Much Ado about MUCH ADO

 

The 2017 Summer/Fall Season at the Blackfriars Playhouse kicks off this weekend with performances of Peter and the Starcatcher and Much Ado about Nothing.  Today, we’re catching up with Much Ado‘s director, Jenny Bennett, to get some thoughts on the show’s opening.

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Left: Allison Glenzer and David Anthony Lewis in Much Ado about Nothing.  Photo by Michael Bailey.  Right:  Jenny Bennett.  Photo by Lindsey Walters.

This is your third time directing at the Blackfriars Playhouse.  What do you most look forward to about directing here that is different from other venues?  What is similar? 

I love getting to play in Shakespeare’s staging conditions, especially the #SharedLight.  (Wait- is that a real hashtag?  If not, it should be: #SharedLight #ftw.)  There’s no distance between the actors and the audience here: they see us, we see them, we see each other seeing them and each other.  In the shared candlelight of the Blackfriars, we are all right here, right now, making this story together on the great words of these great plays.  It’s some ultimate theatremaking, in my opinion.

I’m a big fan of making theatre that makes the most of the medium, that uses artistic elements that can only happen/that happen best on a stage full of powerful actors inventing a story with the audience right exactly now.  As an audience member, I love it when a production trusts me to imagine along with it—“Oh – that actor I recognize who was just the delighted ingénue in the last scene now has on pants, stuffed her hair in a hat, and is a whole new person called Boy?  And I’m to believe that just because she and the other actors say so?  On the power of their word?  Yes, please.  Awesome!  We will imagine right into that, thanks; we will absolutely join in making this play.

We are so game out here in the audience – we’re hungry to participate in something big and smart and beautiful.  In this Playhouse, we get to unite for a few hours, bound together by a great play spoken by great actors who we imagine along with in #SharedLight (look, I did it again).  It doesn’t matter who we were when we walked into the Playhouse;  by the time we’ve walked out of it after the show, we’ve helped make a play out of nothing.  Well, nothing but words spoken and listened.  Shakespeare might relate ‘words’ to ‘wind’, though, and wind is air, and air is airy…nothing.  Far from diminishing the value of the word, what I take from him is that all human possibilities come from the word.  We exist in language, in a theater or not.  We exist, because we say so.

What about Much Ado about Nothing is different from the two other plays that you’ve directed here (The Winter’s Tale and King Lear)? What are you most looking forward to about this play?

You know, it’s interesting that all three of these plays I’ve gotten to direct here have featured moments of the idea of ‘nothing’ (just a few examples – Leontes’ big WT speech beginning 1.2.284 ‘Is whispering nothing?’; KL sequence beginning with Cordelia’s reply to her father’s request for public love 1.1.87 ‘Nothing.  Nothing?  Nothing, my Lord.  Nothing will come of nothing, speak again.”; Much Ado….about Nothing.)

‘Nothing’ is an idea Shakespeare was very interested in, if you measure interest by the frequency the word and its puns show up in the canon.  I could be projecting, for sure: I’m definitely interested in this idea.  No – thing.  Absence of something.  Infinity.  Possibility.  A moment of creation from which tales can be spun toward harmony or chaos, depending on the spinner (and the listener).

When you add in the accent of English spoken by Shakespeare’s actors at the time, of course, you get all these homophone puns on ‘noting’, too – what we ‘note’, what we pay attention to, or not.  It’s explicit in this play on multiple occasions – Balthasar’s song intro in 2.3, ‘noting’ the daughter of Leonato in 1.1, the Friar’s ‘noting of the lady’ in 4.1.

Much Ado about Noting.  Much Ado about Nothing.  Which is it, do you think?  I think it’s both.  How great is that?  Thanks, Will.

Directing in the Blackfriars is a collaborative process.  What is it like to work with actors who have been on our stage for so many years? 

I love these rockstar nerds.  (And I mean ‘rockstar’ both literally and figuratively: the ASC troupe of actors is my favorite band.  ‘Nerds’ I mean literally, my highest praise.)  Acting in these staging conditions attracts the brave.  It fosters that courage to be present and spontaneous over a five-month run with a few hundred people looking you right in the eye.  The confidence in being, the trust in an audience that comes from long experience on this stage is a precious gift.  The staging conditions are very much about the actor and the text – just the way I like it!

Directing is always a collaborative process wherever it happens — the Theatre itself is a collaborative medium full of actors, designers, directors, stage managers, producers, and a variety of staff, and a play doesn’t happen without all of these contributions.  The whole ASC team and the artistic community they make together is a delight to get to be a part of as a guest.  I’m so excited to see the ASC bringing playwrights into the mix with the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries project, too!  They’re gonna have a blast, writing for the possibilities of this troupe, where the words have power and the actors are game.

Do you have a favorite scene or line from this play?  Have any become your favorite through the directing process? 

My favorite line and scene is all of them.  That’s what usually happens to me through the directing process, alas!  But here’s a list of dozen delights that leapt to mind at your question.  I’ll let readers listen for who says them in the show, or let readers guess the speaker, if they’re a lovely supernerd who likes a Shakespeare line quiz:

“Adam’s sons are my brethren, and truly, I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.”

“One doth not know how much an ill word may empoison liking.”

“Happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending.”

“Let me be that I am, and seek not to alter me.”

“For it so falls out / That what we have we prize not to the worth / Whiles we enjoy it“

“Silence is the perfectest herald of joy; I were but little happy if I could say how much.”

“If her breath were as terrible as her terminations there were no living near her: she would infect to the North Star.”

“He is now as valiant as Hercules that only tells a lie and swears it.”

“Out on thee, seeming! I will write against it.”

“O villain! Thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this.”

“I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?”

What scene or characters should audiences specifically look for? 

Audiences want to look out for the wittiest couple that ever sparred in Benedick and Beatrice.  Throughout the whole play, in fact, every character has some kind of Euphuistic wordplay.  The topic setup, volley, volley, volley, SPIKE of puns, twists, and other feats of wit in this play have tickled audiences into high hilarity for four centuries!

Another thing that I love about this play is the notion that since we’re all invented out of nothing, we can reinvent ourselves out of nothing, too.  Several people in this play are confronted with a rebuke of who they are, or how they’ve been behaving – they overhear people talking about them or are directly told they’ve made a terrible error.  The real mettle of a person is revealed by what they choose to do with that information.  Grace is available to those who take action to repair what’s broken, to be available to Love, to be ‘good men, and true.’  Along these lines, I’m quite fond of our 5.3 Tomb scene.  Chris Johnston, Music Director, wrote the most beautiful song.  I won’t spoil it here, but I hope you love it as much as I do.

