27 October 2011

Blackfriars Conference 2011 - Plenary Session IV

Hello from the beautiful Blackfriars Playhouse, nestled in a Staunton resplendent with Autumn colors. I am Christina Sayer Grey, Marketing Associate for the American Shakespeare Center, and I will be your live-blogging tour guide for Plenary Session IV from 1:00pm - 2:15pm on Thursday, October 27.


Moderator: Catherine Loomis, University of New Orleans

Staging Anatomy in The Athiest's Tragedy
Caroline Lamb, The University of Western Ontario

The Athiest's Tragedy features an unintentional self-execution - D'amville, the play's athiest, grabs an executioner's axe and accidentally applies it to his own head "In lifing up the axe has knocked his brains out." D'amville then continues to talk for 17 lines after the stage direction. No staging directions nor any staging history from 1611 on.

Discuss two related questions. 1. Might we infer that early modern spectators may have seen D'amville's brain onstage? 2. What effect would this staging have on audience's understanding of D'amville's body and brain onstage?

The playwright Tourneur's preoccupation with "brains" throughout the play, using it many times during the play, turns that body part into a fetish object. The play eventually gives the audience what they want - a visible human brain in vivisection. Evidence implies that the scene could have potentially been shown in a realistic way onstage. Animal viscera and blood could be employed to give the illusion of human innards. Spectators would have anticipated and possibly expected a display similar to what they might have seen in an anatomy theater.

1994 production - director Anthony Clark. "The dying D'amville dissects himself, wrenching out a chunk of bleeding brain and displaying it to the audience." Reveals to the audience that D'amville's brains needed inspection, anatomizing.

Eviscerated grey matter can serve as a corporeal correlative to the personal information that D'amville is making public for the first time. His 17 lines are used to reveal his plot and labels himself a murderer. He "spills his guts," if you will. Intellectual, moral belief, and identity are revealed in full physicality. D'amville's brain is exposed and so are his psychological innards. Early Moderns thought of the brain as the physical repository of knowledge as well as the center of intellect.

D'amville's blunder fulfills two conditions that anatomists wanted to realize in their practices - performed on a live subject and with minimal surgical interference. The play caters to a fantasy of vivisection - the viewing of the brain of a live human subject.

The Theatre and Its Cripple
Genevieve Love, Colorado College

How do disabilities function on the Early Modern stage? Reliance of the representation of loss.

'Larum for London (1602) -
a graphically violent play about the Siege of Antwerp. A series of violent episodes - onstage military killings, stabbing of a citizen, torture of an Englishman, a hanging, shooting of a woman, stoning to death, and the killing of young children (who beg for their lives for 60+ lines). Scene after scene of bloodshed.

At just over 1,100 lines, the play is quite short and a "grueling exhibition." The play's excesses are seen to mark its artistic shortcomings. The show, however, filled the need of the contemporary audience as topically apt, as Londoners feared a Spanish invasion.

Lame soldier, Stump, is a valorous soldier, but his prosthetic limb is described as "rotten." Stump's saving of a fat burgher links their two bodies as a corporeal representation of the relationship between too much and too little that runs throughout the play. The two-legged actor playing Stump has too much body (three legs total when Stump's stump is added) and the actor playing the fat burgher has too little (augmented by padding).

Playing with Paper
(A Love Letter to Tiffany Stern)
Carter Hailey, The College of William and Mary

Pre-performance, paper was required for all the documents of performance.
During performance, plots, props, and other ephemera were required. Believe as You List, for example, calls for 9 paper properties. Paper properties on the EME stage as quasi-corporeal representatives for an absent character - "paper players."
  • ASC actors Blythe Coons and Rene Thornton, Jr. perform a scene from The Merchant of Venice. "The paper as the body of my friend..."
  • Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy calls specifically red ink to represent Bel-Imperia having written her letter in blood.
Henry VI, part 1 - Hotspur reads a letter aloud and interjects non-letter lines into the reading. (ASC Actor Chris Johnston reads the example)

Tearing a scroll onstage - the power of destroying a missive. The letters that are torn are blanks. No tearing of "reading" scroll examples have been found by Hailey. An example of a pre-torn scroll where it is a "reading" scroll, but the elements on the "reading" half are cut-off at a specific point (scene performed by ASC Actors Jeremy West and Blythe Coons).

The unification of page and stage.

How Many Children Had Banquo?
Brett Gamboa, Dartmouth College

Doubling - absences of characters like Mercutio and Lear's Fool during large chunks of their plays. Other characters, however, go missing without much attention (Lady Montague, for example). Lady Montague's death doesn't necessarily add to the weight of the tragedy. Romeo's mother dies of theatrical necessity, she does not appear onstage because she is already there as another character. Her absence must be explained away by another character because she is expected to be there. Maria in Twelfth Night, the Queen in Cymbeline, and many other examples of the disappearing character exist. These examples all happen in their play's "limiting scene" - the scene that has the most number of speaking character (i.e. minimum number of actors required for the play). Suggestive absences are common in Shakespeare, but they appear to be practical considerations.

Macbeth 4.1 calls for more than 12 actors. "A show of 8 kings and Banquo"(plus Macbeth and witches) - the play calls for 8, but that is not enough for the purpose of the scene. The 8th king carries a mirror to show the future kings to Macbeth - Kings that cannot be embodied onstage. Representing abundance with an abundance of actors and then represents more abundance without any actors at all with the mirror.

Or, is Banquo the 8th king, the one with the mirror. This solution makes the limiting number 12 instead of 13 - the number of actors for which the company had a patent at the time. Using the actors playing the Thanes in the lines of future kings rather than journeymen, since Malcolm makes them Earls in the play, is a nice link, as well.

Why are there no blowjob jokes in Shakespeare?
Matt Kozusko, Ursinus College

Pyramus and Thisbe ("plausible although a stretch, perhaps") - Rene Thornton, Jr. plays the Wall, standing on a block; John Harrell plays Bottom/Pyramus; and Jeremy West as Flute/Thisbe. The Wall is genitally assaulted, causing the chink (the space between two fingers) to cover that area. Pyramus and Thisbe then kiss through the chink (Pyramus in front and Thisbe at the back). "I kissed the wall's hole and not your lips at all" "my part discharge"

The Winter's Tale - Hermione: "come on then, and give it to me in mine ear" as a mis-entrendre. The meanings have shifted over time and so we experience the phrase differently than E.M.E. audiences would have.

Sex acts are a dynamically social thing. There are no blowjob jokes in E.M. writings that we can identify because E.M. people either did not talk about these things publicly or not in ways that we can recognize. The promising candidates are not defensible because they require misreadings.

Distinctions, for example, between irrumare and fellare disappear when translated from Latin into another language and over the course of time.

Chaucer's The Miller's Tale - Absalom's kissing of Alison's arse "savorly" - what is being talked about - cunnilingus or analingus? An involuntary oral sex act of some sort is indicated.

A discourse on the parts of the body, especially when it requires circumspection, are not fixable and are easily movable. Williams's book "Dictionary of Sex Acts."

Sound Trumpet
Alisha Huber, independent scholar

O.P.'s focus on sight - we think about going to see a play. The focus in O.P. is related mostly to sight. What about hearing? Shakespeare and his contemporaries frequently use auditory signals in their stage directions. More than 250 calls for trumpets in E.M. stage directions - information conveyed by military signals served both for verisimilitude and a narrative purpose.

Alarum, appeal, parley, advance, and retreat were the basic ones used for E.M. plays.

Julius Caesar - a scene where the characters respond to offstage trumpet signals. The signals are part of the conversation. (Blythe Coons and Rene Thornton, Jr. perform the scene)

Rare in Shakespeare's plays for the stage directions to just generally call for "Sound Trumpets." The plays call for specific, indicative, and informational musical signals. Characters explain military signals, in fact, less than characters explain the tolling of a clock. Audience members would very likely have recognized all the military signals and those that didn't would have been quickly conditioned to recognize the consistent indications.

Unfortunately, because the signals were so familiar, players and real military members did not write them down. They were learned by rote by both groups. Therefore, no records remain of specific musical patterns.

Diverse country's signals would have recognizable by different groups, but there were distinct differences. The French, perhaps, marched more slowly than the English, for example.

Tucket - a heraldric badge of sound - an aural logo for a character. The Imperial March accompanying the entrance of Darth Vader - the aural logo plays before his entrance every time. The tucket, once learned, prepares the audience for that character's entrance.

All of these sound signals, when used consistently, conditions the audience to expect certain things along with certain sounds.



Q for Matt Kozusko: Henry V - Fluellen's forcing Pistol to eat a leek. "Eat this leek or I've got another leek in my pocket..."
A: Chewing of a leek, not particularly erotic. The leek already stands for Welsh honor and many other things.

Q for Alisha Huber: Are you arguing that soundtracks can be used to create an auditory experience?
A: Soundtracks create an emotional response and music underscoring text makes the text hard to understand. The signalling intends to create an intellectual response.

Q for Alisha Huber:
Does the sound make the meaning?
A: Overly specific examples, like Darth Vader, have a dangerous potential to distract or create a parody of itself.

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