Gender and Behavior in TWELFTH NIGHT

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

Perspectives

Gender and Behavior

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

Twelfth Night | American Shakespeare Center

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

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

Twelfth Night | American Shakespeare Center

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

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

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

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

Colloquy Session XIX: Staging Questions with Actors

Good morning everyone, Liz back here for the last time this year to live-blog Colloquy Session XIX: Staging Queeestions with Actors. Live blogging of this session will run from nine to ten fifteen in the morning on the Blackfriars Playhouse Stage. The chair for this session is Cassie Ash. The presenters are Rebecca Bailey and Julia Griffin. Actors for this session are part of the American Shakespeare Center Dangerous Dreams Tour Tim Sailer, Cordell Cole, Jessica Lefkow, Chris Bellinger, Andrew Goldwasser, and Aleca Piper.

Ash welcomes everyone and thanks them for their presence this morning. She introduces Griffin and Bailey and hands the stage to Griffin.

Griffin says that standing on the stage is amazing and talks about AC Badley’s amazing Shakespearean Tragedy. She talks about note thirty one, “He has no children.” This refers to Macduff’s line in Macbeth. This could refer to Malcolm who, having no children, can announce this deed, to Macbeth who has no child, so Macduff cannot take adequate revenge, or to Macbeth who if he has children would not ask for Macduff’s children to be killed. There is debate that Macduff could not say this to Malcolm because that would be a direct retort and rude. In Shakespeare’s play, Macduff expresses both grief and vengefulness is future lines, so the challenge is to try to decide which emotion influences the line, “He has no children.” For an actor, this is difficult because an actor must make a choice.

Griffin states that she believes, as Bradley, that the line refers to Malcolm. She then introduces that the actors will perform the scene in three ways: with Macduff being heartless, as a direct retort to Malcolm, and as a reference to Macbeth. Goldwasser as Macduff, Cole as Rosse, and Sailer as Malcolm jump up to do the scene three times.

Griffin states that she does not know how the actors do what they do, to which Goldwasser replies, “At nine A.M.” Griffin states that she expected to have to ask questions to clarify the differences between each staging, but acknowledges that the actors did a great job. She states that Goldwasser put more anger when directing the line to Malcolm than she expected. Griffin then turns to the audience and asks what they noticed. Purcell, in the audience, states that Macduff’s lines following all seem to make more sense if Macduff directs the line to Malcolm – especially since Macduff “was cross” with Malcolm earlier in the scene. Purcell states that this session showed him how all three interpretations can work to make a different show.

Griffin then reads an interpretation by a novelist.

We move on to Bailey, who focuses on embodying the humors using Laban technique. She introduces the four humors: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. She hopes to find an approachable method to use these early modern ideas through modern techniques that many actors are familiar with.

Bailey states that she chose Laban’s movement because he focused on both performance and everyday life. She believes that this will help actors perform the movements of everyday people. She will work with the actors on weight, time, space, and flow. She will have the actors choose along the continuum of Laban to help create characters to make the humors embodied for actors today. She clarifies and further explains the continuum upon which the humors and exist and which actors can access.

Bailey states that we will work on Viola and Falstaff, who are both closely connected to the humors. Lefkow jumps up to portray Viola, who is represented as sanguine with an excess of blood, which is hot and moist and connected to air. Bailey wants to look at Laban’s elements and the elements connected to the humors. She tells Lefkow that Viola is flexible, light, sustained, and free. She encourages Lefkow to embody these choices in her movement and voice. Lefkow them performs Viola.

Bailey then asks Lefkow to perform Viola with the opposite choices on the continuum, with a direct, strong, quick, and bound Viola, to see if the interpretation fights the text. Lefkow jumps right to it.

Purcell asked to have Lefkow perform Viola as melancholy. Another scholar in the audience states that he prefers the second choice for Viola, due to Viola’s first scene in the play’s text.

Bailey has Lefkow be direct, bound, sustained, and strong as a melancholy Viola, per Purcell’s request. Lefkow jumps in and restarts, acknowledging that she must start in a different place and that she has not had her coffee yet this morning. Purcell states that this is the Viola that he likes because this Viola was bittersweet, and he sees Twelfth Night as a bittersweet play. Ash jumps in to state that she enjoys how Lefkow’s third melancholic performance helped illustrate the quoting of another character in the same humor.

