Good morning all, Allie Dawson here, and welcome back to the the Blackfriars' Meredith College and ASC Consortium partnership session, moderated by Christine Romanelli of Meredith College. This session runs from 9:15 to 10:15 am.
Eric Johnson, Folger Shakespeare Library
Once More unto Agincourt: Rescuing Henry from Pacifism
Before Johnson begins, Johnson wishes everyone a belated St. Cripsin's Day. Henry V, as a character, is typically depicted as a ruthless warrior, or an arrogant tyrant, as seen in Kenneth Branagh's Henry V. Critical interpretaion of the play has shifted from jingoistic hymn to a critique of militaristic nationalism. The play, Johnson explains, does not allow the audience to excuse Henry's sometimes morally dubious conduct, nor his unconvincing and ill-supported claim to the throne, nor his flimsy justification for invading France, but, he emphasizes, to critique is not to indict. while he admits identifying authorial intention can be dangerous, it seems unlikely that Shakespeare intended a full condemnation of military action. By examining the play itself, it is improbable that he intended it as an anti-war statement, nor that an early modern audience would interpret it in that way.
Several eyewitness accounts from the battle have survived. Henry and his troops departed for France 12 August 1415, besieging the fortess of Harfleur til it fell on September 22. Henry wanted to avoid fighting the French if he could, but it took him 250 miles to cross from Harfleur to Agincourt. Finally, October 24th, they decided to march towards Calais, only to find their way blocked by the French. Before the battle, the English were drifting to annihilation, suffering starvation and dwindling numbers, while the French were cheerful, well-fed, and expected an easy victory. The Globe's audience would not have to exert themselves to imagine the conditions. Despite the disheartening conditions, however, fighting was the sole option for the English: their's was either a glorious victory, or an ignominious defeat As the battle commenced, the English archers unleashed a harrowing barrage, and soon overwhelmed the panicked French soldiers After executing the prisoners, France sued for peace, Henry took a French wife, ruling England for seven years before leaving an infant son who starred in three of his own plays.
The Battle of Agincourt was a stunning victory, a smaller army besting a larger one. Were he trying to condemn war, Shakespeare picked the wrong battle. It is likely an Early Modern audience knew the story, the basic mechanics of battle were familiar to them, and many accounts and anecdotes survive of the battle. One element Early Modern audience would be been well aware of, which modern audiences do not well appreciate, is the centrality of logistics to warfare, especially when besieging off the home turf. Waging war required massive logistical planning, and an army would perish without this. An uprising of the French prisoners, as depicted in the play, could thus make for an existential threat to the English army. They could easily destroy the baggage train, and gather enough of the local men to turn to ignominious defeat in an instant. Thus, Henry's order to kill the prisoners, while morally dubious, is not entirely unjustified.
Thus, between the stirring verse, and honest depiction of warfare, Shakespeare's history continues to resound among warriors today.
Chris Highley, The Ohio State University
Playhouse and Glasshouse in the Early Modern Blackfriars
The Blackfriars Glasshouse, Highley begins, was the home for London's manufacture of glassware. The factory was located in the stone built spaces of the old Dominican friary. Unlike that original monastary, however, the Early Modern Blackfriars district was a cluster of competitive establishments devoted to spectacle and luxury, which included, painting schools, fencing schools, and dancing schools. The glasshouse itself, Highley says, functioned as a theatre of sorts, wherein wealthy patrons could squeeze into the cramped and stifling facility and watch the glassblowers at work, and the high quality of these glasses is well attested in contemporary documents. If could be sold, turned Blackfriars into an expensive shopping distirnct, including clocks, intrusments, and sch.
Plays peformanced at the Blackfriars included references to these famous glasshouses. Ben Jonson's The Alchemist evokes the never-seen furnace that makes the glass as a significant thematic presence.
