Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Plenary Session 8

Mary Finch here! I will be the live-blogger for this session running from 5:00-6:15pm and moderated by Tyler Moss from The Shakespeare Forum.

Neil Vallelly, University of Otago
Way-making at Shakespeare’s Globe

This paper deals with two questions: What do we mean when we say we make or way, and why does that matter? Vallelly, began to answer these by discussing the opening of the Same Wanamaker playhouse, as well as the knew foyer at Shakespeare’s Globe. While lots of scholarship deals with what happens within in the theater not much has dealt with the semiotics outside of the theater space.

During research about light, Vallelly realized he had to begin by looking at the outside of Wanamaker, because that is where the theater experience begins. Theaters are not stagnant locations, but a imporant house in the midst of way-making. Vallelly distinguishing way-making from going as a process, rather than a means to an ends. Vallelly invoked Tim Ingold to describe theater as a knot; something that exists at a location, but also extends behind the single instance. He then pointed out that from above, the Globe even looks like a knot. The openness of the theater also calls to mind the relationship between the theatre and the world around it. Audiences are constantly reminded that the theater experience does not edge of the property, and the outside can constantly intrude into the theater from above.

In contrast, the enclosed space of the Wanamaker does not allow such easy permeation, severing the thread from the knot. When the Globe and Wanamaker exchanged performances of Julius Caesar, the annex was a common space for crowds from both theater. For the Globe, the use of the annex smoothed the transition from public to private, making the distinction impossible. In the Wanamaker, the transition was less smooth, and the pre-show events were separated by the requirements to take seats and adjust eyes to new lighting.

As audiences come together, we should consider the threads that come together.

Holly Picket, Washington and Lee University
Silence and the Music of the Spheres in Pericles

Much like how only Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo, directors must consider if audiences can hear the music that Pericles hears during the play. Music appears more frequently in this play; more than in any other play. The music also fulfills an important role, especially during the revelation. While some stage direction call for music, the quarto contains no such directions.

Picket plans to test the effects of the differing stagings using ASC actors (Tim Sailer, Andrew Goldwasser, and Patrick Poole).

At this point in the play, Pericles is at the end of his journey and has lost his wife and daughter. Silence has deepened his despair, rather than given him peace. In returning to speaking, he uses musical vocalization before the oral epiphany that only he can hear.

The actors played the scene once with music and then once without. Picket proposed that the audible music would connect audiences more with Pericles, while removing the music would do the opposite. Within the text, music has a range of meanings, from the holy to the wicked, throughout the text. In the beginning, music features in the incestuous and luxurious speeches, but later it function as a means of revival, either hard or smooth. It could also be religious, alluding the both the religious practice of the Greeks, or the Christians. Overall, music can release and transform throughout the play.

Musa Gernis, Washington University
The Privy in Public

How was  understanding at the Globe felt, as well as thought? To answer this, Gernis examined A Game at Chess by Thomas Middleton, which centers on a chest game and Gondomar, a ruler with a sore on his rear end which requires a chair with a hole in the center.

“When a toilet is brought on stage, there must be farts.” Looking at this scene, and the requirement of a commode on stage, Gernis says it requires a blatant treatment the scatological humor, rather than anything subtly ironic or allusive.

The scene was staged with ASC actors and many whoopie cushions.

This scene, which contains some of the scariest and most political moments of the play, is re-contextualized when the fart jokes are acknowledged. Gondomar cannot stop his mouth “or his sphincter.” His bodily functions alienates the audience, and the pawn-character. As the play continues, the Blank Knight loses his sway and control.

“Seated on the chair of ease, he becomes the butt of the joke.”

Maria Knowlton, Utah Valley University,
May Rites and Midsummer Offerings

Knowlton opened by discussing the similarities and differences between the Elizabethan holiday calendar and contemporary holidays. She detailed the typical activities that accompanied each passing season, many of which included courtly performances by the London theater companies.

Patronage protected companies politically, but was not hugely profitable from a financial standpoint due to the cost of costumes and props to stage productions. The high cost of properties forced companies to reuse and recycle, as well as find ways to fund their companies. Harsh weather did not deter new theaters from being built throughout London.

According to Henslowe’s receipts, new plays had higher attendance. Rotating plays and using season productions, companies lent some stability to their business practices. Re-using plays allowed companies to recycle properties, as well as built anticipation within their audiences as they looked forward to the seasonal shows.

In Shakespeare’s case, we can see a pattern similar to the one revealed by Henslowe’s diary. The plays have similar themes and events, if not direct temporal repetition. This affords a look into historical and contemporary habits of audiences.

Adam Zucker, University of Massachusetts
Love’s Labour’s Lost and the Pedagogy of Incomprehensibility

“The central text for Shakespeare’s relationship to school room tactics.” Scholars have used this text to prove that Shakespeare went to, and excelled at, grammar school well enough to construct the satire in Love’s Labour’s Lost. This logic has a lot of assumptions, most of which never hold up under scrutiny. We know that Shakespeare wrote about things he did not know, sculptures coming to life or exotic islands for instance.

What evidence do we use to create Shakespeare’s evidence? We want to see his brain as a mirror of our own. Perhaps if we can learn enough the way he learned it, we can be like him.

Scholars Barnes and Baldwin seemed to think that Shakespeare had no interest in formal education, beyond what he wanted or needed to be a successful playwright. Zucker does not wish to completely disagree, but present alternate lenses of understanding.

For instance, can we appreciate the Latin jokes within LLL without knowing Latin? Obscurity and difficulty was a problem felt by audiences of the sixteenth century, and therefore modern editors and scholars should not try to remove all confusion. Zucker than led an experiment where the audience read words allowed, leading up to honorificabilitudinatatibus. A word where the meaning is less important than the context surrounding it; a character proving that he can say a long silly sounding word.

Jennifer Holl, Rhode Island College
Name-Dropping and Theatrical Branding in Greene’s Tu Quoque

Holl begins with the ambiguity around the use of the word “brand” in Sonnet 111. Names can be used outside of the control of the figure they represent.

Holl asserts that Shakespeare’s name was used to sell a range of products, whether he wrote them or not, as support she invoked Tiffany Stern and accounts of Will Kempe complaining of ballad makers using his antics and name.

Name-dropping on stage, Holl argues, functions as a counter-product of the written use of name. There are instances where the name is absent (such as Hamlet complaining of Will Kempe) and more explicit use of names. John Cooke’s The City Gallant provides an example of name-dropping as a commodified sign as a means of publicity. The stage was a place to promote plays, actors, and upcoming events outside of immediate performance.

In the scene, the actor drops his own name within the scene, in a moment of amusing metatheater. The drama is disrupted the draw attention to the actor beyond the character and alert audiences to popularity of the actor. The humor only works if the actor is well known by the audience. This entices audiences to become aware of what is happening in order to get the “in joke” and find more such moments.

The success of the play might have depended upon the success of the actor, as shown by the re-naming of the play “Greene’s Tu Quoque” after a humorous moment within the play. His name, like Shakespeare’s, became public property and “a brand-name in itself.”

— Mary Finch
MLitt Student at MBC Shakespeare & Performance

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