Good afternoon! We started our conference today with our only paper session today, Plenary Session 10. This session was moderated by Nick Hutchison, and Independent Director, and our actors for the session were Chris Johnston, Greg Brostrom, and Shunte Lofton of the American Shakespeare Center.
Paige Reynolds of the University of Central Arkansas is our next presenter with her paper, Playing Dead in Othello. Reynolds focuses her paper around the dead body of Desdemona. She is a character who has a lots of time on her hands after her death and a lot of hands on her body at the same time. Her body is bothered by touches of Othello. Reynolds argues that Desdemona’s corpse has presence without power and sensation without speech. She poses the question: what does it mean for a women to put her body onstage? She further articulates that Desdemona is described as pretty after she is smothered, detailing the idea that her marriage was a failure, but her death was a success. When the actor playing Desdemona is upstaged by her own corpse, it presents actor with predicament: how does the actor accomplish staying active and passive at the same time? The actor may feel she is playing dead before the show even starts. Desdemona endures physical private assault and verbal public assault. She declares, “Oh these men, these men!” Reynolds argues that within this line, the character and actor have awareness of “these men” who craft the cultural experience of women and dictate Desdemona’s experience that drives her to her death. “These men” are watching and responding. The actor knows what happens to Desdemona, and onstage we have a live actor playing a dead Desdemona. The lines in which Othello talks of Desdemona’s “cold body” invite Othello to “cradle, caress, and kiss” the dead Desdemona. This touching is followed by a series of curses that annotate Desdemona as the subject and object, the living actor and the dead character, as Othello uses her body as a prop. Once she finally dies, Othello can’t kill her accurately. Reynolds details that Othello starts with an energetic, female energy from Desdemona, otherwise known as “early Desdemona”. “Late Desdemona” is a cold, still corpse that is manhandled. For the reason, some scholars divide her into two different characters. Reynolds concludes that the dramaturgy of the play demands that Desdemona’s corpse is compliant and defenseless, a form of pornographic necrophilia. After Othello learns of Desdemona’s innocence, he is concerned with how her corpse appears. The murder of “pretty” Desdemona is a success. “I will kill thee and love thee after.” This is taboo without transgression.
Our third presenter is Elizabeth Kolkovich from Ohio State University with her paper, Strip Teases and Belly Dancing: Adapting Timon’s Mask in the Twenty-First Century. Kolkovich begins with, “Timon of Athens have issues,” and is promptly met with laughter from he audience. The scenes don’t fit together, the title character dies offstage, and the text is probably a draft. Despite its “issues”, some theatre companies have found that in the wake of global financial crisis Timon speaks to modern concerns of capitalism and the environment. Most productions are staged in modern dress by companies that emphasize outreach and inclusion. Kolkovich names the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, American Shakespeare Center, and Cincinnati Shakespeare. The court masks are tied to a specific culture moment and probably would have been least accessible costume elements of Early Modern productions for the audience. Kolsovich’s paper seeks to answer the questions: what is at stake in mask scene here and now, and how have North American theatre companies staged it? The stage directions indicate, “enter maskers of Amazons…dancing and playing” and “enter Cupid with masks of ladies.” The following lines of Cupid’s speech cause use to wonder, “How many maskers are present?”. Cupid’s lines might literal or metaphorical, but they certainly overwhelm the senses. Bad omens at the mask are written into the dialogue. Timon’s use of mask is emblematical of a society that is about to fail him. Women are called, “whores who will do anything for gold.” Based on this evidence, Kolkovich asserts that, “A Marxist [production] practically writes itself.” Women have little power in this world. To what extent does this scene critique that idea? How do Timon and his guests react and how does the audience? The masque lends itself to a great opportunity to recreate modern ideas. Kolkovich found that among these modern ideas, all companies converted Timon’s mask to exotic dancing to tap into similar fears of the Amazons. She moves on to critique how each production critiques misogyny, and reaffirms that staging the dance in an exotic arena was a popular choice. Kolkovich then examines the most recent productions of Timon in 2017 with the Stratford Festival in Ontario and Folger Theatre in DC. Both productions had similar choreography. The Folger featured belly dancers, and Stratford used several female dancers in what Kolkovich describes as a “Halloween costume version of sexy togas”. She then highlights the differences with the Folger’s scene being dark and intimate in stark contrast to Stratford that was light with masses of participants. The Stratford production used a satiric tone and mimed eating Timon with knives and forks to critique misogyny. This production offered a feminist response to mask. At the Folger, the female actors only played smaller roles such as servants, assistants, messengers, etc. Reviews of the Folger’s production articulate that it was male dominated to mirror contemporary life. Kolkovich argues that “if it didn’t comment misogyny, it at least preserved it.” Kolkovich concludes that we are living in era in which our president has bragged about sexual assault. What does this teach us about ourselves, and how can we create a feminist Timon?