Bailey introduces Bellinger as Falstaff. Falstaff is referenced as a phlegmatic character. For example, Hal states that Falstaff sleeps until noon, but phlegmatic characters’ hours started at three in the afternoon. Thus, many humoral elements are explained within the text. Phlegm is connected with water, which is flexible, strong, sustained, and free. Bellinger then gets up to perform a Falstaff monologue.

Bailey then chooses to the stage the monologue again with Bellinger playing the opposite choices as Falstaff: direct, light, quick, and bound. Bellinger takes the direction and performs.

Cass Morris then points out that the main element that she feels is set for Falstaff is time. She feels that Falstaff must be sustained and not quick, but that the other elements seem flexible.

In response to a scholar’s comment, Bailey acknowledges that characters gravitate towards a certain humor, rather than playing the humor all of the time. Ash jumps in to point out that the flow element is about the ability to change into motion or non-motion in performance, rather than constantly moving or not moving.

Goldwasser points out that even within the line, an actor can change any of the elements. He also points out that each element can also describe either space, movement, or voice – or any other aspect of performance.

Bailey acknowledges that this staging session will help her to see the overlaps or exclusivity of the humors and the different elements.

Lefkow explains her personal thoughts on Laban and the humors. She believes that Laban is a great method to use and believes that ever actor is different and will use the technique differently and have different viewpoints.

Another scholar points out that different elements like water and earth take on different forms, like ice, vapor, rock, and soil. She wonders how these can inform the actors and their choices.

Griffin takes the stage again to look at IV.iii. from Julius Caesar. She wants to look at this scene to see if this scene is a textual error that was not supposed to repeat the news of Portia’s death, that Brutus must have this conversation again because of Massala, or that Brutus benefits from revealing the new of Portia’s death twice. Griffin has Goldwasser (Brutus), Cole (Massala), and Sailer (Cassius) come perform the scene with each of the three interpretations for the audience.

The actors speak about what they liked and found easier to perform. Bellinger questions if Cassius can support Brutus in all of these interpretations, especially given Cassius’ character in the play.

Griffin believes that the first staging of this scene allows Brutus to be a sympathetic character. The actors then ask questions to Griffin.

Ash ends the session by thanking the actors and presenters.

Thank you all for allowing me to be your live blogger this week – it was a blast!

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Plenary Session 4

Welcome to the fourth plenary session, and the first of day two of the conference! I am Mary Finch and I will be live blogging this session that runs from 9:00 – 10:15 am. Thanks for joining us!

Hsian-Chun Chu, National Changhua University of Education
Performing Magic on StageL Conventions, Strategies, and Audience Participation

Chu began by defining magic in order to understand the term correctly: “the art of producing illusion as entertainment by use of sleight of hand, deceptive devices, and so on.” Using magic in plays can both intrigue and horrify audiences, and often contributed to the success of a play on the Elizabethan stage.

Sorcerer Plays, or magus plays, were a popular genre that featured a powerful magician at the center of events. The events normal included a search for power, a rivalry, a quest for advantage, and success (or failure) or the quest. In these plays, there were two kinds of magic: spiritual magic (which was more benign and used nature as a source of power) and demonic magic (which involved the invocation of otherworldy creatures). So the plays used literary and folklore traditions surrounding magic.

Chu then discussed the strategies for performing this magic on stage. The fantastical spectacles often use equipment, such as we see in The Tempest (a staff) and Doctor Faustus (books). Chu then analyzed an image from a title page of Doctor Faustus and images surrounding the magician: robes, books, a staff, and so forth.

Using Prospero as an example, Chu looked at the text to look at the appearance of a great magician. When Prospero removes his magic clothes he changes from being a magician to being a man. The robes were a means of transformation, and reflected the Elizabethan tradition of connecting clothes to status. Prospero also uses books, another sign of status and magic. The staff, which is only mentioned at the end of the text, is also used in The Tempest. Like a king’s scepter, it is a symbol of power and authority.

Jumping to the conclusion, Chu was interrupted by the bear.

Lauren Shepherd, University of Toronto
“Supposed to be distracted”: Performing the simple, mad, distracted lunatic

Shepherd went to England to examines the language of court records of institutions housing mental patients during the Early Modern period. These records allow actors and directors to make a connection between real life and the text of plays.

Starting with the word “lunatic,” Shepherd read several accounts of individuals being described as such and sent to Bethlehem. The origins of the word attributes the madness to the moon. Although not limited to women, the word was more commonly used to describe women. Looking at Twelfth Night, Shepherd asked actors to stage Malvolio’s diagnosis of being lunatic (Patrick Harris as Malvolio, Ian Charles as Feste).

