The Rhetoric of Speaking Truth to Power

In 1954, a journalist named Edward R Murrow stood up against the bullying and intimidation of Senator Joseph McCarthy. PBS describes his famous broadcast like this: “Broadcast on March 9, 1954, the program, composed almost entirely of McCarthy’s own words and pictures, was a damning portrait of a fanatic. McCarthy demanded a chance to respond, but his rebuttal, in which he referred to Murrow as ‘the leader of the jackal pack,’ only sealed his fate. The combination of the program’s timing and its persuasive power broke the Senator’s hold over the nation.”

I was inspired to revisit Murrow’s speech recently, when one of our presidential candidates stated, “In the Cold War, we had an ideological screening test. The time is overdue to develop a new screening test for the threats we face today.” Remembering just what that ideological screening test was reminded me of the film Good Night and Good Luck, and that put me down this particular historical rabbit hole. Beyond the political resonance of Murrow’s speech, however, I was struck by the simple elegance of its rhetoric.

I decided to compare Murrow’s rhetoric to that of two of Shakespeare’s characters who we see in moments of speaking truth to power: Hermione at her sham of a trial and the Lord Chief Justice defending himself to the newly-crowned King Henry V. These are three very different speakers in three very different situations, but there are some strands of rhetorical similarities that perhaps reflect what is most persuasively potent in moments like these. To see the full speeches and my (scribbling) mark-up of them, click here.

In The Winter’s Tale, Hermione’s in a tough position, because she’s been dragged to court from childbed, while suffering a total breakdown of her entire world. It’s not surprising, then, that her speech is disordered. The device known as hyperbaton is what most of us would think of as “Yoda-speak”.

The bug which you would fright me with I seek.
To me can life be no commodity.
The crown and comfort of my life, your favor,
I do give lost.

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Stephanie Earl as Hermione in The Winter’s Tale, 2011; photo by Tommy Thompson.

When you encounter disordered speech like this, it’s often helpful to rewrite the sentences as normal syntactical order would have them — so, “The bug which you would fright me with I seek” becomes “I seek the bug with which you would fright me” — and then ask why the words don’t come in that expected order. What information is Shakespeare giving us through the disorder? What I find interesting about Hermione’s structure is that she places the predicate/object first, saving herself for later. Whether this is strategic or an effect of her distress is up to an actor, but it seems to reflect her dissociation from herself and her life.

Despite this disorder, there is still an underlying structure in her speech. Hermione testifies as to her losses: (1) “The crown and comfort of my life, your favor, I do give lost”; (2) “My second joy / And first-fruits of my body, from his presence / I am barr’d”; (3) “My third comfort, / Starr’d most unluckily, is from my breast… Haled out to murder”; (4) Myself on every post / Proclaimed a strumpet; (5)with immodest hatred / The childbed privilege denied… (6)lastly, hurried / Here to this place, i’th’open air, before / I have got strength of limit.” Her order is not precise; it’s broken not only with the aforementioned hyperbaton but with parenthetical statements and somewhat rambling descriptions. But the order is there. My sense is that you can feel in that underlying structure a woman trying to hang on, even through extreme turmoil. And it pays off.

Hermione seems to wrap up with fairly simple statement, including a blistering antithesis (the contrast of opposing ideas): “Tell me what blessings I have here alive that I should fear to die?” Something in her is still fighting through the despair, however; she gives us a telltale “But yet”, a phrase that almost always cues a shift in a character’s speech, and then launches into her longest thought in the speech. (My mark-up shows the breaks where each full thought ends).

Not life,
I prize it not a straw, but for mine honour,
Which I would free, if I shall be condemn’d
Upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else
But what your jealousies awake, I tell you
‘Tis rigor and not law.

It’s a tangled thought, with those qualifying parentheticals, but it lands strong. “Rigor and not law” is a wonderful antithesis, and Hermione follows this long thought with a strikingly simple one — her simplest in the speech, with no disorder, no augmentations, no diversions: “Your honours all, I do refer me to the oracle.” Out of her disorder, Hermione finds strength — and the will to speak that truth to the husband and king who wants her dead.

