Paper Session II

Hello everyone – this is Liz once again to blog for Paper Session II at the Blackfriars Playhouse. This session is full of great presentations, moderated by Mary Hill Cole of Mary Baldwin College. The presenters, in order, are Stephen Purcell of the University of Warwick with Just Who Do We Think We Are?: Some Models for Practice-as-Research in Shakespeare Studies, Nick Hutchison, a freelance director, with Is This Winning? Thoughts on The Two Noble Kinsmen in Performance, Jess Hamlet of Mary Baldwin College with Q2 Hamlet and its Neighbors, Sid Ray of Pace University with Staging Epilepsy in Othelloand Catherine Loomis of the University of New Orleans with “Sore hurt and bruised”: Visual Damage on the Early Modern Stage. Live-blogging of this session will run from two forty-five to four in the afternoon.

Mary Hill Cole introduces the panel, but it seems that one presenter is missing… She passes the question to Dr. Cohen, and the decision is made to have Stephen Purcell start off the session.

Stephen Purcell: Just Who Do We Think We Are?: Some Models for Practice-as-Research in Shakespeare Studies

Purcell begins with examples of practice as research, such as Mark Rylance’s work of performing Romeo and Juliet lines in monotone and inviting the audience to give an emotional cast upon the performance. He asserts that there seems to be a divide between the practitioner and researcher. Purcell gives the Globe recreation as a case where both practice and research can merge, particularly in how the remodel allows for an investigation of original staging practices. 

Purcell gives three different models for collaboration between the actor and researcher and suggests a fourth model. The first model is the expert and the craftsperson. This model lets the researcher overlook the research and theory, however, this method also sees the actor primarily as a skilled craftsperson. He points out that, in this model, “one of them makes through thinking and the other thinks through making.” The practitioner is the source and the researcher is the witness, in his second model. In a way, he clarifies, his second proposed method is almost the reverse of the first model. Here, theory translates to practice, rather than the other way around. He speaks about anthropological research, collaborative research together, which segues into the third method: co-examiners. In this method, the practitioner and researcher work together to explore. This method allows for an open-ended method. He then suggests a fourth method, that of an academic practitioner that is a never-ending cycle of questioning and searching for answers. Here, the practitioner and researcher are one, simultaneously practicing and researching to ask and answer questions.

Nick Hutchison: Is This Winning? Thoughts on The Two Noble Kinsmen in Performance

Hutchinson talks about working on The Two Noble Kinsmen at a university, during a season when he had the ability to do productions he normally would not be able to do. Previously, he states, much scholarship focused on who wrote which parts of this collaborative play between John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. In his production, Hutchinson wanted to focus on one authorial voice and theorized that Shakespeare relished working with Fletcher. 

Hutchinson brings out ASC actresses Allison Glenzer and Sarah Fallon to perform some segments from The Two Noble Kinsmen, in cross-gendered roles. He argues that the inconsistencies in the authorial voice are inherent in the characters, rather than “dramatically inconsistent.” He believes that these inconsistencies make the characters more human, rather than unbelievable and poorly written. 

Hutchinson then states that the women in The Two Noble Kinsmen are at the heart of the play and the two authors’ intentions. Glenzer and Fallon join Hutchinson again to perform more segments from the play, now as female characters. He speaks about the sexuality of the female characters, particularly Emilia and the Jailer’s Daughter. He speaks of the inherent sexual implications between these two women. To illustrate, Hutchinson has Glenzee and Fallon perform a scene and highlights the inherent sexuality in the dialogue. 

In contrast, he speaks of the boys’ adoration toward these women. He states that, in the end, no one is ultimately happy with their fate. Hutchinson points to the mixture of moods, comedic and tragic, in the play that reinforce the whole of the play. He expresses his hatred for the Morris dance, but then speaks of the courting dance and the “bouncing” in the woods that this portrays. This leads to the dark ending of the play. Hutchinson states that this dark ending illustrates the price of chivalry, because the characters will soon be dead. Hutchinson states when he focused on one voice in the play, rather than the inconsistencies, the true heart of the play became clear.

Jess Hamlet: Q2 Hamlet and its Neighbors

Hamlet starts with reminders that the print and book trade fell, ultimately, into the hands of the publishers. In the early 1600s, publishers judged which plays and texts appealed to patrons more. The second quarto of Hamlet, Hamlet states, appeared on the shelves of Nicholas Ling’s bookshop on Fleet Street. 