Shepherd then turned to the term distracted, a word more commonly used to describe men than women. Hamlet’s madness frequently is described as such. Again, actors staged the moment when Hamlet considers murder (Patrick Harris as Claudius, Ian Charles as Hamlet). Distracted generally communicates not knowing how to behave, rather than a loss of control.

Finally, Shepherd discussed simple and ignorant, which are permanent rather than temporary (as lunatic and distracted were understood to be). Simple was often paired with distracted for female patients and alleviated some of the blame for their behavior. Again though, Shakespeare attributes these phrases to men more than women, in contrast of the common tradition. Shepherd staged the final monologue of Richard II (Marshall Garrett) as an example.

Temporary instances of madness are described as lunacy and distraction, while simple and ignorant indicate a permanent condition that is outside the control of the individual.

Sara B. T. Thiel, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
“Cushion come forth”: Materializing Pregnancy on the Stuart Stage

Thiel described the “chaste nymphs” of The Golden Age by Heywood which documents pregnancy, as being hidden and then discovered. In a dumb show, the characters undress and pregnancy is seen by all on stage and, maybe, the audience. The convention of an all male audience raises questions about what exactly everyone saw. This paper looks at the intersection between the boy actor and the pregnant character.

Pregnancy was a highly visible stage convention, and Thiel plans to look at possible ways of staging the pregnant body. In some cases, as in The Heir, costumes are removed to deconstruct gender and reveal a fake pregnancy or a disguise. Actors Marshall Garrett, Patrick Harris, and Ian Charles staged the moment of discovery with the stage direction “He flings the cushion at him” giving us a clue as to how they staged the pregnancy. The OED has a separate definition for this use of cushion, specifically known as “Mary’s Cushion” after Tudor Mary who was frequently mistakenly thought to be pregnant.

Shakespeare’s Henry IV part 2 also has a moment of claimed pregnancy when Doll Tearsheet is arrested for murder and the officer refers to a cushion.

In The Golden Age, the text draws attention to the pregnant body; actors again stage the moment, but this time the actor’s belly is upstage and therefore out of sight and the actors’ reactions tells the audience what has happened. In a second staging the actors faced forward allowing the audience to see the prosthetic belly. In other plays, the birth of a child reveals the pregnancy, but in this play it is the physical swelling that signals pregnancy.

Looking at this moment from The Golden Age illustrates how pregnancy can both create and dismantle the costume of the boy actor on the stage.

Claire Bourne, Virginia Commonwealth University
Turn It Up (Or Down): Dramatic Action and Typographic Experiment in Early Modern Playbooks

Bourne begins by challenging the assumption that 17th century printers were unconcerned with the typographic design of printing their plays. The awkwardness of the page shows “active experimentation” rather than indifference.

The turn up/over method showed that printers considered the relationship between dialogue and stage directions, and the nature of verse. Printers attempted to account for action on stage and make it legible to readers. In the earliest examples, the occasional brief stage direction was simply set to the edge of the page. As time goes on, stage directions become more detailed and more carefully situated on the page and varied in font, corresponding with the dialogue that should accompany action. Combing lines was also an economical decision; less lines meant less pages which meant a cheaper printing.

Bourne showed several examples of printers using parenthesis to indicate how the stage direction relates to lines other than the ones with which it shares space. In some cases, there are multiple of these where the stage direction spans several lines.

The printers used these cues to show the integral relationship between the interlexical business and the dialogue. The use of different alignment, font, and conventions were not meant to create division between the words and the directions, but meant to be legible and easy to understand.

Claire Kimball, independent scholar
Important Silence: Dumb Shows in Dekker and Middleton’s The Bloody Banquet

Kimball opened by announcing that The Bloody Banquet was staged for the first time in four hundred years this summer in Washington DC. As the title suggests, the play was served with lots of gore to a positive acceptance. Within this play, are two dumb shows which has caused scholars to question how they came to be in the play. Kimball asserts that these dumb shows are not textually inferior, but a moment for actors to take creative liberty.

The first dumb show gives exposition, and the second gives important plot and reviews major events; both are [paired with lines from the Chorus. Based on stagings and readings that remove dumb shows, it seems that many think these are antiquated and redundant.

“We don’t always trust them” — scholars and directors are unwilling to fully trust the text (and the dumb shows).