The Lord Chief Justice is similarly challenged to defend himself in public, when King Henry V demands he justify having imprisoned the king when he was still a young, carousing prince. The Lord Chief Justice (hereafter LCJ) speaks in longer thoughts than does Hermione, though their overall monologues are roughly the same length. He paints a picture at length, of Henry having his own son who might disobey him, and throughout the speech, uses language that consciously calls upon Henry to “imagine” what might be.

Like Hermione, he has an underlying listing structure to his speech, though he carries it to greater lengths. His speech is also highly ordered, rather than disordered; the LCJ calls upon the device of isocolon, parallel sentence structure, to drive his lists home, whereas Hermione’s were more scattered in their structure. Below, I’ve numbered the items in the list — each a similarly-structured verb phrase, wherein the LCJ calls upon Henry to imagine specific things:

If the deed were ill,
Be you contented, wearing now the garland,
(1)To have a son set your decrees at nought,
(2)To pluck down justice from your awful bench,
(3)To trip the course of law and (4)blunt the sword
That guards the peace and safety of your person,
Nay, more, (5)to spurn at your most royal image
And (6)mock your workings in a second body.

He then moves from this structure to the even more direct imperatives (a bold thing to use when speaking to a king):

(1)Question your royal thoughts, (2)make the case yours;
(3)Be now the father and propose a son,
(4)Hear your own dignity so much profaned,
(5)See your most dreadful laws so loosely slighted,
(6)Behold yourself so by a son disdain’d.

Like Hermione, the LCJ gives us a wonderful turning point with “And then” — where he finally turns the topic back to his own deeds, both past and potential. Throughout this speech, the Lord Chief Justice is speaking to save at least his job, perhaps his life, but that does not seem to rattle him. Though verbose, he is not disordered, and that insight may tell an actor quite a bit about who this character is.

Cqe6cmrUAAADPntAnd so to Murrow:

Murrow’s dominant rhetorical trait at first glance is that of the double predicate (a simplistic form of zeugma, with one subject governing multiple verbs and objects). He also makes an interesting grammatical shift about one-third of the way through, moving from speaking in the abstract third person (“No one familiar with the history of this country can deny”; “It is necessary to investigate”, etc) to the first personal plural: “We must not confuse”; “We must remember”; “We will not walk in fear”; “We will not be driven by fear”. Murrow takes himself out of the ostensibly dispassionate, objective seat of the reporter and makes himself a part of the whole, which both personalizes the speech and encourages audience complicity in it.

Murrow also makes great use of antithesis, contrasting “dissent” with “disloyalty”, “accusation” with “conviction”, “oppose” with “approve”, “abroad” with “at home”, “allies” with “enemies”, and “create” with “exploit”. His lists are more spread out, but those contrasts in themselves provide the thrumming beat of structure that carries through the speech.

So what do all three have in common? Lists and contrasts seem to make for powerful points. Somewhat strangely, in all three examples I examined, the lists came in sixes — usually with some sort of grammatical patterning shift between the first three and the last three. The arrangement of contrast seems natural when speaking truth to power: the objective is to draw a line between what is and what is not, between the truth and the lie. The starker the contrast, the more successful the argument.

The thing that strikes me most, looking at all three speeches, is that the simplest statement, the least rhetorically embellished, always falls almost at the end of the speech. Hermione’s “I do refer me to the oracle”, the Lord Chief Justice’s “After this cold consideration, sentence me”, and Murrow’s “And whose fault is that? Not really his.” all have a punch-like quality to them. After using different strategies to lay out the situation, all three “put a button on it”, as we say in our Leadership Programs. They also then follow up with a call to action — something that turns the focus from the speaker to the listener. Murrow’s is perhaps the most interesting, because it is not stated outright as Hermione’s “Apollo be my judge” and the LCJ’s “As you are a king, speak in your state / What I have done that misbecame my place / My person, or my liege’s sovereignty”. Rather, Murrow turns back to Shakespeare himself to make his audience think about their complicity in evil actions: “‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.’ Good night, and good luck.”