The second quarto appears in a short-title catalog on the shelf of this bookshop that worked with about six printers, two in particular more often than the rest. The short-title catalog names other Shakespearean titles surrounding the Q2 Hamlet. These were The First Part of the Contention betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster, Titus Andronicus,  the first quarto of Hamlet from 1603, and Henry IV. 

Hamlet suggests that, despite the similarity in authorship of Hamlet to the other Shakespearean plays, Gowrie was actually the more interesting of the surrounding books. Many similarities in the revenge plots and strong family ties solidify this assertion. She suggests that the similarities between Hamlet and Gowrie inspired reader to read both books: one as a dramatic text and another as a sort of sensational political writing. 

The first quarto of Hamlet also shared the shelf with the second quarto. This presented, in Hamlet’s words, a “unique marketing challenge.” A bookseller could market the second quarto as an elaboration of the original text. In addition, Q2 also emphasized the original authorship of the second quarto, rather than the performance nature of the first. Hamlet concludes that, without time-travel, we will never know the true story, however, we may speculate.

Sid Ray: Staging Epilepsy in Othello

Ray talks about Act IV, scene i as a sort of epilepsy. She states that Othello takes the position of the starer in this scene and wonders how this moment could bring up questions of perception for the audience, who are the “starers”of the play. 

Ray references the depiction of a falling sickness narrated in Julius Caesar. In Julius Caesar, Cassius narrates Caesar’s falling sickness and uses the narration to feminine Caesar. She states that in contrast, Othello demonstrates this epilepsy onstage. 

Here, Iago works Othello into an epileptic state. She looks at the stage directions, where the folio states that Othello “falls in a trance” versus other editions that state that he simply “falls down.” She talks about the impact of the staging of this scene where a black man writhes on the ground while a white man stands above. Ray acknowledges diagnosis studies and states that many psychologists and other professionals give their ideas on Othello’s condition, all differing in their conclusions. She points out that none of the professionals revert to the beliefs of Shakespeare’s day, which took into account cosmic goings-on and excesses of phlegm. She also talks about Iago’s medical views, through which the audience hears of Othello’s epilepsy, which she sees as dubious. Ray further explains that audiences in Shakespeare’s day believed that the mere sight of a disease passed on the disease. 

Ray then has Rene Thornton Jr. (Othello), Allison Glenzer (Iago), and Sarah Fallon (Cassio) perform this scene from Othello. Ray states that what the audience feels now, involving our history, experiences, and biases, is what the theatre of this scene is all about.

Catherine Loomis:“Sore hurt and bruised”: Visual Damage on the Early Modern Stage.

Loomis talks about visible and physical evidences of violence on the stage. She focuses on Othello, in the scene where Othello strikes his wife. 

Loomis brings Fallon (Lodovico), Glenzer (Emilia), and Thornton (Othello) to stage this scene from Othello. She talks about the use of the word “strike,” which normally shows status and authority. The character striking often has status over the stricken character. She wonders about the effect that a colored mark on Desdemona’s cheek has on an audience. 

The actors, Fallon, Glenzer, and Thornton, stage the scene again, this time with Desdemona applying makeup to indicate a mark from the strike. Loomis then previews of the next scene, where Desdemona can bear the black and blue marks of a bruise through more makeup application. She also states that a bruised Desdemona brings to mind a woman beaten to death. 

The actors then stage this next scene and Loomis points out the language that actively references the bruise from the previous strike. Glenzer and Fallon then stage a scene between Emilia and Desdemona. She asks the audience to focus on how these moments work both dramatically and thematically and the different perceptions audience members gain or lose with the visibility or invisibility of the bruise.

Questions and Answers

A scholar asks the actors what they think about staging the Othello scenes. Fallon states that a physical bruise makes it more apparent that Othello has hurt Desdemona. Thornton states that the use of makeup gave him a physical reaction. Due to another question from a scholar, Fallon reveals that she palmed a tube of makeup in her hand which she squeezed onto her face when she dropped to the ground. She reveals that with talking between scenes, she was able to apply more bruise makeup to make the bruise look darker and different.

A scholar asks a question about outsiders and disabilities in Shakespeare’s plays and if a more accepting society changes the influence of these characters. Ray states that Shakespeare’s audiences most likely saw seizures, which may affect their perception of epilepsy onstage.

A scholar asks how Hutchinson staged the relationship between Emilia and the Woman, or Jailer’s Daughter. He states that he believes that productions often neglect Emilia, and that he wanted to foreground Emilia to bring light to her in the production.

About bitsybetsy

Shakespeare and Performance graduate student.

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