2017 MLitt Thesis Festival – Session 2

Back from 1:45pm-4:30pm for Session 2:

Glenn Thompson – “My Voice is in My Sword”: Defining and Understanding Dramatic Violence in Early Modern Drama

Thompson’s presentation opens with a highly sneaky attempted murder by Josh Willliams, aborted when Thompson declines to engage in combat. Thompson intends to examine how violence shapes a story and how the story shapes the violence. “Entering with a sword does not constitute violence”. Thompson identifies two modes of working through stage combat: text work and rehearsal work. Text work identifies the violence on the page, and rehearsal work negotiates the enactment of the violence on the stage.

His methodology on text work begins with the simple instruction: Read the play. Thompson notes that while this may seem obvious, it is nonetheless important to return to the play and read it fresh, since even if you think you know it well, you have likely changed since you last encountered it. Thompson then notes specific questions to ask while reading to clarify the motion of bodies on stage, such as: What is the major action of each act? Who is on stage when? After reading and re-reading, then he is ready to identify the moments of violence in the play. This may include both on- and off-stage violence, as either can move the story.

After identifying all the moments of violence, Thompson then determines the specific conditions and needs of each moment and categorizes them into four types: inciting incidents, reported violence, concluded violence, shown violence. For today’s presentation, Thompson will focus on the inciting incident – specifically within Macbeth. The violent image of the “dagger of the mind” is an inciting incident because it drives the action of the play. Williams assists by enacting the speech from 1.7, as Thompson points out the various lines which imply not just violent thought, but violent action. In this speech, Macbeth “is speaking himself into action by imagining the action”.

Thompson then discusses the importance of “inciting incident” violence, noting that it is no less important than the other modes, because it sets us up for the story. This moment is crucial for creating “purposeful dramatic violence” later on.

Madeleine Buttitta – Gals Being Pals: The Moral Complexities of Shakespeare’s Status-Based Female Relationships

Buttitta begins by discussing Queen Elizabeth’s early habits of using noblewomen not only as confidantes but as her proxies and representatives. In Shakespeare’s plays, Buttitta sees a similar relationship: a woman in service who utterly devotes herself to and performs morally ambiguous deeds on behalf of her mistress. She looks particularly at the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet and Paulina in The Winter’s Tale and seeks to examine the issues of “agency and authority” at play.

Buttitta moves to a discussion of class distinction and status in the early modern period. Status-based relationships she defines as those character dynamics where one character has superior social/class status to the other. To narrow further, for this thesis, she is looking at a relationship of two unrelated women who share at least one scene, where there is  a status difference between them and one is in service to the other. She turns her attention to the relationship between Desdemona and Emilia, then to Juliet and the Nurse. Buttitta asserts that the Nurse’s concern for Juliet aligns with guides for conduct seen in writings on service in early modern England, even to the point where she counsels Juliet to give up Romeo.

Buttitta examines status markers in Paulina’s speech, noting how Paulina defines herself in relation to both Hermione and Leontes. Even when chiding Leontes, Paulina still addresses him with deference. She only chooses to call him “tyrant” when she has to defend not only Hermione but the infant daughter as well. Buttitta centers Paulina’s words as the cause of Leontes’s reformation, giving the servant considerable power in an otherwise status-driven relationship.

Buttitta moves to a discussion of early modern views of friendship which could often be exclusive of women and that a sexist bias in scholarship has shaped the study of female characters in Shakespeare up to this point. Buttitta argues, though, that female characters can have morally complex relationships worth examining from a scholastic viewpoint.

Katherine Little – The French Shades of Shakespeare’s Henriad

Little introduces the intersection of her major fields of study: Shakespeare and French. In this thesis, she focuses on the Henriad: Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2, and Henry V. She begins with an examination of Richard II as he is described by the gardener, then in his own words, as he unwittingly predicts his own fall from power, as he exists in contrast to Bolingbroke. Little argues that Shakespeare’s characterization reflects the cultural and linguistic associations of each king, with Richard representing the Norman French elitism and Bolingbroke representing the more egalitarian English mode. As such, Richard II has a distinctly different feel than the plays that follow, existing almost entirely in the privileged world of the court, with little attention paid to the populace.

Little goes on to assert that the style of the verse in Richard II is also reflective of this difference. Concerned with pomp and circumstance, a certain amount of hedonism, an elaborate language, Richard II is more aristocratic and more French — and uses a higher percentage not only of verse but of rhyming verse than do the Henry plays. She looks particularly at rhymed couplets. The Lancastrians, however, rhyme less frequently and are “more economical rhetoricians” than Richard and those of his faction.

Henry IV “looks both forward and back”, with speaking modes that are somewhere between Richard and Henry V. Henry V’s language represents the shift to English and commoner-friendly language. Little describes the IV and plays as less poetic, more action-packed. “The further the plays get from Richard II, the more prosaic they become.” As Prince Hal in 1 Henry IV, the character “has been able to divest himself of regal ceremony”; when he is king, the play contains slightly more verse — as well as French dialogue. Henry V gains credibility “from his down-to-earth Englishness”.

Little moves next to a discussion of the French-speaking scene between Katherine and Alice. She argues that the inclusion of this scene indicates that French was still a part of English heritage at this time, despite the implication that the French are only to be mocked. She also discusses how Henry attempts to draw Katherine into English-ness, even moving to the use of the English diminutive “Kate”. Katherine however, answers him in French; “Henry fails to convert her French tongue”. Little suggests that this complicates the narrative of English dominance. She also notes that Henry even sees his own progeny as half-English, half-French, thus including French in his legacy. She concludes that “no amount” of analysis can fully strip the French-ness either from the play or from England and English’s history with France and the French language.

Nick Ciavarra – That Is the Question

Ciavarra introduces that he intends to examine what he has termed “rhetorical character analysis”. He then welcomes “Jonas” to the stage to do some impressions — not very good ones, but in acknowledging that, Ciavarra notes that “Jonas” nonetheless uses repeated phrases and gestures to key in the audience in on who he is supposed to be. Ciavarra relates this to the phenomenon of parody accounts on Twitter, “capturing the sense of the person in the words, subject matter, and grammatical” representations. Ciavarra uses these examples to point out to us that: people talk differently.

Ciavarra discusses the nature of the passive voice in use in politics as a pattern of speech that we can attach to a type of “character” in real life – particularly, to politicians. He discusses several key devices attached to certain of Shakespeare’s characters, noting that “Brevity is the soul of wit” is only funny because it plays against Polonius’s established preference for macrologia, excessive wordiness.

Ciavarra moves to examining the ways that the MBU S&P program engages with rhetoric and identifies it as an “oratorical” engagement. He would like to look at rhetoric as a means of better understanding characters. This is not entirely about performing the rhetoric, but also about developing a character’s internal world. Rhetorical character analysis searches for a character’s preferred rhetorical patterns and attempts to draw conclusions based on those findings. He refers to Anna Northam’s thesis which explored the personification of certain devices.

Ciavarra then moves into a discussion of his case study of Iago. He notes the need to first identify a dominant rhetorical form. His first assumption, that Iago asked more questions than anyone else, proved statistically inaccurate, as he asks only one more than Othello. Then he qualified questions by whether or not they are rhetorical, and by that mark, Iago supercedes the other characters, particularly during moments of high persuasion. Ciavarra discusses the manipulative nature of the rhetorical questions: “If you ask a lot of rhetorical questions, you’re probably the villain. Sorry.” Tyler Dale presents Iago’s “What’s he then that says I play the villain?” twice; once, as written; a second time, with the rhetorical questions re-written as statements. Then he and Ciavarra repeat the experiment with a bit of dialogue between Othello and Iago. Through this, Ciavarra points out not only the manipulative nature of rhetorical questions, but also how they provide Iago with plausible deniability. Rhetorical questions put the “logical onus” and burden of proof on the auditor rather than on the speaker. Ciavarra concludes by asserting the importance of rhetorical analysis in an actor’s toolbox.

Elizabeth Areopagita Bernardo – When Cultures Collide: Shakespearean Remediations Today

Bernardo’s presentation opens with two examples of “remediation” – a form of adaptation that takes a work from anywhere other than the early modern period, putting it into Shakespeare’s verse forms, and creating a communication between cultures. Remediation transmutes a cultural work from one moment in time to another as well as from one form of art to another. For this thesis, Bernardo will focus on the remediations of Star Wars and Sleeping Beauty.

Bernardo notes that, like Star Wars remediator Dosher, she attempted to adhere to iambic pentameter as close as possible, with few irregularities. She also discusses the advantage of giving silent or near-silent characters in the source material more lines on stage. She employed shared lines for lovers Aurora and Philip. Bernardo also discusses using alternate verse forms, such as Dosher’s haiku-speaking Yoda or her own tetrameter-using evil fairy. She also used a chorus to sum up action that was difficult to stage (such as flying and fights).

Bernardo then comments on other conventions, such as using a sonnet to wrap up the play. She also used prose to set some characters aside from the others, as did Dosher. To demonstrate, Luke and Boba Fett engage in battle, with Fett speaking in prose to indicate his lower status; Bernardo used prose to indicate characters’ drunken state.

Bernardo advocates for remediations as a counterpoint to the cultural view of Shakespeare as hard or too highbrow. “Translating pop and geek culture into Shakespeare’s format” may help to make these forms seem more accessible, and to make them seem more like play than like work. “The desire to emulate Shakespeare’s forms and styles” hits on retrospection and introspection that Bernardo finds amazing, and she sees in it a potential to reach new audiences.

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