it positioned William Shakespeare in society. She moves on to the theory that Shakespeare’s family may have been Catholic recusants, then to the circumstances surrounding Shakespeare’s marriage. She then attempts to fill out some of the missing years in Shakespeare’s history with supplements from events that occurred in his home county of Warwickshire. Manca then draws a correlation between Shakespeare’s experience as an “Other” and the character of Shylock, whom she posits would be more Othered than any other character if dropped into Shakespeare’s England. Her full thesis will involve a closer reading of the character of Shylock.

Q&A: Amy Grubbs asks if Manca found any connection to the French Catholics possibly present in London. A: Manca has not, but is interested.
Q: Martha Walker questions if Manca’s thesis would hold up under any other definition of “Other”, depending on the absolutism of alterity. A: Manca believes that it does, though she is unfamiliar with the alternate definition Walker presents.
Q: Matt Davies asks, “Why does biography matter?” A: Manca thinks that the facts of Shakespeare’s life are key to whether or not he can be defined as an Other. Q: Davies continues, asking, “To write about Iago, why does he need to be an Other?” A: Manca admits that he doesn’t, necessarily, but posits that all of us are Others in some way and believes that that would have influenced his writing.
Q: Clare von Rueden asks if this can then influence the performance of Otherness in his plays. A: Manca says yes, and she hopes that this will help her in her directing in the future. Q: Von Rueden continues, asking if Manca has had any revelations on that count thus far. A: Manca thinks that, for an actor, understanding Shakespeare’s Otherness “would probably be influential”.

Nicola Collett: “But One Only Man: Masculinity in Julius Caesar”
Actors: Marshall Garrett, Jamie Jager
Collett suggest that Julius Caesar, more than any other of Shakespeare’s plays, is “about men” — not a single man, but four very different men with competing interests and variant approaches. Collett posits that Caesar, Brutus, Antony, and Cassius represent four distinct aspects of masculinity, which she defines as imperial, stoic, performative, and emotional, respectively. She runs through other critical approaches to analyzing masculinity in Julius Caesar, before moving on to her own approach, analyzing masculinity “not as a unified whole, but as fragmentary”, which she will present in opposition to each other rather than in opposition to femininity.

First, she examines the disconnect between the frailty of Caesar’s mortal form as opposed to the strength of his immortal, imperial spirit. Both Cassius’s stories, Casca’s reporting of his swoon, and Caesar’s own admission of physical failings demonstrate his weaknesses. Yet Caesar puts forth an image of himself as “constant as the Northern Star”, immoveable and eternal, and his assassination in fact cements that immortality of spirit, despite killing the body. By contrast, Brutus is dominated by his stoic philosophy, focused on denial or control of the passions. “His struggle is that his emotions are in conflict, with themselves and with his reason.” Cassius, meanwhile, conflates the personal and the political, particularly in regard to the wrongs Caesar has supposedly done him. Collett links these passions with Cassius’s tendency towards suicidal rhetoric and, eventually, to suicide itself. Jamie Jager presents Cassius’s offer of suicide in the 4.2 “tent scene”, when he offers himself up first to the absent Antony, then to his own dagger, wielded by Brutus. Though Cassius’s emotions give him insight into other characters, they also lead to his downfall. Collett identifies Antony as an actor, able to adapt his presentation to the circumstances. His offer of suicide is calculated, not emotional, and a bluff that he knows Brutus will not call. Collett notes the rhetoric of Antony’s funeral oration as manipulative of his audience’s emotions, even to the extent that he denies his own power to do precisely what he’s doing. Antony also shows himself as an expert in the use of props: Caesar’s will, Caesar’s mantle, and Caesar’s body.

Collett concludes by reiterating the four disparate types of masculinity the men embody, and then offers a rhetorical analogy: that Caesar represents ethos; Brutus, logos; Cassius and Antony, pathos (internal for Cassius, externally for Antony).

Q&A: Menzer begins by stating that masculinity “seems to keep shimmering between material and immaterial” and asks how Manca has addressed that idea of where masculinity is located. A: Collett has not addressed that yet, but hopes to find it through her future rhetorical analysis
Q: Cyndi Kimmel asks if Collett has looked at the presentation of male friendship through a homosexual lens. A: Collett has encountered it tangentially, but believes it beyond the purview of her project at this time.
Q: Patrick Harris questions if, in performance, a female actor playing one of these roles could embody that aspect of masculinity and still play the role as a female. A: Collett thinks, yes, that would be possible.
Q: Ralph Cohen suggests an article for Collett’s inspection, as well as mentioning Vanessa Morosco’s recent re-gendered Cassius.
Q: Marshall Garrett questions where Octavius fits into all of this. A: Collett places him under Caesar’s aegis, noting that he “comes on and becomes the spirit of Caesar”, a “new physical locus for the idea of Caesar-ness”.
Q: Monica Cross asks if Collett sees an effect of one type of masculinity on the other. A: Collett is still working on that aspect.

