Plenary Session V – Blackfriars Conference 2013

Good Evening from the Blackfriars! I am Clare and will be your blogger for Paper Session V of the conference 2013.

Moderator: Michael Hirrel.

Ann Pleiss Morris: Patient Auditor to Gentle Reader: Transforming the Introduction from Playhouse to Printhouse

Annalisa Castaldo: “Your majesty came not like yourself”: Staging and Understanding the Glove Episode of Henry V

Andrew Carlson: Performance as Public Dramaturgy

Steve Urkowitz: Shakespeare Shaping Richard in Versions of Henry VI 2 &3, or “The Bard Licking the Boar”

Ann Jennalie Cook: Life in Shakespeare’s London: A  First-Hand Account

Pleiss Morris:

Previous to the invention of the printing press, plays were primarily known as plays, and not as books.  Therefore, the audience members did not move from “page to stage.”  When presses started printing plays, they also printed epistles describing how the reader should react to a play text, and how they should move from stage to page.  Some scholars believe that the prologue and epilogue was a means for the actors, playwright and audience to construct theater together.  Some actors felt that the publication cut at the artistry, and highly limited the plays. Playwrights and actors were also concerned about the difference between the play and the theatrical experience, and the ways in which the editors could change, cut or misprint the text.  Some epistles suggested that audience members think back on the text as they saw it performed.  Publishers could easily intend printed plays therefore, to solicit nostalgia and not for a first encounter.  Beaumont was particularly concerned that the reader recollect the atmosphere of the playhouse in the plays.  Beaumont wrote to Jonson to voice some of his concerns. Introductory epistles also lay out the “correct” reception of a play and teach readers how to read it “properly.” Fletcher does so by laying out the scene and wishes that it could act more as a prologue did. Playwrights concernedly sought to shape the experience of the readers and can help re-envision the movement we undergo from page to stage.

Castaldo:

Henry V’s use of the glove to trick Williams, is perhaps the most problematic instance in Henry V.  The joke often appears not to work, so Castaldo looked at why Shakespeare kept the scene in his script.  Directors often cut the scene because it is problematic.  Scholars often overlook the scene as well, especially in political readings of the play (which keep the first Williams encounter, but the not second).  Audiences see a discontinuity when a King in full armor plays a practical joke. The moment falls in the middle of a set of clearly solemn moments.  Henry also appears to set up for mockery and possible execution one of the soldiers who has just won the battle for him. The fact that the beginning of the scene is inundated with the repetition of the idea of a traitor and impending punishment, offsets the honesty of Williams. The way Henry offers a payment to Williams frames the treatment of other major themes in the play. The ASC touring troupe actors presented the scene first as lighthearted, and then as sinister. Even when presented humorously there is a threat, and even when sinister, there is some humor in the scene.  This scene may also remind audiences/readers of Jack Cade.  (Time and the ASC bear cut the paper short).  Shakespeare wrote his plays knowing how things will be resolved, which is another reason for the strangeness of this moment.

Carlson:

Disparagement in the reading of a text and what some audience members perceive in the text and the performance can be used as dramaturgy. The audience and actor can build a character together.  Over-clarifying and tagging particular characters and motives through Shakespearean study leads to the problem of trying to present the “correct interpretation.” Striving for “correctness” is dissatisfying for audiences and actors.  Stanslavski methods say actors should “do” not “think” and that actors should not over-think characters but react. Actors must “not think” in order to act and simply try to obtain something from another character, or affect a change in the scene partner. This approach cuts out playing a state of being.  However, audience members can think that characters are types and bring qualities of the character to mind rather than what the character does. What audience members experience is neither inherently correct or incorrect, but a version of the story to which the audience can respond with different adjectives.  The audience proscribes what the character is rather than the actor trying to do so, the actor acts on an objective. It takes extensive textual work to get to the point where the actor has the objectives he wants to use and is able to use them in continuity with the text. Actors often struggle with directors who give direction based upon a state of being (ex. “you’re being too _____”) rather than helping to shape the objectives.  Directors have to shape their direction according to the language of the actor.  Using performance as a public dramaturgy is not “the right textual analysis” but a shared process of collaboration to create the art.

Urkowitz:

Urkowitz began his talk by asking everyone to gather the handout he provided that they might fill it out during the presentation. Theater, like an etching, is a form of visual arts, and there are many different kinds of changes which take place between any two productions of the same thing. (Urkowitz directed our attention to two different preparatory etchings by Rebrant for one of his works).  Each of Richard III’s brothers present the blood of their enemies to their father, and Richard presents the head.  Each is praised for his work, and Richard addresses the dead head, asking it as if it is dead (much like a child’s joke when a child addresses an inanimate object).  Richard appears to take delight in examining his handiwork. This same joke appears in Mucedorus when a character addresses the body of a dead bear and ask if it is dead. Severed head jokes must have been circulating in the theater at the time. Many textual adaptations to revised texts of the Henry plays highlight Richard III in monstrous ways. For more information please contact Urkowitz (the ASC bear took his paper too). There is an anxiety of humor to the plays and movement through degrees of sympathy.

Cook:

John Stow is a prolific writer, and commenter upon Shakespearean England.  He titled himself “gentleman” and was able to comment on the court as well as the town.  Even though scholars often turn to certain areas of Stow’s work, the annals provide a better idea of the play-going culture.  Scholars often overlook the surveys and Stow’s works with regard to theater.  Stow is able to comment on theater in the noble’s houses and he also uses the theater as a locale for many of reports.  He is extremely helpful in establishing the area around the theater.  Audience members often observed whippings, beatings, hangings, beheading, etc in their culture.  Therefore, they had a different visceral response to the violence the actors presented on stage.  Things actors presented on stage were able to be directly compared with real life experiences (such as the queen’s garments).  The sets of associations are very different for the playgoers then and now.  Many of the details of what actors presented in plays can be fleshed out with concurrent similar instances of historical events from the time period in the annals. Stow gives us great accounts of the life he shared with Shakespeare.

Colloquy Session V: Published Text

Doyle Ott

As a circus performer and director, Doyle Ott is interested in how much abuse plays may take, and if it gets a laugh, let it rip. Ott explains that circus and Shakespeare have a habit of feeding off each other.

Starting in the 1800 across Europe and America there were clowns who had solo Shakespeare and performance acts. Acts were introduced to by short speeches and full of physical comedy.

In the 1800 circuses would mount versions of Shakespeare histories and battles.

Audience would have been familiar enough with the plays to recognize the verbal parody of the Shakespearean clowns.  Most circuses would boast a Shakespearean Clown or Jester.

The scenarios in which Shakespeare’s language was used were often little related to original scenario, for example “to draw or not to draw” referring to a tooth ache.

One clown was referred to as “the Shakespearean Jester” and another “the Touchstone of the circus”

The repartee of Shakespearean clowns was influenced by Shakespeare’s description of York in Hamlet.

The clown evokes Shakespeare’s name to lend himself authenticity as a fool.

Dan Rice was a prominent Shakespearean clown in the United States.  His costume recalled Uncle Sam, and he didn’t wear clown white, he was more jester than buffoon.

Another famous Shakespearean clown, Wallace, once worked with Rice on short notice, Wallace played high status fool, and Rice took the place of the lower status clown, playing off of Wallace’s pretensions.

In 1849 the Rose Olympic Circus was built where Othello, and Richard II were performed by actors described as second rate actors but first rate clowns.

Shakespearean clowns had to have enviable knowledge and experience of Shakespeare’s works in order to parody them so effectively.

Lack of documentation leads many to discount them but relevant to Shakespeare performance tradition.