You’re ending this play with a big song and dance number.  What inspired that choice? 

Benedick did.  He says ‘Play music!’ and so I said, okay.  We’re fair giddy at that point (that’s his conclusion, anyway), so we went ahead and danced, then, too.  It’s a couple of lines earlier than the Folio’s [Dance] instruction, but we start dancing again there, as well.  Though for the other two songs in the play we chose to keep the text and write the tunes (Tim Sailer composed the delightful ‘Sigh no more, ladies’ that he sings as Balthasar;  Chris Johnston composed the gorgeous Tomb Song), the ASC often takes on musical moments in the plays as they would have been taken on in Shakespeare’s original staging –contemporary, known to the audience—something I’ve always loved as an audience member here.  That guide felt like what was wanted in this exuberant moment, so I looked for a contemporary song.  The one we picked I came upon while on the treadmill (which I stumbled off of, happily thinking this might be it).  I wrote Chris Johnston and said ‘this?’ and he said ‘YES, PLEASE!’  Gotta come to the show to see what it is, though.

Anything else our audiences should know? 

“We are the only love gods.”

“And if a merry meeting may be wished, God prohibit it!”

Much Ado about Nothing is on stage at the Blackfriars Playhouse through November.  More at –> amshakes.center/MuchAdo

2017 MLitt Thesis Festival Session 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clare Boyd – None But Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 MLitt Thesis Festival – Session 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katherine Little – The French Shades of Shakespeare’s Henriad

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

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

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

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

Nick Ciavarra – That Is the Question

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Areopagita Bernardo – When Cultures Collide: Shakespearean Remediations Today

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

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

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

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

2017 MLitt Thesis Festival Session 1

Welcome to the live-blog for the first session of the MLitt thesis festival, brought to you by Cass Morris, ASC Academic Resources Manager. This session will run from 9am to 12:30pm.

Tyler Bruce Dale – Cat on a Wooden Roof: Staging Modern Theatre in the Early Modern Style

Dale begins by asking for volunteers to fill the gallant stools on-stage. His thesis examines the development of reviving early modern practices and suggests pushing the exploration further by applying those practices to plays not written for an early modern space. He has focused on three characteristics common to the early modern and postmodern theatre: site specificity, minimalism, and the revelation of artifice.

On site specificity: Dale traces the history of the term and notes its power in dissolving the hierarchy between performers and audience, gives the audience agency rather than leaving them as passive viewer. This focuses on how architecture affects performance. Minimalism fulfills a similar set of purposes: spectators become creators, “creating content in their minds” to fill out the scene before them. Dale cites the Chorus of Henry V asking the audience to “peace out our imperfections with your thoughts”. Dale focuses on the positive experience of the audience being asked to use their imaginations, resulting in “deep investment” in the storytelling. Dale identifies the revelation of artifice as the most important of these three characteristics, with particular focus on the practice of direct audience contact. This contact invites the audience to join in and collaborate in creating the performance.

Dale goes on to discuss how television became, in the 20th century, the dominant form of media in American society, thus affecting all other forms of media, including live theatre. He then challenges this thought, noting that in the past twenty years social media has overtaken television as the dominant form of media. This marks a transition from the economy of reproductive media to one of participation. Dale notes that the early modern style, as exemplified by Shakespeare’s Globe and the Blackfriars Playhouse, now exist at a crux. He asserts that the success of these theatres and others like them will depend upon their commitment to continual experimentation, including the adaptation of 20th and 21st century plays to a 16th century space. He cites the ASC’s 2016 Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, then moves into a discussion of his work on a scene from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He notes the difficulty in applying audience contact purposefully in such a situation. He contrasts the difference in naturalistic theatre, where the characters have no conception of a world outside the fiction, with early modern works which depend upon that awareness of the external audience.

Molly Seremet and Shane Sczepankowski then present a scene from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by Dale for the Blackfriars Playhouse. Afterwards, Dale expresses his hope that we have seen the potential flexibility of modern plays for production in the early modern space.

William Leavy – Kill the Prisoners

Leavy begins by stating that he sought to demonstrate that Shakespeare articulated the national character of England through the actions of his characters, and he chose to focus on Henry V for its historical precedence. He focuses in on the troubling incident when Henry determines to execute his disarmed French prisoners, and he asks how an audience is meant to reconcile that action with the portrait of Henry V as a national hero.

Leavy then leaps to another topic, begging the audience’s pardon for doing so: his travels in Europe. He was recently in Ghent, noted for a 12th-century castle museum which features an exhibit on torture. Currently, the exhibit has a component focusing on waterboarding. Leavy connects our current controversy over the practice to the cultural view of killing prisoners during Shakespeare’s lifetime, as either a war crime or a justifiable action.

He then moves into a discussion of English legal tradition, beginning with the Magna Carta and the concept of rule of law over the prerogative of the monarch. He compares the mandates of the Magna Carta to continental practices at the time, then discusses the resurgence of torture and other extrajudicial practices in England during the Tudor and Stuart dynasties. Leavy then brings this concept back to the crucial moment in Henry V and its historical precedence, asserting that Henry V may have relied upon the notion of “extreme circumstances” as justification for his actions. He also connects the thought of torture to the concept of violence as entertainment, such as the bear-baitings that Shakespeare’s plays had to compete with for audience.

Leavy also discusses the intended torture and murder of Arthur in King John, the “orgy of depravity” in Titus Andronicus, acts of cruelty in The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure, beatings and other cruelties in The Taming of the Shrew, Benedick’s promise to “devise thee brave punisments” for Don John in Much Ado about Nothing, and the vicious prank played on Malvolio in Twelfth Night. He then hypothesizes a mental exercise imagining the writing of Twelfth Night in the age of the Geneva Convention, which creates in Feste a clown who commits war crimes. Returning to Henry V, Leavy notes that Shakespeare has Gower and Fluellen justify the execution of the prisoners by relating the story of the French soldiers killing the “boys and luggage” — but then undercuts the effect by having Fluellen move to a comparison of Henry’s treatment of Falstaff and Alexander’s accidental murdering of his friend.

