Allie Dawson here, blogging from the fourth plenary session of the 9th Biennial Blackfriars Conference. This session is moderated by Doreen Bechtol of Mary Baldwin University.
Adam Hooks, University of Iowa
What Did Romeo and Juliet Sound Like?
Hooks begins by saying that this may seem like an impossible question, and indeed it is. Nevertheless, he continues, he is not interested in answering it, but in how one might answer it. There has been an attempt to reproduce the soundscape of the theatre, and he proposes some ways the evidence has been made evident.
If one is a bibliographer like himself, he says, one might first look in the obvious place, the Stationer's Registry, where one would find a ballad with the same name entered in August 6th of 1596. Another way a bookish person might answer the question would be to look at John Danter, the much maligned publisher of the first "bad Quarto" of Romeo and Juliet. During his career, he entered nearly fifty ballads in the Stationer's register, many of them based on plays. The ballads leave traces of how various forms of media were put together in this era. One reconstructs the sound of Romeo and Juliet from a negative space where silence once was. If it were him, Hooks continues, he might conclude here, seeing how bibliography can seem to answer an insoluble question. Hooks, however, is not satisfied, and if he is not satisfied, that means something is missing.
A playbook or ballad sounds like nothing at all, and fails to document the ephemeral reality of the play. Perhaps the best way to hear it to stop looking for plays, and instead focus on sounding the environment of this playbook. What if we consider sound of play as opposed to its staging? What if one considered the sound of a scene almost always cut, and thus existing primarily on the page? An example he gives is when the musicians enter after Juliet's apparent death. Lord Capulet asks them, in Q 2, to play "some merry thing", and they propose a song called "heart’s ease." The audience was expected to be familiar with whatever song this was, though they were probably more interested in voice of Will Kempe, playing Peter. The sound of "heart's ease" is contingent on its topicality. Hooks is reluctant to reconstruct what it sounded like, since sounds are so embodied This bibliographical inquiry gives insight into potential of what has been lost, but it can only ever partial, if not illusory.
Katherine Little, Mary Baldwin University
The French Shades of Shakespeare's Henriad
Little gives what she calls a "snapshot" of the thesis she wrote for her Master of Letters. She evaluates how Shakespeare contends with postures towards France in the Henriad, illustrating the stylistic shift from the Norman French court to that of English commoners.
Beginning with Richard II, she explains how his traditional, feudal, and absolutist style of rule earns the censure of his subjects, leading them to back the more English, virile, and plainspoken Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke presents himself as an ally to the people, and thus a more suitable king. Few commoners speak in Richard II, and those that do speak like gentlemen. Everyone else in the play either lives in Richard's world, or tries to dismantle it. Rhyme is also curiously absent in Richard II, though 100% of the play is written in verse, while 1 Henry IV is 58% verse, and 2 Henry IV 42%. Richard's highly wrought language emphasizes his self-indulgence, while Bolingbroke more versatile linguistic style allows him to ingratiate himself with the common people. Thus, Richard loses the throne to the virile, populist Bolingbroke, and the more opulent play gives way to prosaic and action-packed plays, and the farther they get from Richard, the less poetic they become.
With Henry V, though, she indicates an interesting shift. While a play about "the most English King", 60% of it is in verse, featuring an unprecedented amount of French dialogue. The proliferation of French, most significantly in the person of Katharine, complicates the narrative. In marrying her, French is part of his past and his future. He attempts to Anglicize her with his plainspoken soldier facade, but her belligerence in maintaining her French language and customs forces him to drop the facade and reveal his problematic bilingualism. Clearly, he has not divested himself of the French language, heritage and culture, including speaking of his future progeny as "half French, half English". The Henriad’s ending points to England’s continued, tumultuous relationship with French language.
Lindsey Snyder, Independent Scholar
Speak Hand For Me: Shakespeare Analysis and Sign Language
Speaking through an interpreter, Snyder presents her paper entirely in American Sign Language. Before beginning, she expresses her fear that she's "casting a long line into a shallow sea".