In staging the dumb shows, Kimball recounts how actors must give it an honest chance without making fun of it, even when the events are seemingly absurd. Kimball used actors to contrast the use of a chorus and the use of a dumb show (actors Ian Charles, Merlyn Snell, Meredith Johnson).

One audience member from the performance in Washington DC listed the dumb show as one of the most branding images of the play, equal to the gruesome cannibalistic violence.

Kimball closes by insisting that dumb shows are in the text for a reason, and that directors have a responsibility to stage the silent moments seriously, in order to see if they are worth performing.

“Pantomime performances are thorny, but inventive spaces,” and should not be lightly cast aside.

— Mary Finch
MLitt Student at MBC Shakespeare and Performance

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Plenary Session 3

Welcome to the third plenary session, and the final session for day one of the conference! I am Mary Finch and I will be live blogging this session that runs from 4:15-5:30 pm. Thanks for joining us!

Jeanne McCarthy, Georgia Gwinnett College
The “Studious” Actor in Sixteenth-Century Popular Theatre; Or, Reconsidering the Influence of the Grammar School on Popular Culture

McCarthy begins by observing how several of Shakespeare’s scenes discuss literacy and study, most notably the mechanicals in A Midsummer’s Nights Dream. While most players could read, not all of them could and certainly not their entire audience. Progress towards literacy throughout Elizabethan England was inconsistent. Players attracted those who followed the tradition of an oral culture with its pageantry in costumes and plot.

Turning towards the school drama, McCarthy discusses the influences of the philosopher Quintilian. McCarthy explains that the works of the schools were, like Shakespeare’s plays, deeply literary and performative due to the influence of Quintilian, which raised the bar for performance of adult actors as well. The textual study that grew out of Quintilian’s philosophy focused on feeling, not just displaying. The pedagogy of Quintilian also focused on empathy, encouraging students to imagine what their characters were feeling or thinking.

McCarthy then highlighted how Hamlet’s disdain for indicative acting follows along with the acting philosophy of Quintilian. The similarities between Quintilian and the methods Stanislavsky and A. C. Bradley challenge how we view acting from the Elizabethan time.

Ann Thompson, King’s College London
Chests and Trunks on the Early Modern Stage

Thompson begins by discussing the most notable, and dramatic, use of a chest in Cymbeline. Thoughout Elizabethan plays, trunks and chests are used for numerous reasons, benign and malevolent, for purposes ranging from hiding identity to storing gods to a discreet location for illicit sex. Today, trunks most often contain a body. Interestingly, both trunk and chest are terms for the human body.

Thompson elaborates on the use of the words in the context of plays. The trunks can also refer to parts of trees as well as places to store things, according to OED which lists storage as one of the final uses of the word. The term only refers to furniture six times in Shakespeare’s work. It is far more likely to refer to a human body. In many cases, he puns with the word invoking both meanings.

In contrast, chest more commonly refers to the non-corporeal meaning, but still appears as a referent for the body occasionally, in Shakespeare’s texts. The variety of meanings and contexts for trunks and chests provide a wealth of interpretive decisions, either referenced or brought on stage.

Thompson concluded by observing that a trunk on stage would be an ideal hiding place from the Bear.

Kerry Cooke, James Madison University
Address for Success: Epistolary Theory in Twelfth Night

Cooke plans to argue that Shakespeare did use letters for dramatic effects, not just to convey meaning or act as a messenger. She neatly broke her lecture into three parts:

Part 1: “Theoretically Speaking”

To begin, Cooke highlighted the ways that letters reflected the social hierarchy of Early Modern England. In letter writing, status of the writer and receiver governed the features and style of the writing. Letters contained a number of formalities, one of them being the use of a secretary hand or italic hand. Everything from status, content, and gender determined what handwriting was most appropriate. Cooke further explained the content and recipients of the letter even determined the alignment of the words on the page.

“Letter writing was a goal orientated activity” where conventions were a means to success.

Part 2: The Twelfth Time You’ve Seen this Scene

Cooke draws upon the moment when Malvolio examines the letter he assumes is from Olivia, using actor Marshall Garrett to read the famous lines. Commenting as Garret reads, Cooke shows how Malvolio’s description of the letter draws in the audience. A “lady’s hand” means the letter is written in italics, not just that it appears feminine. Malvolio then acknowledges the other formalities such as the waxen seal,  which indicates privacy along with authorship.The interspersion of prose and verse fills the page, and the salutation, signature, and post-script complete the physical image of the letter, along with the written message.