Sophia Beratta – Coin Flippery: The Study of Dramatic Determinative Variables in Shakespeare’s Canon

Beratta opens with a revisiting of prior years’ jokes regarding her physical similarity to Catie Osborn who, after a coin flip, takes over reading the thesis presentation. Beratta/Osborn notes the ubiquity of coin flips in modern society, including the NFL use of a coin flip to determine the start of games and the theatrical presentation of coin flips in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Beratta/Osborn introduces DDV: dramatic determinative variable – an element of chance to change something in the course of a production as a whole. Beratta/Osborn argues that introducing an element of chance creates excitement for audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with the plays. She cites recent examples where use of a DDV determined something about the production, such as which actors would play which parts or whether a production of Hamlet would use the quarto or folio sequence of scenes. Hamlet is a frequent subject of DDVs, perhaps because its overall story is so well known. Beratta/Osborn relates a story where bored high school students were “transported” when a DDV led to the impromptu casting of a middle aged black woman as Hamlet. The goal of the production was “to find the Hamlet in everyone”, using a diverse cast to reach the concept that Hamlet could be anyone. Beratta/Osborn also notes the use of celebrity casting to inspire this excitement in audiences.

Beratta/Osborn moves on to discussing the 2016 RSC Doctor Faustus where the lighting and extinguishing of matches determined who would play Faustus and who would play Mephistopheles. Beratta/Osborn suggests that this DDV theatricality not only heightened excitement, but also set the mood for the production that the audience was about to see. Beratta/Osborn then presents two different versions of the famous Kate/Petruchio spat in 2.1 of The Taming of the Shrew, demonstrating that DDV can necessitate alternate versions of blocking the same scene to allow for the differences in actor strength and size.

Beratta/Osborn notes the potential of DDV practices to keep return audiences interested, since they may experience a different play if they return to see the production more than once. She then presents the Hal/Hotspur fight from 1 Henry IV dependent upon a DDV that could change the ending of the play – determining whether it is Hotspur or Hal that dies. The same lines, reassigned between the two characters, can thus create an entirely different scene. Hotspur regrets Hal’s death, but finishes off Falstaff with violent rancor. The original audience, Beratta/Osborn notes, reacted with laughter — but she asserts that it came at least partly from surprise and shock. She argues that DDV can reinvigorate centuries-old plays by playing against audience expectations and reviving a sense of discovery in them.

Chad Marriott – Everyman and the Audience: An Exploration of Staging Conditions

Marriott begins, after a digression on the nature of shortening a 50 page thesis for a 25 minute presentation, with a short explication of the action of Everyman. He discusses the difference in effect upon the audience created by early modern staging conditions and 19th/20th century proscenium conditions. The audience’s reciprocal reaction is crucial to the creation of a play, and Marriott explores how the physical playing space can shape that reaction.

Marriott cautions against conflating “staging conditions” with “staging conventions”. He then discusses the notion of “sacred spaces” in theatre and suggests that early modern conventions, in eliminating the barrier between actor an audience, extends the sacred space for the actors, though not for the audience. A darkened auditorium “fixes” the sacred space within particular boundaries. Marriott then has actors present a scene from Everyman as though in a theatre with those boundaries, refraining from engaging the audience. The scene seems, even on a first watching, to have many opportunities for audience address, but the actors turn outward typically only when addressing “God” by way of the rose window at the back of the house.

Marriott discusses how an exit through the audience can make the audience feel “left behind” in the same manner as a character remaining on stage. Shared lighting creates a “varying sacred space”, and Marriott has his actors present the scene a second time, in this iteration moving through and frequently engaging the audience.

Marriott ends by advocating for the consideration of role of both actor and audience in shaping a production. Taking the audience into account when preparing a production will “increase specificity and improve the experience of the audience.”

Garrett Schwalbach – Need Advice on Starting a Theatre Company? Early Moderns Would Like to Share…

Schwalbach introduces his thesis examining the creation of a theatre company in the current economic climate. He suggests that future entrepreneurs may benefit by discarding many current common practices and instead taking inspiration from the financial underpinnings of early modern theatrical business. The dominant business model today is the not-for-profit model: a theatre company can file as a NFP by fulfilling certain requirements There are currently 1750 NFP companies. Benefits include access to grants and the tax-deductible nature of donation to these companies. Schwalbach shares graphs of income (in earnings and contributions) for NFPs for the past ten years. Expenses for these companies follow a similar rate of increase as the income. Schwalbach then relates these graph to “the profit margin” – changes of unrestricted net assets and explains the practice of endowments and the difference between restricted, temporarily restricted, and unrestricted assets.

Schwalbach moves to considering the audience: as audiences have stagnated or slightly decreased in the past ten years, NFPs have also decreased. Paid personnel at NFPs, however, have increased. He states that this is because “a non-profit has to grow”, because all money taken in must be fed back into the programming, which necessitates the presence of more administrators.

Schwalbach then shifts to examining the business practices of early modern companies such as The King’s Men. He compares their success to that of their competition. Schwalbach takes the time to explain how patronage, assets, and capital worked for these early modern companies and how the process of shareholding affected the flow of money into and out of the theatre. Shareholding had no guarantee of profit, thus investing the shareholders in the success of the company — as a result, the shareholders were often directly involved in the theatrical process. As an example, Schwalbach discusses Shakespeare’s role as a businessman, shareholding in the King’s Men to make his fortune.

Schwalbach proposes that future companies look at the idea of individual investment. He relates the early modern theatrical model to that of modern bands, whom he believes are applying this system successfully. He suggests that theatres might benefit from changing to this business model rather than continually fighting the restrictions and other challenges of NFP status. The need to meet these challenges results in higher ticket prices, which then stagnates audience growth and reduces the accessibility of theatre to marginalized groups. “When you’re doing a not-for-profit, a lot of things are out of your hands.” But, Schwalbach argues, investing in yourself gives you more control and a greater ability to produce art.

Jessi Scott – Lost in Translation: The Treatment and Disappearance of Macbeth’s Porter and Othello’s Clown from Stage to Screen

Scott opens with a knock-knock joke, a tribute to Macbeth‘s Porter: “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Othello’s clown.” “Othello’s clown who?” “Exactly.” She moves to discussing the weight assigned to tragedies versus the supposed lightness and inconsequentiality of comedies. She notes that the roles of clowns in tragedies often end up cut from performance, particularly when the play is translated from stage to film.

In examining 14 Macbeth films, Scott found that the Porter appears in nine of them, but several cut the role down to only the equivocation or only the dirty jokes portion of the scene. Othello‘s clown, however, appears far less frequently. Only Trevor Nunn’s filmed production retain the Clown’s lines. While there is humorous material, “the jokes from the script aren’t included.”

Scott notes that, two weeks ago, her thesis took a turn as she learned more about the process of film-making and how that process might relate to the decision to cut or keep the tragic clowns. She discusses the use of forced perspective in film, which can shape the story and the emotional weight of certain objects, moments, or characters. She suggests that, as the clown is often a conduit for the audience, the absent audience in film undercuts the need for and power of that character model. Scott posits this as a key challenge of film directors: “How does one engage with an audience that isn’t there?”

Scott posits that the time of cast and crew, rather than the run time of a film, may determine the presence or absence of characters or scenes. She discusses her own process of wrangling with external factors during a film shoot as an example, then shares the resulting film with the audience. Scott ends by stating that, as we need to laugh in dark times, retaining the comedy inside of tragedies is an important choice.

Allison Jones – Shakespeare for the Early Elementary Classroom 

Jones begins by noting the increasing call for teachers to introduce Shakespeare to students at younger ages, but that few resources exist for that age group (particularly those with no or low reading skills). Many approaches rely heavily on theatre games, “more a generalized exploration of theatre with Shakespeare as a handy frame”. Jones is hoping to develop activities that will center Shakespeare’s language while still calling upon young students’ sense of play.

Jones discusses the goal of the RSC to introduce students ages 5-9 (early elementary) to Shakespeare, recommending that students be exposed to Shakespeare “no later than age 11”. Jones reached out to members of the Shakespeare Theatre Association, and while many agreed that children as young as preschool or kindergarten could enjoy Shakespeare, not all have programs designed for those students. Jones believes that a focus on play is a strong avenue to follow, as it taps into the natural inclinations of children towards imagination and experimentation. She explores an extended definition of “play” and relates how Shakespeare can meet the definition even for young children. Though adults may often “play” as well, she notes that children do not share the “dismissive attitude” that many adults have towards leisure activities.

Young children are also at an ideal age for exposure to the language of Shakespeare, as their language acquisition skills are “highest until the age of 6”. Introducing children to the vocabulary and grammar of Shakespeare’s plays assists in “transforming the archaic and obsolete to the familiar” — as such, students exposed to Shakespeare early will likely not find its language as difficult later on in life.

Jones discusses her experience in leading a workshop on iambic pentameter with a group of second and third grade students. Victoria Buck assists her by demonstrating components of the workshop. Jones discusses the relation of the rhythm of nursery rhymes and the importance of patterns in children’s play to teaching Shakespeare’s meter. The students explored vocal and physical ways of enacting the meter, and Jones compares this to the typical actions accompanying the rhyme “Ring around the Rosy”. She welcomes a group of three early education students to the stage to demonstrate. Dividing a speech between students, one line apiece, exposes the entire class to a larger section of text without placing too much burden on any one student. Jones then moves to demonstrating how she related music to those lines to augment the sense of movement and rhythm.

Back at 1:30pm for Session 2!

Solo Loqui

I feel it prudent to begin this post with: I am not a mathematician. I’m a writer. We try to keep me away from numbers. Almost everything I know about statistical analysis, I learned from Mythbusters. I am, quite explicitly, in charge of words for ASC Education.

But sometimes, what you need is data.

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No, not that Data.

I’ve been working on a Study Guide for the Henry VI plays, and when pulling text for an activity on audience contact, I noticed… there are almost no soliloquies in 1 Henry VI. Almost no moments where the actor is alone with the audience. Huh. So, I tweeted about it. Then ASC actor Tim Sailer let me know that, from what he’d seen of Coriolanus, there were almost none in there, either.

Weird. Two relatively little-performed, and dare I say? little-loved plays, both with such low quotient of soliloquies. This got me wondering: is there a pattern to that? Are plays with more soliloquies generally better-received? My instinct said yes — but my instincts have been wrong before. I needed data to find out for sure.

Methodology
Diving into this, I had to do two things: tally up the soliloquies per play and find out if my perception of the plays’ popularity was close to the mark.

For my purposes of counting up lines, I had to define precisely what I meant by “a soliloquy”, and what I arrived at was this: an actor alone with the audience, neither responding to nor being responded to by any other on-stage/in-scene character. So, if you’re on-stage with a corpse or a sleeping body, you can soliloquize — so long as you’re not addressing said corpse or sleeper. What I’m interested in is that dynamic between actor and audience, where only one performer is actively influencing the audience — so I place no litmus test of content upon it. I am as willing to take expository soliloquies as emotional ones, and indeed, they often overlap. I did make note of what kind of soliloquy each was (with full admission that this is a subjective judgment on my part): functional/expository, introspective/emotional, or comic/musical. This percentage of the whole, I refer to henceforth as the “soliloquotient”. (It’s also worth noting that I was going off of the Norton Shakespeare’s versions of the play, so that involves quarto/Folio conflation in some instances. I recognize that there might be valuable differences to discover there, but, alas, I could only devote but so much time to this particular bee in my bonnet.)

As for determining play popularity, 281 individuals were kind enough to answer a survey on the subject. Admittedly, this sample set is drawn from people within one to three degrees of separation from me and the ASC, so it’s naturally people more inclined to like Shakespeare than, perhaps, the general populace. But I was actually okay with that. Because I wanted to compare more popular to less popular plays, the opinions of people who had only seen, say, Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be less valuable to me.

So what did I find out?

Broadly? My assumption was totally wrong! The data utterly cut the knees out from my hypothesis, but that’s okay. I still learned a lot. As we so often tell students in our workshops, sometimes you have to be wrong in order to figure out something right — and this rabbit hole definitely lead me to some interesting observations.

The Soliloquotient
To start with, my perceptions of which plays were the most soliloquy-heavy were not spot-on. Richard III and Much Ado about Nothing were both lower than I expected; The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Timon of Athens were significantly higher. A few of the oddities are almost entirely due to Choruses; if I altered my definition of a soliloquy to remove those (thus basing soliloquies only on characters within the play), then Pericles drops from a chart-topping 13.71% to a mere 1.63%; even Henry V drops from 10.33% to 3.27%, leaving the Boy’s short soliloquy and Henry’s “ceremony” speech as almost the only character-driven soliloquies in the play. Romeo and Juliet, though, suffers a much smaller drop — from 7.69% down to 6.75%. But, for the sake of number-crunching, we’ll stick with my initial definition and keep in the Choruses.

The average soliloquotient is 4.82% per play — though the median is lower, 3.95%. A standard deviation of 2.87% indicates that the bulk of the plays fall between 1.08% and 6.82%. Only one play, Coriolanus, falls below that 1.08% mark, but 9 fall above 6.82%. Macbeth, Cymbeline, 3 Henry VI, Romeo and Juliet, and Timon of Athens are all between one and two standard deviations out (between 6.82% and 9.69%), while Henry V, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Pericles are all above two standard deviations out (greater than 9.69% soliloquies). Here’s a histogram to visualize the spread of soliloquotients across the plays:

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Looking just at that data, it would seem that a high proportion of soliloquies is at least as likely to make a play hated as loved. But let’s dig further:

Popularity
My instincts about the plays’ popularity were largely borne out. Twelfth Night, Much Ado about Nothing, Hamlet, and Macbeth top the charts whether I took the simple average of reported enjoyment (on a scale of 1-5, where 1 was “I loathe this play” and 5 was “I love this play”) or whether I looked at the percentage of respondents who rated the play “above the fold” — ie, a 4 or a 5. Charts of both are below, and while they’re not wildly different, to measure a play’s loveability, I prefer the “above the fold” version (and its partner, “below the fold”, those plays with a significant number of respondents rating a play “dislike” or “loathe”), both because it smooths out the variance in how many people have seen which plays and because it distinguishes between plays that are really liked or loathed versus those which people just feel neutral about.

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Fully 22 plays land with more than 60% of respondents “above the fold”. Most of those are fairly expected: Richard III, Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1 Henry IV, The Winter’s Tale, and Henry V round out our top ten, and of those, all but Winter and Henry V get more than 75% in the top two boxes. I’m not wholly surprised that Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar don’t get quite as much enthusiasm, considering those are often plays served as tonics to students (and plays that are, I believe, pretty easy to screw up), but they still come in at a respectable 70% and 67% above the fold.

The most-hated plays are pretty expected, too. Because this was a sample of Shakespeare enthusiasts, only a few plays had more than 15% of responses in the bottom two boxes: Merchant of Venice (17.24% dislike or loathe), The Two Gentlemen of Verona (18.86%), All’s Well That Ends Well (21.43%), The Taming of the Shrew (22.14%), Troilus and Cressida (22.3%), The Two Noble Kinsmen (22.86%), The Merry Wives of Windsor (27.91%), Timon of Athens (29.01%), and Henry VIII (30.58%). Some very early plays and some very late (and co-authored) ones, as well as a smattering of those with significant issues for modern feminists. Merry Wives is the only real surprise there, and I’d be curious to know what about that comedy falls so flat for many viewers.

A rating of 3 marked a play as “neutral or mixed feelings” — and King John, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Henry VIII top that list, all with over 45% in the middle box. I find it interesting that some of the most hated plays are also the ones with the most mixed feelings. The same is not true of the best-loved: the top six there are the lowest six in the neutral category.

Cheeringly, perhaps, there is no play that no one loved: two people marked even Henry VIII in the very top box. There’s also, however, no play that no one hated: 2 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI, 1 Henry IV, and Richard III all got precisely one “loathe” vote.

Revelations
But there are a few fun surprises. What’s Richard II doing in a relatively high position when I look at the “above the fold” data? That play isn’t what we’d call “popular” — it’s one of the least-frequently-seen in this survey. But people who do see it? Seem to love it. It comes in at a respectable 65.76% above the fold, and only 8.15% below.And that makes a kind of sense, particularly when you remember that Shakespeare wrote it the same year he wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. Something in the language seems to resonate with those who get exposed to it on stage.

Richard II is also fascinating for what its soliloquotient reveals about the play. It’s very, very light on soliloquies — until you hit Act 5 and Richard’s massive 77-line beast of a heart-to-heart with the audience. Looking at it as data, not just as scenes, helped me to realize that until that point, Richard is never alone. Literally never. He is a king who always has someone on hand. His entire life is a public performance — and then it’s all stripped away.

Once I noticed that trend, I started finding similar patterns in some other plays. Antony and Cleopatra are never alone together. Cleopatra is never alone at all. Timon starts out never alone, like Richard, but then spends a significantly larger portion of his play in isolation. Hal/Henry’s only soliloquies of any length are “I know you all” in 1 Henry IV and then “general ceremony” in Henry V; Falstaff gets the bulk of the audience’s time in the Henry IV plays. Hamlet starts off, as you would think, with a lot of time with the audience — but hands that privilege off to Claudius for most of acts three and four, and no one soliloquizes in act five. Twelfth Night, All’s Well That Ends Well, and The Two Noble Kinsmen are the only plays where the women soliloquize more than the men (though Helena and Hermia put in a good showing in Midsummer — Puck and Bottom just barely edge them out, and Juliet would win Romeo and Juliet if you take out the Choruses; she certainly has more time alone with the audience than Romeo does).

Conclusions
So, all in all, this data gave me a lot of fun information to turn over in my brain, and I expect I’ll return to some of it in future ponderings; but, it turns out, there is really no correlation between soliloquotient and a play’s likeability. Note the following charts:

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If anything, a higher soliloquotient — those over 2 standard deviations away from the norm — seems to hurt a play far more than help it. Even creating secondary versions without Choruses and other non-character commentaries didn’t change much — the line would tilt up a very little, but nothing significant.

There does seem to be something of a “sweet spot”, though, as you can see from the clustering: the most-loved plays all have a soliloquotient between 3.5% and 7%. Plays above or below that don’t make the mark — but that’s not really determinant evidence, since not all plays within that sweet spot do land in the top tier of popularity and love-ability.

If I were to continue this experiment, I’d try to focus it more narrowly — specifically, to find out if people are more favorably inclined towards shows they’ve seen in the Blackfriars Playhouse or another theatre with universal lighting and direct audience contact. Take Timon of Athens, for example: this is among the least-loved plays in the survey, but anecdotally, I know that people who saw it on our stage with Rene Thornton Jr. in the title role absolutely loved it. Can one strong performance change an audience member’s outlook on an entire play? Does the soliloquotient matter more in a theatre with universal lighting?

My instinct and hypothesis on both is yes — and perhaps someday I’ll have the data to back that up!

“I witness to the times that brought them in”: 2016 Year in Review

If the internet is any judge, a lot of people will be really glad to see 2016 out the door. Political turmoil and celebrity deaths have taken their toll, expressed in hashtag memes like #SayByeto2016inagif and #wtf2016. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been anything to celebrate, and in ASC Education, 2016 had quite a few high notes!

Most excitingly, we officially welcomed Lia Wallace and Adrienne Johnson to the Education team! Both are recent graduates of Mary Baldwin University’s Shakespeare and Performance MLitt/MFA program. Lia began work with us way back in 2012 as an intern, then became an Education Artist, and is now our College Prep Programs Manager, overseeing the ASC Theatre Camp. Adrienne has previously served time (like Director of Education Sarah Enloe also did, back in the day) as personal assistant to Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen, and she is now our Camp Life Coordinator as well as the ASC Company Manager, responsible for the upkeep of the Playhouse and other properties. You can read about their transitions into these positions here on the blog: Lia and Adrienne.

61Big events this year included the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp trip abroad: Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords. For ten days, Ralph, Sarah, MBC Professor Mary Hill Cole, and I shepherded a fantastic group of 22 Shakespeare enthusiasts around England and Wales. In the Cotswolds, the moors of York, and the fens of Cambridge, we wandered through history, discovering the world as it would have been familiar to Shakespeare and his audiences. To catch up on those adventures, check out the NKSC16 tag.

05fbdda7-86d4-48d4-9aab-11cac67d650b2016 also saw the publication of two all-new Study Guides, in addition to updates to several volumes. The Tempest and King Lear were on the Student Matinee line-up for the first time in my tenure, giving me the opportunity to dive into two of Shakespeare’s best-beloved works. We’re celebrating with a flash sale on those two guides, so nab yours before 5pm today to save 20% on these shiny new volumes!
Buy King Lear or The Tempest ASC Study Guide.

13087333_10104284381621743_4879776445061724543_nIn April, we commemorated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a block party that spanned downtown Staunton. Hundreds came to enjoy the food and wares offered by over two dozen merchants, and children of all ages got to experience mini-workshops and Shakespeare-themed craft activities, delivered right in front of the Blackfriars Playhouse. You can see pictures from that event here.

We also partnered with UVA’s Special Collections Library as it housed a traveling copy of the First Folio, offering workshops in Charlottesville in April, ahead of the Folio’s arrival, and in October, when the tome was on-site.

In December, we had a Staged Reading in a new format as a special event: rather than having one group perform a 90-minute show, four groups came from across the Shenandoah to put on four shorter shows, all demonstrating how English drama has marked the Christmas holiday throughout the centuries. With a mummery from Shenandoah Governor’s School, a mystery play from Shenandoah University, a vaudevillian masque from Spectacle and Mirth, and a Victorian-style pantomime from Stuart Hall, we filled the Playhouse with mirth and laughter for a festive night at the start of the holiday season.

And, as ever, we had a year’s worth of Student Matinees, Little Academes, and other workshops. In the 2015-2016 school year, we welcomed over 11,000 students from 284 schools, homeschool groups, and other organizations, and we have already had 142 groups join us so far in the 2016-2017 school year. We also welcomed International Paper back for their fifth Leadership Program, and we’re looking forward to seeing them again this spring.

So what’s forthcoming in 2017? More of everything: matinees of The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, and Much Ado about Nothing; all-new study guides on Love’s Labour’s Lost, the Henry VI plays, and Sense and Sensibility (that’s right! I’m taking on Austen for the adaptation that will be on the 2017-2018 tour); Leadership Programs on-site at the Playhouse and at the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville; visits from the Road Scholars; the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp back in Staunton to explore the theme of Shakespeare and art; ASC Theatre Camp 2017, featuring 1 Henry IV, Titus Andronicus, and The Sea Voyage in Session 1 (June 18-July 9) and King Lear, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and The Knight of the Burning Pestle in Session 2 (July 16-August 8); and, of course, since it’s an odd-numbered year, the Blackfriars Conference (Oct 24-29) will welcome hundreds of scholars and students to celebrate Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

Happy New Year from all of us at ASC Education! We hope to see you soon, whether at the Playhouse or out on the road.

Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

“And, be assured, you’ll find a difference…” (HV): ASC Education’s work with teachers

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Teachers working in groups at our Fall King Lear Seminar

Google “Shakespeare on your feet” and the first page of search results will reveal that entities from libraries like the Folger, media outlets like PBS, and theatres like the Actors Centre advocate teaching Shakespeare “through play” or “up on your feet” or “actively”. At the ASC, we certainly use that language as well, but the driving idea behind our approach is more about context than the work we see elsewhere.  Context is a term we take very seriously; it involves more than asking students to build models of the Globe or talking about Elizabeth’s life during the era. It really comes down to teaching our teachers and students to think like Shakespeare’s actors did when they approached the text.  Look around you and see the wooden platform, the audience in the light, the clues in the text (for those who don’t have a lot of time to rehearse), so that performance of the words is at the top of students’ minds.  

I know that “comparisons are odious” (Dogberry would probably have said “odorous”), but sometimes they are the “eftest” way to point out the essence of practice.  I have made a habit of attending my colleagues’ workshops whenever I can, of evaluating the materials they offer online and in print, and of thinking about the art of teaching.  What follows here is a basic statement of the ASC’s philosophy and how it differs from some work I have seen and studied elsewhere:  

Approach American Shakespeare Center The Other Guys
Setting The ASC acknowledges that most of the teachers we work with operate in English classrooms which feature desks, and that there is some difficulty in getting open spaces in many schools.  So our lessons work within those parameters. We believe that learning is individualized, so students can learn most deeply in situations which allow inquiry. We advocate for desks arranged around a playing space to invite the exploration of scene, arranged in thrust so that students are closer to Shakespeare’s theatre’s architecture.  We advocate for avatars and actors to demonstrate and help define the information but do not advocate that all students must be on their feet at the same time — something that is difficult to do in an English classroom and is not conducive to all students’ engaging with the text in context. Frequently, our colleagues’ lessons require a wide open space so that all students can be up and active simultaneously.
Teaching assumptions The ASC realizes that the vast majority of teachers working with students on Shakespeare’s plays have had few classes on the subject and are not versed in theatrical techniques (nor do many want to be; they teach English because it is their passion). We believe that teachers desire to deepen their own learning and knowledge in order to deepen their students’. We recognize that they have limited time in which to add to their knowledge, so we strive to make every minute that they spend in our professional development programs immediately applicable to classroom practice and to their own and their students’ enrichment.  We take the approach that if teachers know more about how these plays work and worked on the stage, they will have a richer understanding of why the plays are worth studying and be able to communicate to a diverse body of learners. Many professional development programs spend a lot of time teaching 21st-century theatre techniques; these do not give insights into the works Shakespeare wrote and are limited in scope — even within professional theatres.  The time spent on those could be used to connect Shakespeare to his theatrical practices so that we understand the ins and outs of what his actors saw on the page, rather than giving English teachers modern day theories of how to instruct their students in the fundamentals of acting.
Context We believe that context is everything. Context means we believe in treating the plays as plays, plays that were written for specific theatrical conditions that students benefit from knowing, and leaving the text in place in the lesson. This means that we do not employ “insult generators” or pull lines out of speeches to “throw them at each other”.  We do not advocate for separate lessons on Shakespeare’s biography, but fold the fact that he was a working actor into every exploration and note that his monarch and the political climate of early modern London may have had an impact on this character or that scene, as it arises. We consider the staging conditions he considered, as a means to get the students and teachers we work with closer to the performance Shakespeare imagined as he wrote the plays. Many in our cohorts take lines out of context to “show that Shakespeare isn’t hard”, in arenas like “Shakespearean insults” games or “text lay ups”. We believe that removing surrounding text achieves the opposite goal and says to students that “Shakespeare is too hard for you to understand unless I take it out of the play.” We think that students will enjoy the connections between Shakespeare’s plays and his biography if direct lines connect them.  We avoid assignments that advocate for set or light design for a play, since those projects fight the nature of the continuous action in early modern theatres.
Teaching teachers We believe that teachers’ time is precious and that they learn the most from fellow educators — educators who have the time to prepare detailed and specific lessons and handouts that they can immediately deploy in their classroom. We model those lessons so that teachers can see one approach and adapt each activity to their own style and purpose.  We arrange the lessons in an accessible way so that they can teach the unit in any order and blend the lessons together as they choose, but also provide a scaffolding section (The Basics) so that teachers have a baseline of knowledge from which to begin. We test the lessons and conduct focus groups, then we adjust them as needed, constantly improving the materials we provide and our approach to them. And, we enhance the lessons with feedback and input from our actors and the events that transpire in a rehearsal room, so that we are speaking truth and giving students and teachers the very important insights our actors share in classroom applicable ways. While many practitioners do provide outlines and handouts, the formatting and explanation is often insufficient for the busy teacher who is moving from teaching American Lit to Shakespeare or from one period to another.  Often, the handouts skip important steps, attempt to cover too much, or anticipate too much knowledge as a baseline.  Moreover, actor talkbacks and director discussions take a large percentage of the time in some seminars at other theatres, while these sessions can be fun, the bulk of the discussion does not translate to classroom practice or a better understanding of the plays.
Inquiry

(infinite variety)

We create a world of many, many right answers, and we suggest a method of inquiry-based learning — where each student’s answer may differ.  Shakespeare wrote incomplete works; he needed the actors he worked with and the audiences he played for to finish them.  Students are the actors and audience, and they can answer the questions that lead to the infinite variety of choices that continue to make his plays fascinating 400 years later. We encourage students to consider a number of choices — if video comes into our lesson, we use several clips from many different productions to emphasize how many choices are available. Stating that a scene is “about” something or that a character is “some characteristic” and asking students to inhabit that idea features in many programs’ methodology.  These opinions may be related to an instructors’ take or experience; however such approaches prohibit exploration. Using film in the classroom can be reductive, as it may limit the students’ idea of the play to one interpretation.
Materials We provide teachers with materials that are complete and formatted for ease of use in the typical English classroom (black and white, because most schools copiers are not color; few pages dense with information to save paper; and we are working to envision more in the digital classroom — white boards, etc) I have seen handouts totalling 25 pages, with color, or difficult to read facsimiles or, worse, fluff activities (word finds, crosswords, quizzes — time killers, not enrichment activities) that do not bring students any closer to understanding Shakespeare’s work, nor its relationship to his life and theirs.

In short, we aim to create an atmosphere of learning that makes gaining knowledge and engaging in exploration irresistible.  A space in which students dread the final bell because they will have to leave the topic, a room filled with voices and opportunities to state one’s thoughts — while realizing that difference of opinion is beautiful and can be shared respectfully.  A place where the learner can become the teacher and the teacher learns something every time the class convenes.  We believe the way to do that is by empowering teachers, giving students agency, and providing them with tools to examine words and meaning that stretch well beyond the classroom walls.  Even to a 400 year-old theatre, perhaps.

–Sarah Enloe
ASC Director of Education

Gender and Behavior in TWELFTH NIGHT

Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from the ASC Education Study Guide on Twelfth Night, available for purchase in our Gift Shop or through lulu.com as a PDF download or a print-on-demand hard copy. You’ve got til November 27th to see our current production of Twelfth Night and discover for yourself how ASC actors portray the confusions and complexities of gender and identity in the play.

Perspectives

Gender and Behavior

Twelfth Night is one of several of Shakespeare’s plays to feature a heroine who dresses as a man. At the beginning of his career, Shakespeare included a cross-dressing heroine in The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Julia dresses as a pageboy to follow her boyfriend to another city. She reveals herself at the end to stop him from marrying another woman. Julia’s disguise is a plot convenience, allowing her to travel and to observe Proteus without suspicion. Later plays push that plot device further, creating the cross-dressed woman as an object of desire. In As You Like It, written two or three years before Twelfth Night, Rosalind dresses as a boy named Ganymede to travel into the forest; when she runs into her crush, Orlando, she offers, as Ganymede, to pretend to be Rosalind so that Orlando can practice wooing. She also finds herself the object of desire of a shepherdess named Phebe. In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare presses the mismatched desire even further, having a primary character, Olivia, and making that desire a central point of conflict in the play, rather than a side joke. This creates a double-play of suggested homoeroticism; Olivia is in love with Cesario, who is actually another woman, while Orsino thinks he’s falling for a boy, who is actually a woman, who was originally played by a male actor.

Twelfth Night | American Shakespeare Center

Jessika Williams as Viola and John Harrell as Orsino in TWELFTH NIGHT. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Gender issues could prompt quite a bit of social anxiety in early modern England. Many of the anti-theatrical polemics leveled at the playing companies lamented the presentation of boys as women, particularly in romantic roles. Conversely, the idea of women usurping men’s roles suggested an upending of convention. Though a female monarch had ruled England for over forty years – and for all of Shakespeare’s lifetime – women were still considered subordinate to men, legally, socially, and religiously; even Queen Elizabeth spent much of her life pressured by her councilors to find a man to share her throne. Many pamphlets published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sought to instruct women on their “proper” place – suggesting that a great many of them had stepped outside the proscribed bounds and entered spheres typically dominated by males. Only two or three years before Twelfth Night, in As You Like It, Shakespeare has Rosalind reappear in women’s garb at the end of the play, which some scholars have suggested was a deliberate method of allaying social anxiety about her ability to resume her feminine role. Viola in Twelfth Night, like Julia in the earlier Two Gentlemen of Verona, never reappears in her “women’s weeds,” remaining in a state of gender ambiguity through the end of the play.

Twelfth Night | American Shakespeare Center

Allison Glenzer as Olivia and Jessika Williams as Viola in TWELFTH NIGHT. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Today, the definition of gender roles remains a hot-button issue. Political debates continue to challenge ideas about balance between the sexes, both socially and financially. In many ways, however, the conversation has changed from determining what one gender or the other can or can’t do to debating the very meaning of gender itself. As the 21st-century begins, advocates for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights continue to push at the boundaries of the binary gender system. In 2010, a British expatriate living in Australia became the world’s officially and legally neuter person, though some cultures of the Indian subcontinent and of Southeast Asia have long recognized the existence of a “third gender.” More recently, transgender advocates such as Laverne Cox, of Orange is the New Black fame, have raised the profile of the transgender population – which has, in turn, led to political debates over bathroom use and legally protected classes. The ongoing gender debate suggests the existence of gray areas between male and female and in the spectrum of sexual attraction – the very sort of grey area that Viola-as-Cesario inhabits.

Twelfth Night, along with the other gender-bending comedies featuring cross-dressing heroines, suggests that, in the view of society, at least, a person’s role in life is more defined by what they wear and how they behave than it is by anatomy. How does Viola challenge or affirm the idea of strictly defined roles for genders? How convincing is her disguise? Several characters tell her during the course of the play that she behaves in a way unbefitting a man, particularly when she does such stereotypically feminine things as fainting at the sight of blood. How does Viola give herself away? How much double-speak does she engage in, allowing the audience to appreciate her duality without explicitly telling other characters about it?

To explore these issues in your classroom, download these sample activities or purchase the ASC Study Guide for Twelfth Night today!

New Study Guide Released: KING LEAR

This fall sees the release of a brand-new ASC Study Guide: King Lear. With this addition, we now have guides for twenty-one of Shakespeare’s plays, including all the major tragedies. I enjoy this play a lot, but it hasn’t been performed at the ASC since I started working here back in 2010, so this was my first opportunity to dive into it for ASC Education — and, boy howdy, did I dive.file_001

Weighing in at 273 pages, this is the longest Study Guide I’ve yet written. Admittedly, some of that is because I’ve provided quite a bit of text for comparative study — quarto scenes versus Folio scenes, scenes in Lear compared to scenes in other plays — but a lot of it is because I keep expanding on what I want to include. Every Study Guide now includes a Textual Variants section, which they haven’t always. Every guide now has information on cue scripts. Every guide going forward will have special, play-specific sections on both metrics and rhetoric. Lear also has fascinating stagecraft and dramaturgical angles to explore, so putting all the pieces together gives us a Study Guide with quite a bit of heft.

As always, the Basics sections provide a toolkit for examining text, with an eye towards performance and the questions that actors ask when putting up a play, using the first 100 lines as an example. As I’ve discussed before, the first 100 lines always teach me something interesting: I love looking at what Shakespeare chooses to reveal or conceal right from the start. In Lear, although he begins with the subplot, introducing Gloucester and Edmund before Lear and his daughters, he still gets right to the action quite quickly: the story progresses all the way to Cordelia’s explanation of her failure to flatter her father. What really floored me, though, was the word cloud:

wordcloud100-2

I would never have guessed that “love” would be the most-frequently-used word in the first 100 lines of Lear, but there it is — and by quite a substantial margin.

The play-specific activities mine the breadth of the fascinating themes and the intriguing stagecraft of King Lear. We begin by looking at the quarto and folio variations, since Lear is a play with a tumultuous print history. Our Staging Challenges sections focus on some of the most exciting things that can happen on stage: storms and combat. The storm in Lear is particularly interesting to examine since it goes on for most of an entire act. Language work continues in the Metrical and Rhetoric sections, where we examine verse-prose shifts and the linguistic patterns of madness. In our Perspectives sections, we connect Shakespeare’s world, the world of the play, and your students’ modern world by looking at family dynamics and the role of the fool. Finally, our Dramaturg’s Corner explores Shakespeare’s sources for Lear and the adaptations of the play that have occurred since his lifetime.

Intrigued? Here’s a sample activity for your perusing pleasure: Metrical Exploration.

file_000-1But King Lear isn’t all that’s new in the world of ASC Study Guides. The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Romeo and Juliet have all received polishings this year. Of those, I’m most excited about the additions to the Romeo and Juliet Study Guide. A new Staging Challenges activity explores Juliet’s not-really-a-balcony, and a new Perspectives section applies Elizabethan and modern viewpoints on courtship, marriage, and familial interactions to Romeo, Juliet, and the Capulets. Romeo and Juliet has long been one of my favorite plays, and getting to return to it and develop a few new activities was such a delight.

If you want to dive deeper into the activities of King Lear, join us for the Teacher Seminar on October 7-8. Registration for the Winter Seminar on The Merchant of Venice and the Spring Seminar on Romeo and Juliet will be opening later this fall.

All ASC Study Guides are available as PDF downloads or print-on-demand hard copies from Lulu.com.

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