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

#YayHamlet: What Shakespeare and Broadway’s Biggest Hit Have to Do with Each Other

A few weeks ago, when I was participating in the “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” event at the Alden Theatre, the panel took a question from a man who complained that students today don’t understand Shakespeare because their language skills just aren’t up to the task, that they can’t process the complexities of vocabulary and syntax, and that modern English has degraded in quality and variety.

Now, while I have many problems with the state of modern education, I nonetheless felt compelled to stand up on behalf of my people, the young’uns (never mind that I’m on the verge of no longer sharing a generation with high schoolers). Modern English is no less complex than Shakespeare’s early modern English — in fact, in many ways it’s become more flexible and facile. Students are perfectly capable of using language in elaborate ways. They’re just not used to Shakespeare‘s elaborate ways.

How do I know this? Because the media that modern teenagers consume has linguistic intricacies of its own. Yes, they may text in hieroglyph-like emojis, but the English language is vibrant in the medium closest in modern culture to the playhouse in the 16th-century: their music.

The example that I had at the tip of my tongue, because it’s been so dominant in my brain since fall, was Hamilton.

HamiltonYorktownvictory

If you don’t know what Hamilton is — well, it is, empirically, one of the biggest things to happen to theatre in years — perhaps in a generation. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton, “the ten dollar Founding Father without a father”, has utterly taken both the theatrical and musical worlds by storm. If you need a primer, the cast performed the opening number during the Grammys last night.

So why, apart from my own obsession with the show, do I draw this parallel?

Rhetoric.

(Come on — If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you had to suspect that would be the answer).

It’s not just that Manuel is a linguistic genius. It’s that he’s a linguistic genius in many of the same ways that Shakespeare was, and the one I’m going to focus on in this post is the use of rhetoric to create character.

One of the reasons Shakespeare stands above his contemporaries is that he had such a great ear. His characters have individual voices. They don’t all speak in the same patterns, but rather, he defines each speaker by particular quirks and habits — just as we speak in everyday life. Miranda does the same thing.

Take the character of George Washington. This is a man with a clear idea of what needs to be done, and that shows in his rhetoric. He’s prone to anaphora, the repetition of beginnings, both of words and of sounds (alliteration). For example, in “Right-Hand Man”:

We are outgunned
Outmanned
Outnumbered, outplanned

He returns to this same pattern later in “Stay Alive”:

Provoke outrage, outright
Don’t engage, strike by night
Remain relentless till their troops take flight…
Outrun
Outlast
Hit ’em quick, get out fast
Stay alive till this horror show is past

He’s also prone to isocolon, parallel structure, in short, simple patterns like the imperatives we see above, and nearly every line in “History Has Its Eyes on You” begins with an “I + [verb]” statement. These rhetorical patterns underscore Washington as someone straightforward, focused, and solid. (Incidentally, the out- prefix has another interesting connection to Shakespeare, as noted in the Oxford English Dictionary: “True compound verbs in out- are those in which the sense of surpassing, exceeding, or beating in some action is conveyed, as in outdo , outlive , outbid , outnumber , outface , and the various extensions of these. These are of later origin: a very few (e.g. outlive, outpass, outrun) appear during the 15th cent.; they increase gradually during the 16th cent. (outproffer = outbid, and outcry, out-eat, outgo, outrhyme, outride, outrow in Palsgrave), and become numerous only c1600, being freely and boldly employed by Shakespeare, who is our earliest authority for many of them, including the curious group typified by ‘to outfrown frowns’, ‘to out-Herod Herod’.”)

The verbiage of Miranda’s Angelica Schuyler, meanwhile, is all over the rhetorical map. She’s brilliant, but with an intense urgency — her mind fires at a million miles an hour, and her speech patterns show it. Take the following example from “Satisfied”:

I remember that night, I just might
Regret that night for the rest of my days
I remember those soldier boys
Tripping over themselves to win our praise
I remember that dreamlike candlelight
Like a dream that you can’t quite place
But Alexander, I’ll never forget the first
Time I saw your face
I have never been the same
Intelligent eyes in a hunger-pang frame
And when you said “Hi,” I forgot my dang name
Set my heart aflame, ev’ry part aflame, this is not a game

There’s so much going on here. First, the “I remember” is anaphora, which makes your brain actually focus more on what happens afterwards. And then in the first stanza it’s combined with mesodiplosis, repetition in the middle, with those “that night”s. But then “dreamlike candlelight like a dreamis antimetabole, a specific form of chiasmus, that A-B-B-A structure. And then we end with some epistrophe, repetition at the end of a phrase, in the “aflame” clauses. And throughout we’re getting this antithesis contrast between the past and present tense in the verbs she uses.

So what you get is this bobbing effect, in and out of reality, in and out of memory, in and out of what was and what could have been. But it still ties up and ties together in the progression (dare I say auxesis?) of the kinds of repetition from beginning to middle to end, because Angelica ultimately has that kind of grip on herself. Her mind may race, but she has control of it.

AngelicaSchuylerintenseorinsane

Her sister Eliza Hamilton nee Schuyler, by contrast, Miranda presents as a natural storyteller. There’s so much parallelism in her words, both within songs:

Tryin’ to catch your eye from the side of the ballroom
Everybody’s dancin’ an the band’s top volume
Grind to the rhythm as we wine and dine
Grab my sister and whisper “Yo, this one’s mine”
My sister made her way across the room to you
And I got nervous thinkin’ “What’s she gonna do?”
She grabbed you by the arm, I’m thinkin I’m through,
Then you look back at me and suddenly I’m helpless!
[…]
Two weeks later in the living room, stressin’
My father’s stone-faced while you’re askin’ for his blessin’
I’m dyin’ inside as you wine and dine
And I’m tryin’ not to cry ’cause there’s nothin’
That your mind can’t do
My father makes his way across the room to you
I panic for a second thinkin’ we’re through
But then he shakes your hand and says “Be true”
And you turn back to me, smilin, and I’m helpless!

and across the entire show:

Oh, let me be a part of the narrative [“That Would Be Enough”, Act 1]

I’m erasing myself from the narrative [“Burn”, Act 2]

I put myself back in the narrative [“Who Lives, Who Dies Who Tells Your Story”, Finale]

This creates a sense of romanticism, someone who weaves the narrative even as she’s living it, as well as keying in on Eliza as someone who tries to make sense of things. She thinks more linearly than her frenetic husband. But it also ties in beautifully with one of the show’s ultimate messages: Eliza is the one “who lives, who dies, who tells [Hamilton’s] story”, as the final number gorgeously declares. Of course she is — it’s been there in her rhetoric all along.

You’ll notice that, in all of this, I haven’t actually touched the rhetoric of the character of Hamilton himself. There’s honestly just too much. That would be a small thesis all on its own. Nor have I talked about Lafayette’s journey from barely constructing sentences in English to spitting some of the fastest and most gorgeous chiasmus in the show, or how Miranda uses these rhetorical differences to help the actors playing different characters in each act (Lafayette/Jefferson, Mulligan/Madison, Laurens/Philip, Peggy/Maria) — much the same way that doubling works in Shakespeare. I could spend months dissecting Hamilton‘s rhetoric and still not squeeze it all out, just as I’ve spent that kind of time on Julius Caesar, as I could on any of Shakespeare’s plays, and yet still have so much to explore.

Hamilton is ridiculously popular with exactly the age bracket that our lecture attendee was so concerned about — students whom he presumed have worse language skills than prior generations. My argument is that their skills are every bit as good. Hamilton‘s popularity proves it. They can and do revel in complex patterns and verbal intricacies. Our job as teachers of Shakespeare is just to help them re-tune their ears. Anyone who can understand and enjoy Hamilton can understand and enjoy Shakespeare. Miranda’s patterns have a lot in common with Shakespeare’s, but they’re still configured differently — so we just have to help them use what they already know, what they already do intuitively, in a different way.