Part 3: All Dressed Up

Looking at the effect of the letter on Malvolio, Cooke shows how successfully Maria considered her audience, the haughty Malvolio. Maria used the italic hand of an upper class woman, framed her letter appropriately on the page, and created a signature that allures to Malvolio. According to Cook, Malvolio did not misread the letter because he was proud or lustful, but he read it exactly as Maria intended it, making it successful letter.

Shannon Kelley, Fairfield University
Crooked Trees and Mistresses: Staging the Contreblason in Lyly’s Endymion

Kelley begins by asking as to imagine the pillar on the stage as a tree, which actor Marshall Garrett will fall in love with during the course of the lecture. (His moving performance caused interspersed laughter throughout.)

Kelley establishes that while stage trees are not rare, no playwright uses them as frequently with as much specificity as Lyly. The trees are not just a prop, but also a symbol invoking romance and the ideas of Ovid. They can even suffer violence. Some trees even speak in the plays.

In Endymion, Sir Tophas genuinely renounces young women in favor of older women, which prepares audiences for his romantic interest in the stage tree later on since he already resists societal expectations of love and romance. The use of Aspen specifically, a smooth yet loud tree, reflects women full of talk and noise, just the sort of older women Tellus prefers. Kelley shares a myth about the devil giving women the gift (or curse) of speech through an Aspen leaf strengthening the connection between the tree and Tophas for Elizabethan audiences.

However, Kelley goes on, Tophas’ love towards the tree becomes too much. Dipsas’ transformation back into a person is met with disdain from Tophas rather than adoration. This disappointment comes not only from the loss of the tree, but also that she is no longer “crone,” who he prefers to the Petrarchan ideal of beauty.

Sarah Neville, Ohio State University
Death Properties in Renaissance Drama: Coffins

Neville opens her speech by challenging the long hold assumption that there are numerous skulls on stage during the gravedigger scene–looking at stage directions, there is only a requirement for a shovel. Comparing the stage directions in the quarto and folio publications, Neville points out the differences in how Ophelia’s body is brought on stage. There is a long standing tradition assuming that the coffin of Ophelia must be open. Yet, Hamlet cannot see her and does not realize that it is Ophelia until Laertes identifies her. This examples embodies the problems of dealing with corpses and coffins on stage.

First, in order to have a corpse, someone had to bring it on stage, and then off again. Neville mused that the use of severed heads alleviated the weight of transporting bodies around the stage, and perhaps is why Shakespeare (and other authors) used them frequently.

This paper addressed the death problem and the way that Elizabethan play makers learned to solve the issue. The prevalent use of coffins in histories also brought them into comedies, romances, and tragicomedies.

Death properties allowed playwrights to explore the differences between “bodies within boxes, and those without.” Even today, as demonstrated by the process to stage today’s demonstration, dead bodies still present a problem for companies today.

Coffins appear at the start of Henry VI part 1 and Richard II, and Henslowe’s diary shows that they had two coffins in possession. In some cases, the body is left exposed with the more ambiguous stage directions “enter corpse” or the dialogue of the surrounding characters which remarks on the corpse. The most striking entrances of a corpse might be Lear’s carrying of his daughter Cordelia. This contrasts to the bringing of the treacherous daughters that are simply brought in. Several actors demonstrated the different effects of bring a corpse in a container, as opposed to carrying one on.

As Neville described it, “Coffins are a portable discovery space” that can contain doom, revival, and even transformation.

Neville has found that these uses are not only the result of an interest in death, but also a practical use. The increase use of death properties addresses with the problem of corpses, but also contributes to the ambiguity of tragicomedies, bringing death close to the living.

Paige Reynolds, University of Central Arkansas
Performing the Female Body in Macbeth

Reynolds started with anecdote about ways to avoid the “Curse”–one production blessed the shoes the actors wore to ward off ill will. A lesser known curse, but one as serious, surrounds the challenge of staging and dealing with the body of Lady Macbeth.

Reading Lady Macbeth as the embodiment of sexuality and moral depravity makes playing her deeply difficult, since the body of Lady Macbeth should both attract and repulse. The first mention of this curse of this comes from Malcolm’s descriptions of her as beast-like and sexually depraved.

Lady Macbeth’s famous “Unsex me here” speech achieves the opposite when staged; it clearly sexes her with its focus on the body and the repetition of the “come” (which has a disputed erotic history). The erotic performance contradicts the purpose of achieving a cool and detached commitment to ambition. Because of this contradiction, Lady Macbeth’s language and performance frequently registers as a “male fantasy.”