While many, Highley continues, might surmise the playhouse and glasshouse in close proximity, recent mapping suggests the glasshouse was on the other side of the main building, in northeast structure from playhouse. Property records show it occupied a chamber in the old vault, below the old Church, placing it adjacent to the parish Church of St. Anne's which also played key role in defining the reputation of the neighborhood in the district. Significantly, he says, the Blackfriars district became an attractive destination for those less than orthodox.
Thus, Highley, concludes, the Blackfriars district, as exemplified in the Blackfriars glasshouse, was a crucial cultural intersection that many in London's theatrical scene shared.
Danielle Sanfilippo, University of Rhode Island
Did He Call the King a Stale Catamite?:Ben Jonson's Sejanus His Fall and the Dynamics of the Jacobean Audience
The word "failure", Sanfilippo begins, is often associated with Jonson's 1603 tragedy, Sejanus His Fall. Though Johnson took great pride in the meticulously researched play, it was hissed off the stage by its first audience. This word persists in modern critical approaches to the play, some suggesting his strict adherence to classical sources alienated him from the theatre-going public, who preferred the more contemporary tragedies of Shakespeare.
Yet, if one steps away from idea of failure, instead it becomes evident that Jonson misunderstood Jonson, by adhering too closely to sources, boring the audience with long speeches lifted from his classical sources, and his portrait of Tiberius in particular read as criticism of James I, whose close relationships with male favorites were well known. Despite Jonson's intentions, she explains, audiences would have thought the character was an on the nose critique of the masculinity of monarch.
A prominent theme of the play is the relation of masculinity and political power. Ostensibly directed to Sejanus' followers, Sanfilippo demonstrates how the citizen Silius' speech also illustrates how Sejanus relates to Tiberius. Bitterness in his speech is directed to the two men, while also lamenting the servile nature of the state of Rome. The times themselves are corrupt and corroding the times. But, Sanfilippo points out, the foucs on the state is a failing, since an abstraction cannot well invoke fear and pity, which Aristotle says is necessary for tragedy. Jonson attempts to evoke pity and fear with regards to the masculinity of state, but whether he succeeds is dependent on the reaction of the original audience.
Going further, Sanfilppo demonstrates that the scatological dialogue the characters, most significantly the protagonist, often employ is emblematic of Jonson's failure at character construction. Sejanus as a character too reprehensible to pity, and too ridiculous to fear. She contrasts Sejanus to Shakespeare's Richard III: the fundamental difference here, she says, is that Richard nothing if not careful in his use of rhetoric and manipulates others through speech. Sejanus's scatology, focused bizarrely on noble women's bodily functions. was going too far for Jacobean audiences, more suitable to a comedy and the dialogue out of sync with the classical genre.
Beyond leaving audience unconformable, the play specifically offended government in its portrait of the hedonistic and corrupt Tiberius. Though Jonson does not specify erotic bond between Sejanus and Tiberius, he does offer a model of master and secretary, with Sejanus as an exceptionally exalted secretary, his play emerging as a cautionary tale of ambition.
Jonson's key error, Sanfilippo clarifies, is in not realizing who these classical figures would represent in his times. As such, his tragedy had far reaching effects beyond his intention. Rather than thinking of Sejanus as a failed text, however, Sanfilippo proposes instead the text provides useful case study for the Early Modern theatrical world.
Michael West, Columbia University
How to Make a Villain and a Clown: Tautology, Contradiction, Nonsense
How, West asks, does on onstage body get activated and become a character? It could be addressed in word or gesture, it could enact significant gestures or sounds, or it could speak. But, West continues, seting aside semantic meaning, it may be fruitful to explore a form whose content does not matter: specifically, he says, tautology and contradiction. He proposes to examine how the use of these specific forms of speech make specific characters.