HamiltonLafayettehighfive

–Cass Morris
ASC Academic Resources Manager

*PS: Why “#YayHamlet”? Here’s why.

PPS: Can’t get enough of this? Cass is analyzing every song, one by one, in a year-long blog project. Take a sneak peek right here!

Colloquy IV: Bilingual Shakespeare

Hello everyone – Liz Bernardo again, here to blog this session. This Colloquy IV is on Bilingual Shakespeare. The chair for this session is Joe Falocco of Texas State University. The presenters for this session are Ian Borden of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Tyrone Giordano of Gallaudet University, and Michael Saenger of Southeastern University. This session is in the Augusta Room of the Stonewall Jackson Hotel. Live blogging of this session runs from nine to ten fifteen this morning.

Borden explains his presentation What if Shakespeare Wrote for Actresses? Examining the Work of Lope de Vega as a Lens of Possibility for 21st Century Productions of Early Modern English Drama. Borden wonders if we have a skewed understanding of female characters on the early modern age due to Shakespeare writing for male actors, even in female characters. He speaks to the differences between Restoration female characters, who had greater liberty than female characters in early modern drama. He states that the early modern stage always reinserts female characters into the patriarchal system. He draws comparisons between early modern plays and de Vega plays in Spain. Borden talks about de presenti vows in The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster and the censurship of the Duchess who lives outside of the cultural norms. He notes that in de Vega’s version, the Duchess’ moral standing stays in tact. He compares the two and points out that the British version focuses on violence, which is not central to the Spanish version. He compares the Shakespeare and de Vega versions of Romeo and Juliet. Borden has scholars read from a translation of a scene from the de Vega version of the story. He points out Julia’s active role in the Spanish version and the comedic, rather than tragic, ending in the British version. He hopes to enlighten our views of female characters of the early modern stage by a comparison to their Spanish equivalents.

Saenger’s Shakespeare and Multilinguistic Affairs looks at conections between Ben Jonson and Shakespeare’s language. He speaks to the iconography of Shakespeare as a unifying force in English language. He speaks that modern cultures, especially cinema, undoes Shakespeare’s English. He speaks about adaptations, that must confront issues of language. He speaks about the dilemmas of performance to modernize or not and the ever-expanding contexts that Shakespeare is performed in. He states that adaptations are now the norm, rather than radical. He points out that cultural adaptations now often mix languages. He states that Shakespeare’s London was multilingual, hosting many Protestants, both in the streets and in the translated and printed books. He states that many linguistic modes mingled in Shakespeare’s day. He points out Shakespeare’s mix of languages, such as French in Henry V and Welsh in Henry IV Part I. He points out that Shakespeare’s foreign and magnetic Cleopatra implies the unreliability of English language in the presence of foreign influences. He states that several influences entered the English language since Shakespeare’s day. Saenger states that Shakespeare engaged in interlinguistic engagement, just as we live in a multilingual environment today.

Falocco begins his presentation with an introduction. He speaks of a desire to produce The Comedy of Errors where the characters from Syracuse speak English and the characters from Ephesus speak Spanish. In the production of this play, Falocco realized that several times characters speak English and Spanish to each other. He found the opening scene with Egeon difficult to translate between the two languages, which he solved with the creation of a character named The Bilingual Soldier who translated and acted out the speech into the new language. He explains that the Bilingual Soldier used a version of southwestern Spanish that “killed” in Texas.

Giordano signs his presentation with a translator. He states that he is in charge of the Folio exhibit that comes later this year. He shows a video about Shakespeare and translation issues with American Sign Language. The video comes from a project, #transformSHX. He explains that he does bilingual Shakespeare because Shakespeare is so ingrained into the curriculum, but translators must translate the text. He explains that the adaptation of the texts can be very limited and that often the deaf community must start at step one. He adds that there is a strong resistance to Shakespeare in the deaf community, but states that exploring Shakespeare with the integration of the deaf experience aids in embracing Shakespeare.

Falocco states that a unifying theme seems to be a call for diversity in theatre. He then opens the floor for questions. Student Melinda Marks asks Falocco the extent to which he workshopped his bilingual production of The Comedy of Errors. Falocco replies that the actor translating to Spanish as the Bilingual Soldier in his production would live-translate the Egeon speech every night. Marks points out that the Spanish speaking characters in the play seemed to rely more on hand gestures than language.

Student Sophia Beratta also asks Falocco if he was troubled to speak his English role (Egeon) with a translator (the Bilingual Soldier) translating what his words. Falocco replies that he did not have trouble. He adds that neither his Dromios nor Antipholuses experienced confusion too, whom he double cast into both roles with one pair speaking English and another pair speaking Spanish. He clarifies, with a question from Marks, that the production brought doubles on at the end of Comedy of Errors.

Beratta asks Giordano how ASL handles Shakespearean prose and verse. He explains that different hand shapes and repetition illustrate verse onstage and that audiences can see the meter and rhythm change to prose onstage with sign language. He states that other staging elements also help to amplify the changes. Marks asks a question about Shakespeare in international sign language. Lindsey, Giordano’s translator, speaks about translating Shakespeare into sign language in foreign countries. She states that translators in this case can either work from a translation to their native language or the base English text in order to translate to sign language. She points out that different colloquialisms appear locally. Giordano explains a difference between signing and gesturing and states that there are different sign languages for different cultures, even within the same native language. Giordano calls for translation straight to ASL from the original Shakespeare text. He hopes to develop a set method of translation for the future.

A scholar asks how signing works in Shakespeare with occupied hands. Giordano demonstrates that signing can still occur when the hands are in use. He states that violence and fight is different, but points out that ASL actors can play with both the fight and the language, which becomes solid in the rehearsal process. Falocco asks about different languages in sign language, particularly of British Sign Language productions. Giordano states that there have been BSL productions of Shakespeare. A scholar asks if there is a difference between BSL and ASL productions of Shakespeare. Giordano states that differences would depend on the direction. He also states that signing bilingual performers will honor the hearing audiences, but that hearing performers often do not honor deaf audience members.

Falocco ends with a plug for BXSW in Texas and encourages scholars and students to submit to present a paper at the conference. He encourages those within driving distance of Austin to travel to visit the conference.

American Shakespeare Center Director of Mission’s Response to the Shakespeare Translation Project

As most Shakespeare nerds know by now, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, America’s largest Shakespeare theatre, has undertaken an ambitious project they are calling “Play On!” in which 39 playwrights and 39 dramaturges will undertake to “translate” 39 of Shakespeare’s plays into modern English.  This announcement has provoked the predictable amount of consternation throughout the Shakespeare world, enough consternation that as the Director of Mission of the American Shakespeare Center, whose mission is to recover the joys and accessibility of Shakespeare’s theatre, language, and humanity… through performance and education, I would like to share my thoughts on this project, both positive and negative, with our many friends.

Here’s what I like about the project:

(1) To begin with, I applaud the size, scope, and ambition of the project.

Ever since Bill Rauch, OSF’s Artistic Director, arrived in Ashland in 2007, he has brought to the Festival the kind of expansive vision of a theatre of the people, by the people, and for the people.  That vision undergirded his first project, Cornerstone Theatre, in which Bill and his colleagues, fresh out of Harvard, would go into communities without theatres and create a production with the citizens.  That vision – so American in its principles and in its optimism – was also the foundation for his first big project at OSF, American Revolutions: the U.S. History Cycle, for which he has commissioned American playwrights to attempt to create a collection of plays that helps define America in the way that Shakespeare’s history plays helped to define England.  One offspring of that project, Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way about LBJ and the civil rights movement, has already won the Tony for Outstanding Play.