In contrast, Reynolds stresses that Lady Macbeth’s sexuality does not reflect a mental illness, nor can it be a characterization, just like “be seduced” could hardly function as characterization for Macbeth. Emphasizing the powers of seduction reduces Lady Macbeth to the insults of Malcolm.

Finally, the sleep walking scene forecasts Lady Macbeth’s death and exposes her internal struggle, while Macbeth’s struggle becomes more hidden from the audience. The observing doctor and waiting lady act as an audience, scrutinizing the night gown clad female body, and her exposed mind. The curse of figuring out the staging of Lady Macbeth’s sexual body offers as much potential for destruction as the other “Curse.”

— Mary Finch
MLitt student at MBC Shakespeare & Performance

Podcast Archives: 2013

2013 Spring Season

2013 Summer and Fall Seasons

MFA Thesis Festival 2015

Sarah E. Blackwell: “‘Corrupter of Words’: A Rhetorical Cut of Twelfth Night
Blackwell opens with an introduction to the concept of cutting texts for performance, noting that most directors will attempt to preserve iambic pentameter but may not pay as careful attention to preserving rhetorical structures. Blackwell notes that while repetition seems an easy sort of rhetorical but notes that, in rehearsal, those cuts became troublesome. As a demonstration, she tells the famous “Knock knock” banana/orange joke, with alterations pointing out that cutting rhetorical devices of repetition can harm both the set-up of a joke and audience comprehension of the scene. Blackwell notes the cuts made to a scene between Viola/Cesario and Feste, particularly the repetitions of “sir” that offer actors a lot to play with. Blackwell asked her actors to try and play the scene with the emotional clues that the deleted rhetoric would have provided; Rebecca Wright (Viola/Cesario) and Nicola Collett (Feste) play the scene. The absence of the repetition makes for a “a one-sided battle of wits”. Blackwell concludes by asking directors to keep rhetoric in mind when cutting scripts because “when you ignore the rhetoric, you ignore Shakespeare.”

Nicola Collett: “‘I am not that I play’: Seeking Identity through Music in an Appalachian Twelfth Night
Collett discusses the considerations and the challenges she encountered when developing the musical choices for Turning Glass’s production of Twelfth Night, including the complex and disputed definition of “folk song”. One of her sources made the “not entirely grounded in reality” claim that Appalachian dulcimer music chains back to both Shakespearean productions and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; Collett underscores the problem of conflating the Appalachian dulcimer with its predecessors, but enjoys the idea of positioning the production’s music as part of a larger tradition. She then discusses the adaptability of folk music. Collett gives examples of one tune receiving different lyrical treatments in different times and locations. The adaptability of music, Collett noticed during Twelfth Night, seems to echo the adaptability of certain characters, particularly Viola. Collett argues that this adaptability is what makes Viola “worthy of Orsino’s service” and capable of restoring health to the community of Illyria. By contrast, Feste is less rooted in one tradition.

Amy W. Grubbs: “‘The Great Divide’: How Turning Glass Shakespeare Navigates the Actor/Audience Divide”
Grubbs begins by stating the common theatrical concept that performance is dependent upon a divide between actor and audience, and states her intention to interrogate three different audience roles: the audience as tourist, the audience as participant, and the audience as generator, on a scale of passivity to activity. “A blurring of the line is in fact often productive” and has helped Turning Glass in creating their shows. She discusses their deliberate blurring of the lines in The Winter’s Tale and in Romeo and Juliet; in the latter, the actors remained on-stage throughout the show, becoming supplementary audience members for scenes they were not in — in a position to watch the audience as well. Grubbs argues that this “reminded the audience that they were participants in our creative community” and positioned actors and audience as watching the same thing: the play itself. Grubbs feels that idea of community was particularly important in Romeo and Juliet, a play so concerned with a broken community. “The staging, therefore, reflects the themes of the play.” Turning Glass’s Twelfth Night, performed in local schools, began with a distinct divide, the students in their native environment, the company as strangers. Towards the end of the play, however, they conscripted a student to portray an officer and a teacher to portray a priest; though coached beforehand, the audience-actors still needed verbal and physical guidance during the show — and their own actions could chance the scene considerably. Grubbs states that this transformed the theatrical experience and “heightened our awareness” of performance for the cast, and that the blurring of actor/audience lines created “an entirely new community” during each performance. She concludes by asserting that the blurring is not “deadly to performance” but a potential benefit.