MLitt Thesis Festival 2014: Session 1

Stephan Pietrowski: “Getting Dirt On-Stage: Shakespeare’s Gardens”:
Actors: Linnea Barklund, Monica Cross, Susan Scaccia, Deirdre Shupe, Jordan Zwick
Pietrowski begins by explaining that his presentation will focus on the “Definitions” chapter of his thesis, examining the difference between wild and cultivated settings in Shakespeare. He moves through several definitions, supplemented by examples from the plays, as when Orlando believes that the Forest of Arden is a desert in As You Like It, Othello’s reference to “a wilderness of monkeys,” and the “blasted heath” in Macbeth. He then examines the places in between the two extremes of cities and total wilderness — parks, fields, and forests. “Many forests are closer to wilderness on the cultivation spectrum,” Pietrowski notes, citing the range of such settings in Shakespeare’s plays. Pietrowski uses A Midsummer Night’s Dream to explicate how Shakespeare sets up expectations of the forest — in this case, familiar to the characters, but still supposedly bereft of other humans. In Macbeth, Shakespeare first establishes the permanence of a forest, then has Malcolm’s army subvert that expectation.

Fields stand in contrast to forests, open land, especially though not necessarily that used for pasture or crops; some fields are thus more cultivated than others. Pietrowski uses the example of the ladies’ lodging in the field in Love’s Labour’s Lost to explore its liminal status with regard to human civilization. Parks were, in early modern usage, more for the keeping of animals than our modern sensibility of the term, more cultivated than forests and generally under single ownership. Pietrowski relates Windsor park in The Merry Wives of Windsor to the forest in Midsummer — a place commonly known, remote yet accessible at the same time.

Pietrowski then moves to more obviously cultivated settings: orchards and gardens. The terms were occasionally used interchangeably, though orchards generally imply fruit-bearing trees, and gardens are often decorative. Pietrowski identifies differences in characters’ interactions with the environment between wild and cultivated settings. Pietrowski notes the use of gardens and orchards for eavesdropping scenes in both Twelfth Night and Much Ado about Nothing. Gardens have not only fences and boundaries, but often doors, as seen in Twelfth Night. The garden is still a semi-public space, as characters who are not part of Olivia’s household have visual access to it. The orchard and garden of Much Ado have arbors and bowers, but apparently no foliage sufficient to provide coverage for the hiding Benedick and Beatrice, as the other characters clearly demonstrate that they can see their targets. Pietrowski then brings up 2 Henry VI to demonstrate the invasion of a private garden by Jack Cade: Cade moves from the forest, where he has no food, to the brick-walled garden, but the gardener, protecting his cultivation, punishes Cade’s invasion with death.

Pietrowski concludes by previewing the rest of his thesis, which will compare the elements of safety and danger present in both wild and cultivated spaces.

Q&A: Paul Menzer notes that the idea of a “cultivation spectrum” challenges the idea that Shakespeare’s plays all take place either in the court or the country. Pietrowski answers that most of these spaces do still, broadly, belong either to the court or country binary, but that the idea of a “desert”, where there are no people, is impossible on stage (since, as Menzer notes, as soon as you bring a person on, it’s no longer a desert), eliminating part of the spectrum from production.
Q: Amy Grubbs asks how Pietrowski’s research may relate to performance. A: Pietrowski thinks it may help develop character traits with regard to feelings of safety or danger, especially on entrances to scenes. He also hopes to add context back to some of the words whose precise meaning has shifted over time.
Q: Kelly Elliott questions the idea of Caesar’s will leaving his “parks and orchards” to the people and how to instruct actors on what to do with that revelation. A: Pietrowski notes that this would shift a private space into a public space, as well as providing a place for sustenance in the orchard.
Q: Marshall Garrett asks where battlefields fit in to the research. A: Pietrowski fits them in with the heath in Macbeth.