Pamela Macfie, from the University of the South, I our fourth presenter with her paper, Fairy Lullabies in Ralph Cohen’s 2015 A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 2015 was a conference year for the American Shakespeare Center, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream was part of their summer/fall season. This paper pays homage to Cohen’s Midsummer and clearly articulates the function of the fairy lullabies in this particular production. Magic was central component of Cohen’s Midsummer that invited joy. Macfie asserts that Moth and Mustardseed were the bodies descriptions that Shakespeare celebrates in the richness of the fairy world and celebration of enchantment. In this production, the fairies sang Titania asleep to “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” from the Doris Day movie of 1953 with tetrameter rhymes to give what Macfie describes as an audience member as a “moonstruck” feeling. To give the audience a taste of the magic that this music gave the audience, she invites Chris Johnston to sing Shakespeare’s text and play guitar, giving the song a modern musical twist. Macfie notes that the liquid repetitions and murmuring rhymes summon Titania’s sleep. The moon weeps as Titania leads Bottom to her bower. “Silvery Moon” appealed to memories of the fairy land and the docile evil that is forced upon Titania. Chris sings “By the Silvery Moon,” and Macfie asks the audience to imagine fairies in tap shoes and slippers dancing these lines, with their fluttering fingers mimicking the moonbeam, and creating circles around Titania’s body. In movement and word, the fairies create the childlike wonder and joy that, from Macfie’s experience as an audience member, seemed to fit plays metamorphic energy. The candied innocence of the song did more than foreshadow Titania’s waking, but the lyrics anticipated her reunion with Oberon. In the final moments of the play and loving movement with word, the promise of the lullaby was fulfilled. Macfie concludes that unlike the memory that haunted the original lines of Shakespeare’s text, this use of the lullaby glanced and glimmered ahead to the sweet and loving harmony at play’s end.
Our fifth presenter is Hailey Bachrach from King’s College with her paper, Maskers Shown: Masked Ladies in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Bachrach first details her paper by telling the audience that the women appear masked in Act 5, Scene 2, when the lords attempt to woo the ladies. This use of masking is not highlighted as unexpected or odd, but were considered ordinary. Bachrach argues that they would have been used in theatre to show gaps between presentation and treatment in fashion and upper class. She further articulates that the women’s masks were not sued for sake of modesty, but to hide their identity and showcase their sexuality. In 5.2, the ladies have an opportunity to fashion their own identities defined by love tokens and poetry, and with these same affects, the men are guided to know the women. Bachrach asks the audience, “When do they take off masks?” The Oxford edition dictates the ladies take off their masks immediately after men leave, but this places the action thirty lines before Boyet instructs the ladies to do so. Placing this stage direction thirty lines before the embedded stage direction of Boyet’s lines eliminates the moment of unmasking built into the dialogue. In this rouse, the mask becomes the only sign of womens’ faces and the only form in which they fully exist. Bachrach further contends that to unmask and still be a woman becomes temporarily impossible. The ladies reveal the instability of masks and favors proving that the commitment to a verbal contract whose words cannot be manipulated is what allows them to unmask and be fully seen. In the world of the play, promises are bound by language. Clothes, masks, and language are the formal presentation that characters are trapped by. Their faces can never be unmasked, and poetry can never be stripped away. Effectively the women are just players. The idea of mask is further problematized by the play ending with a dismissal. The expected conclusion is that the ladies have unmasked and will next marry the lords. Bachrach next turns to a stage direction in Heywood’s work , “enter unpinning their masks” to prove that the use of cosmetic female masks might appear elsewhere in the Early Modern Canon. To enter “unpinning” the mask suggests that Heywood didn’t want the ladies to actually wear mask, but wanted the prop to be present assuming that the thematic class based reason for the presence. Bachrach concludes with hopes that this research creates interesting results.
