Good morning, and welcome to the second full day of the Blackfriars Conference 2017! I'm Tiffany Waters, a second year MLitt student, and I will be live blogging our Plenary Session IV, moderated by Garry Walton of Meredith College. Our actors for this session are Lauren Ballard, Allie Babich, Tim Sailer, and Rick Blunt.
Walter Cannon of Central College is our first presenter this morning with his paper, Unscripting the Script: The Power of Overheard, Misheard, and Unheard Voices in Twelfth Night. This paper is part of a larger research project he is currently working on. Cannon argues that Twelfth Night is riddled with errors, largely due to technological errors in editing. Cannon calls attention to the four letters in Twelfth Night that have been re-scripted by someone other than the author. Focusing specifically on the letter in 3.2, Cannon stages a non-hearing round about to tackle the problematic folio stage direction that dictates Viola exits. He says, "The birth of the re-scripter is the death of the author." The non-hearing element instead of an exit allowed for comedic effect when the actors circled one another in their own moments in pairs of Sir Andrew with Sir Toby and Viola with Olivia, before coming together at the end of the scene. Cannon's paper asks the question, "How does the play use unheard voices in a theatrical way in performance?" With 3.2, Cannon works the infamous conference bear into his presentation and proves that the omission of this stage direction in Twelfth Night lends itself well to the comedic performance.
Our second presenter is Kathryn Moncrief of Washington College with her paper, "In sorrow all devour'd": Staging Parental Grief in Shakespeare's Late Romances. Moncrief begins her presentation with a background of the grieving processes of Early Modern culture and introduces us to the idea that "extreme mourning is unreasonable and un-Christiian." Moncrief argues that the idea of child loss was prevelant in Early Modern culture and would have been explored in the theatrical sense. Child loss appears throughout Shakespeare's cannon, who lost his own son Hamnet. Moncrief further explores Shakespeare's late romance play convention of the return of a child believed to be dead describing it as the "ultimate fantasy". This potentially provides the audience relief by recovering the child and relates to a culture in which child loss was a frequent happening. Moncrief focuses on the recovery of a loved one in Pericles and Winter's Tale. What happens when Thaisa hears of the loss and how do the actors physically embody loss, grief, and recovery when Marina is returned to them? The recovery creates a stage picture with Marina on her knees, encompassed by her parents center stage. In Winter's Tale, the recovery of a dead wife, Hermione, allows the audience to participate in this miraculous act and joy in the familial reunion of this scene. This theatrical moment responds to the lived experience and reconfiguration of grief that an Early Modern audience would have associated with Christ's second coming, Heaven, and/or resurrection. Staging of recovery provides solace and kind of consolation to the Early Modern culture that needs it.
Carolyn Ruedy of the American Shakespeare Center is our third presenter with her paper, My Physic Will Work, OR, the Curious Past and Promising Future of Playmaking as Mental Healthcare. Due to time constraints, Ruedy invites us to hear her clever introduction in the lobby, and dives into her delivery. She begins with a brief overview of Shakespeare's early life and questions how was he able to acquire that much knowledge in such a short amount of time in his early education and ultimately decides that this will remain a mystery. Her argument is that through Shakespeare's study of the classics, theatre had a kind of catharsis to treat different forms on mental illness. This Classic school of thought is in stark contrast to the Bedlam school of thought that uses medical approaches to insanity that include the security of patients like criminals and torture methods to beat the devil out of them in the Bedlam prison. In extreme cases of patients known as "violents" they were chained, kept in the dark, and had hardly any interaction with people. The Curtain and The Theatre were half a mile away from Bedlam. It is likely Shakespeare heard the torturous cries of patients while he was working. Shakespeare would have been exposed to both of the Classic and Bedlam schools of thought. Ruedy asks us to consider mad characters in Shakespeare's cannon and how many are soothed by music or theatre. Eventually, moral medicine came into play and offered recreation, humane treatment, and sanitation. Ruedy completes her presentation information on Western State in Staunton and its connection with the University of Virginia. Unfortunately, 10 minutes had expired and the bear danced to take paper. Ruedy finishes with the "take home" of her paper that members of the American Psychiatric Association used Shakespeare exclusively to determine their diagnoses.
