Good afternoon! Allie Dawson here, for the ninth paper session of the ninth Blackfriars Conference. The session runs from 3:30-4:45, and is moderated by Darlene Farabee, University of South Dakota.
Sara B.T. Thiel, University of Pittsburgh
“A quilted preface to announce your belly”: Pregnancy Prosthetics and the Queen’s Men Repetory
In a late seventeenth century ballad, The Mistaken Midwife, falsified pregnancy is used by a barren midwife to hide said barrenness and preserve the reputation of her practice, using nothing more than a little pillow to make herself look pregnant. This ballad, Thiel explains, relies on the power of the pillow to materialize fertility. When birth comes, a friend replaces the pillow with the body of a stillborn baby, which arouses the other women’s suspicious, and it all ends badly for the midwife
The pillow, Thiel explains, was a popular method for making pregnancy appear on boy actors; Doll Tearsheet, for instance accused of doing so to avoid arrest at the end of 2 Henry IV, and is mentioned in contemporary sources as a common practice.
Most pregnancy plots were staged in earnest after Queen Elizabeth’s death, but some companies pushed the boundaries in using pregnancy at the focus of their plots, specifically the Queen’s Men. More than any other playing company, they experimented with pregnancy plots, which became a well-worn device on Stuart stage.
Thiel first looks at Thomas Heywood’s The Golden Age, which premiered in 1610. This play focuses on a colony of nymphs vowed to virginity, but the nymph Callisto is seduced by Jupiter and becomes pregnant, hiding her pregnancy till she can conceal it no longer. When refuses to join in bath, Diana orders another nymph, Atlanta, to strip her, which is communicated in a dumbshow (performed by Rene Thornton, Rick Blunt, and Chris Seiler). This dumbshow, Theil says, raises provocative questions regarding the representation on gender on stage. Does it undo the illusion? What happens when a boy actor undresses on stage?
She further illustrates this trpe with John Webster’s The Devil’s Law Case, whose plot revolves around the protagonist, Romelio, persuading his sister to fake a pregnancy to preserve his reputation after he impregnated a nu. The conclusion of the play, again staged by the actors, involves one of the characters reaching up her dress and flinging away the cushion to expose the deception. The last play Thiel looks at, 1620’s The Heir, stages a more explicitly metatheatrical disruption of fake pregnancy.
Theil concludes that, together with ballad, these plays suggest deep-seated anxiety in the Early Modern era regarding the ability of women to wield their reproductive bodies for the purpose of deception.
Claire Kimball, Brave Spirits Theatre
Reach me that weighty bowl: Staging Pledges in Early Modern Drama
Kimball’s presentation begins with the actors staging a scene from the Malcontent to set-up the ensuing discussion.
In the scene, Kimball tells, is seen a brief argument regarding healths and pledges. Participating in health was practically compulsory in Early Modern England, and as a convention in drama, it put significant social pressures on characters, Toasts and shared cup rituals have appeared cultures in all cultures, but they were so ubiquitous in Stuart society that, it was said, people would drink to the health of everything and everybody. It was a means of camaraderie. Like drinking games, which make drinking excessively excusable, drinking a health and pledge’s would continue around the room till everyone had drained cup and then start again. The custom forced early modern men and women to navigate the often tricky politics of interaction, and refusing to toast was seen as horrid breach of etiquette. Drinking traditions were a social contract, and demanded a performance reverence, and on stage, demanded reciprocity.
To illustrate her point, Kimball has the actor’s perform a scene from Tis Pity She’s a Whore. The scene, she informs the auditors, illustrates how those rules work for audiences. The failed poisoning plot in the scene relies on an understanding of the unspoken rules of pledges. Directors, Kimball emphasizes, need to know these practices in order to stage these moments, and stage them properly. Unfortunately, she admits, pledging scenes often read obliquely on the page. Dramaturgical collaboration can help actors identify this language and identify this space to explore staging opportunities. If one is not careful, she warns, one can miss chances to play with these scenes.
She gives a scene in Pericles as another example. As the actors demonstrate, editors usually cut the repetition of Thaisa offering Pericles a pledge, which Kimball says works “fine”, but if, she suggests, if directors and actors work with and apply what we know about pledging to the scene, one might able to tease out more dramatic possibilities. After illustrating what that might look like, Kimball explains that the alternate staging teaches audiences to understand risk associated with the custom. Training audiences to appreciate the significance of drinking to one’s health creates a chance for more complex characters and clearer storytelling. Healths are not necessarily safe, and pledges are not guaranteed. Never, Kimball warns, take them for granted.
Holly Picket, Washington and Lee University
“A Pretty Kind of Game”: Conversion in Earnest and Jest in Jonson’s The Alchemist
When characters transform in every single way, Picket asks, can they really change? For all the transformations seen in Jonson’s The Alchemist, is there any true conversion? Jonson’s characters, Picket explains, are essentially performance. Whether one can discover one’s true self is one of major questions of the play, dealing extensively with question of serial conversion, Jonson himself a serial convert. What Jonson’s characters convert to is performance itself, and Jonson invites as as audience to to the same.
Jonson’s initial conversion to Catholicism is attributed by his biographer, John Drummon to his time in Newgate prison for manslaughter. After his release he, incurred fines for his recusancy while enduring the strict edicts against Catholics. Perhaps spurred by a new wave of persecution, Jonson returned to the Church of England, which Drummond tells us, he did with “gusto”, draining the whole chalice when received back into the Anglican church (a scene performed with “gusto” by the actors). The performative zest suggests Jonson’s religious identity includes a significant amount of theatricality. While Picket says it could have been wholehearted, or a show to get authorities off his back, she admits his conversion is as open to interpretation as the characters in Alchemist.
