2017 MLitt Thesis Festival Session 3

Back again for the third and final session of the 2017 MLitt Thesis Festival, 4:45pm-6:45pm.

Brooke Spatol – “I shall study deserving”: A close look at illegitimacy in Shakespeare’s England

Spatol will be using her presentation not to prove an argument, but to inform, so she opens by giving us what the argument of her full thesis is. She focuses on the isolation of bastards in a societal setting. Spatol gives accounts of the lengths parishes would go to in order to prevent bastards from ending up on their tab, including physically dragging a woman in labor over the parish line. Re-enactments of the welfare relief efforts under King James dealt more with the mothers of bastards than with the children themselves. She frames the harsh conditions for these mothers before having actors portray the end of 1.1 of King John, where the Bastard and Lady Faulconbridge discuss parentage.

She identifies the first form of isolation as domestic. Women would go to great lengths to deny their bastard children, and Spatol provides an example of a woman who had plastered her breasts to prevent lactation from giving her away. Other women would abandon their children at church’s or at wealthy men’s doors. Fathering an illegitimate child was seen as shameful and financially burdensome, but with no tests to prove fatherhood, men could more easily slip their responsibilities. Spatol connects the emotional effect of this domestic isolation to Don John in Much Ado about Nothing.

Societal shame attended bastardy in the views of Elizabethan society. Spatol discusses several historical precedents which posited bastards as proof of sin, naturally unclean, and infamous, even if later legitimized. Bastards also struggled financially, as it was difficult for parents to leave money or property to their illegitimate children, even if they wished to — and many did not wish to. Inheritance of names was also a point of dispute.

Spatol then has Chad Marriott present Edmund’s famous “Now gods, stand up for bastards” speech from King Lear as an example of an illegitimate son musing on his state. Spatol encourages us to engage with the bastard characters not as automatic villains, but as humans.

Mary Finch – Pulped Shakespeare: The Origins of Paperback Shakespeare in America

Finch begins by inviting the audience closer so that they may fondle the old books she has brought for everyone’s delight. She asserts that while mass market paperbacks have a somewhat denigrated reputation, their very accessibility may be “the first line of offense” in convincing potential audiences that Shakespeare is not hard or Old English. Finch began her research by looking into the first appearances of paperback Shakespeare in America. The initial difference between mass market and trade paperbacks was the venue in which they were sold: mass markets were sold at gas stations and other common locations, while trades were sold to universities. A series of discoveries led her to find paperbacks in America dating as far back as the 1830s.

Finch’s thesis will examine Shakespeare’s cultural place in the American 19th century as well as printing practices of that era. She notes that, despite the jettisoning of many British traits during and after the Revolution, Americans never gave up their love for Shakespeare. As Shakespeare’s popularity grew, so did the demand for accessible editions of his works — which in turn spurred greater popularity. Finch cautions that she cannot make a claim to which came first, the accessibility or the popularity.

By the 1860s, publishing was a boom industry in America — and an industry rife with espionage and back-stabbing. Finch relates the tale of Edwin Gin, an ambitious and determined young man who went from bookseller to publisher. His first publication, a Shakespeare textbook, was a passion project for him, and he intended to provide an edition ideal for teachers and students. When he updated the Hudson collection, he redesigned their format for ease of use. Finch notes that extant copies have typically been rebound and redesigned (as paperback-bound copies were unlikely to survive).

Later decades produced “library series” editions from “pirate publishers” – generally cheap both in their editing and their production. Houghton’s Riverside Library Series, however, offered a sturdy format with commentary. This had the effect of raising the standards of cheap reading. Gin went on to challenge the textbook monopoly held by the major publishers, not only with his own editions, but also by decrying the low standards of theirs. Gin’s passion for egalitarianism in publishing translated into other charitable works and activism as well, but he never lost sight of his goals of making Shakespeare accessible to the masses. He worked with a teacher, Kitteridge, whose philosophies of teaching sound remarkably similar to the mission statements of the ASC and the MBU S&P program. In 1939, the Kitteridge Shakespeare was first published, anticipating the rise of Penguin, Dover, and Folger editions that would become popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Finch finishes by crediting Edwin Gin with contributing to the ubiquity of Shakespeare in publication in America today.