West clarifies that by "tautology", he means a logical, not a rhetorical one ("it is what is is"). A tautology is simultaneously exhaustive and empty. It tells nothing and telsl everything, and yet, since it means nothing, cit can be a figure of hiding. He uses Iago as an example. How does Iago say so much and yet so little? West suggests it is through Iago's contradictory acts of self-definition, "I am now who I am", or, "what you know, know". Iago openly discusses his scheming, yet there is still sense of reserve and cunning, achieved through his use of tautology and contradiction. Tautology and contradiction share common features. Neither offer new information, they say nothing, and offer no new pictures of reality. Both are in a sense independent of the world, and their truth or falsity does not depend on reality. One detaches oneself from world through the act of speech. West remarks how striking it is that tautologies and contradictions often appear in the mouths of clowns and villains.
Nonsense, he continues, offers an initial appearance of meaning which is drained by the end of the sentence. Using Feste's nonsense as an example, he shows how it has an appearance of wisdom and profundity, though it means nothing. It sounds like he is saying something interesting, when he is saying nothing at all. Tautology, West explains, can only tell us something we already know. Feste, then, is a character not through mimesis, but through the opaque language that refuses to engage the characters around him. Feste refuses participation in world of fragile dependence.
Saying everything and nothing appears open while remaining recalcitrant and mysterious. These figures offer meaning on surface, while implying it lies elsewhere. One, West concludes, seems to communicate everything at once, while communicating nothing.
Jacqueline Vanhoutte, University of North Texas
Falstaff's Dirty Shirt
Vanhoutte begins saying she will use Jonson's satire of Essex and his breeches to essay a reading of Falstaff's shirt, which, she contends, may have functioned as a memento for original audiences. As a contemporary example, she shows a picture of Monica Lewinsky's infamous blue dress Vanhoutte begins with Essex' "publicity seeking pants." In the satire, Jonson is making a joke at Essex's expense. Those "enterprising breeches" speak to migration of goods from the nobility to the theatre, exposing clothes of the nobility to public view. Accounts of contemporary plays show that satiric representations of actual courtiers made their way to the stage.
While Jonson prided himself on writing plays allied closely to the time, it has become axiomatic in Shakespeare studies that personal satire was foreign to Shakespeare. That, however, Vanhoutte says, obscures their similarities, in their tendencies to recycle noble materials for stage. Falstaff, she argues, is the poster boy for this form of recycling. Falstaff, in the plays, is often associated with used and soiled clothing. Take special note, she informs everyone, of the places where Shakespeare emphasizes Falstaff's dilapidated noble attire. It shows that Shakespeare, she says, literally and metaphorically, was airing the dirty laundry. Nobility of the day often sold cast off clothes to actors. Since clothes, especially for nobility, were custom made, that, she contends, shows the world of social relations carried with them memories to mold and shape the wearers, providing a unique opportunity for theatrical ghosting, drawing on audience memory for verisimilitude, comparison, or parody.
This evocativeness of clothing was used to remind audiences of specific people. Perhaps she suggests, the original Falstaff was outfitted as a Knight of the Garter. The dirty shirt, then, might have materialized connections with Earl of Leicester, since Will Kempe, the original Falstaff, was for a time his "jesting player". Players of the time were given liveries by their patrons. When playing Shakes fat paunch, Kempe would carried his courtly past onto the stage. A reenactment of previous events, a stage memory, would be enhanced with dirty shirt and parody of Leicester's crest. An iconic piece of clothing , like Essex's breeches or Lewinsky's dress, can conjure a relationship decades after the fact. Between Leicester's crest and the dirty shirt, Shakespeare evokes a long history with Leicester, as well as the shift in institutional allegiance from the court to the public theater. In the epilogue of 2 Henry IV, Falstaff submitting himself to the audience thus shows how the audience had usurped a role reserved for royalty and the queen. In effect, Shakespeare urged audiences to past judgement on queen, and, through Falstaff's rejection, even fantasize a replacement like Hal, who turns away the fat knight with old doublet and dirty shirt.