Ashley Pierce: “Two Genders, Both Alike in Dignity: The Re-Gendering of Three of Shakespeare’s Villains”:
Actors: Josh Brown, Danielle Guy, Jamie Jager, Meredith Johnson, David Loehr, Tiffany Waters, Andrew White
Pierce’s presentation opens with two competing casts, one male and one female, both attempting to take the stage to present the thesis. Pierce notes that Shakespeare’s plays contain 840 male roles to 148 female roles, a convention which makes sense in the context of early modern drama, when female roles were played by prepubescent “Bieber wannabes”, but which is not entirely compatible with modern practice. Jamie Jager and Tiffany Waters present part of an Orsino-Viola scene from Twelfth Night, which Pierce notes that, in early modern context, this allowed the boy actor to actually portray his own gender on-stage. Jager and Waters then present a scene from Macbeth, with Jager as Macbeth and Waters as a cross-cast Banquo. Pierce notes that this cross-gender casting is what has become the norm in modern theatre, asking the audience to ignore Waters’s true gender, supplanting it with the character’s gender. Pierce then posits that re-gendering, actually changing the gender of the character, is another possibility, and she cites several recent examples, including the re-gendering of Prospero as Prospera in The Tempest and the Rogues’ re-gendering of Faustus. She then asks why there is so much resistance to the idea.

Pierce points out that while both leading and secondary roles have seen prominent re-gendering, few villains have seen re-gendering. Her question aims to find out why these roles “seem impervious” to re-gendering. Josh Brown and Danielle Guy then present competing Iagos; then David Loehr and Meredith Johnson present competing Shylocks. Pierce discusses some of the varying physical and vocal choices that the actors discovered while rehearsing these scenes. Pierce also notes the difficulties in changing a female body and voice to imitate a male body and voice, and that re-gendering lifts this burden from an actor.

Pierce then addresses the potential accusation that this trade is unfair, asking men to “give up” the villain roles. She clarifies that she doesn’t intend that “men give up the villain roles forever”, but rather that she hopes productions will keep a more open eye with regard to casting. Her two casts “negotiate” a trading of roles, a male Paulina for a female Antigonus. Pierce expresses her hopes that this might — “and get a few more female actors jobs in the process”.

Q&A: Ralph Cohen asks Pierce to explicate some of the practical research she did through scenework. Pierce notes that in re-gendering Tybalt, a lot came down to the embodiment of violence and fight scenes, and that re-gendering Iago created a lesbian relationship in Othello.
Q: Rebecca Hodder asks if the difference in the fight had as much to do with gender as with body type. A: Pierce notes that, yes, the male and female actors had different body types to begin with, but indicates that the relationship between Tybalt and Capulet still seemed to alter based on gender, not physical body type. She acknowledges a need to find ways to control for those differences.
Q: Patrick Harris questions her nod towards female-to-male regendering and how it might affect other forms of non-traditional casting. A: Pierce acknowledges that it opens up a lot of other issues as well, and speaks to the need to make sure that female-to-male role re-gendering not become comedic.

David Loehr: “Shakespeare’s Theatrical References”
Actors: Marshall Garrett, Celi Oliveto, Aubrey Whitlock
Loehr’s presentation opens with the famous the “Seven Ages of Man” speech from As You Like It, then addresses the various ways in which Shakespeare refers to theatrical practices within his plays. Loehr dismisses the use of the term “metatheatricality”, in keeping with dominant views within the SAP program. He posits that Shakespeare “used theatrical references in reaction to the world around him”, not simply poetically or because he lived and worked within a theatrical setting. Loehr notes that Shakespeare’s view of theatre actually contains some similarities to the anti-theatrical polemics popular in the early modern era, but that while he acknowledged its complexities, he did not see it as an evil to be eliminated, but a necessary “reflection on humanity”. Loehr’s cast then move through several quotes throughout history regarding opinions on theatre as detrimental, unproductive, or even satanic. These address not only the vice and sloth which theatre supposedly encouraged, but also the “gender anxiety” attendant upon it. Loehr identifies “a great deal of mistrust” about theatre in Shakespeare’s time.

Loehr moves on to examination of Hamlet’s “rogue and peasant slave” speech, positing that Shakespeare presents Hamlet as simultaneously condescending towards and jealous of the actor’s position. He notes that Hamlet’s mockery of actors is, in fact, being spoken by an actor, perhaps causing the audience to question the Hamlet-actor’s investment in his role as much as Hamlet questions the actors within the world of the play. It also comments on the ability of theatre to “transcend social boundaries”, as the actor, though occupying a common, even despised role in society, can emulate all layers of society. Loehr then discusses the “Seven Ages” speech, characterizing it as less “a picture of beautiful life” than popular thought often believes it, a cynical depiction of life as mere entrances and exits, lacking individuality in their proscribed roles. He relates this speech to the theatrical reference in Macbeth’s “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech, where Macbeth “condemns life in theatrical language.” He presents this as a “nihilistic” view, noting that it reduces both life and theatre to empty noise.

