Was’t not at Hallowmas?

Though Halloween as we know it is largely one of merriment and good-spirited spookiness, it has somber origins in both the Roman Lemuralia and the Celtic Samhain. The three days of the Lemuralia were devoted to banishing malevolent ghosts and other negative spirits. Though the Lemuralia was originally held in May, once it merged with similar Christian observances, its associations got transferred to the autumn. It may also have connection with three autumn days when the Romans opened a gate, believed to lead to the underworld, in the Temple of Janus, and appeased the spirits there with offerings from the harvest. By contrast, the Celtic Samhain (pronounced SHAH-vahn in Irish Gaelic) was primarily a harvest festival, marking the end of seasons for herdsmen and traders alike, but was also traditionally the day when the veils between our world and the Otherworld were thinnest, allowing fairies and ghosts to slip across the threshold. Many Scottish and Irish legends feature abductions carried out on Samhain. Customary protections included wearing one’s clothing inside-out and carrying iron.

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Jonathan Holtzman, Gregory Jon Phelps, and Patrick Midgley as the Weïrd Sisters in MACBETH. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

By the 16th century in England, those pre-Christian traditions had blended with the Christian ideas of Allhallowtide — a three-day observance from October 31st to November 2nd, featuring, in succession, martyrs, saints, and all departed Christian souls. Commoners would go begging at the houses of the rich for soul cakes, in exchange for which they would promise to pray for the souls of the rich and their families, a practice Shakespeare refers to in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, when Speed says that a lover would “speak puling, like a beggar at Hallowmas.” Sometimes they would do this disguised or masked, perhaps as an outgrowth of the Samhain traditions, and in some areas, it was customary to dress up as the saint who was the patron or patroness of the local church. Considering the gory ends that many saints and martyrs came to, perhaps the later association of Halloween with the horror genre is a natural shift. Eventually that procession, well-known to Shakespeare, evolved into trick-or-treating.

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Josh Innerst as the Ghost of King Hamlet and Patrick Earl as Hamlet in HAMLET. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

The early modern fascination with the supernatural infuses many of Shakespeare’s plays. Vengeful ghosts show up in Macbeth, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet. King Hamlet even references the idea that spirits wandering the earth were souls in Purgatory:

I am thy father’s spirit,
Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away.

King Hamlet certainly doesn’t seem restricted to a single night, but maybe this is a hint that at least part of the play takes place on or near Halloween? Puck calls on the same idea of wandering spirits in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

My fairy lord, this must be done with haste,
For night’s swift dragons cut the clouds full fast,
And yonder shines Aurora’s harbinger;
At whose approach, ghosts, wandering here and there,
Troop home to churchyards:

Oberon is careful to remind him — and the audience — that the fairies are “spirits of another sort”, ethereal but not infernal.

That cultural delight in the paranormal isn’t so far removed from the modern day as our post-Enlightenment society might believe, either. Consider the enduring popularity of horror films, paranormal romances, and ghost-hunting TV shows, or the yearly pilgrimages many of us make to theme park haunted houses, paying for the privilege of being spooked. Here in Staunton, ghost tours of downtown have become so popular that they now start in June and keep running until winter chill sets in. Medieval and early modern superstitions have hung on as well: if you’ve ever knocked on wood, crossed your fingers for luck, or even said “Bless you” when someone sneezes, you’re continuing centuries-old traditions meant to maintain a barrier between the spirit world and our physical realm.

The Intrepid Traveller: Born Skeptic turns Softie

When it comes to travel, I am a born skeptic.

Everything that can go wrong probably will.  The places we visit won’t be that great. The tour guides won’t tell me anything I couldn’t have learned from reading. The people on the trip may not be a good mix of personalities — or worse, they may all be annoying. The food will likely disappoint.  The days will be too long. Or, too short. The shows can’t be as good as the ones we have in Staunton.  What is the point, really?

I know this cynical view doesn’t sound like a good starting point for the person organizing a trip for 22 participants. To England. For 10 days.

But, I think that, instead of proving the wrong attitude, my take may have made the trip even more enjoyable than it would have been if I had started in a more “Pollyanna-ish” state. Maybe it has to do with my personal adage: If you expect to be disappointed, you may end up being pleasantly surprised — only, in the case of the 2016 ASC Land of Lords trip, “pleasant” would be a huge understatement. I was joyfully, tremendously, thoroughly, and completely delighted by virtually every moment, certainly every person,  and absolutely the experience of the trip as a whole.  

Myth #1: Everything that can go wrong probably will.

Director of Mission and ASC co-founder Ralph Cohen, Academic Resources Manager Cass Morris (or, as we call her, the person in charge of words for Education), and I worked for over a year to put together this adventure we called Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords.  The fact that our fearless (Shakes-Fear-less, to be precise) leader was working on his book, giving a couple of talks a month in various locations across the US, and travelling to Italy for about four weeks immediately before our trip began might have spelled doom for many.

Added to Ralph’s lack of available time in which to provide guidance, Cass and I, of course, hosted our biennial conference for 300 in October 2015, as well as adding a few other conferences and events to our schedule for the Legacy year (400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s death). Because that wasn’t quite enough, we also kept ourselves downright busy with other things like hiring new college prep staff and preparing to move our offices while we were in the UK. All of which should have added up to a trip that didn’t make — or at least, a trip that didn’t make with sufficient numbers for all of our team to attend, but instead, we found just the right number (and right mix) of intrepid souls to join us.

Moreover, excellent communication from Cass leading up to the trip (see her blogs here) built enthusiasm and provided essential facts to help us prepare for the group’s time together in England. With a couple of focused days (pinning down dates and addresses for our coach driver, calling and emailing all of the locations we would visit) and some true turns of luck — Why did flights suddenly drop 5 weeks out from departure? Anyone hear of Brexit (an unexpected boon to our budget)? — and the kindness of the group sales folks in the UK, we nailed every venue and tour guide down, we figured out every visit to the minute, and we began to look forward to a trip that would fill the non-skeptic with delight.

1It’s true, when travelling, the airport is the most likely place something can go wrong, so it proved to be no surprise when, yes, some flights were delayed. By some turn of fate, we still landed 19 of our 22 travelers with little to no delay (though stellar camper Rick M. unexpectedly added an extra leg to his journey in order to make it on time — two legs, if you count the walk between Terminals three and two).  Everyone got through passport control, we made it to our coach (and the amazing driver, Mike, who would guide us down all of the tiny roads one could find in Shakespeare Country) in good time after a lovely catch up and meet and greet in Terminal 2’s Caffe Nero at Heathrow.  What about the other three, you might ask? As Fortune would have it, they were on the same flight and landed the very next day, whereat, we were able to arrange for a car to chauffeur them directly to our lovely lodging in Broadway.

Myth #2: The places won’t be that great.

I just finished the final touches on our expenses, and that meant recalling every place we visited though the receipts they generated.  In 10 days, we visited 15 houses or castles, 10 gorgeous churches, 5 exceptional gardens, took 5 fantastic walks, ate en masse at 5 terrific places, saw two shows at the Royal Shakespeare Company (with some of our campers adding to that number in Cambridge), and saw not only Shakespeare’s birthplace and school but also, we were among the first 300 people in the world ever to see Will’s will in person–that three page document so closely associated with our reason for being in the UK. And, in addition to our own two fantastic faculty members (who gave lectures on almost every place we visited), we heard from four amazing guides, I’m exhausted just thinking about it.  

202But more than sheer quantity, we saw quality places.    My eyes were opened to powerful art at Burghley House, while Hardwick Hall’s architecture blew me away (not to mention a lovely exhibit on Arbella, the Stuart who might have been Queen, had Elizabeth acknowledged her lineage above James’s). Chatsworth’s and Powis’s gardens stunned, and Alwnick connected Downton Abbey, Harry Potter, and Hotspur in ways I had not imagined (but very much enjoyed). The ruins of Ludlow, Kenilworth, and Dunstanburgh presented space for quiet contemplation and re-imagining scenes, while walks to Heddon-on-the wall and Broadway Tower allowed me to get to know our participants better. When one travels with a certain Director of Mission, one should expect to see some churches.  But, oh, the churches we saw.  From the tiny churches like those Heddon-on-the-Wall, and Stanton (pronounced Stanton, believe it or not!), which revealed their periods of growth in architectural details outside and in, to the fantastic cathedrals in York and Norwich, we saw an array of churches which represented the changing faith of Shakespeare’s home land from his earliest History plays through to the period of his last.