Good luck with what? The phrase was Murrow’s standard sign-off, but it carries such weight following the speech he’s just given. Good luck re-examining yourself? Good luck enduring these circumstances? Good luck challenging power? Whatever it is, it’s something the audience has to carry forward with them.

And all three win, in the end. It takes longest for Hermione, but she is, eventually, vindicated by the Oracle and then, sixteen years later, by Leontes. Henry V embraces the Lord Chief Justice. And Edward R Murrow started a chain reaction that eventually brought down Senator McCarthy and his witch hunts.

In an age of constant media, it’s sometimes hard to tell where the truth, the deflections, the distractions, and the outright lies are in the public discourse — but sometimes, it’s not very hard at all. Whenever I give a rhetoric workshop, I tell students that one of the reasons I love it is because rhetoric makes you a better listener. Sometimes that’s about listening for how someone’s using rhetoric to try to fool you, but it can also be about listening for the person who’s speaking the truth that someone else doesn’t want you to hear.

–Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

“Admit me Chorus to this history” – A brief lesson in starting shows, by William Shakespeare, Stephen Sondheim, Will Smith, and Lin-Manuel Miranda

Over the past nearly-six years, I’ve developed a fascination with the opening scenes of Shakespeare’s plays. This is a direct result of my work on our Study Guides — in the Basics section of each one, I use the first 100 lines of the play as an example to teachers of how to work with embedded stage directions, scansion, paraphrasing, rhetoric, and audience contact. It means I get to know those opening five minutes quite intimately.

It’s occurred to me that there are some similarities that run not only across Shakespeare, but across the centuries, when it comes to starting a show. Obviously not every play follows the same pattern, even within Shakespeare, but a great many have certain characteristics in common, particularly when there’s an opening prologue of some sort.

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John Harrell as the Chorus in the ASC’s 2011 Henry V; photo by Tommy Thompson

The first few minutes of the play let the audience know what’s important and what to expect. I’ve talked about the importance before, in my Wandering through Wordles series, but on a basic story-telling level, those first moments set the scene, often quite literally. Within those first 100 lines (which are often but not always within the first scene), Shakespeare tells us where we are or soon will be:

The Two Gentlemen of Verona: “here in Verona”
2 Henry IV: “in a bloody field by Shrewsbury”
Henry V: “the vasty fields of France”
Troilus and Cressida: “In Troy, there lies the scene”
12th Night: “This is Illyria, lady”

He tells us who our important characters or factions are:

Henry V: “the warlike Harry”
Romeo and Juliet: “these two foes”
Richard II: “Henry Hereford… against the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray”
Love’s Labour’s Lost: “You three, Biron, Dumaine, and Longueville”
Much Ado about Nothing: “Don Pedro of Aragon comes this night to Messina”
Richard III: “this son of York”

Sometimes he tells us what’s already happened, in the time before the play begins:

1 Henry VI: “King Henry the Fifth, too famous to live long. / England ne’er lost a king of so much worth”
Troilus and Cressida: “Six-and-ninety, that wore / Their coronets regal, from t’Athenian bay / Put forth toward Phrygia, and their vow is made / To ransack Troy”.

Very often, Shakespeare tells us what’s going to happen, either in the short term, as when Richard lets us know he means to “set my brother Clarence and the King in deadly hate, the one against the other”, or else over the whole course of the play, as with Romeo and Juliet‘s famously spoiler-iffic opening: “A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.”