Loehr suggests that Shakespeare seems to posit that theatre can comment on cause-and-effect in life. He uses the complex role of Rosalind in As You Like It as an example, with the multiple layers of acting and playing commenting on each other. Their supposed marriage in 4.1 further blurs the boundary between reality and pretend. Loehr then moves to discussing plays-within-plays, the most explicit method of theatrical reference within Shakespeare’s plays. His actors read from the rehearsal scenes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both exhibiting theatrical practice, but also poking fun at some of the suppositions made by anti-theatrical polemics. Loehr concludes by placing Shakespeare’s views in opposition to the anti-theatrical polemics, viewing it as a necessary mirror to life, demonstrating life both at its best and its worst, and as such, “belongs as part of our lives”.

Q&A: Clare von Rueden asks if Loehr has noticed a changing attitude towards theatre across Shakespeare’s plays. A: No, he hasn’t noticed that.
Q: Scott Campbell questions the anti-theatrical tracts saying that theatre removed people from god, relating it to Stephanie Howieson’s presentation on supernaturality, and where the assumption of sinfulness in theatre came from. A: Loehr agrees that, yes, they seem to believe that the action is inherently sinful. Campbell clarifies, asking if the polemics state that theatre happened at the same time as theatre, literally taking one audience away to another activity. Loehr’s answer is: sometimes.
Q: Doreen Bechtol asks about the modern-day voices of anti-theatrical prejudice. A: Loehr says that he addresses this in the conclusion of his thesis, relating specifically to arts funding and to objections to plays based on content.

Sarah Martin: “Reconstructing the History Play”
Actors: Josh Brown, Megan Manos
Martin opens by noting how author Howard Brenton teases the audience with an awareness of historical reality in his 2010 play Anne Boleyn. Megan Manos presents the opening monologue, which Martin notes as establishing Anne’s relationship with an audience, and specifically a 21st-century audience. Martin addresses the idea that we are, currently, in the middle of a “Tudor renaissance” of our own, given both scholarly and popular focus on and fascination with the Tudor era. She chose to focus her interrogation on Anne Boleyn because it was a new play, focused on the past, performed in a re-construction of an early modern space.

Martin then moves through a brief history of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, particularly as “creating a space for theatre, not re-creating it”. She argues that the play Anne Boleyn is an equivalent of the architectural endeavor of the Globe, stemming from history, but also attached to modern sensibilities. Anne Boleyn, commissioned  specifically for the Globe, premiered in the same year as Hilary Mantel’s book Wolf Hall, the finale of Showtime’s The Tudors, and the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age, as well as acting as a sequel to Shakespeare and Fletcher’s Henry VIII. The difference is that the central character “is aware that she is dead, and wishes to tell her story” — thus aware of the audience and of the gap in time between them, though she does view them as “demons of the future”. Manos and Josh Brown then present a scene where Anne’s ghost and King James I have a conversation regarding James’s commissioning of the King James Bible. (Anne dismisses James, too, as a demon, with demon thoughts). Through it, Brenton has Anne “remind the audience of their role in the creation of performance”.

Martin posit’s that Anne Boleyn‘s performance forms “a near perfect parallel” between the construction of the building and the play, both products of the 21st-century, yet inspired by history: “Grounded with the present, with an eye on the past”. Martin notes ongoing interest in the Tudor era, with tv series Reign, another award-winning book by Mantel, and the adaptation of Mantel’s novels for the stage. She suggests that theatres like the Globe have an interest not only in resurrecting Shakespeare’s plays, but the Tudor-era world.

Q&A: Matt Davies begins by discussing the Anglo-American interest in Tudor history, noting that Hollywood has had that fascination at various periods. He understand why the Brits would “have this romantic, nostalgic vision” of the era, he asks what the American interest is? A: Martin admits there’s something strange, yet not, about that fascination. She notes that American culture also has a more recent fascination with the Edwardian era, and that perhaps it has to do a lot with periods that are easy to glamorize.
Q: Dane Leasure questions if Martin intends to look at the Blackfriars Playhouse as well as the Globe, particularly with regards to Menzer’s The Brats of Clarence. A: She has not yet, but plans to. (Menzer chimes in to note that “Anne Boleyn is a very, very good play.”)
Q: Charlene Smith asks what Martin makes of the Wanamaker theatre both moving towards and away from its historical origins, using candle-lighting, but naming itself after a 20th-century personage. A: Martin admits that that’s interesting. Menzer explicates the history of the name from Inigo Jones through to the donation that requested them to name it the Wanamaker. Cohen notes that their promotional materials continue to draw a connection to the Blackfriars.
Q: Sarah Enloe asks if she’s looked at the “non-authentic” reconstructed theatres or is sticking to “authentic” reconstructions. A: For now, for the purposes of the theatre, she is limiting herself to the “authentic” theatres.
Q: Clare Von Rueden asks about the conflict between production and marketing when it comes to originality vs reconstruction. A: Martin hasn’t thought about that yet, but might, and thanks Von Rueden for the suggestion.
Q: Melissa Huggins discusses the Rose excavation site and their exhibition space, which has hosted both early modern and newly written works and suggests it as an alternate avenue for exploration.