Our day in the near-“Disney” Stratford-Upon-Avon was made perfect by a wonderful connection at Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Cait Fannin-Peel. Cait took our program in hand, arranged for a fascinating talk to introduce the ongoing work of the Trust (and won a few donors to the New Place project), she got us into three open properties and gave us a sneak peek of New Place — a site that was two weeks from opening. She didn’t personally arrange for the National Archive to display Shakespeare’s will just on the day we were touring, but I think she could probably arrange — and would — something of that magnitude.  She walked us to Anne Hathaway’s cottage, took us to Hall’s Croft, shared her stories of Holy Trinity (and tried her best to get us into it when a wedding prevented it — then DID get us into it on Monday morning, first thing), made sure we saw the Guildhall and Shakespeare’s school, and basically gave us her Saturday.  We encountered so many people of like generosity, at Chatsworth, at Norwich Castle, and in our lovely hotels, it felt as though England had rolled out the red carpet for us.

Myth #3: The tour guides won’t tell me anything I couldn’t have learned from reading.  

First of all, I knew better than to think this about either of our faculty members. But having had them both in class, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be hearing anything — or not much — new. Boy, was I wrong. If you have the chance to take Mary Hill Cole or Ralph Cohen on a jaunt around England, let me just say, I recommend it.  Mary Hill contextualized every location and made the coach trip fly by as we travelled from place to place.  Ralph has a knack for pointing out the visual clues to history and makes the being there matter.  He also falls into lovely coincidences, like the statue of the Saints Crispin in a Shrewsbury garden that wasn’t even on our itinerary–our leadership seminar uses Henry V’s Agincourt speech in every session we host, so I’ve heard that speech a dozen times in the last year at least–making concrete the words with which I work, and who knew they were the saints of Shoemakers?!

255Then, there were the tour guides. We found four people who not only really knew their stuff, but also, passionately, wanted to share it, in dynamic and delightful ways. Alan, of White Rose Tours  in York (chosen purely because Cass and Lia Razak, our College Prep Programs Manager, are such Yorkists) [Editor’s Note: #whiteroserightrose], led us on a humorous 90-minute excursion with perfectly timed stopping points and, yes, jokes. As it turned out, he is a stand-up comedian, so we were laughing about Richard III and the York wall, while also learning fascinating things about their history. Our Cambridge guides, Chris and Tony of Cambridge Tour Guides, had a gift for engaging the group, and as Alan had in York, for connecting Shakespeare to the surroundings. In Cambridge, as it seemed every tourist in the UK decided to visit the day we did, they expertly shuttled us around rambunctious teens from at least a dozen different countries and advised us on where to go and what to do post tour, too. They had a talent for getting us into sites just before a christening or between banquets so we felt like we had found guides with a magic touch — or superior timing, or both. Our staff guide at Alnwick seemed almost as delighted to talk about its use as a location in films from Harry Potter to Elizabeth and shows from Downton Abbey to The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses.  As with all of our exceptional guides, his enthusiasm carried us right past the time set, and we almost all got to stay in Alnwick for the night; the gate began closing around us as we dashed back to the coach and on towards Dunstanburgh.  

Myth #4: The people on the trip may not be a good mix of personalities–or worse, they may all be annoying.

61In addition to places and guides, experiences, like breakfast every morning with a different friend to communal meals and banquets and teas, and even a rained out picnic, offered us all the chance to meet new people and deeply engage with their history and relationship to Shakespeare. We mixed up our seating on the coach, took opportunities for extra excursions (there wasn’t quite enough on the schedule already!), and made special dates for dinner and lunch just to visit with new group members.  At one of our first stops, I picked up a card set for one of the people I’d heard talking about wanting to know the Kings and Queens better, and thus began a tradition carried out by Cass, Ralph, and me.  At each gift shop, we would find something for each of our group — special to them. So Sandy, who looked for Green Men in each church, received a book on them at our final banquet. The ever-patient and sweet Ruth, always waiting for her photog husband Warren, found a folding fan to help her wait out his documentary excursions. Notebooks and poetry collections for our writers and teachers, our gorgeous Gay found a blue glass just the hue of her favorite necklace in wait, our “student” Donna will make use of her new book as she finishes earning credit for the trip, and Ed and Lois each got items to further their enthusiasm for learning more about the UK’s royalty. This project was as rewarding for me as for the gift recipients, as I delighted in thinking about them — what made each so special, George’s enthusiasm and kindness, Jim’s quiet intellect, Betty’s “just do it” attitude — and why each was such a special and perfect addition to our group.  

Myth #5: The food will likely disappoint.

162Well, that was just wrong. From our first lunch at The Mermaid in the charming Burford, to our speciality cocktail “Much Ado About Nothing” at Lygon Arms, to the unbelievable seafood at Craster–with a view of the ocean that only made it more sweet, to the meals out with friends–Indian (with an amazing Family size Naan) with Philip, Rick, Betty and Cass, and Scottish with John–to our Traditional Tea at the Swan in Lavenham, and finally, our last evening at the beautiful Felix Hotel, we ate our way through England quite, quite well.

Myth #6: The days will be too long. Or, too short.

When traveling, one must ask oneself if one wants to sit in a room (which would have been a great option at any of our hotels!) or see the places they came to visit.  Our guests felt free to choose, with almost everyone skipping at least one excursion to do something on their own.  Even those who didn’t, I would warrant a guess, enjoyed the easy balance of one day at each hotel stop which kept us close and allowed for some breathing space. We had among us, even, some adventurous types who visited a dance club in York — they shall remain nameless; I was only there to make sure everyone was safe, I assure you.

Myth #7: The shows can’t be as good as the ones we have in Staunton.  

Well… Yes, this part was true. But, what a wonderful chance to see some shows and draw comparisons. The different spaces and the choices made by the productions we saw generated fascinating conversations, and we each benefited from seeing the work.

147Myth #8: What is the point, really?

The point is, when we leave our comfort zone, especially with others, we learn about life in new ways. History feeds the present, perhaps most in Shakespeare Studies, but in many other ways as well.  Perhaps more importantly, and my biggest takeaway on this trip, is that present feeds the present, too.  Present people, present places, present presents, expand minds, hearts, and give way to the sincere hope that we will see one another again. And soon.

The No Kidding Shakespeare Camp convenes annually in Staunton to provide enrichment to fans of Shakespeare and of life, especially those who seek a unique way to fill the hours of their summer.  We built 2016’s Land of Lords trip to celebrate Shakespeare’s legacy in the 400th year since his death. The 2017 topic for our return to Staunton will be Shakespeare and Art. We hope to see you there.

–Sarah Enloe, Director of Education

Book Review: How to Be a Tudor, by Ruth Goodman

HowtoBeaTudorWhat would Shakespeare have eaten, drunk, slept on, dressed in, and smelled like? When would he have broken his fast or eaten dinner? How was his life different in London than when he was living in Stratford-upon-Avon? How did morality, religion, sex, and money affect his interactions with other people? If you’ve ever wondered about the real daily life of the bulk of the population in the Tudor era, then How to Be a Tudor is the book for you.

The book is arranged to take you, more or less, through an average Tudor day, nearly hour-by-hour. Author Ruth Goodman makes sure that you get a good look at both the uppermost and lowest extremes of society, however, she focuses the bulk of her attention on what a day was like for a farmer or an artisan. There are differences between town and country, men and women, young and old, religious and secular — and Goodman touches on all of them, while still paying attention to the overall worldviews that shape them all.

While the format of the book is a generally sensible way to introduce the reader to different aspects of Tudor life, sometimes her information loops in upon itself. There are some redundancies that probably could have been cleaned up, and a few points where a single topic gets disjointed over multiple chapters (particularly the matter of clothing). These are places where it feels like the book’s structure is working against rather than with the writer — but it’s a small detraction, overall.

The great advantage that Goodman has is that her knowledge is not only scholastic, but practical. To the textual authorities of extant written sources, such as household accounts, ecclesiastical records, and early modern household-advice writers such as the prolific Gervase Markham, Goodman adds not only material culture but her own lived experience. As a re-enactor, a museum consultant, and someone involved with numerous documentaries on the Tudor era, Goodman seriously knows whereof she writes: she has lived the Tudor lifestyle as closely as it is possible to do in the modern age.

One of my favorite tidbits involved early modern cleansing practices. We often hear that Tudor folk must have stank to high heaven because they rarely bathed. What Goodman elucidates is that, much like the ancient Romans with their oil-scraping practices, the Tudors simply had their own way of keeping clean and BO-free. It all has to do with linen. Rubbing the body down with a clean sheet of linen every day, plus wearing fresh linen garments, seems to have adequately combated dirt and odor alike. Goodman has tried this herself and states that there was no appreciable scent difference from our modern method of near-daily showers.

This is just one of the fascinating insights that the book offers. You can also learn how bedding changed from the early to the late part of the period, how to dress yourself in Tudor fashion, how to brew your own ale, how to conduct yourself at an alehouse, and even how to plough a field.

What does this book offer for theatre practitioners? As Goodman herself points out, an understanding of early modern life can help you understand early modern jokes:

As people who have spent many years deep in experiments recreating Tudor life, who cook the food, make the clothes, and drink the beer, my friends, family, and I have, without any conscious effort or thought, acquired a fairly Tudor vocabulary. I am regularly surprised when people treat words that I consider perfectly normal as arcane and mysterious. … When my friends and I go to the Globe to see a performance, it is very obvious that we are laughing at least twice as often as the rest of the audience, and not just at the slapstick elements. Shakespeare really is very funny.

An understanding of the reality behind the jokes can help actors help the audience members who haven’t spent their lives studying these things. It can help costume designers translate the clothing-related humor (of which there is quite a bit). It can help directors shape and hone the presentation. And all of that gets you a more satisfying performance.

Overall, this book is quite readable and includes some surprises even for readers who already know the era fairly well. It’s solid social history with enough interesting details to supply a well-painted picture, but for the reader who wants to know more, Goodman also supplies an extensive bibliography of both primary and secondary sources. I can cheerfully recommend this to Shakespeare enthusiasts and armchair historians alike.

St. David’s Day and Welshness in Shakespeare

Did you know that March 1st is a holiday? Well, actually, according to Wikipedia, it’s several, including Independence Day for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Roman Matronalia, and Beer Day, celebrating the end of prohibition in Iceland. But for those of an early modern bent, it’s most important as St. David’s Day, honoring the patron saint of Wales.

Though little is actually know about the saint’s life, he is supposed to have died on March 1st in 569 CE. St. David’s Day has been celebrated by the Welsh since the Middle Ages, and seems to have come to prominence as a day of national pride during Welsh resistance to the Norman Conquest. Both St. David and his day remained important to the Welsh throughout their struggles with the English in the subsequent centuries. Observance, in the modern day as in the medieval, involves parades, wearing the national costume, recitation of Welsh literature, and turning daffodils or leeks into accessories — a practice Shakespeare refers to in Henry V:

Welsh Guards affixing the leek to their caps, 1921

Welsh Guards affixing the leek to their caps, 1921

FLUELLEN
Your grandfather of famous memory, an’t please your
majesty, and your great-uncle Edward the Plack
Prince of Wales, as I have read in the chronicles,
fought a most prave pattle here in France.
KING HENRY V
They did, Fluellen.
FLUELLEN
Your majesty says very true: if your majesties is
remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a
garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their
Monmouth caps; which, your majesty know, to this
hour is an honourable badge of the service; and I do
believe your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek
upon Saint Tavy’s day.
KING HENRY V
I wear it for a memorable honour;
For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.
FLUELLEN
All the water in Wye cannot wash your majesty’s
Welsh plood out of your pody, I can tell you that:
God pless it and preserve it, as long as it pleases
his grace, and his majesty too!
KING HENRY V
Thanks, good my countryman.

In a subsequent scene, Fluellen comes into conflict with the boastful swaggerer Pistol, who mocks the Welsh Captain and his nationality. Fluellen cudgels Pistol, quite possibly with the very leek he then makes Pistol eat, stating, “If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek.”

Wales occupied a somewhat strange place in the worldview of early modern London. The Welsh were still seen in many respects as foreigners. They were, since the Act 1536 Act of Union, subject to English law, but not fully English themselves. Many at this time did not even speak English, and common observance noted strong accents in those who did (the sort of accent Shakespeare writes into Fluellen’s dialogue, above, with consonant shifts confusing Ps and Bs, as well as Ts and Ds). On the other hand, the Tudor dynasty was part-Welsh itself, and earlier centuries’ conflicts between the English and the Welsh had died down. Wales had helped Henry VII win his crown, and the country was now the jumping-off point for wars with Ireland. Shakespeare’s plays illustrate England’s mixed acceptance and ostracization of their near neighbors.

Though it will be somewhat after St. David’s Day, audiences at the Blackfriars Playhouse will be able to see a lot of Welsh-ness on stage this spring when 1 Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor return home from tour. In these two plays, Shakespeare presents two very different views on the Welsh. In 1 Henry IV, the English speak of Glendower as a near-mythological terror, and Glendower himself readily builds on this larger-than-life legend (however little Hotspur thinks of his prophetic birth and self-proclaimed magical powers). The stories the English characters tell about their Welsh opponents are terrifying — they consort with devils, they mercilessly slaughter defeated foes, and their women perform unspeakable transgressions upon corpses. Both Glendower and his daughter, Lady Mortimer, give the lie to rumor a bit. Though Glendower embraces and encourages his supernatural legend, he shows himself educated and cultured. He speaks in perfect, unaccented iambic pentameter, just like the English nobles, and seems far less inclined towards random violence than report would have it. Lady Mortimer speaks no English, but through her song and as an object of desire for both Mortimer and Hotspur, she represents an English exoticization of another culture. However much a threat the Welsh might be, there is something attractive about them, too.

p039-z4By contrast, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare writes a Welsh buffoon in the character of Hugh Evans. Evans displays no element of threat whatsoever. Instead, Shakespeare calls on other, more humorous stereotypes about the Welsh, including a pronounced accent and an utter lack of pith. Evans displays a tendency towards circular speaking and repetition that reflects English prejudice of the Welsh as an overly garrulous people. There are also a great many jokes about cheese (an early modern equivalent of our current cultural conceptions about Wisconsin). Despite these slights on his nationality, however, Evans appears to be an integrated and valued member of the Windsor community — if no less ridiculous than many of his neighbors, certainly not a wide margin moreso, either.

Shakespeare also shows a different angle on the idea of Welsh magic. Whereas Glendower claims mystical power and summons music-playing spirits from the air, Hugh Evans is as solidly Christian as they come — an actual parson without the hint of devilry about him. Until, that is, he takes on the personage of a demonic fairy in order as part of the trick against Falstaff. Shakespeare turns the idea of Welshness that he presented in 1 Henry IV on its head, and continues to develop it in Henry V with the character of Fluellen (he who righteously defends the honor of the leek). Fluellen is somewhere between the two extremes: prone to loquaciousness and to fits of temper, but a capable military commander, full of heart and utterly loyal to King Henry.

For more on Shakespeare’s treatment of the Welsh, see the upcoming ASC Study Guide Henry, Hal, and Falstaff, on sale at Lulu and in the Box Office during the Spring Season.

MLitt Thesis Festival 2014: Session 2

Rebecca Wright: “Infants as Characters: An Investigation of Babies Onstage”
Actors: Josh Brown,Ian Charles, Kelly Elliott, Amy Grubbs, Patrick Harris
Wright begins by interrogating the audience’s perceptions of props as tied to certain plays. To a list including rings, letters, beds, trunks, and rapiers, she adds “babies”. Wright wishes to interrogate the position of an infant on-stage as a character, rather than as an inanimate prop. She notes that most productions do not use live babies on-stage, though it has been done. Despite this, however, she finds few references to babies as properties. Wright notes the difficulty in presenting an inanimate prop as a live baby, generally unconvincing yet just as generally accepted by audiences.

The actors deliver a list of shows which call for the use of an infant onstage, from the early modern period up to modern musical theatre. Wright moves on to discussing the pageant of Princess Elizabeth’s christening in Henry VIII. She interrogates the interaction between Henry and Elizabeth in this scene, wondering if it is significant that Henry kisses but does not hold the infant. Conversely, in Titus Andronicus, off-stage trumpets herald the arrival of a prince — Tamora’s illegitimate child by Aaron the Moor. In this scene, a nurse enters with the child swaddled, sufficiently to disguise its skin tone, which she later reveals. Aaron takes possession of the child, asks who else has seen it, and murders the nurse to keep his secret, serving as the child’s protector both verbally and physically. In Pericles, the nurse hands the infant Marina to her father; Pericles chooses to lay the child with her supposedly-dead mother. Wright argues that, when an infant is set down on stage, the lack of actor interaction removes some context from the infant-as-prop. The actors then present a scene from The Winter’s Tale where Paulina lays the infant Perdita at Leontes’s feet; he refuses to take it up. The protecting male figure who does eventually pick up the child is, instead, Antigonus.

Wright argues that actors provide manipulation and significance to the prop infant. This is particularly important in instances where the infant, over the course of the show, grows to an adult character. She argues that infants “needs stronger character consideration on stage.” Wright then brings a live infant, her ten-week-old nephew William, onto the stage. She asks if having a real infant on stage seems “too real” compared to the fake babies, especially in context of the infant characters who have violence threatened against them. Still holding William, she asks her actors what challenges they felt interacting with her prop infant. Amy Grubbs identifies a challenge in expressing the nurse’s revulsion for the baby, competing with her experience handling infants. Ian Charles admits that he felt as though he had to be “acting for two”, which is a challenge, but also allows him to endow the baby with reactions through the eyes of his character. Josh Brown expresses difficulty thanks to his own inexperience with children, identifying his interaction with the baby as “glass-like”. Kelly Elliott saw it as “relief” to be able to transfer the baby off to Pericles and to gain the father’s acceptance. Finally, Patrick Harris discusses the challenge of fighting while holding a baby, trying to be threatening while not endangering the baby. “It was easy to forget that what I was holding was supposed to be alive”. Wright concludes that, whether a real baby or a property doll, the actors involved with an infant character need to work to endow the infant with character.

Q&A: Ralph Cohen begins by snapping a picture of “the youngest performer on our stage”.
Q: Matt Davies asks about how to invest the baby with its own movement, suggesting that it is dependent upon the actor holding it to be in constant motion. He suggests another play for Wright to look at, wherein a baby is stoned to death in its pram.
Q: Celi Oliveto wonders how much it has to do with the focus of the audience, suggesting that a live baby draws focus. A: Wright acknowledges the possibility, noting that, yes, it is more difficult to work with something alive than something inanimate. She would like to continue looking at how this idea influences other creatures onstage, such as the dog in Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Q: Scott Campbell notes the similarity between a real baby and real stage violence as possibly being detrimental to an audience’s experience. A: Wright is still dealing with the discussion of what is “too real”.

Arlynda Boyer: “Plague, Playing, and Publication: A New Narrative”
Boyer seeks to re-examine Shakespeare’s publication history, particularly the gaps which occur when “he ought to have been at the height of his popularity”. She notices a correlation between these gaps and years of plague, particularly with regard to the tendency of title pages to publicize “diverse and sundry performances”. She suggests that “plague interrupts playing interrupts publication”.

Boyer traces the relationship of the plague to the theatre, noting that anti-theatrical polemics tended to see them as God’s judgment upon the theatres. The conditions to close the playhouses changed over time, from total mortality rising above 50 per week, to plague-specific deaths rising above 30; for the playhouses to re-open, mortality had to drop below 30 for three weeks. She notes the difficulties in assessing closure dates from mortality records, since the strictures were not always exact. She points to the 1603 major outbreak of plague, which did not ebb and flow as expected, but persisted in London for eight years. Shakespeare’s plays written in this period had to wait to see audiences until there was a break in the plague. Boyer cites Roz Knutson’s theories on quartos serving as part of the marketing strategy for a play, as much to sell books as to remind potential audiences that a play was ongoing. Plague disruptions affected this interaction. “If a play never had its full first run, what reason would a company have for allowing it to reach a stationer?”

Boyer refers to a handout, which demonstrates that plays supposed to be written in plague years were more likely to be first published in the Folio rather than in quarto. She notes that Julius Caesar and As You Like It, likely written in 1599, were also not printed until the Folio. Though there was no plague that year, there was a strange closure in the summer of that year. These closures may have had more to do with financial difficulties, renovations of the Rose, or staggered re-openings. Boyer also notes the possibility that plague may have been used as an excuse to close theatres, when the real reasons were more political. 1599 saw rumors of a second Spanish Armada and threats of revolt, and these may have contributed to authorities’ decisions to close the theatres. Boyer then examines the complicated textual history of King Lear and Pericles. Boyer concludes by reiterating her hypothesis that publication depended on performance, and that plague disrupted both.

Q&A: Paul Menzer confirms Boyer’s acknowledgement that this is a London-centric narrative, since plague closures in London did not necessarily mean no plays happened, since companies were likely to tour during plague closures. A: Boyer is still working on incorporating that element into her thesis, but states that since print industry was centered in London, the correlation remains strong.
Q: Matt Davies questions the printers’ advertisements and their role in the thesis. A: Boyer notes alternate title pages which either swore that a play was or wasn’t performed.
Q: Dane Leasure asks if Boyer had considered using the 2nd edition of the Oxford’s chronology of the plays. A: Boyer has not, but will.
Q: Menzer asks how the Stationer’s Record weaves into the conversation. A: Boyer notes that the information on Shakespeare’s plays is scant in the Stationer’s Record. Boyer notes that, of other plays published in plague years, their title pages almost never mention performance. She acknowledges the difficulties in determining chronology to begin with, pointing to the recently changed supposed performance date of Twelfth NIght from 1599 to 1601i

Clare von Rueden: “The Moral of the Story: Medieval Morality Plays and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale”
Actors: Monica Cross, Amy Grubbs, Megan Manos
Von Rueden begins with a story about Disney, regarding the influence that Lady and the Tramp II may have had on her youngest sister’s attitude towards their parents. She notes that stories have an ability to impact not only children, but also adults, in terms of behavior and identity. “Stories shape who we are”. Morality plays, she argues, recognize this ability “and exploit it.” She specifies that she will be discussing pre-1500, pre-Protestant Revolution plays. Through “a rhetoric of ethics”, morality plays seek to persuade audience members towards certain behaviors. Shakespeare, Von Rueden notes, was aware that theatre “plays a part in our ethical lives”.

Von Rueden examines the use of audience contact in morality plays, suggesting that morality plays developed this relationship in order to enhance the play’s ability to affect its audience. Amy Grubbs presents a selection of Lucifer soliciting the audience for sympathy, which Von Rueden notes as typical to, not extraordinary for, morality plays. She relates this to the fact that every named murderer or commander of murders in Shakespeare gets a monologue with the audience in which to explain himself and try to earn sympathy. This extends even to intended or attempted murderers, as Monica Cross demonstrates with a monologue of Leontes. Von Rueden notes that the more vice characters, in Shakespeare or in morality plays, solicit the audience, the more likely they are to lose sympathy, especially when they start to sermon against themselves. Von Rueden also discusses the interactions of virtue characters with the audience.

These sympathies often relate to ideas of grief and repentance, as Von Rueden and her actors demonstrate in two reconciliation scenes: one from a morality play, and one from The Winter’s Tale. The latter, she notes, is not presented, but recounted by witnesses. Von Rueden posits this as an example of Shakespeare’s awareness that everyone who sees a play will respond to it emotionally, though perhaps in different ways, and that plays “exert an ethical influence on our lives”. She concludes by suggesting that productions need to be responsibly aware of this connection as well.

Q&A: Kelly Elliott asks for clarification if Von Rueden was intentionally connecting Leontes to the vice characters. A: Not intentionally; more of a vice “state”, since he’s attempting to justify murder.
Q: Charlene Smith asks if Von Rueden had read Shaw’s writings on Shakespeare, since Shaw complains about Shakespeare’s lack of moral instruction. A: No, but Von Rueden did read something which stated “Shakespeare is not a moralist, but presents morals”, actually allowing a stronger emotional response from the audience, since they have to work through it themselves. Ralph Cohen suggests that she also look at Tolstoy’s comments on the topic.
Q: Celi Oliveto asks if Von Rueden can identify places where Shakespeare may be consciously drawing on the morality play tradition and either subverting or mocking it, or using it to do something else. A: Von Rueden has not looked specifically at that, though he does refer to the vice characters.
Q: Scott Campbell questions her final thought about production responsibility, if Von Rueden is looking specifically at this moment in time, as 21st century theatre needing this responsibility, or more generally. A: Both. “We need to be aware that we are encountering their ethical being.”

Nora Manca: “Shakespeare Walks into a Bar”
Actors: Ian Charles, Kendra Emmett, Jess Hamlet, Meredith Johnson, Aubrey Whitlock
Manca’s presentation opens with an imagined conversation of several of Shakespeare’s early contemporaries, including the famous invectives of Robert Greene, together with commentary by Nashe, Lodge, Peele, and Marlowe. The scene explicates the marks against Shakespeare according to the established poets and playwrights of the age: too common, too contradictory, too prolific, too imitative, too uneducated, too avaricious, a moneylender. It falls to the imagined Marlowe to defend Shakespeare on these counts, but a malfunctioning time machine prevents Will from appearing himself.

Manca explicates that she hopes to take the facts known of Shakespeare’s life together with his own writings to explore the idea that Shakespeare’s portrayal of “Others” in his plays stems from his identity as an “Other” himself. Manca discusses the sociological tendency of all groups to set themselves up as the “One” in opposition to the “Other”. She notes the contempt of the University Wits for Shakespeare, as seen in Greene’s “Groatsworth of Wit”. Manca then looks at Shakespeare’s family history, particularly John Shakespeare’s social climbing, and how it positioned William Shakespeare in society. She moves on to the theory that Shakespeare’s family may have been Catholic recusants, then to the circumstances surrounding Shakespeare’s marriage. She then attempts to fill out some of the missing years in Shakespeare’s history with supplements from events that occurred in his home county of Warwickshire. Manca then draws a correlation between Shakespeare’s experience as an “Other” and the character of Shylock, whom she posits would be more Othered than any other character if dropped into Shakespeare’s England. Her full thesis will involve a closer reading of the character of Shylock.

Q&A: Amy Grubbs asks if Manca found any connection to the French Catholics possibly present in London. A: Manca has not, but is interested.
Q: Martha Walker questions if Manca’s thesis would hold up under any other definition of “Other”, depending on the absolutism of alterity. A: Manca believes that it does, though she is unfamiliar with the alternate definition Walker presents.
Q: Matt Davies asks, “Why does biography matter?” A: Manca thinks that the facts of Shakespeare’s life are key to whether or not he can be defined as an Other. Q: Davies continues, asking, “To write about Iago, why does he need to be an Other?” A: Manca admits that he doesn’t, necessarily, but posits that all of us are Others in some way and believes that that would have influenced his writing.
Q: Clare von Rueden asks if this can then influence the performance of Otherness in his plays. A: Manca says yes, and she hopes that this will help her in her directing in the future. Q: Von Rueden continues, asking if Manca has had any revelations on that count thus far. A: Manca thinks that, for an actor, understanding Shakespeare’s Otherness “would probably be influential”.

Nicola Collett: “But One Only Man: Masculinity in Julius Caesar”
Actors: Marshall Garrett, Jamie Jager
Collett suggest that Julius Caesar, more than any other of Shakespeare’s plays, is “about men” — not a single man, but four very different men with competing interests and variant approaches. Collett posits that Caesar, Brutus, Antony, and Cassius represent four distinct aspects of masculinity, which she defines as imperial, stoic, performative, and emotional, respectively. She runs through other critical approaches to analyzing masculinity in Julius Caesar, before moving on to her own approach, analyzing masculinity “not as a unified whole, but as fragmentary”, which she will present in opposition to each other rather than in opposition to femininity.

First, she examines the disconnect between the frailty of Caesar’s mortal form as opposed to the strength of his immortal, imperial spirit. Both Cassius’s stories, Casca’s reporting of his swoon, and Caesar’s own admission of physical failings demonstrate his weaknesses. Yet Caesar puts forth an image of himself as “constant as the Northern Star”, immoveable and eternal, and his assassination in fact cements that immortality of spirit, despite killing the body. By contrast, Brutus is dominated by his stoic philosophy, focused on denial or control of the passions. “His struggle is that his emotions are in conflict, with themselves and with his reason.” Cassius, meanwhile, conflates the personal and the political, particularly in regard to the wrongs Caesar has supposedly done him. Collett links these passions with Cassius’s tendency towards suicidal rhetoric and, eventually, to suicide itself. Jamie Jager presents Cassius’s offer of suicide in the 4.2 “tent scene”, when he offers himself up first to the absent Antony, then to his own dagger, wielded by Brutus. Though Cassius’s emotions give him insight into other characters, they also lead to his downfall. Collett identifies Antony as an actor, able to adapt his presentation to the circumstances. His offer of suicide is calculated, not emotional, and a bluff that he knows Brutus will not call. Collett notes the rhetoric of Antony’s funeral oration as manipulative of his audience’s emotions, even to the extent that he denies his own power to do precisely what he’s doing. Antony also shows himself as an expert in the use of props: Caesar’s will, Caesar’s mantle, and Caesar’s body.

Collett concludes by reiterating the four disparate types of masculinity the men embody, and then offers a rhetorical analogy: that Caesar represents ethos; Brutus, logos; Cassius and Antony, pathos (internal for Cassius, externally for Antony).

Q&A: Menzer begins by stating that masculinity “seems to keep shimmering between material and immaterial” and asks how Manca has addressed that idea of where masculinity is located. A: Collett has not addressed that yet, but hopes to find it through her future rhetorical analysis
Q: Cyndi Kimmel asks if Collett has looked at the presentation of male friendship through a homosexual lens. A: Collett has encountered it tangentially, but believes it beyond the purview of her project at this time.
Q: Patrick Harris questions if, in performance, a female actor playing one of these roles could embody that aspect of masculinity and still play the role as a female. A: Collett thinks, yes, that would be possible.
Q: Ralph Cohen suggests an article for Collett’s inspection, as well as mentioning Vanessa Morosco’s recent re-gendered Cassius.
Q: Marshall Garrett questions where Octavius fits into all of this. A: Collett places him under Caesar’s aegis, noting that he “comes on and becomes the spirit of Caesar”, a “new physical locus for the idea of Caesar-ness”.
Q: Monica Cross asks if Collett sees an effect of one type of masculinity on the other. A: Collett is still working on that aspect.

MLitt Thesis Festival 2014: Session 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Shakespeare’s Restless World, by Neil MacGregor

Shakespeares-Restless-World-coverToday, modern Americans bring our anxieties about war, religion, race, the economy, and politics with us when we go to see movies or when we watch TV. In Shakespeare’s Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects, MacGregor explicates how the Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences did exactly the same thing — just with different particulars. This book is a material history wherein the author hopes to illuminate the “mental scenery” that 16th and 17th century audiences would have brought with them into the playhouses. MacGregor uses twenty physical objects, many of them recovered from the banks of the Thames or the ruins of various theatres, to structure his chapters, and the conceit works very well. A Venetian glass introduces the chapter on London’s burgeoning status as a center of trade, in competition with Venice. Gold coins from Morocco sets the reader up for a discussion of race relations in early modern England. A silver communion cup from Stratford gives us a glimpse into the fraught state of religion in the 16th century. A humble woolen cap, probably belonging to an apprentice, opens up the world of London’s vast working class, their daily habits, and the restrictions on their clothing. Some other artifacts are paper or paint: a portrait detailing the Tudor succession, rejected designs for the Union flag, a royal proclamation, sketches for the triumphal arches used during James’s coronation parade. MacGregor ties these objects not just to their historical context, but also to Shakespeare’s plays, conjecturing on how certain props or staging moments would have held specific connotations for the original audience. Through these links, he also gives the reader a fairly comprehensive view of political, religious, and social history of the 16th and 17th centuries.

The writing throughout the book is accessible, and also quite witty on occasion — see what he does with Venus, Adonis, and the plague in Chapter Seventeen. Another great linguistic moment is in “The Theatres of Cruelty,” modeled around the eye relic of Jesuit martyr Edward Oldcorne (his right eye, in fact, placed in a silver box), where MacGregor notes that many of Shakespeare’s head-chopping, eye-gouging, tongue-eviscerating stage directions are “what we would call strictly post-watershed.” The cleverness never hits you over the head in a self-conscious way, but it suffuses the book thoroughly enough to add felicity to what could easily have been a dry tome. This is also just a nice book to hold. Since it was produced for the British Museum, it’s printed on heavy paper, with all the pictures embedded with the text they relate to, rather than stuffed into a glossy insert.

The last chapter of the book is the one of these things that is not like the other: a modern artifact. MacGregor brings the book full circle by talking about how “Shakespeare Goes Global.” He makes the important observation that while the original context of the plays clearly matters (as is the premise of the entire book up to that point), the plays also have the ability to create new context for themselves in the modern world. Two examples from this chapter are particularly heartstring-tugging: a line from Richard III echoing through the mind of a German-Polish Jew in Warsaw, 1942, and the grounding artifact for the chapter, a Complete Works owned by Sonny Venkatrathnam on Robben Island, the South African jail made infamous during the anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s. These stories illustrate with poignant accuracy just how much Shakespeare’s words find ways to speak to new generations, all over the world. MacGregor also connects this universality back to the 17th century, underscoring that Shakespeare’s proliferation and posthumous popularity might never have been possible if not for the 1623 First Folio.

Overall, Shakespeare’s Restless World is thoughtful, well-organized, and thoroughly interesting, start-to-finish. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Shakespeare or in the Tudor-Stuart era, or to anyone who’s interested in material history in general. It’s an easy enough read that it shouldn’t scare off casual readers, but it showcases enough particular moments in history to hold the attention of a more advanced scholar. You don’t get a dispassionate textbook walking you through a timeline of events, but rather a series of windows into the real lives of Elizabethan and Jacobean citizens. Shakespeare’s Restless World provides a wealth of information, but in a unique format, giving the reader a panoramic view of early modern London through the varied lenses of twenty concrete objects.

Colloquy XIV (Playing Mad)- Blackfriars Conference 2013

Hello Everyone!

Colloquy XIV: Playing Mad
Hello Everyone, my name is Clare and I will be blogging for 2013 Blackfriars Conference Colloquy XIV. This colloquy is presided by Symmonie Preston  and the presenters are Nicholas Helms, Lauren Shepherd, Christina Squitieri, and Meredith Will.

Preston: This colloquy will allow the speakers to speak a little longer and should have more time for a Question and Answer.  Each will present a paper.

Helms: Keys to the Mind, Madness and Spectating Shakespeare’s Characters

Helms looks at applying the philosophy of mind and theories about mind reading to character studies.  Mind reading refers to the ability to arrive at logical conclusions about a person based upon his behavior. There is theory, theory of mind reading, and simulation theory of mind reading.  Theory, theory applies the theories behind what could trigger a person’s reaction.  Helms will be referring to theory, theory as inference.  Simulation theory is to try to “walk through another person’s shoes.” Simulation theory also applies to sympathetic emotions. The two different theories have often struggled for dominance, but they should blend.  Madness is the inability to communicate, and audience members/readers often erroneously apply it to characters such as Toby Belch for saying things that are out of context.  The Jailer’s Daughter is the most extensive presentation of madness in Shakespeare.  The doctor uses lots of inference and never speaks the daughter until the end of his last scene with her.  The simulation theory and imaginative study better describes her breaking point. The imaginative approach invites the audience to participate in the emotions of the character.  She is emotionally compelling in the beginning, weaving a narrative of her present mental state and her fears of the forest, she even states she would rather die than go mad and lose the ability to perceive reality. No one tries to communicate with the daughter, but the doctor proposes that there is a middle ground in which the other characters communicate with her on the level of her delusions.  It does not show a full level of mind reading, but it grants credibility in her delusions so that she can feel a part of the community again, and hopefully be brought back into the community.  Early moderns considered madness to be a temporary distraction from the norm, and from reality. Some of the ideas for the daughter’s madness may come from the collaborative process with Fletcher.  Scenes like this also appear in King Lear with Gloucester and Edgar (who plays into the fantasy of Gloucester’s depression to pull him out of the depression), As You Like It (her cure for love as a cure for madness).  Helms hopes to look further into these ideas in his continued research.

Shepherd: Diagnosing Madness on Stage: A Perspective on Madness in Fletcher, Middleton and Rowley, Shakespeare, and Webster.
For Elizabethans, there are different views of madness. Madness and distraction are not as interchangeable as most scholars think they are and the two together are what moderns accept and receive as the mad character in Shakespeare.  Specific expectations and events lead to a diagnosis, and the means to a cure. Shepherd looked at The Changeling, The White Devil, The Duchess of Malfi, Two Noble Kinsmen, and Macbeth. Madness is indicated by  the direct act of relating to the character as other, the speech patterns the character employs, and the set of questions which characters ask themselves or  which other charactes report about them. Madness often starts with the idea that a character is “not himself.” Antonio (Changeling) begins to mimic the teacher at the asylum.  It appears through his rhetoric and wit that he knows how to play mad.  Gratiano enters mad and distracted and his actions should appear so.  He has disjointed language, but has a common theme, so it is not madness, but can be perceived as such.  There is an outside influence which affects our vision of his “madness.” Another character displays a number of different symptoms of madness and is diagnosed as such.  It appears that the actors may be using madness to resolve their situation.  The madness of the women is different.  Cornelia recalls bloody hands; many women refer to the bloody hands, flowers and herbs, a night owl screech, and describe the outside with urgency.  No one diagnoses Cornelia.  Playwrights often subscribe madness of women as specifically feminine and offer female madwomen a wider emotional range to play. The community of others isolated mad women.  Playwrights often shaped the mad women like a chorus member with a different agency in the play.  Many mad women also sing and have similar speech patterns.  Women also often engage in a pathetic language of madness, and employ language concerning the body.  Some scholars see the turn towards bodily language as a prelude to death, but this is not consistent in Early Modern women. Confession or sexual intercourse were common cures to temporary madness, but death was the only cure for a complete mental illness.  Shepherd is also interested in how people talk about a mad character after he has died.

Squitieri: Catching Passion: Hamlet in the Contagion of Theatrical Madness
The four humors and bodily spirits are synonymous with disease and madness in the Early Modern period. Some spectators condemned players for infecting the audience with a theatrical pattern. Some scholars connect the audience and actors in a moral act by which the two groups undergo a transformation. By entering the playhouse and partaking the play, an audience becomes morally responsible for the way in which the actor can transform him.  In Hamlet, the audience can therefore be responsible for driving Ophelia mad.  The question also rises whether or not Hamlet becomes mad, or if he merely plays mad, and at what point he may become mad.  Hamlet begins by simply acting madness.  The vision of Hamlet’s madness begins with a performances for Ophelia.  He transforms her.  She relates the vision and uses the word “thus” which infers that she is not just remembering, but repeating the physicality of the madness for Polonius. Hamlet’s transference of madness to Ophelia can also come from the physical contact when he grasps her in the vision she reports. Early Moderns also considered physical contact and eye contact as a means of transference (especially eye contact as transference of souls between lovers). The physical act of the play can also encourage the madness, and the “get thee to a nunnery” speech presents madness to her. Ophelia demonstrates a knowledge of the contagion of madness, after these confrontations, she begins to use the same types of epizeuxis which Hamlet uses to portray madness. She also speaks of having “sucked the music of his honey vows” which can also carry disease.  Early Moderns believed breast milk was blood which the breasts transformed into milk, and that as such, breast milk could transfer diseases to children. Hamlet’s performed madness changes Ophelia and the spirits Hamlet releases in his performance of madness posses Ophelia. Madness also connects to the idea of sexual unchastit.  The idea of plucking petals off a flower becomes Ophelia stripping her own virginity.  This play demonstrates the idea that individuals can catch madness, just at the Early Moderns believed.

Will: A Pansy for Your Thoughts: Ophelia’s flowers in Film Adaptations
Some symbols which Shakespeare used have lost their meanings for contemporary audience. Ophelia’s flowers are one of these symbols.  Many modern productions have to find a new means of presenting these symbols. Theater facilitators often connect the flowers to the world of the feminine.  Areas early moderns connect to the female realm are emotion, and nature, and Ophelia embodies both.  Ophelia sings and reveals the truth in her madness.  Directors often either substitute the prop flowers with other symbols or have Ophelia use bodily actions which render the flowers useless.  In one film, Ophelia passes out Hamlet’s love letters, now making them public (or fragments of love letters).  The letter fragments infer a specific interpretation to her reason for madness.  She also must distribute specific sections of the love letters to other members of the court which indicates a method to her madness. One director has Ophelia distribute bones and pieces of straw.  They are from nature, and represent death.  The director does not indicate the source from which Ophelia procured these much more menacing props. These props also confuse the ideas which the flowers  represent. These may give different ideas, but the audience can experience and impact these props. The other option is to have physicality explain the flowers and the way in which she distributes them. Using body language tends more towards the emotional side of the idea of madness. In another production her hands are filled with flowers and she does not give the flowers, but throws some, and spreads out the other flowers.  The way she plays her emotional state is the way that the characters and audience memebrs understand the meaning.  The Emphasis of the visual effects can allow the audience to gain a deeper understanding of Ophelia through different methods, despite the grief of Shakespeareans who bewail the loss of her written lines. (Will also asked that further questions about further films be directed to her).

Preston: Let’s look at Two Noble Kinsmen 5.2
In this scene, the jailer’s daughter does not act like the usual mad person, beginning with the fact that she speaks in verse when mad characters typically speak in prose. This play frequently has characters eaves dropping on other characters, and jumping into scenes.  The rhetoric in this particular scene suggests that she is eaves dropping on the others.  The doctor’s cure worked, and she is now playing mad in order to get what she wants from her suitor. She has multiple verbatim repetitions of what others have said before she enters (such as “in the way of honesty” which has different meanings coming from the father and then from the daughter). She also suggests finding a blind priest for the marriage (a blind priest will realize it is not Palamon).  The biggest repeat the doctor’s use of  “twenty times” they should kiss, and when the suitor suggests they kiss a hundred times she replies “and twenty?” The two can share his response “and twenty” as a means of recognizing her sanity.  Another proof of her sanity is that she clearly notes the difference of men (the height of Palamon vs. Arcite). She now loves the suitor who has corrected his means of wooing (she complains about his methods earlier and emphasizes things important to her and he does these things when he pretends to be Palamon). She sets up a fake Palamon and fake Arcite in this last scene and points out that their height difference has changed (“how you have grown”).  Many Shakespeare plays have the men masked (when they should not be) and the woman refers to the end of the world, as a descriptor for marrying the right person.  The jailer’s response to her request to sleep is “Yes, marry, will we” showing his desire to marry her.   Just previous to this, a messenger enters to relay information we already know which heightens the intensity of the scene and allows the two characters to come further.

Questions:

How often are male characters treated for madness? Not often, but we have more examples of their supposed madness being treated than their actual madness.

The Dark Room and Malvolio: The idea behind the use of a dark room is to mute the sensory overload, but for sane characters it drives him mad.  Some characters even speak of such sensory deprivation as a means which would drive them mad.

Why does only Ophelia go mad with the idea of transference? Women were supposed to be more susceptible to madness, and Hamlet first chooses Ophelia to watch his performances of madness.

Is there a way to show catching the infection of madness?
There are some ways; one would have to ask a director.  Not everyone in a modern audience would understand the means of transference, so there are only a few ways that this can be staged.

What is the clinical discourse of madness and the humors in the Early Modern period? Since we live in a clinical culture, we often think that we can separate the metaphor from the clinical, but that is not always necessarily so (breast milk does transmit certain illnesses).  The flowers are always metaphors, so you have to make a different metaphor.  How do you relate our medical language to the play?
The theatrical language is particularly interesting in exploring this idea.
There is not always a distinct clinical discourse, the focus is on excess of qualities, it is more about a tipping point than distinct lines and we can identify an excess or a balance of the humors.
Even today we cannot always identify what is wrong with mental illnesses.
The idea that we can put mental illnesses in check boxes is beginning to erode, and the distinction was very blurred in Early Modern England.

How does the idea of transference in Hamlet relate to the idea of holding a mirror up to nature, and trying to enlist the audience on Hamlet’s side?
Hamlet is aware of the idea of transference and how others can receive madness.  He is conscious of the perception of theater.

Colloquy Session XIII: History and Culture: 2013 Blackfriars Conference (10/25/2013)

Good Afternoon Everyone,

This is Molly Zeigler live-blogging Colloquy Session XIII: History and Culture for the 2013 Blackfriars Conference on Thursday 10/25 at 2:30 pm. Today’s colloquy is being held at the Staunton Performing Arts Center’s (S.P.A.C.E.) location at 107 West Beverley here in Staunton. Thank you to the Staunton Performing Arts Center for hosting today’s event.

This Colloquy is exploring representations of and the impact of  history and culture in and on performance and interpretation of Early Modern dramatic works.

Chair: James Byers

Presenters: Michelle Blas; Elizabeth Kelley Bowman; Elizabeth Floyd; Louise Geddes; Stephanie Howieson; Matthew Kendrick; Marie Knowlton-Davis; Megan Lloyd

This colloquy took on an informal conversational style from the beginning.  Each presenter introduced their work and invited questions and feedback from the audience and from their fellow panel members (the following paragraphs represent initial introductions and feedback).  Each panel member came prepared, having already read each other’s work.

Michelle Blas and Elizabeth Kelley Bowman are both from the University of Guam. They spoke about a recent production of The Tempest that they mounted in Guam.  Shakespearean productions are rare in Guam.  What was of interest was how the audience engaged with the colonial themes and representations in the text and performance.  The audience was made up of individuals both native and non-native to Guam.  The Caliban and Ariel in this production were represented as avatars of native people and “native spirits.”  This production explored tensions between ‘conquered and conquerors.’  Guam, as a setting, provoked its own conception as an island that has been under the rule of a variety of colonizing entities (currently an American territory).  In this production Ariel is native to the island, a “true native,” and she (a female here) remains at the end of the story.

Stephanie Howieson is a member of the Rogue Shakespeare MBC MFA Company.  She portrayed Duncan and the porter in the Rogues’ recent production of Macbeth. Her paper Demons of Faustus and the Witches of Macbeth” seeks to explore the representations of the demons and witches in these plays and their interaction with the respective lead characters.  It is oft put forth by critics that Macbeth begins his play already overly ambitious.  Ms. Howieson’s work seeks to trouble this assumption about Macbeth’s characterization: There is no textual support for the idea.  What role did these figures – witches and demons – play in these works?  How much do such figures engage with and influence the non-spiritual/non-ethereal characters?  One way into these works is to consider how demons and witches and how ambition and drive were perceived in the Early Modern period.

Elizabeth Floyd’s work is focused on the Henriad (RII-H5) and specifically on how the character of Henry V has been portrayed at different times throughout history.  At different points in English history, Henry V has been presented as a hero, as a bit of a rake, as an ambivalent character, and as a consummate performer (among other representations).  Ms. Floyd’s work examines the production history of Henry V from 1723-2012.  At times of war and peace throughout this time period the representation of Henry V as changed in relation to respective social agendas and expectations.

The work, presented here, of Matthew Kendrick, out of New Jersey, is focused on The Knight of the Burning Pestle.  Beaumont’s play was first performed in 1607.  The work is a parody of chivalric romances and a satire of contemporaneous works such as Dekker’s Shoemaker’s Holiday. There is a sense of the ‘everyday’ and of the working classes in England. Mr. Kendrick’s work seeks to explore the relationship between the laboring community and the theatre.

James Byers’ work examines the representations of the Irish nationality in Early Modern drama. There is only a handful of characters in Early Modern English drama represented as Irish.  Byers’ work seeks to trouble the limited representations of the Irish by exploring how they were possibly received by audiences (then and now) and if said representations (often negative) are shaped by performance or cultural perception.