Iska Alter and William Long

Sidestepping feuds over who wrote what in Romeo and Juliet Alter and Long examine a few key important storytelling differences between the First and second Quarto publications.

First seven scenes of Q1 and Q2 are similar, but the variations they have are very import and inform context and content that inform audience about the play.  Differences abound even in title pages and in the opening Chorus. In Q1 the prologue starts out “Two household, both friends in dignity” which sends a very different opening message than the version in Q2 “Two households, both alike in dignity.”

Servants and their conduct differ slightly in Q1 and Q2.  The space they occupy is quite different because the servants dominate action in Q1, which suggests that comic action dominates the scene whereas Q2 is bawdier and the action shared more among the servants the young men of the family and the Lords.  Q2 also names 3 out of 4 servants who appear.

In Q1 “I” is used more in this scene and in Q2 “we.” What might this mean?

In their entrances in Q1 Benvolio and Tybalt don’t speak, but in Q2 we immediately are given clues to their characters by what they say. In Q2 Benvolio has a better idea of how fight affects city and the families. In Q1 everyone just stars fighting, in Q2 we get to know the characters a little better.  Q2 folio presents citizens entering fight led by officer.

When Lord Capulet and Lord Montague join the fight with their wives resistance are we meant to laugh at the sight of old men attempting to use their long swords?

In Q1 the Price’s speech after the brawl is shorter than in Q2.  However, it is not merely the length of the respective speeches, but prince’s condemnation is fiercer in Q2.

Q2 folio gives us are presentation of the destabilizing effects of the feud.

Arlynda Boyer

Plague, Playing, and Printing

A new narrative about Shakespeare’s writing history.

Ms. Boyer points out that gaps in the publication history of Shakespeare’s plays coincide with outbreaks of plague.

Most quartos boast of diverse and sundry performances, which could only happen out of plague time.

What if the plays weren’t published because they weren’t being performed?  Plague interrupts playing, which in turn interrupts publication.

Playing and plague shared a relationship, opponents blamed theater for plague infection partially because they believed that theaters offend god.

For plays to resume totally mortality rates in London would have to stay under between 30 to 50 people a week for 20 days depending on the date.

Privy Council was so anxious to ward off infection would often close theaters at the smallest risk.

1603 1 in 5 would get the plague that finally ended in late 1609. Shakespeare wrote some of his darkest plays during this period, not knowing when they would be performed.

Quarto publication followed performance between 18 months to two years on average. But if plague interrupted performance for too long this formula was shaken and if plague lasted even longer we have to wait for folio for the publication of the play.

Shakespeare moved companies during first plague of 1593.

During the long 1593 closure Shakespeare wrote Venus and Adonis and Rape of Lucrece.

Only Lear, Pericles and Othello were published in quarto out of nine plays written in plague the 1603-1609 plague years, Pericles may have been sold by co-writer because of hard financial times.

Julius Creaser and As You Like It are thought to have been written in 1599 but not published until folio, even though there wasn’t a large plague outbreak during this time. However, anything that interrupts performance influenced publication.  In June-October 1599 Henslowe records no income, but plague was virtually unknown. This is one of the only instance where not all playhouses closed and opened together, it may have been financial difficulty at Rose or may perhaps improvements to the playhouse. In times of unrest a crowd could turn violent quickly State and city were on edge all summer long, it is possible that this was the reason that the theaters were closed down.

Closures continued through 1613 on and off.

The one thing Early Moderns new about plague was that it spread in crowds, so playgoers may have been staying away, which might have deterred publication.

Amanda Finn

Nothing is so funny as a man in drag unless you’re the butt of the joke.

Changing the spelling of Epicene’s name changes the emotional feel of the play

2008 edition of Johnson’s work limited the stage direction of the elaborate clothing removal.

Epicene means sexless or neuter in Geek.

Epicene was a common name for sexless characters so Early Modern audiences would not have been as shocked by the twist ending

Not one character in Epicene is meant to be taken at face value.

At one point an editor decided that removal of clothing was unnecessary and to just removing the wig.

The revelation in act V exposes the men as the fools that they are.  Removing clothing is more shocking than removing a wig to show definite proof of gender, this is a pivotal scene for nocking men off their pedestals and destroying their social position.

While the men are acting effeminately towards everyone the women are acting mannish. Epicene is the only women who acts the way that a character earlier in the play defines as “womanish.”

Considering the lack of stage directions from this time, it seems unjust to remove this one.

Mathew Vadnais

Plays of the Queen’s Men influenced Shakespeare’s writing style as well as content.

Queens’s Men were designed to divide to reach the most places possible.

Playwrights would not have been able to write for specific actors.

In order to make performance cue parts easier developed strategy of longer speeches and easily recognized cue lines.

The demands of a company that broke and came back together made playwright focus on structure.

By pairing plays with later Shakespeare history plays we see same speech percentages.

“You must translate; ’tis fit we understand.”

Sarah works with students during a Little Academe.

Sarah works with students during a Little Academe.

As ever, I find myself wrestling with “Shakespeare in Translation.”  I have been invited, as part of the Shakespeare Theatre Association Executive Board, to travel to Brazil for 10 days next month to serve as an adviser on a reconstructed Globe that the Instituto Gandarela is looking to build.  Never mind that this is a trip to Brazil (!!!) or that I will get to work with the amazing Peter McCurdy, the builder behind Shakespeare’s Globe and their new indoor playhouse, The Wanamaker (and a good friend to the ASC). As I prepare for this trip, I am wondering how to get past our condemnation of “No Fear Shakespeare”-style translations (as so eloquently argued by our friends at the Folger Shakespeare Library) yet fight the good fight for Shakespeare in other languages.

Word has it (how I wish I could personally confirm) that the productions at Shakespeare’s Globe in London last summer as part of the Globe to Globe celebration were stunning and amazing explorations of theatrical production.  I have personally, and to my delight, had the opportunity to see Der Brudermord, a German translation of Hamlet directed by Christine Schmidle at the Blackfriars Playhouse.  The play was fun, and I didn’t have too much trouble following the story, despite it being in German (full disclosure: I am familiar with the English version).  I thought the experience brought me closer to what German audiences seeing the play in English in the 17th century may have experienced, but I didn’t note any particularly stirring phrases or textual expertise that stirred me to embrace the play as I did when I saw Hamlet performed for the first time by Khris Lewin on our stage.  At that performance, the “nunnery” rang in my ears, the “rant” struck my senses, the players “did not saw the air too much,” and I knew why.

My original training, in Theatre Arts, should provide a clear answer to my questions about these translated productions.  Good theatre, good productions, good performances should satisfy the quandary. But, since immersing myself in the performance of Shakespeare here, I find that I cannot break those things from the text. From the words. From the arrangement of the words to form verse, to shape rhetorical figures, and to provide clues like embedded stage directions.  Our practice is so engaged with the methods we think Shakespeare and his actors engaged with (see Tiffany Stern’s Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan, see the American Shakespeare Center’s Actors’ Renaissance Season podcasts, see our current education workshops list), that I don’t know where to begin with the question.  But I would love to start a conversation. Are you an ESL/ELL student who loves (or, for that matter, hates) Shakespeare? Are you fluent in language other than English and have read (or written) translations? Are you a professor in Japan or Taiwan (as some of our Conference attendees are) who is working with students? What are you focused on when you discuss or play with Shakespeare? Do you find that Shakespeare has an influence on Portuguese? Or French? Can you recommend a place for those of us engaged in building a Global network of Shakespeare theatres (including education departments) to go to find a common thread for exploration with our foreign language students and audiences?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and, working with Cass and Kimberly and our fabulous interns, to finding ways to make the work with do with all of our students deeply engaging and illuminating.