The “Play On!” project matches Bill Rauch’s other work, and in its intention to create Shakespeare scripts of the people, by the people, and for the people, it matches as well the giving and inclusiveness that informs OSF under his remarkable leadership.  To appreciate what he has accomplished, locate Ashland, Oregon, on a map, and you will see that it’s a small city (Staunton’s size) in the isolated southwest corner of Oregon, five hours from Portland.  Always devoted to first-class work, the Festival’s location trapped it more than most urban Shakespeare companies in the predominant Shakespeare audience base of affluent and aging white people – a place to get away from the world rather than a place to engage it.  I do not know how their new programming has changed their audience demographics, but the increased diversity of the actors and staff at OSF and the emphasis on musicals and new plays have certainly made the season’s offerings look less daunting to non-Shakespeare fans as well as more interesting to experienced theatre-goers who are looking for something new and would rather not see their tenth production of Macbeth.

(2) Some good that will come from the “Play On!” project.

Already it has prompted the kind of controversy that keeps the importance of Shakespeare in the public view.  It’s made people think about their experiences seeing and hearing Shakespeare. It’s giving employment to 39 playwrights and – even more rarely – a like number of dramaturges.  And that means, inevitably, that by the end of the project, 78 very smart people, who have wrestled with replacing Shakespeare’s words (as our actors do when they try to paraphrase their lines) will be in awe of his skill, and they will approach their crafts both with more humility and with more skill.

I hope that once the scripts are all in, OSF will plan a grand convocation of these men and women to talk about their experience of trying to retain, in the words of OSF’s Director of Literary Development Lue Douthit, “the rhyme, meter, rhetoric, image, metaphor, character, action, and theme” of the original.  Lue, if you’re reading this, please invite me to that occasion.  I promise not to say a word, just soak in the inevitable awe these re-creators will feel faced with what Andrew Hartley, in the answering question “Why Shakespeare?” (The Shakespeare Dramaturg, p.70), calls the “unequaled…poignancy or precision” of Shakespeare’s words and phrases “unparalleled elsewhere.”   Our actors feel it every time they play a role; our students feel it every time they study a line.  Imagine what 36 playwrights and 36 dramaturges will feel after trying to put an entire play into their own words.

(3) Clearly this project does no harm to Shakespeare, even in Ashland.

OSF assures fans of Shakespeare that over the next ten years they will produce all of Shakespeare’s plays in the original and that “one or more of” the plays created “may be produced along with the original canon.”  These scripts will be food for readings and discussion around the country. Shakespeare’s works have always stood up to the “translation” – in a real sense, every production is a new “translation.”  Changing words, characters, scenes, plots – none of that is new. Whenever I direct a production, I’ll change a word or twenty.  In our current production of Midsummer Night’s Dream “on her withered dewlap” became “on her withered bosom”; and the fairies’ lullaby to Titania about “spotted snakes” became a soft shoe version of “By the Light of Silvery Moon.”  Am I ashamed?  Kind of.  Is Shakespeare rolling in his grave?  No seismic activity in Stratford-upon-Avon has been reported.

As our board member Kim West pointed out, this kind of “translation has been going on since Nahum Tate updated King Lear in 1681.”  Who knows how many Nahum Tates the project might produce?  In one way or another every play is only the first version of a work, changed with each production; and all of this reworking of Shakespeare in whatever language, in whatever medium, from musicals to film to comic books to TV sitcoms to Andy Griffith’s radio retelling of Romeo and Juliet, never lessened the value of his work – all of this has only given the originals more currency.

Here’s what I don’t like about the project:

(1) The OSF project assumes that Shakespeare’s language is not our language.

The rationale for the project is that Shakespeare’s language is hard to understand because his language is too far from our own and that audiences of a far wider range would enjoy the plays better if they were written in contemporary language.  I don’t like this rationale, because I think the assumption it makes about Shakespeare’s language is wrong and the assumption it makes about what audiences are capable of enjoying underestimates audiences, actors, and the nature of theatre.

Yes, we could all use larger vocabularies, but if you’re going to start simplifying language to reach those who don’t have a large enough vocabulary, then don’t pick on Shakespeare without picking on Shaw, Wilde, Coward, Williams, Churchill, Stoppard, and Sondheim.  For that matter go after Deadwood, West Wing, Justified, Game of Thrones, and Star Trek. Shoot, go after Sesame Street.

The Wall Street Journal’s John McWhorter approves wholeheartedly of the project and tells us that 10% of the words in Shakespeare are “incomprehensible.”  That number vastly exaggerates the number of archaic words in Shakespeare and ignores altogether the way context – the other words being spoken and the way the actor speaks them – helps us comprehend.  In fact, 98% of Shakespeare’s words are either in our dictionaries as current usage English or as a close cousin of the current English.

(2) The OSF project robs from rather than adds to the meaning of the plays.

It ignores the pleasure of the unconscious experience of comprehending expanded meaning.  For example, here’s a passage from Macbeth that McWhorter wants updated. It’s Macbeth considering whether he should kill the King, Duncan:

………………………Besides, this Duncan

hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been

so clear in his great office, that his virtues

will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against

the deep damnation of his taking-off.

McWhorter prefers this “translation” by Conrad Spoke:

………………Besides, this Duncan

hath borne authority so meek, hath been

so pure in his great office, that his virtues

will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against

the deep damnation of his knocking-off.

McWhorter would substitute “authority” for “faculties” because he says he doesn’t know what “bearing one’s faculties” means. He doesn’t? Today we use “faculties” to mean “abilities,” – the very first definition in Merriam Webster – and pretty precisely what Shakespeare meant.  In fact the substituted “authority” is not what Macbeth is talking about.  Nor is the substituted “pure in office” the same as the original “clear in his office.”  Jimmy Carter was “pure” in his office; Ronald Reagan was “clear.” Shakespeare’s “clear” could hardly be clearer.

Most alarmingly, McWhorter champions “knocking-off” for “taking-off.”  He would choose a current slang word for “murder” instead of Macbeth’s invented phrase “taking-off.”  But even children listening to Macbeth contemplate this murder would know what “taking-off” means, and they would also know – as would the actor playing the part – that it’s a feeble euphemism, that Macbeth can’t bring himself even to say “murder,” and that is the real story of this moment. The actor performing the “translated” line would lose this moment, and the audiences listening to that “translation” would lose this insight into the mind of a man for the first time considering the murder.  Shakespeare’s word – easy to comprehend in context – provides the full understanding, whereas in McWhorter’s term the substituted word gives us only a “half understanding.”

(3) The OSF project ignores the joy of acquiring language.

We go to Shakespeare better equipped with the language that Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights left us than his own audiences, audiences who went to the theatre to hear that language invented for the first time.  The theatre is where people – literate and illiterate – went to learn new words by having them performed by actors who can show you their meanings.  In short they went in search of new words and of old words being stretched to new limits.

We do that too – with Stoppard and Pinter and Beckett plays; with comedians Kevin Hart, Amy Schumer, and Stephen Colbert; with television like Key and Peele and Wired, with lyricists from Sondheim to Notorious B.I.G.  Even when some of it flies by us, we enjoy the rush of new words in new arrangements.

(4) The OSF project endorses ShakesFear.

We go to Shakespeare unnecessarily afraid, worried about missing something, worried about vocabulary as though we were taking the SAT.  That irrational and unhelpful worry I call ShakesFear, and my main objection to the OSF project is that it endorses ShakesFear, and in doing so it misunderstands the nature of theatre and underestimates the genius of audiences.  It promotes the anxiety about Shakespeare that is a primary obstacle to its enjoyment.

(5) The OSF project takes actors and directors off the hook.

Play On!” shifts the responsibility for “comprehensible” Shakespeare to these 39 playwrights and away from actors and directors who themselves are uninterested in the way the language in the plays work.