David Loehr: “Some Have Theatre Thrust upon ‘Em”
Loehr asserts that Shakespeare dually recognized life as having theatrical elements and theatre as being necessary to life, and argues that “Shakespeare uses Malvolio to critique anti-theatricalism and puritanism”. He notes Maria’s description of Malvolio as “a kind of Puritan”, not necessarily a man with firm piety. Loehr notes that Malvolio’s fantsies of marrying Olivia reveal that “for a Puritan, he seems awfully concerned with the material and the sensual.” Malvolio’s objections to revelry mirror the objections raised in anti-theatrical polemics of the early modern era, and Loehr examines some of the specific vocabulary that draws this connection. Loehr then connects this to Malvolio’s conception of identity, that he wants everyone else to stay in their prescribed places and clearly defined roles while he alone changes (hopefully in advancement) — which places Malvolio in a particularly difficult position in a play with such shifting identity issues as Twelfth Night, as Loehr illustrates through Malvolio’s difficulty in describing/defining Cesario. Despite his moralistic attitude towards revelry, he rarely invokes religion in his objections, which Loehr suggests sets him apart from the anti-theatricalists, not one of them. Loehr argues that Malvolio is, essentially, theatrical himself, and discusses this in relation to his difficulty in smiling and his immersion in his later performance in front of Olivia. “In the end, neither of Malvolio’s roles bring him the wealth and power that he desires,” and Loehr suggests this informs his vengeful attitude at the end of the play, both anti-theatrical and a spurned actor at the same time — and thus “a hypocritical fraud”.

Nora Manca: “To Try a Queen”
Manca sets her presentation up as “All Is True: A game show that starts with a lie and ends with laughter”, hosted by Loehr — a pseudo-Jeopardy skit designed to illustrate the similarities between Henry VIII‘s Katherine of Aragon and The Winter’s Tale‘s Hermione. Manca explicates her assertion that The Winter’s Tale was written for the Blackfriars Theatre in the same way that Henry VIII was, calling upon the audience’s historical memory of the space as a courtroom.

Sarah Martin: “A Queen City Comedy: A Chaste Maid in Cheapside at the Blackfriars Playhouse”
Martin begins by discussing the appeal of city comedies to the Jacobean audience, offering a view of themselves on stage, rather than the more remote figures of kings and queens. Middleton showed his audience to themselves by displaying the places, peoples, and ideologies of early modern London in his plays. Martin examines the gossip and funeral scenes in Chaste Maid, noting them as representations of common community experiences. Martin suggests that the transition from Elizabeth to James helped to spur the creation of domestic experiences on the stage, a way of reflecting a changing world and revealing the hypocrisy of early modern English society from the relatively safebounds of the stage. The gossips scene “demonstrates the chaotic and unstable atmosphere of London” in 1613. Martin notes that the early modern home had a public nature that may seem strange to modern sensibilities, and that christening parties made public and communal the essentially private act of childbirth. The party becomes a conversation on social status, material wealth, and neighborly one-up-manship, and Martin sees similar social stakes at play in the act of theatre-going. Martin argues that the gossips scene is an example of “how Middleton cast London in his play”.

Emma Patrick: “‘I wear your (great-great-great) granddad’s clothes’: Original Practices, Secondhand Clothes, and Historical Reconstruction in Turning Glass Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
NB: Emma Patrick is snowed-in in Lexington and will not present this evening.

Ashley Pierce: “‘Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned’: Playing Tybalt and Friar Lawrence”
Pierce begins with a caveat about the fine line between appreciation and obsession, particularly as relevant to her continual interest in the character of Tybalt — a character she played this year with Turning Glass, doubled with Friar Lawrence. “It is their respective challenges that truly set them apart” — Tybalt is physically demanding, not just with three of four fights, but also in the tight physicality. Lawrence, by contrast, Pierce characterizes as intellectually demanding. Pierce then delivers a sidebar on the gender issues raised by various casting approaches, noting that the extreme casting of Romeo and Juliet with six actors sometimes made the gender of actor and character indistinct, allowing the audience to determine their own ideas on the gender of the character. Pierce asserts that the audience’s role in creating character is thus critical.