–Sarah

The Rabbit Hole of Textual Oddities

This story started innocently enough. One of my current projects is to complete a full metrical and rhetorical analysis of Romeo and Juliet (as I did for Julius Caesar last year), but in order to begin that, I first have to complete a full check against the Folio. At ASC Education, we like to return to the 1623 First Folio to recover stage directions, emotionally inflected punctuation, and other textual variants which editors have sometimes obfuscated over the years. This practice can lead to a lot of intriguing discoveries; little did I know that one such curiosity yesterday would end up devouring a significant portion of my morning.

While checking 1.4, where Mercutio and Benvolio attempted to cheer Romeo up as they head for the Capulets’ ball, I ran across the fascinating error at right: Hora. as a prefix, presumably for Horatio. There is no character in Romeo and Juliet named Horatio, though the stage direction for this scene does specify the presence of “five or six other Maskers, Torch-bearers.” ‘How odd,’ I thought. ‘I wonder if that error is in the Q2.’ The 1599 second quarto of Romeo and Juliet is the other reliable text for this play; most modern editions conflate elements from the Q2 and the Folio to arrive at their preferred version of the text (though many slip in elements from Q1 as well). As you can see below, yes, the 1599 Q2 does contain this error — even more explicitly as Horatio. The Folio, then, simply retains what Q2 shows.

So I wondered, ‘Huh. How strange. Does this error exist in Q1, then?‘ A quick check revealed that: no, it doesn’t. These lines are not in Q1, which jumps straight from Romeo’s “So stakes me to the ground I cannot stirre” to Mercutio’s “Give me a case to put my visage in,” skipping the pictured section of dialogue entirely. So how did the wandering speech-prefix come about? (And ought I to call it a prefix-errant?).

The simplest explanation is basic printer error: speech prefixes and names were often struck as sets, rather than assembled from individual letters. This practice is why the prefixes and names within the verse generally appear in an italicized font rather than the plain text. It’s easy to imagine, then, that a Horatio, struck for some other play, somehow got mixed in with the Mercutios intended for this scene, and that the type-setter’s quick fingers grabbed it and placed it without the type-setter consciously noticing the incongruity. It’s possible, though I suspect far less likely, that the printer did strike the speech prefix Horatio for this single instance. Perhaps Shakespeare wrote Horatio once where he meant Mercutio (in simple Italianate error, or perhaps thinking of another role the same actor played) and that error stayed in the fair copy or prompt book Creede received to set the type off of. Other similar errors exist, as in the editions of Much Ado about Nothing which have Kemp instead of Dogberry — but each of those gets used more than once. It seems less likely that Creede would create and strike a new full-length nameplate to use only once, so, for the intellectual exercise, I decided to pursue my first theory.

I was at first only tickled by this appearance, amused to picture Hamlet’s best friend getting ready to go to a party in Verona. Did he take a weekend trip away from Wittenburg? Did he decide to move south after the tragedy at Elsinore? Fanfiction-like possibilities abound. But then I remembered — the Romeo and Juliet Q2 was printed in 1599. The first quarto of Hamlet wouldn’t be printed for another four years, so it’s unlikely that the speech prefix was struck for Hamlet‘s Horatio. The light amusement began to grow into a prickling curiosity. What character could it have existed for, then?

The only other Horatio who jumped to my mind is the gentleman in Thomas Kyd’s A Spanish Tragedy — which, as it turns out, had a quarto printed in the same year as the Q2 of Romeo and Juliet in which this error originates. Ah-ha! This seemed to fit my theory perfectly. How easy to make the error if both plays were being printed at the same time, or at least within a reasonably close amount of time — especially since both are full of Spanish/Italianate names.

So, I went to Early English Books Online (EEBO) to find out, first, who printed the Q2 Romeo and Juliet, and if that was the same printhouse that put out the 1599 Q3 of The Spanish Tragedy. Answer: No. Thomas Creede printed the Romeo and Juliet Q2, while William White had the 1599 Spanish Tragedy. The next-earliest Spanish Tragedys were in 1592 and 1594, printed by Edward Allde, so there’s no strong connection there, either.

Who, then, is Horatio? How did this speech prefix sneak in? I felt compelled to push my theory farther. If we accept our Occam’s-Razor-Compatible explanation of a wandering prefix from something else originating at the same printhouse, then what other plays and books were that printer putting out around the same time, and was there a Horatio in any of them? Between 1597 and 1599, Creede printed six other plays, including the 1598 Richard III, John Lyly’s Mother Bombie, and the anonymous Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, as well as a lot of prose histories. I skimmed through a couple of the plays — no Horatios (though, as a side note, skimming just the stage directions in an unfamiliar play can give you an interesting perspective on it. The Comicall Historie of Alphonsus apparently includes a brazen head, Venus and the Muses, Medea and Iphigenia having a conversation, and at least one murder). I, sadly, do not have the time to look through all of the narrative histories and discourses to see if Horatio appears in the text of any of them. As such, I have no notion where this error originates, who that first Horatio was that ended up reveling with Mercutio and Benvolio, and I may never have that curiosity satisfied. Such is often the travail of academia.

Why does any of this matter? I recognize that, while I found this to be a wonderful scavenger hunt and an entertaining game, not everyone is thoroughly geeky enough to share those effusive emotions about a relatively minor textual variant. So what’s the practical application? Well, that has to do with the choices editors have made in repairing the error over the years. Every modern edition of Romeo and Juliet that we have here in the ASC Education office assigns those lines to Mercutio. It makes sense. He and Romeo are enjoying a back-and-forth. But… they don’t have to be Mercutio’s lines. Would anything change by giving them instead to Benvolio? It would certainly make him more involved in Mercutio and Romeo’s conversation, part of their lively sparring, not separate from it. What sort of a different Benvolio might that yield for the entire production? I don’t know, but I’d like to give that option back to production companies and classroom discussions so that we can find out.

Julius Caesar: Adventures in Dramaturgy, Pt 1

In my capacity as Academic Resources Manager, I deal with a lot of text. I prepare sides and scripts for workshops and lectures, and I insert the text for relevant scenes into our Study Guides. This process always involves some editorial judgment calls — looking back to the Folio, determining how much of the scene to include, deciding whether to trim some bits out of the middle to narrow an activity’s focus, etc. It’s been a long time since I cut a full script, however. The last time was in 2006, when I directed Romeo and Juliet in undergrad — and I knew far less about textual studies then than I do now. I’m going to be serving as the dramaturg for the 2013 Actors’ Renaissance Season Julius Caesar, and as part of that process, I’ve also taken on the responsibility of cutting the script.

The thing about Julius Caesar is that you don’t have to cut a lot. The play runs 2438 lines in the Folio, the only early modern version that we have (I got off easy, not having to compare to any quarto editions). We aim for about 2300 lines for a show, with the goal of a two-hour production. I knew going in that I was probably going to want to trim slightly more than that, however, for a few reasons. One is that this is going to be the first show in the Ren Season, so it certainly can’t hurt to trim down what the actors have to tackle in those first three days. Another is just to tell a tighter story; there are lots of moments in Julius Caesar that, while certainly not unplayable (particularly with such talented actors as the ASC is fortunate to have), aren’t always as gripping as they might be. Shakespeare spends a lot of time showing off his Plutarch, but some of those references may seem obscure or downright bizarre to a modern audience. My inner Latin geek appreciates them; my practical side can trim them without suffering too great an attack of conscience. Finally, knowing that this is going to be the most-played school matinee of the artistic year, I knew I wanted to streamline the text for maximum appeal, to key in on the relationships that define the play, the overlap and tension of those political friendships.