MFA Thesis Festival 2014

Session 1

Riley Steiner: To Find the Mind’s Construction: Masks in Macbeth: Steiner discusses masks in performance as “not a concealing device, but rather a revealing one.” Masks, she suggests, can be particularly useful to draw the audience into the fractured world of Macbeth, with its thematic focus on the dissociation between seeming and reality and the “equivocal language” used throughout the play. Her presentation focuses on the use of masks in the Rogues’ rehearsals for Macbeth (which Steiner directed) and the production choices that came out of them. Steiner discusses how the neutral masks, despite obliterating identity in one way, also helped three actors to differentiate the physicality of their Witches. Within the language, they identified a “hierarchy” of prophetic abilities and drew that into their production choices. Melissa Huggins demonstrates the “menacing” nature of her witch. Steiner comments that they also used neutral mask for Banquo’s ghost, allowing “the audience to impart their own fiction, their own fear” onto the blank face of Banquo, rather than using stage blood. Cyndi Kimmel demonstrates her actions as the Ghost of Banquo. Steiner concludes by stating that working with a mask encourages an actor to “find the mind’s construction … well beyond and deeper than the face.”

Celi Oliveto: Challenging Social Gender Typing through Performance: Oliveto begins by commenting on an embedded stage directions scene conducted during the Rogues’ tour of Macbeth, where two seven-year-olds nearly came to blows over which of them would have to read the female role of Lady Macbeth. Oliveto suggests that using Shakespeare to bring issues of gender roles and gender coding into the classroom is imperative, in order to help students “interrogate, define, and recognize their personal experience of gender in the present cultural moment”. She posits that seeing female actors play both male and female characters will help them to re-assign character traits as gender-neutral, rather than as strongly codified for one gender or the other. Oliveto introduces the survey given to students before and after viewing Macbeth and has the audience in the Playhouse answer those questions, then walks through the students’ responses. She concludes by addressing the punching boys in her first anecdote, noting that girls and women are used to being asked to identify with male-figured characters, and that a stronger female presence on the stage would be a benefit, allowing girls and women to have more to identify with, and perhaps shifting their perceptions of gendered character traits.

Jessica Schiermeister: “If it were made for man, ’twas made for me”: Faustus Re-gendered and an Exploration of the A-Text: Schiermeister begins by noting the gender disparity of their company’s composition (11 women to 1 man) and explains that the company decide to examine re-gendering for one of their plays: Faustus, with the character of Joan Faustus. Re-gendering involves actually changing the gender of the character, as opposed to cross-gender casting, having an actor play a character whose gender is opposite of their own. She notes that Huggins commented on how re-gendering presented something unusual for the stage: a woman whose main goal in life is not pursuit of a romantic relationship. Schiermeister explains that audience reception ranged from “never giving Faustus’s new gender a second thought” to audience members becoming more involved with the story because of the new gender. Schiermeister notes that some in the audience found Joan’s transformation during the play as revealing how modern culture views female power as a sort of fetish. Re-gendering, Schiermeister says, forces us to question the status quo of “male as normative and male as more important”. She links this to the opportunity for theatres to expand their audiences and create more inclusive works of theatre.

Julia Nelson: Early Modern Staging Conditions and Improvisation in the A-Text of Dr. Faustus: Nelson begins by stating that her thesis has its genesis in a paper by Dr. Robert Hornback at the 2013 Marlowe Conference. She suggests that theatre companies should consider treating certain scenes in certain plays as improvisation within a scripted text, specifically looking at the clowning scenes in Dr. Faustus. In performance, the actors used three approaches of implementing improvisation to examine what improvisation does for actors, how it affects audience reception and audience interaction, and whether it will draw in more or different audiences to a production. Her responses thus far come from talkbacks of Dr. Faustus, and she intends to implement an online poll to gain responses from a wider audience. While most audiences enjoyed the improvisation, she notes that they were split on whether or not the modern language of the improvisation was jarring or was something that enhanced the experience.

