MLitt Thesis Festival 2016 – Session 2

I’m Cass Morris, back again to live-blog the second session of the MLitt Thesis Festival, 3:00-5:00pm.

Kayla Blue, A Baffling Whim: Sexual Imagery in Film Adaptations of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Capulet Ball
The presentation opens with Katie Little, as Blue, watching the ball scene from the Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet. Blue then explains that she’s watched thirty-nine film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, and that the ball scenes in 27 of them feature phallic imagery (69%). She noticed the repeated imagery of columns (or column-like vertical structures) and drapery, tapestry, or similar materials. Blue argues that the columns and arras both call upon romantic/historic ideas and invoke sexual imagery.

Columns: have a history of tragic scenery, evoke wealth (particularly ancient money), and connote the Italian heritage to a Western audience. Blue is interested in the conscious result of many directors’ subconscious decision. Little’s Faux!Blue takes a moment to comment on adaptation: Blue moved beyond just versions of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, using Shakespeare’s own text, to include anything that self-identified as an R&J adaptation (so, things like Shakespeare in Love and Gnomeo and Juliet are on her list).

Blue notes that the stagnant features of the Elizabethan stage, as demonstrated in the presence of our own frons scenae, have been appropriated by many directors of film. Blue notes that film allows for some “minutiae” that are impossible to convey in a theatrical setting. Blue identifies key components of the ball scene: A) Moment of Initial Attraction, B) Moment of Mutual Connection, and C) Moment of First Physical Contact, followed by the shared sonnet. Romeo’s A moment is textually prescribed; Juliet does not have a corresponding A moment in text. The opening of the sonnet brings them together, and “If I profane with my unworthiest hand” is the C moment.

Blue then tells us when to look for columns, including but not limited to: entering the ball, Romeo and Juliet’s A moments, Tybalt’s promise, with servants and musicians, Romeo’s adoration speech, the moment of mutual connection, the moment of first physical contact, during the sonnet, or during the recognition of their identities. Zeffirelli uses what Blue calls the “positive” slope, moving from A to B to C, though it does break down into RA and JA. This is the most common sequence. Gnomeo and Juliet, meanwhile, has the “negative slope” – C to B to A, as the characters accidentally touch hands, then become aware of each other. Shakespeare in Love moves JA to RA to C to B. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet moves B to A to C, as the characters first see each other through the fish tank.

Blue then notes the fourteen adaptations make use of an “in within” – a “private, interior female space” – for the lovers to have their interaction away from the party. They have, however, still “retreat to somewhere public.” The party is still going on and nearby, but allows a certain amount of privacy for the sonnet. “Romeo and Juliet are alone; the party is simultaneously adjacent and distant.” She argues that the audience understands that Romeo is entering a sacred interior space of some kind, which has some form of vaginal connotations to an audience “already stimulated by male phallic imagery… from all the columns!” She connects this to the history of theatre and the classical concern with public and private spaces. Blue parallels her list of where to look for the columns with where to look for the arras: during the sonnet. “The two scenic images together do something special” to the audience’s cognitive awareness, connecting the modern film with the Elizabethan theatre with the classical theatres.

Blue notes that scholars have considered phallic imagery so common as to have become invisible to Western culture. The statement of masculine presence is the erect phallus; Romeo is not just the “cock in the henhouse” in that he is a Montague amongst Capulets, but because he is representative of that masculine presence. She then notes that the imagery connects with Romeo’s already aroused state when he arrives at the ball; the language after he meets Juliet, however, turns gentler and more feminine. The Montague faction represents an unwelcome penetration into the Capulet space, but the arras imagery used within the lovers’ sonnet turns that unwelcome penetration into something mutual, an allowed penetration, consensual and romantic. Blue notes that Juliet chooses to engage in the sonnet with Romeo, telegraphing her own agency and sexual interest to the audience.

Blue ends by asserting that columns subconsciously stimulate sexual ideas in viewers’ minds, and when the lovers share their sonnet and kiss in an intimate, female space, the audience will bind sexual and romantic love together in their story.

Q: These are film adaptations. Are you aware that the arras has been used in this way in a theatrical staging of the play?
A: It could be, but Blue has not seen it. Cohen comments that he has never seen it played quite like that.

Q: Have you seen any correlation with whether there are columns and arrasses in 1.5 and whether or not the lovers are separated or able to connect in the balcony scene?
A: Blue hasn’t, due to needing to narrow the scope of her thesis to examining a single scene. She has noted that columns are most often re-introduced in the tomb scene.