Clare Boyd – None But Women

Boyd introduces her thesis by way of her love for Margaret of Anjou. In her research, she arrived at the idea that the England of Shakespeare’s histories is dependent upon the performance of gender by the monarchs. She centered her research in the Henry VI plays, positing that the plays are preoccupied with the masculinity of the monarch – or the monarch’s lack of masculine quality. She identifies four modes of femininity: idealized femininity, realistic femininity, transgressive femininity, and masculinized femininity. Boyd notes the difficulties in defining terms with a field as broad and complex as gender studies, particularly when trying to apply terms backwards in time.

In the Henry VI plays, the power of the men of England is shown as broken after the death of Henry V and the victory over the English by a French shepherdess. In 1 Henry VI, we see a “eulogy for masculinity” when the young king’s uncles dispute over the regency. Shakespeare sets Henry VI in contrast to paragons of virility and valor, such as his father and Talbot. “If the king cannot claim full masculine status, then the nation itself is in grave danger.” She notes that the word “effeminate” underscores the coding of Henry’s peace-loving qualities. Boyd suggests that Henry VI lives up not to his father’s masculine ideals, but to feminine ideals as put forth in conduct books of Shakespeare’s era. By the end of Part 1, Suffolk suggests that in order to produce a suitable heir, Henry must be matched to a woman who has the masculine qualities of valor and courage that Henry lacks. Boyd points out that though Margaret will later be mocked for unfeminine qualities, Shakespeare first paints these qualities as those which make her an ideal queen. Boyd argues that Margaret first appears, however, with the demureness and virtue expected of an ideal woman, adhering to the conduct books’ traid of ideal traits: obedience, chastity, and silence.

In 2 Henry VI, Margaret begins by performing feminine virtue before the lords of the realm, in contrast to Henry, who cannot perform the necessary masculinity. Only when alone with her now-lover Suffolk in 1.3 does Shakespeare start to show Margaret’s power and transgressive qualities, particularly when she discusses her husband’s deficiencies. “It hasn’t taken Margaret long to notice the masculine power vacuum in her kingdom.” Margaret then begins to perform the anti-ideal, showing herself to be envious, vain, vindictive, and unfaithful. By Part 3, Margaret has entirely taken over the masculine role: defending her son’s inheritance rights, the murder of Rutland,  the humiliation of York. Boyd argues that the death of Rutland is seen as more heinous than the death of Prince Edward largely because it was done at the bidding of and celebrated by a woman.

Boyd concludes by reiterating that Margaret’s transgressive womanhood takes the place of Henry’s deficient manhood. As she is not a king and a man, but a queen and a woman, she ultimately cannot succeed any more than Henry could, however. The Henry VI

Kim Greenawalt – “Say nothing; I’ll speak all”

Greenawalt distills her directing project on silent characters into two questions: “Why this scene?” and “How will this inform your thesis?” She defines her term “silent character” as a character with extended stage time who does not speak or a character who has run out of scripted lines but is still on stage. Her methodology sought to understand early modern silence, to engage with modern theatrical practices such as Viewpoints and neutral mask, and creating performance art.

Greenawalt discusses the difference between modern notions of silence as complacence to early modern perceptions of silence as falling into four types: foolish silence, eloquent silence, resistant or tactical silence, and chaotic/deadly silence. Greenawalt notes that many silences may blend various types, but that nonetheless these categories were a useful starting point for exploring a character’s silence.

Greenawalt then offers a demonstration of gestural score accompanied by music as a rehearsal practice, using five actors. After her actors move through a gestural score, she encourages them to explore the space, thinking about its architecture in particular. The actors then begin using the components of their gestural score to tell impromptu stories as they encounter each other on the stage. After the actors finish the exercise, Greenawalt discusses the process of discovery through non-verbal communication.

Turning to Measure for Measure, Greenawalt states that she sought to create performance art that would provoke thought and emotional response from the audience in relation to characters who might not usually receive much audience attention. Greenawalt notes that different audiences at different times of day had varying responses to the visual stimuli provided by her performance art. Greenawalt hopes that her explorations and discoveries of her performance art work could help inform a director’s choices when it comes to silent characters. Her actors then demonstrate scenes from Measure for Measure using those explorative methods centered on physical performance: first rehearsing with the exaggerated gestural language, then using that gestural language to present a realistic but emotionally heightened performance.