Annalisa Castaldo and John Culhane from Widener University are our next presenters with their joint paper, The Bed Trick and Consent. Castaldo begins their presentation with a story of how a student of her’s pointed out the bed trick as rape with Angelo and Mariana in Measure for Measure. She affirms that, in modern contexts, this is correct. This student’s definition led to Castaldo’s questions. Was legal content a social norm that original audiences would have been concerned about? Are there textual clues that reveal consent as a concern of play? Should a twenty-first century audience stage the bed trick as rape? Castaldo cites a book from Dessen that defines four types of bed tricks, namely focusing on All’s Well and Measure. The bed trick present in comedy and tragedy. When women carry out bed trick it is defensible to restore social power and status. Men use the bed trick aggressively to control and assert power over men and women alike. In Measure for Measure, Angelo is forced to accept Mariana to preserve Isabella. The Duke knows about this, but didn’t stop it. How does the Duke’s position inform our answers of consent? Culhane begins to present, and speaks on the ambiguity of the law today in relation to sexual assault. Judges still struggle to explain the definition of rape, and some determine that without physical force, it is not rape. Martial rape did not exists until the late twentieth century. A few weak reasons martial rape did not come into definition until recently include: 1.) Once married, wives had their legal existence and identity merged with their husband, eliminating independent rights. 2.) Courts did not want to “get involved” in domestic cases because they were difficult to prove until this idea was overthrown in 20th century. 3.) This type of assault is often not exclusive to any one kind. Culhane questions the essence of the Early Modern bed trick within its historical and cultural context, which seems to propose that if someone is consenting just to have sex with someone, it is not necessarily important who their partner is. Coming back to Measure for Measure, Culhane argues that Angelo and Mariana not married because the promise to marry is not the same thing as a marriage. Mariana’s loss of dowry allowed Angelo to break his promise. The Duke makes it clear that Angelo should have married her anyways, but he didn’t have to. Angelo dishonors Mariana while furthering himself. Sex is the only thing that gives Mariana the right to force Angelo to marry her. It might be legal rape and fraud, but if Angelo wasn’t already bound to Mariana, the bed trick wouldn’t change that. Castaldo takes the last words of the presentation and argues that it seems clear that the bed trick would not have been considered rape, but highlights ambiguous nature of sexuality in Early Modern England. Angelo is manipulated and feminized by Duke, who tests both him and Mariana to prove that marriage is not a happy resolution but a form of control. Ten minutes expires, and Culhane dodges the bear to keep Castaldo safe to finish the paper. In conclusion, “It’s all the Duke’s fault.”
Gift giving part of courtship in couples to signify engagement. Merchant of Venice: Jessica offstage wedding. Stealing ring: public homosocial elements. complicated romantic symbolism. most successful way is to do hand fasting to symbolize union. 3.2 actors read: how might stage? (Greg and Shunte) When ring leaves Bassanio is dead. Embedded stage directions ring must go from Portia to Bassanio. 1.) Portia presents ring to Bassanio “I give…with this ring”. “bereft” takes ring “parts from this finger” Bassanio places on hand. Portia must give and Bassanio must receive. 2.) Portia places ring in his hand on same line. same lines for BAssanio’s mvmt. this might be disruptive to gender roles but still allows Bassanio to put this ring on his finger 3.) Portia places ring on his finger on “give this ring” and done “love” and “vantage”. most overt inversion of gender roles, ascribes to Bassanio. As demonstrated fasting hands could be hand contact as consent of agreement. Can be used in homosocial relations. Portia (Balthasar) and Bassanio pays for legal services. Portia tries to take ring. He should not draw back his hand, Bassanio recoils from deal. Antonio convinces Bassanio to give it up. Further evidence of hand fasting occurs early in scene between BAssanio and Antonio. “give me your hand Bassanio” when Antonio thinks he is going to die. Highlights plays homosocial relationship that underscores the heterosexual relationship. 1.5 ring exchanges in play’s closing scene. Portai chastises BAssanio for not having the ring. “Pardon this fault.” “Give him this” Portia gives ring to Antonio who gives it back to Bassanio and then they realize it was the same ring “the doctor lent it me”. This final exchange is a tripe assault on masculine autonomies 1.) thinking she slept with doctor / Portia fingering her own ring 2) forces Bassanio to reconfirm oath 3.) Bassanio’s fidelity Rings are tokens of promise. Cannot alter socioeconomic contract. Breaking it leads to broken vows.