Q: How might you take what you’ve done in terms of film and apply it to the stage?
A: Fascinatingly, “my discourse about how film can provide for certain opportunities, it also has its failures and downfalls. I would have to really think about how to stage a cinematic interpretation on a stage like this.”

Kendra Emmett-Goldwasser, Od’s F***ing Bodykins: Shakespeare as Cross-Section of the Early Modern Flux of Taboo Language
Emmet-Goldwasser begins by noting that she has been interested in swearing and censorship for several years. Applying this to the early modern period, she wanted to know which words were “bad” and why. She notes that religious words were still taking seriously and that some currently offensive words were not yet considered obscene. She moves to definitions: taboo, oaths, obscenities, and vulgarity. “Taboo” is something permanently or temporarily forbidden or inviolable in a society, something which is simple in concept but complex in reality, constantly evolving and variant between cultures. For this thesis, Emmett-Goldwasser uses it to refer to language taboos, which are, in turn, largely oaths and obscenities.

Oaths invoke God or gods as witness to a statement, such as “by God” or “by God’s wounds”. She also includes minced and abbreviated oaths, like “‘zounds!”, or “life!” or “heart!” with an understood “God’s” before them. They then became words uttered due to their evocative or provocative value. Obscenities, then, “are to be defined against oaths,” specifically words that referents to parts of the body and its effluvia, both sexual and scatological: fuck, shit, cunt, etc. These can be found both explicitly and implicitly in early modern texts. She notes that many of these, including fuck and shit, were not explicitly taboo in the early modern period. Vulgarity, for this thesis, means “words that have coarse or impolite reference” but without being the same level of taboo as obscenities. In England, at the end of the 16th and early 17th century, the taboos were shifting from religious to bodily nature.

Emmett-Goldwasser mentions that there is a physiological way to measure the body’s response to words, based on electronic impulse on the skin. Since she cannot travel back in time to test this on unsuspecting early moderns, she examines the effect of words through other means. She begins with ecclesiastical exhortations, such as various publications regarding “the abuse of swearing”. People must have continually used these words, or clerics would not need to warn against them, and the invective publications indicate that these words were still taboo. Swearing, cursing, and oaths do not seem to refer to obscenities or vulgarities in early modern parlance.

“The best way to find out what is taboo in a society is to find out what it censors,” and so Emmett-Goldwasser moves to considering what the Masters of the Revels censored out of plays of the time. Three manuscripts exist with censor marks on them, and Emmett-Goldwasser shares one from The Second Maiden’s Tragedy. It includes no examples of censored sex or sexuality, not even when a tyrant steals his love’s dead body for necrophiliac purposes. Theatrical taboos seemed to focus on religious and political means. The most pertinent instance of censorship was the Act to Restrain the Abuses of Players, which fined 10 pounds for the use of sacred or religious words, again with no mention of obscenities.

Emmet-Goldwasser then considers “print” censorship, noting that the Folio oddly minces oaths, even though the Act only applied to those spoken on the stage and that other quartos printed after the Folio retained the original oaths. She notes Gary Taylor’s argument that the altered Folio texts may, then, have been set from altered playhouse texts, adjusted to comply with the Act. To demonstrate one of her findings, she looks at Hamlet, 3.2 in its three versions. “‘Zounds” in Q1 is exchanged for “S’blood” in Q2, then disappears in the Folio.

So, if these oaths were taboo, then why did playwrights use them? Shakespeare’s plays help us to see the moment when the religious oaths were becoming less taboo and the bodily terms were becoming moreso. As an example, Mercutio’s conjuring of Romeo after the Capulet ball, with the et cetera serving not necessarily as external censorship, but perhaps as a euphemism used for the self-censorship of the word “cunt”, which does not seem to have been taboo earlier in the medieval period (particularly as it appears in a number of place names). Shakespeare puns on the word several times – “Her Cs, her Us, and her Ts” and “country matters”. Emmett-Goldwasser compares these to “fuck” and “shit”. In the 1500s, “shit” appeared in print with no sign of bashfulness or censorship. Shakespeare puns on “fuck” (or its French variant) a couple of times in Henry IVHenry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and it also appears in Ben Jonson’s Epicene, which refers to a “windfucker” — the common name for a kestrel. If the word “fuck” was taboo, it is unlikely that it would have been used so casually in another context. Emmett-Goldwasser notes that it seems to have been vulgar but not necessarily obscene nor taboo in the early modern period.

