Good afternoon! Tiffany Waters here again live blogging the fifth paper session of the Blackfriars Conference 2017. With seven papers this afternoon, we have quite a busy schedule! Today’s session is moderated by Dr. Mary Hill Cole of Mary Baldwin University with actors Chad Marriott, Becca Gossage, and Clare Boyd.
Melissa Johnson from the University of Minnesota is our first presenter with her paper, “A woman is to Be My Downfall”: Adapting Macbeth for Young Female Audiences. Johnson begins her presentation with the idea that Macbeth is most often viewed as Shakespeare’s “most masculine play.” Johnson argues that we, as a collective society, should be taking the teenage female experience more seriously in a canon that features young female heroines to express their experience. Shakespeare stands between popular culture and the educational industry, so Macbeth is a play familiar with the demographic in question. Macbeth has garnered particular attention for adaptations. Shakespeare’s works are often used to speak to the experience of individuals and collective demographics through interpretation. Johnson speaks on an adaptation of Macbeth in which Macbeth is re-gendered and in a lesbian relationship in high school. This production seeks to relieve young women of their personal, familial, and social constraints. Viewed from this angle, these adaptations have the ability to engage young women in the exploration of female heroines and title characters that are relatable. This representation of strong female characters speaks to the popular culture that young women are reading in modern books. Johnson cites Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games and Beatrice Prior in the Divergent series. Writers have been adapting Shakespeare for four hundred years, and they will continue to do so. Johnson concludes that combining Shakespeare with adaptation and the teenage female experience allows us to connect young readers to his canon.
Meaghan Brown from the Folger Shakespeare Library presents next with her paper, The Folger’s Digital Anthology of Early Modern English Drama. The Digital Anthology has four hundred and three plays available. Title page and publication features are available tools for each play in the database. The title pages provide clues as to when or where the plays were performed and public vs. private performances, lending itself to the study of performance history. The database features an advanced search that allows the user to narrow down the material that is generated. “Once you have found a new play, what can you do with it?” The database provides facsimiles, bibliographical information, and related links for the researcher. In the same space, this database links itself to the digitization projects of other organizations. There is a direct link to EEBO images to open access to the researcher. There is no way to indicate in the search which plays come with facsimiles, so to resolve this issue they have created a facsimiles tab that allows the researcher to find any copies of the title pages for plays that the database has gathered. The featured plays can be downloaded in HTML or PDF. This database makes lesser known plays available and provides lesser known forms of well known texts. Because printing errors are a common complication in Early Modern texts, there are notes within the play copies that alert the researcher to changes or mistakes made in the printed edition. The aim of this project is to provide information to researchers that connects the information present at the Folger to other resources.
Our third presenters are Wendy Wall and William N. West from Northwestern University with their joint paper titled, Database to Argument: Showing and Telling in a Class on Shakespeare’s Circuits. Both Wall and West have taught classes based on the original text and textual analysis, but had not yet tackled this idea on a global scale. The ambitious nature of this project is to create a digital map. They sought to answer the question: “What is a map? Does it demonstrate, relate, or translate?” Could digital mapping enhance their pedagogical approach? After assembling thirty students, they divided the students into teams to collectively conduct research and locate every instance of Shakespeare in a specific non-Anglo region. This map was used to then create narrative of the uses of Shakespeare in these areas. The map was comprised of data points and then transferred to a global map. It allows the researcher to explore instances of Shakespeare in non-Anglo regions and gives information of the years of performance or text and the genre (adaptation, musical, comedy, etc.). The team of students found a 1607 production of Hamlet that was performed on a ship. They ran into classification problems such as where to put this production on the map because it took place in international waters. Another question they faced was what constituted a “Shakespeare” production and determined to include Shakespeare’s works and works “influenced by” Shakespeare. These hiccups bring Wall and West back to their original problem: “Does [the map] demonstrate, relate, or translate?” The collaborative work of the student researchers that enabled this project allowed them to see their own research biases. Wall asks, “What constitutes as evidence and how do you tell a story?” After the research was completed, they discovered that the map allows researchers to create a historical narrative between and around how Shakespeare moved throughout different cultures and languages. The students succeeded in constructing this historical narrative by looking at the whole of the map. There is much more to learn from Wall and West, but ten minutes has expired and the bear made an appearance to eat the paper!