Obsession with conversion occupies a major focus in the Alchemist. Is it a matter of holding certain tenets, or a matter of practice? The play ultimately rejects focus on belief to focus on practice. Alchemy conceived in religious terms, and, Kimball explains, it was thought alchemy changed the practitioner. Every character seems to have secret desire. They all have the need to be special, set apart. They crave assurance they are extraordinary, and are thus susceptible to conversion. The character Lovewit, like Jonson, embraces performative model of conversion, and the final scene invites us to do the same.
The contagion of play’s conversion extends to the audience. The focus on sincerity, as a contemporary critic noted, “laughed one into virtue”. Moral transformation in the Alchemist, then, of the audience comes through, not despite, its playfulness.
Jennifer Holl, Rhode Island College
Bartholomew Fair and the Early Modern Theatrical Souvenir
Just outside, Holl points out, one will find a delightful assortment of souvenirs. Everytime she pauses, Holl admits, to add to her collection, she pauses to ask: “why?”. A number of scholars attempted to unravel the lure of the souvenir. The souvenir makes concrete the memory of that extraordinary experience. We only need souvenir’s in the context of anticipated lost. Thus, she says, it is no wonder that theatre provides such fertile ground for souvenirs, since it’s always ephemereal.
Early Modern drama inpartuclar reminds us of the passing nature of theatre. But, performance does leave something behind. Performance lives on as anrrative, and s ability to arouse narrative recall lies at heart of its appeal. Has markers which llead to rememberance of expeirence. But, souvenier really a corpse of lived experience, for melanchocli recall, yet that it why we like them.
Not only trigger emmory, but provide springboard for new memories. Key it’s materiality, lasing, repeatalbe, and closer to the person. Print aloways provided the primary souvenier. YEt point back and highlight absnece of performance. Invite collector to imagine play inborader context, with more intimate knolwedge.
Did early modern playgoer collect souveniers? Certainly points back to performance (as it hath been placed). Its stuffness gives new chance of narrative engagement. On stage, find reference to souveniers.
Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair gives greatest glimpse into early modern souveneir. Time at fair distinctly theatrical, disappearance always looming, and everything sold points to its ephemerality. Play doesn’t entirely anser initial question, but demonstrate how easily even nthnkngly souvienir attachments arrive, and how seductive lasting engagement with theatrical event can be.
Enacting Animality in King Lear
Realize this morning seems to refer to king Lear as one play. Ceaseless struggle for rhetorical vantage in play universes–how differnet the valued environments from one play to another. one stong move togain rhetorical vantage is to invite them to feel what wretches feel. Shakepeare makes outreach fro wrethcedness a marker of deceney:”feeling what wretches feel”.
Hard to sustain for a good time. can be both reprehensible and necessary. But poiting out this wretchedness a good thing to do. Pointing out such notions central to tesching and writing, but might seemm aggregating moral superiorty which may not warrant.
King Lear, which highgihts ugliness, ceulety and painfulness of pain, also challenges self-enhancng rhetorical vantages. Opens in cultural vagueness, helping focus on pain–basic axes of human pain and self-defintion. Old-young, parent-child, human-animal. Seem to fall naturally in parellel with the other.
locates S treatment of animals in context of early modern understanding. Show way in which actors inLear shown their own animality, with respect to possiblity, then when get down to basics, share wider similairites with animals than we would like acknolwedge. Human negative essentialism when it comes to animals. Differ from other animals in ebing less well-accomadated to being in the world. Exalt the reasoning of animals, but also by attacking human claims to rational mastery (Montaigne).
Shakespeare harder to evaluate and interrograte. Some of M’s flexibility rubbed off on Shakespeare.
Actors embody human subjection to divine authority, and as animals exempted from claims of morality. Actors amy be thought of as having heightened animality and human sociability. But Lear does not share a lot with a particular animal. substantial variety of animals in play suggests this difficulty, and also its necessity.
To conclude, when blinding of G convinces us to divide play into very bad and very good
And then came the bear. Tough beans, dude
Alice Dailey and Chelsea Phillips
“To please to-morrow’s audience”: Ending the Spanish Tragedy
Actors begin sprawled on the floor. Begins thanking students and actors–begin with the end of the Spanish Tragedy.
shape of the Spanish Tragedy movment towards clossure, but last line suggests continuation of this futile revenge. Typicla practices serve to provide finality, transistion back to wider reality. When first performance, probably ended with the jig. When actors reappear again, emphasize artificiality and an ending. What happens when you disrupt these expectations?
Disrupt audience’s ability to leave the performance behind them. This is precisely that revenge claims will happen to the characters, dragged to hell.Their endless tragedy only beginning. The postmodern pratices can bring this home.
Heronimo often likens his tragedy to a show, a spectaple–suspends us in double meaning of acotr as one who pretends and one does. These ambiguities pervade the surrounding “snuff play”. Revenge’s invitation posits them as audience to mystery play. This apparently fictious spectacle produces real effects. Real effects of death described in theatrical terms. in final acts, empahsises endlessly renweable theatre of punsihment. Declines to uphold beginning and ending, and distinction between real and fictitious event. To end Spanish Tragedy is to create distinctions undermined by the play. Can you stage the ending to resist tidying up what is left unresolved?
Still, cannot leave out applause. how to enact genuinely endless tragedy?
Performace experiment–revenge and andrea above, three people attend a play written by heronimo. Play performed four different languages, and reenacts muder of Horatio(and others?).