Mara Ann Massingill Sherman: “Children and No Riches”
Sherman begins by delivering an anti-spoiler alert, declaring Turning Glass’s determination not to reveal the plot of a 400 year old play before performing it. She then moves on to her thesis, examining the intersection of fertility, class, and religion in A Chaste Maid in Cheapside. First, she discusses the eponymous maid and her neighborhood, challenging the common assumption that the title is an oxymoronic joke. Cheapside was, while commerce-oriented, not particularly noted for prostitution (in contrast to other locations like Turnbull Street). Sherman asserts that finding a chaste maid in Cheapside should be no more odd than finding “a virgin on Wall Street” — an odd but not necessarily contradictory juxtaposition. The title does, however, tell the audience that this is a play about: female sexuality, London, commerce, and “really stupid jokes” — as Sherman explicates through an exploration of the paronomasia of chaste/chased. Sherman then moves to discussing the Allwits and the confusion of paternity, marital arrangements, and the economy of fertility. Sherman notes that Middleton uses the Allwit plot to “strength the connection between bourgeois marriage and prostitution.” Finally, Sherman moves to the Kixes, discussing the tendency of modern productions to cast the Kixes as middle-aged, perhaps to explain their seven years of childlessness, a choice that Sherman asserts “misses the point”, and that their infertility is more related to economy.

Rebecca Lynne Wright: “‘Prone to weeping’: An Exploration of Crying in Performance”
Wright begins by cautioning the upcoming MFA class to considering the blood and tears the endeavor could cause — not from the travails of graduate school hardships, but within the plays themselves. She discusses the physical effects on an actor of “weeping, crying, or lamenting”. Wright has her fellow company members provide examples of tears called for (or at least mentioned) within Shakespeare’s plays. “Emotions which come naturally in life are exposed and exploited in theatre”. Wright discusses her interest in the connection between the language used to describe emotion and what actors are actually supposed to do. She notes that weeping may not be visible to the audience even if enacted, and wonders what the advantage is to working up real tears on stage if the audience may not be able to appreciate them, and if simulating weeping better allows an actor to focus on things like scansion and rhetoric. She intends to interrogate this question further.

Q&A

For Pierce: Questioner asks if she’s recieved any audience feedback regarding the ambiguity of her character’s gender.
Pierce responds that, post-show, she has gotten some questions, mostly from friends and family, about if the role was re-gendered or not.
Ralph Cohen follows up by asking if her experiences with The Winter’s Tale may inform both her thesis writing and her revisiting of the character during the upcoming festival of shows.

For Grubbs: Questioner asks how the explicit casting of the audience affects the audience’s role, and if it leads to a “centaur state” of performer and audience simultaneously.
Grubbs: Responds that she’s going to steal that term. She’s referred to it as having switched roles, notes that some critics think that means it’s not theatre anymore, but she wants to explore the “both/and” mixture.
Follow-up: Questions how venue affects the blurring of lines, if lines were more set in more proscenium-like spaces.
Grubbs: Initially, yes, but engaging early modern practices quickly helped blurring the lines. Notes that depth of audience affects the ease of blurring. Manca adds that “children were much more receptive to being drawn in than adults were”.
Cohen follows up asking how/if it affects comprehension of play. Grubbs thinks initial appreciation is related to seeing someone they know, but that it might cause more careful attention. Blackwell shares anecdote that teacher who seemed unsure turned into a ham because she knew she would be observed.

For Wright: Asks if commentary on mourning split along national lines.
Wright: Most of research has not been British/American divide but discussion of duration, how long someone is meant to mourn, what’s appropriate, and difference between “then and now”.

For Sherman: Interested in limits of female fertility, how it will play out in company almost entirely of women?
Sherman: Had worried that having both Allwits and Kixes portrayed by female actors would create an unintentional commentary on lesbian relationships and procreation, but they do have a male-bodied figure for one of those roles, and Whorehound being portrayed by female.

–This session live-blogged by Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager

Podcast Archives: 2010

2010 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2010 Spring Season

2010 Summer and Fall Seasons

 

Podcast Archives: 2008

2008 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2008 Spring Season

2008 Summer and Fall Seasons

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.

Dr. Ralph Presents: Twelfth Night (2013)

American Shakespeare Center Co-founder and Director of Mission, and Mary Baldwin College Professor Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen delivers a pre-show lecture on William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, with special input from eminent Shakespeare scholar Stephen Booth, before a live audience at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, VA, on April 10th, 2013.

Dr. Ralph Presents: Twelfth Night
File Size: 40.8 MB; Run Time: 42:23
Please note: This lecture was recorded on Ralph’s iPad; we apologize for any fuzziness.

Hit the cut for the text which Dr. Ralph used during this lecture.

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