Dane C. T. Leasure: Playing Mephistophilis through Special Effects: Leasure introduces himself as the actor of Mephistophilis in the Rogues’ Spring 2014 production of Dr. Faustus. He discusses the types of special effects that would have been used in the original productions of the show: squibs for fireworks, citing Philip Butterworth’s study on the topic. He also notes that the unpredictable nature of original squibs made them impractical and inappropriate for the modern stage, fire codes, and the safety of actors. Leasure then links his challenge to the Actors’ Renaissance Season-style nature of Faustus in the company’s year. He identifies three types of spectacle, and in this presentation, focuses on the addition of sound effects and on the implementation of the fireworks stage direction. He came up with the idea to use a flint starter and potentially a flash fire to suggest the fireworks, then shows off a starter kit including a flint starter, flash cotton, and sparkle additive. Once he had the technical aspect down, Leasure had to address the character angle: his desire to use the cane from the company’s earlier devised piece, which then lead to an exploration grounding his physicality. Spectacle, he notes, helped him find his character. Turning to sound effects, Leasure noted that the company decided to add additional sound effects to augment Mephistophilis’s conjuring and other “magic moments on stage”. Leasure ends with a plug for the company’s upcoming book of their thesis papers.

Kelly Elliott: The Insatiate Countess as Sexual Satire: Elliott opens with a short scene from the induction of The Isle of Gulls depicting varying opinions on what should be on the stage, with characters favoring poetry, bawdiness, or critique, and then relates this to faculty opinions of The Insatiate Countess. She notes that the play is, from its 1st and 3rd quartos, “A Tragedy”, a title which sets up considerable expectations for the audience — but that the play itself undermines these expectation with its emphasis on the supposed sub-plot. Elliot posits that the play is, instead, “a debate about sexually appropriate behavior in both women and men examined through satire with both tragic and comedic moments”. She notes that genre confusion is not an oddity in early modern drama, but that modern thought tends to attach too much meaning to the genre as stated. Elliott expresses her pride that the Rogues’ production “did not live up to the proscribed” set of characteristics for a tragedy, particularly thanks to the concurrent comic plot. Elliott notes that the extreme casting of the play also enhanced the comedic aspects of the play. Rehearsal and performance assisted Elliott to see Countess as “a multi-genred social debate on sex.”

Session 2

Cyndi Kimmel: Mujeres Varoniles: Female Agency in Performance: Kimmel notes that her thesis is largely dependent upon the upcoming production of Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna, but that she has begun work by comparing the characters in that play to other women displaying agency on-stage. Mujeres Varoniles is a Spanish term referring to women who act, in one way or another, like men. Kimmel first discusses Lady Macbeth as an initiator of action, noting that Oliveto, who played Lady Macbeth in the Rogues’ production, sees the character as responding to the overwhelming masculinity of the world she lives in. Second, Kimmel examines Isabella of The Insatiate Countess, a woman capable not only of earning the love of multiple men, but of inciting them to violence on her behalf. Third, the Duchess in Richard II, who uses gestural language of submission as a way of getting her way with Bolingbroke. Finally, Queen Isabel, whom Huggins, playing the role, sees as “greatly dependent upon a man” — her husband, King Ferdinand. These stand in contrast to Laurencia, a peasant woman who calls other women to action in response to injustice perpetrated by men. Kimmel hopes to “tease out female agency” in the various plays of the Rogues’ season.

Charlene V. Smith: Aural Identification in Richard IISmith notes her desire to use something other than costumes to differentiate between characters for the extreme casting production of Richard II, particularly in light of a desire not to imitate the choices made by the previous year’s company. She introduces the markers of extreme casting as stated by the 2012-2013 Rovers in their theses, and notes that her production of Richard II did not meet all of them. She worries about the use of prescriptive language when it comes to describing the methodology behind extreme casting. Smith interrogates the definitions and conditions set forward by the Rovers, by Jeffrey Chips, and by several theatres currently exploring extreme casting in their own productions. She questions whether or not it is necessary to “embody” a character with some sort of holding signifier when the actor is portraying a different character on-stage at the same time. She hopes that her full thesis will help future MFA companies to explore additional approaches, looking “not at what has to happen… but what could happen.”

Rebecca Hodder: Costume as Identity in Richard II: Hodder begins by discussing the idea of “identity as shaped or moderated by clothes”, noting the overlap in what clothing communicates between the early modern period and today. She examines accents of historical clothing as augmenting modern dress, clothing as status marker, and clothing as indicator of relationship. Hodder notes that fully realized historical costumes would not be practical in an extreme casting production like the Rogues’ Richard II. Base costumes allow minor variations to indicate changes in character, and Hodder intended to use modern dress for the base, not least because that made for an easier and cheaper choice than a historical base. While not “historically accurate in the traditional sense of the word”, the shape of the long-sleeved, tunic-length red shirts worn by the company still suggested something vaguely medieval. She notes that early modern costumes may have worked similarly, with 16th-century modern dress as a base, with a few historical accents added overtop. She then moves towards fabric as suggestive of status, comparing the early modern idea of high-quality fabrics to their modern-day equivalents. Finally, she discusses the ability of color combinations “to link characters together in meaningful ways”. Hodder finishes by noting that she did not set out to emulate early modern thought on costumes, instead focusing on the practicalities of performance, but realized that her “approach could be seen to reflect several early modern attitudes”. She expresses her hope that future MFA companies will continue to find “ways that early modern thought may influence modern performance.”