Sometimes the information doesn’t come from a separate prologue, but from the characters themselves, as when Orlando gives us his family history in As You Like It or as in Aegeon’s famously interminable info-dump at the start of The Comedy of Errors. Generally monologues, though sometimes with limited prompting by another character, these openings serve a similar function as the prologue-openings, but come from inside the world of the play rather than from an outside spectator. (This may have the effect of immediately bringing the audience in as well, making them eavesdroppers or confidantes, rather than casting the play as a pageant presented for their perusal.) Some plays also don’t have their famous prologues in their Quarto versions, but even then, the first five minutes still transmit much of the same information — the brawling Capulets and Montagues set up the conflict of Romeo and Juliet, and King Henry tells us about his warlike aims in Henry V, for example.

One purpose of the prologue or prologue-like opening, then, is biographical: either of the individual or of the setting. Shakespeare has to set his stage. The other purpose I’ve noticed is instructional: Many prologues conclude with some sort of “call to action” for the audience, much the same way that epilogues will often end by asking for applause. Romeo and Juliet asks the audience to watch “the two-hours’ traffic of our stage/The which if you with patient ears attend/What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend,” while Henry V requests that the audience “Admit me Chorus to this history,/Who prologue-like your humble patience pray/Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.” Both of those openings beg the audience’s indulgence for imperfection. The stage can never present things as they truly were, after all, but the actors are going to do their best.

So how do I connect this to more modern media? When I started thinking about biographical and instructional openings, one of the first things that popped into my head actually wasn’t from live theatre — it’s the opening theme of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Pretty much any child of the 90s can bust out these rhymes on command:

Smith not only starts with a great opening word — “Now”, the same as Shakespeare uses to start Richard III, excellent because it focuses the audience’s attention on the immediacy of the speaker’s words — but he also begins by contextualizing his speech as a story. Just as many of Shakespeare’s openings do. The instructional portion of the intro is brief: “Just sit right there; I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air.” He moves quickly into the biographical purpose: He then moves on to a “story up to this point” retelling; it doesn’t give away the ending (impractical in an ongoing TV series), but it does set the scene, much like Rumour in Henry IV, Part 2 and the brothers of Henry V who begin Henry VI, Part I.

We also see in Smith an unreliable narrator. His narration does not always match the visuals. This made me think both of Rumour, who outright tells the audience his purpose is to mislead, and of the Chorus in Henry V, whose version of an ultra-glorious hero-king is not always borne out by the events of the play that Shakespeare gives us. The biographical purpose of the intro cannot be trusted.

Then I thought about the opening number of Into the Woods, which introduces us to all the characters we’re going to need to know about. Sondheim begins as traditionally as is possible: “Once upon a time, in a far-off kingdom, lived a fair maiden, a sad young lad, and a childless baker and his wife.” The audience quickly recognizes the fair maiden as Cinderella and the sad young lad as Jack of beanstalk fame; rapidly, all within the opening number, we also meet Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters, Jack’s mother (and his cow), Red Riding Hood, and the Witch.

Sondheim doesn’t really need to tell us how these stories end — we already know that. (Or do we? as the second act of the musical proceeds to explore — but then, his purpose is subversion of tropes, so it’s entirely fitting that he would give us an opening that lays out expectations, then waits til halfway through to break them). Critically, he does tell us what they all want. The theme of “I wish” runs through the entire play, and Sondheim seeds that in these first moments, as well as providing us with their first obstacles.

Since the play features an on-stage character called The Narrator, who begins with the famous “Once upon a time”, the musical quite obviously points at itself as a story, though in a slightly different way than Shakespeare and Smith. These stories are so well-known as to be ubiquitously understood in Western culture. By giving the audience the familiar opening, Sondheim makes us a promise, placing us in the comfortable realm of the bedtime story — and then almost immediately breaks that promise by showing us that these are not the stories we know, because they will interweave and affect each other.

The instruction in this opening is implicit, embedded in common culture. When we hear the words “Once upon a time,” we already know what to do. We don’t need to be told. But by including them, Sondheim is still pointing us in that direction. And then, he tricks us, pulling a bait-and-switch on the familiarity, to delightful effect.

The biographical purpose of the opening number of Hamilton is obvious: Lin-Manuel Miranda gives us a literal biography of Hamilton’s young life, up to the point where he arrives in New York. The first four words give us crucial information about his family background (“How does a bastard…”; a few lines later, we learn where he’s from (“a forgotten spot in the Caribbean”). And then we learn who he is and how extraordinary he is. It’s a little like the first five minutes of Henry V — not only the prologue, but the first scene between the bishops, where they discuss Henry’s earlier years. And like Romeo and Juliet, Miranda’s Hamilton takes the biographical purpose of the opening all the way through, giving away the ending when Burr states: “And me? I’m the damn fool that shot ‘im.”

Though delivered by Aaron Burr, this song’s purpose is really Hamilton’s self-contextualization. No one else gets a name in this song — we’ll properly meet Burr, Mulligan, Lafayette, and Laurens in “Aaron Burr, Sir”, Angelica and Eliza in “The Schuyler Sisters”, Washington in “Right Hand Man”, and other important figures as the play goes on. Here, they are defined only by their relationships to Hamilton:

MULLIGAN/MADISON AND LAFAYETTE/JEFFERSON:
We fought with him

LAURENS/PHILLIP:
Me? I died for him

WASHINGTON:
Me? I trusted him

ANGELICA SCHUYLER, ELIZA, MARIA REYNOLDS:
Me? I loved him

BURR:
And me? I’m the damn fool that shot him

The musical even presents most of the cast in stripped-down versions of the costumes we’ll see them in later, parchment-colored and almost ghostly; the ensemble presents scenes from Hamilton’s past in stylized dance, dumb-show like — a convention familiar to early modernists. Burr (who has the first lines) alone begins in a full-color costume, and Hamilton dons a jacket partway through. This presentation, with the context of the lines, seems to suggest that Hamilton will be the only character who “matters”, that we will see everything through his eyes and everyone through that lens. But, much like Shakespeare and Sondheim, Miranda subverts that expectation. We get nearly as much insight into Burr’s anti-hero as into Hamilton himself, and Eliza ultimately decides the course of her own narrative (as I’ve discussed before). Everyone’s story matters, even if the main focus of the musical is a single man.

Hamilton

(Click for link to video)

And, like Shakespeare and Smith, Miranda gives us unreliable narrators. Hamilton and Burr are telling their own stories, with their own biases, often at cross-purposes. One of the largest themes of the musical is that of self-determination: How do you create yourself? Is the self that you conceive the same self that the world witnesses? What do you do when the two don’t match?

The instructional component of Hamilton‘s intro is subtler, and it goes by fast. The only line that seems a direct appeal to the audience is Burr’s: “His ship is in the harbor now, see if you can spot ‘im.” I think there’s a larger appeal, though, in what Hamilton says upon his entrance and what the ensemble echoes later: “Just you wait.” He’s not just talking to the other figures on stage: he’s talking to us. And we will wait, of course. We’ll stay in our seats to see how the story plays out, even if we know the ending — as Shakespeare well knew we would, too.

The idea of storytelling weaves throughout the musical, in numerous references including the show’s tagline: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story”. Miranda seeds it here, though, in the very five minutes (The opening number runs about 4:25, and then the very first bars of “Aaron Burr, Sir” give us one last crucial bit of information: the year our story begins, 1776). Miranda is, like Shakespeare, cluing us in to something important — about self-determination, about choosing your narrative, about trying to control the story of your life.

Obviously not every play or musical falls into this pattern, and even fewer TV shows and movies do, but it makes me think, broadly, of how storytellers introduce information. How do they give us the background we need? How do they let the audience know what to expect? How and when might they subvert those expectations?

–Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

PS: Don’t worry, rhetoric geeks! I’m still working on some Shakespeare-to-Hamilton comparisons.

PPS: Also on posts about parallels regarding final lines, parodies, meta-theatre, doubling, costuming, and many more things. The more I explore this, the more solidly convinced I become that Lin-Manuel is one of our modern Shakespeares. Not an exaggeration. Just my analysis of how each writer uses his space, his actors, his audience, and above all, his language.

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords – Preview #5

AttractionsThe northward leg of our journey will take us to Northumberland, land of the Percys. The family’s most famous son is also the Percy who features most heavily in Shakespeare’s works: the fierce and bellicose Hotspur, one of the chief antagonists of Henry IV, Part 1. Shakespeare places him in opposition to Prince Hal, the future Henry V, going so far as to have Henry IV lament:

Henry IV: Yea, there thou makest me sad and makest me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son,
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue;
Amongst a grove, the very straightest plant;
Who is sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride:
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him,
See riot and dishonour stain the brow
Of my young Harry. O that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
And call’d mine Percy, his Plantagenet!
Then would I have his Harry, and he mine.
But let him from my thoughts.

The Percy family is one of England’s most enduring, and Alnwick Castle (pictured in a 1750 painting, below) has been their seat of power since they were mere barons in the early 14th century. They were raised to the earldom by Henry IV, whom they later rebelled against, but found royal favor again during the Wars of the Roses, where they first supported the Lancastrian cause of Henry VI. The second earl (Hotspur’s son) died at the Battle of St. Alban’s, and the third earl died in the Battle of Towton. Shakespeare dramatizes both of these battles: Henry VI, Part 2 ends with St. Alban’s, and Act 3 of Henry VI, Part 3, featuring the famous scene where a father kills his son and a son his father. After Towton, the family briefly lost their title, but the fourth earl got it back by pledging fealty to Edward IV. From then, the Percys became Yorkists, fighting for Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Though taken prisoner after that battle, the fourth earl evidently won Henry VII’s regard, as the king released him and entrusted him with several prominent government posts during his life.

1024px-Canaletto_Alnwick

The family fared less well under later Tudors. The sixth earl was briefly engaged to Anne Boleyn, until Cardinal Wolsey scolded him into jilting her — perhaps because Henry VIII had already expressed interest in Anne. His brother Thomas took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace uprising against Henry VIII, was convicted of treason, hanged, drawn, and quartered — though considered a Catholic martyr. The seventh earl led the Rising of the North, an attempt to replace Queen Elizabeth I with her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. When the plot failed, he fled to Scotland, was captured, and beheaded at York. The Percys’ apparent inability to pick a winner continued into the 17th century. The ninth earl took part in the Gunpowder Plot against King James I, and the family supported first the royalists, then the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War.

After what could be regarded as two centuries of bad decisions, the Percys settled down, with the family raised to the dukedom in the 1700s. The Percy name has twice fallen extinct in the male line, but been revived when husbands of Percy daughters chose to take the surname — a testament to the family’s enduring legacy. They also have a few interesting American connections — one Percy was an early governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the illegitimate son of the first duke was James Smithson, founder of the Smithsonian Institute.

Downton AbbeyBecause the Percys’ Alnwick Castle is in better condition than many castles from the same period, it has enjoyed fame through film and television, appearing in Becket, Black Adder, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. More recently — and perhaps more notably — its exterior played the part of Hogwarts Castle in several of the Harry Potter movies, and fans of Downton Abbey may recognize it as Brancaster Castle, site of the 2014 and 2015 Christmas specials.

Next time on the NKSC Preview: Hadrian’s Wall and a castle by the sea.

We  do still have a few slots on the trip open, so if you find these previews enticing and have been sitting on the fence, register now to join us in July!

Podcast Archives: 2010

2010 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2010 Spring Season

2010 Summer and Fall Seasons

 

Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Colloquy Session XV: Critical Theory

Hello, Charlene V. Smith here again, live blogging Colloquy Session XV on Critical Theory. This session is co-chaired by Janna Segal and Donald Hedrick and the other participants are Matt Kozusko, Matt Davies, James Keegan, and Paul Menzer.

Segal opens the panel by introducing the panelists and noting that the specific topic of this panel is theoretical approaches to character and characterization in the Shakespearean canon.

James Keegan – “An Epilogue to Henry IV, Part 2: The Liminal Moment and the Actor-Character”

Keegan admits to theory fear upfront owing mostly to his experience as an actor. For this panel, Keegan continues his thoughts about the epilogue of 2 Henry IV, some of which many of us heard yesterday in a paper session. He describes the epilogue as a liminal moment between actor and character, but also liminal in space between the historical moment of the play and the moment of performance. Keegan grounds his discussion in the work of Gregory Currie who writes that film exerts “fictive dominance.” Keegan argues that a theatrical space like the Blackfriars allows for a fictive fluidity which is fuller and more gratifying for an audience than a situation in which the fiction is dominant. In the epilogue, character and actor exist at the same time to equal degrees.

Matt Kozusko

Kozusko notes that the word ‘character’ does more work than we typically think. The word is defined in multiple ways. Pointing to the paper session we just saw, Kozusko argues that Iago’s character is defined by responding to the audience, and in that way, he’s not actually changing. Kozusko argues that when we define Shakespeare’s characters, we are influenced by factors beyond Shakespeare himself. These characters are inflected with extra-Shakespearean influences and expectations that in turn become a part of the characters and how we read them. Keegan wonders about aware audiences versus unaware audiences, using the example of Falstaff’s fake death. Audiences in-the-know will read this moment with the knowledge that Falstaff is pretending to be dead. New audiences, however, react very differently, and may be honestly surprised when Falstaff stands back up.

Matt Davies – “Drawing Shakespearean characters in black and/or white: conflicting methodologies in the contemporary rehearsal room”

Davies finds that actors and directors are finding themselves adjudicating between competing conceptions of character in the rehearsal room. First, is character in its original, lexical meaning: the typeface on a page. Second, is the psychological realists who build inner life from the subtext. Davies notes that many practitioners are now trying to balance those two systems, particularly when performing Shakespeare. Drawing from his experience co-directing (with Doreen Bechtol) Pericles for the MLitt Shakespeare and Performance program, Davies looks at how we can use text and subtext in a way that will co-habit the early modern and the modern conceptions of character. He posits that maybe we should operate both systems concurrently in the rehearsal room, rather than blending them. Davies found noticeable differences in the ways students responded to the rehearsal process. Scott Campbell, who played Pericles, constructed his character from the line out, basing his work on rhetorical structuring. Amy Grubbs, who played Marina, began with a powerful super-objective which influenced the rest of her work. Davies notes that these two approaches actually fit the characters themselves, arguing that Marina has a much richer inner life than Pericles.

Janna Segal – “Whom love hath turned almost the wrong side out”: Exploring the Transversality of the Tragic Lovers in Othello

Segal’s paper looks at the relationship between Emilia, Desdemona, and Othello to demonstrate a theoretical model developed by Bryan Reynolds and others. Segal argues that the behaviors of these characters would have caused ruptures in the contemporary audience’s ideology. Shakespeare’s representation of amorous desire interrogated dominant conceptualizations of gender and sexuality. In another example, Segal argues that Jacquenetta and Don Armado are the most subversive characters of Love’s Labour’s Lost because they are the most hopeful, despite being types that aren’t supposed to end up together. Segal points out that the usefulness of this theory is that it gives characters more agency than they are usually thought of to have, an idea which actors can directly apply to the rehearsal room.

Paul Menzer – The 4th Unity

Menzer opens by defining theory as a way of organizing and answering questions. Theory is not something to be afraid of, but something of which to be aware. Over the past couple of years, Menzer has been interested in AC Bradley who haunts all questions of Shakespearean character. Bradley’s work is the most discredited scholarly work of the 20th century, but at the same time has a major influence within the rehearsal room. Menzer’s working thesis is that character is a system of organization. Character is the 4th unity (next to time, place, and action); it binds together the many elements of performance, such as costumes, properties, architecture, etc. Characters are effects created by a range of distributed meanings, rather than an agent that causes things to happen. Individual character is a mystification of theatrical effect and collaboration. It takes a lot of people to make a person on the stage.