Actors who don’t know precisely what the words are can’t make up the difference with an emotional wash, and directors whose aim is foremost the imposition of a concept can sometimes make comprehension harder.  As James Shapiro writes in The New York Times, “To understand Shakespeare’s characters, actors have long depended on the hints of meaning and shadings of emphasis that he embedded in his verse.  They will search for them in vain in the translation.”

From the day Jim Warren and I started the company, the American Shakespeare Center has made the comprehension of Shakespeare’s language and an understanding of the way the meter and the syntax work the first business of rehearsal.  We are continually looking for the ways that staging can clarify meaning for his audiences.  We don’t always get it right in our fight against ShakesFear, but repeatedly we hear from audiences, “That was the first time I had no trouble understanding the play” or “I forgot it was Shakespeare” or – our favorite – “That was great. Who translated it into modern English?” And then we get to tell the patron that the words were Shakespeare’s and that he himself effortlessly did the “translation.”

The greatest gift of a good Shakespeare production is this kind of unconscious “translation” – an occasion when performance combines with the wellspring of our language to enlarge us.

(6) The OSF project condescends to certain audiences.

My final concern about the OSF project is the soft discrimination of its low expectations.  As I have said, the plan is meant to be a part of OSF’s admirable push to make Shakespeare of the people, by the people, and for the people.  But those people are less in need of help than OSF imagines.  Children are always swimming in a sea of new language; it’s how they learn.  For an adult, Much Ado about Nothing may be harder than The Important of Being Earnest, but for the eight-year-old, they present similar challenges – or, depending on your point of view, opportunities.  The OSF project would deprive the very audiences it’s concerned about of those opportunities by creating a kind of “separate but equal” Shakespeare.

OSF’s project, in worrying about making Shakespeare easier, endorses the wrong idea that Shakespeare is too hard. But it is just the right kind of hard. In the words of our Associate Artistic Director, Jay McClure, “Shakespeare is not easy; it is not neat, it is not without complications; it is not always understandable. Just like life. And just like life, it is miraculous.  And it is work.  And it is worth it.”

As I said at the start, the OSF project has done all of us a favor by raising the issue of how we deal with the rich gift of Shakespeare.  First thing we do, let’s not underrate it.

Ralph Alan Cohen

ASC Co-founder and Director of Mission

 

*This post was edited on 10/10 to correct the numbering in the second section and correct “quipped” to

“equipped.”

“These be the stops that hinder study quite”: In Defense of Enjambment

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my current project is building a scansion workbook — a practical guide to understanding, marking, and performing meter in Shakespeare’s plays. This workbook follows a far different structure than our usual Study Guides, based on the scaffolding of language skills rather than on elements of a play’s plot, history, and staging challenges. Once we get through the basics of syllables, feet, and pentameter, we get to play with the aspects of scansion that pertain more to character and performance.

I came to scansion through Latin long before I came to it through English. Years before anyone had bothered to explain to me what iambic pentameter is, beyond perhaps a token mention of “that’s the stuff they make sonnets out of,” I was beating out the long and short vowels of Ovid, Catullus, and Horace. In my AP class, we had to recite Latin poetry aloud, which meant careful attention to the cadence of the lines. I learned a lot about elision — particularly when it comes to slurring vowel sounds together — and I learned about enjambment. One of the things my teacher hammered into my adolescent head was the concept that you don’t stop at the end of a line unless that’s actually where the thought ends. Of course, where the thought ends can be a tricky matter to determine, since Latin originally had no punctuation, and no spaces, for that matter. You either have to choose to trust the editor of your text (which I did far more readily at 16 than I do now), or else you had to figure it out for yourself through the translation. Once you made the determination, you had to put it into your voice during the recitation. Taking an unnecessary breath docked points from our grade.

Enjambment means, quite simply, that the thought or sentence continues past the end of the line. Here’s an example from Macbeth (click to expand):

Enjamb1

Now, this speech is a goldmine of information when it comes to both scansion and rhetoric (elisions! stressed conjunctions and pronouns! antithesis!), and my markup is far from the only potential choice in many of those lines. For the purposes of this conversation, however, just look specifically at those little right-pointing arrows. Each of those indicates an enjambed line. Many of them, as you can see, then lead to caesuras — those mid-line breaks — and many involve feminine endings, a final unstressed eleventh syllable tagged on to the end of a pentameter line.

Compare that to something like this speech from Richard II (click to expand):

Enjamb2

It’s one of the most rhetorically dense passages in Shakespeare — but not a single enjambed line. I could make an argument for ignoring the comma at the end of line for, after “head”, perhaps, and enjambing that line, but all the others are very clearly end-stops. They vary between full-stops, like periods, and partial stops, like commas, but in this passage, there is a sense that each line completes a thought or clause of some sort, even if the sentence continues. On the whole, Shakespeare’s later plays are more enjambed than his early ones — but you can certainly find end-stops in Macbeth, Othello, Coriolanus, and The Tempest, just as you can find enjambed lines in the Henry VIes, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of the Shrew. Plays which are heavily rhymed, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are more likely to have more end-stops as well, as enjambment tends to obscure the rhyme.

Enjambments and end-stops are one of the topics I’ll be covering in this new workbook. As I’ve been researching and discussing the process, however, I’ve run across the doctrine — apparently far more dominant, at least in some spheres, than I’d ever imagined — that an actor should take a brief pause at the end of each line of iambic pentameter, whether or not the punctuation and sentence structure make that indication. I’ve heard it justified as “the way the verse works” — which ignores the fact that enjambment is, itself, part of how the verse works, a conscious choice by an author to go on rather than to create a break. I’ve also heard that it’s necessary, because ten syllables is about how much an actor can say with one breath — which seems not only to undervalue the lung capacity of actors, but to ignore the playable value of that breathlessness, should it occur.

This is a weird concept to me. How can you ignore enjambment like that? Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that punctuation alone is unreliable, what with the variant preferences of typesetters. From my explorations of the Folio and quartos, however, it’s generally pretty clear where a line is end-stopped versus enjambed, even if the precise nature of the stop as a period, semicolon, colon, or question mark might be up for debate. Even where you can’t trust the punctuation, you can also figure out where a thought terminates or turns. (Rhetoric can help here, too, by identifying shifts in focus or alterations to a pattern).

End-stopped lines and enjambed lines operate differently. If you pause indiscriminately, you lose the crucial information that the enjambment gives you — that breathless, rushing quality which is a character clue and a clue for performance. Pausing at the end of each line in that speech of Macbeth’s doesn’t just interrupt the flow of thoughts — potentially obscuring comprehension of an already-difficult bit of text — it also misses out on something critical about Macbeth himself. The entire speech is, after all, about his attempt to squish time together and “jump the life to come,” to get to the end without pausing at the middle. It makes sense that, metrically, he’d be rushing, eliding, and running ahead of himself. His cadence transmits emotional information.

One of the comments that the ASC most frequently gets from our audiences is that our plays are accessible, easy to understand. I believe part of the reason for that lies in enjambment. Our actors speak their lines with attention to scansion and stressed syllables, but also as though they are… sentences. Things that people would actually say, in the manner they would actually say them. Enjambment is a part of pentameter. I have to think that our actors’ acknowledgement of that piece of the pattern, following a thought through to its natural end rather than carving it into bits, contributes to our audience’s ease of understanding. So, when it comes to the ASC Scansion Workbook, we’re going to promote what’s worked here at the Playhouse and in our classrooms: pause when the thought indicates you should, not just because you’ve said ten syllables and need a break.

What were you taught? What do you use in practice or teach others? Can you hear a difference when listening to Shakespeare in performance?

–Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager

MLitt Thesis Festival 2014: Session 1

Stephan Pietrowski: “Getting Dirt On-Stage: Shakespeare’s Gardens”:
Actors: Linnea Barklund, Monica Cross, Susan Scaccia, Deirdre Shupe, Jordan Zwick
Pietrowski begins by explaining that his presentation will focus on the “Definitions” chapter of his thesis, examining the difference between wild and cultivated settings in Shakespeare. He moves through several definitions, supplemented by examples from the plays, as when Orlando believes that the Forest of Arden is a desert in As You Like It, Othello’s reference to “a wilderness of monkeys,” and the “blasted heath” in Macbeth. He then examines the places in between the two extremes of cities and total wilderness — parks, fields, and forests. “Many forests are closer to wilderness on the cultivation spectrum,” Pietrowski notes, citing the range of such settings in Shakespeare’s plays. Pietrowski uses A Midsummer Night’s Dream to explicate how Shakespeare sets up expectations of the forest — in this case, familiar to the characters, but still supposedly bereft of other humans. In Macbeth, Shakespeare first establishes the permanence of a forest, then has Malcolm’s army subvert that expectation.

Fields stand in contrast to forests, open land, especially though not necessarily that used for pasture or crops; some fields are thus more cultivated than others. Pietrowski uses the example of the ladies’ lodging in the field in Love’s Labour’s Lost to explore its liminal status with regard to human civilization. Parks were, in early modern usage, more for the keeping of animals than our modern sensibility of the term, more cultivated than forests and generally under single ownership. Pietrowski relates Windsor park in The Merry Wives of Windsor to the forest in Midsummer — a place commonly known, remote yet accessible at the same time.

Pietrowski then moves to more obviously cultivated settings: orchards and gardens. The terms were occasionally used interchangeably, though orchards generally imply fruit-bearing trees, and gardens are often decorative. Pietrowski identifies differences in characters’ interactions with the environment between wild and cultivated settings. Pietrowski notes the use of gardens and orchards for eavesdropping scenes in both Twelfth Night and Much Ado about Nothing. Gardens have not only fences and boundaries, but often doors, as seen in Twelfth Night. The garden is still a semi-public space, as characters who are not part of Olivia’s household have visual access to it. The orchard and garden of Much Ado have arbors and bowers, but apparently no foliage sufficient to provide coverage for the hiding Benedick and Beatrice, as the other characters clearly demonstrate that they can see their targets. Pietrowski then brings up 2 Henry VI to demonstrate the invasion of a private garden by Jack Cade: Cade moves from the forest, where he has no food, to the brick-walled garden, but the gardener, protecting his cultivation, punishes Cade’s invasion with death.

Pietrowski concludes by previewing the rest of his thesis, which will compare the elements of safety and danger present in both wild and cultivated spaces.

Q&A: Paul Menzer notes that the idea of a “cultivation spectrum” challenges the idea that Shakespeare’s plays all take place either in the court or the country. Pietrowski answers that most of these spaces do still, broadly, belong either to the court or country binary, but that the idea of a “desert”, where there are no people, is impossible on stage (since, as Menzer notes, as soon as you bring a person on, it’s no longer a desert), eliminating part of the spectrum from production.
Q: Amy Grubbs asks how Pietrowski’s research may relate to performance. A: Pietrowski thinks it may help develop character traits with regard to feelings of safety or danger, especially on entrances to scenes. He also hopes to add context back to some of the words whose precise meaning has shifted over time.
Q: Kelly Elliott questions the idea of Caesar’s will leaving his “parks and orchards” to the people and how to instruct actors on what to do with that revelation. A: Pietrowski notes that this would shift a private space into a public space, as well as providing a place for sustenance in the orchard.
Q: Marshall Garrett asks where battlefields fit in to the research. A: Pietrowski fits them in with the heath in Macbeth.

Ashley Pierce: “Two Genders, Both Alike in Dignity: The Re-Gendering of Three of Shakespeare’s Villains”:
Actors: Josh Brown, Danielle Guy, Jamie Jager, Meredith Johnson, David Loehr, Tiffany Waters, Andrew White
Pierce’s presentation opens with two competing casts, one male and one female, both attempting to take the stage to present the thesis. Pierce notes that Shakespeare’s plays contain 840 male roles to 148 female roles, a convention which makes sense in the context of early modern drama, when female roles were played by prepubescent “Bieber wannabes”, but which is not entirely compatible with modern practice. Jamie Jager and Tiffany Waters present part of an Orsino-Viola scene from Twelfth Night, which Pierce notes that, in early modern context, this allowed the boy actor to actually portray his own gender on-stage. Jager and Waters then present a scene from Macbeth, with Jager as Macbeth and Waters as a cross-cast Banquo. Pierce notes that this cross-gender casting is what has become the norm in modern theatre, asking the audience to ignore Waters’s true gender, supplanting it with the character’s gender. Pierce then posits that re-gendering, actually changing the gender of the character, is another possibility, and she cites several recent examples, including the re-gendering of Prospero as Prospera in The Tempest and the Rogues’ re-gendering of Faustus. She then asks why there is so much resistance to the idea.

Pierce points out that while both leading and secondary roles have seen prominent re-gendering, few villains have seen re-gendering. Her question aims to find out why these roles “seem impervious” to re-gendering. Josh Brown and Danielle Guy then present competing Iagos; then David Loehr and Meredith Johnson present competing Shylocks. Pierce discusses some of the varying physical and vocal choices that the actors discovered while rehearsing these scenes. Pierce also notes the difficulties in changing a female body and voice to imitate a male body and voice, and that re-gendering lifts this burden from an actor.

Pierce then addresses the potential accusation that this trade is unfair, asking men to “give up” the villain roles. She clarifies that she doesn’t intend that “men give up the villain roles forever”, but rather that she hopes productions will keep a more open eye with regard to casting. Her two casts “negotiate” a trading of roles, a male Paulina for a female Antigonus. Pierce expresses her hopes that this might — “and get a few more female actors jobs in the process”.

Q&A: Ralph Cohen asks Pierce to explicate some of the practical research she did through scenework. Pierce notes that in re-gendering Tybalt, a lot came down to the embodiment of violence and fight scenes, and that re-gendering Iago created a lesbian relationship in Othello.
Q: Rebecca Hodder asks if the difference in the fight had as much to do with gender as with body type. A: Pierce notes that, yes, the male and female actors had different body types to begin with, but indicates that the relationship between Tybalt and Capulet still seemed to alter based on gender, not physical body type. She acknowledges a need to find ways to control for those differences.
Q: Patrick Harris questions her nod towards female-to-male regendering and how it might affect other forms of non-traditional casting. A: Pierce acknowledges that it opens up a lot of other issues as well, and speaks to the need to make sure that female-to-male role re-gendering not become comedic.

David Loehr: “Shakespeare’s Theatrical References”
Actors: Marshall Garrett, Celi Oliveto, Aubrey Whitlock
Loehr’s presentation opens with the famous the “Seven Ages of Man” speech from As You Like It, then addresses the various ways in which Shakespeare refers to theatrical practices within his plays. Loehr dismisses the use of the term “metatheatricality”, in keeping with dominant views within the SAP program. He posits that Shakespeare “used theatrical references in reaction to the world around him”, not simply poetically or because he lived and worked within a theatrical setting. Loehr notes that Shakespeare’s view of theatre actually contains some similarities to the anti-theatrical polemics popular in the early modern era, but that while he acknowledged its complexities, he did not see it as an evil to be eliminated, but a necessary “reflection on humanity”. Loehr’s cast then move through several quotes throughout history regarding opinions on theatre as detrimental, unproductive, or even satanic. These address not only the vice and sloth which theatre supposedly encouraged, but also the “gender anxiety” attendant upon it. Loehr identifies “a great deal of mistrust” about theatre in Shakespeare’s time.