Mary Beth Geppert: The Collaborative Rogue Company Model: Geppert examines the collaborative approaches of past and present MFA company members, drawing both from concrete materials such as posters and programs, and from interviews with both Rovers and Rogues. Geppert discusses the idea of company identity, noting that the company’s idea may not always be what others outside the company identify. The Rovers created a company logo, whereas the Rogues created a particular icon for each play in their season. Geppert then presents both companies’ group photos, noting that they seem to represent the inverse of the posters. She quotes from variant experiences of the devised piece and its influence on the rest of the season, the notes how the dynamic changed when moving from the first large show (The Comedy of Errors for the Rovers, Macbeth for the Rogues) into the smaller units of the extreme casting shows. Geppert also notes company opinions relating the collaborative nature of the devised piece as preparatory for the ARS-style show. Geppert concludes by noting how each company in turn has the capacity to inform and advise those that follow it.

Stephanie Howieson: The Demons of Faustus, the Witches of MacbethHowieson opens by noting that the company’s season includes two plays featuring the supernatural and by noting the difference between early modern attitudes on such elements in real life and our own views on the paranormal. She runs through the “veritable parade” of supernatural personages in Faustus and notes them in opposition to the three Witches of Macbeth, presenting less of a pageant. Howieson notes that the cutting of Macbeth down to a one-hour runtime impacted what information the audience receives about the supernaturality of the Witches. She also notes other superstitions embedded in the play, familiar to early modern audiences but lost to the modern, such as the idea that the recently departed (such as Banquo) might return in search of food or to keep appointments (such as Macbeth’s feast). Moving to Dr. Faustus, Howieson notes that though they used the full A-text, there would still exist a disconnect between the early modern audience’s experience of supernaturality and the modern audience’s. Howieson questions how to contextualize the demonic: as horrifying or as comic, suggesting that both interpretations can co-exist. She suggests that the choice to portray certain supernatural elements as puppets emphasized “the separation between the human and non-human world” in the play. Howieson concludes by noting that the portrayal of the supernatural “will continue to fascinate audiences” given the enduring popularity of the plays in question.

Melissa Huggins: Translating Original Practices into the Spanish Golden Age: Costuming Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna for the Blackfriars Stage: Huggins notes the flexibility of the word “translation”, initially pertaining not only to languages, but also to the act of reclothing, incorporating new identity along with a new costume. She notes that, in her capacity as master of the build team for Fuente Ovejuna‘s costumes, she had to begin by identifying her parameters: original staging, a modern audience having an early modern experience, consistent w/ creator’s intent, a sense of authenticity, and speaking to the present. She notes the problems with several of those guidelines, particularly given the impossibility of knowing authorial intent. Huggins notes the similarities of early modern Spanish costuming practices to those used in England. Spanish theatre may have trended more towards idealism and romance in costuming. Huggins then presents examples of the costumes-in-progress for the show: Laurencia, the Musicians, and the Calatrava. Huggins explicates the thought process behind each costume, as well as the process of construction. Many of the costumes re-use and re-design fabric and costume pieces already in the company’s stock.

“‘Tis more difficult to Save than ’tis to Kill”

Nahum Tate’s 1681 adaptation of King Lear is somewhat infamous among Shakespeare scholars and enthusiasts. This 1681 revision turns the tragedy into a history, eliminates the King of France in order to manufacture a love story between Cordelia and Edgar, gives Edmund nefarious sexual intentions (as though he didn’t have enough of those already), restores Lear to his throne, and drops the Fool from the play entirely. Preparing Tate’s Lear for our Staged Reading series has gotten me thinking about this play’s tattered reputation — is the ridicule and mockery really so deserved?454px-LearTate

I think a little historical perspective here helps. I’m always surprised to remember that this was such an early adaptation, since the constructed happy ending smacks so much of the Bowdlerization of the Victorian era. The Restoration, though, had plenty of its own theatrical quirks. Parliament had closed the theatres in 1642, objecting to them on the grounds that they propagated vice and deception (after all, what do actors do besides stand up there and lie about who they are for two hours?). The playhouses would not re-open until Charles II’s reclaiming of the throne in 1660. Thereafter, the most popular plays were comedies featuring witty lovers, and considering the restrictive and culturally confined atmosphere that England was rising out of, this is hardly a surprising preference. Restoration theatres did revive Shakespeare’s plays, but judging by Samuel Pepys’s Diaries, a series of social observations written throughout the 1660s, companies favored his comedies over his tragedies, and by the latter part of Charles II’s reign, plays by new authors increasingly crowded out the pre-Cromwellian offerings. Shakespeare was not viewed in such rarefied fashion as he is now, but simply as one of many playwrights whose works had merit, but wanted revision in order to suit the tastes of new audiences, nearly a century removed from the original staging of the plays.