According to Snyder, educators and theatre-makers need to focus on the needs of Shakespeare in deaf and signing communities. After putting together focus groups and workshops to ascertain student's needs, she dicovered learning materials for available for the deaf community are absent. Most teachers create their own material from their own creativity. There is not translation record for educators at all. How, then, does one educate children in Shakespeare? She began to understand this is a large problem, and that the ASL and Shakespeare community need to cross disciplines in order to work with each other. What are the benefits of working together?
Snyder mentions three. First, she mentions Tiffany Stern's presentation on dumb shows in plays such as Hamlet from the last conference. Stern asked about those who wrote them across different editions, using different words to describe the same action. That made Snyder think that, looking at concepts, rather than words, would thus effect the blocking and interpretation of the same show. Second, she points out how Shakespeare uses description of gesture to figure out how actors can embody these actors, and ASL can assist in this. We can think of language, instead of as something frozen, as something living in support of actors and teachers. Third, ASL can impact dramaturgy, actors, and character analysis in a significant way. Using sign language can enhance textual analysis. Using two soliloquies of Juliet as an example, Snyder, together with Ben Reed speaking the words, illustrates how the motions of ASL reinforce and deepen the character moments latent in the text.
There are, she concludes, real character development possibilities in ASL. It should not be left at gestural studies and ASL alone, but should be collaborative work. Gestural studies, she says, have finally taught young actors "how to put the big fish down".
Kimberly West, Cumberland School of Law
There is No Remedy: The Trials of Measure for Measure
West introduces herself by informing her audience she is a practicing lawyer, with research interests in Shakespeare and trial advocacy, before giving a playful warning to the bear that lawyers are "tough and stringy fare".
The Elizabethans, she begins, were an extraordinarily litigious society, symptomatic of the explosion of litigation in the 16th and 17th centuries. 4 million persons were involved in 1 million legal actions a year. In Shakespeare's time, she continues, the litigant performed his, or her, own defense. That might be why, she says, all of Shakespeare's great advocates were women. Further, she explains, one third or more of the audience either knew, taught, or practiced law, and trial scenes, legal jokes, and complicated legal scenes figure in about two thirds of Shakespeare's plots. Audiences of the time thus not only liked the legal jokes, but followed the complicated legal wranglings of the plot.
Shakespearean legalese, she says, is most notable in Measure for Measure., specifically the "Law of Remedies". The Law of Remedies was a means of enforcing a right or redressing a wrong. It was a way of helping a litigant thwart a wrongful action, or undo the consequences of a wrongful act. Thus, when Angelo tells Isabella there is "no remedy" for Claudio, it is a sign to go to an 'equitable court', which will do something about that terrible scene.
She then uses scenes of constable Elbow attempting to bring malefactors to prosecution to illustrate the displacement of these ordinary legal means. First Elbow attempts to bring Lucio, caught frequenting a brothel, to Angelo, but he confuses the legally significant identity of the accused, and misplaces the term of attesting to someone's credibility. Next, direct and circumstantial evidence are given. When Elbow asks Angelo to redress the wrong done to his wife, but he offers remedy without knowing the wrong down to Elbow's wife. This scene parallels and comments upon his judgement in Claudio's case--Juliet's pregnancy is considered absolute evidence for fornication, without seeing if there was a possibility of a handfasting or betrothal, making it unclear whether there was any fornication or not.
The bear comes in to cut the presentation short, but West makes clear that legalese and legal jargon are a key dimension of understanding the themes in this play.
Andrea Stevens, University of Illinois
An Action That a Man Might Play: Performing the Commonplace
Stevens says her paper is drawn from a study examining the use of "commonplaces" in Shakespeare. A commonplace is an aphorism or saying, or the book for collecting phrases to study and be remembered. In print, they were indicated by inverted commas or a different font. Prior to 1590’s, commonplaces appeared in poetry or more prestigious plays. Stevens focuses on these as "actions a man might play."
First, Stevens asks, what might these cue? The exchange of commonplace wisdom in act 1, Scene 3 of Othello, plays often are skeptical or disdainful of these commonplaces, but the scene is also the defeat of Desdemona's father. Iago argues to the Duke that this match is unnatural, using commonplaces to argue his point; the Duke counters by offering a different set of maxims. The application of commonplace logic to these situations shows a chance for one character, or actor, to upstage another. If the mining of text for commonplace wisdom was a common skill, then authority often comes from turning the mode of the commonplace against itself.
Why, Stevens asks, do women never engage in this self-conscious linguistic games?Women, however, never engage in these displays of commonplace wisdom in Shakespeare, save two: Cressida and Isabel. In both cases, however, in contrast to the public displays of verbal one-upmanship by the man, these instances take place in private. In the tragedies, Desdemona and Emilia are victims of these commonplace. How Stevens asks, to counter those utterances belonging to everyone and no one? Othello demonstrates the tragic instability of their predicament. Men and women have different methods of speaking publicly and privately—Lady Macbeth speaks in commonplaces during her sleepwalking scene, Ophelia in her madness, and Desdemona sings the Willow Song before Othello comes to kill her. Juliet, though, provides an unusual, in between instance when speaking with her nurse. She produces rhyming couplets for herself—but the nurse catches what Juliet is saying, the speech now neither wholly private or public comes to her unbidden, catching her unaware. It evokes a sense of tragedy that goes unchallenged.
Matthew Davies, Mary Baldwin University
Voicing the Inside-Outsider: Performing Shakespeare's ESL Characters
Davies's project is to identify the overlooked category of ESL ("English as a Second Language") speakers in Shakespeare's plays. Within the plays, he tells us, there are a small subset of foreigners who absent themselves from the prevailing cultural hegemony of the particular be it (be it France, or Egypt, or Italy).
First, he explains, the “E” in ESL represents the dominate power language of the home country, which is itself an an imposition, since, in Shakespeare, it's always his native tongue regardless of location. "E=ESL squared". It is then notable that, on few occasions speakers delineating accents in narrative concerned with subsuming tongues under the dominant tongue, it usually is within the context of England seeking to to create and assert a cultural hegemony over other nations in its sphere (Ireland, Scotland, and Wales). In Henry V, Shakespeare makes it clear that only of those non-English captains was raised speaking English.
Cleopatra is an ESL character showcasing linguistic fluency. In effect, she never speaks her native tongue in course of the play, letting the audience appreciate facility with which she banters with lower class, her precise Latin of her Roman guests, and the richly abstract Asiatic Greek favored by Antony and herself. Yet, there no hint of grammatical uncertainty, no otherness in her expression, which speaks to her linguistic facility in the service of political purposes.
By contrast, there are clear phonetic markers in Love's Labour's Lost and The Merchant of Venice. Don Armado is Spanish, and in contrast to the other characters, speaks Spanish and sounds Spanish, as is implied several places in the text. Of greater interest, Davies notes, is how his aural otherness amplifies his status of his insecurity—he, out of all the men, is the perfect student, who parrots language of power with zeal of autodidact. The Alien Armado emerges as synecdoche of the alienness of courtly language. It reminds us Armado the pupil and Holofernes the professor of . Armado unwittingly castigates the courtly artificiality. Outsider graduates tolittle academe as teaching fellow.
The use of ESL also has the capacity to ostracize. With Shylock, the issue becomes how far to portray the ethnotype. Is he Jewish? “Jew-ish”? Or is he something other?). David Suchet played him as an outsider because he is Jewish, while Patrick Stewart played him as an outsider who happens to be Jewish. Of the two, however, Stewart's interpretation contravenes the text John Harell, in his interpretation, portrayed a man embedded in, but not quite of, his society. Davies portrayed Shylock as an immigrant, his research showing him the possibility that Shylock and his family were not native to Venice. Playing him as German who speaks differently even from other Jews, Davies argues, creates a resonantly powerful outsider viewed as parasitical to the dominant power structures.
In the play's thematic terms, the struggle with abstractions of language leads to “inside-outsider” thing. It plays into to the native speakers who self-authorize linguistic wounds of power.