The trouble, though, is that there’s just so much good stuff in this play. Take Cassius, for example, who talks more than anyone except Brutus (possibly only because he dies before Brutus). At first glance, you would think that the play could do with a lot less of him and not suffer terribly. So much of what he says, however, is such delicious language. He’s a spitfire, choleric and quick-tempered, but no less eloquent for that temper; rather, it seems to fuel and fire him, leading him to cram his speeches with vivid detail, incisive observations, and inventive structure. Cassius is also useful as a contrast to Brutus, not just as a matter of character, but rhetorically as well. Cassius has a complex elegance in his speech which Brutus utterly lacks; in order to get through to Brutus, Cassius has to try different tactics, and it’s always the least sophisticated one that elicits a response. Cassius is, in many ways, far, far cleverer than Brutus; it shows in his political canniness (as in his desire to do away with Antony as well as Caesar, recognizing an inevitable threat, and in his awareness of military realities in Acts 4 and 5), and it also shows in his use of words. Shakespeare’s language clearly juxtaposes Cassius’s political astuteness and practicality with Brutus’s blunt honor and intractable morals. This dynamic is not only interesting but critical to the operation of those relationship dynamics that so interest me — and yet, I know, those long speeches are where attentions will be most likely to wander. So I had a challenge: to balance the need to cut something with the desire to preserve all the character information that the language provides.

Then there are the minor characters. Could I cut that line from Decius Brutus or Metellus Cimber? Well, sure. The play would lose nothing imperative. But then that pretty well excises his reason for being in the scene; I don’t want to make a character extraneous, and I don’t want to rob an actor with a smaller track in this play of a potentially juicy moment (and since Brutus, Cassius, and Antony thoroughly dominate the line count, there are a lot of smaller tracks).  So, how to balance this? How to keep the sensation of a bustling Rome, crammed with ambitious men and craven followers, while still making cuts that will help the production to present a clear and focused story? Or how about a character like Portia? Certainly, I could trim some of her speeches down — but she really only gets the one scene to connect with the audience. I couldn’t bring myself to butcher those moments, but to justify keeping all of that intact, I had to find something else to sacrifice elsewhere.

I ended up taking a very surgical approach to the text, trimming from within speeches rather than hacking out large sections in their entirety. A line here, a line there — it adds up, and eventually, I had cut over two hundred lines, but never more than a few at a time. Occasionally it hurt my rhetorical soul a bit, to excise some repetitions or additions — but that was the choice I had to make. If the rhetorical form was crucial to the moment, to the character’s persuasive approach, I kept it, but if it seemed extraneous, if the character had already made his rhetorical point, I could consider it for the chopping block. Consider the following:

CASSIUS
You are dull, Casca,
And those sparks of life that should be in a Roman
You do want, or else you use not.
You look pale, and gaze, and put on fear,

And cast yourself in wonder,
To see the strange impatience of the heavens:
But if you would consider the true cause
Why all these fires, why all these gliding ghosts,
Why birds and beasts from quality and kind,
Why old men fool and children calculate,
Why all these things change from their ordinance,
Their natures and pre-formed faculties,
To monstrous quality; why, you shall find
That heaven hath infus’d them with these spirits,
To make them instruments of fear, and warning
Unto some monstrous state.

That anaphora (repeated beginnings) in the middle is an interesting structure, and there’s no denying that it adds something to this speech. But, this is something Cassius does almost every time he has a speech of more than ten lines, so it’s not as though it is an unusual device or one which makes a unique point; we’ll hear the same device elsewhere, and the audience will still know that Cassius is given to repetition and to over-emphasizing his point. Those lines also have some nice evocative language — but, we’ve had plenty of descriptions of the strange portents in this scene already, and we’ll have more in 2.1 and 2.2. By cutting this, we’re not losing anything we don’t get elsewhere. On the other hand, in the following:

CASSIUS

And why should Caesar be a tyrant then?
Poor man, I know he would not be a wolf,
But that he sees the Romans are but sheep:
He were no lion, were not Romans hinds.

I had initially marked that final line for cutting, but I ended up putting it back in. In some ways, it’s redundant. The audience hears the predator-prey analogy and understands it; why do we need a second iteration? Because, I think, there’s a critical symbolic difference between a wolf and a lion. The second analogy, then, is almost corrective — Cassius grudgingly granting Caesar the association with a nobler animal, but only by comparison to the other craven Romans. The first analogy could then read more like, “I know he would not be a predatory, but that he sees the Romans are but prey,” whereas the second reads more, “He were no great and powerful man, were not Romans weak and yielding.” The connotation is different, and so I retained what originally seemed a redundancy. We also hear about a lion stalking the streets and a lioness whelping in the streets, and so I think it’s important to retain that association of the lion with Caesar.

The largest change I made was for purely practical reasons: our Ren Season has twelve actors in it, and the opening of 3.1 calls for fourteen characters to be on-stage simultaneously. Thirteen enter together, as per the Folio stage direction:

–then, only ten lines in, Publius speaks, though he has no written entrance. So, I struck Lepidus for that scene (he never speaks and no one refers to him) and I combined the characters of Publius and Popilius into one figure. That necessity led to a little creative cutting and line reassignment, but it seems to work. Our actors will still have a challenge to untangle, though, as that still leaves twelve characters entering simultaneously at the top of 3.1, plus someone to conduct the Flourish — and two of them will have to change from having been Portia and Lucius in 2.4.

Before I sent the cut script off to Artistic Director Jim Warren and Associate Artistic Director Jay McClure, I gathered a few of my friends to do a read-around of the text. With only five people in the room, I anticipated we’d be doing a lot of talking to ourselves, but that actually wasn’t the case as frequently as I’d expected. Because Brutus, Cassius, and Antony control so many scenes, most characters end up reacting to one of them rather than to each other. Just doing that read-around taught me a lot about how the various scenes function. Hearing the cut text aloud was helpful; I actually ended up highlighting more lines that I think I could cut, if we needed an even shorter script — if someone wanted to do a 90-minute version, for example, I think I would have no trouble at all getting it there. I gave Cassius a few lines back after this read-around, I snipped a few lines elsewhere to compensate, and I now have some good ideas about what else we could trade off if someone wants other lines back in. I feel quite positive about it, on the whole; I don’t think I slaughtered any sacred cows, and the surgical approach means that, hopefully, most audience members won’t notice the omissions at all.

So, we’ll see how it turns out. Once Jim, Jay, and at least one actor have looked at it, I’ll get the final comments back, and then I’ll start preparing the cue scripts. That process will be a whole other adventure with this play, and one which presents some fascinating possibilities (for which I feel I should probably apologize to our eventual Antony in advance). But that, Dear Readers, will be another blog post.

Book Review: ‘Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?’ by James Shapiro

One of the greatest challenges for a modern historian is to remove the filter of Romanticism and Victoriana when we look backwards through time. Modern society has inherited a lot of inaccurate notions about the pre-Industrial world from our more immediate forebears, creating an assumption that the medieval and early modern worlds shared the same values, the same culture, the same societal structures, the same goals as the Victorian world – an assumption that is, in many ways, far off the mark. To achieve greater understanding of anything early modern, a historian – professional or recreational – must first clear her eyes of the haze which the nineteenth century imposed on them.