In conclusion, censorship seemed concerned more with blasphemous language, as evidenced by the Act. “Oaths still held taboo, and some obscenities were not yet obscene.”

Q: Did you notice how comparatively blasphemous was Shakespeare?
A: Emmett-Goldwasser has looked a little at the contemporaries, but mostly focused on Shakespeare due to scope. Oaths are present, but he complied after the 1606 act.

Q: If words like “fuck” and “shit” weren’t taboo, then why only playfully pun on them?
A: Emmett-Goldwasser feels this is an indication of her thesis that the taboo was shifting; those words might not have been quite as appropriate even though not explicitly taboo.

Q: In “windfucker” to “windsucker”, can you argue against the typesetting?
A: “I wondered about that.” Her thesis posits that it could’ve been a mistake or a matter of convenience.

Davies: One final question — Where was Grope-Cunt Lane? I’ve decided to go there.
Menzer: Thank you, Kendra. See me in my office, Davies.

Megan Clauhs, Her Mother Hath Many Times Told Me So: Innogen and Silence in Much Ado about Nothing
Merlyn Sell opens, as Clauhs, opining that Innogen in Much Ado doesn’t speak because she’s a ghost character, and therefore a ghost, without lines. Clauhs then interrupts to correct. There are two kinds of ghost characters: seen and unseen. Seen ghosts enter in stage directions but never speak, nor are spoken to; unseen ghosts, like Rosaline in Romeo and Juliet, who is referred to often but never appears on stage. Clauhs then argues that Innogen ought not be considered a seen ghost character, as there are lines within the play that do refer to Innogen, at least as Hero’s mother, though her name is never spoken.

Clauhs then presents the opening scene of Much Ado about Nothing with a silent Innogen included. Any mention of her paternity must acknowledge her, if she is on stage. Clauhs then considers places where seen ghost characters get left out of the staging — usually when productions cut servants and attendants due to the constraints of cast size, a practice which does not affect the plot or the audience’s experience of the play. She argues that Innogen, the only married woman in the play, cannot be excised as easily. Clauhs puts forward the idea that, with few exceptions, married women do not talk in comedies, and even Hero is more talked-about than talking. Clauhs points out that even Beatrice stops talking after her mouth is stopped, presumably with a kiss, suggesting that the happy ending requires the silence of the female characters.

Clauhs argues that the Messina of Much Ado is one of Shakespeare’s most misogynistic settings, illustrated both by Leonato’s vitriol (absent in the source material), Claudio’s indifference, and the propensity of cuckold jokes in the play. Clauhs notes that some modern productions have given lines from other characters to a speaking Innogen. She believes this would have raised questions for an early modern audience that it does not for a modern audience. “Just because Innogen is silent in the text doesn’t mean she has to stay silent forever.”

Clauhs stresses the importance of retaining Innogen, particularly as a married woman in the world of a play which focuses on female virtue and chastity, and argues for undoing the editorial choice of Theobald which got carried forward into future editions.

Q: If Innogen is an important part of the play in her silent presence, what does her absence after 2.1 say?
A: The full thesis argues that her absence is the mistake, not her presence. Other characters lack entrances but speak lines within scenes.
Q: What scenes do you think she should be in that she’s not?
A: “My thesis is evolving every day. I’m starting to believe that she should replace Ursula.”

Q: Clarification regarding what defines “happily” married women.
A: Conflict, such as Adriana, indicates an unhappy marriage.

Q: If Shakespeare did intentionally only put Innogen in 1.1 and 2.1, then why is she there?
A: Shakespeare needed a married woman there to be the butt of a cuckold joke.

Q: Is there anything to tie in the possible alternate pun on musical noting in the title?
A: “I hadn’t even thought of that. I was more interested in the vagina joke.”

Q: I wonder if there’s an inverse proportion to sad men. Is there a feminization of Don John the bastard, as if he’s being told to shut up? He does speak a lot but not in public.
A: Clauhs doesn’t think so, “but no offense, I don’t care about men in this thesis.”

Paige Hammock, “Hear My Soul Speak”: Experiential and Atemporal Shakespeare through Music
Hammock considers the musical supplements to the early modern scene, including plays, masques, dancing, bear-beating, “adult dancing”, and even work. “Music was and is a foundation of cultural stability.” Music was an integral part of the early modern theatre transaction, and today can be used as a bridge between what seems archaic and what is familiar. Hammock underscores the ability of music to influence and suggest emotion, as well as to cross temporal boundaries. Examples of music assisting theatrical transaction include those at the Globe in London and here at the Blackfriars Playhouse. Hammock mentions particularly the foreign language productions of the Globe to Globe project, where music told a story that the audiences could follow.