Don Hedrick – “Fun: the Shakespearean Actor-Character and Entertainment Value”

Hendrick’s paper responds in a way to Menzer’s paper, asking what happens when that organizing principle refuses to organize? Following our focus on Falstaff, Hendrick points to his moment of playing dead as anti-theatrical: we don’t pay to watch someone sleep on stage. Hendrick is interested in the entertainment value of character and how they create multiple pleasures for the audience. How do they make the most return in the least amount of time, a successful element of wooing scenes of Lady Anne in Richard III and Katherine in Henry V? 

Wandering through Wordles, Part the Third

Those of you who have been following the Education blog for some time are by now familiar with our work on Wordles. We use these word clouds primarily to introduce to students the idea that Shakespeare’s vocabulary is not what can make reading Shakespeare difficult. It helps to eliminate some of the fear, to look at all the words set out in this way, and to notice that there are very few, if any, unfamiliar words. Most of those which are strange will either be names or places, or else are fairly easy to figure out the meaning of once restored to their context. We include this as part of our Basics section in ASC Study Guides, and we can use it as a bridge into discussing rhetoric (ie, the order the words come in — usually what can make a passage difficult, and usually something that conveys character information). But, as I’ve discussed before on this blog, I’ve also discovered that distilling scenes into Wordles can reveal other information as well, about how Shakespeare is directing the audience’s focus, what information he chooses to share or to conceal, how he sets a mood, what topics are important for that scene.

I’m in the process of creating a blended Study Guide for both the Henry IVs and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and while building the Wordles for those plays, I noticed something that I haven’t been able to get over. Take a look at the Wordle for the first 100- lines of Henry IV, Part 1:

1H4-100Wordle

The two largest words, repeated most frequently, are “news” and “now”. Closer examination of the text shows that those most prominent words gets repeated four times — not, actually, a whole lot, which tells me that there isn’t a lot of repetition in the first 100 lines of the play. (And what does that, in turn, tell us about the verbal choices made by King Henry and Westmoreland?). A lot of the other oft-used words are names of people involved in the battles — but, considering the low degree of repetition overall, just getting said twice can increase a word’s prominence, as is the case with “Douglas” and “Mordake”. What information is Shakespeare giving us about the energy of this first scene? To me, it bespeaks a sense of urgency — but somewhat unfocused urgency. Henry isn’t just dealing with one problem here; he’s dealing with several all at once. As I can see by this Wordle, he’s having issues with Earls. He’s having issues with his son. He’s having issues with Scotland. These are all news, and they are all immediate issues he needs to solve.

So, that was interesting enough on its own, but then I did the Wordle for Henry IV, Part 2:

2H4-100Wordle

There, again, the largest word is “news”, and here, there is a higher frequency of repetition: “news” occurs seven times in the first 100 lines. The speaker for the first 40 lines is an anthropomorphic representation, not a historical character — and it makes sense that Rumour would have its mind on news, news, news. That fixation carries through the first scene as well, and many of the other repeated words reflect the characters’ concerns: Northumberland is waiting for word of what happened at Shrewsbury, of which Harry prevailed, of who will come home, of how the rebellion fared.

I asked Sarah what she thought would be the largest words for the first 100 lines of Henry IV, Part 1, and her guess was something like mine would have been: king, Henry/Harry, England. That would seem reasonable. Those are, after all, the major concerns of Shakespeare’s English histories. Take a look at the Wordles for the first 100 lines of Henry V and Richard III:

H5Wordle-NEW

R3Wordle-NEW

So what is it about the Henry IVs that makes them different? How is the energy different at the top of the play, how does that trickle through the following scenes, and, most importantly, what good can any of that do an actor? These are the questions we’re asking teachers and students to consider when they begin examining the language of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and we hope it will lead to fruitful exploration.