Dr. Kerry Cooke of Mary Baldwin University specializes in epistolary theory, and presents her paper, The Other Winding Sheet: Letter Writing in Early Modern Deathbed Scenes. She begins her presentation by bringing attention to the portrait of Thomas Braithwaite writing his will on his deathbed. Writing his will is to "wind down the life" or "fold into death." This portrait suggests that half of the wills proved in court were written on deathbeds. Early Modern culture was surrounded by death. Good death required faithfulness and was performed in front of loved ones and God. The loved ones learned how to die themselves and helped the dying leave gracefully. Dr. Cooke informs us that a majority of epistolary manuals had instructions on how to die and "terminal letters frequent the early modern stage." Dr. Cooke puts pressure on deathbed letters in that they have an obvious place in a tragedy, but how do these letters function in a comedy? Love's Labour's Lost has an appearance of a death letter. Mercado brings news of King's death effectively ending the play and frustrating the genre, but Dr. Cooke's focus is on the unnoticed letter of 1.1. This letter tells of the Princess's coming to Navarre with decrepit language of her father's death. She delivers a letter of petition from her father on his deathbed to set his estate in order to wind down life. Letters acts on behalf of mortality. Dr. Cooke defines that the primary purpose of a letter to make those who are absent present. Letters collapse geographical space between correspondence. This meaning changes in deathbed scenes, and befuddles the meaning of dying well and surely. When did the King die? He might have already been dead when the Princess arrived to Navarre due to geographical distance. Boyet mentions a "packet" meaning a packet of deathbed papers. Is the King already deceased at the start of the play, or was this a dramaturgical oversight by Shakespeare? Letters only create illusion of presence. The first letter opened space in court's consciousness as if the King were alive. This presence drives the plot line of the comedy. Dr. Cooke concludes that Mercado's arrival frustrates comedy and casts shadow over a play that "flirts in the face of death."
Nolan Carey of the University of Colorado Boulder is our fifth presenter with his paper, "All our actions are upon the open stage, & can be no more hidden than the Sunne": An Exploration of Representations of Robert Cecil on the Early Modern Stage. Carey opens with light joke, "according to Wikipedia," Robert Cecil has been featured onstage and in television, but was never presented more frequently than in his own time to please the Early Modern audience. Though he is not often explicitly named, but "figured" frequently. The representation of any real person on the stage in the 16th century was always risky, yet this convention was frequently employed to please the audience with a Cecil-like character. Cecil's connection lied in his reputation and physical deformity. In the late 16th century, history plays and publications were at the height of their popularity. It is impossible to determine where Shakespeare intended the representation, but Cecil is often compared to Richard III. By the time of Ben Jonson's Sejanus, the character seemed to be a composite of Cecil. Carey prompts the audience to consider the seductive nature in Richard III and further articulates that early modern attitudes to disability go hand in hand with hyper sexualization. Where and how does Cecil or Cecil-like characters appear in cannon?
Our last paper of this session is a joint presentation by Ian Borden and Sarah Imes Borden of The University of Nebraska on their paper, There's Rosemary, and that's for Remembrance: Suicide Ideation and Portraying Ophelia's Madness. Their presentation begins with a performance from Lauren Ballard as Ophelia on an entirely new level of crazy complete with monkey noises and disjointed movements. This proves the Bordens' first point that incoherent and inaccurate choices are dramatically uninteresting. Crazy is an unspecific acting choice, and most people hold this aspect of her character above all other characters qualities. Madness is an external and social construct from men abandoning her. This lack of specific performance choices leave Ophelia as a passive character not actively pursuing her own objectives. They argue that actors can make Ophelia a real character by adding suicidal ideation to her person. Within Early Modern culture, the idea of suicide was unacceptable. Ophelia might be resolved or grateful now that she has a plan, but anxiety and anger can take over. Considering this ideation create the performance of an Ophelia who has a "specific pattern of behavior congruent with suicidal planning". In conclusion, the treatment of death like a planned event creates a more effective event onstage. In Lauren's performance of Ophelia, she plays her once with he ideas of "crazy" and "frantic" circulating in her mind, and in her second performance, Sarah instructs her to "do it again as decision that was embraced but not forced upon her". This final performance proves how Ophelia's character is more interesting when she has this proposed objective.
Thank you all for tuning into our first paper session of the day!