Lifting this veil is, to my reading of it, the major triumph of James Shapiro’s Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?. Both history and historiography, this book examines the case both for and against Shakespeare as the author of the works attributed to his name – and comes down, quite definitively, on the side of Shakespeare. Shapiro notes, in the opening pages of the book, his interest, which lies “not in what people think – which has been stated again and again in unambiguous terms – so much as why thy think it. No doubt my attitude derives from living in a world in which truth is too often seen as relative and in which mainstream media are committed to showing both sides of every story.” Noting the prevalence of opposing viewpoints in modern society – such as those on creationism vs evolution, whether or not man walked on the moon, and “more disturbingly,” those who deny the Holocaust deniers – Shapiro states, “I don’t believe that truth is relative or that there are always two sides to every story. At the same time, I don’t want to draw a naïve comparison between the Shakespeare controversy and any of these other issues. I think it’s a mistake to do so, except insofar as it too turns on underlying assumptions and notions of evidence that cannot be reconciled. Yet unlike some of these other controversies, I think it’s possible to get at why people have come to believe what they believe about Shakespeare’s authorship, and it is partly in the hope of doing so that I have written this book.”

Shapiro begins with the first attempts, in the eighteenth century, to expand knowledge of Shakespeare’s life and works, with George Steevens and Edmund Malone arguing their various perspectives. This idea of construction, of needing to find reasons in Shakespeare’s life for the events and viewpoints in his plays, led to a somewhat desperate search on the parts of Samuel Ireland and his son, William-Henry, for new evidence about Shakespeare’s life. Unfortunately, these gentlemen came to the idea several decades too late; any evidence not already preserved was long gone. William-Henry, motivated in Shapiro’s depiction as somewhat pathetically frantic to bolster his father’s deflated confidence, embarked on an orgy of forgery, creating numerous documents in “Shakespeare’s hand”: deeds, letters, inscriptions, even entire plays. Briefly celebrated, then proved false under William-Henry’s own confession of fraud, these documents nonetheless opened the door to the search for biography in Shakespeare’s plays. Even Malone, who vigorously attacked the Irelands for the fraud, still entertained:

the presumption that Shakespeare could only write about what he had felt or done rather than heard about, read about, borrowed from other writers, or imagined. The floodgates were now open and others would soon urge, based on their own slanted reading of the plays, that Shakespeare must have been a mariner, a soldier, a courtier a countess, and so on. By assuming that Shakespeare had to have experienced something to write about it with such accuracy and force, Malone also, unwittingly, allowed for the opposite to be true: expertise in the self-revealing works that the scant biographical record couldn’t support – his knowledge of falconry, for example, or of seamanship, foreign lands, or the ways that the ruling class behaved – should disqualify Shakespeare as the author of the plays.

Delia Bacon, c. 1853Shapiro also positions these early days of the search for authorship evidence in light of the early attribution studies for the Bible and the works of Homer; for the first time, literary monoliths were subject to question and interrogation. Shapiro then moves through the first seeds of the anti-Stratfordian argument to its full-blown manifestations in the propositions of first Francis Bacon and then Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, as alternate candidates. The Baconian theory, for instance, began with Delia Bacon (no relation) in the mid-19th century. Shapiro explains how Delia’s ideas about Francis Bacon connected to the notion of a grand conspiracy, focused on the polymath English courtier as the center of a radical proto-republican political movement. The evidence for these claims, she determined, was present in a close reading of the plays as biographical in nature. Shapiro demonstrates how the logic of such an association is inherently flawed, thanks to the limited scope both of Delia’s historical awareness and of the plays which she examined:

The framework within which [Delia Bacon] imagined the world of the English Renaissance, also typical of her day, was limited to monarchs, courtiers, and writers. The rest were written off as ignorant masses. […] It was history from the top down and limited geographically to London and the court. Her Shakespeare canon was no less restricted and also typical of nineteenth-century readers: at the center of it were Hamlet and The Tempest, and it extended to the plays meatiest in philosophical and political content – Othello, Julius Caesar, Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Richard the Second, and, unusually, Coriolanus – but not much further. While she had surely read the other thirty or so plays, as well as the poetry, they didn’t serve her purpose, and for the most part she passed over them in silence.

Delia Bacon published, to moderate success, though most people who supported her initially came to regret it, because of the mental instability she developed following a very public jilting. Shortly after the release of her book, she was institutionalized, and spent the last two years of her life in an asylum. Despite this tragic end, her ideas caught fire in the decades following her death, earning the attention, if not always the outright endorsement, of celebrities including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Helen Keller, and Henry James. Delia Bacon also introduced the notion of a secret cipher embedded in the texts of the plays, an idea picked up and popularized by Ignatius Donnelley – and an idea risible under even the lightest scrutiny for several reasons, not least of which is that a tweak of the cipher could yield any result the seeker wanted, but also because, as Shapiro points out, “Donnelly didn’t have a clue about how compositors worked in Elizabethan printing houses, where such a scheme would have been unimaginable and the layout he describes impossible to reproduce.”

By the 1920s, however, Shapiro points out that “Philosophy and politics were out, Oedipal desires and mourning for dead fathers in,” giving rise to the new Oxfordian theory. Psychoanalysis imagined a link between the writer of Hamlet and the character of Hamlet, based on repressed sexual urges and dysfunctional family relationships. Sigmund Freud questioned Shakespeare’s identity but did not embrace Bacon as the alternative; John Thomas Looney (pronounced “loany”, despite temptations to the contrary) picked up the psychoanalytic thread and proposed Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. Shakespeare’s life did not mirror the required narrative; the Earl of Oxford’s could, especially if you layered on other theories about de Vere being Queen Elizabeth’s lover and/or son. From a secret political group under Bacon’s direction, the anti-Shakespearean case now rested on a more lurid narrative: a conspiracy tinged with sexual misconduct, succession anxiety, and disrupted inheritance.

For decades, the Oxfordians plagued themselves with divisive conclusions about this reading, however: nobody knew about the conspiracy; everyone knew and didn’t think it worth mentioning; everyone knew but was kept silent by Queen Elizabeth’s totalitarian state; a select group knew and kept it quiet to protect the Queen; and so on. Never mind that Oxford died in 1604, before many of Shakespeare’s plays were written; in the scope of such an all-encompassing conspiracy, Oxfordians find that small matter to explain away. They were written earlier, and released after his death, as a way of perpetuating the myth of William Shakespeare as the front man. Shapiro details how, in more recent years, the Oxfordian theory has gained traction due to the public’s increasing fascination with conspiracy theories of all sorts. From moon landings to who shot JFK to the vast circulation of conceptions about secret government involvement in nearly every act of tragedy or terrorism of the past three decades, modern culture has propagated a pervasive suspicion of authority. “In such a climate,” Shapiro says, “a minor act of conspiratorial suppression on the part of Tudor authorities made perfect sense.”

Overall, the impression this book leaves a reader with is that the anti-Shakespearean case is one stuffed with tragic figures and ulterior motives. Its very earliest characters are among the saddest: poor William-Henry Ireland, desperately seeking a father’s approval, and jilted Delia Bacon, who clung to her theories as a way of reclaiming agency over her life, but with a paranoid mania that drove her to madness and death. These are the figures often left out of the Baconian and Oxfordian narratives; they prefer, naturally, to tout the support of such grand figures as Mark Twain and Sigmund Freud. As Shapiro demonstrates, however, the rationale of the great figures is not untainted, either. They all require vast constructs, additions and suppositions to the historical record. Freud’s support of the Oxfordian case is deeply tied to his own theories about Oedipal desire; he had to read Hamlet in terms of Oxford’s own familial-sexual-philosophical entanglements, because to suppose that the story came from any other origin was a strike against the psychological theories on which he made his living and his fame.