Loehr moves on to examination of Hamlet’s “rogue and peasant slave” speech, positing that Shakespeare presents Hamlet as simultaneously condescending towards and jealous of the actor’s position. He notes that Hamlet’s mockery of actors is, in fact, being spoken by an actor, perhaps causing the audience to question the Hamlet-actor’s investment in his role as much as Hamlet questions the actors within the world of the play. It also comments on the ability of theatre to “transcend social boundaries”, as the actor, though occupying a common, even despised role in society, can emulate all layers of society. Loehr then discusses the “Seven Ages” speech, characterizing it as less “a picture of beautiful life” than popular thought often believes it, a cynical depiction of life as mere entrances and exits, lacking individuality in their proscribed roles. He relates this speech to the theatrical reference in Macbeth’s “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech, where Macbeth “condemns life in theatrical language.” He presents this as a “nihilistic” view, noting that it reduces both life and theatre to empty noise.

Loehr suggests that Shakespeare seems to posit that theatre can comment on cause-and-effect in life. He uses the complex role of Rosalind in As You Like It as an example, with the multiple layers of acting and playing commenting on each other. Their supposed marriage in 4.1 further blurs the boundary between reality and pretend. Loehr then moves to discussing plays-within-plays, the most explicit method of theatrical reference within Shakespeare’s plays. His actors read from the rehearsal scenes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both exhibiting theatrical practice, but also poking fun at some of the suppositions made by anti-theatrical polemics. Loehr concludes by placing Shakespeare’s views in opposition to the anti-theatrical polemics, viewing it as a necessary mirror to life, demonstrating life both at its best and its worst, and as such, “belongs as part of our lives”.

Q&A: Clare von Rueden asks if Loehr has noticed a changing attitude towards theatre across Shakespeare’s plays. A: No, he hasn’t noticed that.
Q: Scott Campbell questions the anti-theatrical tracts saying that theatre removed people from god, relating it to Stephanie Howieson’s presentation on supernaturality, and where the assumption of sinfulness in theatre came from. A: Loehr agrees that, yes, they seem to believe that the action is inherently sinful. Campbell clarifies, asking if the polemics state that theatre happened at the same time as theatre, literally taking one audience away to another activity. Loehr’s answer is: sometimes.
Q: Doreen Bechtol asks about the modern-day voices of anti-theatrical prejudice. A: Loehr says that he addresses this in the conclusion of his thesis, relating specifically to arts funding and to objections to plays based on content.

Sarah Martin: “Reconstructing the History Play”
Actors: Josh Brown, Megan Manos
Martin opens by noting how author Howard Brenton teases the audience with an awareness of historical reality in his 2010 play Anne Boleyn. Megan Manos presents the opening monologue, which Martin notes as establishing Anne’s relationship with an audience, and specifically a 21st-century audience. Martin addresses the idea that we are, currently, in the middle of a “Tudor renaissance” of our own, given both scholarly and popular focus on and fascination with the Tudor era. She chose to focus her interrogation on Anne Boleyn because it was a new play, focused on the past, performed in a re-construction of an early modern space.

Martin then moves through a brief history of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, particularly as “creating a space for theatre, not re-creating it”. She argues that the play Anne Boleyn is an equivalent of the architectural endeavor of the Globe, stemming from history, but also attached to modern sensibilities. Anne Boleyn, commissioned  specifically for the Globe, premiered in the same year as Hilary Mantel’s book Wolf Hall, the finale of Showtime’s The Tudors, and the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age, as well as acting as a sequel to Shakespeare and Fletcher’s Henry VIII. The difference is that the central character “is aware that she is dead, and wishes to tell her story” — thus aware of the audience and of the gap in time between them, though she does view them as “demons of the future”. Manos and Josh Brown then present a scene where Anne’s ghost and King James I have a conversation regarding James’s commissioning of the King James Bible. (Anne dismisses James, too, as a demon, with demon thoughts). Through it, Brenton has Anne “remind the audience of their role in the creation of performance”.

Martin posit’s that Anne Boleyn‘s performance forms “a near perfect parallel” between the construction of the building and the play, both products of the 21st-century, yet inspired by history: “Grounded with the present, with an eye on the past”. Martin notes ongoing interest in the Tudor era, with tv series Reign, another award-winning book by Mantel, and the adaptation of Mantel’s novels for the stage. She suggests that theatres like the Globe have an interest not only in resurrecting Shakespeare’s plays, but the Tudor-era world.

Q&A: Matt Davies begins by discussing the Anglo-American interest in Tudor history, noting that Hollywood has had that fascination at various periods. He understand why the Brits would “have this romantic, nostalgic vision” of the era, he asks what the American interest is? A: Martin admits there’s something strange, yet not, about that fascination. She notes that American culture also has a more recent fascination with the Edwardian era, and that perhaps it has to do a lot with periods that are easy to glamorize.
Q: Dane Leasure questions if Martin intends to look at the Blackfriars Playhouse as well as the Globe, particularly with regards to Menzer’s The Brats of Clarence. A: She has not yet, but plans to. (Menzer chimes in to note that “Anne Boleyn is a very, very good play.”)
Q: Charlene Smith asks what Martin makes of the Wanamaker theatre both moving towards and away from its historical origins, using candle-lighting, but naming itself after a 20th-century personage. A: Martin admits that that’s interesting. Menzer explicates the history of the name from Inigo Jones through to the donation that requested them to name it the Wanamaker. Cohen notes that their promotional materials continue to draw a connection to the Blackfriars.
Q: Sarah Enloe asks if she’s looked at the “non-authentic” reconstructed theatres or is sticking to “authentic” reconstructions. A: For now, for the purposes of the theatre, she is limiting herself to the “authentic” theatres.
Q: Clare Von Rueden asks about the conflict between production and marketing when it comes to originality vs reconstruction. A: Martin hasn’t thought about that yet, but might, and thanks Von Rueden for the suggestion.
Q: Melissa Huggins discusses the Rose excavation site and their exhibition space, which has hosted both early modern and newly written works and suggests it as an alternate avenue for exploration.

Language, Shakespeare, and the Gettysburg Address

Wordle of the text of the Gettysburg AddressToday marks the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, perhaps one of the most famous compositions in the English language. For decades, it was a staple of classroom memorization, and its opening line still permeates our cultural consciousness (with occasional help from parodies and cartoon shows). But what is it about that speech that has such a lasting effect? Some of the same elements that have allowed Shakespeare to endure. This article by Jeanne Fahnestock does a nice job of analyzing the linguistic components of the Gettysburg Address. Something that particularly struck me was the discussion of word origins.

It is therefore not unusual in synonym-rich English to have multiple ways of saying something, one living on from Anglo-Saxon or Norse, another a French-tinctured option, and still another incorporated directly from a classical language. Consider the alternatives last/endure/persist or full/complete/consummate. Of course no English speaker would see these alternatives as fungible since, through years of usage, each has acquired a special sense and preferred context. But an artist in the English language like Lincoln understands the consequences in precision and nuance of movement from layer to layer. He chose the French-sourced endure at one one point in his Remarks and the Old English full at another.

Part of the genius of the composition of famous speeches lies in choosing the right word for the moment. Shakespeare is a master at this. The vocabulary of Shakespeare’s plays totals over 31,000 different words, and more than half of those only see use once or twice. While he can use and invent Latinate or French-origin words like “arbitrate”, “dissembling”, “burgonet”, or even “honorificabilitudinitatibus”, he can also write sentences as simple as “He is a dreamer; let us leave him” or “I am slain”. When we ask students to do word-for-word paraphrasing, as our actors do at the start of the rehearsal process, they often find that Shakespeare has already chosen the simplest word. Trying to “simplify” by paraphrasing turns something as simple as Orlando’s statement “Nothing: I am not taught to make any thing” into something distinctly more complex, such as “Absence; I am not educated to create presence.”

Word choice matters to rhetoric as well. As Fahnestock’s article points out, much of the power of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address comes from Lincoln’s method of structuring his sentences to achieve a desired effect — one that is emotionally moving, one that trains the listener to expect certain forms, and one that is aurally graceful and satisfying. The devices he uses — antithesis, polyptoton, tricolon — are some of the same as Shakespeare’s most-frequently-used forms. Repetition snags the ear, and Shakespeare and Lincoln, both men with an acute awareness for how to hold an audience, knew how to turn it to their advantage.

Interestingly, Lincoln connects to Shakespeare in one more way: textual variants. No one actually knows what were the 270-odd words spoken that day, as there are at least five different copies of the speech in Lincoln’s handwriting, and it is unclear which he read from — or if he may have made further extemporaneous adjustments. Further complicating the matter, newspapers in the days following the speech printed yet different variations, leaving no single authoritative text. That confusion of textual veracity is one that Shakespeare scholars also face, since even our quartos and folios are still several degrees removed from Shakespeare’s hand. Though Lincoln and Shakespeare both wrote some of the most famous sentences in the English language, the strange reality of textual culture is that we can’t now know that those were even their original words.

The End of Shakespeare’s Verse? Part III

Three chairs are set up on stage for Giles Block, Patrick Spottiswoode, and Abigail Rokison.

Spottiswoode welcomes everyone back and alerts the audience that we are also honoring Anne Thompson whose work will be shown in a conference later in the year.

Rules for discussion, could you stand up and speak clearly and state your name and institution.

Emely Strong ASC intern: During this conference there seem to be two different standards of judging the accuracy of the text theory and practice.

Block:  I don’t see why there needs to be a conflict between those two. Clearly, there is a conflict when one feels the necessity to cut and maims the text in some way, but we all need to cut. The public won’t notice if you leave half a line standing by itself, what they do notice is if you lose the rhythm of the language. This iambic rhythm is something that binds us together because it is beating as your heart and my heart.

Rokison: I’m arguing against rules because rules bind instead of free. I would like people writing books to do historical research first.

Karoline Szatek, Curry College outside of Boston, She liked that they gave the actors in the last session someone to work off, when the actors would talk to the graduate students in the upstairs would close in the space and open up his thoughts.

Block: When someone begins a speech they don’t know how they’re going to end it.

James Keegan University of Delaware and from the ASC: I enjoy your books because they have a profound humility. Rules about verse can do damage because they are used as a stick. We have to be conscious of the text and its origin. One of the trickiest things for me as an actor (in Marlow and early Shakespeare) is the regularity of the line, and having to fight the regularity of the line.  I think Shakespeare wants us to pay attention to the line. I think in Shakespeare’s career we move from a declaratory style to more intimate style.

Jim Casey High Point University: I noticed that when the actors started talking to (the not there in reality) Lady Macbeth their stresses changed.

Block: I certainly feel that it is not all iambic but there are a lot of trochaic beats. I go trochee hunting. There are a lot of lines where you can make a choice. Which is more easy?

Casey: I thought the reading was better when they changed the stress and made it less like something that could become monotonous.

Block: One thing I feel is that in those fifty line speeches you want to be dividing them in to different thought units, each though unit has its different color. Finding how one though morphs into or prompts another.

Keegan: In Shakespeare’s Metrical Art he does that. You build, and then you come down again, it is an interesting coming together of the formalist and method versions

Block: When Tamburlaine first played I imagine that people were amazed at how he just kept building.

Rokison: I try to get students to try and scan the passages. and I don’t tell them which words are trochees and iambic because they have to find it for themselves. Don’t imagine that every metrical irregularity is doing something because that’s another rule.  William Proctor Williams was saying that he was editing Haywood’s plays at the moment. At the begining of his career he didn’t use any shared lines and then as his career when on he used more and more.

Lawyer in the audience says only bad thing is that Shakespeare’s plays don’t leave much for copywrite litigation.  A professor he knew got very excited about Rokison’s book and her ideas on rules and line endings.

Rokison: I think some of those line endings might be rather useful, but I have never played Macbeth so I don’t know, but I think pausing after a line ending can be useful, but it is about exploration. Whatever happens with these line endings if you do take a suspension at the end of the line it does throw emphases to the front of the line.

Don Wiest, Utah University: Thank you for your healthy skepticism of rules. I noted your preference to begin with folio punctuation.

Block: I go to it because it is lighter than most modern punctuation and it encourages flow. I think it might because to the way Shakespeare writes. If Hand D was Shakespeare and in the midst of un-punctuated flow there are two commas and then in another speech there are many commas as if to indicate someone who is really distraught.

Michael Henry a classicist from Staunton: With Euripides you can date the plays without the external dates because of the way the meter works. Can you do that here, is it linear?

Rokison: With Haywood there was an increase in the use of shared lines, but not in lines that were just sort.  I’d love to do more looking at Shakes contemporaries.

Peter Holland: When I was relineating Coriolanus there were many places where someone relineated the lines because compositor could not stand to have “And” at the end of a line, but that is part of what makes Shakespeare great. This morning with the actors I kept hearing different internal rhythms in their speeches.  I think these rhythms matter.  Shakespeare wants us to notice.

Block: I agree with what you are saying. I love the stuff we can’t give voice to. There are lots of words that are repeated in those speeches.  It is all very subjective.

Holland: I think I want the actors to find more of the complexities rather than fewer.

Rokison: Perhaps we should go back to giving rhetoric classes.

Dr. Ralph Cohen of the ASC and Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare and Performance program: What we are more and more interested all the time here is studying prose, and remember that these people knew a hundred to a hundred and twenty figures of speech.  It offers the actor a way to hear what Peter is hearing. It isn’t at odds with it.

Dr. Matthew Davies of Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare and Performance program: I would add the rhetoric of sound is very important, scan and don’t stop there, note the sounds, the repetitions.

Rokison: I have my students take away the consonants and just use the vowels. I think the danger in this business is with inexperienced actors and you point out a figure of rhetoric and then that is all that gets stresses.

Virginia Vaughan, Clark University: I was interested in Block’s back-story about Lord and Lady Macbeth and I think it is interesting to find out the physiology behind the story.

Block: In Hamlet there is the back story of what went wrong with Old Hamlet and Gertrude, and in Lear, why does he love Cordelia best? I sometimes think Macbeth is like Hitchcock; just when you think everything is alright you hear an owl screech.

Stephanie Howieson, Rouge Shakespeare/Mary Baldwin MFA: Just because Lady Macbeth says he swore about something he could have said “no I didn’t,” so there may not be that story before the story.

Block: I think in a play that you have to take everything as literally as you can, Shakespeare takes us to extremes in small ways or in big ways, like how many times words like “all” or “never” appear as the first word in a line. There is no wastage in Macbeth. I think she says “you swore to me” and I think he knows he has.

Frances Cooper, independent scholar: What about long lines?

Rokison: A few. Sometimes they are what Peter Holland just said, it is hyper long because a compositor changed them, or pronunciation changed, or mistakes were made and a crossed out words got in, but there are some really long lines. Like in  Richard II you go from regular rhymed lines and then finished with a hyper … Bolingbrook cuts the whole thing off with a hyper metrical line.

Block: I think frequently longer lines happened in the latter plays. Just feel where the five stresses are even in long lines, in the actual speaking of it the extras don’t count.

Joe Stevenson: There are people out there who will almost refuse to speak the verse I feel that I have an answer to this. Macbeth: They have tied me to the stake I cannot fly.” Many people say “they have” but if you scan it should be “they’ve.”

Block: I think verse is speech, that’s all.

Stevenson: the “ion” ending, “They say the lark makes sweet div-is-ion,” do we add the extra syllable ?

Rokison I think an actor should hear it but not say it.

Iska Alter, independent scholar: You were talking to the actors about repetition of the “S” sound in listening to the speech there are different types of “S” sound. Is there a way to make a distinction? Because they register quite differently.