Our fourth presenter is Dr. Janna Segal from the University of Louisville with her paper, Bringing “Something Wicked” in Macbeth to the Stage. Janna begins with a brief history of King James I. James I came to the throne in 1603 and was previously involved in witch trials. King James made laws against the use of witchcraft, but wrote books upon the subject speaking to his interest in the matter. Macbeth was written in 1606, three years after his ascension. James’ demonology claims that the witches can be carried by the force of the devil. The witches are inhabitants of a satanic realm vanishing form the Earth, and therefore Macbeth is consistent with James’ ideas on demonology. Early Modern culture viewed witches as slaves of the devil. Segal deals with the challenges in cultural relocation of the Scottish play arguing that the witches are inhabitants of a world each recognizable to the target audience. Umabatha is an adaptation that envisions Macbeth as a South African play in which the witches are witch doctors more akin to wise women. The witch doctors use their words and wisdom to conjure their ancestors, connecting their culture to the onstage action and offstage relationship with the target audience. Segal claims, “All classic plays were once new plays.” Seeing these plays through the lens of audiences living in 2016 sets each production in a new cultural relocation seen through the eyes of its new target audience.
Catherine Loomis from the University of New Orleans is our next presenter with, O Most Wicked Speed! Loomis begins with history of language and legislation of the early 17th century. In 1606, actors’ words and content were monitored. They were forced to pay for any speaking out of turn, such as using the word “God” onstage to swear. All funds went to the parish, but audience members could profit if they reported the incident. Anyone could leave the theatre and move with “most wicked speed” to sue the theatre. Until the late 17th century, there were no serious consequences. These laws had a textual effect on new plays written in or around 1606. Before 1606, “promoters” looked for degradation of religious material or the mimicking of public figures in the theatre, but were not paid for their efforts.
In order to test what might have changed in 1606, Loomis poses an experiment. In a series of well known scenes from Shakespeare’s cannon, the audience is listening for the holy use of God, and the actors will try not to use them. Any conference attendee who reports violations to Loomis will be paid in the sum of twenty dollars. “Using substitute oaths in familiar plays must have been difficult for the actors!” Clare Boyd plays Beatrice with Chad Marriott as Benedick in Act 4, Scene 1 of Much Ado About Nothing and says, “Why, then, God forgive me.” The conference gives an audible response in recognition of the swear. Loomis hopes that being aware of this legislative history (or the prospect of twenty dollars) changes the way we listen to Shakespeare.
Our sixth presenter is Matthew Kozusko from Ursinus College with his paper, Shakespeare Interrupted. Kozusko begins by arguing that tmesis is the master rhetorical device of Coriolanus. He further argues that Shakespeare used this device to create rather than resolve ambiguity. Tmesis is the separation of parts of a compound word by an intervening word or words heard mainly in informal speech. How is this rhetorical device used in Coriolanus? “Often nested in strings of appositives, the interruptions can indicate enthusiasm or excitement” like in Volumnia’s lines of 2.1. It is a rhetorical device that causes the need for qualifications even as it moves from thought to thought. Kozusko gives us an example of the idea of this rhetorical device by bringing another scholar in to give her paper on the use of aposiopesis (omission of the end of a thought by breaking off suddenly) in Coriolanus. Kozusko argues that tmesis is more applicable and specific to Coriolanus than aposiopesis. Kozusko and fellow scholar put pressure on each of their definitions of these and other rhetorical devices. Kozusko ends his paper in a dramatic trick, leaving out the ending conclusion of his thought and thereby employing these rhetorical devices with the interruption of the conference bear.
Last, but certainly not least, is Casey Caldwell from Northwestern University with his paper, ”Ciphers to this Great Accompt”: The Theater of Accounting in Henry V. Focusing on the Folio version of Henry V, Caldwell argues that double entry can be used to parallel the action. The great book of accompt is a manual with two sets of transactions to compare expenses and income. The cipher or the zero, was created after Roman numerals with no zero equivalent. People and things could both owe one another in their entries into the ledger. The prologue of Henry V is a reference to the great accompt and brings to light the Battle of Agincourt. Henry, played by Chad Marriott, looks at lists of the dead of the French and English after the Battle of Agincourt. This is taken almost verbatim from Holinshed’s chronicles. The list gives real names of upper class soldiers, and fictional names for the lower class. Caldwell suggests that the window of double entry between reality and fiction allows insight into history. Working through these two columns of names, it disjoints the action in Henry V as the Battle of Agincourt is taking place around it. When this speech is considered in the double entry frame, the names take on a different significance to re-encode the erasures that are lost from the chronicles in the lower class, fictional soldiers.