Richard Hornback, Ogelthorpe University
"Mannett Clowne": John Singer's Planned Improvisation with the Admiral's Men, Or, "Blabbering", "Roaring", "What?"/"How?", "etc."
Much is often assumed about clowns, Hornback begins. For instance, many assume that, in the Early Modern era, all clowns equally improvised in the same way, and were dismissed as uncollaborative and antagonistic to good drama. The attitude, he explains, is traced to biased neoclassical critics like Philip Sidney and Hamlet. One, however, reaches a different conclusion when turning to more reliable evidence, like that of the clown John Singer.
The hostility to an improvising Clown, Hornaback continues, is well-noted. Sidney objected to them, but he also rejected all popular drama, as "mongrelizing" classic drama. He disliked loud laughter, and in tragedy, he objected to mingling kings and clowns. For Sidney, clowns very presence prevented admiration, empathy, and delight in drama. Looking at Shakespeare and contemporaries, Hornback argues, undermines this inflexible position.
First, he explains, it does not withstand scrutiny or practice. Examining "planned improvisation", Hornback shows that "etc." in the dialogue often served as stand-in for improvised swearing. Henslowe's playhouse documents record other planned comic improvisation for singers and clowns. In Thomas More, for instance revisions include scenes for a "Monnett clown", who comments sarcastically on the action, and has some scenes alone. Planned, improvising clowning, then, seems to be a practice among the Lord's Admiral's men. Singer's gags also lent themselves to planned improvisation. Extent dialogue for singer plays on this--in one particular scene, one finds four formulaic repetitions of question "do he hear?", and "how?".
Kim Greenawalt and Mary Finch, MFA students at Mary Baldwin University, demonstrate this with a brief scene including this repetition of "How", with the parodic repetition of previous lines.
These scenes cater to and record such aurality, which keeps audience on track. Such connective repetition, Hornback says, used to be a sign of "bad quartos", but actually show signs of improvisation during a time when stenography boomed. The quality of reporting of improvisation quite high, as we can see in examples of sermons. Copied only by the ear, this manuscript preserves faithfully the improvisation and even original pronunciation, more so then phonetic spelling of the time.
Though sometimes formulaic, planned improvisation could be open-ended. Hamlet's rebuke is often misinterpreted attacking Will Kempe, but was probably against Singer's "babbling" clowns. Perhaps the improviser had a prodigious memory, which helped cue his extemporizing. Singer served as a foil for Alleyn's more than natural delivery, contrasting aural, aesthetic, and emotional effects. Singer spoke more than set down for him, and the more the better, since little was set down for him. But, Hornback emphasizes, it was not in the least antagonistic, anti-dramatic, or anti-collborative.
Next was some time questions. The first was for Highley. The auditor wonders about cost of glassware, and how could afford glass explosion, as heard in The Alchemist, backstage?
Highley clarifies, saying he did not suggest they actually broke glass backstage, but instead approximated the noise. Glass was very expensive in their, and they definitely did not make the crash with actual glass.
Another question is whether there is not some irony when Hamlet talks about the clowns, rather than a strict rejection. Hornback concurs, saying the speech is incredibly ironic for many reasons. Hamlet often prompts audience to laugh when a great matter is considered. Hamlet the character would never approve of Hamlet the play. Also, what Hamlet is objecting to bad improv, not improv in general.
Another asks Johnson "What would you say about Troilus and Cressida in regard to anti-war sentiment and cynicism?"
Johnson answers that Shakespeare's attitude towards war it that it is a human phenomenon. War is going to happen whether you like it or not. He takes into account humanity's good and bad aspects.
The next question is for Vanhoutte: "What about Mistress Quickly fighting with Falstaff over the price of shirts?Is that a critique of Elizabeth?"
Quickly, Vanhoutte explains, sometimes substitutes for Elizabeth, and often is referred to as "queen" (in more than one sense).
And with that, this paper session concludes.