David Landon, Sewanee: The University of the South: I worked with Marion Richland, she always said the verse is like the trellis, and the speech is the vine going through the trellis, and every now and then there’s a flower.

Rokison I use a musical bars metaphor to explain that not every musical bar has quavers and crotches… do you call them that here? No?

Block: I think nine times out of ten people say the line and they get it right, and that’s because Shakespeare wrote it right.

Spottiswoode: Perhaps we should have a moment of silence for the people who brought verse to us.  Thank you for all of you for contributing and thanks to Giles and Abigail for helping us to look with our ears.

The End of Shakespeare’s Verse?: Blackfriars Playhouse, Sunday 10/27/2013 Blackfriars Conference

Good morning everyone –

This is Molly Zeigler, I’m live-blogging this morning the first hour of the final presentation of the 2013 Blackfriars Conference.

Today’s presentation is “The End of Shakespeare’s Verse” at the Blackfriars Playhouse on Sunday 10/27/2013.  The presentation is being introduced by Patrick Spottiswoode, Director of Education for Shakespeare’s Globe with presenters: Abigail Rokison and Giles Block.

Participating Actors: Ben Curns, Allison Glenzer, John Harrell, and Rene Thornton, Jr.

Patrick Spottiswoode took the stage to introduce the symposium and today’s presenters.  Today’s symposium is part 3 of 5 of the program “The End of Shakespeare’s Verse” being presented in cooperation by the American Shakespeare Center and Shakespeare’s Globe (and co-sponsored by the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon).

The idea of the presentation is to explore verse and its role in performance and Shakespearean studies.  This symposium is not intended to present a unified front, but rather it is intended to explore a variety of angles regarding this topic.

When, for two examples, script writer Julian Fellowes says he had to cut the verse in Romeo and Juliet to accommodate modern audiences and when major theatrical enterprises spend time organizing  prose editions of the plays – the role of verse needs to be addressed.

Abigail Rokison presented first.  She is exploring some contemporary and popular assertions regarding particular approaches to verse.  These attitudes, approaches, and assertions are expressed  in the  work of Cicely Berry, Patsy Rodenburg, Peter Hall, and John Barton (to name a few). Such assertions can be traced to the work of, among others, William Poel.  Poel’s attempts to incorporate Early Modern theatrical and textual elements into active artistic expression have influenced enterprises for decades.

Poel’s work has been taken and expanded upon by the contemporary scholars and practitioners mentioned.  However, it is not easy to draw direct correlations between Poel and modern efforts.

Shared lines, short lines, ambiguous presentation, and punctuation are of concern.  Furthermore, the canon can be divided in time periods which helps locate trends and issues.

 Shared lines are seen in three major configurations:

1) Linking short lines

2) Linking a shorter and longer line

3) Linking two longer lines

With shared lines we can see a variety of performative options.

In Macbeth there is a considerate number of shared lines.  It is with these shared lines that a sense of heightened emotions and shared intensity can be seen,

Short unconnected verse lines are prominent in the middle tragedies.

In the later (post 1600) works, the number of scenes ending in short lines increases.  To end a scene with a short verse line, rather than with a rhymed couplet, provides a sense of speed, urgency, and suddenness.  It is often seen that the final short line follows a  rhymed couplet, perhaps offering a demand to continue or move on after the satisfying couplet.

Shared lines: There is a marked increase in the number of shared lines in later plays such as The Winter’s Tale.

Of course, there are elements of subjectivity here, and considerations (regarding pauses and actions) depend on theatrical intent, purpose, and choices.  There is no hard and fast rule, but the breaks in lines and the use of shorter and shared lines is a physical fact within the text and should be given attention.  Pauses and breaks and the manipulation of lines are representative of rhetorical structures such as aposiopesis (Greek for’becoming silent’).  Aposiopesis is the deliberate breaking off of a sentence and leaving it unfinished.  The ending of the sentence, of the thought, is meant to be supplied by the imagination.  Aposiopesis can give an impression of unwillingness or of the inability of a character to continue.

Lineation & Punctuation:  There are a number of theories about the role of lineation and punctuation in the deliverance of verse lines.

Peter Hall (and others) insists that each distinct line of verse is a single entity and breath comes only at the end of the line.

In contrast, the likes of Berry, Rodenburg and Donnellan suggest that the meaning take precedence over the line structure and that an actor should follow punctuation in relation to breath (but, whose punctuation?).

Stops in punctuation traditionally include the comma, the colon, and the period with the related pause increasing with each stop.

To avoid ambiguity different delivery methods can be explored.

Rokison suggests that a strict adherence to any one method of delivery is reductive.

It is necessary to explore the role of verse in performance.  These works were constructed purposefully, after all.

Abigail Rokison and the actors presented moments from the canon, primarily from MacbethGlobe symposium – Macbeth – handout

The presentation today is set to continue with Giles Block.

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It has been my pleasure to blog portions of this wonderful conference,  I hope one and all have enjoyed these last few days as much as I have.  It has been a truly wonderful experience.

Wake-up Workshop: Sweet Smoke of Rhetoric

Good Morning, welcome to the 3rd Wake-up Workshop as part of the 2013 Blackfriars Conference. Run by ASC’s Academic Resources Manager Cass Morris on Friday October 25th from 8:00 to 8:45 AM. This mornings workshop was on the topic of, as you have guessed, Rhetoric.

Morris asked the the group the first question she always asks her students: “what do you think of when you hear the term rhetoric?” Some of the attendees answered with “hard, tedious, and boring”. Morris wants to shift that thinking into one of a tool people can use, not battle against. Rhetoric makes you a better reader, writer, and listener; making it an invaluable tool. Morris proceeded to hand out a paper to the group and asked them to each read one thing and pick out the rhetoric.

The first thing Morris asked is, “Why do we use repetition in life?” Some answers were, to emphasize something, make a point, to help stupid people. After having a attendee read a quote from Shakespeare. the group began to dissect the things they heard and what that could mean about the character. Morris talked about characters with many “b” sounds and “s” sounds in their speeches and how that audience could interpret things about that character. She then cited Duke Orsino from “Twelfth Night,” the many “o” sounds he uses and how it speaks to his character. Having another attendee read another quote, with repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of the sentence, this is known as anaphora.

Moving from repetition to omission, Morris began by handing out another quote “You this way, we that way.” Having two attendees then read a quote from “Othello” to show how two characters can omit together. One attendee then added that the character Iago was not only omitting but also repetition. Morris pointed out that Iago makes points in his speeches by seeming to pass of the point,known as paralepsis.

The next section Morris presented was addition; having a attendee read a bit from “Macbeth” regarding Duncan’s horses. This quote ultimately is saying the horses ran away, they were beautiful, best of the horses in Scotland, and belonged to Duncan. (In a very long way.)  The quote to follow was from Bottom talking about how they would handle the ladies of the court during their performance, as he corrects himself by addition, known as epanorthosis.

Direction is the rhetorical area to follow, having an attendee read a quote that had words in reverse order. The very next quote, “O for a muse of fire…” that shows a reverse build. To make the last thought the biggest thought, though Morris asked what happens when you reverse the reverse, starting big a descending as you proceed. Antithesis is shown in the next quote from the Witches in “Macbeth.”

Morris, for time sake, moved to Substitution; having the quote by Charles to Joan read by an attendee. Personification substitution from a quote by Juliet shows how she is imaginative (as noted by an attendee). “Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.” showing the pun to be a form of substitution.  Showing then how substituting verbs can show high class or intelligence when used correctly or low class when used incorrectly, Cleopatra vs Dogberry.

Leaving the group with some recommended texts, Putnam, Scott Kaiser, Richard Lanham, and silva rhetorica, Morris ended the 3rd Wake-up Workshop.