Hammock compares the Globe’s typical use of music, only when called for in the script and at the end with a dance, to the Blackfriars Playhouse’s use of music before the show and during the interlude, which may tell the audience something about what they are about to see. “Music can help clarify and set boundaries for the meaning that the production and the audience will create together.” At the Globe, initial music serves as a signal that action is about to begin; she provides an example from the 2013 Macbeth, wherein the tones of bagpipes serve to silence the audience as well as setting the scene, before transitioning into warlike drum beats. “At the very least, the intro music draws the attention of the audience through sheer volume.” Such abrupt starts seem typical at the Globe, creating an aural boundary with immediate audience awareness. The production ended with a musical salute and a dance. While the jig may be discordant with a tragedy, Hammock suggests that the music and dance signals the end of the play in the same way as the call for applause in other plays. Music then, reminds audience to both pay attention to and to leave the play: an absolute beginning and a clear ending. “Transaction started; transaction completed.” Hammock also notes the ability of music to establish patterns and to signal transitions within a play, such as the music in The Tempest. She plays a clip from the Globe’s 2012 production, during Ferdinand’s initial entrance.

By contrast, the musical scene at the Blackfriars Playhouse “is a bit difference.” Here, the actors perform modern music during the pre-show and interval, often suggesting, as Jim Warren puts it, “something about the play.” During the touring days, it was used as a mood-setter, mediating between what an audience might expect and introducing them “to a potentially less stuffy version.” For example, the use of U2’s “Love is Blindness”, frequently used as an LGBTQ anthem, helped ease the way into Marlowe’s Edward II. Hammock suggests that the interval’s inclusion of “You Shook Me All Night Long” was perhaps more tongue-in-cheek, serving to highlight the play’s melodramatic elements. This, Hammock argues, becomes a different kind of transactional allowance, giving the audience permission to feel that the relationship between the King and Gaveston, while real, is also overly dramatic.

Hammock then considers the 2014 ASC production of The Comedy of Errors. The pre-show and interval music “semeed to take the painfully obvious and making it obviouser,” highlighting the absurdity of the entire play. The opening “Hey Brother” by Avicii has an obvious connotation, in the twins. The long-lost twins and wronged twins find a theme in Three Dog Night’s “One is the Loneliest Number”, and the falsities and mistaken identities get the same treatment in the interval’s “Little Lies” by Fleetwood Mac. All of these, Hammock says, comment on the play’s own absurdity. She also considers the cover of Cake’s “Never There”, which transitions into the door-keeping scene, and Weird Al Yankovic’s “I Think I’m a Clone Now.” The latter is both humorously self-referential during the play and an echoing reference to the original song, “I Think We’re Alone Now”. Hammock argues that there is a cognitive dissonance between hearing modern music on the early modern stage, perhaps creating competing “winks” to the audience, “a lot for the audience to process.” She expresses concern that this may break the transaction between theatre and audience. Another example was the interlude song and dance to “Me and My Shadow” by Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.  In comparison, Hammock feels that Weird Al cover might have pulled the audience too far out of the play, while the Sinatra/Davis cover created a stronger sense of the world of the play.

Concluding, Hammock states that music can define boundaries and enhance the theatrical transaction. “Music is used not as an alternative language, but as an additional one.”

Q: Have you thought about the difference between recorded sound and live?
A: Yes; initially Hammock wanted to have the music in her presentation performed live.

Q: You’ve pretty skillfully hacked the layers of something like the Weird Al song; is the atemporality something that comes out of that?
A: Usually when you come to a show, you can make the connection between the song and the play you’re about to see, but the Weird Al song seemed to add too many layers for the audience to then think about.

Q: You mentioned a bit about the audience’s attention to the song, and that got me thinking of how I frequently cannot hear the lyrics of the song thanks to the noise of the audience. How does that ability or inability impact the audience’s experience?
A: Hammock does talk about that some in the actual thesis. It’s not necessarily meant to serve as an essential component of the play. There’s still an aural connection to something happening on the stage, even if you’re not trying to ascribe meaning or listening to the lyrics.

Q: Thoughts on the use of modern music like at the Blackfriars Playhouse versus historical music like at the Globe?
A: Hammock is looking at the variant experiences that creates, without necessarily saying that one is a better choice than the other.

Q:Do you get the same atemporality when productions take early modern lyrics and set them to modern music?
A: It can have that effect.

–This session live-blogged by Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager