Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Colloquy Session II: History Plays

Hello!  Whitney Egbert here, blogging about Colloquy 2 in the first slot of Blackfriars Conference 2015.  The session took place in RR Smith Center Lecture Hall from 9:00 to 10:15 this morning.  Due to internet issues, this is being posted after the fact.  The session was moderated by Megan Lloyd (who also wrote a paper) and included papers from Iska Alter and William Long, Robin Bates, Marisa Cull, Kathy Hardman, and Tara Lyons.

This morning’s session hosted papers on a variety of historical plays – Henry the Fifth, Tamerburlaine, Henry IV Part 2Edward 2, and two paper on The Valiant Welshman.  Lloyd asked everyone to give a brief description of the larger picture that the paper came from before opening up to the others for questions and discussion.

First up was the paper on Henry V by Alter and Long.  They are interested in the ways in which the quarto texts differ not just as merely one actor’s remembrance but as potentially differing staging.  Alter highlighted that the context in which Henry V is performed changes with the time it is performed in – “the notion of performance is a complicated business saved by many different moments of history,” the actual battle of Agincourt, Shakespeare writing about the battle of Agincourt, and the performance or conversation happening in the moment.  Bates commented how much she appreciated the thought that in the F1, there is a subversive tone to the kingship and how that might reflect a moment in time, what it might say about leadership, nationalism, and patriotism.  A conversation ensued about the moments – are they different or was the intention as a play for it to always change.  Alter noted that they try not to argue which version came first as “there is no way of knowing” and instead attempts to give preference to one over the other.  Long added “we don’t know, we think but we can’t prove with data.”

The second paper discussed was on Henry IV, Part 2 by Bates, where she focused on the disputes over land like the Forest of Gaultree.  It is part of her larger examination of how land and land use play into controversies in the plays.  Alter quickly added that that is also tied to the dual systems of law at the time – “one form of law counter[ed] another form of law” – so that an argument over land was often an argument about law.  Long pointed out that it wasn’t even just two types of law but two courts.  And that those could be worked counter to each other – if sued in one court, you could counter-sue in the other.  As a fellow auditor whispered to me “and some operated in old French,” making it all that much harder.

Next up was Cull’s paper on The Valiant Welshman.  The paper was part of a larger project in which she is editing the play for a project at Ohio State.  Cull noted that she wishes everyone could edit a version of the play they are writing about as it adds great illumination.  She is really interested in looking at this play less as a bad relic of the early modern stage and more at how our predispositions and assumptions keep us away from plays like it.  As an editor, she is really interested in how every edited text has a section of sources but how in so doing, we then approach the sources with an already loaded opinion.  The discussion ensuing focused on the idea of the two printed versions of the play as well as a German translation and the idea of playwrights who were creating the “greatest hits” or just plain old showing off.

With Hardman’s paper on Edward 2, the discussion centered around her examination of the homoerotic versus the queer (or non-normal as she specified) and how that is entirely left out of other versions of the recounting of Edward’s story.  Several of the participants found the distinction interesting as many others, such as Holinshed, shy away from the relationships in this story but not in others.  Why?  What’s there?  That transitioned into a broader discussion of futurity and the cyclical relationship between the current and the future.  I’m still not sure how it happened but it was lively and lovely to watch and listen.

Next up was Lyons paper on Tamburlaine.  She is interested in two main things – the dichotomy between the print archive and the performance archive and then the relationship between plays in a series.  She is posing the question of “what brings the text together and what does it mean to ask an audience to relate shows to one another?”  Hardman asked if there was a gap in the writing to the two parts, was there any bit of “the audience made them do it” to adding an additional part.  Long adds the element of Edward Allen, the actor who played Tamburlaine and his celebrity.  Lyons circles back to Long’s earlier point that we think but we don’t really know.  There is some thought that part 2 was being written as part 1 was being rehearsed but the closest we get to evidence that part 2 was performed at the same time is an audience member who was shot during a show that scholars propose was Tamburlaine, Part 2.  Lyons then posed the question she has of were they using serials to train the audience to continue to return to the theatre.  Alter pointed out that we must remember it was a business so getting people to return was crucial.  Bates added that there were so many new people in London every year that there were, in fact, always people to be trained.

Our final paper was Lloyd’s, also on The Valiant Welshman, but focusing on its place in her larger work on the Welsh language on the early modern stage.  She points out that “the Celtic other” was often used to say something about early modern Britain as the larger entity and not just England.  As she and Cull continued to discuss, Britain (aka England) is marginalized in this play and needs to be saved.  Lloyd pointed out that the show was written when James was trying to get Parliament to bring Scotland into the union like they had previously done with Wales.  Alter pointed out that this wasn’t a new idea, as the union had “existed in someone’s imagination” even back in Henry V with the captains of each nationality.  Alter went on to ponder if the emergence of The Valiant Welshman now at all related to the current state of the British union.

Many different ideas and matters to cover but a lovely conversation to listen in on and a great way to start the conference.