Tate’s own words explicate this mindset, giving justification for his emendations in his introductory epistle in the 1681 printing of the modified play:

Sir,

You have a natural Right to this Piece, since, by your Advice, I attempted the Revival of it with Alterations. Nothing but the Power of your Perswasion, and my Zeal for all the Remains of Shakespear, cou’d have wrought me to so bold an Undertaking. […] ‘Twas my good Fortune to light on one Expedient to rectifie what was wanting in the Regularity and Probability of the Tale, which was to run through the whole A Love betwixt Edgar and Cordelia, that never chang’d word with each other in the Original. This renders Cordelia‘s Indifference and her Father’s Passion in the first Scene probable. It likewise gives Countenance to Edgar‘s Disguise, making that a generous Design that was before a poor Shift to save his Life. The Distress of the Story is evidently heightned by it; and it particularly gave Occasion of a New Scene or Two, of more Success (perhaps) than Merit. This Method necessarily threw me on making the Tale conclude in a Success to the innocent distrest Persons: Otherwise I must have incumbred the Stage with dead Bodies, which Conduct makes many Tragedies conclude with unseasonable Jests. Yet was I Rackt with no small Fears for so bold a Change, till I found it well receiv’d by my Audience; and if this will not satisfie the Reader, I can produce an Authority that questionless will. Neither is it of so Trivial an Undertaking to make a Tragedy end happily, for ’tis more difficult to Save than ’tis to Kill: The Dagger and Cup of Poyson are alwaies in Readiness; but to bring the Action to the last Extremity, and then by probable Means to recover All, will require the Art and Judgment of a Writer, and cost him many a Pang in the Performance. 

I have one thing more to Apologize for, which is, that I have us’d less Quaintness of Expression even in the newest Parts of this Play. I confess ’twas Design in me, partly to comply with my Author’s Style to make the Scenes of a Piece, and partly to give it some Resemblance of the Time and Persons here Represented. This, Sir, I submit wholly to you, who are both a Judge and Master of Style. Nature had exempted you before you went Abroad from the Morose Saturnine Humour of our Country, and you brought home the Refinedness of Travel without the Affectation. Many Faults I see in the following Pages, and question not but you will discover more; yet I will presume so far on your Friendship, as to make the Whole a Present to you, and Subscribe my self

Your obliged Friend
and humble Servant,

N. Tate.

Tate’s revisions played up to what Restoration audiences wanted to see — love triumphant, and a monarch rightfully restored to his throne. It’s also well worth noting that Tate’s adaptation was wildly popular — so much so that it virtually replaced the original Lear until well into the 19th century. From the 1740s on, various productions would add back some Shakespeare or contribute more new material, but it wasn’t until 1823 that a company dared perform the original Shakesepare — and then, it wasn’t well-received. Only towards the end of the Victorian era did the early modern version of the play re-assume its dominance. The biggest problem for Tate, ultimately, isn’t that he altered the story — it’s that he kept so much of the original. Placing his verse alongside of Shakespeare’s necessitates comparison, and that doesn’t work out well in Tate’s favor from a critical perspective, though audiences across three centuries enjoyed it anyway. Indeed, the internecine clash between scholars and practitioners may well date to Tate, as he received criticism from the onset for altering Shakespeare’s verse, for undercutting the tragedy of Lear’s death, for weakening Cordelia’s character by burdening her with a love story, and for the overall sentimentality of the piece.

Ironically for those critics who cry for authenticity, Tate’s Lear is actually closer in some regards to the original story of Leir from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Brittaniae, where the king does defeat Goneril and Regan to recover his throne. He rules for three years until his death, at which point Cordelia takes the crown. Cordelia would, in turn, be overthrown by her nephews, the grown sons of her deceased sisters, who would divide the kingdom between themselves before devolving into civil war (profitable ground for a sequel, in my opinion).

So, does Tate deserve the mockery of the modern age? Or has history unfairly maligned him? In a few weeks, you can decide for yourself if the play has, as Tate himself allowed, “perhaps more success than merit”. The Staged Reading of The History of King Lear, Reviv’d with Alterations by Nahum Tate will take the stage of the Blackfriars Playhouse on March 16th at 7:30pm.