Louise Geddes is out of Adelphi University.  Her work examines the relationship between city drama and the figure of Margaret Thatcher in the zeitgeist. Thatcher located a sensibility to the working classes as a weakness.  Thatcher was certainly “no friend of the arts.” City dramas seek to explore “damage” at a local and personal level.  Jacobean drama appears classical so its performance may well seem to fit within a traditional paradigm, but it is because of this perception that such plays can operate within the culturally hegemonic sphere as burrs or rebellious entities and cultural critiques.

Marie Knowlton-Davis’ work is focused on Friar Laurence (R&J, of course).  She views the character as a “duplicitous antagonist” and a “lapsed Catholic” representing the tensions between Catholicism and Protestantism.  Friar Laurence’s representation also exceeds this religious characterization because of his use of natural/spiritual elements. His complicated nature provokes study and attention.  Marie Knowlton-Davis runs a summer youth theatre program and is interested in mounting a production of Romeo and Juliet in the near future wherein the character of Friar Laurence will be explored and developed in depth.

Megan Lloyd’s work is focused on the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and their delivery of the ‘St. Crispin’s Day’ speech from Henry V.  Of particular interest is how Kempe’s leaving the Chamberlain’s Men may have impacted the meaning and reception.  Her work examines the idea that Early Modern troupes are or are not ‘bands of brothers’ – how close are they?  The possible relationships can be examined by looking at the works and their portrayals and receptions, and by looking at the actual make-ups and changes within the structure of the companies.

It was a pleasant afternoon and discussion.

Midsummer Madness: Science, Social History, and Shakespeare

Today, those of us in the northern hemisphere observe the summer solstice. It’s a great time of year, finally warm enough for the beach and the pool, students are out for the holidays or will be soon, the fireflies are out, honeysuckle and roses are in bloom, and the long hours of sunlight mean you can stay out on the porch well into the evening. With such bounty and festivity, it’s no wonder that Shakespeare wrote a whole play set on this holiday: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

But wait? Why Midsummer? Isn’t this the beginning of summer? Why the temporal-linguistic confusion? The answer to that has to do with two things: the difference between astronomical seasons and meteorological seasons, and the difference between how we reckon seasons now versus how folk from the classical period on up through the early modern period reckoned them.

Graphic representation of how axial tilt causes the seasons, from NOAA

Science first: Solstices and equinoxes are determined by the earth’s axial tilt — not, as is a common misconception, by the distance from the sun. The earth will actually be at its aphelion, the farthest point from the sun, around July 5th, and at its perihelion, its closest point, around January 3rd. On June 21st, though we are farther from the sun, the earth’s tilt means that the sun falls in line directly over the Tropic of Cancer at 23.5° north latitude. This means that the northern hemisphere gets more of the sun’s energy during this time, and the southern hemisphere gets less. Six months from now, all that will be reversed; the sun will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, at 23.5° south latitude. What I find really fascinating about all of this is that it tells us just what a fragile habitable zone the earth exists in. A little more or less distance, a little more or less axial tilt, and the earth or parts of it might not be able to sustain any kind of life.

Of course, the exact way in which axial tilt affects the weather in any given location is pretty complex. Areas closer to the equator have less difference from season to season, whereas areas closer to the poles see wide variations. Since water and land heat at different rates, proximity to oceans can determine how quickly or slowly an area heats up into summer weather. Those heating and cooling rates also affect how precipitation systems form and move, which is why we tend to get more thunderstorms — and, in the North Atlantic and much of the Pacific, more hurricanes — from mid-summer through early autumn. Queen Elizabeth might have had axial tilt to thank, at least in part, for the freak August storms that helped to finish off the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Thermal lag graphically explained by Accuweather

Because of these variations, meteorologists assign different seasonal designations based on, well, the weather. For temperate zones in the northern hemisphere — like the US and England — this means that meteorological summer begins June 1st, autumn on September 1st, winter December 1st, and spring on March 1st. These dates mark the transition point for each season. The hottest point of summer for these regions falls well afterwards, mid-July through early-August, because of something called “thermal lag” or “seasonal lag,” which has to do with the varying rates at which the earth’s land, water, and atmosphere absorb all of that solar radiation. Since it takes a while for all of that to reach equilibrium, we don’t feel the heat of being pointed right at the sun until a few weeks later.

So, we now call June 21/22 the “first day of summer” because our common lexicon has sort of split the difference between these concepts. It’s the day when we begin moving further away from the sun, axial-tilt-wise, but when our region is just starting to head towards the hottest and stormiest part of the year. The shifting of the weather seems to have influenced Shakespeare when he wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

TITANIA
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men’s morris is fill’d up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:

England was experiencing particularly nasty, wet summers in the mid-1590s, and Shakespeare has Titania describe how her quarrel with Oberon has disordered the seasons and caused storms and floods. Summer and winter have become mixed-up. Comparing Titania’s description to accounts of English weather from 1594-1597 is one way that scholars have worked to date the play’s composition.

And now, the social history: While earlier civilizations like the Sumerians and Egyptians tended to measure seasons by floods and harvests, European societies from the Greeks forward marked seasons by the passage of the sun and stars.  The beginnings of each season were actually on the cross-quarter days — February 1st, May 1st, August 1st, and November 1st. Many East Asian calendars also followed this distinction, and many continue to do so to this day. Those cross-quarter dates became important holidays for the Celts, and those festivals were later merged with Christian saints’ days and holy days — February 1st’s Imbolc became Candlemas, May 1st’s Beltane became May Day, August 1st’s Lughnasadh became Lammastide, and November 1st’s Samhain became All Hallows’ Day. Solstice and equinoctial holidays were not as important for Celtic and Germanic cultures, but various associations still bled over. The Christian calendar created quarter days on or around the 25th of those months: Lady Day in March, Midsummer in June, Michaelmas in September, and Christmas in December. Apart from being religious observations, these were also the days in England when taxes and rents were due. Moveable feasts like Easter and Pentecost tend to fall near some of these dates as well, though not in every year, thanks to the way in which the liturgical calendar calculates them.

St. John's WortFor Shakespeare, the strongest summer holiday correlation may have been to either St. John’s Eve, celebrated on June 23rd, or possibly St. Peter’s Eve, celebrated on June 28th. Both festivals frequently involved bonfires and feasting, while other rituals focused on purification of or by water, connecting to St. John’s role as a baptist. Many folk medicinal traditions collected around St. John’s Eve  and Day as well. It was considered the best time to collect certain kinds of plants, including St. John’s Wort (pictured at right), used to treat mild wounds, menstrual cramps, snakebites, among other things. St. John’s Wort was thought in the Middle Ages to be particularly good at driving out demons — and it is now used in the modern day as an anti-depression treatment. Exactly which other plants were associated with the holiday tends to vary by local tradition, but they were often those used in herbal remedies to ease pain — and perhaps for this reason, the holiday has often had a connotation with witchcraft and the supernatural. Jumping over the St John’s Eve bonfires was meant to prove virility in men and to help maids find their husbands, the ashes from those fires were thought to bring good luck to homes, and roots gathered on St. John’s Eve were said to be particularly powerful in love spells. Some of these customs continue to the modern day in certain Catholic populations, with notable celebrations in Ireland, Spain, France, Quebec, and New Orleans. These traditions of magic and fertility may resonate in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the “little western flower” and “Dian’s bud” that Oberon and Puck use to enchant Titania, Lysander, and Demetrius.

Midsummer also had theatrical connections long before Shakespeare: this was the favorite time of year for the mystery play cycles, local religious pageants put on by trade guilds in major cities and towns throughout England. Though mystery plays were officially banned by King Henry at the beginning of the Reformation, many continued to perform or were illegally revived through Elizabeth’s reign, and they likely influenced the earliest playwrights of the early modern era. We’re doing our bit to celebrate at the ASC by offering 20% off the Study Guide for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and tonight we officially open Romeo and Juliet, thought to be written at about the same time as Midsummer. You can see similar threads in the two plays, not only through language and the focus on courtship and romance, but also in the season. Romeo and Juliet takes place in mid-July, two weeks before Lammastide. Perhaps Friar Laurence’s fixation on herbal remedies has to do with the gathering that took place on St. John’s, just a few weeks earlier?