Mark Twain's book questioning Shakespeare's identityIt’s Twain’s rationale, and Shapiro’s dissection thereof, that I find most interesting and most telling. Twain echoes Malone in supposing it impossible for a writer to draw from anything but experience; “For Twain, the notion that great writing had to be drawn from life – rather than from what an author heard, read, or simply imagined – was an article of faith, at the heart of his conception of how serious writers worked.” It is, in many ways, a very strange idea, taking imagination so entirely out of the equation, but it was a product of its time; in the 19th and early 20th centuries, more and more writers were publishing memoirs, and biography was a popular genre. The close association between fiction and experience was deeply embedded in the culture, providing fertile ground in which the anti-Shakespearean attitudes could take root. This is one of the more difficult veils to penetrate when looking back at the early modern period through modern eyes – the idea that the early modern writers simply did not view their craft in the same way that the Victorian tradition has convinced us all writers must.

Shapiro asserts that this legacy lives on in writing today, that modern readers retain assumptions that “novels necessarily reveal something about a writer’s life.” I would argue that this is more true in so-called “literary” fiction than it is of genre fiction. Readers of science fiction and fantasy novels (or viewers of those movies) — and to an extent, of mysteries, thrillers, and romances as well — have no more expectation of a creator’s personal experience with the subject matter than Shakespeare’s original audiences had. We need no more assume that Shakespeare had first-hand knowledge of Italy than that George Lucas had of Tatooine, J. R. R. Tolkien of Middle-Earth, or J. K. Rowling of Hogwarts. While “serious” fiction often retains a more autobiographical bent, I think it is in genre fiction that writers operate more like Shakespeare did: indulging freely in the realm of imagination, drawing off of previous stories, history and mythology, and timeless tropes for their inspiration. There you find writers more interested in telling a good story than in talking about themselves – which is not to say that glimpses of a writer’s viewpoint won’t peep through from time to time, but they don’t dominate in the way that post-Romantic assumptions would indicate. (It is in many ways ironic that the very people who disdain the use of imagination in writing are so wonderfully and copiously imaginative themselves, at least when it comes to creating the fantasy narratives necessarily to support alternate authorship candidates).

The final chapter of the book is a tour de force in defense of Shakespeare – though Shapiro acknowledges the absurdity that Shakespeareans should even be on the defensive, that the burden of proof has somehow shifted to us to prove there is no conspiracy, rather than on the Oxfordians to prove that there is. After entertaining the anti-Stratfordians and exposing their flaws, Shapiro comes down unquestionably (and refreshingly unapologetically) on the side of Shakespeare of Stratford:

When asked how I can be so confident that Shakespeare was [the plays’] author, I point to several kinds of evidence. The first is what early printed texts reveal; the second, what writers who knew Shakespeare said about him. Either of these, to my mind, suffices to confirm his authorship – and the stories they tell corroborate each other. All this is reinforced by additional evidence from the closing years of his career, when he began writing for a new kind of playhouse, in a different style, in active collaboration with other writers.

Shapiro then defends Shakespeare with a barrage of real, concrete evidence – text-based evidence including examples of speech prefixes, the process of printing plays, the relationship of typesetting to the variant spellings of Shakespeare’s name, his demonstrated familiarity with actors, and so forth. The proof of such deep association with the playing companies, the theatre building, and the workings of the shareholders effectively eradicates any validity to the presumption that the plays could have been written by someone who did not inhabit that world.

Shapiro also engages with the testimonies of so many of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, identifying the man from Stratford as the man who wrote the plays: George Buc, Master of the Revels; Robert Greene, vitriolic pamphleteer; Francis Meers, whose Palladis Tamia lists all of Shakespeare’s plays which had been acted by 1598; Gabriel Harvey, poetry critic; William Camden, historian; playwrights John Webster, Francis Beaumont, and Thomas Heywood — the list goes on and on, but the trump card is fellow playwright, rival, and friend, Ben Jonson, who “left the most personal and extensive tributes to Shakespeare. For many, his testimony alone resolves any doubts about Shakespeare’s authorship of the plays.” Consider me one of them. Even if we did not have the voluminous other evidence that we do have, Jonson alone would convince me. He comments both so prolifically and so personally on Shakespeare’s writing that I find it a violation of Occam’s Razor to imagine that he was either ignorant or part of a vast conspiracy – and knowing what I know about Jonson, I really can’t believe he could have kept a secret of that magnitude. From Ben Jonson's epitaph to Shakespeare, in the preface of the 1623 First Folio

Finally, Shapiro draws a connection between Shakespeare’s plays and the playing spaces he wrote for, discussing how the space affected what kind of story Shakespeare could tell and how he could tell it, particularly thanks to a distinct change towards the end of his career:

We have also had drummed into us that he was Shakespeare of the Globe – though that playhouse was built only in the closing years of Elizabeth’s reign. Long forgotten are the other playing spaces in and around London in which he had built his reputation over the previous decade: the Theatre, the Curtain, Newington Butts, the Rose, Richmond, Whitehall, perhaps a brief stint at the Swan. … But had you asked anyone on the streets of London in the winter of 1610 where you could go to see Shakespeare’s latest play, there would have been only one answer: ‘Blackfriars.’ The Blackfriars Theatre means little today to most admirers of Shakespeare; so far as I know, only a single replica of it has ever been erected, in rural Virginia, which attracts both spectators and scholars. The story of the Blackfriars Theatre is also the story of the Jacobean Shakespeare, and of the particular challenges he faced toward the end of his playwriting career. And that, in turn, helps explain why only Shakespeare could have written his late plays that were staged there.

Shapiro’s recognition is apt and accurate, and that close relationship between writer and playing space is one we frequently refer to in our educational materials and workshops. A different kind of theatre demanded a different kind of plays, and Shakespeare’s latest works reflect that shift, making a reconstruction of the plays’ timeline to fit a 1604 death date absurd. I hope this spatial connection becomes a stronger part of the narrative of the “controversy” – perhaps it will help the Blackfriars Theatre and its descendent, our Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, earn greater recognition as one of Shakespeare’s prominent theatrical homes.

The final chapter of Contested Will ought to hammer home, once and for all, that Shakespeare was Shakespeare, setting the matter entirely to rest. Except, as Shapiro ably points out, there is no arguing with a conspiracy theorist. Any evidence just gets twisted to support the idea of a vast cover-up. Nonetheless, Shapiro’s book is a veritable armory of weapons, both offensive and defensive, for the Shakespearean set. What’s more, he delivers all of his information with felicity and wit; the book is a wonderful read as well as an intellectual triumph. I highly recommend it to anyone with a dog in this fight, as it were, but also to anyone who is simply interested in writing and in how ideas about it have evolved over time. Shapiro provides us not only with a rousing defense of Shakespeare, but also a valuable peek through the veils of time, rolling back our assumptions and laying bare the reality, insofar as it is knowable.

If you’re interested in further thoughts on this topic, please join the ASC on March 31st at 10:30am at the Blackfriars Playhouse. Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen will be delivering a lecture featuring his own dissection of the authorship matter, entitled “Knock, Knock: Who Wrote Shakespeare?”

Spring 2011 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival – Session 1

Good morning, all. Today at the Blackfriars Playhouse, thirteen students from Mary Baldwin College will give presentations on their MLitt and MFA projects. These presentations are a required portion of the thesis project for all candidates. The ASC education team will be live-blogging throughout the day-long event. The first session runs from 9:30 to 12:25.

Mediated Dramaturgy: Using Technology to Improve Different Forms of Dramaturgy, by Paul Rycik (MFA candidate)

Paul begins by apologizing for the pun in his title, noting that his thesis focuses on the use of media technology, but that “mediate” as a verb does not necessarily include components of media. How, then, Paul posits, is a dramaturg a mediator? Paul then explicates the job of the dramaturg within the Actors’ Renaissance Season and the specific needs and requirements of the actors working under the ARS’s rehearsal conditions. These demands led him to create a combination of social media, web material, digital videos, and conventional dramaturgy packets. Paul moves on to describing his process in producing material for 3 Henry VI: a packet for glossary of terms, costume suggestions, video biographies of major characters, websites built for the pertinent historical background and geographical details, and a blog documenting his ongoing research. He then demonstrates how he used the blog to answer questions for actors during the rehearsal process, giving the example of exploring a possible textual variant in King Henry’s lines. He also showed the audience his video biography of Richard, Duke of York, with Michael Wagoner (an MLitt first-year) narrating over a series of portraits, battle illustrations, family trees, and other visual information. Paul explains how the combination of visual and auditory information allows for greater fluidity in presenting information than a traditional packet would. Another aspect of Paul’s project, playing deformity, involved information from his MLitt thesis, offering a production history of Richard Crookback. Paul concludes by speaking on the responsibilities of a dramaturg and by noting that dramaturgy is, by its nature, a continuing process.

Shakespeare’s Chaucer, by Matthew Charles Carter (MLitt candidate)

Matthew prefaces his project with a critique of source studies, suggesting that simply knowing what Shakespeare used as a source for a given play isn’t enough. He says his thesis includes three arguments “that the proverbial book is not yet closed.” He begins with the parity of literature on the subject, as only two main books on Shakespeare’s sources currently exist. He discusses the many possible sources for Troilus and Cressida, then introduces Geoffrey Chaucer (Kimberly Maurice) and William Shakespeare (Maria Hart) to discuss the biographical similarities and differences between the two authors. Matt then moves to looking at a linguistic and rhetorical comparison between the texts, specifically looking at the character of Pandarus and the devices erotema, anthypophora, and interrogatio. Kim and Maria, along with Paul Rycik, Monica Tedder, and Riley Steiner present scenes from Shakespeare’s play along with staged segments of Chaucer’s poem. Matt then relates the use of rhetorical devices to the sexual euphemisms and circumlocution prevalent in both the poetry and the play. Matt then relates the play’s sparse production history to its literary origins, presenting arguments that the play “right from the start, was seen as a literary artifact” rather than as a playing text; Matt, however, argues that Shakespeare recognized the performative elements of Chaucer’s original and brought them to the stage. He concludes by restating his belief in the value of source studies.

Recovering London: Editing a Forgotten Script for Performance and Study, by Glenn F. Schudel (MFA candidate)

Glenn begins with the unusual publication history for A Larum for London, then asks the question, “Why would I spend so much time on a play no one cares about?” His answer: “This play is a lot of fun,” featuring bloodthirsty Spaniards, devious Belgians, a cannon discharging, lots of violence, and “a violent, jaded, one-legged protagonist named Stump.” Glenn connects his love for this play with the ASC”s tendency to revive obscure scripts. He moves on to the question of why anyone should edit an early modern playscript, and he suggests that a fair bit of it has to do with job security for “specialists in a fairly small field.” Glenn discusses the tendency of these specialists to gloss over the printing oddities and idiosyncrasies of early modern text while reading. While experts make these changes somewhat automatically, casual readers may not be able to adjust as swiftly — thus, the need for the production of edited texts. He introduces the frequent use of the long-s in A Larum for London and the confusions and potential embarrassment it could cause for teachers using an un-edited text where an “s” might easily look like an “f”, with the example, “the babe that sucks.” Other difficulties include inconsistencies in speech prefixes, syntactical errors, and unspecific directions. Glenn sums up his job rather neatly: “Every bit of clarity one can get is helpful.” Glenn calls for volunteers to do a cold reading, one of an unedited prologue and one of an edited epilogue: Bonnie, reading the prologue, stumbles through the reading, despite being, as part of this program, familiar with textual oddities, while Angelina, reading the edited epilogue, has no trouble either understanding the words herself, nor relating them to the audience. Glenn admits that “this is probably not a radical point that I’m making,” but it nonetheless proves that the job needs doing. His textual difficulties, he states, began with the title page, indeed, with the title of the play itself: A Larum or Alarum? How accurate is the subtitle, The Siedge of Antwerp? As Glenn notes, the 1914 Seige of Antwerp is notably absent from Renaissance drama; the 1576 Spoil of Antwerp, also known as the Spanish Fury, however, was a well-known event and a touchstone for Englishmen full of anti-Spanish sentiment. Glenn then calls up two more volunteers to read a passage, then says, “I’m going to dramaturg you. Don’t worry, it’s painless, usually.” He explains that the odd phrase “a Faulcon and two Harguebuz of Crocke” has several historical connotations lost on modern readers, which he would need to footnote in his edition. His visuals demonstrate that the “faulcon” is a rather solid and respectable type of small cannon, while a “Harguebuz of Crocke” appears to be “a goofy guy firing a gun on a stick,” explaining a character’s consternation at its use. Glenn concludes by noting that there is a lot of work left to be done in bringing this text up to standard.

Early Modern Murderesses, by Asae Dean (MLitt candidate)

Asae prefaces her presentation with readings from murdering females (and a hapless victim), given by Linden Keuck, Amanda Allen, Katie Crandol, and Johnny Adkins. She notes that early modern authors had their templates from Greek and Roman (specifically Sencan) dramas, and then distinguishes between the murderous woman and the murderess. The murderous, working through a proxy, takes after Electra, the murderess, taking action herself, takes after Clytemnestra. She then lists examples of each type, then goes into the victims (lovers, would-be lovers, husbands, rivals, etc) and the reasons for murder (revenge, fury, greed, etc). She notes her surprise that more of her murderesses are stabbers than poisoners, considering the cultural fear of marital murder via poison. Asae then presents a few examples of the murderesses of early modern drama. Her first example, Bel-Imperia in The Spanish Tragedy, does not begin as a murderess, but initially seeks another form of revenge. Asae suggests that Bel-Imperia demonstrates both excessive grief and heated passions, and that Bel-Imperia “learns to dissemble” from her murdering brother. She contrasts Bel-Imperia with Evadne from The Maid’s Tragedy, who begins sexually deviant and unrepentant, married to an honest man to cover her affair with the king. Where Bel-Imperia’s brother is the (inadvertent) source of her darker thoughts and actions, Evadne’s brother brings her back around to virtue — which she then expresses by murdering her royal lover. As Asae points out, “For Evadne, murder is an act of penance.” Both Bel-Imperia and Evadne stand by their murderous actions, however. In The Bloody Banquet, Thetis initially regrets her murder of her former lover; her husband then offers her the choice to eat her lover’s hewn limbs or starve, and Thetis chooses to eat. If her husband wants her dead, he will have to kill her. During the Q&A, Asae expands on the differences between the murderous and the murderess and on the gendering of murder.

The Physics of Contranymy: Indefinition, Sublim(inal)ity, and Play, by Zachary Brown (MLitt candidate)

Zach begins by prefacing the struggles of “meaning-making” in language. He states that he wants to investigate the signifiers attached to the word “pharmacon”, meaning most simply ” a drug,” noting that it can mean either “remedy” or “poison,” which does not do justice to the variant nuances attached to the original Greek term. He connects this idea to Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet in his 2.3 speech regarding the dual uses of certain flowers. Zach then discusses the complications of meaning that can arise from grammatical errors or ambiguities, using the example of the lack of definite aural difference between “insincerity” and “in sincerity” in Measure for Measure. Further passages out of the play suggest that the ambiguity in language mirrors the weaving-together of sincerity and insincerity in the characters’ words, actions, and intentions. Zach explores the contranymy of many words in the English language, where words that sound alike mean opposite things, which would be obvious on the page but may not be easily distinguished in speech, including “raise/raze.” He also examines the various meanings attached to Lucio’s name, meaning “light” in Latin, and with “light” bearing several variant connotations in early modern English (illumination, lack of weight, promiscuity), and finally connects all of the ambiguity to the actions of the Duke. During the Q&A, Dr. Menzer points out that, by telling us about the sincerity/insincerity difference which Zach argues depends on its subliminality, he may have erased that effect for anyone who has listened to this presentation or who reads this thesis; Zach suggests that, in action, the subliminality will take over again, that it’s possible to watch the play without consciously thinking about the ambiguities.

That’s it for Session 1 — We’ll be back at 1:30pm for Session 2, with five more MLitt candidates.

(Read more from Session 2 and Session 3).

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 20 January 2011

This week in Shakespeare: the Stratfordian defense, using technology to open up new avenues for learning, and promoting literature in education.

  • Bardfilm is on a mission, and we’d like to support it. In an attempt to show why anti-Stratfordians are, tragically, misinformed, the blog takes on first the Oxfordian conspiracy, then the Marlovian, then produces a list of resources for anti-anti-Stratfordians. Sarah says: Thank you for this reasoned critique of the argument. Cass says: I hope I see the day these anti-Stratfordian arguments get quashed once and for all, because it’s just sad, really. I do still think the Marlovian conspiracy would make a great movie, but the trouble is, if it got made, more people would believe these theories than already do.
  • Following up from the past few weeks of the Huck Finn censorship controversy, the Shakespeare Standard has an op-ed on why using sanitized texts is teaching a lie.
  • Remembrance of General Education Past. Sarah says: A lovely personal argument for the values of humanities courses.
  • Stolen Shakespeare Folio on Display in Cardiff. Cass says: I confess, when I first read the headline, my immediate thought was, “Wow, that takes a lot of nerve.” But no — it’s a Folio that was stolen but was then recovered, which makes far more sense.
  • Another idea about using technology to enhance the study of Shakespeare – this article on “Gadgets for Small Businesses” also includes an interesting Shakespeare-related use, specifically, the ability to read a scene and then, at a touch, being able to pull up several different versions of that scene in performance.
  • Touting the philosophy we whole-heartedly believe in, this British blog advocates actually seeing the plays you study.
  • And finally, for a little international flavor (following up after our last post), a refreshing take on the value of literature and its place in the school day… in China. “They were jumping up and down, telling the other kids what they read, and why others should read it. Every kid was dying to talk.” Would that all classrooms could have that energy!

I hope everyone’s had a lovely week. At ASC Education, we’re getting ready to hold our first Actor-Scholar Council of the year today, discussing The Comedy of Errors — stay tuned for the podcast of the event, which should be available sometime next week.

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 7 January 2011

Quite a few links for you this week, since we took a break from posting them over the holidays.

  • Just in time for the new semester, a list of Top Ten Tips for Studying Shakespeare. Sarah says: A good collection of recommendations.
  • A blog entry proposes approaching Shakespeare in the classroom more like a rehearsal. Cass says: A lot of the techniques here are similar to the ideas we build into our study guides. The more alive and active the text feels, the more the students get the idea that they’re working on something real, the easier it is to comprehend.
  • Can you judge a production company by their Romeo and Juliet? This blogger thinks so.
  • This workshop announcement from the University of Sheffield brings up a great point about the intersection of the literary and theatrical worlds. Cass says: The announcement also points out why we have the Romantics to blame for the idea of Shakespeare-as-literature-only (and I always like it when I have more reasons to blame the Romantics for things).
  • Addressing Shakespeare’s relevance, a professor at West Virginia University has written a paper linking Shakespeare to law school.
  • “Bringing the Bard behind Bars in South Africa”: With one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, South Africa has begun exploring new ways to rehabilitate offenders — and, as it happens, turning them into actors might be just the thing.
  • An opinion piece in The Washington Examiner critiques the NEA’s Poetry Out Loud competition. Cass says: We support Poetry Out Loud at the ASC — we even host one of the competitions — because we firmly believe in the value of reading verse out loud, but this article still makes some interesting points, particualarly regarding the competition’s selection bias towards modern poets over the more metrically regular verse of previous centuries. It’s not often these days that someone takes up in favor of stricter verse against free verse, so I’m pleased to see that.
  • An article in favor of technology as the future of education. Cass says: The author favors giving classrooms over to computers as entirely as possible, with teachers merely “facilitators” rather than actual instructors. I can’t help but feel that he’s missing something. I’m all for more focused use of technology in classrooms, but a computer can’t inspire, it can’t make something great for you — and a computer, no matter how well you program it, will never be 100% prepared for all of the questions and surprises that can arise from students. That human element is always going to be necessary.
  • Along those lines, here are a couple of articles debating one school district’s decision to bring iPads into the classroom. Interestingly, both articles use Shakespeare as an example. Cass says: I feel a little torn about this. I think the best argument in favour of the iPad (or other similar devices) is the textbook thing — great to cut down on paper, great to get rid of the weight in backpacks — and electronic devices offer so many more opportunities. You wouldn’t have to conform just to the standard textbooks used by the state. Teachers could choose for themselves what texts they wanted students to have access to. And it would also allow easier access to some of the great educational web resources that are out there. On the other hand, though, I feel more and more like more money should be put into the actual teaching at schools. Money to train teachers, to teach teachers, to give them the tools, rather than just using technology as a crutch. And, hey, maybe even money to pay teachers what they deserve someday. I also find it interesting how often Shakespeare is the catch-all for “education.”
  • And speaking of Shakespeare-as-litmus test, he’s also been brought into the recent controversy over a decision to publish a sanitized Huck Finn. Apart from the more generic Bowdlerization accusation, some commentators have opined that changing words for understanding is one thing; changing them for political-correctness is quite another. Even author Neil Gaiman got into it on Twitter, saying, “It’s public domain, so you can make Huck a Klingon if you want, but it’s not Mark Twain’s book.” Cass says: This is an interesting controversy for me, because it asks that question we frequently have to ask when cutting plays for performance: When have you changed so much that it’s no longer the author’s original work? Only the most stalwart of purists would say that you can’t change a single word (a tough argument to make, particularly in cases where we have quarto editions different from the First Folio). But when have you gone too far? If you cut 20 words? 20% An entire character? An entire scene? All the naughty words? Is it still Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice if you tone down the anti-Semetic language? Is it still Shakespeare’s Othello if you sanitize the references to Moors?
  • On the more light-hearted side of things, a man is re-enacting Will Kempe’s famous Nine Days Wonder, planning to morris dance from London to Norwich, to raise money for a community vegetable garden. Cass says: To my English friends, please, I beg you, if anyone sees this, post the video.
  • Hot on the heels of Miramax announcing Shakespeare in Love 2, we’re now hearing about the possibility of Shakespeare in Love: The Play.
  • Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the ASC has a considerable staff contingent attending the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference in Colorado. If you (like me) aren’t there but wish you were, follow the hashtag #STAA11 on Twitter. Our own Amy Wratchford and Sarah Enloe, as well as Richmond Shakespeare’s Grant Mudge, have been diligently Tweeting.

Enjoy your weekends!